MGM's Midnite Movies series is now delivering twice the thrills with double feature DVDs, and most of these movies appear to be strategically and intelligently paired. Take for instance this pairing of THE OBLONG BOX and SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN. Both star Vincent Price and were the first two AIP films directed by Gordon Hessler with screenwriting credits going to Christopher Wicking.
Whether you like their work or not, Hessler and Wicking brought a fresh tone to AIP's gothic horrors, an attitude that was expressed with throat cutting and acid slinging. Changing with the times, the gore was much more generous than in the previous Roger Corman/Poe series, which Hessler's works were often compared to. The pictures were downright serious and they always ended in doom, even the more heroic characters rarely escaped with their lives.
The first film on this disc, THE OBLONG BOX, was originally to be directed by Michael Reeves who was very uninterested in the project and committed suicide shortly thereafter. Because of this situation, critics and fans accused Hessler as unable to follow in Reeves' footsteps, as if he was meant to do so (Reeves' last film was the masterful CONQUEROR WORM (1968), one of the greatest horror films of all times). This negative sentiment stuck with OBLONG, tagging it a disappointment by those who saw it as a follow-up to CONQUEROR. People have a hard time appreciating OBLONG for what it is--a minor but stylish and interesting gothic foray that will be most likely be better appreciated on DVD.
Based on a short Poe story (Wicking re-wrote the original screenplay by Lawrence Huntington), OBLONG eerily delivers a tale of revenge and betrayal as an Englishman is cursed during an African voodoo ceremony for a crime that revealed at the conclusion. Now living in England, Sir Edward Markham (Alister Williamson) is diseased, mad and kept locked up by his brother Julian (Price). His plans to fake his death are foiled in the wake of nearly being buried alive, causing him to murder the men who tricked him, and just about anybody else that gets in his way. There's great support from the likes of Peter Arne, Rupert Davies, and Harry Baird as an unpredictable voodoo witch doctor, as well as the females in the cast: Sally Geeson as the flirty housekeeper, Uta Levka as a malicious prostitute and Hilary Dwyer as Price's innocent bride.
OBLONG confirmed that Hessler could handle period horror. He respectively carried on the Poe series that Corman started a decade earlier, effectively updating the graphic intensity while maintaining a mood that was closer to Hammer than AIP. The impressive sets at Shepperton Studios, along with the beautiful English countryside, enhanced the production. Ironically, his next film, the only non-period horror he would direct for AIP, is arguably his finest work due to an imbalance of reason.
Re-vamping Peter Saxon's novel "The Disoriented Man," Wicking again wrote the outrageous screenplay for SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN. Here, Hessler masterfully gives us a fascinating and chaotic blend of science fiction and horror circling around a plot about a mad scientist creating synthetic beings. The mad scientist is played of course by Vincent Price.
This expected casting displays a form of parody. In an out of control fantasy world, we would most likely visualize Price as the mad perpetrator of these doings. With his limited screen time, Price is able to underplay it by showing the character to be intense, yet reserved. This is best depicted in the scene where the police arrive at his home with the news that his cleaning girl has been raped and mutilated. The sorrowful look on his face is brought upon from him actually knowing who did it: Keith, one of his creations gone berserk. His disappointment is invoked by the fact that his experiment failed-- he has no remorse for the dead girl.
The film manages to explode with confusion by shifting to seemingly unrelated events--a collapsed jogger who is periodically dismembered, a humanoid who viciously takes over a Nazi-like organization, the stuffy police who endlessly chase the vampire-like humanoid Keith, and Price, who as Dr. Browning, is questioned from time to time. These scenes make better sense when the central characters interact with one another during the latter part of the film. The stirring climax entails a showdown in Dr. Browning's operating room, where various beings--both human and humanoid--either escape or are pushed into an acid vat.
Along with Price, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing are also present. Lee's role is small, and Cushing's scene is nothing more than a cigarette break. Lee is a British intelligence head, and Cushing is ironically cast as the leader of the pseudo Nazis who commands Konratz (Marshall Jones) to lessen his torturous habits, only to be killed by him. Jones showed up in Hessler's next two films, but he was best put to use here. As Konratz, he pretty much holds things together as the crazed synthetic being who wipes out anyone who interferes with his politically tyrannical intentions. Michael Gothard is also well cast (looking somewhat like the Mick Jagger of Altamont ) as the humanoid "vampire killer" Keith, stalking and mutilating women in fashionable mod England. Best of all is Alfred Marks as Superintendent Bellaver in a scene-stealing performance full of choice dialog.
Both THE OBLONG BOX and SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN are presented on DVD in their original 1.85:1 aspect ratios with Anamorphic enhancement, and the letterboxing really compliments John Coquillon's cinematography. The transfer on THE OBLONG BOX is simply stunning, and the film looks more beautiful than ever before. Colors are rich and vibrant, and the source material is in immaculate condition. The Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack presents an extremely clear mix, with dialog sounding especially crisp. This version of the film is the longer cut, with brief nudity and dialog not seen in the theatrical release and previous video releases.
While THE OBLONG BOX never faired well on VHS and laserdisc in the past, SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN has always looked pretty decent on home video. While its DVD transfer is not as impressive as OBLONG, it still looks excellent. While some nighttime scenes are a bit dark, on the whole, it's much brighter, more colorful and better detailed than previous video incarnations. Despite the back cover stating "musically edited version," the impressive Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack does indeed contain David Whitaker's jazzy score, as well as two pop numbers by British rockers The Amen Corner as originally intended. Both titles include English, French and Spanish subtitles.
REVIEW: GEORGE REIS. YOU CAN READ MORE OF GEORGE'S REVIEWS AT HIS EXCELLENT BLOG: CLICK HERE!