The cerebral horror/thriller is probably a genre that above all effects cinema audiences the most, or at least it did during the late 1960’s through to the 1980’s. The stories that were doing the rounds during this period got inside the audiences heads and worked their psychotic magic upon them. I have selected a quartet of British movies that are categorized as horror, but rather than the gory or the gothic elements that we all know and love so much, instead depend on the unseen and the imagination using the element of suggestion as opposed to the out and out horror in your face path. The films rely upon the audience mainly picking up on the vulnerability of the central characters or at least the thoughts that they may be having at times seeing and hearing things or people that may not be exist except to the person who can see them. “It’s all in the Mind” is a well-known saying, and it is one’s own mind that can very often play tricks and can also convince you that certain occurrences etc have taken place, are taking place when others say they are not. We are after all Victims of our own Imagination.
FEAR IN THE NIGHT.
The movie opens in London, where we see a twenty-two-year-old Peggy played by Judy Geeson who is recovering from a nervous breakdown, she meets and eventually marries a schoolteacher Robert Heller played by actor Ralph Bates. Robert works in the countryside at a private school owned by headmaster Michael Carmichael (Peter Cushing), who is married to Molly Carmichael (Joan Collins). Peggy thinks the move to the country will be good for her and on the eve of moving with her husband, Peggy spends the night at the boarding house of Mrs. Beamish (Gillian Lind) where she is attacked in her room by a man wearing black leather gloves who has a mechanical arm. Mrs. Beamish calls the doctor, but no one believes Peggy and it is put down to her being in recovery from her breakdown. The next morning, still shaken and feeling scared she heads to the country with her husband and moves into the cottage in the grounds of the school. It’s not long before Peggy is attacked again by the same man, on this occasion even her husband is reluctant to believe her, but she is adamant that the attack happened, and she has not imagined it.
She is then introduced to her husband’s headmaster (Cushing) and realizes that he has a mechanical arm. This is an intriguing motion picture and one of Hammers better non gothic efforts directed by Jimmy Sangster. It’s a movie which I think has affiliations with the Italian Giallo to a certain extent, especially the black gloved hand in the storyline. Cushing as always is excellent in a different role for him as the creepy headmaster and Ralph Bates too was perfectly cast and a favourite actor of the director. Bates was set for greater things but sadly died far too early. Judy Geeson also put in a believable performance as the nervous and on the edge central character.
Overall, the movie was an entertaining and edgy thriller, but it is one that often forgotten or at least an overlooked movie from the house of horror. Its plot is not that hard to work out and I would think that most dedicated followers of Thriller/Horror movies would get the plots conclusion sorted out quickly, but it is still an interesting Hammer production. With the end goal being to send the central character (Geeson) insane and drive her to do things that she normally would not contemplate. So, it’s probably true to say that it’s not the most innovative Hammer movie and does have certain similarities to the acclaimed French movie Les Diaboliques, with director Sangster delivering several startlingly frightening moments that revolve around the unforgettable black gloved mechanical arm and shattered glasses as worn by Peter Cushing’s character.
The film also had links to another Hammer production which was written by Sangster entitled Taste of Fear that was released in 1961. The plot was different, but one can see similarities in the later movie with the central character supposedly hallucinating or imagining events. There is never a moment within the movie and you will be fixated as the storyline is develops with its punchy and relentless events.
The tense and harrowing musical score written by the late accomplished pianist and composer John McCabe is quite stunning, McCabe who was more a composer of what was termed serious music for concert hall performance was offered the project by Hammer’s MD at the time Phil Martell. Sadly, the soundtrack for the movie was never released in its entirety, but a suite of music from McCabe’s dark and edgy score did make an appearance on a Hammer long playing record which was Hammer Presents Dracula on the EMI label, the A side containing a story of Dracula introduced by Bill Mitchell and then narrated by Christopher Lee, the B side however was something of a revelation for Hammer fans as it contained four symphonic suites from Hammer movies.
The Four Faces of Evil (hence the title of this article) as they were called were Fear in the Night, John McCabe, She, James Bernard, The Vampire Lovers, Harry Robinson and Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde by David Whittaker. Why was it a revelation for Hammer fans? Well, up until that moment none of Hammer’s music had been released, yes these were re-recordings but at least fans had them at last.
John McCabe’s at times frenzied music for Fear in the Night is possibly one of the studios best scores, Hammer or at least Hammer’s musical directors such as John Hollingsworth, Phil Martell, and for a short while Marcus Dodds, seemed to have a knack for selecting the right composer for the right movie.
AND SOON THE DARKNESS.
WE PROMISE…you will be trapped in an endless nightmare that would terrify even Hitchcock!
That’s just one of the taglines for a superbly scary movie entitled And Soon the Darkness, which was released in 1970. Directed by Robert Fuest, this is a supremely intense and jumpy movie. But even if the title does suggest a horror set at night this is filmed mainly in the daylight hours, but it does not stop it hitting all the right spots and achieving its frightening and edge of the seat goals. Two young English nurses go on a cycling holiday in rural France, but on route they begin to disagree on which way they are going.Jane played by Pamela Franklin insists that its far better to stick to a schedule so that the make good progress, but Cathy played by Michelle Dotrice has other ideas and wants to take a more leisurely pace, they argue and Cathy goes her own way, but after a while when her friend does not return Jane begins to become concerned.
Worried that she could have had an accident or worse, Jane returns to the last place she saw Cathy, but there is no sign of her, Jane begins to frantically search for her friend but with limited knowledge of the area and speaking very little French she is not sure who she can turn to for help. This is a classy and above average thriller with horror connotations. The cast is excellent, and the movie delivers on every level. At times the pace of the film can be a little slow, but I think this adds to the impact and the atmosphere of the movie.
I have to say in my opinion there are very few films from this period that deal with the subjects that are included here, written by Brian Clemens and Terry Nation who both contributed to the development of TV favourites such as The Avengers and Doctor Who respectively. But And Soon the Darkness is quite different from these, and compared to both The Avengers and Doctor Who, has a low key and minimalist appearance.
The deliberately slow pacing of the storyline adds to the tension and the frustration felt by central character Jane. It is largely a movie that relies on building the tension rather than showing any violence, until the end that is. The movie is well directed, and I think it is the director and cinematographer that are mainly responsible for the high levels of anxiety, suspense and fear that are present.
The setting too adds much to the plot and generating an uneasy mood, because although it looks quaint, inviting, and rural, via the score by Laurie Johnson and the numerous clever camera angles employed the audience see it as a dangerous and unfriendly place.
There are several stand out performances in the movie as well as that of Pamela Franklin, such as Sandor Elas as the detective Paul Salmon and John Nettleton as the sinister Gendarme, the story was given a new lease of life in 2010, this time two American girls are travelling in Argentina when one goes missing, but this remake was not as tense or as affecting as the original.
For the most part Laurie Johnson provides the movie with a sinister ang highly apprehensive sounding soundtrack, but also includes some more up-beat musical pieces such as the end title’s theme which has to it more of an easy listening persona. Again, no soundtrack was issued and now all these years later I for one do not think it ever will be. An entertaining watch and a film that has one guessing and experiencing frustration and tension all at the same time.
The Scream you can hear is your own.
Just one of the taglines for the 1971 horror Fright. A movie that did surprisingly well considering it was shown as a B feature in most cinema’s when it was released. The film had a story written by Tudor Gates and was directed by Peter Collinson. Its cast were like a who’s who of British acting talents of the time, Susan George, Dennis Waterman, George Cole, Honor Blackman, Ian Bannen, John Gregson, and Maurice Kaufman all gave sterling performances. Bannen was wonderfully convincing as Brian Halston the estranged husband of Honor Blackman, who has remarried, but her son’s biological father is Halston. The Lloyds (Blackman and Cole) hire a young babysitter Amanda (Susan George) as they are going on a night out, but unbeknown to them Halston (Bannen) has escaped from a nearby mental asylum and is making his way to the house to take his son and also to murder his ex-wife. Its not long after the Lloyds leave for their night out that things begin to start happening, the house where Amanda is babysitting is a gloomy and rather dark abode, and its not long before Amanda begins to hear things and because of the house starts to imagine things, but is she really imagining them?
Bannen arrives at the house and after seeing Amanda notices some resemblance between her and his ex-wife. This makes him decide to kill Amanda, mistaking her for the character portrayed by Blackman in the film. There are some excellent tense and harrowing moments in Fright but saying this the last forty five minutes of the movie becomes rather monotonous and if this makes sense there is so much going on but at the same time the pace slows and its hard to separate scenarios etc.
There also seems to be too much being said, the script become too wordy, because if the case were actions speak louder than words then this probably would have been a better movie. The movie also jumps from the house and what is going on there to the Lloyds and what they are doing on a night out in town. I thought the opening forty minutes or so of the film contained real promise, but the plot and the even the direction then falls apart slightly which is rather disappointing because this could have been a great horror/thriller.
Director Collison manages to successfully build up the tension and create a thick and foreboding atmosphere in the initial opening thirty minutes or so of the movie, and successfully utilises various sound effects to ramp up and multiply that tense and nervous mood considerably. One perfect example of this involves the use of dripping water which is effective as in it becomes frustrating and somewhat annoying for the watching audience, but I think that the highlight of the film comes with one of the first scenes where we the audience see that Amanda’s boyfriend (Waterman) is being observed and followed.
The scene is masterfully filmed and directed, and again for me personally smacks at the appearance of the Italian Giallo, with the unseen stalker being seen by the audience only with the person being stalked completely oblivious to the fact. The sequence very cleverly draws the watching audience into the storyline and effectively makes them protagonists in the scene that is unfolding before them. The musical score was by Scottish born composer Harry Robinson, who put his own musical stamp upon the production, which included a haunting and ghostly sounding vocal performance by Nannette and a uneasy sounding whistling on the soundtrack.
I would not say that Fright should be considered as one of the composers better scores, but it like the movie had its high points and managed to enhance and elevate various key moments in the movie as it progressed, and the storyline developed.
Robinson had prior to scoring Fright worked on The Oblong Box (1969) for American International Pictures and The Vampire Lovers (1970) which was a joint production between AIP and Hammer. Robinson had also scored numerous children’s film foundation movies as well as acting as an arranger for the likes of Tommy Steele in the 1960’s.
In the same year that he worked on Fright the composer also scored Lust for a Vampire and Twins of Evil which were both mildly successful Hammer creations. It was also in 1971 that Robinson wrote the atmospheric music for Countess Dracula, a film that surprisingly failed to create much interest at the box office.
Two of the composers Hammer scores were released onto compact disc by GDI records, these were Vampire Lovers, and Twins of Evil. With tracks from others such as Demons of the Mind, Countess Dracula, and Lust for a Vampire featuring on compilation albums released by the same label and later re-released on a few other labels. Fright is a film that I would say is worth a watch, even if its just to see Susan George in action and in this case screaming her head off, which is always a bonus. It’s also worth checking out her performance in Die Screaming Marianne also released in 1971.
How Could She Know that the Morning Would Never Come?
STRAIGHT ON TILL MORNING.
Another Peter Collinson directed thriller/horror was Hammer’s 1972 movie Straight on Till Morning. Again, the director handled the subject matter well, and it is probably true to say that this was a better movie in most ways than Fright. It’s another movie from the 1970’s that had an impressive line-up of cast members with Rita Tushingham, and Shane Briant taking the lead roles, who are wonderfully supported throughout by the likes of Tom Bell, Annie Ross and James Bolam.
The films storyline focuses upon a young woman Brenda played by Tushingham who lives with her mum in Liverpool and writes fairy tales for children. She one day announces to her mother that she is leaving and moving to London where she hopes to find a man to Father a child. Brenda meets a young guy Peter (Briant) and is convinced that he is the one for her, the man she has been waiting for, but does it all work out well, (what do you think?).
It’s a Hammer production and a psychological thriller, does that answer the question? I always felt that the style of the film was a crossover or a fusion of the Kitchen Sink Dramas that were so popular in Britain during the 1960’s and films such as Up The Junction, Here we Go Round the Mulberry Bush etc, which incorporated the pop culture of swinging sixties as they were called, add to this the cerebral or thinking man’s horror as served up by Hammer and I think what you have is Straight on Till Morning. Brenda finds herself a rather grotty bedsit and also manages to get a job in a busy fashion boutique, after a while she manages to get out of the bedsit and rent a room in one of her co-workers named Caroline (Katya Wyeth) flat.
Brenda is desperate to meet a man and via her connections with Caroline who has many parties thinks this would be a good way to do so. She literally bumps into a young man named Peter, but he is at first seemingly uninterested in Brenda and is it looks to her as if he is already in a relationship with an older woman who has a drink problem. Brenda and Peter’s paths cross a few times and soon because of an incident with Peter’s dog Brenda finally admits to him that she likes him a lot. Peter asks her to move in with him, but whilst Brenda goes to collect her things to take to Peter’s address Peter kills his dog with a utility knife, Peter then also kills Caroline with the same knife after having sex with her. The reason behind the two killings is that Peter thinks that the dog and Caroline are far to pretty. Brenda returns home, but we do not see what Peter has done with the bodies of the dog or Caroline, it is presumed that he must have buried them in the garden. Brenda has been to have a total makeover to look pretty for Peter, he straight away tells her he loves her the way she was, and proceeds to tell her a fairy tale which is sprinkled with flashbacks that seem to imply that he has murdered many times and they have all been females. Brenda’s Mother begins to worry as she has not heard from her daughter so she informs the police who post a missing persons notice in newspaper, Peter see’s these and tells Brenda she must not go out. All the signs point to Brenda being pregnant, and both her and Peter seem to be happy, but its not long before Peter takes Brenda into a room and plays her a tape recording of him killing both Caroline and the dog, Brenda becomes uncontrollably hysterical, but Peter insists he is not going to harm her and they are going to stay together. However soon after we see Peter sitting in the house alone with no sign of Brenda.
At the time of its release the movie received mixed reviews and reaction from critics, but in later years has been referred to as a cult movie, I am not sure about this description but it’s a film that is worth watching. Director Collinson went onto direct The Spiral Staircase, A Man Called Noon, and Tomorrow Never Comes, amongst others. The music for Straight on Till Morning was composed by Roland Shaw, now Shaw I think we all know because of his many easy listening/jazz albums and because of his film theme compilations, most notably his arrangements of the James Bond themes of John Barry.
The music for Straight on Till Morning is a lightly jazz-oriented work, and has easy listening elements throughout, of course being a horror story it did call for some darker and more sinister sounding passages which the composer provided. Its another one of those Hammer scores that never got a release, and I am convinced that this and many other soundtracks penned for Hammer productions are sitting gathering dust somewhere. Hopefully one day they will be discovered and brushed off for all to hear.