As I told you at the end of my last article, today, I’ll be reviewing a film that is perfect for Halloween season: Carry On Screaming! It’s still mid-October, so this gives you the second half of the month to see it! 😉
Carry On Screaming (Gerald Thomas, 1966) marks a determining step in the post-production field of the series as it was the last Carry On to be made by Anglo-Amalgamated. The series was then made by The Rank Organization. You know, when I watched the following Carry On, Don’t Lose Your Head, I noticed the iconic Rank logo at the beginning of the film but didn’t pay attention to it. It might be because I’m so used to see that muscled man sounding the gong whenever I’m watching a classic British film! The reason behind that change was the death of Stuart Levy, one of the founders of Anglo-Amalgamated. The other founder, Nat Cohen, wasn’t interested in distributing the series anymore despite the popularity of the films. (1) Carry On Screaming! is considered among the best of the series and a favourite among many. The British Film Institute says of it “The pitch-perfect script, on-point production design and memorable characters […] make the series’ 12th entry a real gem”. (2)
This parody of Hammer horror films takes place in England during the early 20th century, a perfect period for such a thrilling story. Doris Mann (Angela Douglas) and her boyfriend, Albert Potter (Jim Dale), are courting in Hocombe Woods when Doris starts
worrying screaming as she feels someone is watching them. When Albert goes away to investigate, his beloved lady is captured by a monster, Oddbob (Tom Clegg). When he comes back, his girlfriend is gone, but the creature has lost one of its big hairy fingers, which is the only clue that could lead to Doris.
Detective Sergeant Sidney Bung (Harry H. Corbett- in his only Carry On role) and his silly assistant, Detective Constable Slobotham (Peter Butterworth), are taking care of the case. They go back to Hocombe Woods, where Doris disappeared but also other ladies before her. Their nocturne walk leads them to Bide-A-Wee Rest Home, an impressive and gloomy manor, where they are welcomed by the butler, Sockett (Bernard Bresslaw), who tells them that the master of the house is dead. But is he? Sockett informs the mistress of the house, Valeria (Fenella Fielding), that they have visitors. As she goes to the basement, we discover a peculiar place that seems to be built for strange experiments. Valeria’s brother, Dr Orlando Watt (Kenneth Williams), the dead owner of the house, lies on a table, pale as a ghost. Valeria awakes him by electrically charging him! When he meets the guess, disappears, and reappears before them, these run away, terrified. However, that won’t stop the detectives from continuing their investigation, which will become more and more strange!
Just like Carry On Cowboy, it’s amazing how many connections can be observed with the genre it parodies. Many references to the horror and science fiction world are made. If the film parodies more generally Hammer horror films, BFI Screen Online makes an interesting connection between them and the Carry Ons. It makes us realize that both series are indeed not far from each other in their overall concept. The author of the article, Sergio Angelini, writes:
The Hammer horror films have much in common with the Carry On comedies. Both were made on small budgets by a regular production team and both employed a repertory of actors, making their films instantly recognisable. Among the most popular series of homegrown films shown in British cinemas throughout the 1950s and 1960s, both series were dismissed by the critical establishment for many years. (3)
Indeed, Kenneth Williams and Charles Hawtrey, for example, belonged to the Carry Ons, just like Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee were regulars among films produced by Hammer. Both series don’t seem to have been built on the concept of quality. We know they are not masterpieces. Hammer films have this caricatural aesthetic (which was perfectly reincarnated in Screaming!), and both series sort of received that cult status and indeed became very popular among general audiences. The only Hammers I’ve seen, Fanatic (Silvio Narizzano, 1965) and The Witches (Cyril Frankel, 1966), are probably not the ones that are the most easily comparable to Carry On Screaming. However, those Hammers where so popular that I’m pretty sure some of us came across photos, clips and these are sufficient to understand how Carry On Screaming parodies them. Of course, I’d like to explore this cult franchise further!
Hammer vs. Carry On
Carry On Screaming also presents a clear reference to Sherlock Holmes with the character embodied by Harry H. Corbett. Slobotham could be seen as a sort of Watson but mostly in the idea that he is an assistant. Other than that, he’s kind of stupid! The film feels particularly Sherlocky in the way Detective Bung dresses, with his pipe, long coat, and hat à la Sherlock Holmes. It goes even further. The whole early century England atmosphere, small dark streets, gaslights, vintage cars, etc. also incite the comparison with the legendary detective’s universe. Among all the Carry On films I’ve seen so far, this setting is one of my favourites. Cinematographer Alan Hume gave it a perfectly mysterious aura. We’re completely plunged into these atmospheres. I use the plural form because the film presents different types of context. There’s the Sherlock Holme context, and the Hammer one, that we’ve mentioned before. The Sherlock Holmes atmosphere is presented with a more “elegant” and more subtle aesthetic, while the Hammer atmosphere goes more into exaggeration and caricature.
Then, there is a science fiction-horror idea present in Carry On Screaming, which is particularly incarnated by Dr Watt. The name itself seems to be a reference to Dr Who, as it is indicated on IMDb. The database indeed refers to a quote that supports this idea, when Dr Watt says “Who is my uncle or was, I haven’t seen him for years. I don’t know what happened to him”. (4) Interestingly, one of the actors of the film, Jon Pertwee, who plays a scientist (and the killed marshal in Carry On Cowboy), eventually became the third Dr. Who! (5) Furthermore, the film makes explicit references to stories like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde when Dr Watt talks about them as old friends. Or when Valeria serves a sort of drink to Detective Bung, and he transforms himself into a creature that reminds us of what happened to Dr. Jekyll.
Jon Pertwee as Doctor Who and Kenneth Williams as Dr. Watt
On their side, Valeria and the butler, Sockett, easily reminds us of Morticia Adams and Lurch of The Addams Family. There’s also a bit of Vampira from Plan 9 From Outer Space (Ed Wood, 1959) in Valeria’s look. Miss Watt is that elegant seductress who surprises us on many occasions, especially when she “smokes”. She literally smokes and is highly amused by it. Valeria is presented with this Vamp look with pale skin, long black hair, seducing eyes, and bright red lipstick. This type of character, along with the creepy manor, are among the concepts that The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Jim Sharman, 1975) will also parody almost a decade after, with the castle where the story takes place and the character of Magenta.
Sockett vs. Lurch
Apart from the setting and atmosphere of the film, another aspect I particularly loved about it is the theme song heard during the opening credits. After Carry On Cowboy, this was the second Carry On film to feature a title song. The tune sang by Ray Pilgrim (credited as Anon), is not only super catchy, it also sets the mood of the film, with its lyrics but also with the idea that it gives us a clue that the film remains a comedy, a parody. The screams heard whenever Pilgrim sings “Carry on screaming!” would have made scream queen Fay Wray jealous!
Narrativity, the relationship between the various characters is among the most strongly developed points of Carry On Screaming. I especially think of the relationship between the two detectives, the “chief” and the “assistant”. It is a form of teamwork but also of opposition that will reappear later in Don’t Lose Your Head. There’s a strong idea of duality in the film, not only with those characters but also with Oddbod and Oddbod Junior (a new Odbood accidentally created by the scientist with the help of Oddbod’s finger and a regenerating machine). We feel there’s a certain hierarchy between the two creatures: the “old” Oddbod who knows how things work and mostly grumps and eat cars, and the little Oddbod who is more like a child. Just think of the sounds he makes, which are more cute than terrifying if you want my opinion. There almost seems to be human intelligence within him. Ok, he passes through walls instead of using the door, but that’s another story. That is felt briefly when Dr Watt is telling him about his worries. He listens to him very patiently and with a lot of attention, considering he’s a “monster”. He doesn’t speak, but, by the way he nods his head and looks at the doctor, he really seems to say “Oh yes, I see”. We could talk of a duality created by Dr Watt and his sister in the way that they are both accomplices with very different personalities. That’s how they complete each other and make a perfect team for Carry On Screaming.
The comedic aspect of the film resides first in the chaotic and completely ridiculous relationship between Detective Bung and his wife Emily (Joan Sims). During their many arguments, one piece of dialogues that particularly amused me is this one:
Emily Bung: You haven’t taken me out for ages.
Det Sgt. Bung: Don’t exaggerate, we went out a couple of months ago, had a lovely time.
Emily Bung: You call that lovely, my poor mother’s funeral.
Det Sgt. Bung: Well I enjoyed it!
Also, Emily doesn’t seem to like new technology:
Emily Bung: Either that phone goes or I go, I can promise you that!
Det Sgt. Bung: Promises, promises – always promises!
We are also highly amused by the craziness of Dr Watt who sometimes forgets he’s dead:
Dr. Watt: Oh this is awful, I wish I was dead.
Valeria: But Orlando, you are dead.
Dr. Watt: So I am, what a life.
Dr. Watt: They would have to come tonight, just when I’m feeling half dead!
He’s always a bit over the top when conducting his experiences:
Dr. Watt: Frying tonight!
Then, the way the two detectives work together clearly makes this film a comedy rather than a horror film. But that’s what we expect from Carry On!
Constable Slobotham: Sorry, Sergeant! I thought it was that horrible thing again.
Det Sgt. Bung: What horrible thing?
Constable Slobotham: I don’t know. It was something unspeakable.
Det Sgt. Bung: Unspeakable?
Constable Slobotham: Yes. Never said a word.
An aspect that makes this film so entertaining is the fact that the characters are so varied and have very distinct types of personalities. Therefore, you witness all sort of acting styles which makes the whole thing highly colourful. The role of Detective Bung was (unsurprisingly) initially made for Sid James, but he was replaced by Harry H. Corbett due to his commitment to Babes in the Wood at the London Palladium. (6) While I could picture James in the skin of Detective Bung, and I think his opposition with Joan Sims would have been hilarious, I enjoyed immensely the performance of Harry H. Corbett who proved to be able to mould himself into the Carry On World even though this was his first film in the series… and the last. As I said before, he and Peter Butterworth make that unforgettably funny team of investigators. Butterworth kicked things off in Carry On Cowboy, but it’s Screaming that gave him full potential and made him perfect for the new-school of Carry On actors. If you are under the impression that you saw Valeria before, it’s because Fenella Fielding appeared in Carry On Regardless (my, this seems ages ago) as the woman who seduces Kenneth Connor. This time, her role is much more important, and she’s probably among the most memorable elements of the film. Talking of Kenneth Connor, this one was considered for the role of Albert Potter (7) and, while I would have LOVED to see him back in the franchise sooner rather than later, I think it’s a role that fitted the final choice, Jim Dale, better. But I miss Connor! Angela Douglas, unfortunately, is absent for most of the running time because her character has been kidnapped, but she has her moments. Bernard Bresslaw was initially seen in an uncredited role in Carry On Nurse (we only see his feet!). We’ll notice him more as Little Herp in Carry On Cowboy. However, as the butler, he stands out with that imposing stature, snobbish posture, and low voice.
Some of our favourite Carry On first-generation of actors are back. Not all of them, but enough to make this 100% Carry On. Kenneth Williams, as Dr Watt, is his usually expressive and inimitable self, after being completely transformed in Carry On Cowboy. I love how he gives his character a mad dimension, but one that also shows a comical behaviour and vulnerability. Joan Sims certainly proves her versatility as the grumpy wife and steals the show on many occasions. Finally, Charles Hawtrey was also given a small role, Dan Dann, a lavatory attendant who used to work at Watt’s manor. His presence is short, but his “Oh, hello!” is always welcomed! This role was initially made for Sydney Bromley, but it was finally given to Hawtrey. That was requested by the American film distributors. (8) He was indeed very popular among the audiences in the United States. (9)
Carry On Screaming is a crowd-pleaser, and if you’re in for a bit of horrific fun, then don’t wait too long to see it!
Be back tomorrow for Don’t Lose Your Head, a comedy that takes place during the French Revolution! I’m impatient to review it because I LOVED it!
Want to follow that series closely? Make sure to take a look at my other reviews!
(1) “Carry On Screaming.” IMDB, n.d. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0060214/?ref_=nv_sr_1?ref_=nv_sr_1. Accessed Oct 15, 2019.
(2) Mitchell, Neil. “The five best Carry Ons…and the five worst.” BFI, November 26, 2018. https://www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/news-bfi/lists/five-best-carry-ons-five-worst. Accessed Oct 15, 2019.
(3) Angelini, Sergio. “Carry On Screaming! (1966).” BFI Screen Oline, n.d. http://www.screenonline.org.uk/film/id/466443/. Accessed Oct 15, 2019.
(4) Ibid. note 1
(5) Ibid. note 1
(6) Ibid. note 1
(7) Ibid. note 1
(8) Ibid. note 1
(9) “Carry On Screaming!” Wikipedia, October 6, 2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carry_On_Screaming! Accessed Oct 15, 2019.