A killer lurks beneath the surface of suspicion, breathing air in a noxious environment of murderous intentions. Director Guy Green balances a thrilling story with beautiful compositions, tightening the improbable machinations of murder and teenage angst into a suspension of disbelief.
Green was the cinematographer for David Lean's first two films GREAT EXPECTATIONS and OLIVER TWIST, imbuing each with a grim yet austere look of classic literature imprinted upon celluloid, framing scenes with slightly skewed angles or focusing upon the skeletal and bleak environment to create a sense of 19th century dis-ease. As director, his eye for capturing a scene with simple detail and the monotonous dread of routine elevates his film above the typical Hammer tropes. The film begins with a murder in progress with no build up or explanation, using mis en scene to convey murderous details. The two glasses of milk (one half-drunk) explains the sleeping woman without trite exposition, and as he tapes the windows and doors from inside we begin to wonder what the hell he's up to. When Green suddenly cuts to the man in a scuba mask it's like the shocking revelation of some alien horror. By explaining the murder in the first act Green heightens the tension as the precocious teenage daughter Candy and her dog Toto begin to figure out the crime, and the nanny Jean whispers implications of act and intent.
Candy begins to drown in frustration as the child who cried wolf, once again accusing her step-father of seemingly impossible crime. As she suffers we empathize with her plight, admiring her headstrong attitude but also realizing that she is still a gullible child, easily lured into a trap by a cold hearted killer. And her step-father Paul is a sociopath wearing the mask of innocence, a monster who subsumes the role of victim. He is reminiscent of Joseph Cotton as Uncle Charlie in Hitchcock's penultimate film SHADOW OF A DOUBT, casting a hypnotic aura of charm and virile grace. The ending balances on the edge of brilliance, evoking the existential and ironic O'Henry twist perfected by those purveyors of nightmare at E.C Comics (pre-code, mind you).
Final Grade: (B)