Old Habits Die Hard – Rediscovering ‘Frightmare’ (UK 1974 – 88 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - April 22, 2014
Old Habits Die Hard – Rediscovering ‘Frightmare’ (UK 1974 – 88 mins)

Known in the US under the less lurid and rather appropriate title; ‘Cover Up’, Pete Walker’s exploitation masterpiece ‘Frightmare’, is a wonderfully grim horror story which still has the power to shock after forty years. Featuring a very downbeat and devastating ending, ‘Frightmare’ lingers in the mind of the viewer long after the credits have rolled.

Upon being judged as ‘cured’, Edmund and Dorothy Yates are released from a mental asylum after serving fifteen years for murder. Now living a seemingly peaceful life on a remote farm, tarot-reading Dorothy’s taste for human flesh has re-surfaced, and it’s up to her devoted husband Edmund and their eldest daughter Debbie, to cover up her murderous deeds. Meanwhile their wayward stepdaughter Debbie, who has been expelled from a convent, is also showing signs of unstable behaviour, and when Tricia’s boyfriend Graham becomes suspicious of Debbie’s behaviour; his unwanted snooping into the family’s past has tragic consequences for everyone.

A terrific seventies shocker, ‘Frightmare’ doesn’t shy away from showing the killings and the victims fates, with some nasty (for it’s time) scenes of depravity, mostly as a result of Dorothy’s desperate desires. British genre director Pete Walker really came into his own with ‘Frightmare’. Up to this point his earlier films were mostly flesh-filled fare, with ‘School for Sex’ (’69), ‘Cool It Carol!’ (’70) and ‘Tiffany Jones’, good examples. 1974 was his best year cinematically, with both this film and ‘House of Whipcord’ remaining his most accomplished movies.

54 year old TV veteran Sheila Keith is excellent in the role of Dorothy, and thoroughly relishes her part of a murderous cannibal. Keith would also be given a meaty part in Walker’s also excellent ‘House of Whipcord’ (’74), plus smaller roles in his later movies; ‘House of Mortal Sin’, ‘The Comeback’ (’78) and ‘House of the Long Shadows’ (’83). Rupert Davies is wonderful as Dorothy’s sympathetic husband Edmund, a sad figure turning a blind eye to his beloved wife’s cravings. Davies was a familiar face on British screens and was cinema’s first George Smiley, playing the role in Martin Ritt’s excellent drama ‘The Spy Who Came in from the Cold’ in 1965.

As Jackie, screen newcomer Deborah Fairfax is pretty good in her only movie role, of the protective older daughter, while beautiful Kim Butcher is suitably bratty as her 15 year old half-sister; Debbie. As Tricia’s best friend Merle, Fiona Curzon rounds up the trio of attractive leads.

In one of his last screen roles, acclaimed English actor Leo Genn appears in one scene only, as the prominent doctor Lytell, while Screenwriter David McGillivray has his usual brief cameo, this time as a young doctor. Other important parts went to Paul Greenwood and Jon Yule as the sister’s boyfriends Graham and Robin, while Walker regular Victor Winding, had his usual role of a serious looking detective. Also seen is ‘Schizo’s’ Trisha Mortimer, who plays one of Dorothy’s unfortunate victims.

At just 88 minutes, the movie moves along at a swift pace, and features in Edmund and Dorothy, one of cinemas most unlikely pair of villains. There is dark humour to be found among the disturbing and violent moments, as well as Walker’s usual social commentary. The depressing, downbeat ending also confirms that old horror adage; “The family that slays together stays together”.

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2 Comments on "Old Habits Die Hard – Rediscovering ‘Frightmare’ (UK 1974 – 88 mins)"

  • Simon

    I adore Frightmare!

    I first discovered it in the 80s, on all night horror binge at the wonderful Scala indie cinema in London, also showing that night was Walker’s House of Whipcord.

    Have watched Frightmare regularly since, it never ceases to delight and amuse.

    • admin

      Now THAT’S a double-bill I’d have loved to see!

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