Tuesday, October 26, 2021

End the Film with a Scream

by Scott Adlerberg

It is that time of year again when film lovers watch a lot of movies in which people scream.  And within the horror genre, there is a select number of films that memorably end with a character screaming. When well done, that climactic shot of a person letting go at the height of fear or despair or anguish, or simply revealing in their howl that whatever sanity they once had has now gone, can make for a very powerful ending.  I don't know exactly how many movies end this way, but in the spirit of the Halloween season, I thought I'd write down here the scream endings I view as my favorites.

Witchfinder General (1968)
directed by Michael Reeves

Michael Reeves' masterpiece about the real-life 17th-century British witch hunter Mathew Hopkins, in which Vincent Price, after years of hamming it up in the Corman Poe adaptations, plays it absolutely straight as a chilling, evil man, has an ending that is harsh and perfect.  And I've always wondered, but still don't know for sure: is this the first film ever that actually ends, with its last shot, on a scream?

Four years later, in 1972, Hammer films released the psychological horror film Demons of the Mind, directed by Peter Sykes.  It too ends precisely on a scream, and it's not an ineffective ending, though it comes at the end of a film that, while not terrible, doesn't nearly have the impact of Witchfinder General.

Carrie (1976)
directed by Brian De Palma

The hand comes out of the grave and Amy Irving wakes up screaming.  I saw this when it came out, at 14, and left the theater with my legs shaking.  A total shock, that hand. Who can blame Sue (Irving) for screaming?  This doesn't end precisely on a scream the way Witchfinder General does, but close enough.

I can't overlook here, of course, the ending to Dressed to Kill, in which De Palma does a variation of the Carrie ending but this time with Nancy Allen waking up from a bad dream screaming (though again the film's very last shot is not actually her screaming), nor can I forget what may be the most painful scream, in its way, to ever end a film. I'm talking about Blow Out, when John Travolta is listening to the final sounds Nancy Allen made before she was killed.  It is, as he says, with the bitterest of irony, "a good scream".

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
directed by Philip Kaufman

The inhuman sound, and expression, that Donald Sutherland makes in the final scene of this version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (which in turn prompts a scream from Veronica Cartwright) ends a great sci-fi horror film on an extremely unnerving note.

Tenebrae (1982)
directed by Dario Argento

I couldn't find a clip online to show the final scene of this Argento thriller, but that may be just as well. If by chance you haven't seen Tenebrae, I wouldn't want to spoil the final five or so very twisty and bloody minutes.  But the end is a classic scream, with Daria Nicolodi cutting loose in a way Edvard Munch would have been proud of.

Twin Peaks: The Return (2017)
directed by David Lynch

It was on TV, but let's call it a film.  Eighteen-plus hours of David Lynch's magnum opus ends with Kyle MacLachlan and Sheryl Lee in a scene where all certitudes involving time and space and even identity have vanished.  With that much disorientation to deal with, who wouldn't scream?  

Anyone have any films they like that end on a scream?


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