‘If you go down in the woods today…’
Assault is a 1970 British horror thriller feature film directed by Sidney Hayers (Deadly Strangers; Revenge; Night of the Eagle; Circus of Horrors) from a screenplay by John Kruse (Revenge; Hell Drivers), based on the novel The Ravine by Kendal Young. Also released as In the Devil’s Garden
The movie stars Suzy Kendall (Tales That Witness Madness; Torso), Frank Finlay (Lifeforce; Murder by Decree; The Deadly Bees; et al), Freddie Jones (Firestarter; Vampira; Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed; et al), Tony Beckley (When a Stranger Calls; The Fiend; The Lost Continent), Lesley-Anne Down (Gates of Darkness; From Beyond the Grave; Countess Dracula) and James Laurenson (The Cold Light of Day; The Turn of the Screw (1974); The Monster Club).
This is a gorgeous restoration of a British ‘Giallo‘. Well, if it were Italian they’d be calling it a Giallo. It’s from the right period, has a faceless maniac who carnally assaults and then kills, and wears black leather gloves while they’re doing it. There’s no J&B but hey – you can’t have everything.
We do, however, have Frank Finlay as a police inspector investigating the assault of local schoolgirl Lesley-Anne Down in Devil’s End Wood (A similar fate would befall Miss Down in the Michael J. Bird-written Out of the Unknown TV episode ‘To Lay A Ghost’ with even more disturbing consequences but fortunately for the actress this didn’t become a trend). The attack has left her mute and an inmate of the local hospital where she’s being looked after by psychiatrist James Laurenson.
When a second girl is found carnally assaulted and murdered the police find they may have an eyewitness in the form of school art teacher Suzy Kendall (yet again saddled with one of the worst wardrobes in 1970s horror film history, and that’s saying something), who concocts an elaborate plan to catch the killer by getting the local newspaper editor (a wonderfully sleazy Freddie Jones) to print a story suggesting her painting of the killer will be revealed in four days’ time. But despite keeping watch will the police be able to stop Suzy being the next victim?
Assault might be considered part of a sub-sub-genre of early ’70s British horror cinema which also includes Robert Fuest’s And Soon the Darkness (1970) and the Assault team’s own Revenge (1971). Assault isn’t quite as grim, gloomy and hysterical as Revenge but you can tell that writer John Kruse, director Sidney Hayers and Carry On producer Peter Rogers (Carry On Screaming!) are working up to it with their very British attempt at the kind of lurid crime thriller the Italians made their own for the next couple of years. Composer Eric Rogers, also best known for the Carry Ons, provides a music score that’s especially over the top and comes across a bit like Carry on Slashing.
The cast is an interesting mix of familiar British faces, among them James Cosmo in an early role, deliciously sleazy / slightly mad Tony Beckley as the husband of headmistress Dilys Hamlett, Anthony Ainley from The Blood on Satan’s Claw as the head of the hospital, the ubiquitous Marianne Stone as a hospital matron, and a very young David Essex as a biker in need of some cotton wool.
Network’s restoration (in association with the BFI) looks fantastic – there’s no way this film could have looked this good when it played in cinemas. Extras are limited to a trailer and still gallery but this is such a beautifully presented piece of lurid early 1970s British exploitation cinema that it’s worth the price anyway.
John Llewellyn Probert, guest reviewer via House of Mortal Cinema
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“The combination of slick-yet-ragged photography and tense edits gives the booming woods a terrific sense of doom. Visually, it’s a low budget knock-out. Unfortunately, the dawdling second half wears you down. In never pushing too many buttons, the film saves itself from cheap dismissal, yet loses out in the ensuing wishy-wash. Almost had it.” Bleeding Skull!
“Ken Hodges’ camerawork is as consistently well-framed and atmospherically-lit as his work on the more claustrophobic Revenge, but Eric Rogers’ score – reportedly recycled from one of his Carry On entries – is more bombastic here. Fans of Kendall’s giallo work may want to track this one down since she has more to do here than play “final girl”, although the subplot romance between her character and Laurenson’s seems merely obligatory.” DVD Drive-In
” …dull in a dry, very stuffy British sorta way […] What I loved was pretty much anything shot in the forest which was well-shot, great atmosphere and creepy – particularly the numerous woodland chase scene with plenty of creepy POV shots.” McBastard’s Mausoleum
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” …Assault is unique in that it a completely British Giallo, illustrating plot devices made famous by the genre. Sadly, unlike the Italian entries, the cinematography here is staid and unimaginative, and the execution linear and logical.” Red Weed
“The British locations are used effectively here, the opening scene in the woods having an appropriately dire and desolate look to it. We know as Tessa heads out that she’s in for trouble based solely on what the camera shows us about her surroundings – she’s there alone and this is not a nice place for a girl like her to be. The camerawork is nowhere near as flashy or stylish as a typical Giallo would be but it gets the job done and ultimately this is one worth seeking out.” Rock! Shock! Pop!
“Packed as it is with red herrings, Hayers and his male cast manage to make every man in the story cartoonishly suspicious, and yet there’s little mystery about who the actual killer is.” Rough Cut
“Assault comes across like Carry on Solange made by an eighty-year-old eunuch. Or the fifty-year old Sidney Hayers, well past his Night of the Eagle prime and reduced to journeyman drivel to pay the rent. Hayers’s gentlemanly distaste for the subject matter – sex killer preys on teenage schoolgirls – is all-too-obvious, reducing a potentially salacious premise to a leaden slog through idiotic cliches and flatlining “suspense” sequences…” SM Guariento
Detective Chief Superintendent Velyan: “It’s crazy, absolutely crazy. It’s so crazy it might work.”
Cast and credits:
Suzy Kendall … Julie West
Frank Finlay … Detective Chief Superintendent Velyan
Freddie Jones … Denning the Reporter
James Laurenson … Greg Lomax
Lesley-Anne Down … Tessa Hurst
Tony Beckley … Leslie Sanford
Anthony Ainley … Mr Bartell
Dilys Hamlett … Mrs Sanford
James Cosmo … Detective Sgt. Beale – A Hole in the Ground; Malevolent; Estranged; Dark Signals; Citadel; Hammer House of Horror TV series; The Stone Tape; Doomwatch
Patrick Jordan … Sergeant Milton
Allan Cuthbertson … Coroner – The Body Stealers; The Brain (1962); The Stranglers of Bombay
Anabel Littledale … Susan Miller
Tom Chatto … Police Doctor
Kit Taylor … Doctor
Jan Butlin … Day Receptionist
William Hoyland … Chemist in Hospital
John Swindells … Desk Sergeant
Jill Carey … Night Receptionist
David Essex … Man in Chemist Shop
Valerie Shute … Girl in Chemist Shop
John Stone … Fire Chief
Siobhan Quinlan … Jenny Greenaway
Marianne Stone … Matron
Janet Lynn … Girl in Library
Black Park, Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire, England
Harehatch Lane, Egypt, Buckinghamshire, England
Heatherden Hall, Pinewood Studios, Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire, England
London Road and Windsor End, Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, England
Production and release:
Principal photography commenced on 6th June 1970. Having been awarded an ‘X’ certificate by censorship body the BBFC on 14th October 1970, Assault was released by the Rank Organisation on 11th February 1971.
The Creepers – US video release title
In the Devil’s Garden – US Hemisphere release title
Satan’s Playthings – US re-release title
Terrore al London College
Tower of Terror – US TV title