ASSAULT. (1971) BASED ON THE NOVEL ‘THE RAVINE’ BY KENDAL YOUNG. DIRECTED BY SIDNEY HAYERS. STARRING SUZY KENDALL, LESLEY-ANNE DOWN, JAMES LAURENSON, FRANK FINLAY, TONY BECKLEY, DILYS HAMLETT, ALLAN CUTHBERTSON, DAVID ESSEX AND FREDDIE JONES.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
This is an excellent British horror-slash-murder mystery from my absolute favourite British horror period, the early ‘Seventies. The stuff they made back then just can’t be surpassed: THE WICKER MAN, THE APPOINTMENT, CRUCIBLE OF TERROR, THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, LUST FOR A VAMPIRE and so many, many more.
In fact, the first six minutes of ASSAULT (the title is the only thing about this that I’d change, it made me word-associate it with rifles, for some reason…!) reminded me of the first five minutes of THE APPOINTMENT, a proper British chiller starring Edward Woodward from THE EQUALISER and THE WICKER MAN.
When the schoolgirl called Sandie is walking home alone from school through the lonely, forbidden path in the forest in THE APPOINTMENT and strange eerie voices are calling to her by name from inside the forest, it gives me chills every time, even though I already know what’s coming.
Speaking of the title, ASSAULT, by the way, the movie does have another title, IN THE DEVIL’S GARDEN, which might have been a little more atmospheric. It’s such a wonderfully atmospheric movie, very of the time in which it was made, and something of a sex pervert’s dream as well, featuring as it does all these sexy, sexually mature seventeen-and-eighteen-year-old schoolgirls in the tiny little pink skirts no longer than gym-slips and pristine white knee-socks they wear to school.
Is it any wonder, then, that an actual sex pervert is loose in the movie, choosing for his victims the girls from Mrs. Sanford’s School For Girls who unwisely walk home alone from school through the adjoining forest…?
The action all seems to take place in a lonely part of the forest called the Common or Devil’s End. He rapes them initially, this dreadful sex pervert, before graduating to rape coupled with strangulation leading to death. It’s a shocking state of affairs.
Lesley-Anne Down in one of her earliest roles plays Tessa Hurst, the first girl from Mrs. Sanford’s to be pursued through the woods and then brutally raped. Lesley-Anne Down (UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS, COUNTESS DRACULA, ARCH OF TRIUMPH with Anthony Hopkins, blockbuster mini-series NORTH AND SOUTH) is one of the most beautiful women ever to grace a cinema screen. Her expressive eyes, her rose-red luscious lips, her lustrous long dark hair all add up to a most pleasing picture indeed.
Her character of Tessa Hurst goes into a state of catatonic shock after the terrible attack. Even I know that, and I’m not a doctor. No amount of throwing a ball at her mid-section and expecting her to catch it will help her to snap out of her coma-like state, are you hearing this, attractive psychiatrist Dr. Greg Lomax…? Heh-heh-heh.
Within six or seven minutes of the first attack, another schoolgirl has been raped and, this time, she’s been choked to death as well. This time round, though, there’s a witness to the murder, the art teacher Julie West as played by Suzy Kendall. She’s an extremely attractive young lady, with her long glorious hippy hair, purple-tinted spectacles, knee-boots and mini-skirts. Very jazzy and of the time.
When she describes the assailant to the Judge at the inquiry as looking just like ‘the Devil,’ the Judge laughs at her and dismisses her as an over-imaginative female. The Judge is played by the same chap (Allan Cuthbertson) who attends Basil Fawlty’s first- and last- ever Gourmet Night at Fawlty Towers when the only item on the menu is, well, duck. And what do you do if you don’t like duck? Well, if you don’t like duck, I’m afraid you’re rather stuck…!
Any one of the men in the film could be the sex killer, which is what keeps the plot ticking over nicely all the way to the end. Every male character is a possible suspect.
There’s John Velyan (Frank Finlay), the copper investigating the dastardly crimes, but you never really get the feeling that he’s anything other than a straight-up copper who’s just dying to put this kinky murdering bastard behind bars where he belongs.
Then there’s the aforementioned attractive investigating psychiatrist Dr. Greg Lomax, who’s played by the devastatingly handsome James Laurenson. He’s sweet on Miss West, the beautiful art teacher, but what’s in all those pills he keeps giving her, that she obediently swallows without even questioning what’s in them? She must indeed be mesmerised by his delicious, chocolatey-brown come-to-bed peepers, because I know I certainly was, tee-hee-hee.
The most obvious suspect is probably the most odious, one Leslie Sanford who’s the husband of Mrs. Sanford who runs the Girls’ School, the school from which all the victims are chosen. Mrs. Sanford, who’s a good deal older and more staid than her husband, is utterly distraught about what’s happening to the good name of her school.
Her husband Leslie, on the other hand, is enjoying seeing his wife’s good name being dragged through the mud. His older wife’s money is what keeps him in the lap of relative luxury and boy, doesn’t he hate her for it! He feels emasculated, so he blames his wife. He even rewards her fidelity and generosity by lecherously groping the schoolgirls under her care.
Leslie Sanford loses no opportunity to slag his mortified wife off to John Velyan, the investigating police officer, but Velyan won’t play ball with the odious little man. He sees right through the nasty piece of work, who even confesses to the rapes but Velyan won’t arrest him. Why not? Let’s just say that Velyan’s got this nasty little scrap of humanity sussed…
There’s also Mr. Bartell, the principal of the local hospital, and Mr. Denning the obnoxious journalist, who absolutely should not get away with terrorising and shadowing Miss West the way he does. Just because he’s a newspaper man in search of a story doesn’t give him the right to behave the way he does.
That just leaves Milton, the police officer assigned to be Miss West’s bodyguard, to round up the list of possible suspects. There’s even a rather sinister-looking electricity pylon in the woods that looks like it might be culpable of some wrong-doing at some point.
Grip, the Sanfords’ dog, is a male all right but he definitely isn’t a suspect. Popular singer David Essex as the chap who comes into the pharmacy with his girlfriend isn’t a suspect, exactly, but he’ll certainly think twice before he whips out his lighter in public again…!
ASSAULT is one of the finest films of its time. I’m only surprised it’s not better-known. It’s got a fantastic cast and a great plot which sees a crazed sex killer running amok amongst the lovely nubile pupils of a local girls’ school. What’s not to love…?
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
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