The Movie Waffler Blu-Ray Review - ASSAULT (1971) | The Movie Waffler

Blu-Ray Review - ASSAULT (1971)

assault 1971 review
A teacher sets herself up as bait in order to catch the killer responsible for the death of one of her pupils.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Sidney Hayers

Starring: Suzy Kendall, Frank Finlay, Freddie Jones, James Laurenson, Lesley-Anne Down

assault 1971 bluray

When, in the late 1960s, audiences eventually grew tired of the Gothic horrors offered up by Hammer and its imitators, British genre filmmakers turned away from mummies, vampires and werewolves and to the real world's scariest villain - the human male. In gritty thrillers like I Start Counting, Fright, Straight on Till Morning and The Offence, young women were being stalked, preyed upon and murdered by an assortment of average looking blokes who possessed neither fangs nor cloven hooves.

assault 1971 review

Though the killer featured in director Sidney Hayers' 1971 thriller Assault is described by a witness as looking like "the devil," he possesses no supernatural attributes. It's a trick of the light, a car's brake light in fact, its red beam distorting the killer's features when art teacher Julie West (giallo staple Suzy Kendall) glimpses him through the rain soaked back window of her car.

Julie catches the fiend standing over the corpse of one of her pupils, but he flees before she can properly identify him. The menace has struck once before, sexually assaulting another of Julie's girls, Tessa (played by a young Lesley-Anne Down in her feature debut), and leaving her institutionalised, unable to utter a word, much to the frustration of Velyan (Frank Finlay), the detective leading the manhunt, who has no useful description of the killer to work with.

assault 1971 review

As various suspects/red herrings mount up - the pervy husband of the schoolmistress; an intrusive local reporter; a pair of doctors at the hospital where young Tessa is being treated; a cop assigned as Julie's watchdog - Julie devises a plan to trap the killer, running a story in the local paper which promises she will reveal the murderer's true identity in a later edition. Julie sets herself up as bait, but can those who claim to be looking out for her safety be trusted?

With giant close-ups of Kendall's panicked eyes, a black-gloved killer and a mini-skirt clad female cast, Assault often feels like a British take on the Italian 'giallo' thriller genre. The setup of a protagonist half-glimpsing a killer and subsequently attempting to solve the investigation themselves is a staple of the genre, which of course has its roots in British crime literature of the early 20th century. In journeyman Hayers' hands, Assault lacks the stylistic flourishes and elaborate set-pieces of its Mediterranean counterparts, but it does feature a villain meeting an unusually cruel demise, one which will resonate with anyone who remembers a particularly ghoulish public service ad that ran on British TV in the '70s and '80s involving a kid fetching a stray frisbee.

assault 1971 review

A recurring theme in British thrillers of this period is that of a loss of innocence, not just that of their young female victims, but of society as a whole, and the encroachment of man-made progress on the natural world is a common subtext. Here it's represented by the giant electricity pylon that looms over the forest where the killer plies his trade, its crackling hum providing a moody backdrop to the attacks. It's a structure that plays a key role in the climax, providing salvation for a young character and devastation for an older antagonist, one generation embracing progress while another is swept aside by it. Perhaps in 1971, it was this fear that got under the skin of older viewers most of all.

The disc gives you a trailer and image gallery featuring some very of the era publicity shots of the cast, while an accompanying booklet features writing by Laura Mayne and Adrian Smith.

Assault is released on blu-ray by Network on August 27th.