‘The tortured ghost who claimed vengeance in the bride’s bedroom’
The Screaming Skull is a 1958 American horror feature film, written and produced by John Kneubuhl (Two on a Guillotine), inspired by the short story of the same name by Francis Marion Crawford. The was directed by Alex Nicol (APE; The Night God Screamed; Point of Terror), who also plays the gardener) and it stars John Hudson, Peggy Webber, and Russ Conway.
When later interviewed by Wheeler Dixon, director Alex Nicol said: “There wasn’t any one director I tried to emulate on that film; I wasn’t smart enough to do that. I just worked my way through the script, blocking it out as I went along, trying to get the film shot on time […] I liked it; it had some nice dolly shots, a good atmosphere. So I was happy with that; it was a nice change from the films I’d been doing.”
The film’s cinematographer was Floyd Crosby, who went on to work several times with Roger Corman.
In the US, American International Pictures (AIP) released the film on a double-bill with Terror from the Year 5000.
On April 25, 2017, The Screaming Skull was released on Blu-ray by Scream Factory.
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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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“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
” … some of the dark scenes are effective, particularly when punctuated by mysterious sounds: the peacock screams, the mysterious knocking. And 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
“While the film as a whole is strikingly unimpressive, the horror elements used to create the setting are carefully crafted, an exercise in precision. The house is large and spacious, overwhelming the characters inside and, at night, creating a “perfect” setting for a haunting.” DVD Beaver
“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.” The Flickering Myth
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“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… The Motion Pictures
“No movie should be repetitious if it is only 68 minutes long. I mean, how many scenes do we have of Jenny looking through the house for noises? The answer is far too many. How many searches for Mickey or as I like to think of him, Red Herring? You could easily cut this movie to under an hour and not lose anything.” Rogue Cinema
” …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, which made for titters in the early stages, but as this was one of those movies which at the time of its release scared a generation of schoolchildren (and not only them) it must have been doing something right.” The Spinning Image
” …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 final sequence in which Eric himself gets attacked by the vengeance-seeking skull is particularly memorable. The flick is more or less a predictable overlong episode of The Twilight Zone, but I still kinda dug it. Webber is outstanding as the mentally unstable Jenni who has repeated nervous breakdowns…” The Video Vacuum
” … 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.” Video Watchdog
“Hardly seems fair, using the living to bring back the dead.”
Cast and characters:
Jon Hudson … Eric Whitlock
Peggy Webber … Jenni Whitlock – The New Scooby and Scrappy-Doo Show TV series
Russ Conway … Reverend Edward Snow
Tony Johnson … Mrs Snow
Alex Nicol … Mickey the Gardener
The Screaming Skull was copyrighted incorrectly and so is in the public domain.
The US poster was painted by Albert Kallis.