By Scott Dorward
“It’s such fun being a night person…”
Frightmare (UK, 1974)
Pete Walker is a British national treasure. Admittedly, he is the kind of treasure you hide in the cupboard under the stairs when the vicar comes to tea. His career started out in the softcore sexploitation boom of the ’60, moving on to horror soon after. His films can still be prurient, however, mixing sexual sadism with the gore. Frightmare is a little more restrained on this front, focusing more on horror than titillation. It is still delightfully sleazy, however, filled with macabre delights.
Jackie’s family is the worst. Debbie, her teenage tearaway sister, spends all night hanging around with bikers and is always getting into trouble with the law. Worse, her father and stepmother, Edmund and Dorothy Yates, were sent to a secure psychiatric hospital following some particularly grotesque crimes in the 1950s. They have recently been released and are now living quietly in a farmhouse in the country. Despite being certified sane, Dorothy is acting strangely. Jackie brings Dorothy brown paper parcels of mystery meat, but this barely placates her.
When Debbie becomes implicated in the disappearance of a barman, Jackie’s would-be boyfriend, Graham, a psychiatrist and enthusiastic mansplainer, takes it upon himself to fix everything. But as he researches Jackie and Debbie’s family history, he suspect history may be in danger of repeating.
Some aspects of Frightmare‘s production date it. Jackie makes regular nocturnal visits to the farm , passing through some of the worst day-for-night shots I have seen. Once I’d noticed them, they took me out of the film every time. Also, the copious blood is very obviously Kensington gore, but that merely adds to the nostalgic charm of the film.
There are also some very 1970s attitudes on display. Graham, the young psychiatrist and would-be hero, thinks nothing of barging into the family life of a woman he’s been on a single date with. Obviously, he can fix all her problems and everyone should simply let him do so. When Graham consults with a mentor at his hospital, the two openly letch over female patients and express no ethical qualms about pursuing them sexually. This was a strange, creepy time.
Just as creepy, but in a more general way, are the relationships within the Yates family. Every aspect of their lives with each other is built on lies and emotional manipulation. They display the wounds of any dysfunctional family, but these cuts so much deeper. Compared to the psychological damage they do each other, cannibalism almost comes as a relief.
Speaking of cannibalism, Frightmare introduces the term “caribanthropy” to our lexicon. This is their made-up term for a form of pathologically compulsive cannibalism. Use it in conversation today.
Frightmare is an absolute bloody delight. It is a kind of unpretentious, gleeful horror that you don’t see much any more. While there is no shortage of blood and guts, the tone is largely one of macabre fun. It is also a peculiarly British film, almost a kitchen sink drama, just with more cannibalism than usual.
While there are a few twists and turns, this isn’t a film likely to shock you with revelations. It tells you pretty much what it is from the outset. Still, the ending, when it comes, does not hold back and hits as hard as any abattoir bolt gun. This may share a vintage with Hammer Horror but it has much sharper teeth.
That is not to say this is a film for everyone. It is very much of its era and might seem dated and hokey. Some viewers may not like the equation of psychotic illness with homicidal behaviour. That said, Dorothy Yates is still an oddly sympathetic monster, pitiable as much as terrifying. Her crimes are meant to be egregious and are noted as such. For exploitation horror, Frightmare treats its characters more sensitively than one might expect.
All in all, this is one of the more entertaining films I’ve seen recently. While I’d stop short of calling it a classic, it is definitely worth 90 minutes of your time. Pair with a nice, rare steak.
The October Horror Movie Challenge
Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.
If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:
- Possessor (2020)
- The Boogey Man (1980)
- Jakob’s Wife (2021)
- The Queen of Black Magic (2019)
- Cold Hell (2017)
- Seance (2021)
- The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)
- Dachra (2018)
- Isle of the Dead (1945)
- After Midnight (2019)
- The Baby (1973)
- Hagazussa (2017)
- Frightmare (1974)
- The Eyes of My Mother (2016)
- Dave Made a Maze (2017)
- Raw (2016)
- The Old Ways (2020)
- Terror Train (1980)
- mon mon mon MONSTERS (2017)
- Sator (2019)
- Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972)
- The Lighthouse (2019)
- Anything For Jackson (2020)
- Warning: Do Not Play (Amjeon) (2019)
- Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
- The Field Guide to Evil (2019)
- A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
- The Wizard of Gore (1970)
- Fingers (2019)
- Lake Bodom (2016)
- Island of Lost Souls (1932)
A Final Note
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Changeling
- The Endless
- Our favourite Cthulhu Mythos media
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!