MGM // 1969 // 192 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Kevin Lee (Retired) // November 29th, 2002
For the first time...the classic tale of the restless dead and their unspeakable hungers!
TRIPLE DISTILLED HORROR...as powerful as a vat of boiling ACID!
In the first half of the 20th century, names like Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, and Boris Karloff were synonymous with some of the greatest horror movies ever made. These men were icons and pioneers in on-screen chills. In the 1960s, the new triumvirate of terror went by the names of Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing. While Lee and Cushing made numerous films together, they were rarely paired up with Price except in a small handful of movies. MGM has released a double feature of these films under their Midnight Movies banner.
The Oblong Box begins with a fateful trip to Africa, during which Sir Edward Markham is victimized by a horrible tribal curse that leaves him hideously disfigured. His brother, Sir Julian (Price), keeps him locked away in their mansion until Edward mercifully dies. Since a large funeral is mandated by the Markham family, Julian enlists the aide of Trench to find a suitable body to replace Edward's deformed corpse, which now connects Julian to a graverobbing ring. Unfortunately, Edward was actually still alive and is dug up by some more graverobbers and sold to Dr. Neuhart (Lee), who becomes blackmailed into giving Edward shelter. After being hideously deformed, locked in an attic, and buried alive, there's only one thing left for Edward to do: don a crimson cowl and fight crime in the streets of Goth...ahem...don a crimson cowl and mete out brutal revenge by way of a murderous rampage on the world who mistreated him. While it might seem very cool to have Price and Lee together in the same movie, it's utterly regrettable that they share absolutely no screen time with each other, and equally regrettable that neither actor puts his best effort into his respective role. The story itself is relatively mundane, though it has a few twists here and there. Since most of the twists are pretty obvious by today's horror standards, this isn't enough to save the story. The Oblong Box may have been shocking in 1969, but it's tremendously tame and diluted in 2002. It tries to be mysterious, but the mysteries are obvious before they unfold, and there just aren't enough chills to make The Oblong Box work as a horror movie, either.
Scream and Scream Again is written and directed by Christopher Wicking and Gordon Hessler, respectively, who also wrote and directed The Oblong Box, which I forgot to mention above. This time they bring three, Three, THREE times the horror by putting Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing into one jumble of a sci-fi/horror movie. Scream and Scream Again involves three different interconnected plots (sort of). Dr. Browning (Price) is a mad (oh, aren't they all) scientist who's creating a race of superhumans by piecing together various body parts. Think Frankenstein. Then there's this Nazi-like organization with a poor fashion style and laughable logo who wants to use these supermen to take over the world. And to top it all off there's a serial killer who exhibits superhuman strength and an affinity to bathing in acid who's frequenting various London discotheques. While my description might make the plot relatively clear, I'm not entirely sure this is exactly what's going on. You see, in order to make the story as mysterious as possible, Wicking and Hessler managed to make one of the most incomprehensible stories I've ever seen. Maybe it's that they try to do too much in ninety minutes, but the story simply collapses. It doesn't really help at all that the three "stars" of the film are given small roles (Cushing only appears for about five minutes and shares no screen time with Lee or Price). At least Lee and Price manage to get in some togetherness toward the end, but this is hardly what horror fans had been clamoring for. On top of all of these problems, the musical score adds to the misery, with a nice jazz/disco type tune running while the serial killer is drinking his victims' blood. This almost puts Scream and Scream Again in the same boat as Dr. Goldfoot And The Bikini Machine. At least there are a few good moments, such as a lengthy, harrowing car chase (it's refreshing to see an old-style chase in which twenty cars don't explode in recent Hollywood tradition), and a classic moment in which the serial killer pulls off his own hand to escape from hand cuffs. Excellent stuff.
The transfers on both The Oblong Box and Scream and Scream Again are pretty much what you would expect from a late 1960s low budget horror film in a budget package from a studio trying to rush its catalog to DVD. I'm not blaming MGM, at all, because I'm actually happy that they're getting B-list titles (especially those with some historical significance) out onto store shelves. The anamorphic transfers both pick up the various flaws in the aging film stock, something that is not preventable, but MGM has gotten the colors at proper levels. Flesh tones look proper and black levels are suitably dark. There are occasional minor problems with: noticeable edge enhancement, compression artifacts, pixels, and graininess, though none of these seem to occur at the same time as the others and not very long lengths of time. The problems may be noticeable, but they aren't really distracting. For special features, you get the original theatrical trailers.
I can't really consider these films as classics -- they're not particularly well-made, and seem somewhat deceptive with the cast lists -- but I can't completely discount them as worthless schlock, either. If you're a fan of Cushing, Lee, or Price, and absolutely must have this DVD to complete the oeuvre of any of these actors, then you could find much worse ways to spend fifteen bucks. MGM is certainly free to go in this case.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 192 Minutes
Release Year: 1969
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* IMDb: The Oblong Box
* IMDb: Scream and Scream Again