It's got Peter Cushing in it. It's slow and not very good, but I'm always happy when watching Cushing.
It's one of the few Amicus horror films that's not an anthology. It's based on a novel called Fengriffen and it involves Stephanie Beacham marrying into a wealthy family in 1795, only to discover that she has a spectral stalker. The family has a dark secret. Beacham soon cottons on to this, although frustratingly that's not the same as knowing any details. She badgers everyone to tell her about it, but they won't. You'd think the husband (Ian Ogilvy) would at least consider spilling the beans when his wife is going hysterically mad and his friends and servants are turning up dead, but no.
It's a ghost story, albeit with more gore than most. A Japanese remake would be awesome, but unfortunately this version is a plodding British period adaptation that's even slower than it needed to be, given that it's in the Hammer style. Ironically Hammer were currently trying to update themselves with the likes of Dracula A.D. 1972
, but not this film. No, it's set in Georgian times and proud of it.
Beacham does respectably. She's got a pig of a role, playing a housebound rich woman who has to spend the entire film being terrorised. She's got no one to talk to, Ogilvy being no use. She's got no job and no friends. She just loiters around in luxury, sees gruesome hallucinations and falls ever further into madness. She could and perhaps should have been unlikeable, but fortunately Beacham's taking the role seriously and never skimping on the energy. There's one particular face she pulls under extreme trauma that makes her look like Natalie Portman. Overall I thought she was good, not to mention having all the heaving cleavage the wardrobe department could muster. Great Scott, they're practically up to her chin.
I wouldn't call this film enjoyable, but being unpleasant and oppressive is presumably the goal. It's a legitimate choice for a horror film and it's certainly reflecting what Beacham's character goes through.
The main attraction in the first half is Beacham and her two best friends. There's not much fun to be had, though. Ogilvy isn't standing out much. There's a sinister woodsman (Geoffrey Whitehead), but for all we know he's really the good guy. The phantom phenomena are definitely creepy, though, and in a slightly unusual way. Normally it's fun to have scary things going on. Here it's kind of disturbing and you wish they'd stop.
The second half's better because we finally meet the god of all men, i.e. Peter Cushing. At last we have something to focus on. Ogilvy calls for a doctor from London and guess who's playing him. Cushing gets stuck into his investigation and ends up sticking around a good deal longer than I'd expected, since I'd been half-expecting him to die within five minutes. ("The murders are... aargh!") Obviously I was delighted to see him. Furthermore the backstory eventually gets unearthed, not before time, whereupon the 1750-ish flashbacks turn out to star another of my favourite actors, Herbert Lom.
Unfortunately though that was a slight disappointment. Lom's solid, but he's also not playing it big enough to compensate for the rubbishness of what's around him. That's all the fault of Roy Ward Baker. Lom needed to dial it up to eleven and doesn't. It doesn't even have the desired impact when his character turns out to be mad-dog evil, because you'll still be laughing too hard at that supposed orgy of debauchery a few minutes earlier. Why were they singing a dirge? Were they even enjoying themselves? I've seen more menacing knitting circles.
I'm also not sure the plot makes sense, despite its lack of pace. I suspect my questions were answered in the novel, but some exposition got cut from the film. The ghost has some specific mutilations, only some of which make sense. Admittedly you could justify it with plot polyfilla, either arguing for (a) time-twisting and a spectral reflection of both the past and the future, or (b) dramatic irony in that an injury that must presumably have been inflicted on the previous generation is being revisited upon the children too. I'd have been happy with either of those. They're intriguing. However unfortunately the script doesn't give the impression of having considered the issue, instead seeming to think that showing the visual echo will satisfy us on its own.
This isn't a bad film. It's slow, but you can't say it's not atmospheric. It's also got Peter Cushing, Beacham's cleavage and a girl in the bath. These are all good things. The title's rubbish, but it would have looked great on a trailer. Roy Ward Baker lets through a few production gaffes, but there are worse crimes in cinema than a severed body part that's obviously being achieved with the help of baggy clothes. I'm sure a remake would be putting far more effort into fleshing out the Ogilvy-Beacham relationship, though (backstory, motivations, the sexual angle, what they're like together as people from day to day, ambiguity about what is and isn't real, etc.)
I wouldn't say I enjoyed it, but it has integrity. I could imagine watching it again.
"This is my home, always has been. My ancestral hovel."