Frightmare (1974)
By: Julian on September 16, 2011  | 
DVD
Umbrella | Region 4, PAL | 1.77:1 (16:9 enhanced) | English DD 5.1 | 83 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Pete Walker
Starring: Sheila Keith, Rupert Davis, Deborah Fairfax, Kim Butcher, Paul Greenwood
Screenplay: David McGillivray
Country: UK
External Links
IMDB FrightmarePurchase YouTube
Frightmare has been called the 'British Texas Chain Saw Massacre', a cute line that undermines the excellence of this film. The second Pete Walker-David McGillivray-Sheila Keith collaboration of 1974 after House of Whipcord, Frightmare is an exceptional entry into the then-lucrative British horror cycle, part psychological thriller, part slasher, which is powered by ripper performances and an inventive screenplay.

Frightmare has a prevalent but not overbearing vein of social commentary running through it, specifically the problems that attend absolution of criminal liability by reason of 'insanity'. Husband and wife Dorothy (Sheila Keith) and Edmund Yates (Rupert Davis) are part of this category, and both were remanded to a mental institution for 'pathological cannibalism', Dorothy having committed the crimes and Edmund not having stopped her. Eighteen years later they are released, the system considering them reformed ("they're just as sane as you or I", one of the characters (rather wrongly) posits).

Jackie (Deborah Fairfax), Edmund's daughter, lives with her fifteen-year-old delinquent half-sister Debbie (Kim Butcher), and after learning of her step-mother's release, she and Edmund decide to bring Dorothy animal brains to sate that mean side of her. Dorothy is living with Edmund in a rural cottage some way out of town, and she decides to advertise her tarot reading business in Time Out. This advertisement brings lonely young things out to the farmhouse to have their readings done and, of course, the temptation proves far too great for Dorothy.

'Overlooked classic' is the best way to describe Frightmare, a film that is often erroneously omitted from lists of seventies genre cinema highlights. It is a great film that works on a number of levels. The social commentary is understated and intelligent: director Walker and screenwriter McGillivray do not overplay their hand with this element, instead preferring to leave it to the viewer to interpret as little or as much as they want. Along with the legal system, Walker and McGillivray also give both barrels to the psychiatric profession: arrogant but well-meaning Graham (Paul Greenwood), Jackie's bespectacled boyfriend, represents the detached boffins who choose to release people like Dorothy. Not knowing any better and beguiled by the smooth professionalism of the boffins, laypeople like Jackie swallow the opinions up, and people who really should be behind bars are released without question. It is a rather conservative tract by Walker and McGillivray, and one that reflected (and continues to reflect) legitimate concerns about this area of law.

Those who don't wish to glean any deeper meaning from Frightmare can revel in the fact that this is a cracker of a horror movie. Walker's film is an early slasher, but it plays more powerfully as a violent psychological thriller, with Sheila Keith's powerhouse performance bringing a lot of class to the proceedings. Equally impressive is Rupert Davis as Dorothy's long-suffering husband who can't quite bring himself to detach from his wife's odious misdeeds, and Deborah Fairfax, an enabler herself as she slips Dorothy animal brains in the hope that the old woman can invoke the illusion that the brains come from the humans she murdered. Kim Butcher isn't an excellent performer but she's not a bad one either, and she effectively executes the film's big twist. This quality of acting by the ensemble is not typical to B-grade horror movies of this era, and it is a breath of fresh air. The performances really elevate Frightmare to a plane not occupied by most of its contemporaries.

Frightmare's main problem is that the movie struggles a bit before we are introduced to Dorothy. This sort of sluggishness can be a curse to a film that barely runs over 80 minutes, but Walker saves his movie fast. Other than this issue, which is really just finding fault, Frightmare is a beautifully disturbing movie that delivers a little bit extra to the discerning horror fan.
Video
The picture presents well in the 1.77:1 aspect ratio, with 16:9 enhancement. Walker does not rely heavily on visuals though – his movie is far more about substance than style, and the fact that we're not distracted by flashiness might tend to compound the script problems in the first act. Even though gaudy visual style isn't what Frightmare is about, Walker and cinematographer Peter Jessop (Schizo, The Monster Club) manage to evoke a fine atmosphere, particularly when we're at the dimly lit and naturally eerie farmhouse in which Dorothy lurks, snake-like, ready to strike.
Audio
Two English Dolby audio tracks, 5.1 and 2.0. The 5.1 is as clear as you would expect from a film that is almost forty years old. No subtitles are provided. Stanley Myers' score is suitably unsettling.
Extra Features
A theatrical trailer and a stills gallery. Trailers for other Umbrella releases – Last House on the Left, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead and, appropriately, The Driller Killer – are also included.
The Verdict
Frightmare is one of the essential British horror films, with a high level of competence across the board – its performers, its director and its screenplay all work together to create an exceptional movie. Wholeheartedly recommended.
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score

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