Ray Bradbury Theater: The Screaming Woman

Episode 5 (Series 1, Episode 2)

First aired 22 February 1986

Production Credits Synopsis Review

"The Screaming Woman"

The short story first appeared in Today in May 1951.

Its first book appearance was in S is for Space (1966).

Production Credits

Directed by Bruce Pittman

Cast:

Heather Leary - Drew Barrymore
Mrs. Leary - Janet-Laine Green
Mr. Leary - Roger Dunn

With Ian Heath, Ken James, Jacqueline McLeod, Michael Copeman, Mary Anne Coles, Fran Gebhard, Dick Callahan

Synopsis

We begin with a girl's voice crying out "I won't tell anyone!". Jump cut to the Heather's face screaming into camera. Jump cut to a phonograph record, needle stuck in a groove. The girl is lying on her bed. Has she been dreaming?

She picks up a Tales from the Crypt comic and begins reading. Her mother enter, complains about the mess, and sends Heather on an errand to buy ice cream. Heather's objection that she wants to wait "until the mummy comes" does not go down well.

Heather sets of on her bike to Baskin-Robbins. Her neighbourhood is suburban, new houses. On her return, she passes through an area where new houses are being built. She sits in a large pipe and reads more Tales from the Crypt. The pipe begins to turn and a construction worker chases her away.

She reads again in a playground, and hears a scream. She follows the sound, alternately a screaming and a crying, to a small wood. "Who's crying?" she asks herself. A sudden gust of wind accompanies the scream, and Heather runs for her life.

Arriving home, she tries to persuade her parents that she has heard a woman screaming. Dad just jokes about it, mum is concerned only with the melted ice cream. Dad agrees to go to the wood with Heather, but only after she has - slowly - eaten her meal.

In casual conversation, the parents discuss the loud arguments of neighbours Charlie Nesbitt and his wife Mary LouAnn. Mum can't believe that Dad "ever went out with her". Dad tries (but fails) to recall the song Mary once wrote him.

Dad and Heather go off to the wood...but there is no screaming woman to be heard.

Armed with two shovels, Heather calls on her friend Dippy, and they set off to the wood to start digging. Mr Kelly angrily appears, proclaiming this to be his lot, and sending them away.

Suspecting Mr Kelly has buried his wife alive, they call the police to Kelly's house and spy on the police questioning through binoculars. Only trouble is, Mrs Kelly is very visibly alive.

Heather then suspects Mr Nesbitt.Dippy has by now lost interest, so Heather goes alone to the Nesbitt's. Charlie answers the door. Heather improvises questions about Mrs Nesbitt's whereabouts, and claims to have come for that recipe for peach pie she was promised. Mrs Nesbitt is not in.

Heather tells Mr Nesbitt about the screaming woman, and how nobody believes her. He doesn't seem to believe her, either. While he goes into the kitchen to make her a drink, she disappears off to the woods.

Mum and dad go to bed, dad trying again to recollect the song that Mary once write for him. He switches off the light, humming the tune. Suddenly, he leaps out of bed. "What's wrong?" asks Mum. "I'm not sure!" he cries. He runs to Heather's room, to find she is not there.

In the woods, Heather sits and listens to the night silence. In the background is a shadowy figure...Mr Nesbitt grabs her from behind. As she screams, Dad appears and grabs Nesbitt from behind!

Later, dad beckons townsfolk and the police into the woods. The have flashlights and shovels. Dippy and Dad look on as the digging progresses. Eventually, a hand appears, and the crowd helps to lift the screaming woman from her untimely grave.

Epilogue: Heather and Dippy walking past the woods, Heather telling some tall tale about mushrooms and alien abductions ("Come into my Cellar"?). By the "gravesite" is a sign in a child-like hand reading"Here (almost) lies the screaming woman".

Trivial Differences

  • the girl in the story is Margaret; in the adaptation she is Heather
  • in the story, Dippy accuses the girl of ventriloquism ("that Throw-Your-Voice book for a dime from that Magic Company in Dallas, Texas"); in the adaptation, he accuses her of using "one of those cassette players"
  • in the story, Mrs Nesbitt is Helen; in the drama she is Mary Lou Ann!

 

Publicity still: Drew Barrymore.

Review

This is one of the most effective of the early Ray Bradbury Theaters. The direction, photography, acting and editing are just about as good as can be expected in a weekly TV series.

The teleplay unfolds almost identically to the short story. The story's unusual first-person, young female point-of-view is carried over into the adaptation; virtually every scene includes Heather, and most of them are shot from her viewpoint.

The suspicious Mr Kelly is eliminated from the plot in the same way as in the original story, but more suspense is milked from it here. In the story, Mrs Kelly comes to the door, instantly proving Mr Kelly's innocence. Here, however, there is a whole sequence involving Heather spying on Mr Kelly - Mrs Kelly only appears towards the end.

The one area of major difference between source story and adaptation is in the resolution. In the story, the girl hears the buried woman singing - and it is exactly the same song Dad had been thinking of earlier on. This is one major coincidence!

In the adaptation, however, the song gives a more ethereal connection between Dad and the scremaing woman. He simply remembers the song in bed, and then he kind of hears it from afar. It is clearly not meant to be a literal woman's voice he is hearing, but the melody echoes around the ensuing scenes, and is incorporated into the score. Mrs Nesbitt becomes something of a siren, as she draws Dad from his state of disbelief to being totally convinced of his daughter's story.

Mr Nesbitt's attack on the girl is also new to this adaptation, but makes good plot sense.

The adaptation seems to have kept most of the best of the original story, and enhanced the theme of a girl who is not believed because her stories are too fanciful. Perhaps the only thing that is lost in translation is the fanciful children's talk while the girl and Dippy dig in Mr Kelly's lot. However, this exactly the kind of dialogue which, if used in a Bradbury adaptation, is liable to lead to the charge of being unnatural.

home books film&tv audio links about this site

(c) Phil Nichols 2004

Page updated 7 April, 2004