Fright 1971 ****

The perennially knowledgeable Kim Newman makes a great point in the DVD extras for Fright; that British critics have been quick to seek out examples of Italian horror movie, specifically giallo, and yet the reputations of strong British films of the period have been allowed to fall into disrepair.  This week’s release of restored Blu-ray versions of Fight and And Soon The Darkness should help restore the position of both films in British film history.

Fright is quite a trip; a pre-Straw Dogs Susan George plays Amanda, a young girl who takes a baby-sitting job that’s weird from the get-go; the child’s parents (Honor Blackman and George Cole) seem strangely on edge, and after they depart, Amanda flirts with being a bad babysitter when an old flame Chris (Dennis Waterman) turns up in the hope of a quick fumble.  Chris is something of a pest, and Amanda throws him out, but when she detects a presence loitering outside, she wrongly assumes that Chris has returned.

Fright seems to be modelled somewhat on Psycho; there’s a Hitchcockian feel to the parlour games here with John Gregson and Ian Bannen amongst those under suspicion. The menaced baby-sitter wasn’t yet a trope in 1971, and there’s a neat splintering of the focus between Amanda’s fortified position and the activities of the parents in a busy dance-club. A dance club in 1971 British cinema really is something to behold, with gyrating figures amongst those enjoying an evening meal. In such an odd world, it’s hardly a surprise when it turns out that there’s a maniac on the loose…

With a script by horror specialist Tudor Gates (Lust for a Vampire) and direction by the underrated Peter Collinson (The Italian Job), there’s plenty to engage horror and British movie fans here. A new interview with Susan George, looking pretty fantastic, reminds how young she was at the time; probably still best known for Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs, she’s a classic 70’s star, and gives a big, empathetic performance here that drives the film.

Fright is a neat, effective shocker that went down well at the time; with a spanking new restoration, Fright should set the shivers down the spines of new viewers and nostalgia freaks alike; as a bonus, Clements and Fuest have a commentary track here, and UK viewers will be amused to see Cole and Waterman in the same film, albeit briefly, before they became housefold names as Arthur and Terry in tv institution Minder.


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