Feature Screengem

Screengem: Oddbod’s finger from Carry on Screaming! (Gerald Thomas 1966)


Cinema’s backlot is simply littered with severed fingers. They’ve been tenderised with hammers in Casino (Martin Scorsese, 1995) and Kill List (Ben Wheatley, 2011), become the natural stage one amputation in such Torture Porn tours de force as Hostel (Eli Roth, 2005) and Wolf Creek (Greg McLean, 2005) and have been bloodily obliterated in the urban shoot-outs of Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976) and Robocop (Paul Verhoeven, 1987). Having them pulped, cut off or shot off is one thing, but what is more (humorously) horrifying than a screen monster that actually sheds its own fingers? Step forward Oddbod in Carry on Screaming!

The part of Oddbod, the barrel-chested, hirsute homunculoid creation of the fiendish Dr. Watt (Kenneth Williams), was taken by Tom Clegg. A strapping ex-boxer and stuntman, he was one of the better non-speaking-role ‘brick shithouse’ heavies to grace post-war British films. His IMDb credits tend to conform to such nameless terms as ‘Guard’, ‘Warder’ or ‘Thug’.

Carry on Screaming! marked Clegg’s fifth and penultimate performance for director Gerald Thomas in a Carry on picture, an association that began with his nuanced interpretation of the part of ‘Massive Mickey McGee’ in Carry on Regardless (1961), took in his accomplished playing of Cleopatra’s bodyguard ‘Sosages’ in Carry on Cleo (1964), peaked with Oddbod in Screaming! and closed with the subtle complexities of ‘Trainer’ in Carry on Loving (1970).

To be fair to Clegg, he was required to do little more than lumber menacingly throughout Screaming! with only the occasional grunt by way of a line, so his scope for anything resembling acting was always going to be limited. But what he did he did well, and when the film hit the small screen in the 1970s, a decade when the BBC seemed to pack out their schedules with Carry on seasons galore, a million and one schoolboys mimicked the Oddbod lumber, myself included. For all its excruciating silliness, Screaming! was my generation’s first exposure to anything resembling a horror film, and the moment shortly after the opening credits when Oddbod ‘drops one’ in the woods (a finger, that is) led directly to my childhood penchant for collecting rubberised versions of various lopped off appendages from my local joke shop. For a while nothing tickled me more than frightening my nan with a fake pinkie hidden inside a matchbox, horrible child that I was.

But I digress. The digit that Oddbod deposits as a result of kidnapping poor Doris Mann (Angela Douglas) resembles a hairy picnic sausage, albeit one with a talon on the end. We subsequently learn that Oddbod’s propensity to lose body parts in this way is a result of the unstable experimentation that gave him life. When Dr. Watt learns of the finger loss he remarks ‘I hope he didn’t leave it anywhere embarrassing. That’s the trouble with my regeneration process, it makes everything so brittle. You never know what’s going to drop off next.’ The finger forms the basis of police investigations into Doris’ disappearance, and in the hands of Doctor Fettle (Jon Pertwee) it is the sprout from which a second beast – Oddbod Junior (Billy Cornelius) – inadvertently grows.

As lopped off movie body parts go, Oddbod’s finger probably isn’t quite up there with the likes of the severed ear discovered in the early stages of Blue Velvet (David Lynch 1986) in terms of inaugurating a chain of hermeneutic delusion or underpinning the film’s discussion of abstract Freudian disassociation, but it serves most satisfyingly as the ‘nudge, wink’ horror prop that it was designed to be.

By Jez Conolly

Jez has contributed to numerous film-related books, magazines and websites. He has co-edited three books in Intellect's World Film Locations series, covering Dublin, Reykjavik and Liverpool and has contributed pieces to many more volumes in the series. His monograph on John Carpenter's The Thing in Auteur's Devil's Advocates series of books was published in 2013. He is currently working on another book in the same series, concerning Ealing Studios' Dead of Night.

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