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"Frightmare" is one of those films that sticks in your mind from the
moment you first see it which, considering the relative daftness of its
basic premise, is some achievement. Rupert Davis and the
always-excellent Sheila Keith are both on top form as Edmund and
Dorothy Yates, a married couple who, in 1957, are deemed insane in a
court of law and sentenced to spend their lives in an asylum until such
time as they are deemed "fit to take their place in society". Their
offence? Well, it seems Dorothy has been committing acts of
"pathological cannibalism" (or to put it simply, she's been killing
folk and eating their craniums for a little while now) whilst Edmund,
despite not being involved directly, is also labelled mad for not
trying to stop her even though he was fully aware of her unusual
Fifteen years down the line and they are both "cured" for all intents and purposes, thus let out and sent off to live in a creepy old farmhouse somewhere in the countryside of South-East England. Possibly not a good idea. Edmund has acquired a job chauffeuring around a local aristrocrat but during those long, lonely days at the farm cottage, it doesn't too long before Mrs Yates is looking for something to occupy her time productively. She takes out an advert in London magazine Time Out offering her services as a tarot reader and before long is visited regularly by lost souls looking for guidance. The bulk of her visitors are utterly lonely individuals, no friends, no lovers, no family to speak of and you're probably already ahead of me if you've guessed that when Dorothy draws the DEATH card, it's a lot more literal than you might expect. Yes, she's back to her old "pathological cannibalism" tricks, killing folk and eating their craniums... Crikey! But to make things even more interesting, Edmund has a daughter from a previous marriage who was old enough at the time of her father being committed to be aware of his circumstances. She now lives in London and is also currently the legal guardian of her younger sister, Edmund and Dorothy's only biological daughter together, who was born the very year her parents were locked away and believes them to be dead. The plot thickens somewhat here but to tell any more would be really spoiling things. Trust me though, it's good stuff.
But, as I say, it sounds like a reasonably standard issue horror premise you might think, but in the hands of Walker and his screen writing partner-in-crime David McGillivray, it becomes something entirely more powerful. As with "House of Whipcord", Walker uses much inspired photography and gifted use of light and locations to create a grimy atmosphere of unpleasantness that gives you the creeps without once employing the standard "creepy" clichés. The scenes in the farmhouse manage to pull off a genuine sense of menace even before anything particularly nasty has happened. By the time the seriously horrible stuff starts, the tension has already reached fever-pitch and you're balanced on the edge of your seat, biting your nails and shrieking like a schoolgirl. The quality of the acting (quite rare for a film of "Frightmare"'s budget) helps too, although none of the actors give a particularly 'conventional' performance. In honesty, I could imagine some of them would be quite bad indeed in the hands of a lesser director but somehow Walker manages to extract a strange, hard-to-explain intensity from even the least 'naturally' talented cast members. Needless to say this means that with someone as strong an actress as Sheila Keith, we're talking a tour-de-force performance! As Dorothy she is quite unforgettable, playing a genuinely very disturbed, horribly lunatic individual without once resorting to hokiness or hamming it up. Instead, aided by the strength of the screenplay, she gives Dorothy a worrying sense of genuine pathos - she honestly believes the people she kills are so lost and lonely they would be better off without life and, on top of that, McGillivray and Walker even provide a legitimate, believable reasoning behind her cannibalism, all too rare in this type of film. When this pathos is coupled with the extremity of her nastiness and complete insanity, it leaves us, by the final reel, with a genuinely very threatening, very unpredictable and seemingly very, very *REAL* terror.
Of course, the final reel is another kettle of fish altogether, worthy of paragraph upon paragraph of analysis - sadly, that would be spoiling things. Let's just say that by the end of the film, there have been so many stones overturned and everyone seems so dysfunctional that, as a viewer, you're thrown into a state of sheer confusion, having no idea how things will end. By the time the final, mortifying frame freezes on the screen and the credits begin to roll, you're left mindblown. It's a depraved and wild plot line so loaded with twisted-up Freudian implications that even Andy Milligan would be proud - in fact, it's very nearly like watching an Andy Milligan movie as shot by Hitchcock at times... which, as anyone who's ever come across Milligan would testify to, is a mightily strange and heady experience indeed... Oh, and, trust me, after watching "Frightmare" you may never be able to hear the sound of a Black and Decker power drill again without a very, very cold shiver running down your spine...
I'm sure I don't need to harp on much more - I consider this an absolute classic of British horror. I think it's a crying shame that Walker is often lumped in with his budgetary peers from the Euro-sleaze market when a film as brilliant as "Frightmare" could quite easily wee from a great height on Hammer's entire 1970's output in the 'outright terror' stakes alone. Intense, intelligent and... invigorating. They *REALLY* do not make horror anywhere near this good any more, more's the pity.
Aspect ratio: 1.75:1
Sound format: Mono
After serving a lengthy prison sentence for acts of murder and cannibalism, a 'fragile' old lady (Sheila Keith) is released into the care of her husband (Rupert Davies) and they retire to a farmhouse deep in the English countryside. But old habits die hard...
One of the great exploitation titles of all time, FRIGHTMARE (1974) has often been described as the UK's answer to "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" (1974) due to its bleak scenario and uncompromising violence, toplined by elderly murderess 'Dorothy Yates' (Keith), who lures unwary victims to her isolated farmhouse with promises of Tarot readings and stabs them to death with various household implements. Davies' daughter from a previous marriage (Deborah Fairfax) suspects Keith is still insane and enlists the aid of her psychiatrist boyfriend (Paul Greenwood). But Keith and Davies have another daughter (Kim Butcher), conceived just before their incarceration, and she's beginning to show disturbing signs of following in her mother's footsteps...
Having infuriated tabloid hacks with his barely-disguised assault on the Christian Right in HOUSE OF WHIPCORD (1974), director Pete Walker conceived the notion of cannibalism in the Home Counties (!) and commissioned a screenplay from "Whipcord" scribe David McGillivray, a critic-turned-scriptwriter who later became an outspoken opponent of British film censorship (watch for his brief, wordless cameo as a white-coated doctor). The result is one of the best British horror movies of the 1970's. True, the fashions have dated badly and there are too many dialogue exchanges in drab apartments, but the film's antiquated charm is difficult to resist. Most of the film's Grand Guignol horrors unfold within Keith's crumbling farm, an Olde Worlde slaughterhouse far removed from the bright lights of the big city. Walker has described his approach as 'modern Gothique', an unsettling antidote to the safe, predictable (but still enjoyable) Hammer formula, and perfectly suited to an era defined by its social and political turmoil.
Production-wise, the film is competent but unexceptional. The young leads are OK, nothing more, though Butcher is suitably unpleasant as the sociopathic daughter, and there are brief, throwaway cameos from British movie stalwarts Leo Genn (THE WOODEN HORSE) and Gerald Flood (PATTON), both cast purely for marquee value. Veteran character actor Davies is particularly impressive as the distraught husband who is incapable (and ultimately unwilling) to curtail his beloved wife's monstrous cravings. Immensely popular at the time due to his role on British TV as Inspector Maigret, he was singled out for special attention by outraged critics, appalled by his involvement in such 'lowbrow' material, though it wasn't the first time this 'respectable' actor had dabbled in exploitation (see also "Dracula Has Risen from the Grave", "Matthew Hopkins: Witchfinder General", "The Oblong Box", etc.). As it turned out, FRIGHTMARE was Davies' last film - he died in 1976.
But the true star of the show is Sheila Keith, an unpretentious, supremely gifted actress who came late to the film business and stayed just long enough to leave an indelible impression on cult movie fans worldwide. As portrayed here, Dorothy Yates' pathetic frailty conceals a ruthless psychopath, capable of the most horrendous atrocities, and the demonic expression which transforms Keith's face as she stalks her helpless victims is as blood-freezing as anything in the genre. Nowhere is this more evident than in an extraordinary sequence - completely unexpected in a British horror movie at the time - when Keith uses an electric drill to mutilate the head of a corpse which she's hidden in the barn...
NB. The original UK trailer is an exploitation gem which refuses to show more than a few brief moments of footage from the film, claiming the rest of it is too shocking for public exhibition!!
It's 'granny goes gaga' in this genuinely creepy bone-chiller, surprisingly well directed by Peter Walker and penned down by David McGillivray. The power of this 'Frightmare' simply lies in its primitive goal to shock and to disturb the viewer by showing the disastrous fade of poor, innocent victims. *** small spoilers*** The eerie black and white opening sequences introduce us to an elderly couple on trial for a series of savage murders. Dad is pretty much sane and a devoted husband, but mum suffers from cannibalistic characteristics. 15 years later, they're freed from the asylum and declared properly sane. Even though they now live in a quiet farm outside the town and receive many visits from their oldest daughter Jackie, mommy (Dorothy Yates) resumes her old disgusting habits by enticing lonely people to the farm with the offer or reading their futures in cards. Things get even more complex when Jackie's psychiatrist boyfriend digs up matters from the past and the couple's youngest daughter Debbie seems to have inherited mom's relentless sense of cruelty and taste for blood. *** end spoilers *** There's very few background in the story and not even a proper attempt to analyze the psychological elements the plot handles about. Frightmare wants to shock you, and from that viewpoint, it's a very successful package of eeriness. Multiple scenes are loaded with tension and leave you with a very uncanny aftertaste in your stomach. There's quite a lot of offensive gore in the film and the mind-blowing climax skyrocketed the cult-value of this film, back in the early seventies. If you're not too easily petrified, I certainly recommend checking this film out.
Peter Walker, the director of this notorious British horror film, said
he wanted audiences to leave the cinema feeling angry and frustrated after
seeing it. He succeeds.
Unpleasant and cynical though "Frightmare" may be, it is brilliantly made and cleverly written. We move between two worlds, of 70s juvenile delinquency in the heart of London and the chintzy, old-fashioned farmhouse inhabited by Rupert Davies and Sheila Keith. What unites both worlds, shockingly, is violence and murder.
There are other dualities in the film. There is the generation gap, between the elderly couple and their children and the gender gap, for here is a horror film where it is women who are the aggressors and the men are impotent onlookers or helpless victims.
The acting is remarkably good, right down to the bit parts, such as the hapless little man (played by Andrew Sachs of "Fawlty Towers" 'Manuel' fame)who is the first victim, in the film's moody, black-and-white pre-credit sequence. But the real honours are stolen by Sheila Keith, at times pathetic, at times terrifying as Mrs Yates and by Rupert Davies as her defeated, despairing husband.
Parts of the film look a little cheesy and dated but it is still a remarkably powerful work. The music score is a bonus too - in place of the usual screeching brass, Stanley Myers score is subtle, eerie and menacing.
I can't really recommend this film as "fun" viewing and it is light years away from the comforting certainties of Hammer's Gothic tales, where good always conquers evil. But "Frightmare" is that rare beast - a genuinely disturbing and unnerving horror film.
Excellent thriller/horror that could only have come out of Britain. What a terrible shame the impact of these mid seventies films was such that they were seemingly shown the door by our reactionary press barons. Exploitation, yes, but also touching on real issues surrounding family and 'insanity' as well as reflecting upon the times. We are thrust into a murky degenerate fantasy but all the time reminded that this is 'true'and that we cannot trust our sisters, mothers or even fathers. Central performances are fine but there are a couple of bit parts letting the side down and losing this it's other star. Nevertheless, a real surprise and a genuine horror.
This is an impressive downbeat British horror from the Pete Walker /
David McGillivray partnership which, despite its gory reputation, works
on more of a psychological level.
From the grainy black & white prologue, with a pre-Fawlty Towers Andrew Sachs visiting a deserted fairground, to the terrifying climax in a farm attic, 'Frightmare' holds itself together incredibly well.
The bulk of the narrative revolves around twenty-something Jackie and her wild-child teenage sister Debbie. Jackie frequently goes to visit her parents in an isolated farmhouse, both of whom have recently been released from a mental institution. The atmosphere of unease built up in these family scenes is almost suffocating, with Sheila Keith putting in a virtuoso performance as Dorothy, the mother.
Things come to a head when Jackie's psychiatrist boyfriend Graham (complete with incredibly annoying thick framed glasses), decides to start prying into the family history and takes a visit up to the farm.
The film has been termed as Britain's answer to 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' and make no mistake, 'Frightmare' is every bit as impressive as its more famous American counterpart. There are also a few nods to Hitchcock's 'Psycho' and once again any comparisons are favourable.
The only previous Pete Walker film I'd seen was 'The Confessional' (1975) which despite some interesting ideas was overall disappointing. 'Frightmare' really delivers the goods though and should be in everyone's list of Top Cult Horror Films.
BEST SCENE - any of Dorothy's Tarot Card readings.
There were some great exploitation flicks made in the seventies; but
unfortunately, Frightmare isn't one of them. That's not to say it's
terrible, or even really bad; as the film definitely does have it's
moments, but it's also very talky and the plotting is far too slow,
which isn't what you want when you're watching a film that has supposed
to have been made to entertain the gore fanatics of it's day. If the
entire movie was as good as it's last half hour, I'd be on here
praising it to high heaven right now; but for some reason, director
Pete Walker has seen fit to make us sit through a sometimes
interesting, but more often that not tedious first hour; which doesn't
do anything that couldn't have been done in half the time. The plot
follows murderer and cannibal by the name of Dorothy, who is sent to an
asylum along with her devoted husband Edmund. They are released after
fifteen years; and this proves a problem when it seems that the
couple's daughter, Debbie, has inherited her mother's lust for killing.
Step daughter Jackie tries to sort things out with her father, but that
doesn't stop the mother and daughter team getting seriously into
The atmosphere of the film is superbly sleazy, with the couple's isolated living place taking on the foreboding role of the film's central location. Insanity often makes for a theme that allows a film to present a great atmosphere, and Pete Walker has capitalised on that. Another thing he's capitalised on is power tools. Power Tools would come to great uses again in films such as The Driller Killer, The Toolbox Murders and, of course, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; and it's obvious why they continue to get used in gory exploitation flicks. Things get very messy when you've got a deranged lunatic brandishing a power drill, and this serves as one of this film's main talking points. Walker makes best of the 'insane granny' theme too, ands he gets his lead actress to show how good she can be in that respect several times in the film. In the final half hour, the film really starts to come together and as the gore increases, the tension mounts and that is when this movie is at it's very best. When the film has to rely on it's script for intrigue; it falls down, and that pretty much sums up the first hour. I'd like to like this more; but just so you know, once the first hour has elapsed; you're in for a treat!
This is one those horror movies that is totally unique. It is a
cannibal movie, but it humanizes the cannibals more than any other
movie I've seen. They're not rampaging monsters like in "Texas
Chainsaw" or stereotypical Third World savages like in the later
Italian gut munchers--they're the ordinary people living right next
door--and this makes them all the more frightening.
The director is Pete Walker, who found an interesting niche in 1970's British horror/exploitation movies between the hedonistic youth of "Swinging London" and the repressive, reactionary forces that were moving in to stop the party. Walker managed to appeal to both audiences with his "House of the Whipcord", a film both startlingly reactionary and irredeemably sleazy. This film, however, is instead a pox on both houses. There are two cannibals here--one is a seemingly kind old matron (Sheila Keith) who lures victims to her isolated country estate with tarot card readings. She is unwittingly accommodated by her weak-willed husband and well-intentioned step-daughter. She represents a truly twisted version of what American conservatives would later call "family values". The other cannibal is equally frightening--an innocent looking adolescent girl (Kim Butcher) flouncing around in a miniskirt or knickers, coyly manipulating both rough motorcycle-riding youths and respectable older men. She represents the free-spirited and cheerfully amoral youth of the era. It is Walkers genius to ultimately put these two monsters in cahoots. The relationship between them turns out to be very twisted and very close indeed.
The movie is very creepy and truly frightening. Its ultimate message is quite bleak. Apparently, Walker was heavily influenced by American film noir when he made this, and this influence is evident in the dark, eerie visuals and bleak, fatalistic tone where the shadow of the past is always casting a pall over the present. This is a genuinely disturbing film, but one I would recommended highly.
By the 70s, British horror audiences were growing tired of creaky old
Gothic horrorbad news for Hammer, whose stock-in-trade was vampires
and man-made monsters, but good news for Pete Walker, whose more
exploitative brand of horror featured homicidal maniacs that more than
satisfied the viewers' blood-lust.
Frightmare (1974) is one such film, a demented tale of a crazy married couple, Edmund and Dorothy Yates (Rupert Davies and Sheila Keith), committed to an asylum for murder and cannibalism, but released fifteen years later, supposedly rehabilitated. Of course, doctors are known to get things wrong from time to time, and dotty Dorothy turns out to be not quite as sane as she had lead people to believe.
Dorothy's stepdaughter Jackie (Deborah Fairfax) is convinced that she has matters under control, feeding her stepmother brains bought from a butcher's shop, but she hasn't counted on the involvement of her delinquent 15-year-old half-sister Debbie (the aptly named Kim Butcher), who turns out to be a chop off the old block.
With a drilling, a pitch-forking, a hot poker impalement, and a dead guy with an eye missing from the socket, Frightmare certainly delivers gruesome entertainment by the bucket-load, yet also features stylish direction and some winning performances, particularly from Keith who is genuinely frightening as nutso Dorothy, and jail-bait Butcher, who is equally as scary but also adds a little titillation by prancing around the kitchen in her scanties 7.5 out of 10, rounded up to 8 for IMDb.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
You've got to hand it to Pete Walker; he was one of the few British
exploitation horror directors to make any impact back in the 70's. The
ridiculously stringent censorship climate in the U.K. back in those
days most probably put other film-makers off taking a chance in pushing
the envelope. But Walker seemed to get his films out anyway, not only
this but they do seem to have a bit of quality about them. Both
Frightmare and House of Whipcord are good examples of well made
exploitation movies with some originality and good acting.
In 1957 Edmund and Dorothy Yates are tried and convicted of murder and sent to an asylum. They are released 'cured' several years later but Dorothy soon starts luring unsuspecting folks to her remote farmhouse for tarot readings that end rather grimly.
Frightmare really feels like a British variant on The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It seems pretty likely that their similarities are something of a coincidence seeing as they were released at the same time but they are both quite specifically about cannibalism and the family. Walker's film may not have as iconic a character as Leatherface but it does have Dorothy Yates. And it does have to be said that she is a seriously inspired creation. Sheila Keith portrays her perfectly in an awesome performance. Keith is one of the truly under-rated horror performers and this must surely be her pinnacle. To be fair though, there are other fine performances, most notably from Rupert Davies as the loyal husband Edmund and Kim Butcher is feisty as their tearaway teenage daughter.
There is an impressively bleak atmosphere maintained throughout. This is continued right up to the nihilistic ending. Walker's films seem to share this. They also unusually often share a penchant for elderly villains. In this one they literally eat the younger generation. I have also read Walker also say that he was somewhat conservative when it came to nudity and preferred not to include it a film like House of Whipcord, for example, would have played up its sexploitation angle much more in other hands. With Frightmare he finally had a chance to not include any sleaze at all, which pleased the director. What he could not avoid though was the mind-blowingly awful British fashion sense of the 70's. In some respects the clothing on display is much more frightening than death by power drill or pitchfork. No, but seriously, this is an excellent movie and one of the best British horror films from the 70's.
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