(back of video blurb):
"Horror lurks in the shadows of every room in the house FRIGHT!
When Amanda agreed to babysit for a friend, little did she realise it would begin an endless night of screaming terror. For her neighbour's insane ex-husband has escaped from a mental asylum. And tonight is the night he has chosen to come home..."
An atmospheric, but eventually unremarkable psycho-drama from the UK.
Susan George plays an ,incredibly plummy, college girl who has been hired to baby-sit a couples’ child, (a blond haired moppet who sounds like he’s on tranquillisers!), whilst they go and celebrate an anniversary. George is a little disturbed by the mother’s (Honor Blackman), nervy behaviour, but she puts it down to the fact that it is the first time she has left her child. What she doesn’t know is that the couple are celebrating a somewhat strange anniversary- something that they don’t tell her- it is the anniversary of the date Blackman divorced her ex-husband. And, it turns out that she had good grounds for divorce- he had tried to strangle her! Found criminally insane he had been confined to an institution, but Blackman is still suffering psychological effects, is constantly worried that he will return for her and their son- something that her present husband (Cole) and her ex-husband’s psychiatrist try and reassure her will never happen. They leave George alone in the huge, dark, isolated and clanking house. Pretty soon she begins to spook herself; watching horror films on the tv and beginning to hear noises from outside (which, much to her relief, turn out to be innocuous). But the audience knows, because we see glimpses of a face at the window and, at first, she does not, that there is someone outside in the blackness watching her. After a few red herrings- including boyfriend (Waterman) arriving unannounced and setting the scene with the urban legend, "Mrs Lloyd’s real husband is in a nut house....he’s a nutter!", it is revealed that the cliché is to be fulfilled- the ex-husband has escaped from the asylum and returned home to confront his wife. An eventuality, that is sign-posted so early in the film, that only the most comatose of viewers will be surprised when he does eventually pop up! The ‘Fright’ in question is the long night of terror George is subjected to as she tries to protect her charge from his raving and delusional father and tries to keep herself alive as, convinced that George is his wife, he lurches from tenderness to psychotic violence.
FRIGHT could have very nearly been a class item, but unfortunately it doesn’t really cut the mustard. There are some very nice touches; the camera work and cinematography are fine (I expect Dario Argento’s THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1970) was something of an influence)- in fact the camera work is also reminiscent of NYPD BLUE (!), never staying still for long, it’s skittishness helps put the viewer on edge and promote a feeling of unease. And the performances, given the quality of the material, are generally quite strong. It also has the feeling of ultra-brutality of those two other shockers from 1971 (the first of which also starred Susan George); STRAW DOGS and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, but whilst FRIGHT achieves some of the intensity of those two films, it lacks any real punch. It is really quite difficult to pin down why it fails- it certainly is shocking in places, for instance directors today would never dare film the, up close, scenes where the father threatens to cut his son’s throat with a shard of glass. The violence against George and the mental torture she is put through is pretty strong also- an unremitting assault on her mind which is reminiscent of Marilyn Burn’s ordeal in Tobe Hooper’s A TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974). But these gruelling, and what should be effective, moments are undermined by a perfunctory script which plods on to a most pedestrian climax. The director, once the teasing first half of the film is out of the way, seems content to catalogue the humiliation of George without attempting to build much suspense from what should be a tense situation.
Interestingly there are a lot of similarities between FRIGHT and John Carpenter’s later, and much more accomplished, HALLOWEEN (1978). Apart from the obvious; a baby-sitter terrorised by an escapee from an asylum. There are more subtle aspects which recall Carpenter’s film; the killer’s face silhouetted at the window (something only seen by the audience), the presence of the psychiatrist and George watching old horror movies on tv (in this case Hammer’s PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES (1966)), are just a few. Where the film differs dramatically is the portrayal of the killer; HALLOWEEN’s emotionless Michael Myers’ as opposed to the ranting, raving and altogether more conventional madman in FRIGHT. So, it might be safe to say that Carpenter had seen this film, although to be fair, both film’s use horror cliché- and Carpenter made much more out of the meagre material.
British viewers may have some fun spotting a cast of well known faces from television including a cherubic Dennis Waterman (MINDER) who gets to utter, to Susan George, the immortal line- "I reckon you got a luverly pair of Bristols!", and his co-star from that series George Cole amongst other sit-com luminaries.
BODYCOUNT 3 female:1 / male:2
1) Female strangled (not seen)
2) Male to death
3) Male shot dead