For over twenty years the Carry On movies had the country in stitches as it crossed every genre in its quest for laughs and double entendre. Like the old naughty picture postcards and Benny Hill, they were of a different time and it was inevitable that they would eventually touch upon the horror movie.
Carry On Screaming was in fact the only time they entered this genre and produced one of the best in the series. Released in 1966 and the twelfth movie in the series, it saw the evil Doctor Watt played by the brilliant Kenneth Williams and his vampish sister Valeria (Fenella Fielding) stealing beautiful young women and turning them into wax mannequins which suddenly began to adorn shop windows. When the young beau of one of the girls sees her frozen in wax he goes to the police and Detective Sergeant Bung and his bumbling sidekick Slobotham investigate the strange goings on. Harry H Corbett of Steptoe and Son fame played Bung who was married to a dragon of a wife played by Joan Simms and fell for Valeria’s charms. This was to be his only Carry On.
The beauty of this movie is that it knew its genre well and played on every horror trick it could fit in. Bernard Bresslaw played Sockett, the Lurch like butler of Doctor Watt immediately invoking the Addams family. Valeria looked like a bride of Dracula while Watt was the classic mad scientist. The idea of turning people into waxworks came straight from a Hammer Horror. It used all the classic images as well including the spooky house in a dark wood filled with a swirling fog, while Watt’s laboratory could have come straight from Doctor Frankenstein’s castle itself. The evil pair patrol the streets in horse drawn carriage that could have ridden out of the pages of a Sherlock Holmes story. This was a movie that knew its stuff and even though it played for laughs, the old cinema trick of showing a monster in fleeting glimpses before its full reveal was used several times.
In the scene with Charles Hawtrey, playing Dan Dann the toilet room man, heavy footsteps thud overhead before he is murdered in a toilet. This is actually quite chilling for a Carry On movie but it is Peter Butterworth’s reactions to the events that help the audience laugh at their own discomfort. The laughs come thick and fast and horror cliché comes equally as fast. There’s even a mummy revival at the climax and the villain falls into a vat of wax with the classic line “Frying tonight!” standing up there with “Infamy, infamy, they all have it in for me!”
Frankenstein and the werewolf is represented by Watt being recharged by voltage bolts on wither side of his neck and the monster they dispatch to kidnap the ladies. Oddbod played by Tom Clegg is a werewolf type monster that does Watt’s bidding and when he loses a finger, a bumbling scientist played by Jon Pertwee accidentally grows a second beast called Oddbod Junior resulting in another gruesome murder.
The inevitable cross-dressing joke comes from Slobotham tarting up to lure the beast out into the open and ending up as a helpless dame as he is carried off to be made into wax. The double act of Butterworth and Corbett works so well it is a wonder they never used them as a team again. Even Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde gets a look in as Valeria slips Bung a love potion that turns him into a love sick dog monster with really bad teeth who instead of killing his wife ends up being beaten with a bed pan and forced to sleep in the bath. This is a great example of how the writers walked the fine line between scares and laughs and it all lies in the actors’ performances. Corbett’s reactions as the monster being nagged by his wife echoes what every man in that situation would love to do but doesn’t and the fact that even as a monster, the woman can still make him do what she says.
There are quite a few Doctor Who connections here too. Doctor Watt claims to have a cousin called Doctor Who but he hasn’t seen him in ages. Peter Butterworth played the first ever Time Lord the Doctor met while on his travels called the Meddling Monk on two separate occasions in the Time Meddler and the Dalek Masterplan. The third Doctor himself appears as a scientist in a role that highlights Pertwee’s gift for funny voices, the very thing he was famous for before landing the role of the Doctor. Joan Simms would later star in the Colin Baker story The Mysterious Planet as a warrior Queen. Billy Cornelius was in the Space Museum as a Morlock opposite William Hartnell and Bernard Bresslaw played the very first Ice Warrior against the second Doctor Patrick Troughton.
Carry on Screaming remains to this day the quintessential Carry on. It respects its source material and uses it to the full and most importantly it still makes people laugh.