TITLE: Fear in the Night
YEAR RELEASED: 1972
DIRECTOR: Jimmy Sangster
CAST: Judy Geeson, Peter Cushing, Joan Collins and Ralph Bates
REVIEW BY DONNA CUTTRESS
‘Fear in the Night’ was Jimmy Sangster’s final film as director/producer, for Hammer Productions, and with Michael Syson he wrote the screenplay also. When viewed, the film is the perfect prequel for the series that was produced by Hammer in the 80s, it could well be an extended episode.
Newlyweds Peggy (the sweetly innocent Judy Geeson) and Bob (Ralph Bates, need we say more about his Hammer credentials?) Heller are about to move and ‘live in’ at Bob’s employment at a private boys school which is first viewed during the opening titles. With its rolling playing fields, school dining room and lots of oak panelling, it looks like the idyllic school for every Latin speaking boy until we see a pair of swinging legs signifying a hanging from one of the trees in the grounds, all to the accompaniment of the school hymn. It’s the perfect Hammer opening, nothing is as it seems and horrors await us.
But, before she even meets up with her new husband, Peggy is attacked in her lodgings, by a mysterious ‘man’ with a mechanical arm, who tries to strangle her (The film was originally going to be called ‘The Claw’). It is all the viewer needs to be aware of her fragility and cracking mental state. Mrs Beamish, Peggy’s former boss tells the doctor treating her, that Peggy is recovering from a breakdown, and we see scenes through flashback of her visits to her psychiatrist, thus making her perfect fodder for what is about to happen in the film.
It is during Peggy’s exploration of the empty school, that we first see the headmaster, although in portrait form, played by Peter Cushing, and get the first hints that all is not as it seems in the school, apart from the hanging of course. We see different knots exhibited on the wall of the gym, hear children’s voices when the class room is empty and when she eventually meets Michael Carmichael (Cushing), what he asks her to do with her hair, is a chance to show the viewer that he has a mechanical arm, just like Peggy’s attacker.
Joan Collins is introduced as the rabbit shooting, sculpture wife of Carmichael, Molly, played with sophisticated malice, and obviously up to wrong doing. It is from this point the viewer becomes aware that all is not right among the Heller or Carmichael households, and to divulge any more would spoil the climax of the film, although there is a slightly bizarre scene of Ralph Bates in a white suit searching for a body in a boat house that does not seem to totally fit in, but hey, it’s a boat house, and something always seem to happen in them!
For me, there is not enough Peter Cushing; (one can never have enough!) who brings a melancholy eeriness to the film, as well as the lasting image of the movie, his haunting, grimacing face wearing a pair of shattered glasses.
It is an enjoyably dated film, and its use of ‘flashback’ sequences prevents it from becoming too slow or stilted. Ultimately, its elements of twist in the tale and ‘who dunnit’, add to the suspense until the end, as ‘Bob’ shouts,
“If there’s a killing then we must have a killer!”
‘Fear in the Night’, is a melodramatic horror, a concentrate of all that the Hammer TV series would become.
Liverpool’s DONNA CUTTRESS writes horror/suspense short stories,and has recently been published by Crooked Cat Pub. and Siren’s Call Publications as part of Women In Horror month. Follow here on Twitter @Hederah