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1974 – R – Redemption Films
86 Minutes – Starring Rupert Davies, Sheila Keith – Directed by Pete Walker
Let’s be all serious for a moment and think; does censorship really protect us? Throughout the 70’s and 80’s, the UK was severely bringing the hammer down on horror films, believing they made sadists, psychopaths and bullies out of the everyday normal Joe. The solution? To excise all sex and violence out of the film, often leaving the final cut incomprehensible. I recently talked about My Bloody Valentine and how the R rated cut of the film’s finale left you puzzled as you saw Axel running away holding his arm. But what you didn’t see was him sawing his own arm off, thus explaining why he was holding his arm. So maybe it wasn’t always incomprehensible, but you certainly were left with a product that was lackluster and taking away elements as to why you are watching the film. In horror’s case; the aforementioned sex and violence.
The BBFC (now apparently at it again) became so notorious for this, that horror films unjustifiably became targeted and heavily censored or downright banned just because of the fact that it was a horror film! Whether it was advertising (via posters or reviews) or because a filmmaker became notorious for having made controversial horror films, it would seem that the BBFC would demand severe cuts or ban the film without actually having taking a look at the film. Now, we know this doesn’t keep the material out of the wrong hands, like children, but that’s a different topic for a different day.
After years pass, possibly many years, this controversy can actually work in favor of the film. Take Frightmare, for example. Although never a Video Nasty, I always heard so much controversy about this film and all the graphic content that got it banned, so in my head I built this movie up to be an exploitation film filled with blood, guts, nudity and every other fun filled nightmare that I could think of. However, if you’ve seen the film… Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that content makes a film good, but you can see how controversy can create a different movie in your head.
Frightmare opens in a black and white sequence during 1957 as a straggler happens upon a farmhouse. He’s welcomed inside, all shot in POV and within moments, a good chunk of his face has been removed and the assailant, now revealed to be Dorothy Yates, is institutionalized in the following scene for having butchered and eaten several people along with her husband Edmund, who had been faking his insanity so that he may be locked up with his wife that he loved so much. Ladies, how many of your guys would take that vow?
Cut to present day 1974 where the daughter of Edmund from a previous marriage, Jackie, is having dinner with some friends all while her stepsister Debbie is out causing a ruckus at a bar. She’s what you would call a “wild card” or “hangs out with a rough crowd.” Don’t believe me? She and her rowdy friends, a biker gang with The Monkee’s style haircuts, beat a bartender within inches of his life just for not serving her a drink for being underage. That’ll teach you to obey the law!
Dorothy and Edmund have also been declared sane and released, living back in their remote farmhouse. Now, I’m no expert, but wouldn’t they be under probation of some kind or under supervision temporarily? Or maybe I’m wrong and convicted cannibals are free to roam willy nilly once they get that stamp of approval. Jackie puts her love life on hold and keeping her family’s secret to the persistent Graham, who looks like a British Peter Parker, to keep an eye on her father and stepmother. Edmund tells Jackie that he fears Dorothy is already lapsing and up to her old deeds and he has every right to be, because she is. It doesn’t take Dorothy long before she is luring in loners without families or loved ones with tea and tarot card readings that result in their (most of the time) off screen deaths. I have no idea how she fooled such clever doctors.
After several visits from the fuzz, Jackie has had it with Debbie and demands she leave, but newly psychiatrist Graham tells Jackie she needs to be more caring to her sister, because if there is one thing that girl needs it’s negative reinforcement for her bad behavior. But Debbie is beyond a simple scolding, as she claims to have “found” the barkeep from the fight dead and has stored him in her trunk. It’s actually pretty sneaky, since you aren’t sure whether or not Debbie is directly involved in his death, but soon all suspicions are laid to rest, as she has a secret of her own…
Coming home from work one day, Edmund discovers Dorothy in the midst of one of her murders and although he’s shocked and terrified, vows to help her cover it up. Because of his loyalty, Dorothy lets him in on her little secret, that she has been having a little help with her murders from her daughter! Hey, you may as well keep it in the family. Edmund comes to the conclusion that Dorothy will never stop, but Jackie will be a thorn in their side. Hmm, what are crazed murderous cannibals to do?
After learning of Dorothy’s illness, Graham sets out really figure out what is going on, so I’m sure he will be alright. Jackie heads out to the old farmhouse to bring things to a close, but she may already be too late and discovers the shocking and grisly truth that Dorothy is still murdering… with a little help. Now lacking protection from her father, Jackie is walking into a trap and she may not make it out alive!
After viewing the film, you may have noticed that there is quite a lack of gore. Most of the bloody effects are an aftermath, someone’s face sliced halfway off, but there are a few scenes of Dorothy stabbing someone to death. This is what I meant earlier about a film’s censorship unrealistically boosting your expectations, as I went in expecting murder and mayhem, but what I got was actually a mild, violent filled, shocking and suspenseful tale of a cannibalistic woman that is very well paced. In a way, it reminds me of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It doesn’t need to show you graphic details, but lets your mind make it up for you. Even though most of the butchering is never seen and we never actually see her eat anyone (the implication is more scary, but clearly not as grotesque), Dorothy is a well developed and truly frightening antagonist. Every moment on screen, you are never sure which way her personality is going to take her, so much so, that I was expecting her to kill Edmund at any moment.
As usual, Redemption did a stellar job restoring the film from its original 35mm prints. Although slight discoloration and grain is present, the overall image quality is clean and sharp, revealing beautiful detail to the visceral imagery. As for the audio, there isn’t a whole lot you can do with something that’s 2.0, but it’s never muffled and the dialogue is clear and understandable and really, you can’t ask for more. It’s almost impossible to restore a forty year old film without some remaining damage, but Redemption manages to make it the best it will ever be. On a special features note, there is an interview with director Pete Walker as he recalls the film and talks about how the censorship was a help to the publicity, a look at the work of Sheila Keith, the actress who played Dorothy, a trailer and a commentary track.
If the sight of pulling out intestines, eating splines and feasting upon the organs of people, as blood spews like a faucet isn’t your thing… then you’ll probably enjoy Frightmare, as I’ve said, it doesn’t show much gore, but rather pulls the punches in the suspense. Although not quite living up to its famous controversy, Frightmare is still a bloody good time that’s good for a scare with plenty of secrets.
Check out this review and plenty others at Goon Reviews.
Watch the trailer for “Frightmare!”