Arts

Cult Movie: 1971 thriller See No Evil a 'genuinely tense mini masterpiece'

Ralph McLean

See No Evil

YOU couldn't move for so called 'women in peril' thrillers in the late 60s and early 70s. British cinema screens of the time were rammed with tales of vulnerable young women being pursued relentlessly in claustrophobic settings by crazy psycho killers.

These stark but effective little affairs were usually short and tense and resembled something Alfred Hitchcock might have tossed off in an afternoon if he was in the mood to make an Italian Giallo thriller.

Director Richard Fleischer's See No Evil (or, to give it its British title, Blind Terror) from 1971 is a perfect example of this short-lived trend.

Written by master TV scribe Brian Clemens – whose Thriller TV series from the same era mined similarly sordid themes week in and week out – it's a note-perfect reflection of early 1970s Britain in all its grim glory.

Everything is shot through a shimmering haze of grimy flock wall papered boozers, well-to-do country piles and simmering class resentment.

Mia Farrow is Sarah, a young blind woman who returns to the scene of the riding accident that blinded her to recuperate with her wealthy aunt and uncle in their country mansion.

The future Mrs Woody Allen is at her post Rosemary's Baby vulnerable best here and she slowly cranks up the hysteria with impressive ease.

An old flame (played by Norman Eshley) calls by to help Sarah get over her trauma by taking her out on horseback once again, but as the couple head off riding across the fields, a psycho who has been stalking the family – and who we've only seen via a series of close-ups of their fancy cowboy boots (that Italian Giallo thriller debt again) – slips into the house and, thankfully off camera, butchers everyone there.

Once the timid Sarah returns, the real horror begins, as she innocently tramps around the house blissfully unaware various family members are lying in bloodstained messes all over the place.

A sequence where she runs a bath for herself only to feel for a plug and find the naked corpse of her uncle instead is genuinely horrific, and the tension increases further when she discovers an identity bracelet the killer has left behind.

With his return imminent, the traumatised Sarah jumps on a horse and tries to make good her escape.

There's fun to be had guessing which of the parade of surly stable hands and hangers-on might be responsible, and there are a group of travellers living nearby who are initially blamed for it all – but the actual identity of the cowboy boots-clad assailant is kept secret until the final moments.

Sometimes dismissively compared to the undeniably similar but more complex 1967 thriller Wait Until Dark which gave Audrey Hepburn the tormented blind woman central role, See No Evil is very much its own beast and deserves a much better reputation than it currently has.

Cold, genuinely tense and exhausting to watch this is a mini-masterpiece of mood and atmosphere.

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