Die Laughing: Carry On Screaming! (1966)

CARRY ON SCREAMING, Joan Sims, Tom Clegg, 1966

To view Carry On Screaming! click here.

“The usual charge to make against the Carry On films is to say that they could be much better done. This is true enough. They look dreadful, they seem to be edited with a bacon slicer and the comic rhythm jerks along like a cat on a cold morning. But if all these things were more elegant, I don’t really think the films would be more enjoyable: the badness is part of the funniness.”
– Critic Penelope Gilliatt, “In praise of Carrying On” from a 1964 issue of The Observer

FilmStruck has made a batch of the Carry On films available for streaming and if you’re unfamiliar with these British comedies it’s a great opportunity to become acquainted with one of the U.K.’s most popular film franchises. Beginning with Carry On Sergeant in 1958, director Gerald Thomas and producer Peter Rogers teamed up with a rotating cast of regulars to make an impressive 31 films before the series ended in 1992 with Carry On Columbus. During their 34-year run, the Carry On films never won any awards and were typically dismissed by critics but they were beloved by audiences who appreciated how these funny farces satirized respected British institutions such as the military, law enforcement and the medical establishment. The Carry On franchise also regularly lampooned popular films such as the James Bond series with Carry On Spying (1964) and 20th Century-Fox’s big-budget Cleopatra epic in Carry On Cleo (1965).

My favorite of the Carry On films is their garish Hammer horror parody, Carry On Screaming! (1966). During the 1960s, Hammer ruled Britannia by churning out unapologetically gory and occasionally racy horror movies that thrilled fans and dismayed the censors. Inspired by classic Abbott and Costello comedies that aped Universal’s horror films including Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) and Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1953), the Carry On creators slyly subverted Hammer’s formula by replacing the scares with slapstick and sarcasm. Frequent Carry On contributor Talbot Rothwell wrote the script and it is loaded with chuckle-inducing sight gags and sexual innuendos.

Despite the film’s low-budget, it benefits from the creative production work of art director Bert Davey (Battle of Britain [1969], From Beyond the Grave [1974], The Great Train Robbery [1979]) and costume designer Emma Selby-Walker (Corridors of Blood [1959], The Devil’s Disciple [1959] Carry On Up the Khyber [1968]) resulting in one of the best looking films in the franchise. However, the film’s ace-in-the-hole is cinematographer Alan Hume. Hume is best known for his work on Return of the Jedi (1983) but he was also responsible for photographing some striking British horror films including Kiss of the Vampire (1962) for Hammer Film Productions. Hume’s experience lent Carry On Screaming! an authentic look and feel that complemented the comedy.

CARRY ON SCREAMING

The film opens with a catchy and somewhat corny pop song sung by the big band vocalist and session musician Roy Pilgram (it was later recorded and released as a single by Boz Burrell, a member of the British band King Crimson and the supergroup Bad Company). After Roy Pilgram belts out “Carry on screaming! Because when you’re screaming I know that you’re dreaming of me,” we’re introduced to a young couple (Jim Dale and Angela Douglas). Their romantic rendezvous is interrupted by a Frankenstein-like monster (Tom Clegg) who abducts the woman and carries her off to the nearby Bide-A-Wee Rest Home where the strange Watt siblings (Fenella Fielding and Kenneth Williams) reside. Soon afterward Detective Sergeant Sidney Bung (Harry H. Corbett) and his handy sidekick Detective Constable Slobotham (Peter Butterworth) are on the case trying to figure out why women are being abducted and taken to the mysterious rest home. Monster mayhem ensues and the situation is eventually resolved but not before a few laughs are had.

With its eccentric mix of bawdy Benny Hill style puns combined with Monty Python social jabs, Carry On Screaming! is not for everyone. Some might find the humor sexist or even bigoted at times. This is shameless 1960s style slapstick but it does have something to say about Britain’s rigid social structure although the cultural critiques occasionally get lost amid all the crass jokes. Despite the dated quality of some of the material, the movie does contain some timeless laugh-out-loud moments thanks to a recurring cast of Carry On regulars including funny lady Joan Sims as the Detective Sergeant’s frustrated wife and Charles Hawtrey as a bathroom janitor (aka lavatory man).

The Carry On movies might not be highbrow entertainment but this widely popular franchise helped define British comedy. If you enjoy the work of Mel Brooks (Blazing Saddles [1974], Young Frankenstein [1974], High Anxiety [1977]), the Zucker Brothers (Airplane! [1980], Top Secret! [1984], the Naked Gun franchise [1988-1994]) and the Wayan Brothers (I’m Gonna Get You Sucka [1988], Dance Flick [2009], the Scary Movie franchise [2000-2013]) you should appreciate the Carry On sense of humor.

Kimberly Lindbergs

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2 Responses Die Laughing: Carry On Screaming! (1966)
Posted By swac44 : September 7, 2017 10:20 am

I grew up with these films on Canadian TV, so they’re part of my comedy DNA, while most Americans I know have no clue they existed (although VCI have made them available on US DVDs in more recent years).

The genre elements make this one a good entry-level Carry On (same goes for Carry On Spying) for the uninitiated, although the acknowledged classics tend to be Carry On Cleo and the decidedly non-PC Carry On Up the Khyber, both of which have higher-than-average production values thanks to the use of sets from other films.

But I can watch any of them, as long as Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Hattie Jacques and Charles Hawtrey (Beatles fans may recognize that last name) are on board.

Posted By Doug : September 7, 2017 7:39 pm

swac44 sparked a memory-mid-1970′s I was on a high school choir trip out to the middle of nowhere, AKA Winnipeg. Some nights we stayed with local choir host families, six or so kids per house.
I remember my hosts one time feeding us what they swore was Bear meat Pizza…and on the TV I had my introduction to Benny Hill.
Still not a fan, but it made an impression.
I’ve caught a few of the “Carry On” films over the years, but never really got into them-too corny.

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