Come on altogether now, Frying tonight!
Truly successful horror-comedies are very few and far between. Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, An American Werewolf in London, Gremlins, Shaun of the Dead. And this. The secret potion, or elixir that is needed to make them work is that as well as being extremely funny, they have to take the horror seriously enough to deliver some genuine shivers. It is a delicate balancing act to spoof something whilst still delivering the necessary thrills and chills. A rare alchemy.
Monstrous ape-man throwbacks are stalking the woods and kidnapping young women in order that a spooky-ooky brother and sister combo can then vitrify them in the basement laboratory of their gothic mansion, the Bide-a-Wee Rest Home, and transform them into shop-window mannequins. When Albert Potter’s girlfriend, Doris, gets snatched, he turns to a beleaguered, bewildered and befuddled police force, in the form of Sgt. Bung and his loyal lackey Detective Slobotham (pronounced Slow-Bottom) to help solve the mystery and rescue her. There’s an old dark house. There are revived corpses and regenerated creatures. Murders and mummies are also on the cards. Gorgeous vamp Valeria pours herself into the tightest scarlet dress and pouts and purrs, melting the hearts of men and monsters with equal aplomb. She also has the power to turn men into salivating beasts … quite literally, as it transpires.
Blending in the delicious and irresistible flavours of Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, the Mummy, House of Wax, the Missing Link and numerous other genre offerings and concepts, Rothwell’s screenplay treats its horrors with respect. The two main monsters, Oddbod and Oddbod Junior straddle that fine and rare line between being terrifically funny and really, really scary. The monsters’ combined pursuit of the blundering heroes during the finale is a corking set-piece. You really wouldn’t want to see these two coming down the hall after you. In fact, the grand climax is more exciting than you’ll find in many bonafide horror films, with lots of shivery dread-filled narrow escapes and mini-crescendos all building towards one of the greatest pay-offs in the entire series. And in a film whose plot revolves around cast members being made into dummies, you can’t help but admire the brazenly obvious use of inert prop versions of the two Bods for Jim Dale’s deceptively strong alter-ego to hurl about. And yet it actually feels quite violent at the same time as being patently ridiculous.
There’s a Bondian/Dr. Phibes-style assassination attempt via a trapdoor and a slithering snake, and an playful take on the “two men in bed together” shtick.Another inspired moment has Bernard Bresslaw’s Lurch-like butler, Sockett, imploring Valeria not to send him “back … there,” after he has made the gaff of allowing the police into the house, really giving the impression that his mistress truly has uncanny powers from beyond the grave. The ominous thudding footsteps that the butler makes as the cops wait outside the front door is marvelously offset by the fact that he is actually shown to be wearing slippers. It is touches like these that expertly lampoon the genre whilst also investigating it and adding some food for thought. Bresslaw’s trembling face when he says “there” is priceless.
The ominous thudding footsteps that the butler makes marvelously offset by the fact that he is actually shown to be wearing slippers
The Hammer-look was consistently maintained by DOP Alan Hume, who had already clocked-up some superbly atmospheric horrors by this time – Kiss of the Vampire, Dr. Terror’s House of Horror – as well as some prior Carry Ons. He supplies a sumptuous look to the film, immaculately framing the action and elevating its mood immeasurably. With so many characters who all have a unique look and lots of varying sizes, he does a fabulous job of ensnaring them in the same shot. . Using some exquisite sets at Pinewood and actually filming in Hammer’s stamping ground of Black Wood, the film enjoys an air of class that feels both attentive to period detail and wacky with SF paraphernalia. There can’t have been too many Victorian cop-shops that had scientific labs in them, complete with gyros, diodes and voltmeters, but Pertwee’s colourful cubbyhole gives him a clear foretaste of what he will encounter once he enters the TARDIS in a few years time. The vitrifying foundry and laboratory in the basement of the Bide-a-Wee Rest Home is a gloriously large set that would certainly do Baron Frankenstein proud.
The score from Eric Rogers is also superbly done. There is the usual amount of quirky Mickey Mousing, but this is a more sophisticated score than those that usually graced Carry On films. Its little main theme jingle is appropriately amusing and quaint, jaunty with Victoriana, but it still contains a hint of cosy eeriness too. There is also plenty of enjoyably spooky material to help provide a fine old sense of menace as lumbering monsters plod through the woods or stalk after our heroes during the helter-skelter finale. With a story that was throwing in everything including the kitchen-sink, Rogers even got away with playing some little pastiche elements from the theme to Z-Cars and even Steptoe and Son for when a monstrously transformed Bung rides alongside Bresslaw’s butler on a horse and cart.
Giggles and shudders in equal measure, Carry On Screaming is the quintessential horror-comedy
Carry on Screaming was popular with audiences, both fans of the franchise and those who followed Hammer, but critics were hugely dismissive of it upon its initial release, some even claiming it to be a complete bore. Then again, only a select few of the Carry Ons really gained any kudos at the time. It is only with the passing of years and the repeat appreciation of television airings that their cult status has been properly allowed to flourish. For me, Screaming remains my absolute favourite and I could watch it over and over again – and, indeed, have done just that since this BD arrived. Carry On Camping, Carry On Jack, Carry On Don’t Lose Your Head, Carry On Up The Khyber and Carry On Up The Jungle are, naturally, right up there too … but this one, despite being something of a slight departure in tone and casting, hangs together so well that it is just boundlessly rewarding. Being a confirmed devotee of horror films has probably helped to sway my opinion as well, but Rothwell structures his story so well and creates so many indelible characters and situations that you just have to give him credit for taking the tried and trusted formula and attaching a rocket to its derriere. Plus, he brings some suspense to the vitrifying pot and injects a few original ideas into the veins of subject matter that was highly prevalent on cinema screens at the time.
Giggles and shudders in equal measure, Carry On Screaming carries on delivering the goods and is the quintessential horror-comedy.
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