Frightmare Review

The Film

For those who eulogise about the British cinema boom of the sixties, the kind of fare that followed Hollywood UK in the next decade must seem quite disappointing. Prestige productions of worthy literature or political fables give way to smaller maverick exploitation flicks from the margins, and those film-makers with a knack for turning headlines and prurience into entertainment take the spotlight when it was once for the likes of Lindsay Anderson or the words of John Osborne. Personally, that's absolutely fine with me as the nostalgia for the British boom still casts a pall over current British cinema of corsets, heritage and dull dull worthiness.
Pete Walker's Frightmare was judged by critics who expected worthiness when it was first released and God bless Walker he took all their moral condemnation and peppered the film's publicity with snatches of this disapproval. Told by the forces of rectitude not to see it and convinced by the usual British hypocrisy in such matters, this helped the film to sell abroad and to do decent trade. If Walker never achieved anything else, then having a film denounced by the Telegraph for being reactionary must rank as the zenith of his career.

So why all the opprobrium coming the film's way? Two reasons spring to mind watching it now. Firstly, it could be said to be about a family of cannibals, and secondly it is possibly the best made film about a family of cannibals that most of those right thinking people have ever seen. The actors are all pretty good, the dramatic development of an outrageous story is surprisingly competent and there are many touches of brilliances in the creation of the mood of the film. If Frightmare had been simple badly made nonsense it would have been easily dismissed, but because it is not then it has to become insidiously evil in the minds of the naysayers.
The outrageous story involves the sectioning of a sweet old couple after a cannibalistic rampage and the fate of their two young daughters. Beginning with a seemingly fuddy duddy judge missing the chance to stretch their necks with some capital punishment, the story fast forwards to their eventual release and their re-acquaintance with their offspring and their way of life. Throw in a liberal Psychiatrist who reassures the sensible daughter of her carnivorous step-mom "It's just a relapse", some bad boy bikers, underage fumbling and tarot sessions by black and decker, and you get this deliberate bait for the guardians of the moral universe.

Dismissed as sleazy by the right and reactionary by the liberal, Frightmare is actually darned good. The grotesques on show don't really form a cogent political case for the reintroduction of the death penalty unless you believe that horror movies are the basis for exclusive thought in such matters, but they are wonderfully icky, slightly comic and compellingly nasty. Jessop's wonderful use of dark blue lighting and the exploitation of the Yates cottage as postcard twee and incestuously dark create a formidable mood to back up the grisly goings on.
Sheila Keith is fabulously mad and Rupert Davies is her tragically demented spouse. The younger cast orbit them providing some kind of normal frame for the viewer, but their efforts are to provide an ordinary counterpoint to the splendid outre evil of the older generation. For my particularly leftie leanings, I could have been annoyed at the poo-pooing of modern psychiatry and the bloodthirsty advocacy of hanging but then I would have been guilty of the same mistake as the cinema critics at the time. It's caricature, it's unsettling but it's hardly engaged political debate.

Definitely the most accomplished and enjoyable of Walker's films, any fan of Brithorror should posses this.

Technical Specs

Having not seen the previous treatment of this film in the Anchor Bay collection, I can't comment on whether this is an improvement but I can say that I was very pleased with the transfer here. The anamorphic image is presented with black strips down either side of the frame which possibly makes the aspect ratio somewhere between 1.66:1 and 1.78:1, but I did not notice obvious cropping at the top or bottom of the frame. There are lines and minor damage to the print and the transfer carries some grain too, but edges look natural, colours seem well balanced and black levels good. There is a moment around the hour point where the video seemed to skip a couple of frames but this may be a print issue rather than a transfer problem.
There seems to be some damage to the audio elements in terms of background hiss, yet distortion is relatively absent with the music and dialogue reproduced with clarity if not a lot of definition. There's no subtitles at all.

Special features

This is an all region disc which bears the same kind of design as the Odeon disc I reviewed here earlier for Die Screaming Marianne and shares the same trailers as that release as well. This disc ports the previous commentary from the Pete Walker Collection featuring Walker, DP Peter Jessop and Steve Chibnall. It's nowhere near as engaging as the Nick Rigby commentaries Walker has done previously but plenty is revealed such as Walker going out to eat a couple of years after the film only to find that his waitress was his young lead here.

The interview with Walker covers how he and screenwriter David McGillivray came up with the film whilst trying to find another idea to annoy the guardians of good taste. Walker talks about his distaste for horror films per se, casting Sheila Keith, having fun, dealing with censors and the ease of selling the film abroad.

Odeon's trailers for other Walker films and a 16 image stills gallery complete the extras on the disc. The final extra is an essay on the film from Steve Chibnall in the included booklet where he includes a small biography for the director and discusses Walker's pessimism for the human race.


A cracking and scandalous piece of horror is given a nice package with reissued commentary and a new interview.

8 out of 10
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out of 10

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