The Screaming Skull – USA, 1958

The Screaming Skull is a 1958 American horror film, written and produced by John Kneubuhl (Two on a Guillotine), inspired by the short story of the same name by Francis Marion Crawford. It was directed by Alex Nicol (A*P*EThe Night God Screamed; Point of Terror), who also plays the gardener). It stars John Hudson, Peggy Webber, and Russ Conway.

The film’s cinematographer was Floyd Crosby who worked with Roger Corman several times, especially on key genre movies such as House of Usher (1960) and The Pit and the Pendulum (1961).

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In the United States, American International Pictures (AIP) released the film on a double-bill with Terror from the Year 5,000.

On April 25, 2017, The Screaming Skull was released on Blu-ray by Scream Factory.

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Buy Blu-ray: Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk

Opening narration: “The Screaming Skull is a motion picture that reaches its climax in shocking horror. Its impact is so terrifying that it may have an unforeseen effect. It may *kill* you! The producers would like to offer a free burial service to anyone who dies of shock…”

A newly-wed woman (Peggy Webber) believes she is being haunted by the ghost of her husband’s previous wife…

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Buy on DVD with The Vampire + The Bat PeopleThe House That Screamed from Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk

Reviews:

” … for a directorial debut, it demonstrates remarkable credibility and resourcefulness, and for a horror film of its station and era, it earns a well-deserved niche in the curator’s mind. It’s a nice example of what people used to call a “sleeper.” Tim Lucas, Video Watchdog

” …gets a lot of mileage out of the creepy half-empty house as well as the surprise appearances of the titular skull.  The final sequence in which Eric himself gets attacked by the vengeance seeking skull is particularly memorable.” Mitch Lovell, The Video Vacuum

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“Nicol evidently didn’t have much of a budget to work with, though he was able to select a nice location with the country house and its surrounding gardens, and though The Screaming Skull began in rather pedestrian manner stick with it since it only lasted barely over an hour, and in that time it built up a neat amount of mayhem within its meagre means. The best idea it had was to take what was clearly hokum deadly seriously…” Graeme Clarke, The Spinning Image

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” … it’s possible to find some kind of meaning in the character relationships – parallel drownings, an ex-wife resembling the new wife’s mother, etc. But there’s neither enough quality nor enough camp to make the flick rewarding.” David Elroy Goldweber, Claws & Saucers

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“Crosby’s camerawork is superb, and there are some nicely macabre moments (birds screeching all around, grinning skulls popping out of a dark pool) … Nicol, an actor directing here for the first time, let’s the action spin out much too slackly…” The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror

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Director Alex Nicol as Mickey the gardener

“But while some of the tension is very good and the story is well told within its brief 68 minute runtime, The Screaming Skull cannot escape the silliness of the bland acting, naff script and rolling skull […] For everything it does right, it does twenty things wrong.” The Flickering Myth

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” …the earnest atmospherics, and perfectly ambiguous ending set this one apart. No, it’s not a masterpiece. But it’s classic late ’50s matinee fun.” The Terror Trap

“The Screaming Skull opens with a [William] Castle-ish gimmick, and the film definitely belongs to the Castle school of horror: a little cheesy, a little suspenseful, a whole lot of fun. The film isn’t quite as high-quality as any of Castle’s many immensely enjoyable outings, but it’s still a pretty good watch… Lindsey D., The Motion Pictures

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“No movie should be repetitious if it is only 68 minutes long […] You could easily cut this movie to under an hour and not lose anything. In fact, The Screaming Skull for the most part comes across as a bad episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents…” Duane, Rogue Cinema

Main cast and characters:

  • Jon Hudson … Eric Whitlock
  • Peggy Webber … Jenni Whitlock
  • Russ Conway … Reverand Edward Snow
  • Tony Johnson … Mrs. Snow
  • Alex Nicol … Mickey, the Gardener

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Choice dialogue:

“Hardly seems fair, using the living to bring back the dead.”

Wikipedia | IMDb | American Film Institute

Image credits: Video Watchdog

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Categories: 1950s, Blu-ray, psychological horror

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