After spending 18 years in an institution, suburban mother Dorothy Yates is released, apparently cured of her cannibalistic urges. Yet her bloodlust proves to be too much to resist and it appears it may even be hereditary!
One of the great exploitation titles of all time, FRIGHTMARE has often been described as the UK's answer to THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974) due to its bleak scenario and uncompromising violence. More importantly, the film established one of the horror genre's most distinctive villains, the deceptively fragile Dorothy Yates, an elderly serial killer who was making a meal of her victims long before Thomas Harris brought Hannibal Lecter to mainstream attention. Sentenced to an asylum in 1957 for acts of cannibalism along with her husband Edmund (Rupert Davies), who conspired to hide her crimes from the world, Dorothy (Sheila Keith) is released fifteen years later and soon slips back into her old ways, luring unwary victims to her isolated farmhouse with promises of Tarot readings before stabbing them to death with various household implements. Edmund's daughter from a previous marriage (Deborah Fairfax) suspects Dorothy is still insane and is forced to enlist the help of her psychiatrist boyfriend (Paul Greenwood). But the Yates' have another daughter (the aptly named Kim Butcher!), conceived just before their incarceration, and she's already beginning to show disturbing signs of following in her mother's footsteps...
Having infuriated UK tabloid hacks with his barely-disguised assault on the Festival of Light in HOUSE OF WHIPCORD (1974), director Pete Walker conceived the notion of cannibalism in the Home Counties (!) and commissioned a script from "Whipcord" scribe David McGillivray, a movie critic-turned-scriptwriter who later became an outspoken opponent of British film censorship (watch for his brief, wordless cameo as a white-coated doctor). The result is one of the best British horror movies of the 1970's. True, there's a little too much chat in drab apartments and some of the fashions have dated badly, but the film's antiquated charm is difficult to resist. Most of the action takes place at night, concealing a multitude of low-budget sins behind a gloomy visual style, though most of the film's Grand Guignol horrors are confined to the Yates' crumbling farm, an Olde Worlde slaughterhouse far removed from the bright lights of the big city. Walker has described his approach as 'modern Gothique', an unsettling antidote to the safe, predictable (but still enjoyable) Hammer formula, and perfectly suited to an era defined by its social and political turmoil.
Production-wise, the film is competent but unexceptional. The young leads are OK, nothing more, though Kim Butcher is suitably unpleasant as the sociopathic daughter, and there are brief, throwaway cameos from British movie stalwarts Leo Genn (THE WOODEN HORSE, 1950) and Gerald Flood (PATTON, 1969), both cast purely for their marquee value. Veteran character actor Rupert Davies is particularly impressive as the distraught husband who is incapable (and ultimately unwilling) to curtail his beloved wife's monstrous cravings. Immensely popular at the time due to his role on British TV as Inspector Maigret, he was singled out for special attention by outraged critics when the film opened in London, appalled by his involvement in such 'lowbrow' material, though it wasn't the first time this 'respectable' actor had dabbled in the exploitation arena (see also DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE , MATTHEW HOPKINS: WITCHFINDER GENERAL , THE OBLONG BOX , etc.). As it turned out, FRIGHTMARE was Davies' last film - he died in 1976.
But the true star of the show is Sheila Keith, an unpretentious, supremely gifted acrtress who came late to the film business and stayed just long enough to leave an indelible impression on cult movie fans everywhere. As portrayed here, Dorothy Yates' pathetic frailty conceals a ruthless psychopath, capable of the most horrendous atrocities, and the demonic expression which transforms Keith's face as she stalks her helpless victims is as blood-freezing as anything in the grne. Nowhere is this more evident than in an extraordinary sequence - completely unexpected in a British horror movie at the time - when Keith uses an electric drill to mutilate the head of a corpse which she's hidden in the barn... "
"Your timing is immaculate. I just put the kettle on."
cookieman108 | Inside the jar... | 06/15/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Two cannibals were eating a clown. One said to the other, "Does this taste funny to you?"
Two cannibals were sitting beside the fire after a sumptuous meal. One turned to the other and said, "Your wife sure makes a good roast." "Yeah, I'm really going to miss her."
What did the cannibal get when he was late for dinner? The cold shoulder.
Okay, these jokes are pretty lame, but I really couldn't think of another way to start my review for Pete Walker's cannibalistic treat Frightmare (1974). Produced, co-written, and directed by Pete Walker (The Flesh and Blood Show, House of Whipcord, Schizo), Frightmare features Sheila Keith (House of Whipcord, House of Mortal Sin), Rupert Davies (The Brides of Fu Manchu, The Conqueror Worm), Deborah Fairfax (Missing Persons), Kim Butcher (House of Mortal Sin), and Paul Greenwood (Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter). Also appearing is Jon Yule (House of Mortal Sin), Fiona Curzon (Queen Kong), and Edward Kalinski (Intimate Games).
After a slightly off putting black and white opening sequence set in London England in 1957, we meet Jackie (Fairfax) and Debbie (Butcher), two sisters who share a flat. Jackie, the elder, cares for Debbie, who's all of fifteen and a real `bloody delinquent', after the death of their parents Dorothy and Edmund so many years ago, or so Debbie believes, but Jackie knows different. In reality Dorothy and Edmund have spent the last fifteen years (at least) in a mental institution for some heinous crimes committed in the past, have recently been certified as being cured and released, and are now residing on a secluded farm just outside of town. What were they committed for? Oh, not much, just a little murder and a bit of the cannibalism...turns out Dorothy has the problem, while Edmund, ever the devoted spouse, only help to facilitate the activity, but never actually participated directly (`ave another kidney pie, Mum?). Anyway, Jackie and Edmund, fearful that Dorothy may have a relapse, have concocted a scheme to try and keep her anthropophagous urges sated, but the old lady's a wily one, as she knows the score, and we soon see her secretly resorting to the old ways (time to hide the power tools and red, hot pokers), taking in the occasion traveler, reading their fortune in her tarot cards, and then...well, having them for dinner, literally. Jackie's boyfriend Graham (Greenwood), wanting to help ease the strife between Jackie and Debbie, starts rooting around in the girls past, thinking their relationship issues have something to do with their parents, and eventually learns the secret Jackie's been hiding all these many years. By the way, seems Debbie and her hot headed boyfriend Alec (Kalinski) have gotten themselves into a spot of trouble involving the disappearance of a local man indicating perhaps this rotten apple didn't fall too far from the tree...
While Frightmare is definitely a nasty and even disturbing little piece of cinema, it's also a whole lot of gruesome, grisly fun for those who can appreciate well-crafted tales of the warped and twisted. After the opening sequence things slow down to a crawl for the next forty-five minutes or so, or it would seem, but really it's all a build up for what's coming down the pike. There's an ominous sense the permeates a majority of the feature as Dorothy, who puts on a good show of being reformed on the surface, appears sly and manipulative underneath. The creepiest scenes for me not involving any violence or bloodshed were when Dorothy was doing her tarot card readings, and asking questions of those she was reading for in terms of their personal relationships, families, etc. It seemed innocuous to the individual having their fortune being told, but for those of us in the know it was obvious a predator was at work, trying to discern if something were to happen to this person, would they actually be missed? Sheila Keith, whom I last saw as a sadistic prison matron in Walker's House of Whipcord (1974), really stands out here as an unrepentant, remorseless, manipulative, devious head case whose only real crime, as she sees it, was that she got caught. Despite her various character flaws, she did have an uncanny ability in reading those tarot cards. I thought Rupert Davies also did very well as her doting husband, willing to turn a blind eye towards his wife's peccadilloes, but the stress of her activities obviously causing great strain on his ability to keep it together. I thought it odd Graham would want to get involved to the extent he did, given he and Jackie only had a date or two, but I suppose given the fact he was a psychiatrist he'd want to help someone he thought in need. I suspect the real reason, though, was his desire to get with Jackie, as being a guy, I have a pretty good idea how far guys will go if there's a chance to get a piece of ash. As far as the visceral material, there seems like a good amount, but overall there really isn't, as much of it's implied. We see everything leading up to the violence, and then see the aftermath, but rarely do we witness the actual carnage. These bits are filmed in such a way that allows you to fill in the blanks easy enough with your imagination, so it seems a lot worse than it actually is (especially if you've got an imagination like mine)...there is one sequence that is extremely violent, as some dude gets a pitchfork right in the face (talk about the pain that lingers). Again, we don't see the penetration of the flesh, but given the action and the copious amount of blood displayed, it feels like we did. All in all this is an unnerving tale of the macabre, one that includes an excellent sense of direction and a slew of solid performances.
As I write this review, there are two DVD releases of this film, one by Image Entertainment, and another, newer release by Media Blaster/Shriek Show (the Shriek Show release features art of a crazed woman brandishing a power drill, and has the text `The Pete Walker Collection' on the top). The picture quality, presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), looks clean on the Shriek Show release, but does display a few instances of damage, most likely due to age, but nothing to make a big fuss about. As far as the audio, it's presented in both Dolby Digital mono and 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound, and it comes through very well. As far as extras, there's an original theatrical trailer for the film, along with a commentary track with producer director Pete Walker and director of photography Peter Jessup, moderated by biographer/professor Steven Chibnall. There's also a handful of trailers for other films by Walker including The Flesh and Blood Show (1972), Die Screaming, Marianne (1971), The Confessional (1976), The Comeback (1978), and House of the Whipcord (1974).
C. E. A. Esq | London | 09/10/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Not - on the surface - a good film. No a-list 'actors' such as Tom Cruise and Julia Roberts, neither of whom could act their way out of a paper bag, let's be frank about it. No $60 million budget. No glossy A2 posters at bus stops.
But scratch the surface and you have what ranks as one of the best acted pieces of the seventies. This is in no small part due to the fact that the cast is made up of actors rather than stars. i.e. people who are actually good at acting. Sheila Keith turns in a perfomance that beggars adjectives like 'superlative'. If you don't 'get' this film, that's a pity.
A lot of people don't get it. Were I unkind, I'd use the words 'sub-literate dolts' to describe them."
This Is No Nightmare.....It's A Frightmare!!
Stanley Runk | Camp North Pines | 06/26/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Frightmare! The film that shocked the whole world! Well, not really, but it makes for a good intro. Lots of reviewers got the plot nailed down pretty good, so I'm spared all that nonsense. Frightmare's a rather well done British horror flick about an old cannibal chick(the Frightmare rap!). There's nothing terribly surprising or original about the film's plot, but for some reason it's never boring and you find yourself wondering how it's all gonna end up. It does have a bit of a Hammer feel to it. This is probably due in some small part to the presence of Rupert Davies who was in Dracula Has Risen From The Grave. Gore is minimal, but there are a few juicy parts thrown in here and there. All in all this movie plays out like a kind of gothic soap opera dealing with the relationships and psychological effects of being part of a dysfunctional family. Very interesting, well done and recommended."
"What terrifying craving made her kill?"
Michael R Gates | Nampa, ID United States | 08/04/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"In British indie filmmaker Pete Walker's outré thriller FRIGHTMARE (1974)--arguably one of his best films--the Western concept of family is skewed in a dark, dismal narrative that inexorably spirals in towards an inevitable downbeat ending. By modern standards, it's not high on the gore scale, but it is downright chilling nonetheless.
Though it is a color film, a black-and-white prologue establishes the tone of the story. When Edmund Yates (Rupert Davies) and his wife, Dorothy (Sheila Keith), are convicted of committing unspeakable acts of murder and cannibalism, a judge sentences them to a psychiatric institution, where they are to remain until it is proven that they are no longer a danger to others.
Shift about 15 years into the future (and to color film), when the couple has been declared sane and released. Not wanting any publicity or undue stress, they live a reclusive life in the country, and only Edmund's daughter from a previous marriage, Jackie, knows who and where they are. Even the daughter that Edmund and Dorothy procreated together--Debbie, now 15 years old--has been led to believe that her parents died just after she was born. (Debbie has been raised by her older half-sister.)
Lately, Debbie has been hanging around with violent delinquents and having run-ins with the law. Is she in any way responsible for the bartender that went missing soon after she and her friends visited the pub? And Jackie has been making mysterious visits to her father and stepmother in the wee hours of the night. Just what is in those blood-soaked packages she brings to them? Are Edmund and Dorothy falling back into old habits? And if they are, how deeply are their daughters involved?
As far as older British horror goes, FRIGHTMARE is one of the best to come from outside of Hammer studios. The dialogue is replete with witty funeral-parlor humor, but there is also plenty of grisly action that is no laughing matter. Some of the murder scenes can be stomach churning, but interestingly, most of the actual violence and gore is beyond the camera eye. Yes, a heaping helping of blood and guts is sometimes served, but rarely is the viewer privy to the actual slicing, dicing, or skewering. In many ways this makes the action all the more chilling, especially when the frame is filled with the wild eyes and crazed visage of the killer as the bloody, stringy nasty bits flip into view.
All of the actors do an outstanding job in FRIGHTMARE, but Sheila Keith's over-the-top portrayal of Dorothy Yates steals the show. She segues from tremulous, confused old woman to bloodthirsty maniac (and back!) with such skill and ease that she could raise goosebumps without any of the stage blood or props. Fans of British TV may recognize Keith from her later stint on the popular series BLESS, ME FATHER, where she again exercised her immense talent for portraying intimidating and frightening women in the recurring role of stern nun Mother Stephen.
The DVD from Image Entertainment is low on frills--in fact, they are non-existent--but it is well worth the price of admission. Considering the age of the source film, the digital transfer is surprisingly crisp and colorful (with only minor filmic scratches and dirt), and the mono soundtrack is quite acceptable. The aspect ratio is 1.33:1, but it is NOT pan-and-scan. The original film was shot full frame on 35mm stock, and Walker's intention was to matte the film to 1.85:1 when prints were made for distribution to theaters. So this DVD contains the unmatted full-frame AS ORIGINALLY SHOT, meaning that nothing that Walker intended to be there is missing and, instead, there's a little extra image at the top and bottom of the frame. Aesthetically, this causes some very minor compositional problems--few viewers are likely to actually notice--and it in no way compares with the butchering that is done when a film that is shot as widescreen is reformatted to a 1.33:1 pan-and-scan.
In short, Pete Walker's FRIGHTMARE is a well-made chiller that, while it seems tame when compared to today's horror, is genuinely unnerving. And the Image DVD makes a very worthy addition to the collection of any true horror fan."