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Directed by Iain Ross-McNamee. Starring Katie Goldfinch, Florence Cady, Larry Rew, Babette Barat, Neil Morrissey, Brian Croucher. 97 mins Certificate: 15

Released by Screenbound theatrically on 1st February 2019 and on DVD, Blu Ray
and Digital on 4th February 2019.

 

Many of us “fans-of-a-certain-age” are prone to rose-tinted nostalgic flashbacks to a simpler time when Saturday nights meant staying up late with a cup of Mum’s milky tea (three sugars, three “Nice” biscuits on the saucer) to watch a horrific double bill during which the names “Hammer”, “Amicus”, “Universal” or “Tigon” would be guaranteed to feature in the opening titles… Opening with a monochrome prologue set during the English Civil War and following an alleged witch / necromancer to his death, this Gothic chiller is an engaging love letter to British horror of the 1960’s and 70’s. A solid contemporary cast inhabit the kind of roles that would have been taken by reliable performers like Ingrid Pitt, Michael Gough, Hilary Dwyer and Peter Vaughn back in the day, though it chooses to downplay the kind of material that, in 1971, would have yielded extended bath tub nudity, blood on bare breasts and gory neck nibbling. Here, most of the bloodshed is conveyed via wall splatter and the strong sexual / lesbian undercurrents unleash just a single overtly erotic sequence with two clothed female characters.

 

Katie Goldfinch is an appealing, attractive presence in the lead, a Catholic museum curator tasked with tracking down the missing half of a pre-Roman stone cauldron previously owned by an associate of Matthew Hopkins. It now resides in the basement of a Shropshire stately home; a former girls’ boarding school being restored to its former glory as a country house with a colourful history. It’s overseen by the seemingly charming patriarch Larry Rew, his wife (Babette Barat), who seems a little too keen to feed Goldfinch her special “tonic” at bedtime and their seductive, beautiful daughter (Florence Cady), who flits around suggestively in alluring frocks and tight PVC trousers when not sniffing the houseguest’s panties and mischievously showing off her own. Vivid and eerie dreams begin invading the heroine’s sleep and ominous night visitors hint at dark goings on that have at least partially been blown by the film’s very 70’s-style title.

 

Making highly atmospheric use of the handsome central manor house with its extensive corridors and peculiar occupants, Iain Ross-McNamee’s film captures the look and ambience of an above average vintage English gothic. The local colour is diverting, from the nosy, sardonic barmaid to Neil Morrissey’s gardener filling in some sinister exposition, including the mysterious accident that befell the previous gardener. Goldfinch is a heroine worth rooting for, while Florence Cady exudes simmering malevolence and sex appeal as the striking Scarlett.

 

The movie embraces its lineage, from the full moon cutaways and startling vampiric imagery to extended organ playing in the dead of night. Perhaps inevitably, the fun is only diluted when the narrative or the techniques step into the 21st century. After the subdued yet compellingly creepy build-up, it’s a shame the protracted climax (though well done) falls back on slasher movie-style cat and mouse antics around the big house, complete with knife-wielding (and fang-baring) psycho, violent tussles in the bathroom and a disposable supporting character showing up just to be killed. More distractingly, the prominence of awful CGI fire in two major dramatic sequences will age the movie substantially more than a bunch of 60-year-old low budget British gothics in which splendid vampire decompositions were achieved without the need for time-saving but unconvincing digital trickery. Still, if you’re lucky enough to still have a mum who can make you a milky cup of tea with three sugars and three “Nice” biscuits on the side, this will make for a very pleasant, nostalgia-inducing Saturday night’s entertainment.

 

Steven West

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