FRIGHTMARE (1974) Reviews and overview

 

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Frightmare is a 1974 British horror film directed by Pete Walker (House of the Long Shadows; The Comeback; Schizo; House of Mortal Sin) from a screenplay written by David McGillivray (Terror; Satan’s Slave; House of Whipcord) based on Walker’s story. Tony Tenser (Tigon) was the executive producer.

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The movie stars Rupert DaviesSheila Keith. Deborah Fairfax, Paul Greenwood, Kim Butcher, Fiona Curzon, Jon Yule, Tricia Mortimer, Leo Genn (Die Screaming Marianne), Gerald Flood. Andrew Sachs, also in Walker’s House of Mortal Sin, has a minor role.

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Plot:

In an isolated farmhouse, a woman named Dorothy Yates lives with her husband. Dorothy has just been released from a mental institution after it was found she killed and partially ate at least six people in 1957.

Dorothy’s husband, Edmund, was convicted as well but we come to find out that he only faked his dementia in order to remain with his wife. He was a truly devoted husband who loved his wife dearly but really had nothing to do with the actual murders in 1957 and in the present.

1974: It seems as if Dorothy has had a severe relapse. She secretly lures lonely young people to her Haslemere, Surrey home, promising tea and a tarot card reading, only with the session ending with a violent murder and “feast”…

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“For the Sake of Cannibalism,” an interview with Pete Walker, by Elijah Drenner
Audio commentary by director Pete Walker and director of photography Peter Jessop, conducted by Steve Chibnall, author of Making Mischief: The Cult Films of Pete Walker
“Sheila Keith: A Nice Old Lady?” a profile of the late actress, featuring interviews with her former collaborators
Original theatrical trailer

Reviews [click links to read more]:

Frightmare provided relatively unknown TV actress Sheila Keith with the opportunity to create a memorable addition to the stable of British horror characters, and it was a chance she grasped with relish. Dorothy Yates switches from a kind of frail helplessness to hulking aggression in the blink of an eye…” 20/20 Movie Reviews

“Sheila Keith delivers the performance that is likely to stick in the viewer’s mind as the crazed mother: she veers back and forth between childlike confusion and pure malice with skill and her growing madness in the film’s latter phases is likely to give viewers a chill. In short, Frightmare is a potent little chiller that is worth a look to horror fans in search of suitably grim fare from the 1970s…” AllMovie

Frightmare is an effective horror film because of its creeping sense of dread. Director Pete Walker delivers an atmospheric film with believable performances and a shocking ending. The screenplay by David McGillivray keeps the dialogue grounded and turns what could have been a camp premise into a genuine chiller.” Battleship Pretension

Frightmare is a marvel of effectively layered techniques. It’s genuinely shocking (the climax/ending most prominently), embossed with slight social concepts (nature vs. nurture, failings of the justice system), and filled with terrific direction (intentionally abrupt edits, lively camera work).” Bleeding Skull!

“Walker isn’t making a particularly tasteful film, but the movie’s shock shots are few and far between, mostly concerning facial wounds captured in loving detail. The lack of gore is somewhat disappointing, as Walker is good with grotesque reveals, but he makes for the absence of the obvious with unsettling shots of blood-soaked packages and scenes of Dorothy conducting creepy business at home, adding tension when necessary.’ Blu-ray.com

“The entire cast of new and familiar faces are adequate but Sheila Keith really stands out as the seemingly feeble but insanely lethal mad mama, Dorothy. She is a Walker regular but this is her first starring role and she relishes in the insanity of the part. Kim Butcher (who two years later would be cast alongside Keith in Walker’s The Confessional) is nice eye candy…” Cinesploitation

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“Aside from the clever story by McGillivray and Walker, what makes Frightmare so good is the performance by Sheila Keith as Dorothy. Keith, who appeared in a total of five outings for Walker, has an outward grandmother-like appearance, and she brilliantly plays it up as a seemingly sweet old lady ready to snap at any moment, as her character often does.” DVD Drive-In

“Walker’s direction is sharper than usual here, as he paces the film really deliberately but doesn’t slow things down too much at all. He uses the effective and sufficiently grisly gore set-pieces as accents to the horror that comes out of the story, while the cinematography from Peter Jessop does a really good job of becoming more and more claustrophobic as the film reaches its dire and unholy conclusion.” DVD Talk

“The pacing is uneven; while the scenes dealing with the main thrust of the narrative are handled with confidence and conviction, there is some padding along the way that detracts from the overall effect. True, the central image of bloodthirsty Sheila Keith is unstoppable, yet the film never manages to be as disturbing as his later The Confessional.” Eccentric Cinema

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” …it unsettles you by allowing you to spend a lot of time with the cannibalistic family itself, and these are people you don’t want to spend a great deal of time with. It’s not quite as effective as the Tobe Hooper movie; it’s a lot more predictable, for one thing, and some of the shocking revelations aren’t exactly surprising, as the shocks are somewhat telegraphed. Still, it has its moments…” Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings

Frightmare certainly seems dated and is admittedly a little rough around the edges in places but it still packs a wallop, even today, and comes highly recommended as what is very possibly Walker’s finest film. And, as a final treat, is topped off with an ending which, on first watching might seem a little abrupt, but is in-fact chilling, unexpected and deliciously cruel; which was to become something of a trademark for its director.” Hysteria Lives!

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“This is an impressive downbeat British horror from the Pete Walker / David McGillivray partnership which, despite its gory reputation, works on more of a psychological level. From the grainy black and white prologue, with a pre-Fawlty Towers Andrew Sachs visiting a deserted fairground, to the terrifying climax in a farm attic, Frightmare holds itself together incredibly well.” Melon Farmers

“Walker cleverly subverts expectations by pointing out that corruption stems not from the “free” swinging lifestyle shown at the beginning of the film, but rather from barbaric familial practices spread down from one generation to another and which fester right under the noses of polite society.” Mondo Digital

“an exceptionally nasty and depressing little movie … One of the first British horror films to match the callousness of the American independents, Frightmare may not be Walker’s best movie, but it remains his most upsetting.” Kim Newman, Nightmare Movies

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“It’s true that once you know the premise there’s not much more to add, but here was a film that set out to unsettle, sometimes with macabre humour but often simply by being as horrible as the filmmakers could muster. As far as that went, Frightmare succeeded with one of the bleakest endings of the decade…” The Spinning Image

“An engagingly lurid storyline, reasonably well-drawn characters, a tour-de-force performance from Sheila Keith and enough twists and turns to draw you in and hold your attention. There is also a fair amount of gore and suspense and an atmosphere of impending doom which permeates throughout.” The Spooky Isles

“At times the picture tends to be quite shocking and Sheila Keith who plays the killer in the movie is quite splendid in the role.  Even though it all but tells you by looking at the poster that she is at the heart of everything, seeing Keith go crazy is quite scary.  What really brings this film home is the ending which is not only alarming but terrifying…” The Telltale Mind

“Good acting by all, a disarming atmosphere, shocking gore and an interesting closing sequence highlight this one. Also known as Once Upon a Frightmare, this is excellent from beginning to end. Worth seeing for Sheila Keith’s tour de force performance alone.” The Terror Trap

“It’s an undoubtedly pulpy story and there’s not a subtle moment to be found in the entire film but it doesn’t matter.  Frightmare is properly named because it is pure nightmare fuel.  This is a film that works both as a family melodrama and a satire on the trust that people put into authority (the authorities said that Dorothy was sane so, everyone assumes, she must be) but ultimately, this is an intense and frightening little film.” Through the Shattered Lens

“It’s just a shame that Walker takes almost forever to get to the good stuff.  There are still a number of effective sequences here. You just wish that Walker hadn’t been trying to be so damned proper and respectable. If he was willing to let his hair down and allow things to get a little nasty.” The Video Vacuum

Choice dialogue:

Debbie [Kim Butcher]: “Nasty, innit?”

Delia [Pamela Farbrother]: “You’re quite mad. I suppose you know that?”

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1974 - Frightmare (DVD)

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Cast and characters:

Rupert Davies … Edmund Yates
Sheila Keith … Dorothy Yates
Deborah Fairfax … Jackie
Paul Greenwood … Graham
Kim Butcher … Debbie
Fiona Curzon … Merle
John Yule … Robin (as Jon Yule)
Trisha Mortimer … Lillian (as Tricia Mortimer)
Victoria Fairbrother … Delia (as Pamela Farbrother)
Edward Kalinski … Alec
Victor Winding … Detective Inspector
Anthony Hennessey … Detective Sergeant
Noel Johnson … The Judge
Michael Sharvell-Martin … Barman
Tommy Wright … Nightclub Manager
Andrew Sachs … Barry Nichols
Nicholas John … Peter
Jack Dagmar … Old Man
Leo Genn … Doctor Lytell
Gerald Flood … Matthew Laurence
Sue Shaper
Bill Barnsley … Patrolmen (uncredited)
L.W. Clarke … Patrolman (uncredited)
Veronica Griffiths … First bike girl (uncredited)
David McGillivray … Doctor (uncredited)
Martin Taylor … Guest (uncredited)
Pete Walker … Mr Brunskill (voice) (uncredited)

Filming locations:

BBC Television Centre, Wood Lane, Shepherd’s Bush, London, England
Dawes Farm, Henley Common, Fernhurst, West Sussex, England (exterior and interior of the Yates’ farmhouse)
Haselmere, Surrey, England
Shepherd’s Bush Green, London, England (Edmund and Jackie meet up)

Technical details:

87 minutes (BBFC censors cuts were required for ‘X’ certificate release to reduce the pitchfork murder, remove shots of blood dripping from Delia’s mouth during the poker murder, and a closeup of Graham’s mutilated face)
Black and white (opening sequence) | Eastmancolor
Aspect ratio: 1.37: 1
Audio: Mono

Alternate titles:

Also known as Frightmare IICover Up and Once Upon a Frightmare

Fun facts:

The original working title was Nightmare Farm.

Graham and Jackie go to see Marco Ferreri’s Blow Out (La Grande Bouffe, 1973), a film in which four rich friends gather at a country mansion with the intention of literally eating themselves to death.

Trailer:

Watch full film free online on YouTube

MOVIES and MANIA rating: