Sunday, 11 January 2015

Carry On Screaming (1966)

Carry On Screaming! was the twelfth of the Carry On movies and the last to be made by Anglo-Amalgamated (after which Rank took over the franchise). While it’s often described as a spoof of the Hammer horror films it’s really a spoof of horror movies in general, and also to some extent of the Sherlock Holmes-type gaslight mysteries.

Carry On Screaming! actually has a more coherent plot than many of the Carry On films and it has a genuine horror movie plot although obviously played purely for laughs.

Harry H. Corbett, in his only appearance in a Carry On movie, plays Detective-Sergeant Sidney Bung. The role was originally intended for Sid James but Corbett is so good it’s hard to imagine that even James could have bettered his performance. Sergeant Bung is investigating a series of disappearances of young women and the trail leads him to the Bide-a-Wee Rest Home. The home is run by Doctor Orlando Watt (Kenneth Williams) and his sister Valeria (Fenella Fielding). Dr Watt has been dead for fifteen years but that doesn’t stop him from carrying on his work. His work consists of vitrifying corpses, regenerating the dead and creating monsters like Oddbod. Sergeant Bung is soon under Valeria’s spell and finds it increasingly difficult to remember his police duties.

The setup offers ample opportunities for classic Carry On humour and Talbot Rothwell’s script makes the most of it.

The production values are surprisingly high and there are some quite effective sets. Cinematographer Alan Hume worked on a number of excellent British horror movies in the 60s and 70s including Hammer’s Kiss of the Vampire and he gives Carry On Screaming! an authentic gothic atmosphere. There are scenes in this movie that would not look out of place in a horror movie. It’s a low-budget movie but it never looks cheap.

Fenella Fielding proved to be ideal casting. She vamps it up outrageously (her slinky red dress is a highlight) and she works particularly well with Harry H. Corbett and Kenneth Williams. Those three, along with Peter Butterworth as Detective-Constable Slowbottom, are the mainstays of the film. Charles Hawtrey is relegated to a minor role but makes the most of it. Jon Pertwee (later to become a major TV star in Doctor Who) goes gloriously over-the-top as a dotty forensic scientist.

The Carry On movies were, in my opinion, really starting to hit their stride in the mid-60s. They were starting to use historical settings (Carry On Jack being one of the first to do this) and the Carry On brand of comedy seems to work particularly well in period costume.

The Carry On movies were very much a phenomenon of their times. After the ill-fated Carry On Columbus in 1992 producer Peter Rogers made several further attempts to revive the series. It’s fortunate that he did not succeed. Screen comedy has changed radically since the heyday of the Carry On movies (and not for the better). The Carry On movies succeed so well because they don’t (unlike so much modern comedy) have a political  agenda to push and because they have a good-natured and cheerful but oddly innocent naughtiness to them in contrast to the crudity and the cruelty of modern comedy. The Carry On comedies don’t try to be edgy. They’re content to be funny. It’s the fact that they are somewhat dated that makes them so delightful and so refreshing today.

The extras include an audio commentary featuring Fenella Fielding and Angela Douglas (who plays a small role as Jim Dale’s luckless gilrfriend Doris). Both actresses have vivid (and happy) memories of the making of the movie and contribute plenty of amusing anecdotes.

ITV Studios Home Entertainment have released this movie in their 16-disc Carry On Collection which includes every Carry On movie as well as all thirteen episodes of the short-lived Carry On television series. Every movie comes with an audio commentary and there are contemporary interviews with many of the key cast members. The transfer of Carry On Screaming! is anamorphic and it looks superb.

Carry On Screaming! was one of the best movies of the long-running series. It’s clever and it’s funny. What more could you want? Highly recommended.

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