Written by Jimmy Sangster & Michael Syson
Directed by Jimmy Sangster
Starring Judy Gesson, Joan Collins, Ralph Bates, Peter Cushing
- Running audio commentary by writer/director Sangster and Hammer Films historian Marcus Hearn
- Theatrical trailer
Released by: Anchor Bay.
Anamorphic: Yes .
My Advice: Rent it.
Peggy (Gesson) has just married schoolteacher Robert Heller (Bates) after a whirlwind romance and she couldn’t be happier. Still, she’s concerned that the problems that brought on her nervous breakdown may be cropping up again. She’s attacked in her bathroom by a man with a prosthetic armâ€¦or was she? Her landlady and the doctor don’t see any evidence of it. And moving to live at the school where Robert teaches isn’t helping her. The boarding school is empty for vacation and the corridors and classrooms seem to ache from the void. Then there is the headmaster Michael Carmichael (Cushing) who is nice enough and is devoted to the school and its pupils but seems a little odd. And his wife Molly (Collins) badly conceals her obvious dislike for Peggy under false conviviality. When Robert has to go away for a conference, Peggy is all aloneâ€¦or is she? With more attacks and the mysterious stranger after her (maybe), can Peggy survive the Fear in the Night?
Hammer Studios are best known for straight-out horror–vampires and demons and things that go bump in the night. But they also tried their hand at more suspenseful Hitchcockian thrillers. This movie emphasizes the psychological aspects of horror. The audience is kept guessing about whether Peggy is really being stalked and attacked or if she’s being strictly delusional. The deserted school with its sheet covered furniture and empty classrooms give off an eerie atmosphere. Peggy’s wanderings through the school do go on longer than necessary, but it is effective to build up tension.
Gesson’s portrayal of Peggy, that of a little girl in a woman’s body who is still afraid of the dark, does veer into melodrama but that’s what this kind of movie calls for. We get to see Collins in full catty snarl here and we can see the beginnings of her Dynasty role as Queen of All Bitches in this movie. And Cushing is amazing in a character that mixes Mr. Chips with Norman Bates. He puts in just enough creepiness in his portrayal to make you wonder if it he’s homicidal or it’s just English eccentricity. He really makes the movie.
Besides the ubiquitous trailer, we have a running commentary with the director, Jimmy Sangster, guided by the Hammer Films historian, Marcus Hearn. Sangster talks about how the original story had the action that place on a yacht and that Joan Collins, being at a low point in her career, still acted as if she was doing Hammer a favor by being in their movie. Mostly what he talks about is his involvement and some of the history of Hammer Films. He tells how this and other films were an attempt by the studio to go into a new direction since the monster movies that had made it famous were losing popularity. These more suspenseful thrillers did well initially, but by the time Fear in the Night came to the screen, they too were not burning up the box office. It’s an interesting peek into film history that most people aren’t aware of because Hollywood is so dominant.
While not the cream of the Hammer catalogue, the movie is still quite watchable and the commentary makes it worth a rental to check out.