Scream and Scream Again (or, as known in Germany, The Living Corpses of Dr. Mabuse) (Gordon Hessler, 1970)

by Douglas Buck April 14, 2020 6 minutes (1425 words) HD Streaming

Since kick-starting my on-going Fritz Lang retro with a viewing of the enjoyable, if not classic, The Return of Frank James, I figured I’d jump right back into the other retro I was doing concurrently, that being following the cinematic legacy of a shadowy fictional figure, born from a country’s post-war strife, and foreshadowing the birth of a crazed dictator who loomed, funny pencil mustache and all, over the 20th Century, a megalomaniacal Doctor determined, with the help of his mind-controlled minions, to control the world given the oft-whispered name of Mabuse (with both retros having had the same starting point – namely, Lang’s staggeringly ambitious, two-part, near four-hour long silent German masterpiece, Dr Mabuse: The Gambler from 1922).

While Gordon Hessler’s Scream and Scream Again isn’t an official entry in the “Mabuse” cycle, which up to this point consisted of eight krimi-style German-language feature films — three brilliant ones by Lang, then five of wildly varied – and ultimately diminishing — quality (feel free to go back and find my thoughts on each) – over a hard-to-fathom forty-two years (with another official Mabuse entry to come two years after “Scream Again”, helmed by none other than the staggeringly prolific, iconoclastic sexploitation Spanish filmmaker Jess Franco, but I’ll get to that one when I get to it), this international co-production between legendary indie genre production companies AIP and Amicus was added to my viewing list because it was re-titled for its German release, as can be seen above, with the crafty distributors opportunistically adding the nefarious Doc’s name to it (and actually changing one of the character’s names as well). It’s also granted a full chapter in the most informative and highly readable David Kalat study of all things Mabuse, “The Strange Case of Dr. Mabuse”, and provided the perfect opportunity to re-watch a film I have a deep fondness for. So why not?

It starts off with one of the simplest, most darkly humorous opening credits sequences in film history, following — in a single still shot that starts off unassuming enough – staring at a middle-aged jogger in the near distance who, with orchestral score growing in fervor as he approaches, finally reaches closer only to suddenly clutch at his chest, dropping to the earth from a presumed heart attack, as the titles synchronistically conclude … moving then to the stricken man waking up in a mysterious room, a sinister nurse coming in, refusing to answer his pleas as she forces a tube down his mouth, to which, before he nods off, he manages to look under his bedsheets and discover with a shriek of pure horror that he has… shall we say… surgically grown slightly lesser in weight.

From this sensationally garish opening springs forth this fast-paced, colorful and absurd smorgasbord of what appear to be three entirely disparate storylines:

An intelligence operative (ie, head torturer) of a fictional Eastern European totalitarian state, Konartz (Marshall Jones, showcasing himself well in his coldly sneering part, even up against the big three of horror royalty that appear in the film, more on them later) — though those red patches on the uniforms with the harsh black diagrammatic symbol look awfully familiar — rises to power by killing one superior officer after another, utilizing this kinda super-strength Vulcan death-grip.

On the other side of Europe, Scotland Yard Detective Bellaver (the highly engaging Alfred Marks, playing his part in the amusing vein of many a cinematic absent-minded, slightly dishevelled yet clearly competent bobbie) investigates the on-going vampiric-like murders of several young women after last being seen at a swinging 60’s nightclub (with the mod-stylin’ killer played by Michael Gothard, of Ken Russell’s The Devils fame, who, with his lean, Mick Jagger-androgynous rock-star good looks, is one striking bloke), which keeps suspiciously leading the good detective and his fellow coppers back to the lair of the considerably strange Doctor Browning (otherwise known as none other than our favorite ‘Doctor Mabuse’ in the German version), played by one of the three aforementioned legends showing up, Vincent Price, a medical professional who just happens, you know, to specializes in limb and organ transplantation, conveniently having his laboratory stowed away right there in his mansion (with Price hamming it up in just the right quantity – with a priceless – bad pun intended – mixture of crooked eyebrow audience-indulgence and eventual child-like enthusiasm when chided into recounting the true nefarious aims of his experiments)…

And then there’s the occasional return to that poor confused man sweating it out alone in his hospital bed who keeps finding himself further surgically lightened in load every time he awakens (to the amusing point of becoming a mere punch line in the story by the end).

It’s all a wonderful, frothing mixture of international espionage, wonky scifi, clandestine motives, shifting identities (and human-transplants into über-men), with the final investigation revealing an ultimate scheme to rule the world; while Scream and Scream Again may not be an official Mabuse film, man, does it play in the same crazy universe (especially aligned with the trashier ones from the 1960’s). A big difference, naturally, is this faux ‘Mabuse’ film was in color (the better to show off the groovy mod outfits at the nightclub, where we also actually watch a psychedelic band play a number called “Scream and Scream Again”, which never quite turned into that pop hit the producers were probably hoping for) as well as has a really nicely effective, modern jazz score by David Whitaker, alternately sinister and action orientated at appropriate intervals.

Vincent Price

While Vincent Price’s Doctor Browning is given the Mabusian mantle in the German re-vamping, I’d say a true Mabuse is more a mix of a bunch of them – that includes the crazy doc, yes, with his Frankenstein-like experiments designed to create super-menschen, but his character is a mere pawn to the bigwigs. Mabuse is more powerful than that; he’s Browning, alright, but he’s also Konartz, the power mad and scheming cold killer, as well as the quietly controlling Freemont (Christopher Lee, number two of our trifecta of horror royalty), Britain’s head intelligence officer, who is imbued with quasi-supernatural skills including, it’s revealed, the Mabuse-like ability of mind control. The frumpy Detective Bellaver is more than a bit reminiscent of Inspector Lohmann from Lang’s original Mabuse tales… and there’s even a sorta look-a-like for actor Peter Van Eyck (a recurring performer, in various roles, in the 60’s cycle), that being the blonde fresh-faced Christopher Matthews, as a young Doctor determined to discover what that Browning fella is up to, with the help of a fine young specimen of a female police officer who off-duty wears a quite becoming flowery short skirt (adding a dash of romance to the proceedings).

“Scream Again” has a nice chase sequence by the police of the murder suspect that takes up a decent chunk of its 90 minute running time, first by car, then turning into a foot race up an impressively steep cliff-side, that includes along the way a hand chopped off and a final acid bath. There’s also a startlingly intense and harsh beating by the killer of one of his victims in a shadowy London tunnel that had me considering Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible (I mean, naturally not that graphic, but the intentions are surprisingly there).

Christopher Lee

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the third of the greats – none other than Hammer’s Doctor Frankenstein himself, the brilliant Peter Cushing, who, as far as acting skills, makes his frequent horror film co-star Christopher Lee look like a mere one trick pony (one with supreme presence, true, but a one trick pony nonetheless). In his single scene, as a superior officer intending to reprimand Konartz for his endless brutality, only to receive a much more lasting surprise ‘message’ from his ruthless underling, Cushing reveals yet again just how much depth and texture he could bring to the most potentially pedestrian of roles.

So what do you know? Just as it was looking that the series was finally losing the last of its luster, with its continued labyrinthine tales of international espionage, power-mad schemes and oft-enjoyable identity shifting characters feeling less and less inspired and more and more muddled and preposterous … then suddenly… Mabuse jumps right back on track!

Okay, so it’s not really an official Mabuse film. Gotta check out the next actual canon entry, the Jess Franco one, and see if the official series managed to bounce back as well.

Scream and Scream Again (or, as known in Germany, The Living Corpses of Dr. Mabuse) (Gordon Hessler, 1970)

Douglas Buck. Filmmaker. Full-time cinephile. Part-time electrical engineer. You can also follow Buck on “Buck a Review,” his film column of smart, snappy, at times irreverent reviews.

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