In Essential Deren, experimental filmmaker Maya Deren said that the essence of her work was to, “externalize an inner world to the point where it is confounded with the external world.”
That’s the most apt description of Face of the Screaming Werewolf that I’ve ever read.
While under hypnosis, psychic Ann Taylor reveals that she is a reincarnated Mayan priestess. To prove this point, we sit through an ancient cave-dwelling rite. The Mayans sing songs that would sound right at home on a stoner exotica vinyl reissue that costs $35 (and that I would totally buy). Ann and her friends visit the ruins and find two mummies! One of them is Lon Chaney, Jr. (The Wolf Man)! The mummies are brought back to civilization. But during a press conference, someone shoots a doctor and stashes the Chaney mummy in a wax museum. The full moon rises! The mummy transforms into a werewolf! Obviously, an epic rampage ensues — one that could only climax with the werewolf pushing a dummy off of a rooftop.
Fringe filmmaker Jerry Warren had an inner light that was powered by dollar signs. From Man Beast to Frankenstein Island, Warren churned out fast, easy, and (mostly) dull exploitation that he hoped would make him a Hollywood bigshot and fatten his wallet. But those victories never materialized. In the mid-1960s, Warren started purchasing Mexican horror films, remixing them, and adding new scenes of people sitting in rooms and talking. Somehow, this still didn’t lead to legitimacy and a Rolls Royce. However, it did mean that Jerry Warren inadvertently created the cinematic mixtape.
Face of the Screaming Werewolf is a chaotic nightmare fugue that would cause most people to give up after twelve minutes. But I’m not most people. And hopefully, neither are you. Comprised of pieces from two Mexican horror movies (La Casa del Terror and La Momia Azteca) and new footage featuring Chaney, Face has been ridiculed and dismissed for over fifty years. I get it. This movie is confusing and filled with technical mistakes. It features lengthy sequences of people sitting in a living room and talking. But Face has less in common with Warren’s other cut-and-paste experiments, like Curse of the Stone Hand, and more in common with Guy Maddin’s The Green Fog; this is found footage with a mind of its own, and we never know where it will lead us. So it’s best to hop on the stream-of-consciousness journey and lose ourselves in the experience.
This movie overflows with unhinged details. Lon Chaney’s werewolf make-up looks like the Wolf Man took steroids after sleeping in a dumpster for a week — except for his hands, which have no make-up at all. Major plot points are explained through newspaper headlines (“ANN TAYLOR KILLED! MUMMY DESTROYED!”). The werewolf climbs buildings like Spider-Man. There are inexplicable close-ups of grotesque wax dummies and bursts of music and sound collages that appear to have no relation to what’s happening onscreen. The aesthetic of Something Weird’s VHS tape from the 1990s is a nice complement to the mood — blurry, indistinct, and dream-like. I’d never want to see a restoration of this movie. It would be like watching an actual recording of one of my dreams and the mystique would be lost.
Face of the Screaming Werewolf is delirious and nonsensical and I love it. I hope that you do, too.