NOVEMBER 23, 2011
When I watched/enjoyed Schizo, I made a mental note to check out more of Pete Walker’s films, but now it’s two and a half years later and I’m finally getting around to doing that. Frightmare (aka Cover Up, for some reason) is worth a look, but not quite as good as Schizo, and now I’m wondering if it’s worth checking out his others, since this is one of his most well-regarded. Then again, as I re-read my review of the other film, it sounds equally slow and stuffy, so maybe I just need to be in the right mood.
And by stuffy I mean, well, British. Part of my problem with this movie is that it’s far too “proper” to work as a crazy cannibal film, and the contrast doesn’t quite pay off. Certainly good horror films can be made out of putting certain ideas in an unusual context (such as Bloody Reunion, a rare Korean slasher film), but the blend just didn’t work for me here. I’m sure the ratings board didn’t help either, but you can look at any given moment of the film and see nothing more than well-dressed middle aged British folks standing around talking and drinking tea – the cannibalism (read: horror) element is so underplayed and infrequent, the occasional murders don’t shock as much as cause me to say “Oh, finally, proof this is a horror movie.”
Plus there are four people in the cannibal family unit, with their dysfunction played for minor black comedy – remind you of any other 70s horror films? I don’t think Pete Walker set out to make The British Chainsaw Massacre or anything, but even back in 1974 I’m sure some folks were watching this and thinking “I’d rather just watch Tobe Hooper’s film.” The body counts are similar, but the key difference is that he built up the atmosphere and suspense of the film’s situation, making it a far more effective horror film.
He also gave us someone to root for. The closest thing to a heroine in this movie is one of the cannibal’s daughters, who herself seems a bit off, and probably more likely to side with them (or her sister) than the closest thing to a hero – her psychiatrist boyfriend, who spends a chunk of the movie muttering and conversing with others trying to get to the “bottom” of things, which would be more exciting if we weren’t always a step or two ahead of him. I don’t know about you, but I find watching people “discover” things that we in the audience have already been told to be quite boring. Now, I’m not talking about knowing that Michael Myers is in the room before they do – I am referring to scenes that serve no purpose other than for a character (a hero, in fact) asking questions or reading documents that allow him to learn things we learned from other characters five or six scenes ago.
That said, it does have some oddball charm, particularly in the scenes with Sheila Keith as the mother/head cannibal. I don’t know what her claim to fame was, but it felt like the type of unhinged performance that a previously “respectful” actress might give, not unlike Betsy Palmer in the original Friday the 13th or maybe Mia Farrow in the Omen remake. I quite enjoyed the bit near the end where the shrink hero goes to see her under the guise of wanting a reading (she acts as a Tarot reader to lure in victims), only for her to see right through him (and then kill him). It’s a fun, clever little bit – too bad there weren’t another dozen of them.
I was also quite smitten with both of the actresses playing the daughters. Both Deborah Fairfax and Kim Butcher are strikingly beautiful, and I was baffled to learn that neither of them had much of a career after this (Butcher only made a single other film). Not only were they obviously the type of girls you’d love to have on a poster, but both were pretty good actresses to boot (particularly Fairfax, who has the most depth of all the characters here). Unlike the equally attractive lead of Schizo (Lynne Frederick), however, there’s seemingly no scandal or anything that caused their careers to be cut short – they seemingly just walked away. On the commentary, Walker points out that one of them was working as a waitress shortly after the film’s release, and then the moderator says she now does voice work, but Fairfax’s last credit was in 1991, as a doctor in a non-animated series, so if that’s true it must not be particularly notable work – is she merely in a walla group or something?
It’s one of the few points of interest on the commentary, which is even drier than the film itself. Walker’s memory isn’t the best; he often just repeats whatever the moderator is saying, and the moderator is much like Greg Mank on those Cat People discs in that he enjoys pointing out other roles of the performers as if we couldn’t just look at the IMDb ourselves. Die-hard fans of the film may be more interested, but I found little use for it (though I was surprised to hear Walker say he didn’t like horror movies – why did he keep making them, then?). The trailer is also included, and it is worth a look since they show pretty much every action moment in the film.
There’s definitely an audience for this slow but quirky cannibal tale, and I might even find myself in it someday – just not today. I do recognize that it’s better than the other Frightmare (which is wholly unrelated), but so are most films.
What say you?