THE SCREAMING SKULL (1958)
Article #1281 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-16-2004
Posting Date: 2-13-2005
Directed by Alex Nicol
Featuring John Hudson, Peggy Webber, Alex Nicol
A husband brings his overly-sensitive second wife back to the home where his first wife met her death. She grows to believe that she is being haunted by the ghost of the first wife.
When I first saw this one years ago, I thought it was one of the dullest movies I’d ever seen, and was often surprised afterwards to hear an occasional comment from people talking about how much it scared them. I’m glad I gave it a second viewing; their reaction makes much more sense to me. What makes this movie scary is its exemplary use of sound; whenever possible, the movie uses the sound of banging windows, scratching tree branches, etc. to create a malevolent and tense atmosphere. Given the movie’s fine use of this technique, I now find it very easy to appreciate how powerful it might have been, especially in a big dark theater.
Nevertheless, the movie doesn’t quite work for me. There are some odd touches here that I think are supposed to be unsettling (the peacocks, the absence of furniture in the house), but for me, they never quite become scary and remain largely distractions. Nor am I taken in with the performance of any of the three leads; they all come across as muted and somewhat distant, and I never warm up to them enough as characters to care what happens to them. And finally, the movie works best when the horrors are suggested, and the more explicit the horror becomes, the more the tension dissipates into silliness; the fight in the pond near the end of the movie is supposed to be the crowning horror, but it ends up reducing me to giggles. Ultimately, I have to call this one a misfire, though it does have some truly worthy strong points.