Monday, July 18, 2011

Fear in the Night

A young couple moves into a new school where the husband (Ralph Bates) has taken up a new position. The wife (Judy Geeson) is slowly driven mad by mysterious but unconfirmed attacks. Can this be the work of the bonkers headmaster (Peter Cushing) and what does his wife (Joan Collins) have to do with it?

Been meaning to watch Hammer's Fear in the Night forever and a day but given the bad rep that this picture has I always managed to push it a bit further down my To-Watch pile and give preference to other pictures instead.

Now I finally caught up with it and – Wow! - surprised how much I enjoyed it.

It's hardly a master piece but it is far better than the dodgy prestige it is currently “enjoying”. Yes, the story may be kind of predicable but the atmosphere is great and the acting superb.

The film is clearly in line with Hammer's other Sangster-penned psycho thrillers but with attacks committed by black gloved one-armed masked strangers this often comes across much more like one of those continental giallos. There is some beautifully haunting imagery in its empty school halls. Watching Peter Cushing have dinner in front of an empty hall of imaginary students or menacingly approach with shattered glasses is bound to put a shiver down anyone's spine.

Money was probably tight so the majority of the plot takes place in the isolation of the school building with only four main actors. A very small number of other speaking parts make a very short appearance but for the most part this is carried by Cushing, Bates, Collins and Geeson. And even then Cushing only ever turns up in scenes with Geeson.

This set up could go badly wrong but is actually saved by the professionalism of the performers and competence of writer/director Jimmy Sangster who successfully focuses on a slightly offbeat mood and regularly throws in tidbits that will keep you on the edge: the image of a strange hanged man at the start of the film that was slightly reminiscent of Fulci's City of the Living Dead; Joan Collins' character mercilessly shooting a rabbit right in front of an adoring Geeson; Collins again making disparaging remarks about Geeson as a child bride when she herself is married to a considerably older man; Cushing's character being named Michael Carmichael; and did I mention those creepy lonely corridors?

A decade or so later Hammer would use those closed sets and smaller ensembles for their TV shows but not a single one of those episodes has ever gripped me as memorably as their last cinematic psychothriller.


Shaun Anderson [The Celluloid Highway] said...

I really like FEAR IN THE NIGHT as well Holger. Its good to see a positive review for it.

Wes said...

This is one of those Hammers that I've previously ignored too, but after this post I'll dig it out of the Hammer Collection Box Set and give it a spin... I've been swayed to check out the Eureka Blu-Ray of Paranoiac as well, another Hammer thriller I dismissed...

Steve Miller said...

Yes... this one is numbered high on my list of "why do people say such bad things about it?"

Great review. More people should do what you did and give this film a chance.

Holger Haase said...

Oh great to see I am not alone. Funny, Wes, you mention the Hammer Collection Box Set as this was the last of the ones on it I was unfamiliar with that I finally watched after owning the set for a few years! I expected to be bored to pieces but was positively surprised. Maybe it helped to have small expectations but it's definitely worth a watch. Cushing's shattered glasses have become some of my favourite images of him!

Derek M. Koch said...

I also dismissed this one even though I had seen that creepy image with Mr. Cushing and the shattered glasses on a few pieces of cover art in the Ultimate DVD collection. I'm SO glad I popped it in the DVD player and gave it a shot, because it's a WONDERFUL film. Sangster proved that he had a solid grasp of the camera as well as the page with this one, and all the performances working with the location and production design make this one of my favorite Hammer Films.

Preach on, brother . . . preach on!

Holger Haase said...

Great to see the FEAR IN THE NIGHT love (or at least: appreciation) spreading. ;-)

Derek M. Koch said...

I'd go as far as saying it's (currently) in my Top Five Favorite Hammer Films . . . !