Despite its somewhat misleading title, Scream… and Die! aka TheHouse That Vanished (1973) is a fascinating film directed by José Ramón Larraz that’s well worth a look if you enjoy unusual European thrillers. Larraz is a talented Spanish director who is mostly known by American film audiences as the man behind the erotic horror film Vampyres (1974) and only a few of his other films are easily accessible on DVD and video in the U.S. His 1973 feature Scream… and Die! has been available on video since the ‘80s but it was recently released by Jef films on DVD.
Larraz’ films tend to generate strong reactions from their detractors and fans. The director enjoys playing with genre expectations and the eroticism and violence in his movies can be explicit but if you’re willing to give Larraz the benefit of the doubt and go into his films without any preconceptions, you might be surprised by what you find there. One of Larraz’ strong points is his ability to mix complex and adult story elements into his horror films that can also be enjoyed simply for their entertainment value. His early movies like Scream… and Die! are also extremely stylish and creatively shot, especially when you factor in the low budget he was usually working with. He was definitely one of the most interesting directors to come out of Spain in the seventies and his film Symptoms was nominated for a Golden Palm at Cannes in 1974. In recent years his work has begun to be reevaluated thanks to books such as Pete Tombs and Cathal Tohill ‘s Immoral Tales: European Sex & Horror Movies 1956-1984 (1995), but even among Larraz’ dedicated fans Scream… and Die! is often considered one of the director’s lesser films.
Scream… and Die! features the beautiful British actress Andrea Allan as an aspiring model named Valerie who’s dating a rather seedy fellow named Terry (Alex Leppard). One foggy night Valerie finds herself alone with Terry in the English countryside when he decides to loot an old estate hidden away deep in the woods. The couple finds more than they bargained for after the home’s owner unexpectedly arrives at the house with a female guest. Valerie and Terry slip inside a closet and from their hiding place they watch a strange sexual encounter unfold between the homeowner and a woman that suddenly turns deadly. After witnessing the brutal murder of the woman, Valerie flees the crime scene and runs out of the house. When she realizes she’s being chased by the killer she stumbles into the woods and finally finds herself in an old junkyard where she hides in an abandoned car until morning comes. Once the sun rises Valerie hitches a ride back into town without Terry.
At home Valerie is left to contemplate the situation that she’s found herself in when she suddenly realizes the killer has returned Terry’s car and parked it outside her flat. Inside the car is Valerie’s modeling portfolio, which is missing a photo. It’s clear that the killer not only knows who Valerie is but he also knows where she lives and he’s apparently stalking her. Unfortunately for Valerie she was never able to get a good look at the killer so his identity is a mystery. After consulting with friends about the horrible situation she’s found herself in, they tell her not to worry and warn her to be weary of going to the police since she could also be charged with a crime. They’re convinced that Terry must be involved in the bizarre events somehow and they offer to take Valerie back to the house where the murder took place. But in a strange turn of events she’s unable to locate the house again. Like a bizarre dream, the killer and the crime scene seem to have vanished into thin air leaving Valerie confused and troubled.
The story takes another odd turn when Valerie meets a charming young man named Paul (Karl Lanchbury) selling Japanese-style Noh masks he designed at the photography studio where she works. Paul immediately takes an interest in Valerie and she’s instantly drawn to him as well. They quickly start up a romantic relationship, which seems to bother Paul’s Aunt who he lives and works with. As the film progresses it becomes clear that Paul and his Aunt are involved in a troubling, incestuous relationship and the masks they make together seem to hide a deeper mystery.
In the meantime an unusual bearded man has moved into the first-floor flat of Valerie’s building. He’s a pigeon keeper and the birds he cares for are keeping Valerie awake at night and affecting her dreams. When Valerie’s roommate returns from a trip to Europe and is suddenly murdered, Valerie can no longer temper her fears and she’s forced to deal with the police and tell them everything that has happened. Her bohemian friends, the photographer she models for, the young mask maker and the pigeon keeper all become possible suspects but most viewers will probably immediately begin to suspect who the killer is.
Scream and Die! has many elements of classic giallo films such as a killer who wears black leather gloves and multiple red herrings, but I don’t think the director was very interested in the mystery aspects of his film. José Ramón Larraz’s approach to the material seems to confuse audiences who expect Scream and Die! to be a typical European thriller. Instead, Larraz offers observant audiences plenty of visual and verbal clues as to who the murderer is early on in the movie. Larraz has never seemed too care much for straightforward narratives so there’s no reason to expect typical storytelling here. It’s obvious the director is much more intent on exploring various themes about voyeurism and identity with Scream… and Die! instead of offering up simple thrills.
The film is filled with many telling visual motifs, including countless shots of people peering through windows and cameras that bring to mind Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954). As a model, Valerie is constantly the subject of voyeurism from the photographer who takes her photos, the audience who watches her primp and pose and finally the director himself. Larraz clearly enjoys photographing his star and his camera spends a lot of time focused on her. As we watch her undress, take baths and simply drink a cup of coffee in her flat, it’s almost impossible to not feel like a “Peeping Tom” yourself while watching the film. Like Rear Window, an obvious streak of paranoia also runs through Scream… and Die!. Early in the film Valerie questions if she really witnessed a murder and as the film progresses she becomes more and more weary of everyone around her.
Many critics complain about the nudity in Lazrraz’s films and Scream… and Die! does contain nudity but I didn’t find it gratuitous at all. As I mentioned above, Larraz’s camera clearly enjoys photographing the film’s female star Andrea Allan but her casual nudity in the movie is never very explicit and the mildly graphic sex scene is more disturbing than erotic. The scene in question has gotten a somewhat notorious reputation over the years when it’s mentioned in various horror books and publications and has even been called “Larraz’s most explicit sojourn into sordid sexual depths.” It involves the charming young mask maker Paul and his much older Aunt in a passionate, but deeply troubling sexual encounter. As I mentioned above, it’s clear that they’re relationship is incestuous and the sex scene bluntly conveys the domineering sexual power that Paul’s’ Aunt has over him.
Paul is played wonderfully by the talented British actor Karl Lanchbury who was a regular in some of Larraz’s early films including Whirlpool (1970), Deviation (1971) and Vampyres (1974). He’s really terrific in Scream… and Die! but he isn’t given much to do in the film even though he makes the most of his limited screen time. I wish the director had used Karl Lanchbury more here but Larraz always appeared more interested in his female stars and the male actors in his films are often given secondary roles. Andrea Allan is also very good as Valerie but she’s a little too reserved at times and doesn’t always seem fully committed to her role.
The script for Scream… and Die! was written by Derek Ford who often worked with the talented horror director Robert Hartford-Davis in the 1960s. Ford was also an interesting director in his own right mostly remembered for a series of British sexploitation films he made in the 1970s. One aspect of Scream… and Die! that I really enjoy is the creepy soundtrack by composer Terry Warr, which adds considerable depth and an eerie mood to the film. Warr had worked with Derek Ford before on some of his sex comedies but this seems to be the first and last time he ever composed music for a horror film.
I wish I could recommend the new Jef DVD of Scream… and Die! but it appears to be a copy of the old video transfer. The film is extremely dark and it’s hard to make out what’s happening sometimes, which can be a little confusing. Hopefully a company like Severin will release Scream… and Die! on DVD in the future. I would love to see a restored widescreen print of the movie made available.