Constantly finding the wet corpse of her father really bothers young, shy Penny Appleby
Jul 25, 2011
It's a shame this tidy, clever A-quality movie has such a corny B-movie title. Of course, you might not be blamed for thinking Scream of Fear (Taste of Fear in Britain) is just more of the same old murderous, jump-out-and-scare-the-wheelchair-bound young heroine. There's the creepy house, the stepmother, the leaf-strewn swimming pool, the dark and disused summer house and the moveable old corpse. Maybe there's even an inheritance to think about. Scream of Fear has all this, but it also has an intelligent script full of misdirection (written by Jimmy Sangster, who also produced the movie), lots of shadowy atmosphere and some first-rate acting. Honors go to Ann Todd as the stepmother, Susan Strasberg as the shy heroine, Christopher Lee as a frequently visiting doctor and Ronald Lewis as the live-in chauffeur. Some are good guys, some are bad guys, and they all keep us guessing which is which.
Young Penny Appleby (Strasberg), confined to a wheelchair, arrives on the Riviera to stay with her father and his wife, Jane (Todd). Her nurse and close friend Maggie Frencham died in a boating accident three weeks previously. Penny still hasn't recovered. She hasn't seen her father in ten years and has never met her stepmother. On the drive from the airport to her father's mansion on the Cote d'Azur, Robert the chauffeur (Lewis) mentions that her father has been ill but has left the house. When she meets Jane, Penny is told her father isn't ill and is away on business. That night she's awakened by strange noises, struggles into her wheelchair and makes her way to the summer house because she sees candlelight...and there she meets her father sitting motionless in a large wicker chair. He's as dead as a moist corpse can be. She screams, she faints, and when she comes to the corpse has disappeared. Doctor Gerrard, however, is there to give her a sedative. The next morning Jane calls her to the phone to speak with her father. Is Penny Appleby going mad? Why is Jane Appleby so gracious, so bossy and yet looks so worried? Why is Dr. Gerrard always around? Why is Robert so solicitous?
One thing is for sure. You don't want to be Penny Appleby alone at night in the old mansion, not when the lighting is so weird you might think you were in a horror movie.
Ann Todd in the prime of her career was one of Britain's star actresses, cool, blonde and with a hint of deeper possibilities. She also could play effortlessly the kind of aristocratic, well-bred wife who could make a passionate man irritable. On balance, I liked her. You can see her at her best, if you like cool elegance, in The Seventh Veil and The Sound Barrier.