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31 More Days of British Horror – Frightmare (1974)

Hot on the heels of his “31 Days of Hammer” in January and the “31 Days of British Horror” in March , Jules is at it again in May, treating us to the continuation of his chronological run through the classic era of British Horror, from the late ’50s to the end of the ’70s, with one review every day for the entire month.

You can check out the rest of our “31 Days of British Horror” by CLICKING HERE.


Starring: Rupert Davies, Sheila Keith, Deborah Fairfax, Kim Butcher
Director: Pete Walker


After exploring the world of sadism and misogyny for shits and giggles with House Of Whipcord, Pete Walker turned his attention to an even more depraved horror staple – cannibalism.

Typically, he put his own unique spin on the idea, taking cannibals out of the jungle and dropping them right into contemporary Surrey of all places. Kitchen Sink cannibal drama anyone?

After having been found guilty of murder and cannibalism of six people in the late-fifties, Edmund and Dorothy Yates (Rupert Davies and Sheila Keith) are confined indefinitely to a mental asylum, but when they are both released years later, they are free to resume their lives in a cottage in the Surrey countryside. Edmund had faked his previous madness to not be separated from his beloved wife, but Dorothy still does not appear to be well.

In the intervening years, Jackie Yates (Deborah Fairfax) – Edmund’s daughter by his first marriage – has brought up her fifteen year-old half-sister, Debbie (Kim Butcher), but is struggling to control her impulsive and aggressive behaviour, particularly now she is hanging around with a gang of violent bikers.

With Debbie believing her parents are dead, Jackie makes secret visits to see them in the dead of night, bringing packets of offal to try and control her stepmother’s still-insatiable lust for flesh, but neither she or her father have any idea just how strong these urges are, or just how much the psychotic cannibal in their family is still acting on them…

Without a doubt Pete Walker’s finest moment, Frightmare feels like a gothic fairy tale relocated to contemporary Middle England.

On the surface a sweet old lady, Dorothy is a holy terror and her malevolent presence in that secluded cottage is reminiscent of old folk tales of witches in forests like Baba Yaga, an idea Walker plays with my switching her from kindly and fragile in her shawl to sheer glowering malevolence with a blood-filled mouth and a power drill in her hand. Shelia Keith is absolutely incredible here, utterly convincing as a sweet old dear and utterly terrifying as the last person you want to be alone with.

Luring victims in under the pretence of tarot reading, she’s absolutely terrifying when she cuts loose, nothing but pure rabid malice, giggling with delight when her victim realised she’s trapped.

Walker plays with the idea of opposites and duality repeatedly throughout Frightmare. The modern world of the younger generation is a harsh one of gritty pubs, run-down car parks and tacky/trendy flats, while the parents live in what as well might be another world, all warm, soft-focus and dreamlike, hazy colours, mainly thanks to Peter Jessop’s beautiful photography.

Even young Debbie is more than she seems, a pretty, if surly teenager ok the outside, but a psychopathic murderer in her own right, scheming and duplicitous, very much an example of nature over nurture. She’s her mother’s daughter in every way.

It’s poor Edmund that’s the real heart of the film though, hopelessly trapped by his love of his wife, so much so that he allowed himself to be sectioned for crimes he didn’t commit. It’s a wonderful performance by Rupert Davies and his humanity really helps to reinforce his wife and daughter’s complete lack of it.

Frightmare is a grubby, intense and often bleak little affair, but its potent mix of family drama and intense horror works magnificently.

Rating: 4/5.



JULESAVThe Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy


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