It’s fascinating to learn of the movie-going tastes of Old Masters. Jean Renoir was a fan of Love and Death, King Vidor looked forward to seeing Deep Throat, Alfred Hitchcock watched Smokey and the Bandit over and over. It should come as no surprise to learn that Fritz Lang in his twilight years declared his admiration for Scream and Scream Again, as Gordon Hessler’s 1970 British shocker plays like a veritable anthology of themes and images from the Teutonic master’s oeuvre. There are sinister conspiracies, a manhunt for a vampiristic killer, elegant chambers that lead into subterranean laboratories, and Übermensch masterminds. The Vincent Price-Christopher Lee-Peter Cushing narrative alternates between a post-Swinging London hit by a wave of gruesome murders, and an unnamed totalitarian state full of torture and unwholesome experiments— “two films joined by the belly,” as the young Buñuel described Metropolis.
More than just the recognition of his obsessions in a modern, more explicit setting, however, Lang responded I believe to the film’s understanding of a kind of larger evil that, like Dr. Mabuse changing costumes, seems to infect the air. There’s not much difference between this young decade and Weimar Germany, to go from “human to corpse” is still “the fastest transition in the world.” A writhing discotheque replaces Berlin’s “dance of death.” (Writer Tom Gunning recalls Lang’s description of an unmade film about hippies, in which sensual ecstasy yields to gruesome mortality.) History had already ensured that the horrors Lang envisioned came true, Scream and Scream Again provided an appropriately degraded look at our blood-stained hands. “You’ll never wash it away, son,” the police chief tells the distressed young surgeon, who’s scrubbing away at the mortuary. Inspector Lohmann couldn’t have said it better.
Above: Hands and flesh.
p.s..: Re-watching Scream and Scream Again recently, I was surprised to see my favorite moment —an exchange between Vincent Price and Christopher Lee (“But what of the dream?” “There’s only nightmare”) moments before Lee wills Price into a vat of bubbling yellow acid—mysteriously absent from the DVD. A sloppy transfer? Or something a bit more Langian?