I would never have thought of this on my own, but now that I've been put in mind of it, it makes perfect sense that American International Pictures and Amicus Productions would team up together. You could never say that they occupy the same spot in their respective ecosystems, because the Hollywood and British film industries don't overlap enough for that to be the case, but they kind of have the same vibe: the scrappy little genre film specialists darting around on the river bottom, picking up the scraps left by the bigger fish, who were themselves already not that big. It's sort of a syllogism: Amicus was to Hammer Film as AIP was to Columbia and Universal (Hammer's two main U.S. distributors). And here we are with the film that represents the AIP/Amicus partnership at its purest: 1970's Scream and Scream Again, a co-production between the two companies.

Formally speaking, the most accurate way to think of this is as an Amicus film made on American International's dime, but that doesn't correctly get at the deeply intertwined co-mingling of the two companies' personnel and styles. And just as I'd have never made the AIP/Amicus connection on my own, I don't think that I'd ever really though of AIP as having a distinctive style before seeing Scream and Scream Again (it is maybe more correct to suggest that it is the style that company favored for a distinct window of time around the late '60s and early '70s). But there it is, clear as day: this is the world of an Amicus film shot and assembled like an AIP film, with a script so far afield from either company's output that it doesn't even work as a tie-breaker.

Afield from those two companies, and afield from pretty much anything else in human history I can name. Scream and Scream Again was adapted by Christopher Wicking from the novel The Disorientated Man (credited to "Peter Saxon", a collective pseudonym for several authors working at Mayflower Books), "disorientated" is the word for it, all right. It is not, strictly speaking, accurate to say that the movie is made out of completely disassociated chunks of narrative. They are, in fact, all tied together rather tightly by a handful of exposition dumps in the last ten minutes. It's only the case that it feels like we're watching three wholly unrelated movies that have been accidentally cross-cut together.

These films being, in the order we meet them: the story of a man (Nigel Lambert) we first see running through London, until he suddenly collapses. He comes to in a hospital bed, under the ministrations of a noticeably chilly and businesslike nurse (Uta Levka), with both of his legs amputated below the knee. Every time we check in with him, he has lost more of his body. Second: Konratz (Marshall Jones), a spy, returns to his home country, an indefinitely Nazi-lite place on the east side of the Iron Curtain. He's picked up an unusual power wherever he has come from: his touch can cause what appears to be an awfully painful death, perhaps by electrocution. Third: Detective Superintendent Bellaver (Alfred Marks), of the London municipal police, is hot on the heels of what might very well be a vampiric serial killer. At any rate, women are being found dead and exsanguinated. There is a fourth strand that doesn't obviously have anything to do with any of the above, centered on Fremont (Christopher Lee), a higher-up in British intelligence; but this one doesn't feel like it rises up to the level of the others to become a full-fledged plot thread, and it anyway seems clear enough that this will end up having something to do with at least the Konratz plot, even if it's not clear how. Other than taking it entirely on faith that they eventually will wrap up together, I got no such vibe from the three competing A-plots.

This is the rock upon which all of Scream and Scream Again breaks. It simply doesn't feel like a movie at all for most of its running time; it feels like a collection of random scenes that can be collected into buckets only because certain characters reoccur. One could stretch a point a bit, and suggest that this is a variation on Amicus's portmanteau films, but those at least telegraph their lack of unity, and each segment is a whole thing unto itself. The three plot threads of Scream and Scream Again barely even feel like they're telling their own story, though Bellaver's investigation comes a bit closer than the others to that presumably not-very-difficult goal.

This is one of the two standard complaints about Scream and Scream Again, and it's the more legitimate one. The other is really a problem with the marketing, and the film's opening credits, rather than the film itself: this has been pitched, and continues to be pitched a half-century later, as the team-up of three horror film superstars, between Lee, Vincent Price (who plays a mysterious surgeon, Dr. Browning) and Peter Cushing (who plays a bureaucrat in the nameless Eastern Bloc country, Major Benedek). This is a damn dirty lie. Cushing appears in only one scene, with neither of the other two; Price and Lee only appear together for about a minute, almost all the way at the end of the film. And even beyond that, there's no sense in which any of them is the star of the show. It would be awfully difficult to say who the main characters are in this hodgepodge of unraveling plot threads (my guess is that Marks gets the most screentime out of anybody in the cast), but it's definitely none of Price, Lee or Cushing, of whom only Price actually gets things to do; and even he only really emerges as an active character in the last third of the film.

So if the film isn't really a cohesive story, and it's a pretty shoddy way to get a dose of Price, Lee, and Cushing, is it good for anything? I find the answer to be honestly, yes it is. In 1970, in a negative review that reads like a positive review, Roger Ebert identified basically the only way the film actually functions: "if audiences like it that's only because they like whatever happens to be on the screen at that moment." And the thing is, whatever happens to be on the screen of any moment during Scream and Scream Again is, like as not, pretty fascinating indeed. The film was directed by Gordon Hessler, early in his career but already a rising star at AIP (he had already made The Oblong Box, the first pairing of Price and Lee, for that company), and his handling of this film is enough to make it pretty striking on a moment-by-moment basis, and to hell with whether or not those moments cohere.

This often isn't anything particularly special; sometimes, it's just that Hessler tends to favor slightly low camera heights, sometimes matched with low angles, that let the action sprawl out from us in an unexpectedly dramatic way. Mostly, it's an indefinite vibe that he creates, and this gets me back to my opening claim that this is the perfect hybrid of AIP and Amicus. A lot of AIP films into this period - certainly not all of them - have a kind of grubby, filthy realism, which I assume has something to do with the film stock they were using (these films have a kind of hard brightness to their color, a sort of in-your-face presence that's nothing like the luscious glow of Technicolor and even less like the dried-up browns and greys that were about to become the standard look of American color films), and probably as well with the use of outdoor locations - I am thinking very much of something like Witchfinder General, a giddy mixture of Gothic horror and stylistic naturalism. Scream and Scream Again has a lot of that: the film's showpiece is a 15-minute long chase sequence (cars, then on foot), which curves all throughout the plain, ugly streets of the suburbs and into some dirty patch of grass, all while Hessler sends the camera jittering around in jerky movements, some of them handheld (the film has no credited cinematographer, but Les Young was the camera operator, so let's throw the praise his way). It's jarring and unpleasant and very active, and the mere fact that I really had no idea what the fuck was happening did only a little bit to strip out the power from this moment.

But even when the film isn't showing off as it does in that scene, there's a kind of ratty naturalism to the way scenes are lit and shot and blocked - none of the intricate shadowboxes that Freddie Francis put together for the earlier Amicus horror films! But this does take something from Amicus, which I think to be its mood and setting. Amicus films, despite being produced by a pair of expatriate Americans, all feel to me like they have a parochial Britishness, even moreso than Hammer; it's not as aggressively old-fashioned, nor as quaint, but these movies undoubtedly embrace their Londonness, and Scream and Scream Again does this very much. The police are essentially English in their bearing and their strategies, the drabness of the locations feeling vaguely proud of itself. It's enough to make the American Price and his customary ersatz Englishness stand out even more than usual (in a good way; he's meant to be an oddball). Certainly, it feels like a "London movie" in away that no AIP production could ever do by itself.

Even without that, though, Hessler is doing good work in keeping the film grubby and grounded. It is not an especially squalid film (though it does have naked female breasts, the first in any Amicus horror film - they come in the form of exsanguinated corpses, so its even more squalid), with violence appearing mostly through innuendo, and the acid pit promised by the poster putting in just a couple of very tame appearances. But it has a kind of overall squalid feeling, a worn-out urban ennui and wretchedness that charges up the grainy naturalism of the cinematography and the heaviness of the camera angles. It's all very effective in the moment, at least, even if it's been actively prevented from leading up to anything. The script cripples Scream and Scream Again like nobody's business, but it has enough going on to at least compensate for that; it's no classic of any of the four or five genres to which we could plausibly assign it (horror, detective mystery, sci-fi thriller, spy thriller, action), and it doesn't deserve to be, but it's got something to it as a collection of striking images, if nothing else.