(UK - 1971; US release 1972)
Directed by Peter Collinson. Written by Tudor Gates. Cast: Susan George, Honor Blackman, Ian Bannen, John Gregson, George Cole, Dennis Waterman, Maurice Kaufmann, Michael Brennan, Roger Lloyd Pack, Tara Collinson. (PG, 87 mins)
British filmmaker Peter Collinson graduated from television work in the mid-1960s and quickly scored a pair of box office hits with 1967's THE PENTHOUSE and the 1969 Michael Caine heist favorite THE ITALIAN JOB. His career was generally considered that of a busy, genre-hopping journeyman, routinely cranking out two movies a year until his death from lung cancer at just 44 in 1980, shortly after the release of his final film, the William Holden/Ricky Schroeder drama THE EARTHLING. Collinson didn't live long enough to see his work reassessed (considering his career trajectory, it's easy to imagine him pulling Michael Winner/J. Lee Thompson duty for Cannon in the '80s had he lived), but time has been kind to initially dismissed films like his vividly atmospheric, giallo-esque 1974 take on Agatha Christie's TEN LITTLE INDIANS. After the success of THE ITALIAN JOB, Collinson made the lighthearted 1970 mercenary actioner YOU CAN'T WIN 'EM ALL with Tony Curtis and Charles Bronson before returning to the UK for a pair of British thrillers with 1971's FRIGHT and 1972's Hammer-produced STRAIGHT ON TILL MORNING, neither of which attracted much attention at the time beyond drive-ins and grindhouses (STRAIGHT ON TILL MORNING didn't even find US distribution until 1974). Both have recently been released on Blu-ray by Scream Factory (because physical media is dead) and both have become favorably regarded cult films that show a definite auteur consistency in themes and style, especially if evaluated in conjunction with THE PENTHOUSE and Collinson's similar but far sleazier 1974 hunting humans/survivalist thriller OPEN SEASON, a film that's been MIA on home video and has become virtually impossible to see in an uncut and/or watchable print (both THE PENTHOUSE and OPEN SEASON involve an adulterous couple being terrorized by three psychos).
STRAW DOGS wasn't the only 1971 film to feature Susan George enduring a harrowing night of terror in a remote British country house. George stars as Amanda, a college student who fills in as a last-minute substitute babysitter for the three-year-old son (Collinson's own son Tara) of the Lloyds--Helen (Honor Blackman) and Jim (George Cole)--who are going into town for drinks and dinner. Helen seems distracted and nervous when Amanda arrives, and is quick to snap at Jim and hesitant to leave the child with Amanda. Once they're gone, Amanda hears all sorts of strange sounds, most of which can be chalked up to the house being very old. A figure outside turns out to be her boyfriend Chris (Dennis Waterman), who incorrectly assumes this will be the night virginal Amanda decides to go all the way. She kicks him out of the house after an argument, and he's immediately pummeled in the face by an unseen assailant. Meanwhile, at the restaurant, the Lloyds are joined by friend Dr. Cordell (John Gregson), who's also the psychiatrist overseeing the care of Brian Hillston (Ian Bannen), Helen's ex-husband and the father of the child, who was locked up in a nearby insane asylum after trying to kill them. Dr. Cordell gets an emergency call at the restaurant notifying him that Hillston has escaped and hitched a ride with a truck driver who's been found dead. At the same time, the phone line at the Lloyd home goes out and Amanda answers a knock at the door: it's a badly-beaten and near-death Chris being helped in by Hillston, who identifies himself as a neighbor who lives down the road.
"Casting Shadows" by John Howard, FRIGHT opens and closes with a haunting theme song, in this case "Ladybird" by Nanette. Collinson brings an intriguing sense of style to the proceedings, whether it's a big pre-De Palma split diopter shot or his recurring use of reflections--in mirrors, windows, the swinging pendulum of a grandfather clock, and, in the film's most memorable shot, a sweaty, wild-eyed Bannen seen in a knife-shaped shard of a shattered mirror that he's holding up to George's face. Bannen's performance grows more unhinged and downright feral as the film goes on, and George acquits herself well as an impressive proto-scream queen, but FRIGHT is most notable as perhaps the earliest example of the "babysitter-in-peril" thriller, several years before HALLOWEEN and WHEN A STRANGER CALLS would set the standard. Scripted by Tudor Gates (DANGER: DIABOLIK, BARBARELLA, THE VAMPIRE LOVERS), FRIGHT is more concerned with establishing a foreboding sense of dread rather than going for outright scares, and it probably shows its cards too early in the way Blackman's Helen is so agitated from the get-go, but it's of definite historical value to fans of both babysitters-in-peril and Susan George.
(UK - 1972; US release 1974)
Directed by Peter Collinson. Written by John Peacock. Cast: Rita Tushingham, Shane Briant, Tom Bell, James Bolam, Kayta Wyeth, Annie Ross, Clare Kelly, Harold Berens, John Clive, Tommy Godfrey, Mavis Villiers. (R, 96 mins)
Collinson quickly followed FRIGHT with the Hammer production STRAIGHT ON TILL MORNING, one of the most unusual and structurally ambitious thrillers to roll off the legendary horror house's assembly line during their 1970s decline, an unjustly maligned period that really deserves some reconsideration. Hammer spent most of those last years trying to find ways to stay relevant in the changing times, often lacking confidence in their product and leaving good movies like CAPTAIN KRONOS: VAMPIRE HUNTER and THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES to either languish on the shelf or be subjected to poor distribution. STRAIGHT ON TILL MORNING opened in the UK in July of 1972, but it wouldn't hit US screens until August of 1974, courtesy of the short-lived B outfit International Coproductions, who also released FEAR IN THE NIGHT, another discarded, two-year-old Hammer title, around the same time. A somber, downbeat slow-burner that's even less inclined to traditional "scares" than FRIGHT, STRAIGHT ON TILL MORNING finds Collinson using a disorienting, cross-cutting editing technique that establishes an overlapping, flash back-and-forward time element that feels very European and is almost aggressively off-putting until you pick up on its rhythms. The pieces of the puzzle start to fit and you see how the style, which initially seemed overly gimmicky, serves the narrative and helps establish the mindset of the main character. To put in more updated terms, it feels like a cross between that familiar Steven Soderbergh technique and the early work of Alejandro G. Inarritu until it settles into a standard linear plot structure after about 25 minutes.
|Peter Collinson (1936-1980)