Directed by Narciso Ibáñez Serrador
Starring Christina Galbo John Moulder Brown Lilli Palmer Mary Maude
A Spanish horror film from the director of "Island of the Damned" (aka, "Who Can Kill a Child"), "The House That Screamed" (aka, "La Residencia") is a highly influential horror film, one of the first ones I'm aware of to pit girls in an all-girl's school against a psychopath. Prioritizing atmosphere over cheap socks, "The House That Screamed" is an absolutely chilling forgotten horror, which hasn't been released – and likely never will be released -- to DVD in the U.S.
Galbo (also seen in "Let Sleeping Corpses Lie") is the new girl in the 19th century French boarding school for wayward girls, run by Nazi-like headmistress Lilli Palmer. John Moulder Brown (who played the hero in Hammer's "Vampire Circus") plays Palmer's teenage son, whom she admonishes never to flirt with the girls in the school. Meanwhile, a sadistic head girl (Maude) gets off on flagellating the girls.
Things get more complicated as murders ensue. One of the best, a slow-motion killing in a greenhouse, is the kind of stuff that Dario Argento would begin doing on a regular basis in his giallo films. Watching it, it's hard to fathom that this film came out in the late 1960s – not the '70s. But the film is not bloody and, surprisingly for a film set in a girls' school, doesn't have any explicit sexual content. One scene I remember watching on TV in the 1970s, which was intact in the uncut print of the film, is a shower scene where the girls where shirts in the public shower. It actually fit with the obsessive-compulsiveness of the almost Ilsa-like headmistress, who was adamant about stamping out sexuality.
As girls start disappearing, the headmistress struggles to deal with the problem, and not very admirably. She assumes the missing girls are simply runaways. It isn't a huge surprise who the killer turns out to be. The film's climax (I don't want to spoil it for you here) has been imitated many times in the decades that followed the release of "The House That Screamed." Needless to say,
Even the film's American title was imitated by a direct-to-DVD film in the early 2000s. Don't confuse this film with it.
If you are lucky enough to catch an international DVD of this film or – even better – some kind of screening, don't pass it up. "The House That Screamed" is a classic.
-- Review by Lucius Gore