Director: Narciso Ibáñez Serrador
Screenplay: Narciso Ibáñez Serrador
Based on a Story by: Juan Tébar
Starring: Lilli Palmer, Cristina Galbó, John Moulder-Brown, Maribel Martín, Mary Maude, Cándida Losada, Víctor Israel
Country: Spain
Running Time: 105 min (uncut) 94 min (US theatrical)
Year: 1969
BBFC Certificate: 15

Though The House That Screamed (a.k.a. La residencia, The Finishing School or House of Evil) was a huge success in its native Spain and writer-director Narciso Ibáñez Serrador followed it up with the acclaimed Who Can Kill a Child?, Serrador is more famous in Spain for his TV work. He made a Twilight Zone-like anthology series Historias para no dormir (a.k.a. Tales To Keep You Awake) as well as, surprisingly, one of the biggest game shows in Spanish TV history, Un, dos, tres… responda otra vez (adapted as 3-2-1 in the UK). The House That Screamed was originally just going to be another episode of Historias para no dormir but, through planning it, the project sounded so good that the produceres decided to invest more money into it, extending it into a feature film to sell worldwide.

The House That Screamed had a decent budget for a Spanish film of the time too and it was the first Spanish production to be shot in English (though Mary Maude claims the cast spoke in their own languages on set as the dialogue was all dubbed in afterwards). As such, its producers obviously had high hopes for the film in reaching an international audience and it was an important turning point for Spanish horror movies. Previously in the country, horror was largely made up of monster movies that were cheaply made.

As such, The House That Screamed was an important and influential film in its native country. Directors such as Alejandro Amenábar, J. A. Bayona and Álex de la Iglesia are known to have been influenced by the work of Serrador – both this film and his Historias para no dormir series.

Well, Arrow Video are now paying tribute to this Spanish master of horror by releasing The House That Screamed on Blu-ray, complete with a healthy dollop of extra goodies. I don’t often review horror titles for the site but the influential nature of the film piqued my interest, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

The House That Screamed is set in the 19th century at a French boarding school for ‘troubled’ teenage girls. The film opens with the arrival of a new pupil, Teresa (Cristina Galbó).

We get to see how the school operates through the eyes of this newcomer. We discover that Madamme Fourneau (Lilli Palmer) is the headmistress and she governs with an iron rod. One strong-willed girl is even sent to a private chamber and whipped after some insolent behaviour in class.

Acting as Fourneau’s right-hand is the sadistic student Irene (Mary Maude). She helps keep students in line when the headmistress is not around and takes great pleasure in lording over the other girls. She takes a particular interest in Teresa, in fact.

All being at an age when hormones are raging, many of the girls ‘release their tension’ with a tradesman who visits every week. Irene organises a schedule for these ‘sessions’. Another few girls fall for Fourneau’s teenage son, Luis (John Moulder-Brown), but Fourneau tries her best to put a stop to him fraternising with any of the students as she doesn’t deem any of them worthy.

Things start to spiral out of control, however, when several girls go missing.

The House That Screamed is a slow-burning film that gets under your skin before bursting out in brief flashes of violence. These sequences are suitably shocking and proved too much for some territories at the time. The scene where the girl stands up against her teacher and is whipped as punishment, for example, was heavily censored in its native Spain, as was the lengthy shower scene. These are present in the longer version available here on the disc. The strict Spanish censorship might have something to do with how much is implied here and why graphically violent scenes are usually kept short and sharp. I believe this works in the film’s favour but more bloodthirsty gorehounds might be disappointed by the subtler approach.

What shouldn’t disappoint anyone is how beautifully crafted the film is. The grand, yet aged and decaying production design is wonderfully realised and the camera can often be found gliding around the lavish sets and exterior locations. It’s atmospherically lit too, making for a film that looks gorgeous throughout. This is backed up by an equally grand and sweeping score by Waldo de los Ríos, who also worked on Serrador’s Historias para no dormir series.

The editing is also well executed. This is most notable in a striking sequence that uses a suggestive montage of embroidering shots and close-ups of some of the girls’ mouths as they imagine what’s going on in the woodshed whilst one of their friends meets with the tradesman. The increasingly rapid cuts build to an orgasmic crescendo that’s ended by a pin prick drawing blood. It may not be a subtle implication but it certainly grabs your attention.

Whilst the film proved to be very influential in its native Spain, it’s clear to see that Serrador was a fan of horror movies from around the world. The lavish gothic sets are very Hammer-like whilst the murders are very much inspired by the gialli making a blood-red splash in Italy at the time. There’s more than a hint of Psycho in the film too. Serrador is often known as the Spanish Hitchcock, in fact.

The film isn’t just a stylistic exercise though. It was made at the tail-end of Franco’s dictatorship in Spain. As such, the country was still under authoritarian rule but, at the same time, it was starting to open up to the rest of the world. The film can be read then as a metaphor for outside influences and prohibited desires coming into a closed-off world and threatening its restrictive existence, where its inhabitants are ruled under an iron fist.

There are also some interesting shifts in perspective in the film and the way these are implemented is smooth and satisfying. I can’t say too much without giving everything away but I can at least say there are more than a few surprises in store.

So, all in all, The House That Screamed is a ravishing, atmospheric gothic horror film that might play things a little slow and steady for some but will delight others. Personally, I was enthralled.

The House That Screamed is out on 6th March on Blu-Ray, released by Arrow Video. You get both the extended cut of the film and a shorter US theatrical cut. Both look stunning, with beautifully natural colours and sharp details. I’ve used screengrabs throughout this review to give you an idea of what the film looks like, though these have been compressed slightly.

The audio comes through nicely too, particularly the fantastic score. You get both English and Spanish dialogue options. The Spanish version of the extended cut has two brief English language inserts though, as it hadn’t all been dubbed into Spanish.

Special Edition Contents

– Brand new 2K restoration from the original negative by Arrow Films
– High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentations of the 105-minute uncut version titled The Finishing School (La Residencia), and the 94-minute US theatrical version titled The House That Screamed, via seamless branching
– Original lossless English mono audio on both versions, and lossless Spanish audio on the uncut version
– Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing on both versions, and optional English subtitles for the Spanish audio
– Brand new audio commentary by critic Anna Bogutskaya
– This Boy’s Innocence, a previously unreleased interview with actor John Moulder-Brown
– Archive interview with Mary Maude, from the 2012 edition of the Festival of Fantastic Films
– All About My “Mama”, a brand new interview with Juan Tébar, author of the original story
– The Legacy of Terror, a brand new interview with the director’s son, Alejandro Ibáñez
– Screaming the House Down, a brand new interview with Spanish horror expert Dr Antonio Lázaro-Reboll, discussing the history of the film and its director
– Alternative footage from the original Spanish theatrical version
– Original trailers, TV and radio spots
– Image gallery
– Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Colin Murdoch

Anna Bogutskaya’s commentary is very strong. She opens by giving background on Serrador, explaining how big a figure he is in Spanish culture before analysing The House That Screamed in great detail. It’s a little stop-start perhaps, with quite a lot of short pauses in delivery. However, overall this is a great track that is well worth your time.

Dr Antonio Lázaro-Reboll’s interview is also required viewing. He gives a clear and concise overview of the history of Spanish horror movies and provides a fairly detailed background on the production of The House That Screamed.

Juan Tébar, who wrote the original story the film is based on, talks of his background and inspirations before discussing how his story for The House That Screamed was passed on to Serrador to adapt and direct. He describes how the film was received too.

Alejandro Ibáñez talks about his father’s career and legacy. He also talks about how Serrador had to tread softly around the censors at the time of making The House That Screamed and how he felt the popular game show his father made sadly prevented him from making more films. The interview is another valuable inclusion to the set.

Mary Maude totally spoils the film in her interview but I’d assume people wouldn’t watch the extras before watching the film. She’s a charming speaker though and has some amusing stories to tell of her time on set.

In his interview, John Moulder-Brown talks about working with Serrador and the cast, particularly Lilli Palmer, who played his mother in the film and was one of the few established international stars in the production at the time. He explains how he was too young to be exposed to many horror movies back then, so didn’t have a clear model on which to base his performance. Oh and he also spoils the end of the film. In fact, the final scene is shown in the piece, so please ensure you watch the full film before exploring these extras.

I didn’t get a copy of the booklet to comment on that, unfortunately.

Overall, Arrow have done a stellar job in releasing this important horror classic with a healthy collection of valuable extras. Highly recommended.


The House That Screamed - Arrow
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Editor of films and videos as well as of this site. On top of his passion for film, he also has a great love for music and his family.

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