AND SOON THE DARKNESS. (1970) SCREENPLAY BY BRIAN CLEMENS. DIRECTED BY ROBERT FUEST. STARRING PAMELA FRANKLIN, MICHELE DOTRICE, JOHN NETTLETON AND SANDOR ELES.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
This is exactly the kind of super-atmospheric 1970s British chiller I adore. It reminds me very much of ASSAULT (1971), aka IN THE DEVIL’S GARDEN, starring James Laurenson and featuring Lesley-Anne Down in her debut role. In it, a serial killer-slash-rapist terrorises the students of a girls’ college situated near a creepy forest.
In AND SOON THE DARKNESS, two pretty little English nurses from Nottingham taking a cycling holiday in northern France are terrorised in a similar fashion by an unknown assailant, and the film becomes a bit of a who-dunnit in that we have at least four plump, juicy, positively succulent suspects to choose from.
The two girls are Jane, played by Pamela Franklin (from THE INNOCENTS (1961) with Deborah Kerr), who actually looks as French as French can be with her chic bobbed brown hair and the little blue scarf knotted jauntily about her neck, and Cathy Mercer.
Cathy, a luscious blonde with long hair and a delectable figure, is portrayed superbly by none other than Michele Dotrice. Michele went on to experience television immortality for playing Betty Spencer, the long-suffering wife of the accident-prone Frank Spencer (Michael Crawford) in the hugely successful sitcom, SOME MOTHERS DO ‘AVE ‘EM.
Jane and Cathy are, as I said, cycling through northern France on their holidays. Jane seems to be enjoying the fresh air and the scenery, but Cathy is bored to death with the empty roads, the wide-open spaces and the lack of hot night-spots. Or night hot-spots, if you prefer.
They are being followed at a distance by a strikingly attractive dark-haired French male on a moped, and having a good time with this stranger, to whom she’s never addressed so much as a word, would be much more the flirtatious Cathy’s idea of fun than endlessly cycling along these deserted French roads till her butt grows numb.
The two girls argue about this very subject. Cathy decides to mutiny and she downs tools- ie, her bicycle- and proceeds to lie down to sunbathe in a little clearing by some woods at the side of the road. You might as well bugger off, she tells Jane, if you’re so eager to keep cycling all bloody day. Me, I’m stoppin’ ‘ere! Ooooooh Betty…! You never made a worse decision.
Jane gets the hump and cycles off, stopping for a drink outside a really crappy café down the road a bit. After a while, she grows uneasy and decides to go back for her friend. But Cathy is gone. So is her bicycle, her backpack and the knickers she draped over the bushes so that they could dry in the sunlight. Jane doesn’t know what to think.
Thanks to a British woman who lives in the area and works as a teacher, she knows that a young tourist girl was murdered hereabouts only two or three years ago. More than just murdered, the British woman tells her with a snooty, disapproving face that can only mean that the girl was raped as well. It was a sex murder. But it was the girl’s own fault, of course, the woman is quick to point out, for being ‘alone on the road…’ Well, Jane is ‘alone on the road’ now. And so was her missing friend, Cathy…
Jane is starting to dread that something awful, something unthinkable, has happened to Cathy. The feeling of dread, for me, begins building up in this film right from the start, when you first see the two girls, cycling two abreast (cycling to a breast, tee-hee-hee) on a foreign country road.
Nothing but miles of open road and open sky. There is as much capacity for horror in wide-open spaces as there is in cramped basements and dusty attics, and this film portrays that really, really well. I mean, when there’s nobody around for miles and miles it can be nice and peaceful, sure, but it also means that there’s no-one around to come to your assistance if you get into trouble. The suspense and tension here just keep on being ratcheted up, until our jangling nerves are in shreds and we want to screech, tell us who it is already!
It’s one of those films that portrays not only sexy, half-dressed young women (come on, just LOOK at those short shorts!) in peril but also the holiday-maker in distress. Jane is careering around madly, looking for someone to help her find her friend, and she keeps coming up against both the language barrier (her French is barely functional) and also the difficulties inherent in trying to impress upon bored policemen who don’t speak your language that there really is a missing girl. Pamela Franklin’s face, like that of Michele Dotrice, is just so incredibly expressive. I’d give ’em both Oscars just for their brilliant facial expressions alone.
Hungarian actor Sandor Eles as the smoulderingly sexy Paul Salmont is just fantastic. Is he evil or does he really just want to help out Jane, a damsel in some very obvious distress? Frankly, I wouldn’t care how evil he was, he’s so devastatingly good-looking, and so super-cool too in his sunglasses and with his little moped tightly clamped between his brown-trousered thighs, lol. Hold me, he commands Jane. Phwoar! He wouldn’t have to ask me twice.
Locations of note? The little clearing by the woods at the side of the road where Cathy decides to have her nice lie-down, and the derelict caravan park. It’s not exactly Tom and Pippa’s homely, wholesome family-run caravan park from Antipodean soap opera HOME AND AWAY, is it? What horrors will we find there? God alone knows.
The scene at the edge of the woods reminds me of the five minutes at the beginning of another superb old British horror film called THE APPOINTMENT (1981). A schoolgirl called Sandie is making her way home from school by way of… you guessed it… a short-cut through the woods. It’s the last thing she ever does. It’s terrifically spooky.
Woods can be perilous, as well we know. As can going abroad on holiday to a place where you don’t speak the language, and the three inhabitants of the one village you pass all seem so inbred as to make the guys in that fine example of French extremity cinema, THE ORDEAL, look like models of deportment and sanity. The moral of the story? Forget your foreign holidays and bloody well stop at home. End of.
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. 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, women’s 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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