Joe’s Blog

Archive for September, 2009

Fright (1971)

September 21, 2009 3:00 am

Fright poster


Let’s face it, most of us at one time or another have wanted to smash Dennis Waterman’s face in. Whether it be not being as good as John Thaw in The Sweeney, not looking at all comfortable ‘having a ruck’ or ‘pulling the birds’ in Minder, or lisping his way through another tedious 55 minutes of New Tricks, Mr Waterman seems to project an air of ‘Please, smash my face in’ whatever he’s doing.

But you can vicariously live out the thrill of smashing in Dennis’ face without incurring any penalties from the police by simply watching Fright, a cracking, little-known Brit-thriller.

Fright falls into a strange little genre of still-mildly shocking Brit-thrillers from the early 70s which now are not only forgotten, but are hard to find and never turn up on TV (mainly because of network TV’s unwritten law that anything older than 10 years can only be shown in daytime. Except on Channel Five). This group also includes the likes of The Brute (soon to be reviewed exploitation study of domestic abuse) and the Joan Collins-starring Revenge (a strangely still prescient account of a community reacting to a child molester). Films such as these should not be forgotten by their homeland and need to be seen. Strange then that many are available elsewhere in the world.

But back to the matter in hand. Fright is probably the earliest film to depict the now standard (even cliched) babysitter in peril gambit. In this instance, Susan George is the unfortunate girl, babysitting a well-to-do couple’s child, whilst they celebrate an ‘anniversary’. Given the ominous glances exchanged by all and sundry, you begin to suspect that something is up, and sure enough things start to go bump, creak and smash in the night. Turns out the couple are celebrating the divorce of the lady (Honor Blackman) from her first husband who has been incarcerated in a loony bin, so she is now free to marry George Cole. Stop sniggering at the back.

Unfortunately on that very night, hubby #1 (Ian Bannen) has escaped his shackles and is returning home…

I know it all sounds very cliched, but as one of the first of its kind, Fright set the template for so many things that followed. There are fake scares with washing lines, creaking doors, trees banging on windows, the usual. But what raises Fright above the flotsam are the performances from the relatively small cast.

First up is Susan George, who in the early 70s made a very nice career being abused and having her clothes ripped off by vile men. Before Fright she’d been raped and stabbed by Ian Ogilvy (The Sorcerers) and had a schoolgirl affair with Charles Bronson (Twinky). This was to be followed by Die Screaming Marianne (guess the name of her character in that), getting raped twice in Straw Dogs, and the final indignity of appearing in an Italian Jaws-rip-off (Tintorera). The woman seems to have a serious psychological problem where she can only appear in films in which she must be firmly humiliated, preferably wearing very few clothes. I know actresses have a hard time of it compared to their male counterparts. Either that or her agent was a complete perv.

Here, she not only has to wear a dreadful purple mohair minidress, she has to fight off the advances of a cardigan-wearing Waterman, but she is then deflowered by the insane Bannen who is convinced she is his wife.

It’s this aspect that makes Fright such an interesting film. The second half of the film is almost entirely taken up with Bannen’s increasingly deranged belief that George is in fact Blackman. This is portrayed with great by director Peter Collinson (The Italian Job) and this section is easily the most unnervingin the whole film. Bannen is superb, only occassionaly slipping into full-blown mental mode, but it all seems perfectly natural.

The unhappy couple are superb too. This is easily Honor Blackman’s best performance in anything, and shows what a fine actress she could be given the right role, which sadly she rarely did. Cole too, at this point best known for his spiv character Flash Harry in the St Trinnian’s films, shows that given a good role (in this case, an emasculated husband-to-be) he could deliver a good dramatic performance. The one weakness is the supporting characters. During the unbelievably tense stand off between loony and victim, we constantly cut back and forth to Blackman and Cole’s friend, and Bannen’s doctor, trying to get the police to investigate his escape. The police seem less than excited at the prospect, and come across as foolish, not helped by the fact that one of them is Roger Lloyd-Pack (Trigger from Only Fools and Horses, showing a comic touch even then).

But it’s a minor quibble in a film that deserves wider acclaim and should be seen by anyone who loves a good, taut thriller.

Way Hey for Youtube! It’s on there…

If you just want to see Dennis waterman get his face smashed in… 7.00 mins onwards…