Willing Themselves to a Will

Scream of Fear’s visible elements seem entirely traditional. Bits even seem lifted from Hammer’s prior The Snorkel, in which a young girl/woman is tormented knowing there is a certain truth to uncover, while someone near her feeds the deceptions. Other Hammer traditions include a confounding doctor, an evil stepmother, and a reappearing body seen only by the girl.

Knowing Scream of Fear’s memorable, brilliant finish likely makes this a better movie. In the open, Scream of Fear plays with deceit. Who, what, and how comprise the tantalizing mystery. The obvious is too obvious: the is plot too simple, and the personalities predictable – until they’re not. This script has a way of burrowing in, enough to where nothing is trustworthy or certain. Scream of Fear is too classy to be derivative.

Scream of Fear is too classy to be derivative

Set in beautiful French country, cinematography adds a searing, evil tone through effective shadows. Although about affluent, even spoiled people, Scream of Fear makes heroes from some of them. The Mansion-esque home staging the silent in-fighting draws out the greed visually, while creating a dazzling backdrop free from repetition.

Finding empathy for Penny (Susan Strasberg) isn’t difficult. She’s young and paralyzed, dwarfed by the rooms in her father’s home, and frequently photographed as to make her appear smaller or fragile. It’s clear, visiting this place for the first time in a decade, how ill-equipped her family is to deal with her condition: A few stray boards placed on the steps for her to move around. That’s it.

Slowly, there’s psychosis setting in, Penny seeing her father even though he’s away on a trip. Scream of Fear doubles the disability, others around here caring, if judgmental. They speak down to her, or even avoid the discussion when recommending help. More than a young woman facing uncaring people, Scream of Fear convincingly introduces the added layer by making Penny a social outcast.

Few films deliver like this, from the emotional weight to a finish so utterly satisfying, it plays right into instinctual urges for revenge. Not always a plausible mystery, no, but one delivering comeuppance to those who most deserve it. In the flurry of its final moments, Scream of Fear turns the lack of pity against those who only pretended to care. Also, what seems like a shrewd, exploitative title takes on grand purpose in the final minute. Fantastic.

Video

Like multiple other B&W offerings in Mill Creek’s Hammer set, Scream of Fear suffers in the gradient department. Gray scale is well represented and rich, but encoding fights with banding throughout. Harsher banding as the imagery veers towards shadow cause constant concern. At least range allows for dense blacks and crisp whites.

The master itself looks generally new, hefty in resolution and visible texture. It isn’t A-tier catalog quality, if not far off. Compression is a likely culprit. Erosion is inevitable, and the banding suggests the issue. Still, the quality is evident under the digital-ness, resolving the home’s Victorian decor along with other intricate set details.

Even as grain replication stutters, Scream of Fear handles itself well. It’s clearly HD. Thanks to a well preserved/restored print, hardly any damage interferes either.

Audio

Mixed low (too low in fact), DTS-HD presents the mono reasonably well. Expected struggles on the highest treble expose age, if no wear. There’s even slight low-end response, enough to take note of the bass.

A result of the pinched volume, dialog sounds out of balance. Music runs notably louder. That in mind, time barely dilutes this source.

Extras

Historian Steve Haberman provides factoids in his commentary.

Scream of Fear
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
4

Movie

Deceiving to the last, Scream of Fear toys with the obvious before making things right in a classic finale.

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