Friday, August 6, 2010

FEAR IN THE NIGHT (Jimmy Sangster, 1972)

A woman on the verge of another nervous breakdown seeks emotional shelter in a quicksilver marriage, where murder is just a shot away. Hammer regular Jimmy Sangster’s foray into Hitchcockian territory travels the beaten path of genre cliché, a boilerplate narrative whose plot devices become a genre vice. The story, like all Hammer Productions, uses a formulaic narrative economy that propels one scene to the next without exposition or transition: usually a positive, here it stalls the suspense while committing film’s greatest sin…it becomes boring.

Without regurgitating the entire plot, a few diabolical moments help the film become barely risible, conveying inspiration and lost potential. Peggy’s first attack by the one-armed person is considered delusional, a symptom as she is still recovering from her breakdown (whose explanation is never revealed), by people uninvolved in the complicated plot. This seems unreasonable, and Sangster could have structured the film as police procedural, building razor-wire tension until the shotgun climax. Instead, everyone is condescending towards Peggy and she becomes a caricature, a walking and talking narrative element as opposed to a three dimensional fiction. This is the basic flaw of the movie. Sangster also cross-cuts Peggy’s ordeals with her mysterious counseling sessions, her doctor’s face never revealed. Again, this is a wonderful setup for an ironic twist but this participle remains dangling.

The story travels to a deserted Boy’s School where disembodied voices echo throughout the hollow rooms, a place where hunched and ghostly forms haunt each room, and a lonely Headmaster wanders the convolutions of this deserted manor. The story fails again to generate much suspense and becomes too talky, relying on exposition instead of superstition. Peter Cushing as the Headmaster and Joan Collins as his predatory wife are woefully underwritten: though each is excellent in their allotted roles, they never appear in scene together. Joan Collins becomes a minor figment in this disillusioned story that descends from the briefly profound to the prosaic.

FEAR IN THE NIGHT has little of either, and the whole is a confection that is unfulfilling and full of empty calories…without sweet rapture.

Final Grade: (C-)

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