Combustible Celluloid
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With: Rupert Davies, Sheila Keith, Deborah Fairfax, Paul Greenwood, Kim Butcher, Fiona Curzon, Jon Yule, Trisha Mortimer, Victoria Fairbrother, Edward Kalinski, Victor Winding, Anthony Hennessey, Noel Johnson, Michael Sharvell-Martin, Tommy Wright
Written by: David McGillivray, based on a story by Pete Walker
Directed by: Pete Walker
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 88
Date: 07/31/1975

Frightmare (1974)

3 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The independent English director Pete Walker made one of his more memorable films with Frightmare, a movie that, amazingly, spends some time on its characters before getting to the really grisly bits. The focus is on pretty Jackie (Deborah Fairfax), who takes care of her troublesome teenage younger sister Debbie (Kim Butcher). Unbeknownst to Debbie, their parents -- Dorothy (Shelia Keith) and Edmund (Rupert Davies) -- are still alive, and Jackie makes secret visits to them in the night, delivering secret packages.

Meanwhile, Debbie runs with a brutal biker gang, which likes to beat up bartenders after hours, though Debbie is the one who disposes of the body. Things get stirred up when friends fix Jackie up with a single psychologist, Graham (Paul Greenwood), who thinks he can help Debbie. Meanwhile, mom Dorothy has taken up giving Tarot readings to poor, unsuspecting passerby.

Kicking things off is a black-and-white flashback showing a couple being thrown into an asylum for unspeakable crimes, with a judge promising that they will not be let out until they are proven sane beyond a shadow of a doubt. We can assume that this couple are the elderly parents. But it seems that Dorothy has begun to crack up again.

I'm not sure whether I should give away what happens next, although heaven knows that enough other reviews, articles, clips, and trailers, have done so. Needless to say that, like the front cover of the new Blu-ray box, Dorothy does pick up a power drill at some point, and she's not planning on making a birdhouse with it. Frightmare has some gore, but its power is really in its attitude. The strong characters in this movie survive. But either way, the characters are worth following; when they make decisions, even bad ones, it makes emotional sense.

Walker may not have had a huge budget, but he makes very good use of interior locations and muted light. The movie looks much better than dozens of others of its ilk. Kino Lorber has restored it for this new Blu-ray release, with a commentary track by Mr. Walker as well as cinematographer Peter Jessop, plus two featurettes and a trailer.

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