Cult Movie: Stranger in The house a 'bizarre psychedelic trip'

James Mason in woozy psychological thriller Stranger in The House
James Mason in woozy psychological thriller Stranger in The House James Mason in woozy psychological thriller Stranger in The House

Stranger In The House

CULT movie connoisseurs have been well served by the BFI Flipside imprint down the years. Set up with the mission to “rescue weird and wonderful British films from obscurity” it has delivered some truly odd but wonderful overlooked cinematic gems in its time.

Stranger In The House is the 37th release in the much-loved series and it continues the tradition for quirky quality that we’ve come to expect from the Flipside team.

A woozy little wonder of a psychological thriller from 1967, it's based on a novel from Georges Simenon (of Maigret fame), directed by Pierre Rouve – who came to the project fresh from executive producing that game-changing 1960s mind-melter, Blow Up – and starred the great James Mason (who would make better but never weirder films in his illustrious career).

For further cult credentials, it’s got stylish cinematography from Academy Award winner Kenneth Higgins and a co-star performance from the always groovy Ian Ogilvy (The Sorcerers and Witchfinder General) to enjoy.

Mason is John Sawyer, an once important barrister who has become a boozy recluse, hitting the bottle as he faces up to a modern world he no longer understands. Hated by his hip daughter Angela (Geraldine Chaplin) who frequents all the pulsating discotheques and such that he detests so much, Sawyer is forced to confront his demons when Angela’s boyfriend is wrongfully accused of murder and he must pull himself together to defend him.

On the surface, that suggests a fairly straightforward courtroom drama mixed with a lot of traditional father and daughter conflict. However, Stranger In The House is much more than that.

This is a bizarre psychedelic trip of a movie which pulses to the kind of swinging beat that made the likes of Blow Up so cool the year before. It looks lush, with the dual backdrops of leafy Winchester and grimy old Southampton captured beautifully throughout. There’s a strange, almost naturalistic feel to a lot of the sequences and the jerky, unnatural script gives the production the feeling of an Italian Giallo thriller that's been shot on English soil.

Mason is great as the world-weary legal man bewildered by the immorality of the youth culture he sees all around him and there’s a solid supporting cast including singer Bobby Darin (who plays the murder victim, Barney Teale) and the aforementioned Ogilvy, who adds a kind of mod glamour to the self-conscious party scenes.

Special mention much be made, as usual, for BFI Flipside's top class extras; there’s period footage of Southampton, a seriously groovy contemporary ad for coffee that captures the faintly ridiculous swinging ethos perfectly and even a rare outing for photographer David Bailey’s directorial debut GG Passion from 1966 starring the beautiful Chrissie Shrimpton and Caroline Munro.

Add such delights to a fine booklet and a splendid commentary from Flipside founders Vic Pratt and William Fowler and you have one seriously impressive package which, like the movie within it, is both weird and wonderful in equal measure.