Originally published on October 24, 2013 at 6:24 pm
Go into any 99 cent store and you’ll invariably find a bin with old black and white movies, horribly drawn biblical cartoons, and a collection of Three Stooges shorts. Look closer and one movie that will be there is the 1958 scream fest The Screaming Skull.
Talking about this one is difficult, as it’s really a product of its time. A newly married couple move into the groom’s family mansion, where his previous wife died under mysterious circumstances. Whatever conclusions you draw from that one sentence synopsis is probably correct. Oh, and did I mention the new bride also has a history of mental illness? Add in a nosey Pastor and his wife, plus a dim witted groundskeeper (what is it with family mansions and idiot caretakers? You’d think they’d want someone you know…not two sandwiches short of a picnic), and you have your own mad libs, zero budget movie.
How low budget is it? Well, first, there are only five actors in the whole movie. No extras lurking in the bushes, no one to grab an extraneous line-just five average actors, who seem embarrassed they showed up for work. Can’t say I blame them.
For as much of a part The Screaming Skull has played in formative years, it’s simply not a very good film. While the plot and twists were probably fresh in 1958 (though highly doubtful), to a modern audience, you can see them coming a mile away. Sometimes that works, if the journey to those twists is interesting or enjoyable. Here though, it’s simply boring…something you wouldn’t expect from a film which runs at a scant 68 minutes.
John Hudson and Peggy Webber do a serviceable job with the material they have to work with, though together they have the chemistry of a wall and drying paint. As the clerical neighbors, Russ Conway and Tony Johnson recite their lines with all the vigor of the recently drugged, you almost expect them to start shambling and doing tor Johnson impressions-though that would be an interesting twist. Alex Nicol is the maintenance stalker, and he does the best of the lot, especially if you consider best running around and peeking through windows.
What I find interesting is how empty the entire house is. There’s only a minimum of furniture, just enough to give you an idea of what room you’re supposed to be in. I can only guess most of the set decoration budget was spent on the externals, because there’s a lot of foliage. I mean a lot! There’s also a greenhouse, and while only featured for about 3 minutes, it has more thought put into it than the entire house.
Oh, and then there’s a pond, where a lot of the action takes place. There’s an abundance of lily pads, frogs and bubbling smoke. It’s more like a cauldron than a pond, but there you go.
There are some nice bits of cinematography in the house, long shadows, and creaky stairs-the kinds of things you would expect. The only thing it’s really missing is the scares. Admittedly, once the skull makes it appearance there are some nice creepy moments, and the attack of multiple skulls at the end is really effective, there’s simply not enough of it.