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Bonus Reviews: The Screaming Skull (1958) and Scream Blacula Scream (1973)
Horror Bulletin Bonus Reviews for Week 160
Scream Week Continues
For this week’s bonus films, we’ll look at a couple of oldies: “The Screaming Skull” from 1958 and “Scream Blacula Scream” from 1973.
Don’t forget, the first week of each month, we publish ALL our reviews, including the bonus content, in our monthly “Horror Bulletin” print magazine (also available as an ebook). If you don’t have time to read the website or email, here’s one more option for you! The March issue is out now!
Scream Blacula Scream (1973)
Directed by Bob Kelljan
Written by Joan Torres, Raymond Koenig, Maurice Jules
Stars William Marshall, Don Mitchell, Pam Grier
Run Time: 1 Hour, 3 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
We all know that just because a vampire turns to dust doesn’t mean he stays dead. Sure enough, he’s back. And this movie is a funky good time just like the first one was. There is less happening in this one though, and it drags a bit in places. Still, if you liked the first one this is worth checking out as well.
Lisa hums during a funeral. The old dead woman left no successor. Willis is the old woman’s son, and he wants leadership. The others say he’s not the kapalua unless they vote him in. The others want to vote for Lisa rather than Willis.
Willis isn’t pleased, so he goes to his own voodoo man, who also swore revenge that one day they would pay for having him dethroned. “Power beyond all common man!” The voodoo man gives him a bag full of what was left of Blacula after the first movie and a sheet of instructions. Willis goes right home and does the spell on the bones and ashes. He takes a break from the ritual and Blacula wakes up and doesn’t look happy to be there. Cranky and hungry. Chomp– and credits roll.
Prince Mamuwalde is there looking all classy as Willis puts on a necktie to cover his bite wound. He’s a little annoyed that he can’t admire himself in the mirror anymore. “I don’t mind bein’ a vampire and all that shit, but this is too much!”
Willis is going to Justin’s party. Justin brought back a bunch of stuff from Africa. Mamuwalde orders Willis to never leave the house without permission. Mamuwalde has a flashback to his origin story with a clip from the previous film. In case you missed that, Dracula himself bit him and cursed him to be Blacula.
Elaine and Louis come to the house to pick up Willis for the party. Blacula gets Louis quickly, but Elaine runs away. Willis chases her right into Blacula’s arms.
Later, Justin and Lisa meet Prince Mamuwalde at the party. He identifies the necklace worn by Princess Luva. He says her husband should have a matching one. Lisa feels like they’ve met before. The girls at the party all say that Lisa has a lot of voodoo power, and that interests Mamuwalde very much. He sneaks back in and bites Gloria while the party is still going on.
Mamuwalde goes downtown for a walk and runs into a pair of thugs. They try to rob him, and he actually warns them first. Things go badly for them.
Sheriff Harley thinks the voodoo people may have something to do with Gloria’s murder. He thinks the puncture wounds look like snake wounds, and voodoo people like snakes and blood, so… logic! Harley knows that Lisa and Willis have some kind of conflict going on, and he wonders if that could be related. He gets a call to investigate the two dead guys with neck wounds.
In the morning, Justin tells Lisa about the thugs having the same wounds as Gloria. Justin’s interested in Lisa’s connection with voodoo. Lisa gets called to watch over Gloria’s body at the funeral home. Lisa watches Gloria sit up and get out of the casket. Gloria’s just about to bite her when Mamuwalde storms in and saves her. He doesn’t hurt her; he wants her to use her voodoo powers to help him. The sun is about to come up, so he can’t stay and explain. Later, Blacula gathers his forces and warns them to both avoid and protect Lisa.
Willis brags to Denny about how he’s gonna make Lisa pay anyway, but Blacula’s standing right behind him.
Justin looks at the evidence in the crime lab and thinks maybe there’s a vampire involved, but Sheriff Harley laughs. The photos of the dead bodies don’t show the bodies– everything else is there, but not the bodies. Justin and Mamuwalde talk about voodoo and beliefs. Justin notices that Mamuwalde doesn’t doesn’t seem much interested in wine until it’s pointed out how much it looks like blood.. Talk turns to vampires and the name “Dracula” comes up. Mamuwalde makes a veiled threat and leaves.
Mamuwalde goes to Lisa and tells her everything. Blacula doesn’t want to destroy himself again, but he hopes that voodoo can save him by casting out just the evil, leaving the man he used to be. Blacula assaults a couple of cops that come to question Lisa.
Lisa makes an awesome Blacula doll and puts some of his hair into it. Four police cars full of cops with stakes arrive at sundown when all the minions have just awakened. As the ritual proceeds, it’s cops vs. vamps downstairs. Justin finds a crossbow and puts it to good use on Willis and the others. Justin interrupts the ritual, but it was starting to work.
Blacula attacks Justin and gets ready to bite him when Lisa stabs the voodoo doll repeatedly with a wooden arrow. Blacula staggers and spins and screams. It clearly hurts him but we do not, however, see him die this time.
If you like the style of the first one, this is more of the same. If you liked the first, this is worth watching. It doesn’t have as much going on as the original. It drags a bit in places with long, lingering scenes. It has some of the subtle (and not-so-subtle) humor of the first film. This one takes itself a lot more seriously, and it’s a bit less fun because of it.
They do play up his physical strength more in this one, with him throwing men around effortlessly. And the crossover incorporating voodoo magic was pretty cool.
It’s a shame that they never made a third film in the series. Though in July 2021, MGM announced a reboot of Blacula is planned.
The Screaming Skull (1958)
Directed by Alex Nicol
Written by John Kneubuhl
Stars John Hudson, Peggy Webber, Russ Conway
Run Time: 1 Hour, 8 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
Spoiler - it wasn’t so frightening that it killed us, as the disclaimer at the beginning warns could happen. It does have a very cool poster, which is scarier than the actual movie. It was just okay in every way.
We open at a funeral. We get a warning that the climax of this film is so terrifying that it may kill you. The producers guarantee free burial services for anyone who dies while seeing the film. Credits roll.
Eric Whitlock welcomes his new wife, Jenni, to the estate. She looks up at the bedroom that used to be his first wife’s room. The house has been empty for a few years now. At least the garden has been kept up; Mickey the gardener has been here the whole time. Mickey and Eric’s dead wife, Marion, were close; Eric thinks that poor, simple Mickey doesn’t believe Marion’s really dead.
Reverend Shaw and his wife stop by for a visit. Jenni meets Mickey, but he doesn’t seem too happy to meet her. Jenni’s parents drowned years ago, and she’s still traumatized by the memory. Marion slipped and drowned in the lily pond; Eric inherited the house upon her death. Oh, by the way, Jenni is very wealthy. It’s not at all clear where this is heading…
Jenni hears a window banging in the middle of the night and gets a fright from an old painting of Marion. When she comes back, there’s a wet lily pad on the floor. Eric mansplains to Jenni that it was probably Mickey; not her delusional mind making her see screaming skulls at all.
Mickey regularly checks out the lily pond looking for Marion who never came home. Eric forbids him to come into the house. Eric goes to town to take care of business, so he leaves Jenni home alone to garden with Mickey. The strange duo become friends and visit Marion’s grave. He says Marion still cries in the night. That night, Jenni wakes up to the sound of screams. Could it be the sound of the peacocks, or could it be that skull she just found? She throws the skull out the window into the yard.
Jenni hears knocking on the door downstairs. When she finally answers, there’s no one there but that skull again. It rolls inside after her, and she faints.
The next morning, Eric returns home. She asks about the skull, but he says there wasn’t one. She wants to go back to New York, but Eric wants her to stay. Eric says all the weirdness is due to Mickey’s actions, so it’s time to get rid of him. Jenni doesn’t think Mickey is clever enough for any of that. Reverend Snow comes by that afternoon, and he thinks she’s crazy. Jenni admits that she spent a year in a sanitarium.
Eric yells at Mickey and wants to burn the painting that upsets Jenni so badly. They take the painting outside and set it afire. As it burns, they both hear the scream. “It’s only the peacocks,” explains Eric. As they pour water on the ashes, she sees the skull there, but Eric says there’s no skull. She faints away. Eric then fishes the skull out of the ashes and hides it in the lily pond; Mickey sees the whole thing.
Eric tells Snow that Jenni may have to go back to the sanitarium. He explains how she thought she saw a skull, but he didn’t see anything. He’s afraid she may try to kill herself again. Snow tells Jenni he’ll bring men to come and search the estate for the skull. Eric doesn’t know if he really meant that or if he was humoring Jenni. He goes out to the pond but now can’t find the skull. He blames Mickey for taking it, but Mickey denies it. “Marion took it,” he cries. But we see that he does have it.
Mickey tells Mr. and Mrs. Snow about the skull. He takes it to them and shows them that it’s real. “Why would Eric do such a thing?”
That night, Jenni goes for a walk outside. She wants to say goodbye to Mickey, but he’s not to be found. Jenni sees Marion’s ghost and it chases her across the grounds. We see Eric is in the house tying a noose when he hears the screaming. She runs inside, and he strangles her.
There’s a knock at the door. Eric opens it and it’s Marion, who’s not just a skull anymore. Now he starts screaming. The screaming skull chases him around the ground this time. He runs around in a panic until it starts biting him and he falls into the lily pond.
Jenni wakes up; she’ll live. She goes downstairs as the Snows rush in and help her. Snow goes out and finds Eric’s body in the lily pond. Later, the Snows explain that Eric only wanted Jenni’s money, and he probably killed Marion as well.
That initial warning just might have been hype. It was so tame. Was it even really scary when it was new?
These newlyweds have separate beds after they are married. How… 50s.
For a simple plot of “let’s make my new wealthy wife think she’s going insane before I kill her for the inheritance,” this isn’t particularly inspired or well done. It feels more like an episode of the Twilight Zone or one of the many other 1950’s anthology series rather than a feature film, no matter how low-budget it is. For a while while it appeared that it was simply a scam to get her committed to the institution, but there was a very brief seen toward the end where Eric was tying a rope, which I assume was going to be a noose for Jenny to commit suicide with. Even then, what was the point of mentioning all the drownings and the ominous lily pond, if his intention was to either have her committed or hang herself?
It was predictable and bland. We saw Eric’s plan far too early, and the only twist was the real skull at the end, but that wasn’t even close to a surprise.
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