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Fear in the Night (1972)

Fear in the Night (1972)

Peggy, a young woman recovering from a nervous breakdown, is attacked by a one-armed man in her house but no evidence is found and no one believes her story, merely blaming it on her state of mind. Her new husband is offered a new job at a rural boarding school and she moves with him to the country. There they meet the rather eccentric headmaster and his wife. However things soon take a turn for the worse when she believes that the one-armed man has followed her.

 

Hammer is more famous for their classic Gothic horrors but they did dabble in other genres such as the fantasy genre with the likes of The Lost Continent and One Million Years B.C. What are usually forgotten or glossed over are there numerous forays into the Hitchcockian-style thriller that they did in the early 70s. None of which are particularly memorable but are at least curious companions to their more lavish horror counterparts. It was around this time that Hammer had begun to emphasize gore and nudity a lot more in an attempt to keep their films fresh and get back some of their lost popularity. Fear in the Night was an attempt by the studio to head in a new direction. Ironically enough this ‘new direction’ was to hark back to its golden era where atmosphere and suspense were the name of the game, not blood and boobs.

Unfortunately this one relies a little too much on creating the atmosphere and suspense and forgets to do anything with it. Director Jimmy Sangster was responsible for two of Hammer’s worst horror films but redeems himself somewhat with a solid effort which keeps it’s cards close to it’s chest for as long as it can. This can be a little distracting for the viewer – each character is seemingly hiding some secret which would reveal more about the plot twist but they are kept hidden for as long as possible. Whilst this allows for an interesting pay-off, the route leading to it seems plodding and rather distant from the viewer. Usually thrillers keep you hooked with little tid-bits of information but Fear in the Night refuses to play by the rules. You’re either going to switch off in confusion (or boredom) before the finale or stick with it in the hope that the script will play its cards at some point. Unfortunately, the finale isn’t overly thrilling although there’s a prolonged ten-minute stalking sequence through the creepy, desolate school. Hammer was always great at setting their films in eerie locations and this remote schoolhouse is one of their best complete with empty classrooms and huge white sheets covering over furniture in others. Tape recorders play the noise of children yet there are no pupils to be seen anywhere. And the opening shot of a slow pan across the school grounds to reveal the legs of a man hanging from a tree is a rather startling image.

Can you go wrong with Peter Cushing as a rather nutty headmaster? I don’t think so. This was Cushing’s first film after the death of his wife and he looks rather detached from proceedings but this works in his favour as the character has a lot of sinister secrets to keep hidden. The fact that his character only has one arm isn’t kept in the dark and one of the first encounters he has with Peggy where he stands behind her to help her untie her scarf is excellent – we see that he has a prosthetic arm but she does not.

Joan Collins has made a career out of playing bitchy women in film and television and her role here is no exception. She plays, well a bitch, and is one of the stronger performers on display and it’s a shame she’s not in the film more than she is. Judy Geeson is attractive and likeable in the lead role as the long-suffering woman who no one believes. She’s not the best actress I’ve seen but the role requires more sympathy and support from the audience than it does admiration and she fits this bill. Ralph Bates, the man Hammer tried to groom as their next leading man, is as weak as he was in the other Hammer films he starred in. Bates isn’t a bad actor and delivers his lines well, it’s just that he has little screen presence or charisma to really get into any of the roles he plays.

Whilst the cast are all very well-equipped in their roles, this is arguably the film’s weakness – there are just too few people around! Like the Scooby Doo cartoons where the ghoul/ghost/monster was always the only other person introduced in the episode apart from the gang, Fear in the Night attempts to keep us guessing with the murder-mystery story but it’s blatantly obvious who it’s going to be from the start. It’s the only possible outcome to the film as there are so few suspects lurking around the school grounds.

 

Fear in the Night was a brave attempt by Hammer to go in a new direction but ultimately fails because even in 1972, the plot twists weren’t new or original in the slightest. It’s entertaining enough if you want to stick it out but it will never be regarded as one of Hammer’s better films.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆