Appellate Judge Tom Becker doesn't die screaming for just anybody.
"When the right hand doesn't know who the left hand is killing!"—Tagline for Schizo
British exploitation vet Pete Walker gets a shot at high-def rediscovery with The Pete Walker Collection (Blu-ray). The set includes four of Walker's better known thrillers.
Die Screaming, Marianne
House of Whipcord
Since I'm not all that familiar with the work of Pete Walker, I can't say if the four films that make up The Pete Walker Collection (Blu-ray) are representative of his best work. I can say that they range from idiotic (Die Screaming, Marianne) to slightly subversive to silly and fun. I wouldn't exactly call these high points of British cinema thrillers in the '70s; in addition to occasional incoherent plotting and zero-level logic, there's a frequent lack of tension that makes these films largely forgettable.
That's not to say there isn't a good time to be had; while one film is pretty miserable, the other three all contain moments that range from entertaining to inspired.
Die Screaming, Marianne is a dreadful film. It's little more than an inept short story dragged out to feature length for no apparent reason. To kill time, we get some tepid scenes of Marianne talking about having sex (Die Shagging, Marianne!) and a "thrilling" bit of business wherein Marianne is trapped in a sauna (Die Shvitzing, Marianne!).
But the plotting here is just horrendous. I know the whole business of people doing stupid things is the lifeblood of thrillers, but the people in Die Screaming, Marianne take that trope to such an extreme, that it becomes unbearable. There's all sorts of weirdness dancing around the edges, but none of it comes together. Aside from Susan George's beauty, Barry Evans's charm, and some truly appalling fashion (why do the men wear pleather pants and white booties??), there's really nothing to recommend here.
House of Whipcord is a reasonably entertaining take on the women in prison genre. Since it's a "private" prison and the "inmates" aren't actually criminals, there's pretty much nothing in the way of girl-on-girl action, but there is flogging and other sadisms, a bat-bottom crazy story line, and an appearance by erotic cult queen Ann Michelle (Virgin Witch, Haunted), who gets just enough screen time to appear topless and take on the role of heroine when she sets out to find what happened to her friend Anne Marie.
I've read that Schizo is an homage to (or rip-off of) Psycho, but it comes across more homage to (or rip-off of) William Castle's homages to (and rip-offs of) Hitchcock's classic. There were plenty of Psycho homages/rip-offs in the '60s and especially the more permissive '70s, and while Schizo is a fun little entry, there's not much to distinguish it.
The notorious Lynne Frederick (who was married to Peter Sellers just long enough to inherit his estate and later drank herself to death) stars as the terrorized Samantha, and she spends a good portion of the film finding dead bodies and screaming. Walker tosses in a scene that seems pulled not from Psycho but from Deep Red, some fairly gory killings, and a wacky denouement. It's not art, but it's pretty entertaining.
If there were a bit more gore, a bit more suspense, and everyone was speaking Italian, The Comeback would be a third-rate giallo; instead, it's a third-rate giallo wannabe. It's by no means a terrible film, just a soft one. There are too few jolts and too few kills. On top of that, the reveal is so out-of-left-field, it feels like a cheat.
Also, casting Jack Jones as a former teen idol just doesn't work. I don't know that Jones was ever a teen idol, but certainly at 40, those days would have been long, long behind him, and when this comes up as a plot point, it makes the whole thing seem even more ludicrous. It also doesn't help that we're privy to some of Nick/Jones's recording sessions, with tunes so loungey and easy listenable, they make Montovani sound like the Sex Pistols. A little too clumsy and dragged out, this one gets a passing grade, but barely.
All these films have had DVD releases, but for The Pete Walker Collection (Blu-ray), they receive pleasing high-def transfers. The images haven't really been cleaned up, so there's a fair of amount of minor print damage, but overall, they don't look bad. The PCM audio tracks are all perfectly acceptable, with none notably great or awful.
House of Whipcord, The Comeback, and Die Screaming, Marianne have commentaries that were ported from earlier DVD releases. The set also features a new, four-part interview with Walker, spread out over the four discs. Given the propensity of companies turning out Blu-rays of older films that are merely tech upgrades with all ported supplements, these new interviews make for a notable inclusion.
I don't know that this set turned me into a Pete Walker fan, but there's enough here that I'll be checking out some of his other work, particularly Frightmare, reportedly his best effort.
While the films are a little on the tepid side, there's a good deal of fun to be had here.
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