Monday 28 September 2009

Blind Terror (1971)

Director: Richard Fleischer
Star: Mia Farrow
Our protagonist watches double bills like The Convent Murders and Rapist Cult, which sounds promising, though given that we're in Wokingham I'm pretty sure the BBFC would have cut the crap out of them if they were real films. Ever watched a porn movie with the sex cut out? That's what the BBFC tended to do to movies. So maybe the frustration of watching a couple of lurid movies with everything lurid cut out is what turns him into a psycho nutjob. That really isn't a spoiler, by the way, because this is a psycho nutjob movie. Our psycho nutjob wears brown cowboy boots with a lone star on the front, he snaps his fingers when he's walking down the street and he reads porn in the pub, but we don't see who he is. We just see those boots a-walkin'.

He also seems to have a vendetta against Sarah, the heroine of our story, who is played by Mia Farrow. It starts with dumb things like standing in front of her uncle George's car as he picks her up from the train station, or keying the side of the car later when George has taken his wife Betty into town to pick up groceries. George and Betty Rexton are pretty well to do judging from their large house with its large grounds and the servants they keep around to take care of things. I don't just mean large, I mean really large, country manor large and lavishly furnished too. It's called Manor Farm and that seems highly appropriate.

Sarah, who has travelled to Wokingham to stay with them, can't see any of this though, as she's blind, making both titles of the film a pun: it was called Blind Terror in the UK where it was made and See No Evil in the US. She wasn't born blind, having lost her sight in a horseriding accident, so she knows the house pretty well and they've left it much as she remembers it, so she can get around pretty well. She's game too, not wanting to be a burden to anyone, so she fumbles around as best she can doing as much as she possibly can. She does pretty well too, just as Mia Farrow does pretty well at making us believe she's a blind go getter.

What she can't possibly notice though is that when she gets up early one morning, the house isn't quiet because everyone else is asleep, it's because they're dead. Our psycho nutjob has murdered them all: the Rextons, the servants, everyone but Sarah. She finds out eventually, of course, given that the killer left George in the bath she uses too. She also finds Barker, the stable boy, just before he dies from his wounds, which is how she ends up with the bracelet that the killer accidentally left behind. From then it's a cat and mouse game, well constructed and happy to go about its business slowly but surely, without the need for undue theatrics. After all, a blind girl being stalked by a mad killer has inherent theatrics.
The film was a British production, which is apparent throughout: shot in Berkshire, with a English cast and crew, some of whom I recognise from British television, like Paul Nicholas and Michael Elphick. It was financed by American money, courtesy of Columbia Pictures, but surprisingly the only American presences are the star and the director, the latter being Richard Fleischer, a versatile filmmaker probably best known for his science fiction films. He made Fantastic Voyage, Soylent Green and the Disney version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. With horror thrillers like Compulsion, The Boston Strangler and 10 Rillington Place behind him, not to mention this one, his genre credentials would be impeccable, but he went on to cement them with some late entries in his filmography like Amityville 3-D, Conan the Destroyer and Red Sonja.

Everyone else is British, not least the writer Brian Clemens, whose script really stamps the tone on the film. He's a perennial name on well established British TV series, turning out episode after episode of titles like The Professionals, The Avengers or The Protectors, even as far back as Danger Man. His many films didn't really compare in quality, or at least in lasting presence, but they did include a few notable titles like The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde and Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter, the latter of which he also directed. Then again the fact that he contributed to Highlander II: The Quickening alone wipes out the top half of his career output all on its own just to restore some balance.

I'm guessing it was Clemens who was most responsible for the restraint here, which is admirable and powerful. In fact the power of the film, Farrow's excellent performance aside, really comes from the restraint shown throughout. We don't see who the killer is until the finale and we don't see him commit his crimes. We don't see any gruesome murders and in fact we're kept in the dark almost as long as Sarah. We come upon the victims almost as asides, sitting in chairs or lying on beds, as the camera pans across the room to follow Sarah. When we discover the identity of the killer when he isn't even on screen with most of the rest of the cast, only to realise where he must be. It really is textbook writing, aided by decent editing and cinematography.

Blind Terror may not make it to the top tier of thrillers, but it holds its own in the next tier down; those solid, very watchable films that succeeded despite the lack of star power, money and advertising that tend to get thrown at the greats. It stands up nearly forty years later as a tense, sure ride that I'd be happy to come back to again in the future.

1 comment:

Jeffyo said...

I agree this is a great film that has held up remarkably well. Saw it a couple of times as a young serviceman in Germany soon after it came out, and had fond memories of it, which were reinforced when I saw it again on Turner Classic Movies this past week. Love how the first few minutes of the film show the killer passing instance after instance of mindless, meaningless violence -- in movie posters, newspaper headlines, TV broadcasts, etc. Which makes it seem almost inevitable that an insignificant thing {a little water innocently splashed on his boots!} could precipitate his own mindless spree of revenge.