Kino Lorber // 1974 // 86 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // March 11th, 2014
Far beyond a nightmare...
In the tradition of many disreputable horror films, the Blu-ray packaging for Frightmare suggests that the viewer might be better off if they just avoided watching it. "If you like this, have your brain examined," reads a blurb from The Daily Express. "Nasty, foolish and morally repellant," warns The Times (London). "A moral obscenity," barks Daily Telegraph. Considering all of this, I popped the disc in, sat back and braced myself for the next Salo, or 120 Days of Sodom. However, what I discovered was not a terrifying glimpse into the heart of darkness, but rather a quaint, low-budget British horror flick that casually tosses in a bit of gore and cannibalism here and there. Sure, it's not exactly You've Got Mail, but what the film offers feels tame even in contrast to a modern-day network TV show like NBC's Hannibal or any number of CBS procedurals. Even so, what you actually get isn't too shabby.
The story begins with a black-and-white flashback to the 1950s, which does a nice job of subtly hinting at the horror to come. Once upon a time, Dorothy Yates (Sheila Keith, House of the Long Shadows) had developed an unfortunate taste for human flesh and began murdering people in order to get her fix. Though her poor husband Edmund (Rupert Davies, Maigret) strongly disapproved of such behavior, he kept quiet about it and helped Dorothy cover up the evidence of her crimes. Both were placed in a mental institution, but were released in the 1970s after psychiatrists determined that both had been entirely cured of their afflictions.
In the present day, we follow the misadventures of Dorothy's long-estranged daughter Debbie (Kim Butcher), who seems to have inherited some of her mother's nastier habits. Meanwhile, Dorothy's step-daughter Jackie (Deborah Fairfax) -- Edmund's daughter from a previous marriage -- does her best to keep Debbie's increasingly wild behavior in check. Soon, a family reunion of sorts takes place, and it doesn't take Jackie long to begin suspecting that Dorothy hasn't really been cured.
You can see where this is going, I trust, but the film takes its sweet time getting there. Despite a relatively brief 86-minute running time, the film feels awfully padded. There are needless romantic subplots that pop up, along with a handful of scenes that do nothing other than remind us that we're in the '70s and the younger characters we're watching are supposed to be pretty cool. Once the peripheral characters are brushed aside and we're permitted to focus on Dorothy's relapse and Jackie's investigation, the film becomes a fairly compelling little slice of B-movie horror. Don't expect much in the way of gore or shocking moments -- again, the Blu-ray packaging is seriously overselling the controversial nature of the flick -- but the movie gets progressively better as it goes and concludes on an effectively ominous note.
For the most part, the performances aren't worth writing home about. Most of the supporting players are as awkward and stilted as no-name participants in cheap horror movies often are, but the film springs to life whenever it focuses on Keith and Davies. The former dials her performance up to 11 and steals all of her scenes as the flesh-gobbling villain, while the latter manages to generate a bit of genuine pathos as the sad-sack husband who just loves his wife too much to tell her to stop eating people. Pete Walker's direction is simple, sturdy and unpretentious -- he's clearly not a major talent, but his work isn't completely artless.
Frightmare (Blu-ray) has received an adequate 1080p/1.66:1 transfer. Given the film's age and budget, it's no surprise that it doesn't quite serve as a showcase disc for your HDTV, but scratches and flecks are fairly minimal and detail is decent. There are some moments of softness here and there, but they're not too excessive. Natural grain has been left intact. The LPCM 1.0 Mono track is just a bit messier, as Stanley Myers' score occasionally sounds a bit distorted. Dialogue is clear, for the most part, and additional sound design is on the muted side. Supplements include a commentary with Walker, cinematographer Peter Jessop and moderator Steven Chibnall, two featurettes ("For the Sake of Cannibalism" and "Sheila Keith Profile") and some trailers.
Frightmare is neither an overlooked classic nor a genuinely terrifying flick, but it's a reasonably engaging (if somewhat padded) little flick that delivers well enough during its most important scenes. Worth a look for genre fans.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Kino Lorber
* 1.66:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* PCM 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Year: 1974
MPAA Rating: Rated R