31 Days of Halloween — Day 17: The House That Screamed (1970) — by Trey Whetstone

31 Days of Halloween - The House That Screamed 1970

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)

—Trey Whetstone

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3 thoughts on “31 Days of Halloween — Day 17: The House That Screamed (1970) — by Trey Whetstone

  1. Day 17 – Hush

    When looking at various lists of the best horror directors going today, you’re bound to come across the name, “Mike Flanagan” quite a bit in recent years. Flanagan has slowly been building up his name with multiple releases of horror films that I’d call “Better than they should have been” including 2013’s Oculus and last year’s Ouija: Origin of Evil. Keeping in mind that I haven’t seen the recent Gerald’s Game, adapted from a Stephen King novel, thus far I’d say Hush has been Flanagan’s crowning achievement as a filmmaker, showing off his talents and potential to leave a lasting impression on horror.

    Without question, the biggest achievement of Hush is its sound work. As the main character, Maddie is deaf, that allows for Flanagan and company to play around with the sound throughout the movie. From the very start of the film, we’re exposed to the fact that a lot of care and attention has been devoted to the sound. As Maddie is (Failing) at cooking herself dinner, every chop of the knife is clear and vibrant. Massive credit to everyone in the sound department especially Vicki Vandegrift, the foley artist. Yet, the fun thing about Hush is that it goes back and forth between giving us clear sounds to taking them all away, robbing us our hearing to help us relate to Maddie. Those silent moments are equally well done particularly when we’re shown a repeated action, this time without the sound, further heightening the supreme sound work. If there was an award I could give for best sound work in a horror movie, Hush would easily win in 2016.

    Handicap horror films can be pretty entertaining. They all do seem to follow a simple formula of the baddies deciding to play with their food before feasting, thus giving their handicap victims a fighting chance at surviving. The old Audrey Hepburn film, Wait Until Dark, is another example of an excellent handicap based horror film about a lone woman forced to try and survive on her own despite her disability. The only difference is that in the film, Hepburn is blind, not deaf. Kate Siegel as Maddie did a remarkable job at portraying Maddie as a sympathetic character who also has enough strength to never give up. Even at the end when she’s prepping for death, she’s still fighting, leaving behind a message on her laptop, telling whoever finds it that she died fighting and giving a description of her attacker. The added character trait of being a writer who can see multiple outcomes in her head, even gives Maddie the fun new addition of being someone who can properly think things out thoroughly before acting on her plan. For always thinking and staying cool under pressure, Maddie would be my pick as the best heroine from a horror movie in 2016.

    If there’s one thing I hated about Hush when it originally came out on Netflix and still hate with this latest watch, it’s the decision to have Maddie’s attacker remove his mask so early on in the film. Don’t get me wrong, I like the sinister explanation for removing the mask, to take away Maddie’s last hope that her attacker will just leave her alone, since she had never seen his face, but that’s something I would have preferred to see near the end. My biggest criticism about this is also tied to a praise of the film – the mask is awesome looking. Seriously. I love how sinister the white mask is with its slight grin. Worse yet is that the mask is used heavily in the marketing of the film. As of the moment I’m typing up this review, when I open up Netflix on my Roku to view Hush, the poster for Hush is still prominently featuring the mask. How I see it, if you didn’t want to force John Gallagher Jr. to wear a mask for the entire film, he should have been wearing a more generic looking one so that one he ditches it, it’s not a big deal. Strictly speaking, I otherwise love the attacker. I applaud Flanagan keeping the attacker so mysterious to the point where even at the conclusion of the film, we don’t know a single thing about him. We don’t know his name, why he started off killing Maddie’s killer, what his backstory is, or anything else besides knowing that he enjoys playing mind games before killing and what his face looks like.

    Due to the fact that this is very much so a movie about the cat and mouse game between an attacker and his intended victim, with the victim continuously trying different attempts to get away, it is slow going. As a result, those horror fans that love action in their films, may be left a little bored or feeling as if nothing happens. I never felt that way because the movie was so well made, but it is also a movie where you don’t need to be paying too much attention to, without missing out on anything. The true saving grace of the film was the sound work and Maddie being so likable. I suspect if the sound didn’t have anything special attached to it and a lesser actress portrayed Maddie, Hush wouldn’t have nearly the appeal that it does. Furthermore, although the action scenes do not happen frequently, when they do happen, they’re well done and bloody. There’s a great sudden death in the middle of the film and a hand injury is particularly gnarly looking. These kills and attacks are exciting enough to help keep this viewer interested as the film returns to its slow pace.

    Overall, Hush was one of the better horror films of 2016. I personally ranked it #7 in my end of the top ten horror movies of the year list. With this re-watch being just as exciting, it may even deserve to be moved up a spot or two in the top ten too. I can’t praise the sound design of the film enough. Considering it’s not in your face with gore and the horror, I believe the sound work is enough of a reason for even non-horror fans to give the movie a chance. Although Mike Flanagan is not quite the elite horror director that some makes him out to be, there’s no denying that the guy has a lot of talent and re-watching Hush has only made me more interested in watching his adaptation of Gerald’s Game and any future movies he’ll be making.

    Rating: 8.5/10

    • A bonus birthday review for today.

      Buffy the Vampire Slayer
      Title: Hush
      Season: 4/Episode: 10
      Director: Joss Whedon

      —Contains Spoilers—

      Although I’ve been a horror fan for now a little over half of my lifetime, I was not quick to jump on the Buffy The Vampire Slayer bandwagon. It was still on the air when I started to get really into horror, but I outrightly rejected it. Believing that it was the same sort of teenybopper nonsense that caused me, for a time, to even steer away from the Scream franchise. I’m a serious horror fan, gosh darn it! Eventually, in late 2015, I gave the show a try by watching a few of the season one episodes. It apparently wasn’t enough to fully grab my interest as my attention quickly went to another television show to binge on. Flash forward to a year and a half later and it’s February 2017 and after a lot of pushing from a friend, I finally gave in and gave the show a proper chance. The result? I got a tad bit into it. The sort of “Tad bit into” that led to me only watching Buffy for the last couple weeks of February until my extreme binging finally wrapped up. Throughout the seven seasons, there was certainly a lot of bad (Season seven alone was nearly all garbage), but throughout the series, there were some great moments. One such episode is what I’m going to discuss in this review.

      Season 4 saw a big change in the series with the Scooby Gang graduating from high school and the show losing the characters of Angel, Cordelia, Wesley, and Oz while gaining new additions thanks to the remaining Scooby Gang members heading off to college with the arrival of Riley and Tara. As episode 10, “Hush”, begins, everyone is feeling a bit on edge due to over talking. Buffy and Riley can’t seem to get past their inability of sharing their own personal secrets with each other to advance into a relationship, Spike’s chip is forcing him to always hang out at Giles or Xander’s house, much to the annoyance of both parties, Anya wants to know what she means to Xander with Xander not knowing what to say, and poor Willow is struggling in her new college Wicca group, desperate to actually do some spells instead of having each meeting be nonstop talking. For everyone in the little town of Sunnydale, the talking will no longer be a problem with the arrival of The Gentlemen.

      The Gentlemen are simply put, the scariest monsters in the entire series. Although there’s many Gentlemen, they typically break off into groups of four. Each group consists of two Gentlemen and two workers. The Gentlemen are thin and tall creatures that are recognizable by wearing suits and having giant grins on their face. These grins are terrifying and each Gentlemen has a slightly different grin, making each unique. While the Gentlemen float down the streets and hallways, their workers are squatting monsters that wear straight jackets and make crazy jerking like movements as they walk along. The Gentlemen are the brains of the operation while the workers are mostly just there to serve a similar role as the Putty Patrollers in Power Rangers where they’re just there to be fodder for the stars to fight.

      Rather than just being scary looking monsters, my interest in The Gentlemen only increases once you witness their means of operation. When they first arrive in town, they manage to steal the voices from all of the residents. With everyone silent and unable to even cry, it means they can easily attack their victims each night, using a scalpel to cut out the hearts of those unlucky enough to encounter The Gentlemen. In typical Buffy fashion, Giles is eventually able to figure out who is controlling the town, allowing for a Scooby Gang meeting to take place where Giles gives out all of the information he has on The Gentlemen through an overhead projector “Lecture”. This would be one of the better scenes of the episode, featuring a silent movie era song playing as Giles shows off each new transparency detailing his knowledge of The Gentlemen complete with quickly drawn images to go along with the info. Sometimes the pictures are comical and other times it’s oddly creepy with how gory of a picture Giles drew.

      The horror doesn’t only come from The Gentlemen in “Hush” either. A lot of the more terrifying moments of the episode comes from the realistic ramifications if something like a town wide muteness occurred. Everyone in town is feeling downtrodden. Some people turn to religion as if it’s the end of days. Others are just a crying mess, unable to try to move on. Naturally, there’s a lot of miscommunication, typically handled in comedic fashion such as when Xander thought Spike had attacked a sleeping Anya, leading to Xander punching out Spike before realizing his error. The worse would be how some people look at tragedies and see it as a means of gaining personal wealth, benefiting from the tragedy. Such a thing is shown in “Hush” as Buffy and Willow encounter a guy selling small erasable boards for ten dollars each.

      The unique thing about The Gentlemen is that for as creepy as they are, they’re not hard to beat. Literally all that’s required to kill them is for someone to scream, causing their heads to explode. Of course, the difficulty there is regaining your abilities to talk. In order to do so, you must destroy the box that keeps everyone’s voices. This is where the workers come into play as Riley and Buffy learn the truth about each other as they both end up battling all of the workers in their quest to destroying the box. Once the box is destroyed and everyone can talk, one good scream from Buffy creates the fun kill involving all of The Gentlemen’s heads to explode at once. This ease of killing The Gentlemen is the only reason why I can see why they were never brought back to the series. It’s an unfortunate thing as the series created this incredible breed of monsters, but it’s an one and done situation. Perhaps it would have been better had Joss Whedon stretched this story out to be a two-parter to get more bang for its Gentlemen buck.

      The episode ends up being a fairly remarkable one. All of the problems that plagued everyone at the start of the episode is resolved, thanks ironically to The Gentlemen. Buffy and Riley are now somewhat clued in on their secrets, even though now comes the difficult part in fully explaining to the other their secret. Thanks to Xander’s freak out and attack on Spike, Anya realizes that Xander does truly care about her. Although it’s a bit of a meaningless sub-plot since it didn’t play a role in stopping The Gentlemen, Willow’s frustration over the inactivity of her Wicca group is solved by meeting and bonding with Tara, the only other member of the Wicca group that has legit powers, similarly to Willow. This introduction of Tara would end up becoming a big thing in television history as her and Willow’s relationship was one of the first lesbian couples shown on TV, featuring major characters. Strictly speaking, the only conflict that wasn’t resolved or at least advanced that was presented at the start of the episode was Spike getting on everyone’s nerves, but that’s essentially one of Spike’s most basic character traits.

      Overall, the first time I had watched “Hush”, it became one of my favorite episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and now with this re-watch, following completing all of the episodes that come after “Hush”, it’s still one of the better episodes. The Gentlemen remain my absolute favorite monsters in the history of the show. Their creepiness is unmatched and still effective upon rewatch. With the exception of the musical episode in season six, “Once More, with Feeling”, I would rate “Hush” as the second most creative episode of the series. For newer horror fans that haven’t done much in going back and watching the classics from the silent era, “Hush” can be a nice a little tease of what silent horror can present. The score was wonderful, plenty of significant events happened, and the monsters are unforgettable in this fantastic episode.

  2. Day 17: The Houses October Built 2 (2017)

    This low budget sequel to the 2014 film is by the same crew and director and gives us more footage from haunts around the US, including a zombie run. The plot continues from the anti-climactic ending of the first film and keeps to many of the same story beats. The characters don’t have much to do and their conversations become tedious as we follow them on their haunt tour. There are some genuinely scary parts but the story is weak until the ending which is filled with twists and reveals that once again seem anticlimactic. It’s a fun watch for Halloween atmosphere because of the haunt coverage. 3.5/10

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