As nice as Redemption Films’ The Pete Walker Collection (released in 2012) was, the set glaringly omitted what is perhaps the cult British filmmaker’s most well-known effort: 1974’s Frightmare (also known as Cover Up). Redemption has made up for it with a standalone Blu-ray release of the picture (released simultaneously with Walker’s 1972 effort, The Flesh and Blood Show).
Although I believe House of Whipcord to be the Walker’s strongest effort, Frightmare is the cult favorite. Its popularity is rooted in infamy; the film’s initial release sparked a controversial debate about the treatment of the mentally ill. The resultant publicity afforded the low budget picture a good deal of press it would not have received otherwise. Now those negative reviews are worn like badges of honor; the Blu-ray proudly displays disparaging pull quotes (such as Daily Express’ “If you like this, have your brain examined.”) on both its front and back covers.
Dorothy (Sheila Keith) and Edmund Yates (the final film of Rupert Davies, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave) are a loving, married couple who happen to be cannibalistic murderers. After being charged for their heinous crimes in 1957, they spend some 15 years in a mental institution before doctors declare them “cured” and they are released into society. Dorothy begins to show signs of relapse as her stepdaughter (Deborah Fairfax) desperately attempts to maintain her sanity while preventing Dorothy’s real daughter (Kim Butcher) from learning the truth about her mother. When the family reunion finally occurs, all hell breaks loose.
Like House of Whipcord, Frightmare is written by David McGillivray from a story by Walker and stars Keith. As she was known to do in Walker’s pictures, Keith steals the show, going from sympathetic to unhinged at the drop of a hat. The film is often hailed as Britain’s answer to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; while it isn’t quite worthy of that level of praise – it’s an unfair comparison, really – the films do share a similarly bleak tone, as well as a farmhouse setting and familial cannibalism and insanity. Frightmare is also noteworthy for featuring a power drill-wielding murderer that predates the likes of Driller Killer and Slumber Party Massacre.
Redemption Films’ Frightmare Blu-ray was mastered in high definition from an original 35mm negative with no further polishing. The result is good but not perfect; its age is apparent by the sporadic dust, debris and wear. The natural, grainy picture complements the film’s tone well, however. The disk also includes an interview with Walker along with a previously-released profile on Keith and a recycled audio commentary by Walker and cinematographer Peter Jessop, which seems to have a segments that erroneously repeat.
As you might expect, Frightmare is not nearly as shocking as it was upon its debut forty years ago. (“In this day and age, you could show it to kids on a Saturday afternoon,” Walker quips in the disk’s bonus material.) Its failure to live up to the hype aside, the film also suffers from pacing issues (the first on-screen kill doesn’t occur until nearly an hour into the 86-minute feature). Even through the negative aspects, though, Frightmare packs a punch when the final reel starts spinning.