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May 2010

Frightmare

cast: Rupert Davies, Sheila Keith, Deborah Fairfax, and Paul Greenwood

director: Pete Walker

83 minutes (18) 1974
Odeon DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
review by Mark West

Frightmare

In 1957, Edmund Yates (Rupert Davies) and his wife Dorothy (Sheila Keith) are sent to a mental asylum for what the judge calls "thoroughly depraved crimes" (we see Andrew Sachs get a blow to the head but nothing else). In 1974, a biker gang gets into a private drinking club and the leader's under-age girlfriend, Debbie (Kim Butcher), pushes them into fighting the barman. Debbie's sister, Jackie (Deborah Fairfax), is at a party where she meets Graham (Paul Greenwood), a trainee psychologist.

Later, she's waiting at home for Debbie to come in and when she does, at 2am, they have a big argument. It transpires that Jackie often goes out in the middle of the night and as the sisters bicker, it comes out that the girls' parents are dead and that Debbie has spent a lot of time in a reformatory (and/ or convent). A little later, Jackie does slip out and drives through the night to a farm where her parents live. Her dad is worried about her mum, who comes through to see what the noise is and smiles, when she sees the bloodied paper on the 'gift' Jackie is carrying.

That should give you a perfect idea of what Frightmare is about. It's a typical low-budget British horror flick from the early 1970s - it's barmy and often quite brilliant, it's grim and down-to-earth and it's surprisingly gruesome at times too. It takes in plenty of taboo subjects too - cannibalism, under-age drinking, strange family relations - and you know what - for a film that's almost 40 years old, it holds up remarkably well. That isn't to suggest you need to make excuses for what you see (fashions aside), but some of the ideas have been mined since.

As is typical with films of this period, the pacing is sometimes a little slow but Pete Walker delivers good set pieces at regular intervals and they keep the interest up. There's an especially good sequence with Dorothy in the barn, which is both grim and shocking and wouldn't have been out of place in a horror film made recently. Some of it is sold on the body you see and the drill, but a lot of it is in actress Sheila Keith's eyes.

The acting, in general, is pretty good but as always with older Brit films, part of the fun is trying to place the actors from later TV series you recognise them from (when Graham was first on, all I could think of was 'Rosie'). Of the whole cast, the stand-out is Sheila Keith - according to the extras, she was well-known at the time for playing dowager characters and thoroughly enjoyed getting her teeth into this role and that really comes through in her performance. Full of tics and steely gazes, she's quite a masculine looking lady and when she's on a rampage, she reminded me of a Blofeld-era Charles Gray. Of the younger actors, Kim Butcher as Debbie probably walks away with the honours, though she's clearly older than the 15 she's supposed to be.

The film looks very good, with crisp bright colours and a clear soundtrack. There's a little use of hand-held camera, which doesn't come across well and the less said about the day-for-night driving sequences the better! Locations are well used - the farm is the key exterior, with a few shots of London thrown in - and from the lighting, most of it was obviously filmed in real rooms rather than a studio. The make-up effects, especially on the barman, are quite convincing at first glance but Walker overplays his hand and lingers on them, until they look like the egg-box and Kensington gore creations that they really are. Assuming you have a love for low-budget exploitation films, then you can't really go wrong with this and if you're not, then the poster-art would have already put you off. Me, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Frightmare is highly recommended for those who like their exploitation a little more home-grown.

The disc appears to come from an established line with Odeon Entertainment (which I confess I hadn't heard of before), as part of 'best of British' and the company provides some decent extras. There's a 17-minute interview with Pete Walker - good fun, Walker is laidback but full of anecdotes - a trailer for the film - full of hyperbole, but unfortunately giving away the ending - and four trailers for other Walker films. These - Cool It, Carol, Die Screaming, Marianne, Home Before Midnight, and The Flesh And Blood Show - are all good fun and surprisingly explicit. Out of them all, the latter seems as if it'd be the best of the bunch but as I write this, I can't get a line from Cool It, Carol out of my head - "Is your maidenhead still intact?"



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