Screen Reviews
The House that Screamed

The House that Screamed

directed by Narciso Ibáñez Serrador

starring Cristina Galbó, Lilli Palmer, Mary Maude, John Moulder-Brown

Arrow Video

Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s La Residencia, aka The House that Screamed is a pulpy gothic treat that combines classic boarding school drama bordering on women-in-prison tropes all surrounded by an oppressive atmosphere of ever-mounting dread. The film pulsates with sexual tension and perversity, but since it was made in the fascist era of Francoist Spain, there is far more implied than explicitly shown. Still, the film manages to to imply a lot, using its setting to comment on Catholicism and Francisco Franco’s regime while also pushing the boundaries of censorship with barely masked sexual sadism, lesbianism, and incest all in the confines of a story that could have appeared in any pulp fiction magazine or horror comic book of the era.

The House that Screamed opens with the arrival of Teresa Garan (Cristina Galbó), who has been brought to the titular boarding school for troubled and wayward girls ruled unflinchingly by the sadistic headmistress Señora Fourneau (Lilli Palmer). Fourneau doesn’t sully her hands with the actual sadism, preferring to leave the lashings of the students to her troika of mean-girl sycophants led by the icy Irene (Mary Maude). A brutal whipping of a girl by Irene provides tangible menace to the forced order of the school. Early in the film, Teresa acts as the audience surrogate as she learns the routines and dangers of the school. Danger seems to lurk everywhere, as there are whispers of girls who may have escaped or may have met a horrific end. Thrown into this hell of repressed sexuality and sadism is Señora Fourneau’s teenage son Luis (John Moulder-Brown), who creeps in the hidden spaces spying on the girls. He is clearly modeled on Psycho’s Norman Bates, with his awkward charm and severe mommy issues. His mother forbids him to have any contact with the girls, but he and Theresa still meet in the boiler room. When Theresa is murdered trying to run away one night, it is clear that something far more evil than petty cruelty is at work. And with the protagonist gone, we are forced to side with Irene as she tries to uncover the truth behind the disappearing students, taking her from arch-villain to unlikely heroine. It is a jarring shift in the third act of this film and one of the more unusual narrative devices employed to keep the audience off kilter until the horrific finale.

Quick confession time. I have for ages been a detractor of this film. I have watched it in whole and (mostly) in parts on a number of occasions and on every turn been frustrated to find any value in the film. The frustration has been increased by the number of critics and scholars who in recent years have begun to sing the film’s praises. What did I miss in my previous engagement with La Residencia? The answer would appear to be everything, but it is a forgivable offense, as the horribly soft and desaturated prints (often cropped to a 4:3 aspect ratio with a cringing English language dub) left the film basically unwatchable, and the lack of overt gore and nudity kept the film from transcending the presentation as the similarly treated work of directors like Jess Franco (A VIrgin Among the Living Dead) and León Klimovsky (The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman) were often able to do. That has all changed with the new Blu-ray release of La Residencia, aka The House that Screamed, from Arrow Video. The picture and sound are so dramatically improved, I realized I was only now truly seeing the film. The previously cramped, murky frame has now opened and revealed a lush widescreen film with delightfully disorienting wide-angle-lens work that brings the titular house to life with menace in every shape and form, as the girls of Señora Fourneau’s home for troubled girls.

Although The House that Screamed has long been available in numerous home video formats and a staple of late night horror hosts, it has never looked like this before. This release from Arrow is a must buy for fans of the film who suffered for too long with dodgy versions of the film.

[Arrow Video](www.arrowvideo.com)


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