Thursday 23 February 2012

Fright (Peter Collinson, 1971) - movie review...

Having not heard of it before, I chanced upon this classic slice of British scares on The Horror Channel last week, and was immediately drawn to it as it starred Susan George (most widely known as Amy Sumner in Sam Peckinpah's superb Straw Dogs - which was also produced in 1971).

Susan George plays Amanda, a babysitter hired by Helen and Jim Lloyd (Honor "Pussy Galore" Blackman, and George "Minder" Cole respectively) to look after their son Tara (played by the director's own son) as they go out for the night to celebrate an 'anniversary of sorts'. Cue lots of nicely composed, almost voyeuristic, shots of Amanda making herself at home - a rustic old building of dark wood and haunted memories - all-the-while being stalked from outside by an unknown figure. Already a bit jumpy, she's none-too-pleased when her suitor Chris (Dennis "The Sweeney" Waterman) turns up and starts telling her a tale of how Jim isn't Helen's actual husband ... as it turns out, the real husband went barmy and tried to kill Helen and her son - and he's just gone and broken out of the mental institution he was locked up in!

So far, so famliar right? Well to be fair this film pre-dates the slasher boom (that really kicked off in 1974 with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Black Christmas, but which can be traced back to the likes of 1971's Bay of Blood and 1960's Psycho) and even forms an early template for many of the common structural elements for many horror flicks to come. Sexy babysitter who's adverse to keeping her top done up? Check. Creepy old house? Check. Escaped lunatic hellbent on murder? Check. Nutjob's Doctor who tries the stop the madness? Check. Indeed, you wonder if Ty West was familiar with this film before he made his excellent 1980s homage The House of the Devil in 2009 (which admittedly goes for satanism rather than an escaped nutjob), but even more acutely you could ask the same question of John Carpenter and Bob Clark in that respect, but no matter.

Watching this film 41 years later it's easy to consider it old hat and predictable retrospectively - but if you ignore that and enjoy it as an old school dose of British horror, then it still works very well indeed. There are far scarier movies from the period (for example the downright chilling The Wicker Man), but fans of creepy old houses, the stiff upper lip of the British middle class on film, and the gorgeous and attention-grabbing Susan George, will be well catered for here.

However it's not just a simple fright film - Tudor Gates' script has some nice touches of thematic depth - Amanda is a student of theoretical child psychology and the like, so naturally her night of terror sees her thrown into the deep end of real world mental anguish. Indeed - not to spoil it, mind - there's a nice little moment to tie this plot thread up at the end of the flick which illustrates some deeper thought at play in the script; and even in 1971 the police were being painted as drowning in bureaucratic incompetence. Speaking of which, fans of the British sitcom Only Fools and Horses will spot a young Roger Lloyd-Pack (Trigger) as one of the policemen in the climactic sequence.

So in summary, Fright is an atmospheric old school slice of British Lion/Fantale Films horror that will appeal to fans of an era defined by Hammer Horror, Susan George, and babysitters terrorised in creepy old houses. 41 years on it's not the nerve-shredder that it once might have been, but it is well served by a healthy dose of nostalgia, a solid script, tight direction, and a great sense of visual flair (both in Ian Wilson's cinematography and Raymond Poulton's editing - which pleasingly seems to take a little inspiration from 1969's Easy Rider). If this sounds like your kind of flick, then I recommend you check it out.

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