Cast & Crew
Eric Whitlock brings his new wife Jenni to his large home, from which he has been absent since the death of his former wife Marion, two years earlier. Although the house's expansive grounds are immaculate, it is eerily empty and dark inside. Eric explains that Marion had disposed of the furniture with the intention of redecorating, but had then met with an abrupt death. Eric shows Jenni around the grounds until they are interrupted by the unexpected arrival of Eric's friends, Rev. Edward Snow and his wife. Hearing their voices, Mickey the gardener, a simple, shy man, ventures forth to meet Jenni. While helping the Whitlocks settle in, Mrs. Snow tells Jenni that Micky and Marion grew up together and were very close. Later while walking in the gardens, Eric confides to Mrs. Snow that Jenni is sensitive about discussing traumatic events because she witnessed her parents' accidental drowning deaths some years earlier. Meanwhile, Jenni asks Ed about Marion's death. Ed tells her that they surmise that Marion slipped and struck her head on a low wall and tumbled into the pond while hurrying from the greenhouse during a rainstorm. Ed adds that Mickey remains despondent over Marion's sudden death. When the Snows depart, Mrs. Snow tells her husband that Jenni is very wealthy. That night, Jenni is awakened by a loud pounding and finds herself alone. Going downstairs, Jenni peers out a window and is startled by a piercing shriek, then is further unsettled by her sudden awareness of a portrait of a woman in the empty room. When Jenni bolts, she runs into Eric and tells him that the woman in the portrait bears a striking resemblance to her mother. Eric informs her it is a self-portrait of Marion. Eric then shows Jenni peacocks in the courtyard and prompts one to give its unique, high-pitched call, which Jenni accepts as the shriek she heard. The next morning, Eric tells Jenni that Mickey was responsible for the pounding during the night. After Eric leaves to run errands, Jenni locates Mickey in the greenhouse and hoping to befriend him, offers to accompany him to Marion's grave, which is on the property. At Marion's elaborate tombstone, Mickey tells Jenni that he hears Marion crying at night, then runs away, distraught. As night falls, Jenni drops off to sleep early and is plagued by dreams of Marion before she is awakened by another shriek. Downstairs she sees a peacock in the courtyard, then recoils from the sight of a skull in an empty armoire. Terrified, Jenni runs upstairs, but then returns to hurl the skull out the window. On her way to bed, however, Jenni hears a loud pounding from the front door. Upon investigating, she opens the door and, finding the skull on the doorstep, faints. Jenni awakens in bed with Eric sitting anxiously over her, but he insists that there was no skull found near her. When Jenni confesses that she fears she may be experiencing a recurrence of the emotional breakdown she suffered after her parents' death, Eric reassures her. Despite Jenni's doubts, Eric believes that Mickey is responsible for frightening Jenni to get even with Eric, whom he blames for Marion's death. The next morning, Ed visits and Jenni recounts her experience, then confides that she was hospitalized for a breakdown. Apprehensively, Jenni states that she has to believe she has been cured. After an evening at the Snows', Eric returns home to accuse Mickey of tormenting Jenni, but the gardener denies it. Eric then suggests to Jenni that they destroy Marion's portrait and when Jenni hesitates, Eric insists. They burn the portrait in the courtyard, and while cleaning up the ashes afterward, Jenni sees a skull that Eric claims is a figment of her imagination. After Jenni collapses in a faint, Eric retrieves the skull and conceals it at the edge of the pond as Mickey watches, hidden in the bushes. After Jenni revives, Eric declares that they should leave the house for good. Later Ed delivers some fresh eggs and Eric relates Jenni's latest scare and their plan to depart. While bidding Jenni goodbye, Ed assures her that she is cured and vows to search for the skull the next day. Alarmed, Eric slips away to the pond but cannot find the skull. Having removed the skull, Mickey shows it to the Snows, prompting Ed to decide they must return to the Whitlocks' to investigate. Hoping to say goodbye to Mickey, Jenni goes to the greenhouse where she encounters a ghostly figure in a white dress that sends her fleeing to the house in terror. Inside Jenni finds Eric who, to her horror, begins strangling her. As Jenni collapses, Eric is startled by a loud pounding from the door. Upon opening the door, Eric finds a skeleton in a white dress and hurls a chair at the figure. As Eric steps back into the house, a skull rolls down the stairs toward him. In a panic, Eric runs outside to his car where he finds another skull that shrieks and chases him through the gardens. Near the pond Eric is attacked by the skull, which drives him into the water. The Snows and Mickey arrive at the house just as Jenni revives and finds the white dress in the doorway. Ed searches for Eric and discovers him dead in the pond. Upon returning to the house, Ed tells the stunned Jenni that they believe Eric either wanted to drive her insane or kill her for her money. They then begin to wonder if Marion's death was indeed accidental.
Betty Jane Lane
T. Frank Woods
Released as the top half of a double feature with Terror from the Year 5000 (1958).
Though it is never credited, the film is based on F. Marion Crawford's classic horror story of the same title, first published around 1906. Interestingly, Crawford's inspiration for the tale, in turn, came from the folklore surrounding the so-called "screaming skull" that was kept on display at Bettiscomb Manor in Dorset, England. The actual skull that inspired both the story and the movie is said to be that of a black slave whose request for burial in his native country was denied following his death and was subsequently followed by strange occurrences and unexplainable shrieking noises that emanated from the wooden box that the skull was kept in.
A copyright notice is listed on the film for Madera Productions, but The Screaming Skull was not registered for copyright at the time of its release. However, a Mystery Science Theatre 3000 video version of the film was registered on September 8, 1998. John Kneubuhl's onscreen credit reads: "Produced and Written by John Kneubuhl." Toni Johnson's name was misspelled in the opening credits as "Tony Johnson." Makeup artist Don Robertson's name was misspelled as "Roberson" in the credits.
Prior to the opening credits, the following spoken prologue is heard as a casket slowly opens: "The Screaming Skull is a motion picture that reaches its climax in shocking horror. Its impact is so terrifying it May have an unforeseen effect: it May kill you. Therefore, its producers feel they must assure free burial service to anyone who dies of fright while seeing The Screaming Skull." The scene concludes with a closeup of the inside of the casket in which a card reads: "Reserved for You."