Cult Movie: 1970s British 'stalk and slash' thriller Fright was ahead of its time

Susan George and Denis Waterman in Fright
Ralph McLean


ORIGINALLY released in 1971 and freshly re-issued by Studiocanal on Blu-ray this month, Fright is, on the surface at least, a very familiar proposition. A seemingly straight-ahead home invasion thriller about a deranged killer who stalks a lonely babysitter, it would be easy to dismiss as a cliché ridden cult curio and little more.

There are several reasons why Fright is cut above the average British pot boiler, though. Firstly it was directed by Peter Collinson, a gifted film maker who scored big with The Italian Job in 1969 but died at the tragically young age of 44 before he could fully deliver on his obvious talent.

Secondly, it boasts the kind of top-notch British cast that is guaranteed to lift even the most clichéd of filmic fare to a higher level than it probably deserves. Here, the familiar TV faces are lead by future Arthur Daly himself George Cole and one time Avenger and Pussy Galore, Honor Blackman. There’s a starring role for the beautiful Susan George, fresh from her controversial turn in another home invasion thriller (albeit a vastly superior one), Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs, and a fine supporting cast that includes Denis Waterman (later to find small screen fame in both The Sweeney and Minder, alongside the aforementioned Mr Cole).

Collinson frames everything like an episode of Brian Clemens’ TV series Thriller and there’s a suitably sleazy 70s script from hack writer Tudor Gates which exploits a sweaty and claustrophobic scenario for all it's worth.

Perhaps the main reason Fright remains of interest today though is the fact that its plot predates the Halloween franchise by enough years to suggest that the whole 'stalk and slash' genre which plagued American horror movies indefinitely following the knife-wielding antics of Michael Myers was alive and well in Blighty long before Hollywood got the bloody bug.

Cole and Blackman play a middle class couple who leave their young child Tara (played rather disturbingly by Collinson’s real life son, who was also called Tara) in the care of Susan George’s fresh faced babysitter while they go out to a local night club to dance the night away in that awkward way middle class couples in 1970s dramas often do.

No sooner have they left than Blackman’s old husband (played by the superbly sweaty Ian Bannon) arrives on the scene fresh from the local asylum where he’s been banged up for trying to strangle Blackman and their young son. He’s back to finish the job which leads to all the tense psycho stand offs and occasional jump moments you’d expect from a film like this.

George screams a lot, Bannon lurches from twitchy killer to confused father with impressive ease and Dennis Waterman gets beaten to a pulp when he turns up as the babysitter's randy young boyfriend hoping for a little action when the house owners are away.

If you can endure the period clichés, there’s a cracking little thriller at play here – and a groundbreaking one to boot.

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