Home Video Hovel: Frightmare, by Mat Bradley-Tschirgi
Frightmare is an effective horror film because of its creeping sense of dread. Director Pete Walker delivers an atmospheric film with believable performances and a shocking ending. The screenplay by David McGillivray keeps the dialogue grounded and turns what could have been a camp premise into a genuine chiller.
Frightmare begins with Edmund and Dorothy Yates (played by Rupert Davies and Sheila Keith) being found guilty of a series of murders. They are sentenced to an asylum until they are fit to be released back into society. Fifteen years later, Jackie (played Deborah Fairfax) is struggling to raise her wild younger sister Debbie (played by Kim Butcher). Jackie knows the true identity of Debbie’s parents, but is trying to keep it a secret. Meanwhile, Dorothy is a tarot card reader whose clients meet their deadly demise. These two stories converge in an effective manner as the film reaches its gripping climax.
The real standout in the cast is Sheila Keith as Dorothy Yates. Her character transitions from a nice old grandmother to a sickening butcher very effectively. The possessed stare that she gives her victims will haunt you for days. Rupert Davies is also strong as Edmund Yates. He has to cover for Dorothy’s deeds and rationalize them somehow. Their relationship is the heart of the film and is part of what makes it so special.
In retrospect, it is ludicrous that Frightmare was originally rated X by the British Board of Film Censors. The gore on display is far less graphic than what one might see on an episode of Hannibal or The Following. At the time of its release in 1974, the violence must have seemed shocking, but it comes across as rather mild by today’s standards. This Blu-ray release features a pair of short documentaries on director Pete Walker and star Sheila Keith. There is also a theatrical trailer and an audio commentary by Pete Walker (the director), Peter Jessop (the DP), and Steve Chibnall (author of Making Mischief: The Cult Films of Pete Walker).
Frightmare is a wonderful balance of horror and suspense. Although you might know what’s coming, the character don’t. That’s part of the fun. This film is well worth your time and certainly makes me curious in hunting down the rest of Pete Walker’s filmography.