Way back in September when I was gearing up for 31 days of movie watching, I picked up a whole bunch of cheap VHS flicks from various places. One of the first titles to arrive was Frightmare (1974) - also known as Once Upon a Frightmare and Frightmare II. I kept putting off viewing it for some reason. Honestly, I think it was mostly because of the box art. I mean, can I get a "blecch" here, people? Also, I've seen newer versions of it as part of the "EuroShock Collection", and while there's nothing wrong with the line necessarily, I remember thinking that Frightmare was going to be an exceedingly gory, distasteful exploitation flick. Hey, no one ever taught me not to judge a book by its cover. If you're ugly, I don't like you! Today, however, when movie-watchin' time rolled around, I really had no choice in the matter. This was the only movie left in my house that I had never seen. All my Netflix choices are in postal limbo, and it's a cold, rainy day- I was feeling far too lazy to venture to the video store. I bit the bullet, put the movie in, and was treated- yes, treated, I say!- to a fine little piece of British horror cinema. Have I learned my lesson? OK, fine. But I doubt it will stick.
The movie opens with a black and white flashback, wherein we learn that Edmund and Dorothy Yates (Rupert Davies and Sheila Keith) are being sentenced to an insane asylum for horrendous crimes against humanity. It was only Dorothy who actually committed the crimes, but Edmund knew about her evil ways and did nothing to stop her, so off he goes as well. Hey, the man is whipped, what can he say?
Cut to the here and now. The odd couple have been released- they are totally 100% sane- and are living together in a remote farmhouse. Meanwhile, their two daughters Jackie (Deborah Fairfax) and Debbie (Kim Butcher) are living together in London and having a difficult time of it. Debbie's a 15-year-old juvenile deliquent who mouths off alot and comes home in the wee hours, while Jackie sneaks out in the wee hours and can't control her punkass little sister. What kind of debauchery is Jackie getting up to during her late night/early morning sojourns? She's visiting the farmhouse and bringing stepmom Dorothy strange packages...
Soon we see that despite Edmund's insistence that Dorothy is really truly "cured", she is so doing bad things again! And by "bad things", I don't mean "sneaking an extra cookie". I mean she's been luring lonely young women to the farmhouse for Tarot card readings, then killing them, drilling into their heads, and eating their brains. Another triumph of the mental health system! So what does Edmund do when he finds Dorothy smeared in blood, grinning like the madwoman she is? I guess he learned no assertiveness in the nuthouse, because he just helps her cover up the bodies. Crack that whip! Not to mention that he had Jackie bringing those packages to the farmhouse all the time...fresh brains from the butcher's for mom...
Jackie tried to keep Debbie in the dark all these years about their parents, telling her that they were killed in a car crash right after her birth. Debbie knows the truth, though, and she truly is her mother's daughter...**insert evil cackle here**
Director Pete Walker has a long filmography of horror flicks (as well as naughty 60s sex romps), and it shows in Frightmare. The characters and dialogue are great, particularly Sheila Keith as Dorothy- she can turn from the kind-grandmotherly type to the scary-psycho type at a moment's notice. There's a fair amount of bloodshed, but not nearly what I was expecting, and it never feels too over the top or exploiatative. There's some definite chills in that creepy old farmhouse- my favorite, the off-screen sound of the drill as Jackie is about to find out what Dorothy has really been up to.
This one's a keeper, although I'll be putting it in a new box. I'll give it 8-and-a-half out of 10 Mommie Dearests.
Dorothy knows that giving is the greatest gift of all.