The Screaming Skull (1958) – By Danny Runion

When it comes right down to it, this movie is a cross between “Gaslight” and a William Castle movie. Now, I’ve not had much experience with William Castle movies save “House on Haunted Hill” which was a pretty entertaining movie. Both it and “The Screaming Skull” had the same gimmicky promotions. After all, offering a free burial for dying of fright must have drawn in some large audiences back in 1958.

This was repetitious movie. 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. In fact, “The Screaming Skull” for the most part comes across as a bad episode of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” without any pudgy droll English guys. Can you tell this movie is low
budget when the main set is an empty house and garden? It almost seems like they rented a house for the weekend to make this film.

John Hudson plays Eric. Can you tell the guy is evil? Granted most of the things happened while he was away. But, his first wife had money and fell hitting her head before landing in the pond. His second wife had money. Is there a connection I’m missing? Any other movie would at least mention that Eric had money problems: gambling, etc. He ignored the advice of a preacher back in the 50’s, so he must be evil. Granted, Eric automatically ignored everything his new bride told him. Along with his inability to even consider her seeing the skull makes him automatically guilty.

Alex Nicol didn’t just play the Torgo-like handyman, but he also directed this movie. Yes, the director played a slow and mocked character that walks funny. I do
wonder if the people that inflicted “Manos: The Hands of Fate” upon us were inspired by this movie. The creepy caretaker is the one universal constant in every haunted house movie whenever there’s haunting to be done.

What’s good about this movie? The generic frightening music with the female vocal “ahhhhing” isn’t “Tubular Bells” or a score from John Carpenter but is still pretty good for such a low budget flick. I can’t help but think a rolling skull chasing after a woman who’s screaming bloody murder is totally hilarious. My favorite part was
when Eric was wrestling a skull in the pond. I’ve seen movies with guys wrestling with alligators with less intensity than this little bout of skull-wrestling had.

A 50’s horror movie should have at least some scary moments in it, but this movie seems to have forgotten that idea. The spring-loaded cat wasn’t as prevalent then, and they didn’t use the same ol’ lame, cheap scares as they do nowadays. If you get good actors and a director, you can make a good scary picture without gore. I don’t have anything against gore, but too many movies think that enough fake blood will disguise the fact all the characters in the movie are people you’d want to see dead. They’re archetypes instead of people you want to root for… unless you were rooting for them to fall head first into a bear trap.