DirectorNarciso Ibáñez Serrador
Release Date(s)1970 (March 7, 2023)
Studio(s)Anabel Films S.A. (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B+
One of Spain’s first horror exports, The House That Screamed (aka La residencia and The Finishing School) wound up being one of the most important Spanish horror films of its time, despite its comparisons to Psycho. It didn’t help that the film’s director, Narciso Ibáñez Serrador (who also helmed Who Can Kill a Child?), was often compared to Hitchcock because of his work on the Spanish horror anthology TV series Historias para no dormir (Tales to Keep You Awake). The House That Screamed was a success in its home country but not in the US, and it has since been re-evaluated by scholars and aficionados as an effective thriller with unusual facets.
At a boarding school for young women, the newly-arrived Teresa (Cristina Galbó) meets the Headmistress Señora Fourneau (Lilli Palmer), who welcomes her with open arms. However, despite her kind demeanor, Señora Fournea is obsessed with maintaining order in the school, going so far as having those who openly mock her authority violently whipped. She’s also obsessed with keeping her son Luis (John Moulder-Brown) away from the women, though she’s unable to as they often meet him in secret. Meanwhile, the Headmistress’ top student, Irene (Mary Maude), assists her in maintaining order and disciplining the women, but also bullying them for her own twisted pleasures. As the tension in the school rises, some of the girls attempt to run away while others go missing, and it’s soon revealed that a killer is on the loose inside the school.
What’s interesting about The House That Screamed is that it’s not a straight exploitation film like you might expect. There are scenes of a young girl being whipped and an extended shower scene, but none of it is really gratuitous per se. You’re expecting a sleazy, softcore type of film, but what you wind up with is a dramatic thriller that continually raises its stakes. It also spoon feeds you the idea of what’s going on and who might be the killer, in a giallo kind of way. Yet in the end, it throws in a twist that, depending on your viewpoint, either works or it doesn’t.
On the other hand, The House That Screamed is lacking in a few areas, even in its extended form. It feels like there are often scenes missing, with things that should have been established about some of the characters, or perhaps embellished upon, but they aren’t, and it causes specific moments to not make any sense narratively. There’s also a scene in which we’re asked to side with Irene’s character, whom up to this point has been nothing but despicable to everyone around her. When she’s suddenly put in danger, there’s no sympathy for her character, even if the film is insisting that there should be.
Regardless, there are touches of creative flair throughout The House That Screamed (a very exploitative title that doesn’t really fit with what the film is going for). The relationship between Señora Fourneau and her son Luis borders on incest, but never quite crosses the line, leaving it up to the audience as to just how far she might go, or may have gone already. It’s just one example of how The House That Screamed offers a unique flavor of horror that some may find distasteful, or perhaps even uninteresting as it isn’t a traditional genre film, which is its finest asset.
The House That Screamed was shot by cinematographers Manuel Berenguer (lighting cameraman) and Godofredo Pacheco on 35 mm film using Mitchell Mark II cameras and Franscope (anamorphic) lenses, and finished photochemically at the aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Arrow Video brings the film to Blu-ray for a second time with a new 2K restoration of the original camera negative. Like the Scream Factory Blu-ray, this release also includes both The Finishing School extended version of the film, as well as the theatrical version.
This release is a vast improvement over the Scream Factory disc, which featured crushed blacks and uneven saturation, as well as footage from different sources to conform the extended version. Both versions are included here with high bitrates on one disc. Grain is tighter and detail is boosted significantly, allowing for deeper blacks with greater shadow detail and better contrast. Hues no longer appear hot as the color palette offers a richer palette with more distinct colors. Flesh tones benefit from the new restoration greatly as well. The image is stable, but there are minor scratches and speckling throughout. The opening titles and transitions are sometimes not up to snuff, but things smooth out otherwise. Outside of a 4K restoration on Ultra HD with a Dolby Vision pass, the film can simply not look better.
Audio is included for the theatrical version in English mono LPCM with optional subtitles in English SDH. Audio for The Finishing School version is in either English or Spanish mono LPCM, both of which can only be selected from the main menu (the same goes for subtitles). These tracks have been restored as well, free of sibilance issues from previous releases. Dialogue, though dubbed and loose against the picture, is clear and discernible with good support for the score and sound effects. Both tracks are also clean and free of any obvious age-related wear and tear. None of these tracks are dynamic powerhouses, but they’re true to their source.
The House That Screamed sits in a clear amaray case with a double-sided poster and insert, both featuring new artwork by Colin Murdoch on one side and the original US theatrical poster artwork on the reverse. Also included is a 24-page insert booklet containing cast and crew information, the essay The Horror That Screamed: Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s Cult Film La Residencia by Shelagh Rowan-Legg, restoration information, and a set of production credits. The following extras are included:
- Audio Commentary by Anna Bogutskaya
- This Boy’s Innocence (HD – 24:20)
- An Interview with Mary Maude (SD – 11:51)
- All About My “Mamá” (HD – 9:25)
- The Legacy of Terror (HD – 13:55)
- Screaming the House Down (HD – 20:23)
- Excerpts from the Spanish Version (Upscaled SD and HD – 4 in all – 6:09)
- US Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:04)
- US TV Spot #1 (Upscaled SD – :58)
- US TV Spot #2 (Upscaled SD – :27)
- US Radio Spot #1 (HD – 1:00)
- US Radio Spot #2 (HD – :30)
- Image Gallery (HD – 34 in all)
The audio commentary features writer and podcaster Anna Bogutskaya, who is very excited to talk about the film because of her Spanish heritage (little known to most people within her circle). She delves into the content of the film, noting many aspects of the story, but also examines the film’s importance in Spanish horror. She goes quiet a bit too much, but she’s very knowledgeable and provides many contextual details about the film and those who made it. This Boy’s Innocence features an interview with John Moulder-Brown from 2017. He discusses transitioning from a child into an adult actor, receiving the script, getting the part, the complexities of his character, his character’s relationship with his mother in the film and how that informed the story, shooting various scenes, working with the other actors and director, and what it was like on the set. Next is a brief interview with Mary Maude from 2012 by Adrian James at the Festival of Fantastic Films in Manchester, England. She talks about how she received the role, the content of the film, and her memories of working on it. All About My “Mamá” offers an interview with writer and filmmaker Juan Tébar who talks about his approach to writing and where he gets his inspiration, meeting and working with Narciso Ibáñez Serrador, how much involvement he had in writing the film, and his memories of it. In The Legacy of Terror, Alejandro Ibáñez talks about his father and his career. In Screaming the House Down, Spanish horror and fantasy film scholar Dr. Antonio Lazaro-Reboll discusses the history of the film, its director, and the era in which the film was made. Next are a series of brief excerpts from the Spanish version of the film, which consist of alternate credits and angles. There’s also the film’s trailer, TV and radio spots, and an Image Gallery, which contains 34 stills of press photos and posters.
Not included from the Scream Factory release is a short interview with John Moulder-Brown from 2011 at the Munich film festival and a longer still gallery. It’s worth noting that Scream Factory also included what they called a “theatrical trailer,” which appears to be nothing more than a TV spot.
Given more deluxe treatment by Arrow Video, The House That Screamed is elevated by a lovely presentation with satisfying extras. Many now recognize that it’s not just a cheap picture quickly cranked out by American International Pictures. It’s certainly not a perfect film, but it’s far more intriguing than many of its ilk. For fans of the film, this release comes highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons