It seems that if you watch any British film from the 1970’s you will chance upon some familiar faces. Well, Fright is a veritable feast of familiarity: George Cole and Dennis Waterman, together for the first time, before the dizzy heights of Minder; Honor Blackman, way after her appearance as Pussy Galore in Goldfinger; even Roger Lloyd Pack can be seen dimly in the background.
In fact, as British horror films from the 1970’s go, this is a pretty star-studded affair and one of the things that makes the film stand out from the crowd.
The film is also one of the first to explore the babysitter tormented by a psychopath motif that dominates the horror genre, particularly the American branch.
So there is an isolated house, a pretty girl, an innocent child and an escaped psychopath. Nevertheless, despite some attempts at cheap shocks early in the film (noisy pipes, leaking taps etc), the film rises above what becomes the norm for this storyline in such predecessors as When a Stranger Calls and Halloween, by making the psychopath the child’s father (played with ferocious intensity by Ian Bannen), who has returned on the advent of the mother (Honor Blackman) gaining divorce from him, after he tried to strangle her and kill himself and the child.
Furthermore, the babysitter, Amanda (Susan George) is smart and brave, leading the way for later ‘final girls’. Although she is horribly tormented by him, the seriousness of which the film elides slightly, she fights back and protects the child fiercely and effectively.
Unfortunately, the film is dated a great deal by aspects of its design.
The costumes in particular (I found Susan George’s dolly bird outfit – purple mini-dress and shiny knee boots – particularly incongruous with the intelligence and pragmatism of her character).
Nonetheless, the performances lift the film above such tendencies, and clunkiness in dialogue (some of which is rather laughable) and visual style.
Susan George and Ian Bannen, who are the focal points of the drama along with Honor Blackman, are committed to the force of the emotional journeys of their characters. This aids the nexus of guilt, fear and determination that accompanies the mother’s attempt to break free from her abusive partner, as he returns to drag her back into that highly destructive relationship.
Most notable is the gender divide of agency which separates the two strong female characters from the men, who are all deficient in some way: the pompous psychiatrist who is unable to control his patient, the needy boyfriend who manipulates Amanda, but eventually doesn’t get anywhere, the ineffective second husband and the lacklustre police chief, not to mention the psychotic ex-husband.
There are weak points in some of the supporting cast, but that doesn’t interfere too much with the main attraction.