Though 1972 may not have been the height of Olivia de Havilland’s popularity or of her career, she nonetheless still had the acting chops to deliver a top-rate performance in The Screaming Woman. Made for television as a movie of the week, de Havilland stars as Laura Wynant, a woman who has recently returned from a stay at the sanitarium and is now resting up at home. Taking a ride out across her property, she hears a woman’s muffled cries for help from beneath the ground at the old smokehouse which had been torn down years previous. As she has arthritis in her hands, she cannot dig up the woman and when trying to report it, nobody will believe her. Events soon conspire to reach a thrilling climax where Laura is found digging up the woman with the killer attempting to make sure he gets away with it.
Short though it might have been, The Screaming Woman is a television movie done right, one that fit nicely into the horror and thriller genres with little effort and did so with few of the familiar tropes associated with them. Based upon a story by Ray Bradbury, the movie managed to start out on a high note with de Havilland screaming as if her life depended on it and ending with the very same shrieking. Where the first was out of fright, the latter would be out of relief and deservedly so. The suspense soon begins after de Havilland arrives home to tell of her findings and discovers that her money-grubbing son played by Charles Knox Robinson does not believe her and tries to convince everyone else that she is losing her marbles and no longer competent.
The elder statesmen, or in this case – woman, and the younger generation looking to come into their inheritance a little sooner rather than later is a fairly played out concept in film, yet here it works to help build up the tension of it all. The crazier that Laura is made to seem, the more desperate she gets for she knows that the clock is running out and every second counts. The film is structured very well, each moment and every scene building upon the previous one and by the time Laura finally takes matters into her own hands so to speak, she could be the one they find in the ground if the killer gets his way.
While the film may not be all that original, the actors which also included Walter Pigeon and Joseph Cotton, and de Havilland more than any other, make it worth watching. Though it is not particularly scary, the situation that the buried woman finds herself in makes it slightly frightening as you can imagine her fighting for every breath. A riveting movie through and through, The Screaming Woman will grab you from the outset and carry you right on until the end until the screaming finally stops.
3.5 out of 5