Proto-Slashers # 6: The House That Screamed (1969)


Proto-Slashers: Looking at the flicks that paved the way for Halloween and the heyday of slasher movies.

The House That Screamed (1969)

Someone is killing the students at a private girls school. Sounds like the premise for any one of countless 80’s slasher flicks, but in this case it’s the plot of the 1969 proto-slasher, The House That Screamed (aka La Residencia and The Finishing School).

Directed by Narcisco Ibáñez Serrador, who also directed the essential Who Can Kill a Child?, this Spanish flick is not to be confused with the 2000 US release of the same name. Set in the early 1900’s, Serrador’s film follows the arrival of new student Theresa (Christina Galbó) as she is enrolled at a creepy girls’ school run by the strict head mistress, Mme. Fourneau (Lilli Palmer). Mme. Fourneau has a unique way of punishing disobedient students. Refuse to copy her dictation and she’ll lock you in a room where teacher’s pet Irene (Mary Maude) and her cronies will strip you nude and whip you. Irene and her pals enjoy the power and the punishment far too much, and Mme. Fourneau is a little too sadism-happy herself as she kisses a student’s bloody back saying, “You made me do this.” Not a good sign for the delicate Theresa who is having enough trouble fitting in. Once the other girls discover that her mother is a cabaret singer (code for prostitute?), Theresa is teased unmercifully to the point that she has no option but to run away. Complicating her plan, however, are both Mme. Fourneau’s nice but creepy teenage son (John Moulder-Brown) who has a compulsive habit of spying on the girls, and the psycho who is slashing though the school’s population unnoticed by staff and students, as everyone assumes that the dead girls have simply run away.

The House That Screamed features a solid cast highlighted by strong female characters, prefiguring slasher classics like The House on Sorority Row. Palmer, Maude, and Galbó, also the star of great genre flicks What Have You Done to Solange?, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, and The Killer Must Kill Again, are all outstanding. The film is beautifully shot by cinematographer Manuel Berenguer and atmospherically and suspensfully directed by Serrador. Each memorable murder is shot in a different style from the previous attack, giving each killing its own feel and style. Like Psycho, there is a shift in audience sympathy, but in House this happens more than once, allowing despicable characters to suddenly become sympathetic. Frequent reference has been made in the genre press to how this film was the inspiration for Dario Argento’s classic Suspira, but any specific inspiration seems to be related only to the gothic atmosphere and the murder-at-a-girls-school setting. POTENTIAL SPOILER: Most entertaining of all is the fact that the ending seems to have directly influenced that good times 80’s slasher Pieces. END POTENTIAL SPOILER.

Though the identity of the killer may not be too difficult to unravel, The House That Screamed is an excellent horror film that is unfortunately difficult to see in North America. Region 0 PAL copies are easier to come across, though the film is offered on a Region 1 NTSC Elvira’s Movie Macabre disc on a double bill with The Maneater of Hydra. Reportedly, though this disc is viewable in a version without Elvira’s jokey comments, the film fades to black any time an Elvira segment is due to appear. Ugh.

I’ve only ever been able to see The House That Screamed on two separate grey market discs that lose the letterboxing after the opening credits, and that both seemed to be duped from the same fuzzy videotape source. I would love to get my hands on a pristine widescreen copy of this awesome flick. And you should too. Enroll in The School That Screamed today to get a crash course in proto-slasher history. If you don’t, Mme. Fourneau and Irene will break out the Cat o’ Nine Tails. You’ve been warned.

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About the Author

A Writer/Project Manager at Graphcom Group (an advertising agency) by day, and a freelancer at night, I’ve written, mainly about movies, for Retro, The Buzz, Rue Morgue, and Cathay Pacific’s in-flight entertainment magazine Studio CX. I’m a grad of Humber College’s (Toronto) Film & TV Production program, and I’ve directed and co-written short films, one of which (Florid) won the Viewer’s Choice Award at the 2004 Reel Island Film Festival. I’ve been heard as a movie reviewer and pop culture commentator on CBC Radio, and I’ve edited and contributed scripts and ideas to television productions including My Messy Bedroom and Thrill on the Hill (CBC-TV’s Canada Day Celebration). My movie review cartoon strip And Yet I Blame Hollywood was adapted and animated as 26 two-minute television interstitials for CBC-TV’s late night program ZeD, and I wrote every single stinkin’ last episode.

7 Responses to “ Proto-Slashers # 6: The House That Screamed (1969) ”

  1. After seeing this in my youth (under the title FINISHING SCHOOL, and a tagline ripped off from SLEEPAWAY CAMP!), I was so manic to get this recently I nabbed the Elvira version. Couldn’t stand her corny jokes so tracked down the other version you refer to. The ending still holds up as chilling!

  2. Yeah John, this is just crying out for a pristine uncut widescreen release. Gimme, gimme, gimme!

  3. Yeah John, this is just crying out for a pristine uncut widescreen disc release. Gimme, gimme, gimme!

  4. I’ve been wanting to see this! Now I REALLY want to see it!

  5. I saw this movie in 1973 on a double bill with Brian De Palma’s “Sisters”. I was all of 11 years old! Needless to say both of these films left a lasting impression on me for years to come. Both were truly ahead of their time.

  6. the house that screamed 1969 neeeds to come to dvd Release uncut version for sure . Unfortunately, this print is taken from the US TV series ‘Elvira’s Movie Macabre I discovered about 3/4 of the way through, there seems to have been 1/2 an hour cut out of the FILM to allow these intervals and still fit the running time! Suddenly people are talking about things you have no idea about! The transfer is very grainy – it looks like it’s been videotaped on a cassette that’s been used a few times – the muffled sound is frequently out of sync, and the dubbing is pretty bad.

  7. I am watching the full 124 minute movie right now and I love it, it’s truly creepy….not to the end yet, just after the first murder. It is on Comcast cable’s OnDemand free movies Horror category. I was hoping to find out where the on location scenes in the beginning of the movie were shot. Spain is my guess, but not sure.

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