Thursday 18 January 2018

STRAIGHT ON TILL MORNING (1972)

Directed by: Peter Collinson, Starring: Rita Tushingham, Shane Briant, Katya Wyeth. Horror, UK 1972, 96mins, Cert 18.

Originally released by Hammer as a ‘Women in terror!’ double-bill with FEAR IN THE NIGHT, Peter (THE ITALIAN JOB) Collinson followed up his 1971 babysitter stalker FRIGHT with this decidedly unpleasant little thriller set in groovy early 1970’s London.

Instantly dispensing with any hint of Hammer gothic, Collinson opens with a gloomy pan across a vista of kitchen-sink Liverpool where innocent (naive) young Brenda (Tushingham) is leaving home in order to travel to London to seek a man who will give her a baby. Unfortunately, the man she first bumps into in a newsagents in Earls Court Road, and with whom she will unwisely move in with is Clive (Shane Briant). Clive will turn out to be rather less of a fairy-tale knight in shining armour and rather more of a psychopathic cherub blonde Lost(toy)Boy who fancies himself as Peter Pan, and has a very nasty tendency involving a Stanley knife triggered by the concept of beauty. But our Brenda isn’t considered beautiful to Clive, nor is Clive’s shaggy doggy Tinkers (ring any bells- geddit?), so they’ll both be alright won’t they...?

A disconcerting barrage of quick edits fill in Shane Briant’s lethal toy boy past right from the off so there’s no doubt he’s a wolf in 1970’s sheep clothing. The only questions Peter Collinson’s disturbingly queasy kitchen-sink PEEPING TOM poses are therefore ones of plausibility. Surely Brenda, an ex-librarian and amateur wannabe children’s author, should pick up on the Peter Pan references, not least of which being Clive-call-me-‘Peter’ insisting on calling her ‘Wendy’ (alarm bells!). But it seems we’re actually in a 70’s London version of never-never land where even a decidedly underwhelming work colleague (James Bolan) seems to fit Brenda’s criteria for potential father material – that is until he ends up sleeping with her sexy landlady!

To be fair, Rita Tushingham does a splendid job in keeping the viewer on her side; despite the cringe worthy awkwardness and innocence she wears on her sleeve – not to mention her decidedly questionable choices such as kidnapping Clive’s dog and bathing poor old Tinker in fairy liquid! (Hang on, is that a visual pun?) And then there’s a scene where, in a moment of supreme ill-judgement, she goes for a beauty make-over and comes home bedecked in a preposterous wig resulting in her resembling a cross between Marie Antoinette and a French poodle.

Shane Briant’s floppy blonde hair is much nicer, even if he is decidedly not. Although the narrative lays his disturbed cards out on the table face-up, his playing proves grimly fascinating and he conjures up a portrayal of conflicting torment - murderous and lethal - and yet contrastingly, child-like and whimsical. In those moments of pure exposed vulnerable innocence, he is like a mirror image of Tushingham’s character – both of them trapped in their own fairy-tale existences and daydreams – albeit one far more dangerous than the other.  

Director Collinson left us with a literal cliff-hanger of an ending in THE ITALIAN JOB. Here he doesn’t present a definitive resolution either, but as Shane Briant reclines on his bed, the state of disrepair of his sock gives enough of a pointer as the camera then proceeds to pull back and almost apologetically tip-toe away from the bleakness of that little mews flat.

Bonus points are awarded for the cameo from legendary actress/singer Annie Ross (Granny Ruth from BASKET 2/3!) who also weighs in with the hauntingly melodic title song.

*** (out of 5*)

Paul Worts

This review was first published by FrightFest.

Sunday 14 January 2018

A GHOST STORY (2017)


Directed by: David Lowery, Starring: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara. Supernatural, Drama, US 2017, 89mins, Cert 12.

Writer/director David Lowery’s art house take on BEETLEJUICE is a haunting (in every sense) meditation on the nature of existence, the way we deal with the passing of time, and features Oscar winning Best Actor Casey Affleck spending most of the film under a white sheet.

Musician ‘C’ (Affleck) reluctantly acquiesces to his partner ‘M’ (Rooney Mara) who wishes to move out of their suburban Texan house. Immediately upon reaching this decision there’s an unsettling ‘bump in the night’ which appears to have emanated from the piano in the living room. Morning brings tragedy resulting in ‘M’ having to visit the morgue to lift up the sheet and indentify ‘C’ beneath. We’ll be seeing a LOT of that sheet from here on in...

The white sheeted ghost is one of the oldest visual clich├ęs, and, with the exception of Michael Myers’ spectacled variation in Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN, is usually utilised for comedic effect. Not so here. Lowery frames the white shrouded figure with cut out eye sockets in such a way as to totally bypass the giggles and instead evokes the mournful and solitary experience of a soul out of time. This is achieved by meticulous framing and judiciously sparing camera movement within the boxed 1.33.1 aspect ratio, and the carefully choreographed gestures of Affleck beneath the shroud.

Dialogue is mostly kept to minimal interactions, with the sole exception being a party guest pontificating on the nature of the cosmos and thereby acting as the director’s mouthpiece for his own existential fears. (Was it absolutely necessary to literally spell it out in this way – it’s arguable – but it is visually counterbalanced by the intently listening unseen unspoken observer in the room). 

Rooney Mara brings a delicate nuance to her portrayal of ‘M’ in the film’s first act, conveying grief without words, and provides an emotionally raw and honest depiction of comfort eating in an extraordinary extended sequence where she gradually progresses from tentative jabs to whole scale devouring of a sizeable homemade pie!

Long, measured (often) wordless scenes leave a broad soundstage for composer Daniel Hart to convey the ethereal atmospherics and narrative time-shifting progression of the film which he does so beautifully.

This is a film about time that takes its time to convey the natural rhythm of day-to-day life, but equally, fast-forwards through its time travelling passages with a visual ebb and flow that suggests the passive nature of its white sheeted protagonist as he ‘ghosts’ through time. 
   
It’s a beautifully simple concept executed with a delicate and poetic hand, and I found the film both uplifting and yet at the same time profoundly sad. Not bad for a bloke under a sheet.  

***** (out of 5*)

Paul Worts

This review was originally published by FrightFest.