Fear In The Night (1972)
Cast: Joan Collins, Peter Cushing, Ralph Bates, Judy Geeson
Director: Jimmy Sangster
Nutshell: Young bride is stalked and attacked by a man with a prosthetic arm, but is it real or is it her fragile mind playing tricks on her?
Fear in the night is a Hammer production from a script that had been written by Jimmy Sangster many years ago as Brainstorm. The film involves a young newlywed woman recovering from a nervous breakdown who is all set to begin her recovery and recuperation with her husband who is a teacher and an old-fashioned public school for boys on the outskirts of South London. Out of the blue, the evening before her departure she is attacked and strangled by a figure with a prosthetic arm until she passes out. Later when she awakens she is keen to take matters to the police but those around her reckon she has yet to recover from her breakdown and is clearly not quite right in the head just yet.
Amidst this cloud of uncertainty, young Peggy (Judy Geeson) heads off to her husband’s new job at the school. Peggy is just settling into her new home when her mysterious assailant with the fake arm attacks her once again but yet again, nobody believes her. The next day she wanders into the school where she can hear classrooms being held with children tittering and asking questions and so on. She meets the Headmaster (Peter Cushing) and is shown around the grounds but later experiences another attack by the man with the prosthetic arm.
When Joan Collins makes an appearance as a cold, bitchy, snooty wife of the headmaster, the rather threadbare and predictable plot is totally exposed. Ms. Collins is not exactly known for playing the benign neighbour and even more suspicious when she has an elderly and totally unflashy husband as Peter Cushing the Headmaster. It is at this point that an audience even slightly familiar with British psychological thrillers of the era would easily put two and two together and the entire plot becomes plainly evident and thus predictable to the extreme.
The sequences in the empty school which sounds like its buzzing with activity are eerie and fairly effective but the rest of the film is fairly flat when it comes to raising levels of tension. Of the actors Joan Collins stands out playing a character that fit her like a glove through out her career; that of a cold, calculating bitch – she really is ever so good at it. According to Jimmy Sangster she was a bit of the same to deal with on the shoot and not at all fun to work with. Peter Cushing had reportedly lost the joy for life once his wife died and though he is as efficient as ever in his brief role, perhaps that spark is amiss just a little bit. He was always the perfect professional though and here too his performance is quite faultless.
Hammer’s psycho-thrillers often echoed shades of Les Diaboliques and Psycho; frequently reinventing or reinterpreting these towering genre classics. Fear in the Night has an old public-school setting but in this case the similarities between the Sangster film and the Hitchcock and Franju classics ends. Sangster’s film ultimately plays rather more like a reasonably engaging episode of some typical 70s TV thriller written by Brian Clemens on auto mode. It isn’t particularly intriguing and unfortunately you can start to unravel the entire plot rather early into proceedings.
Is it all Peggy’s imagination? Does the school actually exist? Does her assailant exist or is he just a figment of her paranoia? Is glamour-puss vixen Joan Collins actually a sweet, kind neighbour who adores her old, crusty, boring old fart of a Headmaster husband in Peter Cushing and is happy to live the village life as a devoted, dutiful wife? Who is the man with the prosthetic arm?
Hammer was in serious decline by the time this film was released in 1972 and the heady days of The Mummy, Curse of Frankenstein and Dracula seemed an eternity away. Hammer was desperately trying to find its new direction and in the shadow of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, the psychological thriller with a twist appeared to be the way to go. Hammer produced some solid entries to this end but none caused serious waves at the box office and a little film called Night of The Living Dead had just arrived recently and audiences were no longer in the mood for old school and Hammer was definitely considered that.
Fear in the Night is a reasonably engaging effort by Jimmy Sangster but it suffers from predictability and there is no cinematic technique, style or flair to make the rather tasteless and dull recipe seem more enticing. Even the scenes of the faceless stalker on the attack are flat and pedestrian and staged with the least ingenuity.
Fear in the Night remains one of Hammer’s least well-known films but finally it has been issued on Blu-Ray through Studio-Canal as part of a Box Set and the film looks as sharp, crisp, detailed and as good as it would have been when initially released in 1972. It is wonderful to be able to finally enjoy some of the lesser celebrated titles from the Hammer catalogue which are well represented in this excellently presented Box Set that is highly recommended for those who enjoy their Hammer.