“Everyone’s got their breaking point
With me it’s spiders and with you it’s me.” — In my case, it was a bad B movie called “The Screaming Skull” that I saw on TV once as a kid. It affected me much the way “Day of the Triffids” traumatized my middle son. So last night I faced my fear and watched the movie with him and he has agreed, in turn, to revisit his bête noire sometime soon (a future post!).
The plot is kind of a “Rebecca” rip-off in that it’s about a young woman newly married to a widower, who lives in a big house. It even involves a portrait and a devoted staff person mourning the lately departed, although in this case it’s a simpleton gardener and not the formidable Mrs. Danvers. There’s a twist, though. This movie has a vengeful skull that movies around.
A traumatic past has made our young bride unstable and vulnerable, and after a few skull sightings, she thinks she’s going mad (again). The sympathetic vicar and his wife start to wonder what’s going on and when the simpleton gardener brings them a present,
they decide that they had better go rescue our heroine from — you guessed it — not the vengeful ghost, but the psycho husband, who just wanted her money.
Okay, by now you’re wondering why this cliched movie freaked me out so much. Well, not only did it have a skull that screamed and popped up unexpectedly in a cupboard, at the front door, on the stairs, in the picnic basket and even in the pond, but it was very creepily shot in black and white. The chiaroscuro lighting that cast giant shadows throughout the large, empty house was extremely effective. In the right cinematographic hands, black and white can make anything scary.
The super-eerie garden pond didn’t hurt either. It’s amazing what you can do with almost no budget. Shot on location in an empty English manor with a cast of about five people, including the fake skull, the film managed its scares without recourse to graphic violence. Back in 1958 they could do that. While last night’s viewing was more “mystery science theater” (you can imagine our comments) than wide-eyed horror, it did make me appreciate why the movie affected my younger self so much. In case you’re curious, it’s available for free on Amazon prime.
If you’d rather watch modern horror (not my cup of tea, that’s for sure), I understand that “It Follows” and “The Babadook” are incredibly terrifying in a psychological, rather than blood-splashing way. What movies scared you witless when you were a child?