Cast & Crew
In Lausanne, Switzerland, American Sheila Wayne Justin visits psychiatrist Dr. Victor Forel to put an end to a powerful recurring nightmare. In the dream, Sheila finds herself at a large, deserted mansion with the name "Tierney" on the mailbox, and feels compelled to enter the house and walk toward a small door. Behind the door lies a staircase leading to the attic, which inexplicably terrifies her. Despite hypnosis, Forel is unable to relieve Sheila's fears and explains that her mind is protecting her from an experience too horrible to bear. Sheila describes her uneventful life since being sent to a Swiss sanitarium to recover from a childhood bout of tuberculosis, and relates that her recent, happy marriage to fellow American Philip Justin has had no effect on her dream. Despite the lack of success with Forel, Philip insists on taking Sheila back to his home in America. Although Sheila hopes to settle in New York, Philip drives them to Florida, explaining that he rented a house there. Located deep within the marshland, the house alarms Sheila, who recognizes it as the old mansion in her dreams. Philip assures her this is a coincidence, then suggests that once she begins reliving her dream, the nightmare will disappear. Sheila reluctantly enters the house where she is confronted by Jonah, the old caretaker, who informs Sheila that the house has been vacant for seventeen years. Suddenly frightened, Sheila vividly describes one of the rooms upstairs and pleads to leave. Philip insists that they explore the house, but when they find the room Sheila described, Philip agrees to go. Back outside, their car will not start and Philip discovers the distributor cap is missing. Later, Jonah returns and reveals to Sheila that the home owners' family name is "Tierney." Sheila suddenly recalls playing in a yard with an older boy who carved their initials in a tree. After Jonah departs, Philip assures Sheila they are safe as he carries a gun for protection. That night Sheila is awakened by a man's scream and is alarmed to find herself alone. At the window, a ghostly figure frightens Sheila, who hastens downstairs in search of her husband. Philip calms Sheila, promising to investigate. Sheila returns upstairs and while seeking Philip's gun finds the car's distributor cap in his bag. Prompted by an unknown compulsion, Sheila wanders down the hall where she finds a small door matching her dream, which causes her to faint in fear. The next morning, Philip consoles Sheila, but she rejects his suggestion that she suffered another nightmare. When Sheila demands to know why Philip brought her to the house, he explains that he only wants to help cure her. Later, Sheila is disturbed when she cannot find the distributor cap in Philip's bag, but is heartened when she sees a tree with the initials "SW" and "PT." That afternoon after Philip leaves for a walk, Mark Snell arrives and informs Sheila that he owns the house and has not rented it to them, then demands that Sheila leave as the house is old and unsafe. Mark recognizes Philip on his return and the men exchange tense words. Later, Mark implies that Sheila has been at the house previously and reveals that Philip's real name is "Tierney." Sheila confronts Philip, who divulges that she never had tuberculosis but was sent to the Swiss sanitarium because she had suffered a nervous breakdown at the age of seven. That afternoon Sheila learns from the Tierney family Bible that the patriarch and two of his sons, one of whom is Philip's father, all died on the same day seventeen years earlier. Jonah relates that the Tierney family was cursed with insanity, and consequently, when the patriarch saw signs of it in his sons, he slew them with an ax, then died himself. Jonah adds that Philip, who is the last of the Tierney family, was away at the time, and tries to convince Sheila that she is the only thing keeping Philip sane. Later, Philip derides Jonah's story, but Sheila is unsure and locks herself in her room. Mark confides to Sheila that he is Philip's cousin and fears Philip may indeed be insane. Mark offers to drive Sheila away, but when his car will not start, he promises that he and Jonah will protect Sheila. That night Sheila hears a noise and opens her door just in time to see Jonah recoiling from a blow and falling over the staircase banister to his death. Philip announces that he is going for the police, but secretly doubles back to the house and moves Jonah's body. When discovered by Mark, Philip claims that he returned because he was lost. Mark declares he will go five miles to a neighbor for the police and cautions Sheila to get the gun to protect herself from Philip. After Mark's departure, Sheila locks herself in her room, but Philip breaks in, pleading to let him help her. Sheila resists Philip's verbal attempts to coerce her into the attic and then faints. Sheila revives to find herself in the attic where Philip confesses that she lived in the house as a child and witnessed the murders of his father, uncle and grandfather. Philip explains that he searched for her for years not only to learn what happened but because he loved her. Sheila gradually recalls playing in the attic as a child and hiding there the night that she witnessed the bloody murder of Philip's family by Jonah. Stunned, Philip reveals that Jonah married his troubled aunt and their son is Mark. Jonah always coveted the mansion, which only the Tierney sons could inherit. Philip suspects that Mark killed Jonah, who may have been preparing to confess to the murders. Meanwhile, Mark sneaks back into the house and confronts Sheila and Philip, determined to keep the house. Mark then attacks Philip with an axe and the two men fight until Mark falls fatally upon the blade. Philip comforts Sheila and promises her that now that her dream has been solved and his family name cleared, they can begin a new life together.
Robert C. Dennis
William S. Edwards
Lester D. Gutherie
Lester D. Gutherie
Alfred J. Overton
A. Leslie Thomas
Frederick E. West
All I know is that death in its most hideous form waits for me at the top of those stairs.- Sheila Wayne
Marketed as the first film in "Psycho-Rama...Using subliminal communication!" Subliminal images include single-frame flashes of a devil face, goggle-eyed face with rat in mouth, skull, and cobra head, and messages like "Get Ready to Scream!"
The following written prologue appears in the onscreen credits: "The first picture in Psycho Rama! The Fourth Dimension! Using Subliminal Communications!" The print viewed bore the film's video release title, Terror in the Haunted House. In the opening credits, Cathy O'Donnell's name was misspelled as "Kathy." According to reviews and copyright records, the film's original theatrical release included a prologue and epilogue (not included in the print viewed) that featured actor Gerald Mohr, who portrayed "Philip Tierney." In the prologue, Mohr explained that the picture was the first film presented in "psychorama," which was distinguished by "subliminal communication, a process that allows you to see something with your brain that your eye does not." Mohr noted that the process had been banned on television because it was too powerful.
In the epilogue, Mohr demonstrated the workings of subliminal imagery, a technique whereby filmmakers inserted a single frame of a selected image into a scene to suggest a particular audience response. According to contemporary sources, in one instance, fluttering hearts were superimposed on a love scene between Philip and "Sheila Wayne Justin;" in other parts of the film, a white snake and a floating skull were variously placed in scenes in which "Mark Snell" appears. In the print viewed, the original subliminal frames were replaced by animated drawings created for the video release.
A November 1957 Hollywood Reporter news item indicates that writer Robert C. Dennis sold the original story for My World Dies Screaming to Brevilana Productions and that Bill Edwards was set to do the screenplay. Edwards' contribution to the final screenplay, if any, has not been determined.