The House That Screamed Blu-ray Review & Comparison
Blu-ray Release: March 7, 2023
Audio: English and Spanish LPCM 1.0 Mono (Export Cut); English LPCM 1.0 Mono (US Cut)
Subtitles: English, English SDH
Run Time: 105:11 (Export Cut), 94:22 (US Cut)
Director: Narciso Ibáñez Serrador
Thérèse (Cristina Galbó) is the latest arrival at the boarding school for wayward girls run under the stern, authoritarian eye of Mme. Fourneau (Lilli Palmer). As the newcomer becomes accustomed to the strict routines, the whip-hand hierarchies among the girls and their furtive extracurricular methods of release from within the foreboding walls of institutional life, she learns that several of her fellow students have recently vanished mysteriously. Meanwhile, tensions grow within this isolated hothouse environment as Mme. Fourneau's callow but curious 15 year-old son, Louis (John Moulder-Brown), ignores his mother's strict orders not to get close to the "tainted" ladies under her ward. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
The classic Spanish horror canon tends to be remembered as the product of a handful of filmmakers who specialized in the genre and made dozens of movies between them, people like Amando de Ossorio, Jess Franco, Carlos Aured, León Klimovsky, and, of course, Paul Naschy (aka: Jacinto Molina Álvarez). Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s output was comparatively low – he was mostly a TV director, producer, and presenter – yet his impact on Spanish horror was still significant, due to his work on television (including Stories to Keep You Awake [Spanish: Historias para no dormir], which ran from 1966 to 1982) and two profoundly influential theatrical releases. The second and more famous (at least in the modern era, where it was rediscovered worldwide on DVD) is the challenging killer kiddie thriller Who Can Kill a Child? (Spanish: ¿Quién puede matar a un niño?; aka: Island of the Damned, 1976), but, almost a decade before that, Serrador made The House That Screamed (Spanish: La residencia; aka: The Boarding School, 1969).
The House That Screamed was made in reference to the Gothic horrors coming out of Italy and Hammer Studios in the UK, as well as the (often Oedipal) psychological thrillers that followed Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), specifically in hopes of breaking into the international market. Made the year after Naschy’s first Hombre Lobo movie, Mark of the Wolf Man (Spanish: La Marca del Hombre Lobo; aka: Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror, 1968), it helped usher in a pattern usually attributed to Naschy and his contemporaries, but manages to stand apart, due largely to its attempts to cover its Spanish origins, but also because Serrador probes the alienation of teenage angst and infuses it with a dark fairytale quality. Despite being designed as a mish-mash of other countries’ most profitable horror ideas (to really go into specifics, I’d have to spoil at least two of the film’s twists, so I won’t), this fairytale quality and the girls’ boarding school setting ended up being innovative touches, leading directly to a subgenre of similar movies, including Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977) and Phenomena (aka: Creepers, 1985), Lucky McKee’s The Woods (2006), Oz Perkins’ The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015), and arguably even Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), and a multitude of Japanese and South Korean girl’s school ghost stories.* There are similar connections to Guillermo del Toro’s The Devil's Backbone (Spanish: El espinazo del diablo, 2001), but the Suspiria parallels are the most startling, to the point that Argento and co-writer Daria Nicolodi simply must have seen Serrador’s film.
When The House That Screamed was released, Spain was still a dictatorship under the rule of Francisco Franco and censorship rules were still pretty strict (horror movies were more or less banned before then). Still, it manages to be a surprisingly bloody and relentlessly horny film. Serrador’s workarounds are quite fun – meaningful glances, flogging kinks disguised as punishment, and an achingly lusty, yet fully-clothed group shower scene. The highlight is a sequence where we learn that a local boy ‘delivers wood’ every month and that the girls take turns ‘meeting’ with him. During one such meeting, Serrador implies most of their encounter by showing the other girls furiously sewing, threading needles, and winding yarn. As she climaxes, another pricks her finger on a needle, drawing blood. One particularly dramatic murder sequence has its violence obscured by layering different angles of the attack, which, when combined with slow motion, is more impactful than gore effects likely could have achieved at the time. Ultimately, the film is a warning that the suppression of sexual interests might lead to violence. This theme of toxic moralism is, in itself, clearly critical of censorship laws – just as the boarding school setting is clearly critical of authoritative environments – but not so obvious as to be perceived as critical of Franco’s government, specifically, which would have certainly seen it banned outright.
* The one classic horror film I could find that predates The House That Screamed and takes place in a boarding school for girls is Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Diabolique (1955), which does use its location in a similar matter – and may have even inspired Serrador – but I’d argue that it is a different type of movie, because the girls/students aren’t the central characters.
The American release of The House That Screamed was recut by distributor American International Pictures, who trimmed roughly nine minutes for pacing purposes, but there wasn’t an official VHS or Beta version (the only thing that comes up is a tape of the Polina Bros’ 2000 film of the same name). Many viewers first saw the AIP cut as episode three of the first season of Elvira’s Movie Macabre in 1981, hosted by the eponymous Elvira (aka: Cassandra Peterson). The Movie Macabre version, cropped to 1.33:1 with all the Elvira inserts, debuted on double-feature DVD alongside Mel Welles’ Maneater of Hydra (aka: Island of the Doomed and The Blood Suckers, 1967) from Scream Factory in 2007. Scream Factory released a remastered Blu-ray version in 2016, but there was a caveat: only the AIP cut would be presented in full HD. The longer cut was cobbled together from the HD AIP footage and standard definition inserts.
For their 2023 Blu-ray, Arrow has gone back to the original negative for a 2K rescan of the complete export cut of the film. The bounce from SD to HD in those insert shots is, of course, incredible, but the upgrade is pretty substantial across the board. I have included comparison sliders on this page (Arrow transfer on the left, Scream transfer on the right) to properly illustrate the breadth of the difference (sliders 1, 3, 5, and 6 are examples of the SD inserts). Comparing only HD to HD, in general, details are tighter and patterns are crisper, especially in wide-angle shots, while grain structure is similar, but finer in Arrow’s case. Less straightforward, but similarly broad differences are also found in color timing and brightness. Overall, Arrow’s disc is a lot lighter, which allows for busier images, as well as cooler, which leads to a more extensive and richer overall palette. That said, however flat the Scream transfer may appear, I do admit that I slightly prefer their dark and warm/orangey interpretation of Manuel Berenguer & Godofredo Pacheco’s cinematography. Fortunately, the moodiest and darkest compositions still look basically perfect.
If you’re watching the export cut, The House That Screamed is presented with English and Spanish mono dub options. If you’re watching the US cut, you only have an English option. All audio tracks are presented in uncompressed LPCM. Again, The House That Screamed was designed for international release and, as such, nearly the entire cast was apparently speaking English on-set, so that dub is arguably the preferred one. The track is clear and there aren’t significant signs of damage, though there is a muffled quality that makes me think they might have compressed things (as in the mix, not the bitrate) to keep the sound floor low. Unusually, the dialogue sound quality is different per performer, leading me to believe that the Spanish film industry hadn’t quite figured out the ADR process yet. Argentinian composer Waldo de los Ríos’ score, which blends mournful piano riffs with Herrmann-esque string motifs, sounds basically the same, whichever language selection you choose.
Commentary with film historian Anna Bogutskaya (export cut) – The author of the upcoming Unlikeable Female Characters: The Women Pop Culture Wants You to Hate (Sourcebooks, 2023) and host of the Final Girls podcast, who grew up in Spain, offers up an expert look at the film and Serrador’s greater career as an influential filmmaker and television personality. Subject matter includes descriptions of the director’s other work, the film’s themes as they relate to Franco’s Catholic-based dictatorship, comparisons to other films (including Lucky McKee’s May , which I overlooked, but seems so obvious now), and the constant stream of sexual subtext.
This Boy's Innocence (24:20, HD) – In this previously unreleased archival interview, John Moulder-Brown mostly sticks to his time making The House that Screamed as an adolescent actor. He recalls the casting process, having no point of reference for playing madness or even a familiarity with horror in general, working with the other actors, and the logistics of certain scenes.
Interview with actress Mary Maude (12:14, SD) – This interview is taken from Colosseo Film’s German DVD/BD release and was conducted at the 2012 Festival of Fantastic Films in Manchester. She talks about casting interviews, the plot of the film, the scope of the production, and amusing cultural barriers with Serrador and the crew.
All About My 'Mama' (9:25, HD) – The author of the original novella the film was based on, Juan Tébar, discusses his influences, working with Serrador on the Stories to Keep You Awake series and The House that Screamed, and the film’s cult status.
The Legacy of Terror (13:55, HD) – The director's son, Alejandro Ibáñez, breaks down his father’s career, their relationship, and the importance of his two horror features.
Screaming the House Down (20:23, HD) – Spanish horror expert Dr Antonio Lázaro-Reboll finishes off the interview section with a look at Serrador’s industry upbringing, his television work, his repertoire of collaborators, how the popularity of Stories to Keep You Awake led to The House that Screamed, the fact that horror movies could not take place in Spain according to censorship laws, how the entire film is a microcosm representation of Spanish politics, and the larger careers of major cast members.
Alternate footage from the Spanish theatrical version (6:09, SD) – These are essentially the shots that Scream Factory used for their release.
US trailer, 2 TV spots, and 2 radio spots
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be seen by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.