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Review: Frightmare (1974)

Reviewer: Tim Sweetland


This classic 1970's slasher, directed by British splatter auteur Pete Walker, stands out as one of the best exploitation/horror films to ever come out of Britain.

The film tells the story of a nice little old British tea-drinking matron named Dorothy, who is given a lengthy (though apparently not long enough) sentence for a series of gruesome, cannibalistic murders. Through a highly effective black and white opening sequence, we learn that Dorothy (and her husband, by the way) are ordered to be held in a psychiatric institution until they are "cured." More than a decade later, the couple is released, and they shack up in a quaint English country cottage, where Dorothy reads tarot-cards to make ends meet. Meanwhile, the couple's two daughters have been living by themselves for the past 15 years or so, and the older daughter keeps visiting mum in the country and bringing her strange, bloody packages. Even worse, the younger daughter, who is even more of a pain in the ass than your average sixteen-year old, seems as if she may share some of her mother's more distasteful traits. What's in the bloody packages? Is Dorothy really cured? Are the daughters taking an interest in old family habits?

You've gotta watch it to find out the answer to these questions, and Frightmare is well worth your time. Lots of black humor, a sleazy 70's vibe, power drills, hot pokers through the stomach, possibly the creepiest old lady ever committed to film, and a dark, downer of an ending are just a few reasons not to pass this one up. The gore is minimal, and most of the killings take place off-camera, but the film is none the worse for it. Particularly impressive are the scenes where all the viewer sees is the killer's maniacal smile and stringy strands of flesh and blood flying all over the frame as the power drill does its thing. Awesome.

What really sets the film apart, however, is the acting. You just don't get this level of quality acting in exploitation films, ever. Especially in films like this that successfully manage to keep that dirty, grindhouse feeling intact. Sheila Kates is absolutely outstanding as Dorothy, and even the victims seem as if they are serious thespians.

Now available in a refurbished DVD release from Shriek Show, Frightmare is a must have. Highly recommended.



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