This classy little mid-70s psychological thriller gem has been restored as part of Studiocanal’s celebration of 60 Years of Hammer Horror.
Peggy (Geeson) is recovering from a breakdown when she marries schoolteacher Robert (Bates), who has just taken a job at a small British public school. Turning up at the deserted school, Peggy is attacked by a man with a prosthetic arm. Is her mind playing tricks? Or is there something not quite right about the creepy headmaster (Cushing) and his young wife (Collins)?
Fear in the Night was made as a cheapo ‘chamber’ psychodrama, with Geeson and Bates on screen much of the time, Collins and Cushing less so. Intentionally or not, the film really works and not just because of the lovely autumnal colours, the spot-on public school ambiance, atmospheric details of 70s environments (a Granada service station in all its glory!), décor and clothing.
It’s witty and well written: the opening sequence which pans over the school premises, the school song on the soundtrack, coming to rest on the legs of a hanged man, sets the tone perfectly. As well as an effective ‘woman in peril’ thriller, there’s a sardonic take on public school life on display here.
The performances are all good, keeping the film unsettling and gripping even if it is a UK take on a giallo film (a ‘Stockbroker Tudor giallo’, to paraphrase Robert) that lacks most of the style of its progenitors. The narrative also owes much to the classic thriller Les Diaboliques.
Geeson plays vulnerable and confused very well, while her third act turn towards passive aggressive power is credible too. Bates and Collins are wonderfully creepy in that way that only 70s film stars can be: louche and decadent exteriors hiding a lust for cash.
Despite having very few scenes, Cushing gives a proper performance as the headmaster, coming across as donnish, kind but also very creepy. He likes knots and asks Peggy “Do you like tying knots in things, Mrs Heller?” in a very disconcerting way, partly because for once he looks concerned and charming.
Well worth a look, Fear in the Night now looks like a prime cut of 70s UK popular cinema – all the better for being restored in high definition.
Fear in the Night is out now in a dual format edition.