DIRECTOR: Pete Walker
Edmund and Dorothy Yates are an elderly couple who are now free after fifteen years in a mental institution. Dorothy still hasn't changed her ways and continues to have a hunger for murdering and eating people. Edmund tries to do his best to cover up his wife's evil and unspeakable crimes. When their daughter and stepdaughter begin to come back into their lives, will they begin to take on their own mother's appetite for human flesh?
When Frightmare began, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the movie had been slapped with an X Rating from the British Film Board. I wasn't sure what to expect from the film but based on the poster alone, I thought that I was about to witness some Driller Killer style gore fest. Being a British production, though. I expected it would be handled with a little bit of class and the horror to be quite restrained in its level of gratuitousness.
Being that the film was released in 1974, this movie is actually incredibly vicious. So Frightmare never goes all the way in showing you straight up gore and violence, but this is heavy on the bloody aftermath. We get lots of shots of victims who have had their eyes gouged out, their skulls smashed in and one scene in particular towards its conclusion that involves a pitchfork. I can see that this movie being released some forty years ago would have caused quite the stir.
The pacing of this film is the real killer. This is an incredibly slow moving story. The pacing is where the movie loses most of its points for me. If you're going to put an insane old woman on your film's poster holding a bloody drill, I will go into the movie expecting to see a slasher where a woman goes on a murderous rampage with a drill. They were smart by putting this shot on the poster as it's pretty much the last shot in the film. We have to wait almost an hour and a half to get some real carnage candy.
Frightmare feels very much like a Hammer Horror film. This could've fit in with any of those Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing horror films of the fifties or sixties. This is a little bit gorier and more gruesome, but there is a sense of class to the whole thing. I think that's where British and American slasher films feel different. Even when they deliver their gory goods, this somehow doesn't feel as gratuitous in the display of all its horror and violence.
I thought Frightmare really excels when we are watching both Edmund and Dorothy on screen together. This has two separate subplots that keep intertwining together throughout. The second story is their daughter and stepdaughter who are always at each other's throats. I thought this subplot while interesting, couldn't compete with the utter madness of Edmund and Dorothy. Every time we moved away from them, I thought the film dragged in those scenes. When it becomes clear, and both subplots clash in the final moments, I thought this was very well executed, though.
The acting is above average in Frightmare. Both Rupert Davies and Sheila Keith are the reasons to watch Frightmare. Rupert Davies who plays Edmund has a lot of the more dramatic scenes here as he is continuously trying to make excuses and hide Dorothy's crimes. Sheila Keith as Dorothy is the standout here. She is maniacal and pure evil. I think she looks like she is having an absolute blast when torturing and killing people on screen. If I was to ever make a list of evil mothers in film, Dorothy might make that list one day.
The supporting cast is rounded out by Kim Butcher and Deborah Fairfax. These two are hit and miss for me. As I mentioned above, I wasn't invested in their storyline. Both actresses really just nag and bitch at each other for a majority of the running time. It's not until the final moments of the film where both girls get a real chance to shine. Deborah Fairfax is a lot better than Kim Butcher who is made to be one of the most annoying teenage girls I think I've seen since Lucy Fry in The Darkness.
Lastly, on a scary level, I think Frightmare is a bust. This is so slowly paced that we never really have any scenes that ramp up the tension or suspense. This movie plays things more for shock value over delivering any real jump out of your seat moments. I think director Pete Walker really was making a film to shock audiences back in the seventies. You can clearly see this in how far he tries to push the boundaries for a mid-seventies film. One that clearly made the British Film Board slap it with an X rating for it's content.
DEATH TOLL: 8
BLOOD AND GORE:
- Someone is repeatedly stabbed in the face with a pitchfork.
- A body is shown with his eye and skull smashed in.
- A dead body is found under a bale of hay.
- A woman is shown with blood on her face.
- Someone's body is sawn off-screen.
- A woman is seen bleeding out of her mouth.
- Someone is shown with a hole in their skull.
- A body is shown with its eye ripped out.
- Someone is stabbed with a red hot fire poker.
- A woman is shown carrying a paper bag that is leaking blood.
Frightmare is a movie that is an uneven one. With two subplots that come crashing together in the final few minutes, I was more invested in one than the other. When the crazy Edmund and Dorothy are on screen, this film was pretty damn enjoyable. When we are subjected to the two bickering sisters, it really does drag. The pacing of Frightmare is extremely slow and one of the film's most significant problems. Here the standout element of the film is Sheila Keith's crazy and maniacal performance. Worth a watch if you are looking for a Cannibal British Slasher.