Countdown to Halloween – The Screaming Skull (1958)

To countdown to this year’s Halloween, Luke Owen reviews a different horror film every day of October. Next up – The Screaming Skull from 1958…

The Screaming Skull is a motion picture that reaches its climax in shocking horror. It’s 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…”

That is the opening narration for Alex Nicol’s 1958 horror “classic” The Screaming Skull, a movie that has been ridiculed by many including the cast of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 and James Rolfe of Cinemassacre. But for everything that is wrong with the movie (and there is a lot wrong), there is a something about it to be admired.

Let’s get off on the right foot to begin with and state that The Screaming Skull is a poor movie. Not from a story telling aspect, but from an actual filmmaking standpoint. In my review of Showgirls 2: Penny’s From Heaven, I mentioned that the one thing that really held the movie back was the production levels that made Youtube videos look like Michael Bay’s Transformers. With The Screaming Skull, it’s often in the editing where the movie falls apart. The most well-known mis-edit comes when our heroine walks frightfully towards a banging window only for the film to jump cut to her running away without any resolution to the build up. They literally lose around 30-40 seconds of footage in this edit.

And this is a real shame because the build and tension in The Screaming Skull is actually really decent. The movie may often be mocked for its hiccups and errors, but Nicol does deserve a lot of credit for creating a foreboding atmosphere and a genuine sense of fear from his actors. The camera lingers on Jenni as she wanders round this house that is not her own, terrified about what she might find round the next corner and this is often very effective. The window scene in particular has a great build with some good scoring by Enrest Gold – only for it to be ruined by the stupid jump cut.

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. There is a reason why this was riffed by Mystery Science Theatre 3000 and why it only holds a 3/10 rating on IMDB. For everything it does right, it does twenty things wrong.

With that in mind, The Screaming Skull is actually the perfect movie to mock – the kind of film where you get together with friends to ad-lib lines of dialogue and riff along with it. And in that sense, there is a certain charm about The Screaming Skull which is to be celebrated. The opening narration is utterly genius and the terrible acting and cock-ups are hilarious to watch. It does comes with a recommendation, but you won’t have to worry about contacting the producers to see if that free burial service is still on offer.

Luke Owen is one of Flickering Myth’s co-editors and the host of the Flickering Myth Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @LukeWritesStuff.

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