FRIGHT (1971) Reviews and overview

 

‘Now the screen has a new definition of terror!’

Fright is a 1971 British psycho-thriller about a babysitter and small boy being terrorised by an escaped lunatic: the child’s father!

Directed by Peter Collinson (Open Season; Straight on Till Morning; The Penthouse)  from a screenplay written by Tudor Gates (Twins of Evil; Lust for a Vampire; The Vampire Lovers), the Fantale Films-British Lion Films production stars Honor Blackman (Cockneys vs. Zombies; The Cat and the Canary; To the Devil a Daughter), Susan George (Straw Dogs; Die Screaming Marianne; The Sorcerers), Ian Bannen (From Beyond the Grave), John Gregson, Dennis Waterman (Scars of Dracula) and George Cole (The Vampire Lovers). Produced by Harry Fine and Michael Style.

The soundtrack score was composed by Harry Robertson aka Robinson (The Ghoul; Legend of the Werewolf; Demons of the Mind; Countess Dracula; The Oblong Box; et al).

Reviews [click links to read more]:

“It’s the horrible screenplay, character arcs and dialogue that make this a chore to sit through. The terror isn’t gradually built. There’s a hysterical tone to the entire film that shows up early on and never goes away, making the whole experience pretty monotonous. Scenes at the house are cut between scenes of Blackman and Cole’s night out on the town, which reveal very little aside for a predictable twist that’s already telegraphed early on.” The Bloody Pit of Horror

” …some excellent shots of the killer being reflected in various objects, including in the pendulum of a clock, and some nice general framing of shots. The music, by Harry Robinson, is unimaginative, but kinda works […] Overall, then, Fright is a decent enough psycho horror-thriller, but one that is let down by being it being based on a good idea stretched to breaking point, and with a script that does the actors few favours.” Blueprint: Review

“Where Fright scores is in being one of the first of its ilk – it’s pretty much a blueprint for every Halloween and Halloween rip-off made ever since. It even comes across as a mini Scream, Dennis Waterman remarking “You could make a horror film in here” and the babysitter watching Plague of the Zombies on the TV, the noises from the telly becoming the soundtrack to the nutter attempting to break in to the house.” British Horror Films

“Tudor Gates’s dodgy, offensive screenplay summons up an unpleasant ragbag of clichés and prejudices, leaving a more than decent cast stranded. Peter Collinson’s in-your-face direction lacks any subtlety or originality.” Derek Winnert

“Collinson’s direction is most inventive for the time it was made, offering nice juxtaposition between the worried mom at the restaurant and the terrified babysitter helpless and terrified at home. There are some real shocks here, one which made me really jump up from the sofa (I haven’t seen the film in some years), and even though the climax is a bit abrupt and unrewarding, Fright is a very good little thriller that’s deserving of a wider modern audience.” DVD Drive-In

“Director Peter Collinson, an eclectic storyteller who made a handful of tense thrillers in addition to action movies and dramas, helms Fright competently, layering on exactly the elements one might expect to find in a picture of this sort. The camera angles are low and shadowy, the jolts are cheap and sudden, and the atmosphere is laden with sex.” Every ’70s Movie

“Sure, there are a few scares and a little tension here; with a psycho threatening a child with a large shard of glass, there’s bound to be. But it misfires too often, and whenever the psycho gets really agitated, his angry rants remind me of an enraged Yosemite Sam or Tasmanian Devil, and if you’re trying to be scary, these are characters you shouldn’t be channeling. The best moments are near the beginning, where the movie effectively uses sound to build attention.” Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings

“The menaced baby-sitter wasn’t yet a trope in 1971, and there’s a neat splintering of the focus between Amanda’s fortified position and the activities of the parents in a busy dance-club. A dance club in 1971 British cinema really is something to behold, with gyrating figures amongst those enjoying an evening meal. […] there’s plenty to engage horror and British movie fans here.” Film Authority

“Along with cinematographer Ian Wilson (The Crying Game), Collinson uses unique framing, selective focus and subtle reflections to bring out the creepiness in an already spooky house.  Wilson paints the interior of the Lloyd house with light and shadow so that, even without a lunatic trying to get inside, any sane babysitter would turn down a job offer to sit there.  Fright is both claustrophobic and frenetic, and Collinson captures the terror and helplessness of the situation perfectly.” Film Fracture

“Whilst the basic suspenseful set-up is workable, the film begins to lose its way and falls down once psychotic Brian shows up, at which point it’s all over the place […] What built-up tension remains is then further diluted by Collinson cutting back to the excruciatingly naff scenes at the pub where an overwrought Honor Blackman and an underwhelmed George Cole dance groovily to mutual career-lows.” Fleapits and Picture Palaces

“Collinson brings an intriguing sense of style to the proceedings, whether it’s a big pre-De Palma split diopter shot or his recurring use of reflections–in mirrors, windows, the swinging pendulum of a grandfather clock, and, in the film’s most memorable shot, a sweaty, wild-eyed Bannen seen in a knife-shaped shard of a shattered mirror that he’s holding up to George‘s face. Bannen’s performance grows more unhinged and downright feral as the film goes on, and George acquits herself well as an impressive proto-scream queen.” Good Efficient Butchery

” …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…” Hysteria Lives!

“Oh, this one was tough. The police are worthless, the characters are nitwits, the acting is all over the place, the story (even though this film preceded Black Christmas and Halloween and When A Stranger Calls – which draws heavily from Fright) feels stale – more likely due to the way it was executed and perhaps not so much the framework of the film itself, which now is old news but hadn’t been done to death yet when Fright was released.” It All Happens in the Dark

Susan George and Ian Bannen, who are the focal points of the drama along with Honor Blackman, are committed to the force of the emotional journeys of their characters. This aids the nexus of guilt, fear and determination that accompanies the mother’s attempt to break free from her abusive partner, as he returns to drag her back into that highly destructive relationship. Most notable is the gender divide of agency which separates the two strong female characters from the men, who are all deficient in some way.” Love Horror

“Peter Collinson does a fine job in drawing the material out tautly and generates a considerable degree of atmosphere throughout. Collinson does some fine initial scene-setting with Susan George alone in the house with figures glimpsed creeping around outside and ordinary noises taking on scary overtones. The siege climax is particularly well sustained with Collinson and Gates propelling it through a constant series of twists and turns.” Moria

” …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.” The Movie Waffler

Fright is an old-fashioned low-budget delight that laid the foundations for the stalk and slash sub-genre (predating the likes of Black Christmas [1974] and Halloween [1978]). The haunted house conventions of the ticking clock, the creaking water pipes, the screaming kettle, the thunderous footsteps and the groaning doors help to give the film an extra dimension that leads to an almighty fright!” My Reviewer

“Because Susan George is awfully good at playing threatened, innocent, blond victims […] and because Ian Bannen makes a suitable maniacal and homicidal killer, Fright is a passably good thriller. It is a disappointment, though, coming from Peter Collinson, the talented young British director who made The Penthouse in 1967. Now there was a real thriller.” Roger Ebert, June 07, 1972

“While the babysitter-terrorized-by-a-psycho theme may now be considered a cliché with such popular films as Halloween and When a Stranger Calls having successfully done it it’s important to realize that this film did it first and to some extent does pretty well although it does veer off from the formula. I did like the creepy set-up where an extended amount of time is given to building up the atmosphere.” Scopophilia

Ian Bannen’s leering psycho routine goes off-the-rails during the latter half, but Collinson keeps a tight hold of his actors for the most part and draws a compelling turn from the often-underrated Susan George. However, Fright is tainted by a casual misogyny and sexism that even bigger body-count thrillers Halloween and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1973) do not have.” The Spinning Image

“This well-paced British suspenser benefits from fine, strong performances from George, Blackman and psycho hubby Bannen.” The Terror Trap

Fright is an early Babysitter-in-Peril movie and it’s a fairly decent one too. The initial scenes of George being spooked by the eerie house are pretty good and the excellent sound design helps sell all of the false scares […] The film, however, goes down the drain during the finale where the police surround the house. Here the tension sorta withers and the scenes of child endangerment are in pretty poor taste.” The Video Vacuum

Choice dialogue:

Inspector: “How do you spell that word, psychotic?”
Doctor Cordell: “You may have to spell it m-u-r-d-e-r, murder, if you don’t get someone over there quickly!”

Cast and characters:

Honor Blackman … Helen
Susan George … Amanda
Ian Bannen … Brian
John Gregson … Doctor Cordell
George Cole … Jim
Dennis Waterman … Chris
Tara Collinson … Tara
Maurice Kaufmann … Inspector
Roger Lloyd Pack … Constable (as Roger Lloyd-Pack)
Michael Brennan … Sergeant
Brook Williams … Doctor Peter Tompson (archive footage)
Lewis Alexander … Man in Restaurant (uncredited)
Aileen Lewis … Woman in Restaurant (uncredited)

Filming locations:

Shepperton Studios, Surrey, England

Alternate titles:

The Baby Minder (working title)
I’m Alone and I’m Scared (US reissue title)

Technical details:

88 minutes
Eastmancolor

Fun facts:

George Cole and Dennis Waterman are credited together, foreshadowing their future starring roles in TV series Minder.