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The House That Screamed (Narciso Ibanez Serrador, 1969)
Although thereís a serial killer running around in its spooky mansion, the bulk of The House That Screamed has other concerns. Indeed, with simmering sexual tension, both between the girls and the resident boy toy and the girls themselves, the arrival of a new girl whose motherís past is in question, and a headmistress who is overbearing enough a mother that she can repress an entire school of girls, the movie has enough to occupy its time that the first murder doesnít occur until the forty-minute mark. When the first nubile maiden is finally dispatched, the moment is less shocking for its violence than due to Serradorís presentation of it. The scene is artfully depicted as a series of lap dissolves, melding the struggling girl, flowers doused in blood, and the assault itself, the soundtrack slowing until it falls out of sync. The scene takes on a distinctly erotic quality, which makes sense, as the victim was under the impression she was on her way to a romantic interlude.
This artful murder is typical of Serradorís ability to merge his filmís melodramatic and scary elements. It resolves, however unpleasantly, the character tensions that were building to that moment. His set design, which is cramped with antiques and musty corners, lends itself equally well to the horror and gothic romance genres. In this context, the creepy stuff, such as doors that mysteriously open themselves or the peeping tom in their shower room, underline the anxieties of the young girls. Serrador makes the most of his deliberate pacing and the air of sexual panic, feeding them directly into the eerie tension that builds throughout. The school itself becomes a realm that breeds resentment and perversion, and the movie pays off that atmosphere with an ending that offers a suitably nasty distortion of the headmistressís teachings. Taken as a whole, the sinister and accomplished The House That Screamed is something of a classic of European horror.