Editor’s note: The hosts of Horror Movie Podcast are always impressed by the knowledge and insights of our listenership in the emails and voicemails that we receive, as well as in the comments here at HorrorMoviePodcast.com. Once again, we’ve asked our listeners to participate in our 31 Days of Halloween by contributing written reviews. This review was submitted by listener Trey Whetstone, whom you can follow on Twitter @Treyw_73
What secrets does this secluded 19th century boarding school hold? Why are its students disappearing? What fate awaits those who remain? As one of the film’s taglines aptly suggests, “Only the killer knows why and how and who is next.”
Set in the aforementioned boarding school, The House That Screamed (also titled “La Residencia”) opens with the arrival of its newest student, Teresa. The boarding school is a place where young, wayward women are sent when they become too much for their families. The women are taught lessons in subjects such as art, cooking, music and dictation to prepare them for their futures. It’s made clear immediately that Madam Fourneau, the school’s headmistress, does not tolerate any misbehavior and will not hesitate to use physical abuse to discipline the young women who are students of the school. As Teresa becomes acquainted with some of the other students, we learn that recently three women have disappeared, and it is implied that they have run away. Though we do not know whether this has always been the case or if it has been instated due to the recent disappearances, the women are locked in their room at night and the various other doors throughout the school are secured, as well.
As I mentioned earlier, one of the film’s taglines perfectly describes the setup of the story that is to unfold. Another tagline, however, I believe miscommunicates the message of the film and may have been created more to draw in crowds than to describe the film itself. The tagline in question simply states, “One by one they will die,” and is prominently displayed on the cover of the Blu-ray case. The reason I’m calling attention to this is that you must know what you’re getting into with The House That Screamed. This is by no means a classic stalk and slash where the body count continues to pile up as the film progresses. Instead it’s more in line with the early proto-slashers and many of its thrills come from the disturbing affairs that occur during the normal day to day life of the students. There are a few notable scenes of terror in this movie that are in no way related to the disappearances.
The story is at its best when creating a living, breathing depiction of a 19th century boarding school environment and the struggles that go along with residing in one. Most of the characters are not developed as well as they should be, but the group of students as a whole are presented in a believable and endearing manner. The film also oozes with themes of sexual tension and repression. From the women taking turns meeting the man who brings fire wood in the barn for a quick romp to the Headmistress’ coming of age son who likes the spy on the women, the sexual undertones are openly presented throughout. This only helps to craft a genuine-feeling setting and sense of place and ultimately culminates in the film’s ironic, disturbing conclusion.
Keep in mind that this film is a slow burn. There are only a handful of actual deaths and they are done in a more stylistic, artful manner that call to mind some of the Italian horror films of old. In fact, there are several strange moments that would be right at home in a 1970s Giallo. Make no mistake, however, this film is not without its share of psychological thrills and disturbing scenes. But I do want to reiterate the lack of straightforward violence present here.
There are a couple of areas that I want to address that feel uneven in this film. The first is the score that ranges from eerie, Universal monster-esque pieces to melodies that would fit better in a 1960s family film. The score overall feels dated and either perfectly hits its mark or falls completely flat. There is no in between here.
The other piece of contention I want to discuss is the cast. The House That Screamed is a mash-up of actors from both Spanish and English backgrounds. While all the parts are acted well, some seem out of place here. The one that clearly stands out is Luis, Madam Fourneau’s son. Throughout the film he speaks with an English accent while his mother clearly does not. His is the only such accent of any of the cast, and it really does throw the film off a bit.
The House That Screamed feels ahead of its time in many ways. Although it is not packed with as many scares as most of its successors in the genre, it does manage to tell an engaging story with a specific theme that nicely ties into the film’s memorable ending. It may feel dated and lacking in places, but the ending here is well worth the price of admission. I won’t soon forget my experience with The House That Screamed.
7.5 (High-priority Rental)
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