Given the emphasis director Sidney Havers places on the electricity pylon in the opening credits roll for this 1971 British thriller, a modern audience won’t find it hard to work out just where (and possibly also how) Assault - retitled In the Devil’s Garden in the US, given the location of the crimes: the local forest known as Devil’s End - is going to conclude. In fact, and despite the playfulness John Kruse’s screenplay has first in apportioning suspicion and then in manoeuvring his suspects around the film’s playing field, there isn’t a lot of doubt by the third act as to who did it. There is, however, considerable fun to be had in watching the culprit’s attempts to evade justice, and ultimately his destination once he realises the game is up.
Assault begins with the rape of a young Lesley Anne Down, and subsequent rape and killing of one of her schoolmates, and while that might seem grounds for something scurrilous and potentially offensive - and no doubt the reason for the film’s contemporary X certificate - it’s actually anything but. There’s no nudity, barely any on-screen violence, and if both of the picture’s attacks are treated voyeuristically by the camera, it’s a fully justified means to convey the girls’ fear and unsettle the viewer by making them complicit in the crimes.
What Assault is really about is the investigation. On the one hand, we have Frank Finlay’s detective Velyan, consulting with James Laurenson’s doctor Greg Lomax about the perpetrator’s possible psychological profile, with both men developing an interest in Suzy Kendall’s art teacher Miss West after she bears witness to the second attack. Her description of the rapist, glanced in the rear-view mirror of her stranded car, plays a large part in the subsequent investigation after she conspires with Freddie Jones’ hack journalist to try and draw the criminal out into the open.
It’s all rather cheap and cheerful of course, suffering the usual deficiencies of films of its ilk but made up for by some thoughtful direction from Havers (whose use of lighting is particularly interesting), and with an array of well-known faces from the British character acting fraternity brought in to keep it ticking along. Here we have Anthony Ainley as a possibly sinister hospital administrator, and Tony Beckley as the headmistress' potentially guilty house husband. Freddie Jones seems to be acting in a different film than everyone else, but at least he brings a little colour - and David Essex even turns up in his first official acting role.
There’s not much in the way of extras on this Network release, but the restoration on the 2K scan is sublime, meaning this diverting if unambitious film has probably never looked - or sounded (Eric Rogers’ score is especially distinctive) - better than it does now.
ASSAULT (aka IN THE DEVIL’S GARDEN) / DIRECTOR: SIDNEY HAYERS / SCREENPLAY: JOHN KRUSE / STARRING: SUZY KENDALL, FRANK FINLAY, FREDDIE JONES, LESLEY-ANNE DOWN, JAMES LAURENSON / CERT: 15 / RELEASE DATE: 27TH AUGUST 2018