Frightmare 1974 ***

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More Tony Tenser movies on Flick Vault, the HD You Tube channel for off-the-wall movies; this one is from Pete Walker, the British film-maker who single-handedly created his own distinct horror imprint in the 1970’s. Frightmare has probably never looked as good as this; a tricky little tale of cannibals at work in the SW10 area of London, Frightmare is worth a look for genre aficionados by dint of a patient script and a remarkably over-qualified cast.

A mom-and–pop cannibal couple go to jail in 1957 for unspeakable acts; in 1974, Edmund (Rupert Davies) and Dorothy (Sheila Keith) may well be up to their old tricks now that they’ve done their time. Edmund’s daughter Jackie (Deborah Fairfax) suspects that her dad isn’t keeping to a strict vegan diet and smuggles animal brains to them, pretending to be feeding their cannibal impulse. Jackie’s step-sister Debbie (Kim Butcher) is a rebellious teen pushing to get out from under her wing, while psychologist Graham (Paul Greenwood) in romantically interested in Jackie, but realises that there’s something strange in her family life.

For British movie fans, there’s more than a few attractive names here; Rupert Davies was known for his Inspector Maigret, while Paul Greenwood was a household name in the early eighties for his portrayal of whimsical copper Rosie. Keith was also a regular in Walker’s films, and the level of acting seen here is impressive, particularly given the potential for low-brow sleaze in the subject matter. There’s a couple of excellent scenes, notably a tense tarot card reading during which Graham’s attempt to deceive the suspicious Dorothy begins to fragment under pressure. Oscar nominee Leo Genn also has a role, although the square stylings of Graham’s old man specs and retro sports–jacket combination are the real stars here.

Walker’s films have been somewhat neglected by tv programmers, but have gained a cult following, and Frightmare is a prime facie example of why is work is worth exhuming. Sure, some of the detail is rather nasty, but this kind of realistic horror was non-recurring phenomenon, and horror completists will want to seek out and savour this pungent sample of British kitchen-sink gruesomeness.

A Study in Terror 1965 ***

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It makes a certain kind of sense to mash up Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper; the greatest detective vs the greatest unsolved mystery of the same era. 1979’s Murder By Decree did so memorably, but 1965’s A Study in Terror plotted the same course, minus the various Masonic conspiracies featured in Bob Clark’s far more elaborate film.

Indeed James Hill’s original film for producer Tony Tenser is something of a novelty in that it’s got a slasher vibe; we open with the Ripper zeroing in on a hapless woman, and Carry On star Barbara Windsor has a notable bit of comic business before she meets a hasty demise. John Neville and Donald Houston make for an unusually serious Holmes and Watson, investigating a series of brutal murders in the Whitechapel area of London.

The mystery is pretty good, and things are kept fresh with a galaxy of suspects including Anthony Quayle as a surgeon with a penchant for helping the homeless via his soup kitchen, and Dame Judy Dench makes an impression as his daughter Sally. Robert Morley makes a bumptious Mycroft Holmes, while Frank Finlay a less-than-buffonish Lestrade. Indeed, this is a rather effective version of Holmes; even his penchant for disguises is rather effective when he pops up to confuse Watson in the guise of….you’ll have to see for yourself.

Uber-pornographer Derek Ford was a co-writer on the script, which makes it all the more surprising that this original story has a strong hint of Conan Doyle, with Holmes making some smart deductions from a set of medical instruments, and a sub-plot about a displaced aristocrat resolved in a satisfying way. A Study In Terror doesn’t sell out Holmes for cheap laughs or thrills; for fans of the great detective, it’s a genuine buried treasure. That poster is something else, though, better for a comic book pastiche than for the master of deduction.