Following the fundamental rules of the 18th-century gothic ghost story, And Now the Screaming Starts! is slow moving but frequently lurid. Don’t be fooled by the disembodied hand on the poster; this one isn’t about a creeping phantom hand sneaking up on people and strangling them (though that does happen to several of the unlucky victims herein). An invisible phantom spirit lurking within a cursed family mansion rapes Catherine (Stephanie Beacham) on her wedding night, and as her petulant husband (Ian Ogilvy) seeks the aid and advice of various doctors and specialists, it becomes increasingly clear that they are suffering for the sins of their ancestors. The dead bodies pile up around them as the supporting cast is dispatched in various ways, with the maid getting pushed down the stairs by an invisible force (accompanied by a vivid, spiraling-out-of-control sound design) in a standout sequence. In addition to the evil hand, Catherine is assailed by roving dogs, nightmare visions of a skulking eyeless peasant, and her own shrieking hysteria. Though Peter Cushing is top-billed as a kindly psychiatrist who uses Sherlock Holmes-style deductions against the supernatural foe, Beacham commands the picture as a prim Victorian scream queen who falls apart, with a larger than life performance that might best be described as “voluptuous horror.”
Picture and sound quality are clear, though sometimes the audio is a little thin and the image is slightly muted. All in all, though, this title is surprisingly well preserved and holds up better than other restored Amicus films.
The commentary by director Roy Ward Baker and actress Stephanie Beacham is not very interesting, as Baker praises Beacham's instinctive talent as an actress and she remarks on how little she knew about film production walking in. They are at their best when discussing the chaste way Amicus would handle sex scenes, as opposed to their competitors over at Hammer. That said, the flashback sequence with drunken landowner Herbert Lom raping a peasant girl pushes the envelope, and in Baker's words is appropriately disturbing, in contrast to the phantom rape of Beacham's character, which is ambiguous bordering on unclear. A second commentary by actor Ian Ogilvy is brisk and charming, peppered with colorful anecdotes about the cast and crew and the differences between American and British acting and directing. The Brits, to hear him tell it, are frequently howling with laughter between takes, and though they take performance seriously, they don't take themselves seriously. And, of course, sometimes they'd get through the day by stashing bottles of Guinness under the chairs for a swig or two between takes.
Though it is occasionally slow going, Stephanie Beacham's operatic shrieking makes good on the title's promise.