In the 19th century French countryside, Mademoiselle Fourneau (Lilli Palmer; Murders in the Rue Morgue, 1971) runs a
remote boarding school for troubled girls. Everything is proper and precise, and the icy headmistress brooks no foolishness,
dispensing punishment such as imprisonment and lashing for the slightest deviation from her norm. New student Teresa
(Cristina Galbó; What Have You Done to Solange?, 1972; The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, 1974) is enrolled and during
her tour of the facilities is followed by a shadowy figure.
Teresa is well received by the other girls who inform her that five previous students have run away. It doesn’t take
Teresa long to learn the pecking order of the school, which begins and ends with Irene (Mary Maude; Crucible of Terror, 1971). Irene serves as a combination of teacher’s pet and enforcer for Mme. Fourneau, while simultaneously lording over the other girls by arranging an illicit rendezvous with the local woodsman each month. Also in the brooding manor is Luis (John Moulder-Brown; Vampire Circus, 1972), the pampered and oppressively overprotected teenage son of the headmistress. (The relationship between Mme. Fourneau and Luis cannot help but call to mind the smothering affections of Pink’s Mother in Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982).
Mme. Fourneau forbids Luis to talk with any of the girls or even look at them, which, of course, is exactly what he does with his time. He spies on them as they shower (in their nightgowns, further emphasizing the repressed sexual tone), and for some time has held clandestine meetings with them. It isn’t long before Teresa is stealing through the gloomy hallways, following in their footsteps. Irene discovers Luis and Teresa’s meetings, and she uses the knowledge to bully and haze the new girl.
The number of missing girls increases and Mme. Fourneau turns the school into even more of a prison than it already is, going so far as nailing the windows shut. But the missing girls didn’t run away. They were murdered by the same shadowy assailant who trailed Teresa during her tour, and who is now locked inside the school with plenty of victims. Teresa must survive long enough to uncover the grisly secret in the attic and to identity the killer.
Directed by Narciso Ibáñez Serrador, a veteran of television writing and directing since 1957, The House That Screamed (original title: la Residencia) was his first feature film. “The Hitchcock of Spain” (as he is referred to in the supplemental material) would also go on to helm the controversial and disquieting ¿Quién puede matar a un niño? (Who Can Kill a Child?, 1974), another excellent piece of Spanish cinema. Instead of the uneven, heavy-handed effort we might expect from a director in Serrador’s position (transitioning from the small screen to the big screen), he proves he is more than capable of making the jump.
The film is an interesting mix of the gothic “old dark house” story and what would, before the decade was over, become the slasher subgenre. The elements of the gothic are obvious: a looming old house, females are in distress, creaky doors and furtive shadows, sinister characters, and a persistent sense of claustrophobia and repressed sexuality. Under Serrador’s direction, these blend surprisingly well with the graphic onscreen violence and menacing killer—elements that would become the obligatory standard of stalk-and-slash films. He holds these disparate styles in tension with flair and restraint.
Serrador does not allow the film to descend into sleazy exploitation (which could easily have happened in any number of ways). There are suggestions of incest and lesbianism but they are never fully realized. They hang ghostlike in the background, uneasily permeating the environment without needing to be manipulated. The House That Screamed has the look and feel of a Hammer film from the same period. Sumptuous attention to detail, a billowy orchestral score, and the heavy tone of constrained feminine sexuality make it a close cousin to the best of Hammer. The film was influential on Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977) as well as Juan Piquer Simón’s far less classy guilty pleasure Pieces (1982).
The film works and can be read as a statement on Spain under Federico Franco. Mme. Fourneau is the obvious Fascist leader, imposing her unbending will on everyone around her. The repressed sexuality among the students echoes the same that was present in Spain at the time. Luis’s voyeurism is symbolic of the vast network of secret police that spied on Spanish citizens. And the Catholicism practiced by the inhabitants of the school reflects the only tolerated religion of Francoist Spain.
Shout! Factory brings The House That Screamed to high definition for the first time. The Blu-ray includes two cuts of the film: an HD theatrical version (94 minutes) and a HD extended version (104 minutes). The additional scenes are in standard definition and contain some synch issues from the source material. In addition there is some warbling on the soundtrack in places, including the opening credits.
The film has an earthy color palette that doesn’t give the high definition transfer a chance to pop. However, the upgrade brings so much more of the film into sharper focus. The most notable differences are between interior and exterior shots. Scenes shot in the studio are clean and bright; location shots are darker and grittier.
Extras include an extremely casual interview with John Moulder-Brown (6m, 12s; filmed in a restaurant at the 2011 Munich Film Festival) talking about his first “adult” role (he already had over 20 film appearances as a child by the time of la Residencia) and how the film made more money than Gone With the Wind in Spain. There’s also an interview (12 m., 14s; conducted at the Festival of Fantastic Films in 2012) with British actress Mary Maude reflecting on her experiences filming in Spain. Additional materials include a theatrical trailer, television and radio spots, and a photo gallery. Language options are limited to English (with removable English subtitles).
The House That Screamed 1970 Scream Factory Blu ray