Director: Pete Walker
Cast: Rupert Davies, Sheila Keith, Deborah Fairfax, Paul Greenwood, Kim Butcher, Fiona Curzon
Length: 86 min
Label: Flicker Alley
Release Date: March 18, 2014
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Audio: English: LPCM 2.0
- “For the Sake of Cannibalism,” an interview with Pete Walker, by Elijah Drenner
- Audio commentary by director Pete Walker and DP 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
Another Pete Walker film gets the Kino/Redemption treatment this month with this latest blu-ray release; Walker’s seminal classic piece of cannibal horror with a twist, Frightmare (1974). The film sees an outstanding performance by underrated actress Sheila Keith as Dorothy Yates, the lady who loves to embroider and feast on human flesh; with strong supporting performances from all involved.
The tale focuses on Jackie (Deborah Fairfax) a young woman left to care for her wayward teenage sister Debbie (Kim Butcher), and who struggles to cope. On top of her problems with Debbie’s nightly escapades and foul mouth, Jackie is also bound by a burden of family duty she can tell no one about. Her parents Dorothy (Sheila Keith) and Edmund (Rupert Davies) had once spent 15 years in a mental institution after it was discovered that mother Dorothy was using tarot readings as a lure for unsuspecting victims to be brutally murdered. When she ate their flesh, her poor, misguided husband Edmund helped her cover up her crimes out of blind love, seeing her as not responsible for her actions. And even though the two have since been declared sane and fit to return to the community, Jackie is not convinced Dorothy has changed her ways. Sister Debbie is seemingly oblivious to all this, caught up in her own personal turmoil, and Jackie worries she will discover the family secret. To make matters worse Edmund has enlisted Jackie to bring Dorothy parcels of raw animal brains, in an attempt to quell her carnivorous impulses, and things spiral out of control when they discover Dorothy has been reading the cards again.It must be said of all the roles Sheila Keith played for Pete Walker, this one has to be the most powerful and commanding. Walker introduced a new breed horror villain, a sociopathic old lady who, as well as a fondness for drinking tea from delicate china cups on saucers, and embroidering twee sceneries onto canvass, rather enjoys violently murdering innocent victims and roasting up their remains. Keith plays out the role with a depth which is rare in low budget horror, bringing with her a wealth of experience from her work on both stage and screen. There are so many facets to her performance it is a complete marvel to watch. We also have Rupert Davies as the misguided husband Edmund who takes on his role in the vein of a man who is only concerned with his wife, blind to her illness; she has him exactly where she wants him. The interesting dynamic between the two makes for an absorbing watch. Deborah Fairfax as Jackie is suitably concerned throughout and a sympathetic character, with Kim Butcher as the precocious teen Debbie putting in a solid turn, you really do get the idea that the harassed Jackie really has her hands full with this one. Another notable mention goes to Paul Greenwood as the young psychiatrist Graham, while his role is limited he earns my vote for his performance during a bizarre tarot reading seen between him and Keith, being in my opinion one of the most tense and spellbinding moments of the piece. While the film is somewhat dated in terms of graphicness, for instance we do not get to see Dorothy actually eating human meat, the resonance and horror is still there. But it is packed with some delightfully gory scenes, most notably good old Dorothy Yates drilling up a body ( in a scene which predates Driller Killer), blood splashing everywhere as she chuckles away with childlike glee, and a marvellous close up of a mutilated body. Even by today’s standards the effects still hold up, and the make-up effects by George Partleton are to be commended; Partleton also worked on Walker features The Comeback, House of Whipcord, House of Mortal Sin and Schizo. David McGillivray’s script allows for some thought provoking undertones surrounding liberal justice; a theme director Walker was keen to embed as the foundation of the storyline.
Walker, very much like Norman J Warren, has made some classic pieces of Britsploitation horror in his time; often introducing more sleazy and graphic elements than his contemporaries such as Hammer Horror, Tigon or Amicus, and if you regard it within that context it becomes obvious why this piece was considered so shocking in its day. It is wonderful to see it looking restored, and respectfully so, meaning this release maintains its gritty edge which could have been so easily lost if the print had been unduly tampered with. This will not be for everyone and it will be interesting to see how it speaks to a modern day more sophisticated audience, but for those who enjoy classic 70’s horror, Frightmare represents one of the high points.
This release is mastered from an original 35mm print and is presented in its original 1.66.1 widescreen ratio, in 1080p. It is obvious that great care and attention has been taken over the restoration of this print, while small flashes of dirt or scratches do flicker on the screen from time to time, the payoff is worth the small flaws. There is no evidence of sharpening or DNR processes. The print has a beautiful texture and depth, and as I have mentioned before, being a gritty film in terms of tone, any undue digital processes to remove the dirt could have had an adverse effect, ultimately ruining the feel of the film. As it is, the film’s original character is maintained. The colours are bright, but never oversaturated, with skin tones looking naturalistic, and the gore looking better than ever (and you really can revel in how great these effects look, even after 40 years). Overall, this is a noticeable improvement on the DVD release.
Presented on an LPCM Mono track, there is nothing particularly remarkable about the sound, but there is a noticeable quality and depth to it which is most apparent in the nightclub scene at the beginning; here we have people in a noisy club talking over music, and the balance is spot on. Another plus point goes to the sound effects which have been mixed to a nice level and are now more prominent, (though not overly so), than on the previous DVD release. All in all, the sound is presented as truthfully to the source elements as the image.
Included here is a director Pete Walker, director of photography Peter Jessop and Steve Chibnall (Pete Walker biographer) commentary. It is worth mentioning this commentary appears to also have featured on the Anchor Bay Pete Walker DVD Boxset, but nevertheless still proves to be an insightful and thoroughly entertaining addition. Jake West’s Nucleus Films mini documentary ‘Nice Old Lady?’ includes colleagues of the legendary Sheila Keith talking about her and the roles she played; with Pete Walker’s enthusiasm for her talent shining through. Sheila Keith is an actress who despite appearing in these British horror classics never seems to have had very much coverage, she gave very little in the way of interviews, being a very private lady, and her obvious talent has rarely been recognised alongside that of the more major players within this time and place for the genre. For those wishing to know more about her, while short in some respect, this does give a rare insight into what she was like; both in her professional and private life. Also included is an exclusive feature ‘For the Sake of Cannibalism’ in which Walker talks about the film, it’s concepts, the production process and the criticism that ensued after it was released. Frightmare was a film which really did annoy the critics and Walker helps to put this into context. Again this is relatively short but informative all the same. Finally also included are some trailers for some of the other films in the Pete Walker collection.
If you go in for classic British horror it doesn’t get much better than this, a pure example of Pete Walker’s trademark Britsploitation gritty tone, a fabulously offbeat script by David McGillivary, great cinematography, fantastic performances, especially by Sheila Keith as a drill-wielding granny, Frightmare looks better than it has for years on this latest upgraded release. We owe a debt of gratitude to smaller companies like Redemption for restoring and releasing films on blu-ray that would otherwise go unseen by newer generations.