Scream of Fear (also known as Taste of Fear) was one of a series of contemporary horror thrillers made by Hammer Studios on the early 60s. For some reason all were made in black-and-white, and all dealt with similar themes. All involved madness in one form or another, and all lacked any element of the supernatural (although at times some of the characters might have believed there were supernatural forces at work). And all were highly effective little films.
Scream of Fear dates from 1961, and was directed with considerable flair by Seth Holt from a script by Jimmy Sangster. A young woman, Penny, whose mother has recently died arrives at her father’s house in the south of France. She is confined to a wheelchair after a childhood riding accident. She has not seen her father for many years, since her parent’s divorce. Her father is away on a business trip, but her stepmother seems genuinely pleased to see her. At first all is smooth sailing, until Penny sees a mysterious light in the summerhouse and goes to investigate. What she sees causes her to doubt her sanity, and no-one will believe her.
She becomes increasingly suspicious of her stepmother, and her stepmother’s much too smooth and charming friend Dr Gerrard (played by Christopher Lee, making a heroic attempt at a French accent). It seems that the only person she can trust is the family chauffeur, Robert. Further strange happenings compound her fears for both her sanity and her safety.
Sangster throws in some fairly neat plot twists, and the whole thing is superbly executed. The black-and-white cinematography looks terrific and gives the movie something of the feel of the thrillers of an earlier era, of Hitchcock movies like Suspicion. Susan Strasberg is excellent as Penny, and Ronald Lewis is equally good as the chauffeur. Ann Todd manages to be both warm and vaguely menacing as the stepmother. Christopher Lee never does quite convince as a French country doctor but he plays the role with the right degree of ambiguity and sleazy charm.
This is yet another relatively little known Hammer movie that turns out to be rather good. It combines effective suspense with fine acting and delivers solid entertainment. The DVD transfer (in the Icons of Horror boxed set) looks superb. More a crime mystery thriller than a horror movie, but highly recommended nonetheless.