House That Screamed (Spanish 1969, dir: Chicho Ibaqez-Serrador;
cast: Lilli Palmer, Cristina Galbo, John Moulder-Brown, Mary Maude; aka
La Residencia, The Finishing School, The Boarding School)
House That Screamed is a seminal work that's inspired surprisingly
little critical analysis, or even fanish coverage, at least in the US. Yet its prescient conceit (an unseen slasher in an all-girl's boarding
school) adumbrates both Suspiria (likewise set in an all-girl's boarding school) and a decade of slasher-in-a-
sorority films. Its influence is evident in Pieces (Italian 1983) and May (2002). And one may appreciate The
House That Screamed as political metaphor.
Tohill & Tombs recognize the film's historic importance. In Immoral
Tales: European Sex and Horror Movies 1956-1984, they write: "the
[Spanish] horror 'boom' really began with the success of The
House That Screamed (La residencia)
in 1969." But remarkably, they say no more about it, only alluding
to it later when discussing Serrador's Island of
Death: "Like Serrador's earlier The
House That Screamed, the pacing of [Island
Of Death] is excellent. ... Again, as in his earlier film, Serrador's
story deals with the effects of repression and the notion that the worlds
of adults and children are separated by an unbridgeable gulf."
think a book about European sex & horror cinema would say more about
the film it credits with popularizing horror in Spain. No matter. I'll say more:
opens with the arrival of "eighteen and a half years-old" Theresa (Cristina
Galbo) at an all-girl's boarding school, in 19th century France (not Spain). She appears privileged, the school an elite academy (as in Suspiria). But the school is really an exalted dumping ground for girls who are troubled,
troublesome, or just trouble. Insolent, thievish, wanton, or simply
is the latter. Diffident, even demure, but unwanted by her prostitute
mother. Fortunately, someone is willing to pay her tuition to keep
her out of her mother's way.
(Lilli Palmer) runs the school, with the aid of a student, Irene (Mary
Maude). Irene leads a gang of lesbian bullies, who act as enforcers
for Fourneau. One may infer fascist symbolism from Irene's brown
and black tie, and her gang's role in enforcing Fourneau's will. Being a 1969 Spanish film, The
House That Screamed can easily be interpreted as metaphor for
as metaphor for repressive politics" is an old conceit. The simpler
versions pit staid administrations against free-spirited students. But The
House That Screamed and The
Chocolate War (1988) are more complex, and darker, in that they feature
school administrations and student gangs forming mutually satisfying alliances
against a weak student majority.
I know, I'm the only one to identify a political metaphor in The
House That Screamed. Everyone else seems to focus on the
sex. John Stanley (Creature Features)
praises the film because it "excellently captures the oppressive sexual
needs of the girls with erotic artsy intercutting."
there's that. Actually, the film captures just about every manner
of sexual need, for every character.
adolescent son, Luis (John Moulder-Brown), feels like a kid in a candy
store. He skulks about and spies on the libidinal girls, crawling
through walls, peering through vents as they shower.
matters, Fourneau dotes on Luis, pampering him, projecting her hypochondria
onto him, fretting lest he catch cold on a warm summer day. Mother
warns son that "none of these girls are any good," and counsels him to
wait for the right woman, who will protect him, and "live for him," and
love him, just like ... mother. Then mother kiss her son on the lip.
complicating matters, Fourneau appears to desire one of her students. After Fourneau has Irene whip the student, Fourneau apologizes and kisses
the student's freshly scarred back.
relishes wielding the whip, face aglow with sadistic glee. But she
also uses sex to control the girls. Irene controls access to a workman,
deciding which horny girl has earned the privilege to slip out for a sexual
rendezvous. (For herself, Irene prefers the company of her lesbian
are still more complications. Irene flirts with Theresa, explaining
that she can make things pleasant or difficult. For things to be
pleasant, all Theresa need do is "obey" Irene's every wish.
the sexual tinderbox Theresa slowly finds herself in. (Tohill &
Tombs are right to praise the pacing.) But even before Theresa's
arrival, a serpent had entered Fourneau's well-ordered garden. Suspiciously
too many girls are "escaping" -- and never heard from again. What
began as a "exploitation boarding school film" morphs into slasher territory.
distress Fourneau, who stands to lose her position. As control over
her society disintegrates, she increases her repression, ordering all windows
and doors nailed shut.
girls want to escape, they will," laments a maid. "This is a boarding
house, not a prison."
I will make it a prison," Fourneau responds.
privileges from Irene, Irene withdraws the services of her enforcers.
Without Irene, the girls grow more difficult to handle. As the body
count mounts, everyone wants to escape.
House That Screamed suggests that authoritarianism carries the
seeds of its own destruction, in the end destroying even those who serve
House That Screamed benefits from having a strong charismatic
villain. No, not Fourneau, but Irene. Or rather, Irene as portrayed
by Mary Maude.
has a talent for playing charismatic meanies. As Irene, Maude is
strong, alluring, aloof, regal. Maude also shone as the witch-hunter's
callous wife in Terror (British 1978). But
when she played a docile woman-in-distress in Crucible
of Terror (British 1971) she lost her charisma, and was less interesting. Maude also appeared in La Muerte Incierta (Spanish 1972), but remains an obscure British actress.
European films, The
House That Screamed is an international mishmash. Produced
in Spain, set in France, starring the English Maude and the German Palmer. The English prints are dubbed, although the actresses' lips seem to be
already speaking English. In an interview for Filmfax #75-76, Maude states: "Unfortunately, I did not dub my own voice, as
I was working on something else at the time. I regret this, as I
feel that only half the performance is mine. It is my understanding
that the English dub was not very good. But, then again, the Spanish
one wasn't much either."
remastered DVD copy yet exists. Ebay used to have VHS copies of dubious
quality, mostly from Europe. I purchased a VHS copy which had a copyright
notice, but also a photocopied cover. That video is recorded from
a washed-out film print. The reds bleed. The hi-fi soundtrack
is murky. Later, a poor quality DVD was released in Australia in
the PAL format. Later came the Elvira
DVD version, which is happily in widescreen and in NTSC format, but
still visually with what sounds like a dull, mono soundtrack.
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