|Fear in the Night (1974)|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 08 October 2002|
It's a handsome film, with a respectable cast, but that same "Diabolique"-inspired plotting and Sangster's very routine direction reduce it to the level of a curiosity for Hammer fans. It follows the standard "it's-all-a-plot plot." As a thriller, it's too obvious; during every mystery/shock scene in the movie, it's hard not to find yourself thinking "this is what I'm seeing, but what's really going on?" The small number of actors requires you to regard Ralph Bates, Joan Collins and Peter Cushing as one of the principal villains, since Judy Geeson is the victim throughout.
Six months before marrying Robert Heller (Ralph Bates), Peggy (Geeson) had a nervous breakdown. She's almost recovered and is going to move to the private school where Robert has been hired as an instructor. But a mysterious figure, with a hook for one hand, smashes into her room; later, of course, there's no one there.
There's also hardly anyone at the school; following a disastrous event at the school, it has been shut down. Headmaster Michael Carmichael (Peter Cushing) has never been the same; he's installed tape machines in all the schoolrooms that play the sounds of students, to preserve his illusion that the school is still open. This is an oddly cumbersome plot setup, which really has little payoff by the end.
Once Robert and the apprehensive Peggy have arrived at the school, she meets Carmichael's wife Molly (Joan Collins between periods of stardom), who's handy with a shotgun, and coolly contemptuous of Peggy. She's also a sculptor, with an agonized bust on display at the school.
The one-armed intruder makes an appearance, and Peggy begins to fear she's going out of her mind. She isn't, of course, and I doubt that anyone watching this film would think she was.
It's a handsome film, shot on location by Hammer reliable Arthur Grant and art directed by Don Picton. The mono sound is used well, particularly in the scenes in which Cushing is seen "teaching" rooms devoid of students, but still filled with their sound. Clearly, this was an idea that the writers might have used to much greater effect. There's a sequence at the end in which, the plot having been revealed, the tape recorders are used to terrorize someone, but it's too late in the game, and the tape machines are used in a different way than they were earlier.
The biggest stumble, though, is the packaged, familiar murder mystery plot, especially, as noted above, because there are too few suspects. When we realize that Michael also has an army missing, we don't suspect he's the mysterious intruder -- it actually acts as proof that he CAN'T be.
Judy Geeson became moderately well-known for having appeared in "To Sir With Love" (1967; her first film), "Prudence and the Pill" (1968), "Three Into Two Won't Go" (1969) and "10 Rillington Place" (1971), but her career faltered soon after. She's attractive enough, but only a fair actor, at least to judge from her performance here. When last heard of, she had opened an antique shop in Los Angeles.
Joan Collins had been a reasonably star-like actress in the 1950s, but her fame more or less collapsed, and she returned to England, appearing in a handful of horror films and other moderately low-budgeted ventures. But then she appeared in "The Stud" (1977) and "The Bitch" (1978), based on novels by her younger sister Jackie, and finally wound up a regular on the evening soap "Dynasty" (started 1982) and abracadabra, her fame returned.
Ralph Bates was a busy Hammer star in this period, but did not achieve enough fan following for him to step in for Peter Cushing, as was the intention. Bates was a mannered actor, handsome but unlikable (at least on screen; he was evidently well-liked in person), and so his roles were limited. His lack of appeal to an audience is one of the reasons he's hard to accept as an innocent man here.
According to Jimmy Sangster's commentary, "Fear in the Night" was Cushing's first feature after the death of his deeply-loved wife Helen. This may be why he has relatively little to do here, and even though they are married in the story, he and Collins have no scenes together. Cushing gives the most professional performance here.
The commentary track is only moderately interesting, because Sangster chooses the opportunity to talk about his entire career, saying relatively little about "Fear in the Night." On the other hand, the movie itself is polished but routine; there probably wasn't really that much to say about it.
This is not an easy film to recommend; if you're a follower of Hammer or any of the stars, it's probably a worthwhile purchase, but this can't be used as a demonstration of Hammer quality for those not in the know already.