THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED/ LA RESIDENCIA. An Anabel Film Production. Spain.
1 hour 42 minutes (Original Spanish Release Version), 1 hour 34 minutes (The American Release Version), 1969. Aspect Ratio 2.35:1, 35mm, Eastman Color. Written and directed by Narsciso Ibáñez Serrador (writing as Luis Verña Peñafiel). Music by Waldo de Los Rios. Cinematography by Manuel Berenguer, Godofredo Pacheco. Edited by Mercedes Alonso. Production Design by Ramiro Gomez. Costume Design by Victor Maria Cortezo.
Cast: Lilli Palmer (Señora Fourneau), Cristina Galbo (Therese), John Moulder-Brown (Luis), Mary Maude (Irene), Maribel Martin (Isabel), Candida Rosada (Señorita Desprez), Andrea (Teresa Hurtado).
In the new century, Spanish-language genre cinema, both Spainish/Catalonian and the Central-Latin American variants, is doing remarkably well, especially in the realm of orthodox (puzzling-solving) mysteries and politically conscious horror-thrillers. Just check out the roster of new movies and TV series added to Nexflix and Amazon and it should become obvious that many interesting and rewarding Hispanic works of horror and dark fantasy are steadily supplied nowadays, even if not all of them demonstrate the level of creativity scaled by the Guadalajara native Guillermo Del Toro or the Barcelonite J. A. Bayona. For the last two decades the DVD (and now HD disc) revolution has also steadily rehabilitated reputations of the classic-- '60s to '80s-- Spanish-language horror filmmakers, such as Armando de Ossorio (of the Blind Dead films fame), Paul Naschy (a.k.a. Jacinto Molina Alvarez, the "Spanish Lon Chaney" himself) and, er, yes, Jesus Franco (There are also cult favorites such as the Brazilian auteur Jose Mojica Marins, whose language of choice is Portuguese, so perhaps the "Spanish-Portuguese-language" is really the technically correct designation). To this illustrious roster belongs Narsciso Ibáñez Serrador, who directed only two theatrical features, this film and the monstrously powerful Who Can Kill a Child? (¿Quién puede matar a un niño? 1976), bracketed by more than fifty years of celebrated TV work, most notably the long-running genre series Historias para no dormir (Stories to Stay Awake, 1966-1982).
Often cited online as a film that inspired Argento's Suspiria (a perversely diminishing claim reproduced in the Scream Factory Blu Ray's back cover), La residencia unabashedly dives into a hoary Gothic set-up, a 19th century girl's boarding school for "troubled girls," run with an iron discipline by a sexually repressed headmistress. The film's ostensible protagonist, Therese, is immediately picked upon by a clique of mean seniors, led by the nasty Irene, upon arrival. However, she also befriends the headmistress's weakling son, Luis, apparently willing to help the frustrated girls escape the stuffy establishment. Unfortunately for them, a knife-wielding murderer is stalking the corridors of the dormitory, and the presumed "escapees" have in reality been gruesomely dispatched by the maniac.
The full description of the plot (including the "shocker" ending, which I shall not reveal here) makes the film appear unbelievably lurid and exploitative, but compared to, say, the Italian horrors such as What Have You Done to Solange? (1972), also starring Galbo, of the same period, La residencia remains quite restrained and levelheaded (until the very last fifteen minutes of the film, but perhaps even then). Serrador spends a lot of time not only building up considerable suspense and atmosphere of dread, but also illustrating character traits, not usually paid attention to in the flamboyant Euro-horrors of this period. Even though the director pulls off a few flashy stylistic set-pieces, mostly during the startling murder sequences (including a very effective use of slow-motion, both sonic and visual), he for the most part keeps things subtle. There are potentially exploitative scenes-- such as a girl stripped of shirt and caned as a corporal punishment, and a group shower-- but the prurience quotient is not high at all (the shower scene does manage to work up sexual tension leading to a silent confrontation between a girl and Madame Fourneau, but it highlights repressive atmosphere rather than eroticism).
Despite the fact the film is more or less confined to a (admittedly huge) single mansion, Serrador eschews excessive theatricality, and wrangles good to excellent performance out of his cast members. Anglophilic affectation is a strange problem that still plagues some Spanish-language genre films even in the 21st century, but most viewers will not have a problem accepting the English-language dialogues of the (allegedly) French characters in this Spanish production (Serrador's uncommon sensitivity to the spoken languages is in fact one of the reasons why Who Can Kill a Child? works so well with the English-Spanish mixed soundtrack, and not with the Spanish dubbing).
Having said that, one of the weaknesses of the film is that it is really about the relationship between Madame Fourneau and her son, and the film's obvious identification figures, including Therese, are in fact pawns of the director deployed to mislead the viewers, or to serve, in the ultimate sense, as objects putting plot mechanisms in motion. Like quite a few psychological thrillers of '60s and early '70s, La residencia goes through an abrupt shift in the positionality of central characters (no doubt some of this is due to the overwhelming influence of Psycho), which is certainly effective, but as a result, the viewers are not allowed to receive dividends from their emotional investments in the main characters. Well, it is a horror film, after all, and slapping the viewer's faces out of their complacent expectations might be regarded as a fair game. Yet, the British couple of Who Can Kill a Child?, its fish-out-of-water protagonists, have zero trouble garnering our sympathies, without Serrador having to resort to any kind of genre-savvy manipulation of the viewer expectations. La residencia, while an undeniably high-quality Gothic horror show, does not exactly transcend the visible mechanics of the genre.
Lilli Palmer might have been cast thanks to her famous turn as a teacher in the 1958 version of Mädchen in Uniform. I am not sure a 19th-century French school mistress would quite have the kind of cutting diction (in English) as she uses in this film, but otherwise her performance is excellent, adding shadings to the character so that she would not end up a mere sadistic dragon lady. Moulder-Brown, who had had a long career as a child actor since late '50s, was possibly cast for his angelic looks, but in this film and the unclassifiable masterpiece Deep End (1970) he manages to leave an indelible impression as a soft-spoken teenager gradually revealing frightening levels of instability and obsession to the viewers. Among the girls, Mary Maude (equally striking in the rather twaddle-dum cult horror opus Crucible of Terror ) leaves a strong impression as the meanest but strongest-willed potential victim.
Critics will probably have little difficulty in reading allegorical meanings into La residencia, given that it is about a closed-off, repressed community under a stern but ineffectual "dictator" who unintentionally allows psychosis to brew under the façade of order and enlightenment, but taken at its face value, the film remains a strong psychological thriller-Gothic horror that rewards multiple viewings and certainly deserves its classic status.
Blue Ray Presentation:
MGM/Scream Factory (Shout! Factory Imprint). Region A Blu Ray. Video: 1080p High-Definition Widescreen 2.35:1. Audio: English DTS-HD Master Mono. Subtitles: English. Supplement: A U.S. import version, Interviews with John Moulder-Brown and Mary Maude. TV Spots, Radio Spots, Still Gallery. Release Date: December 27, 2016.
The House That Screamed has been one of the titles high up in the list for restoration of its longer cut for many years but remained inexplicably MIA during the DVD years, except for bargain-basement budget edition from Sinister Cinema, even when Serrador's Who Can Kill a Child? received a lavish special edition treatment by Dark Sky Films, forcing fans to procure the Spain-produced DVD with the Spanish language edition only, without English subs. In 2016 Scream Factory, the horror imprint of Shout! Factory finally filled in the gap with a welcome special edition that includes both the original release version (clocking at 102 minutes) and the U.S. release cut shorn of approximately ten minutes by the American International Pictures.
The longer cut switches to SD-level footage noticeably inferior in quality whenever the excised bits are reintroduced. Thankfully the process is not too distracting. Curiously, the Spanish language audio is not included, although, given the English-language command of Palmer, Moulder-Brown and Maude, the English track makes greater sense than the Spanish dub in any case.
The 1080p transfer certainly looks good but is supposedly taken from internegatives, and color scheme tends toward somewhat subdued red and brown, which might well have been Serrador's original intention. While not as colorful and fresh-looking as some viewers might have hoped, the visual presentation is overall rich and robust, unlike some other vintage BD titles that tend to sport "faded beige" look. The DTS-mastered mono audio also does its job. In fact, the crackle and pop that suddenly intrude in the soundtrack in the inferior-quality restored scenes are far more distracting than the drop in visual quality.
Supplements include brief interviews with Moulder-Brown (conducted in 2011 at a German screening of Deep End) and Maude (done in 2012 during the Manchester Film Festival), both well-aged and pleasant, giving the audiences nice run-down of the production of La residencia, with impressions of Serrador (apparently a tough taskmaster) and Palmer (an old school film star). Not as professionally put-together as a piece done by Red Shirts or other specialists in DVD supplementary docus, they are nonetheless very welcome additions.