It’s no surprise that the script for 1972’s Fear in the Night had been kicking around for a decade before it finally got made. This is no Hammer Horror but instead fits more closely with Taste of Fear or Paranoiac and deliberately echoes the likes of Les Diaboliques and Hitchcock. As might be expected therefore it’s written by (and in this case also directed by) Jimmy Sangster.
Judy Geeson plays Peggy, a shy young woman who some 6 months earlier had suffered a breakdown and spent some time in hospital. Since her release, a whirlwind romance with teacher Robert (Ralph Bates) finds Peggy now married and about to move with him to the boarding school he works at. It’s a chance at a new life, one perhaps finally happy, for Peggy and she is eager to go.
Before she can leave London, Peggy is attacked in her home by a one-armed man though the people around her are more inclined to believe she’s imagining things. Leaving for the country school, she meets the headmaster Michael (Peter Cushing), and there’s definitely something off about him. Cushing’s wife Molly is played by Joan Collins and the two take an instant dislike to each other. Peggy’s dream new life is obviously not going to be what she hoped for but it might even be worse if Peggy is right about the man she sees lingering outside. Maybe someone is trying to kill her after all.
Fear in the Night centres not around whether Peggy is imagining things (as an audience were clearly directed to be on her side) but instead who is responsible and why. It’s a slight tale and the condensed number of characters doesn’t encourage much whodunnit mystery. Yet despite this, the new release from Studio Canal has plenty to recommend. There’s some influence from the burgeoning giallo films, but here done with a drab, autumnal early ‘70s British approach, which is actually interesting. Neither Sangster’s script nor the restrictions of low budget production ultimately leave much room for surprise twists, but Jimmy had a handle on the material and it shows. It’s quite a subtle, measured film and despite not a lot actually happening, the end still delivers. Performances are all very good, with Geeson outstanding and, although Cushing’s appearances are little more than a cameo, the great man as ever makes the most of it.
The print is beautiful and sharp, production design is thoughtful and this is inarguably the best presentation of the film yet. A short 17-minute documentary features the usual faces for these releases but the context and analysis are welcome. For anyone with an interest in late-period Hammer, it’s a worthy purchase.
FEAR IN THE NIGHT (1972) / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: JIMMY SANGSTER / SCREENPLAY: MICHAEL SYSON, JIMMY SANGSTER / STARRING: JUDY GEESON, JOAN COLLINS, RALPH BATES, PETER CUSHING / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW