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

Blu-Ray Review - FRIGHT (1971)

fright 1971 review
A babysitter is menaced by an escaped lunatic.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Peter Collinson

Starring: Susan George, Dennis Waterman, Ian Bannen, Honor Blackman, George Cole

fright 1971 bluray

Seven years before Jamie Lee Curtis's babysitter was menaced by an escaped lunatic in John Carpenter's Halloween, Susan George found herself in the very same predicament in Peter Collinson's Fright, a largely overlooked yet clearly influential early example of the stalk and slash genre.

fright 1971 review

George is Amanda, a pretty young college student who arrives at the home of the Cordells (Honor Blackman and George Cole) to look after their infant daughter while they hit the town. Thanks to some odd noises, Amanda is spooked, even more so when she sees an indistinguishable face through a window. Turns out it's her boyfriend Chris (Dennis Waterman, completing the Minder double), who has popped over with one thing on his mind.

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Amanda isn't that sort of girl though, and so Chris is dispatched into the cold night with his tail between his legs. Before he can leave the grounds, he's walloped over the head and knocked unconscious by a strange figure. Once again, Amanda hears noises, but this time it's not horny Chris, but Brian (Ian Bannen), Mrs Cordell's estranged ex-husband, who has just escaped from the local asylum. Thus begins a night of sub minimum wage terror for our babysitting heroine.

fright 1971 review

Fright has all the trappings of an early slasher movie, except there isn't really any slashing, rather the sustained threat of violence, often of a sexual nature. Bannen is a curiously menacing presence, playing his lunatic Brian like a mood-swinging toddler. The Scottish character actor is so convincing in his performance that it's difficult not to sympathise with his character, who is clearly suffering from an extreme mental illness rather than simply being an unambiguous villain of the kind found lurking in later slashers. While this keeps us interested in his interactions with the petrified Amanda, it does make it a little more difficult for us to root for his demise, and the movie's denouement comes off as unnecessarily cruel. You can see why Carpenter made his film's antagonist little more than a "shape", with no such concerns for the viewer to project onto them.

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George's Amanda is a curious prototype of the 'Final Girl', even if she's really the only girl present here. It's made clear that she's a virgin, so we figure she'll make it through the experience, but her figure-hugging mini-dress is far from the demure outfits you associate with such character types. The moment in which she displays the most terror is arguably the scene where her boyfriend comes onto her in a very creepy manner, unbuttoning her blouse and telling her to "shut up" when she voices her objections. Interestingly, there's no male saviour figure here. Amanda is saved from the attentions of Chris by a phone call from Mrs Cordell, and she deals with Brian herself.

fright 1971 review

Collinson was something of a talented journeyman director, working in a variety of genres. He's best known for helming The Italian Job, but he made several thrillers, including a remake of the genre classic The Spiral Staircase. Fright sees him saddled with a script that's overly theatrical, and it's a story that may have better suited the hour-long TV format of something like Brian Clemens' anthology series Thriller. But Collinson keeps things visually interesting with some clever camera tricks, such as a very impressive shot in which Brian hallucinates his ex-wife's face on that of Amanda, the camera beginning on Blackman's visage before panning around to reveal George, all in two shots cleverly cut to resemble one fluid move. Elsewhere we get one of the best examples of a split-diopter shot. It's a technique that enables both foreground and background to appear in sharp focus but a side effect is a blur in the centre of the screen where the join is made. Collinson cleverly disguises this by placing the join in an area of dark shadow.

Likely best appreciated by British horror completists, Fright stands as an early example of the sort of women-in-peril thrillers that would become abundant in the '70s. If for no other reason, see it for the cringe-worthy scene in which Blackman and Cole dance in front of red velvet wallpaper in a very '70s swingers' club.

Video interviews with Susan George and critic Kim Newman, and a behind the scenes stills gallery.

Fright is on blu-ray and DVD October 14th from Studiocanal.