A British government sponsored scientific clinic run by Vincent Price is secretly producing a race of superhuman cyborgs assembled from stolen human body-parts. The cyborgs are taking over key positions of power throughout the world with a view to total domination. The superhumans' plans are threatened with exposure when one of their number flees Price's clinic and goes on a psychopathic killing spree. More mayhem ensues when a cyborg hit-man is dispatched to England from a fascistic eastern European country to eliminate all witnesses to the murders, including his former co-conspirator, Price.
If writer Chris Wicking had streamlined the above storyline, Scream And Scream Again might be regarded today as a lean, mean minor classic. Instead, the film's reputation has suffered because of a partial failure to resolve the screenplay's many intrigues; spy-planes, government cover-ups, police investigations, car chases, swinging London, transplant surgery, eugenics, and vampirism. Wicking obviously wanted to portray the intangibility and inter-connectedness of evil, but ninety minutes is scarcely time to tie all of these elements together and accommodate character development. Unfortunately, Wicking sticks rather too closely to the original book's choppy narrative (itself a result of multiple writers hacking away to produce a pulpy, patchwork, dime-store novel), and doesn't quite make it gel. Nice try though.
Christopher Matthews plays the young, inquisitive police pathologist and is the movie's nominal hero. But his character exists only to bear witness to the very small piece of the puzzle that he is a part of. He is what film critics used to call a cipher. Indeed, all of the characters are ciphers. They don't exist as properly motivated people in themselves, but rather as conduits disseminating the story's fertile ideas. It's possible to make an interesting movie in this way, but Scream And Scream Again is first and foremost a schlock exploitation film. It says "American International" on the tin, so you aren't going to get Antonioni here.
So, high art apart, is the movie any good as schlock entertainment? Sure! It possesses a fair dollop of pulp-trash energy, and its willingness to flit recklessly between locations, time-frames, and plot-points lends it a certain charm.
The casting is astute. The late Michael Gothard makes a good, eerie cyborg psychopath as he prowls groovy London discotheques in search of party-girls whom just assume he's a good-looking guy with a fast car and an Austin Powers shirt. Of course, the reality is more gruesome, and he is soon savagely murdering them and sucking their blood - although why he has vampiric tendencies is, typically, never explained. With his turns in that other super-trash magnum opus, Lifeforce, and Ken Russell's brilliant The Devils, I'm surprised Gothard doesn't have more of a cult following.
Elsewhere, Alfred Marks pretty much steals the show as the curmudgeonly cop in charge of the murder investigation. He has some nice throwaway lines (the only real character-based dialogue in the movie) that he delivers with mordant relish. Think of a British version of Walther Matthau in The Taking Of Pelham 123. Marks was a well known light-comedy actor in Britain, and appears here in one of his few film roles.
Judy Huxtable plays one of Gothard's victims in a brief and suitably unpleasant scene. A little later, Huxtable's became famous for being Peter Cook's second wife.
The movie's big selling point is the casting of Price, Cushing and Lee. All but Price have little more than extended cameos, but it's always good to see them. Some have praised Price's "serious" performance, but, to me, he is his usual quite wonderfully camp self.
My personal favourite piece of characterization is that of Konratz, the sadistic cyborg hit-man/superfascist, icily portrayed by Marshall Jones. I don't know what became of Jones, but his stint here, conveyed with minimal dialogue, is impressively charismatic and convincingly evil. His preferred method of murder is noteworthy; a lethal version of Leonard Nimoy's vulcan nerve pinch, which, in this case, seems to induce an immediate cerebral hemorrhage. In one bravura sequence, Konratz calmly waltzes into a busy police station, kills one of the major characters in a startling and gory close-up, steals some files and waltzes out again without missing a beat. A very scary fellow.
The movie's technical credits are fine. Gordon Hessler directs efficiently, indeed some of his set-ups are inspired - fairly ambitious tracking shots and some energetic hand-held shots from the POVs of killers and victims etc). Elsewhere, it's a case of point-and-shoot, probably a result of time/budget constraints. John Coquillon's cinematography takes a similar path, doing well enough with limited resources. He was to do more interesting work on Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs a few years later.
David Whittaker's riotously jazzy score seems initially to be outrageously inappropriate, then, as the narrative silliness progresses, you realise it is COMPLETELY appropriate. It's that kind of a movie. When it was re-released on video in the mid 80s, the movie had a new electronic score composed for it by Kendall Schmidt perhaps to avoid Musicians Union re-use fees. While I'm fond of Schmidt's effort, I prefer Whittaker's original. The score actually takes a more serious tone towards the denouement when Whittaker underscores the true horror of Price's laboratory with an eerie saxophone mysterioso and dissonant brass. The film might have benefited from more of that kind of scoring.
Finally, with its wild fusion of elements, Scream And Scream Again is an enjoyable gallop through late sixties paranoia. If nothing else it highlights that era's creeping fear of medical progress. This was a time when the latest advances in transplant surgery were making global news. The latent horror of these techniques, echoing Frankenstein, were to inspire other productions such as O Lucky Man, Coma, and Gerry Anderson's UFO with its organ stealing aliens. But at least Scream And Scream Again got there first.