FEAR IN THE NIGHT and STRAIGHT ON TILL MORNING: A DOUBLE BILL OF HAMMER HORROR FILM REVIEWS BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
FEAR IN THE NIGHT. (1972) DIRECTED, PRODUCED AND CO-WRITTEN BY JIMMY SANGSTER. STARRING RALPH BATES, JUDY GEESON, JOAN COLLINS, JAMES COSSINS AND PETER CUSHING.
STRAIGHT ON TILL MORNING. (1972) DIRECTED BY PETER COLLINSON. PRODUCED BY MICHAEL CARRERAS. STARRING RITA TUSHINGHAM, SHANE BRIANT, JAMES BOLAM AND KATYA WYETH.
‘Second star to the right, straight on till morning…’
I love, love, LOVE these two films, which I recently watched back-to-back courtesy of my lovely new twenty-one film Hammer Horror boxset. Yes, I know that I’m late to this party but I’ve always liked to make a spectacular entrance, lol.
It’s both ironic and apt that I should have chosen these two horror movies to go together. I hadn’t a clue when so doing that they’d been released together as a double bill back in the day, a double bill I would have adored to see on the big screen. The theme of both films revolves around female hysteria and mental fragility so they do actually sit really well together.
As it is, I was nearly incoherent with excitement at having brilliant new Hammer films to watch. New to me, that is. And at first I thought that FEAR IN THE NIGHT couldn’t be topped, so fantastic was it. Until I saw STRAIGHT ON TILL MORNING, that is…
FEAR IN THE NIGHT sees the darkly attractive Ralph Bates (THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN, LUST FOR A VAMPIRE, TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA) playing a school-teacher called Robert Heller, who has just married a woman he’s known for only a few weeks. Nothing like a whirlwind courtship, eh?
Peggy, who works as a carer to an elderly woman before her marriage to Robert, is blonde, pretty but possibly a bit dim. She also has some unresolved mental issues. Robert must really love her to have taken her on as his wife, with all her mental and emotional baggage, eh…?
The night before Peggy is to leave her job and go to live with Robert, she is attacked in her flat by a seemingly one-armed man dressed in black. This isn’t a good omen, surely.
The police aren’t called because the doctor and Peggy’s elderly charge both agree that poor Peggy’s been under a lot of strain lately. That’s tantamount to saying that she’s imagining things, isn’t it…? Not terribly complimentary, anyway.
The newly-weds are going to live in a nice chalet or lodge-house on the grounds of the posh boys’ boarding-school where Robert works. Term hasn’t started yet and the school is empty of snobby little schoolboys when Peggy takes a tentative look around it by herself.
Well, she’s not quite by herself. She bumps into Michael Carmichael, the school’s headmaster, played by Hammer royalty Peter Cushing. He unnerves her by asking her to let down her pretty blonde hair, an intimate request that it would be more appropriate for a husband to make than a complete stranger, surely. Peggy is glad to get away from him.
If Michael Carmichael has unnerved her, then his wife Molly, played by a young-looking and glamorous Joan Collins, sets her teeth on edge with her patronising, bitchy and rather bossy treatment of Peggy.
Well, she is a headmaster’s wife after all and probably used to bossing people around, but this headmaster’s wife is a glossy, brittle super-bitch whose artificial veneer of hospitality doesn’t fool Peggy. Which is funny, because Peggy, as we see later, is exceptionally easy to fool. She’s malleable, pliable, vulnerable, impressionable and a prime target for ‘gaslighting…’
To her absolute horror, Peggy soon discovers that her one-armed attacker has followed her here to her safe little country abode. Robert has serious fears for her mental state.
Is Peggy crazy, or is there something nasty and sinister going on in this supposedly empty boarding- school? Is the school really as empty as we’re meant to believe? These are questions to which we’ll need answers before the curtain comes down on the final act…
All the four leads are excellent but I also loved the inclusion of James Cossins here as the doctor who looks Peggy over after the first attack by the, um, one-armed bandit, lol. He co-starred in THE ANNIVERSARY as one of Bette Davis’s messed-up sons, the cross-dressing one, and he’s given memorable performances also in SOME MOTHERS DO ‘AVE ‘EM and FAWLTY TOWERS.
In SOME MOTHERS DO ‘AVE ‘EM, he plays a man giving a course on Public Relations. All good so far, except that one of his pupils is the socially inept and accident-prone Frank Spencer. Suffice it to say that he’ll need time off after he’s given his course to have his Frank-induced nervous breakdown.
In FAWLTY TOWERS, Mister Cossins plays the man who sells outboard motors for a living but whom Basil has mistaken for the dreaded Hotel Inspector. ‘The wine has reacted with the cork and gone bad.’ The relief felt by Basil when he realises that he’s got the wrong man- yet again- is positively palpable. James Cossins is excellent at playing that type of well-spoken posh bloke.
STRAIGHT ON TILL MORNING, its title taken from childrens’ fairytale PETER PAN by J.M Barrie, blew me away completely. Rita Tushingham plays Brenda, a young woman who writes fairy stories for fun and whose head is permanently in the clouds. She could even have mental problems or be delusional. She’s not quite the full shilling by a long stretch.
Her behaviour at the start of the film is bizarre. Though she’s not pregnant, she tells her Mum that she is and that she’s off to London to find a father for her baby. Cuckoo…! She gets a job in a boutique and moves into a flat-share with one of her co-workers, the beautiful party-girl Caroline, and even goes to her first party, dressed of course like Ma Ingalls, lol.
A small dog is the means by which she meets and moves in with Peter, a stunningly good-looking, languid blonde hippy-ish type who lives in a fancy apartment and swans about doing nothing all day, or so it seems.
He’s seemingly independently wealthy and doesn’t need to work. At least, he’s got a drawer full of cash and he won’t say where it comes from, which is odd and even a little suspicious. It’s hard to imagine him working at anything, anyway. He’s just too damned languid…!
They’re an unlikely pairing, but Peter sees something in the Plain-Jane Brenda that strikes a chord within him. She’s not beautiful like he is but for some reason he’s okay with this. This is what he wants from a woman right now. He re-christens her ‘Wendy’ to his Peter (as in Peter Pan) and they sit around telling each other fairy stories. Ever so languidly, of course.
One of Peter’s stories, in particular, should make the dozey Brenda want to run for the hills but Brenda believes she’s finally found a man she can have her longed-for baby with. Astonishingly, Peter says he’s agreeable to fathering this kiddie but Peter is as mad as a box of frogs.
There’s no two ways about it. He’s damaged goods and his grip on reality is tenuous to say the least. It’s even more fragile than Brenda’s, and she’s a fruit-loop. What has happened to the divinely attractive Peter to send him off his rocker like that? The key is in the story he tells, the one that Brenda fails to interpret correctly.
How can one broken, mentally unsound person cure another? They can’t, of course. The pair can only enable each other to fulfil the worst of their potential until irreparable damage has been done. Peter and Brenda are on a collision course to disaster. Will anyone be left standing after the crash…?
Both these films kept me gripped right till the end, especially STRAIGHT ON TILL MORNING. The friend with whom I watched both films said that she didn’t know that Hammer made horror movies that weren’t about Dracula, the Mummy or Frankenstein’s Monster and she kept expecting Christopher Lee to pop in, fangs and cape and all. Well, anyone who knows me knows that I’d be all in favour of that, lol.
Anyway, we both absolutely loved these tense, taut and infinitely atmospheric psychological horrors. Perfect specimens from the Hammer vault of terror and suspense. Marvellous viewing for whenever you feel the need for the icy-cold, clammy fingers of Death on your shoulder…
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger 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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