When looking to find interesting material to bring to the screen, there are worse places to start than the work of Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451). Back in the day, you could count on programs such as ABC Movie Of The Week to deliver a compelling new drama to the airwaves every week in varying degrees of quality. In 1972 director Jack Smight took on the task of adapting the short story The Screaming Woman from the acclaimed Bradbury. Joining him as the star of this project was the great Golden Age of Hollywood actress Olivia de Havilland (The Heiress, The Private Lives Of Elizabeth & Essex) who turned in a late-career turn that reminded people that she still had the gravitas to anchor a project. The result is an admirable effort that faces a few missteps but succeeds in sustaining interest for the entirety of the runtime. 

De Havilland plays Laura Wynant, a wealthy former mental patient who has only recently been deemed rehabilitated and allowed to return home to her country estate. Everyone in her midst appears to be walking on eggshells around her, politely nodding when she says something a bit off or confuses certain facts. Her son, Howard (Charles Knox Robinson, Night Court), and his greedy wife Caroline (Laraine Stephens) are looking for a way to take control of the property away from Laura, and having her declared unwell again would greatly aid them in their quest. Neighbors also do not have the best impression of Laura, who actively worked to not have the land around her developed to maintain her seclusion. While out on her property one day, she is drawn to an abandoned plot where a dog is digging at the earth. Upon further investigation, Laura hears cries of help from a woman buried alive which sends her into a crazed panic in search of help. 

The real tension begins when Laura reaches her friends and family, and they simply do not believe her. She is a woman known to be mentally ill, and the story is so preposterous to them that they cannot take her seriously. Of course, when they do make the smallest effort to indulge her by going to the plot of land, the cries for help are no longer there. Was there ever a woman buried underground, or has Laura simply lost her grip on reality? Unfortunately, the film does not really view this as a key question. From the very first moment Laura hears the cries and runs away, the camera pans down to reveal the woman trapped under the earth. The ambiguity over whether or not this woman is insane dissipates immediately. Instead, the remainder of the story turns into a prime example of the frustrations of gaslighting. There is a palpable irritation that you feel as all of the people in Laura’s life fail her in her quest to save this woman. Her children just view this as an opportunity to seize her assets once and for all. How do you prove to the world that you are not insane? 

Still is NOT from the new 2K master.

The approach this story takes is very effective in winding you up and maintaining tension as Laura frantically tries to save this woman – the arthritic older woman cannot dig for the victim herself. De Havilland gives a completely committed performance that may not rank as her best, but is especially good for a TV movie. Ed Nelson (Peyton Place) is unsettling as the husband of the victim who placed the woman underground and is trying to maintain his freedom. The plot can get a little repetitive as person after person rejects Laura outright, but at only 73 minutes it does not overstay its welcome. The way in which this story unfolds is immensely gripping, but one cannot help but imagine how much more effective things may have been with more ambiguity over Laura’s mental state. The Screaming Woman could have veered more towards suspenseful psychological thriller territory than gaslighting survival drama and been all the better for it. Nevertheless, this is an effective, intentionally stressful dramatic thriller that moves along efficiently with strong performances to ground it. 

 

Video Quality

The Screaming Woman comes to Blu-Ray with a digital AVC encoded 1080p transfer derived from a new 2K master that is simply amazing. The fact that Kino Classics has not only rescued this obscure television film from obscurity but has also given it a stunning new presentation is very impressive. Instances of print damage have been cleaned up immensely with no apparent blemishes that stand out. This print is in much better shape than one could ever dream up. It maintains the natural film grain of the source without any hints of digital tinkering. The grain presents as organic rather than overwhelmingly noisy, which allows for greater depth to the image. Overall clarity and detail is incredible, and skin tones are natural and consistent with subtle facial features easily noticeable in closeup. Colors are well saturated with vivid hues popping off the screen, especially in some of the foliage. Black levels are very deep and hold up well with crush not serving as a noticeable issue. Kino Classics has done a standout job with this release. 

Audio Quality

The Blu-Ray disc comes with a DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio track that perfectly captures the intended sound of the film. The rural environmental sounds are rendered well alongside everything else. The music is made up of a mixture of recycled tracks and works from John Williams, and this track handles it well throughout the duration of the film. There is never a moment where it threatens to overwhelm competing sounds, and it maintains a good balance so that dialogue comes through clearly. There does not seem to be any majorly noticeable instances of age-related wear and tear. Kino Classics has given this film an accurately preserved audio presentation that brings the story to life effectively. 

Special Features

  • Audio Commentary: Film Historian/Screenwriter Gary Gerani provides an entertaining and informative commentary track in which he discusses the story, the legendary life of Olivia de Havilland, the musician’s strike at the time of production, controversy around the title of the film and more. This is more than worth a listen.
  • TV Spots: There are TV Spots provided for Scream Pretty Peggy, Fear No Evil, Ritual of Evil and Kolchak: The Night Stalker (Chopper). 

 

Final Thoughts

The Screaming Woman is a tension-filled drama that uses the Ray Bradbury short story to create something quite entertaining. There is a core dramatic choice made early on that lessens the suspense this tale may have been able to conjure, but the performance from Olivia de Havilland is impressive enough to counteract this. Kino Classics has once again rescued a lesser-known television artifact with a new Blu-Ray featuring an excellent A/V presentation and an informative commentary track. Those looking for something a little creepy to add to their Halloween viewing lineup should find this pretty compelling. Recommended 

The Screaming Woman will be available to purchase on Blu-Ray and DVD on October 5, 2021.

Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.

Disclaimer: Kino Classics has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.

 

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