It’s probably normal to spend the majority of Scream and Scream Again wondering if Gordon Hessler and his crew committed a botch-job of massive proportions or made a conscious stab at abstract art. Hessler’s track record doesn’t make figuring this out any easier since he directed his share of good pictures (The Golden Voyage of Sinbad) and exploitative trash heaps (Cry of the Banshee). Scream and Scream Again falls somewhere in between those poles, and in this case, it’s probably wisest just to go with the flow and take in its sundry oddities without thinking about any of it too deeply. Half the picture is a political thriller in which a member of some sort of Nazi-esque military organization keeps pinching people to death. The other half finds a bloodsucking serial murderer/rapist terrorizing a London nightspot called The Busted Pot. Why any swinging hippie would attend a joint with a name like that is anyone’s guess. It’s like naming a brothel “The Crab Trap.” Oops! Sorry. I promise not to think so much anymore.
The two disparate plots basically come together in the end, but the film works best as a random scattering of weird bits and pieces. A jogger collapses and wakes in hospital to discover his limbs keep disappearing (in an impressive feat of esoteric referencing, “The X-Files” would parody this bit decades later). The Amen Corner caterwaul the title tune as a bunch of hipsters gyrate to the music (groovy fact: key sixties producer Shel Talmy is credited as musical director of the movie!). There are references to Frankenstein and vampire movies, and the three biggest horror stars of the day all make appearances, though Vincent Price and Christopher Lee play important yet fleeting roles and Peter Cushing barely puts in a cameo. Nevertheless, some critics are uncomfortable classifying Scream and Scream Again as a true horror movie, and it plays with sci-fi and political thriller conventions too (maybe the spy-movie soundtrack music is the filmmaker’s attempt to nudge us into taking the film as the latter). Really, though, Scream and Scream Again is really just one kind of movie: cuckoo.
Twilight Time’s new blu-ray edition of Scream and Scream Again is beset by near constant scratches and speckles, but the extras are a nice bunch. There’s a 23-minute featurette on Hessler’s films for AIP and it makes a pretty good case that the feature presentation is actually better than it seems (I'm not buying the praise for Cry of the Banshee, though. Blecch), a 9-minute interview with Uta Levka, who plays a super nurse in the movie (she’s very forthright on her feelings about Lee and Price), and a feature commentary with Tim Sullivan and David Del Valle. Get the blu-ray on Twilight Time’s official site here.