While every family may have `skeletons in the closet', for most it's only a metaphor, alluding to some dark secret meant to be kept hidden from the general public, but that's not necessarily the case with the House of Fengriffen, as illustrated in the Amicus feature And Now the Screaming Starts (1973). Directed by Roy Ward Baker (Quatermass and the Pit, The Vampire Lovers), the film stars Stephanie Beacham (House of Mortal Sin, Inseminoid), Ian Ogilvy (From Beyond the Grave, Death Becomes Her), and Peter Cushing (At the Earth's Core, Star Wars). Also appearing is Geoffrey Whitehead (Kidnapped), Guy Rolfe (Ivanhoe, Mr. Sardonicus), Herbert Lom (Asylum, The Return of the Pink Panther), and Patrick Magee (A Clockwork Orange, Demons of the Mind).
The story, set in England in the year 1795, begins with the arrival of Catherine (Beecham), strained bodice and all, to the House of Fengriffen, a large and expansive estate in the countryside. Seems Catherine is set to marry Charles Fengriffen (Ogilvy), the last of his line, which she does, despite some peculiarities of the ethereal kind inherent within the house (i.e. a severed hand roaming the halls, windows that open on their own, etc.), all of which only Catherine can see (for now). On the couple's wedding night, while Catherine's preparing for the consummation the nuptials, she's attacked by a mysterious figure sans a hand (I think I saw it slinking about in the hallway), one who vanishes once Charles manages to break through the locked door. Well, turns out the House of Fengriffen has a terrible secret in its past, one involving Charles' grandfather Henry Fengriffen (Lom) and Silas (Whitehead), the creepy woodsman who lives on the estate, one that Charles, along with everyone else `in the know', are reluctant to share with Catherine, despite her repeated inquires (those who do seem interested in helping Catherine find themselves in a world of supernatural hurt as Stumpy the Ghost and his detached flipper run interference). As the local doctor, played by Magee, is unable to help Catherine with her `problem', a specialist is called in, one Dr. Pope (Cushing), a practitioner of a new science involving the mind (the thought being Catherine might be going mental, which she is, but only because of bizarre happenings in and about the house). Pope, being an intelligent and practical man, quickly realizes Catherine's condition is somehow related to past events and soon pressures Charles to spill the beans, which he does in a lengthy flashback (the events Charles relates occurred prior to his birth, so he believes it all more or less a legend). After the revelation things really get interesting as events come to a head as a prophecy made long ago comes to fruition...
While I enjoyed this film a lot, I did have a few issues, the main one being I thought Peter Cushing, sporting quite the interesting coif, should have had a bigger role in the story (few at the time seemed as much at home in these period features as Cushing, except for Christopher Lee and Vincent Price, in my humble opinion). His character doesn't make the scene until about forty-five minutes in, and even then he's more or less just a catalyst to draw out the Fengriffen's dirty laundry (it's positively filthy). His character's overall involvement is relatively minimal, as he can do nothing but witness the events that unfold after his arrival. Also, both Lom and Magee have relatively minor parts, the main bulk of the production on Ms. Beecham's lovely shoulders, who did very well, but could have used a bit more help. As far as Charles, played by Ian Ogilvy, I thought he was a curiously detached character, not overly concerned that his wife's worsening condition might be tied to the family secret he was so reluctant to let her in on, at least initially. Perhaps he was so eager to believe it was all so much superstitious nonsense that neglected to see the forest for the trees, but I'd think once the various deaths started to occur, he might have acted sooner than he did...not that he could have done anything to prevent the ultimate outcome, but still...the story isn't laid out for those who like things to be presented in order, but more like someone putting together a puzzle, working from their way in from the border. As a result, the first three quarters of the film may frustrate some less patient viewers as not only is there a good deal of confusion (at least until Charles comes clean), but also the going is somewhat slow. As for myself, I kind of liked being left in the dark, trying to discern the gist of things from what little was offered, up until the revelation. Once the secret is revealed, things quickly become apparent, especially in terms of where the story is going (I guessed most of the twist ending well before it occurred). There were a couple of specific aspects I found downright annoying, the first being a dog howling sound effect would be played about every fifteen minutes like clockwork. Maybe the intent was to re-enforce the gothic nature of the story, but it was unnecessary. The second aspect involved the windows in the Fengriffen estate...these damn things would open constantly, apparently due to supernatural elements gaining entry into the home, but then, if it was a ghost (it was), why the hell would it need to open a window to get inside? The only real reason for this was to let the audience in on the fact something spooky was about to happen, and not because it was actually necessary for the story. I thought the script was written well, and the production values very strong...the period pieces and costumes worked wonderfully in creating a sense of the time the story was meant to take place. As far as the violence and blood, there's not really a lot of either, except for within the flashback sequence (someone's grubby mitt gets lopped off). Overall the film isn't particularly scary, but it kept me engaged and entertained throughout.
This DVD release from Dark Sky Films includes an exceptionally sharp and good-looking anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) print, along with a strong and clean audio track presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. Extras include two audio commentary tracks, one with director Roy Ward Baker and actress Stephanie Beacham, and a second with actor Ian Ogilvy. Also included are liner notes by Christopher Gullo, biographies, a still gallery, English subtitles, and a theatrical trailer for this film along with one for The Beast Must Die (1974) and Asylum (1972), all three originally released by Amicus Productions and all three recently re-released onto DVD by Dark Sky Films (they were originally released onto DVD by Image Entertainment).