Surprising Late-Era Hammer,
This review is from: Fear In The Night [DVD]  (DVD)
Fear in the Night is an enjoyable, quirky little B-movie oddity from the latter years of the Hammer studio. The plot concerns a young woman, Peggy (Judy Geeson), who has recently married Robert (Ralph Bates) after a whirlwind romance. In the opening few minutes, Peggy is attacked by a housebreaker who creeps in through the bathroom window and tries to strangle her. She passes out, but on awakening finds that everybody dismisses her story as just a figment of her imagination - not, it would seem, for the first time.
You see, Peggy suffers from some unspecified mental illness, which apparently involves chronic shyness and paranoia (so somewhere on the far end of 'highly strung' in the 70s-British-horror-movie-psychology-ometer). Through occasional glimpses of sessions with an unseen psychiatrist and his terrifying wallpaper, we learn that this has been going on for some time.
However, now Richard wants to take Peggy away from her life of pouring tea for old dears and talking wistfully about not having any friends, so off they go to start a new life at a boys school in the middle of the countryside. Hooray! After a brief stop at a motorway service station somewhere in Soviet Russia, they arrive at their new home: a peaceful cottage in the Berkshire/ Surrey/ Sussex countryside, on the grounds of a mock-Tudor mansion.
But it slowly becomes apparent that all is not right with this musty, decrepit old school and its sinister headmaster (Peter Cushing). And that Peggy's stalker may not have been left behind with her old life after all.
I was trying to put my finger on what the feeling was that I was left with after seeing this fun little movie, and it's this: it's like the kind of random film you catch on TV very late one night, and then rack your brains years later to try and remember what it was. In many ways, in fact, this is the template for Hammer's later TV work - a contemporary setting, few characters and cheaper-looking film stock lending it a small-scale, claustrophobic feel.
Is it a particularly fine example of British horror from the 1970s? Not really, unless you count the puddle-coloured coffee and nicotine fug of that service station. Is it scary? Well... no. But it us an entertaining, honest B-movie thriller from an era when this kind of film was clearly on the way out.
And there are some genuinely unsettling moments, almost all of them down to the extraordinary talents of Peter Cushing. Despite some more obvious jumps and set piece moments, one of the most tense scenes in the film is a terribly simple, single shot in which he is untangling a ribbon from Peggy's hair and hurting her just a little bit too much in the process.
The inevitable twist to the story is well handled enough that I genuinely didn't see it coming, and the pay-off is satisfyingly handled. Oh, and there's a bit with Joan Collins and a dead rabbit that's quite good, but the less said about that the better.
Fear in the Night is also a rather more cleverly structured film than it might first appear. Brief flashbacks (and flash edits) are dropped in here and there with with an unexpected subtleness, and the narrative... Well, not to spoil the end, but let's just say it's not entirely linear.
In all, this is a small, restrained but ultimately satisfying curio of a thriller. You could do worse with 90 minutes on a rainy Sunday afternoon.