My World Dies Screaming (1958)

Rating:

aka Terror In the Haunted House

USA. 1958.

Crew

Director – Harold Daniels, Screenplay – Robert C. Dennis, Producer – William S. Edwards, Photography (b&w) – Frederick E. West, Music – Darrell Calker, Makeup – Harry Thomas, Art Direction – A. Leslie Thomas

Cast

Kathy O’Donnell (Sheila Wayne), Gerald Mohr (Philip Weston), William Ching (Mark Snell), John Qualen (Jonah), Barry Bernard (Dr Victor Forel)


Plot

Sheila Wayne consults a psychologist about a recurring nightmare where she is in an old mansion and is afraid to venture up to see what is in the attic. She has just married Philip Weston and he persuades her to leave Switzerland where she lives and move to Florida with him. However, when they arrive, she is horrified to find that the house he has rented is none other than the exact same one in her dream.


My Word Dies Screaming, known as Terror in the Haunted House in later reissues, was one of the first films to come out exploiting William Castle’s fad for promotional gimmicks. Earlier the same year, Castle has made the first of his gimmick films with Macabre (1958) in which audiences were insured with a policy in case they died with fright, something that propelled the otherwise unexceptional film to a success. Over the next few years, Castle came up with other gimmick films – House on Haunted Hill (1959) in which a glow-in-the-dark skeleton was winched across the theatre; The Tingler (1959) where seats were wired up with electric buzzers to zap patrons; 13 Ghosts (1960) where audiences could put on a pair of Ghost Viewers glasses to see the ghosts on the screen; and Homicidal (1961), which featured a Fright Break where those too frightened could retreat to the Coward’s Corner in the lobby and receive a refund. My World Dies Screaming/Terror in the Haunted House was promoted with the gimmick of being filmed in ‘Psychorama’ where subliminal images of skulls, snakes and the word ‘blood’ were intercut with the rest of the film, supposedly to create feelings of fear in an audience. Director Harold Daniels also used Psychorama in the subsequent non-genre crime film Date with Death (1959), which also starred Gerald Mohr.

My Word Dies Screaming holds your interest with the unusualness of its premise – it opens on Kathy O’Donnell recounting her recurrent dream to her psychologist, after which she heads to the US with her new husband Gerald Mohr only to find that the house he has rented is the exact same one that she has been dreaming about. The situation is constantly being compounded by a series of plotting twists that leave you unsure what is going on – Kathy O’Donnell suspecting that husband Gerald Mohr is up to something sinister and finding guns and parts from the mysteriously disabled car in his suitcase, the abrupt arrival of the real owner of the house William Ching. Certainly, these plotting novelties hold the interest in the film when Harold Daniels’ dully prosaic direction fails to. Indeed, you suspect that the subliminal gimmicks are there because the film fails singularly to achieve haunted atmosphere by any other means.

The theme of the precognitive dream was used in a number of other films of this era such as Fear in the Night (1947), Nightmare (1956) and William Castle’s later The Night Walker (1965). My World Dies Screaming follows the path of every single one of these in [PLOT SPOILERS] revealing that it was not a precognitive dream after all but that something else was rather improbably the cause. (Genre cinema of this period seemed to go to enormous lengths to create haunted or supernatural-seeming plots and then find the most ridiculous reasons for rationally explaining them away). Anything initially haunted and fantastical seeming is quickly forgotten and the film becomes a mundane psycho-thriller. (In fact, the retitling Terror in the Haunted House is a false description as, even aside from the mundane explanations, there is never anything done to suggest that the house is haunted). The initially promising atmosphere transpires to be nothing more than a torrid antebellum soap opera.

Harold Daniels was a minor director in film and television during this era. He also made the B movies Port Sinister (1953) about adventure seekers finding a lost land filled with giant animals; the occult film House of Black Death (1965); and an obscure version of Edgar Allan Poe’s Annabelle Lee (1974). Screenwriter Robert C. Dennis was prolific in television throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s, writing episodes of classic shows such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-62), Perry Mason (1957-66), The Untouchables (1959-63), The Outer Limits (1963-5), I Spy (1965-8), The Wild Wild West (1965-9), Batman (1966-8), Hawaii Five-O (1968-80), Kojak (1973-8) and The Six Million Dollar Man (1973-8), among others.


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