Review Date: November 15, 2002
Released by: Lionsgate
Release date: 7/23/2002
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.66:1 | 16x9: Yes
The early 1970's marked the fruition of the sexual revolution started in the later 1960's. Sex and promiscuity were embraced, and people were having sex, often times, at the expense of conversation. Women left their homes of 18 years looking to find a mate and perhaps even a potential father. In Straight on Till Morning
, a new Hammer DVD by Anchor Bay, young Brenda Thompson roams the sex savvy streets of London in hopes of finding a partner. She finds one…but loving him could be murder!
Young Brenda Thompson (Rita Tushingham
) is a sweet and unbearably naïve mother's girl who one day reaches an epiphany: She is going to move out of her Liverpool home and search the streets for a man to father he unborn child. She tells her mom that she is already pregnant, but that is merely a ploy for her to stretch her wings and leave her mother's restrictive nest. Reciting excerpts from children's fairytales like Peter Pan, she views life as an innocent utopia, where one may always live happily ever after with her chosen Prince Charming. She heads out to London with such a mindset, but unfortunately, life is not at all how she envisioned it.
Presented in a heavily edited montage, Brenda approaches various men on the street with little luck. She is not pretty, and in a world fixated on beauty, she is constantly overlooked. Even her roommate, Caroline (Katya Wyeth
), steals her potential lovers with her lustful eye and gorgeous looks. It isn't until Brenda finds a lost dog named Tinker, reminding her assuredly of her fairytale fixations, that she decides to approach the dog's owner, hoping he can provide her with a child. She cleans the ugly and scraggly dog up into pretty perfection, and guides him over to its owner's house. To her luck, the owner, Peter (Shane Briant
) is an embodiment of beauty, and she instantly asks him if he will have her baby. He obliges, asking only that she keep the house clean in return.
Life does not go on happily ever after for the couple however, as Peter turns out to be anything but Prince Charming. Peter loathes his beauty, and that of everyone else, so much that he is brought to a murderous rage in its presence. He brutally stabs his newly bathed dog, balking at its beauty, and as it turns out, he has done the same to previous lovers in the past. He chooses to be with Brenda (who he now calls Wendy, reaffirming their fairytale world) because she is homely, making her beautiful in Peter's disturbed eyes. He keeps her like a possession, limiting her to the confines of the house, but when she leaves one day to make herself pretty for him, things begin to crumble in the couple's relationship. Peter is unhinged and disturbed, and only Wendy can help him fly above his derangement.
Straight on Till Morning
is a disturbing and somewhat unsettling film. Promoted by its producer, Hammer, as a "Hammer love story", likely because of the worldwide success of 1970's Love Story
, this film is anything but. Both Peter and Brenda are incapable of love, and their relationship is cold and distant. Brenda is much too naïve and childlike in mindset to be able to handle such a relationship, and Peter is so mentally forgone that their connection romantically is unattainable. Both of these characters, with their fairytale aspirations, can never unite, and that is just the point. This movie is about detachment and a commentary of the times. Not all relationships in the sexual revolution are as stable and easily attainable as the title of the uprising suggests.
Between this film and Fright
, director Peter Collinson has established himself as somewhat of an auteur despite his claims in his biography (included on both DVDs) that he "disappears in [his] pictures". Like in Fright
, he seems fixated on shooting his female protagonists through bars, aptly suggesting their vulnerability and entrapment within the control of the reigning male. His kinetic editing is also exhibited handily throughout the film, masking the violence in the murders and capturing the promiscuous nature of the people of the early 1970's. The quickly edited montage of Brenda's search for a mate emphasizes how people have been lowered to soulless sexual conquests. Brenda, like many people of the time, was looking for sex rather than companionship, and the editing brings out such desires.
As much as the editing is a virtue, it also becomes a vice, as the film comes off at many times needlessly confusing and frenetic. Even the ending, which is purposely open ended, is indefinite and leaves the viewer in a state of ambivalence. Perhaps that is the beauty of it, but those looking for a definite story will be left cold. The film is also extremely restrained in its unfolding, with little intensity or rising action throughout. At 96 minutes, not a whole lot happens in terms of plot, as Collinson dwells instead on the interaction between Peter and Wendy instead. This is not a traditional horror film, but more a psychological study for the thinking man.
The performances of the two leads are admirable, giving both Peter and Wendy a needed depth to keep viewers interested. Wendy comes off as intolerably immature and inexperienced, but it seems true of her character. Raised on fairytales and sheltered by her protective mother, she hasn't a clue about the know-how of everyday life. As Peter, Shane Briant creates a convincing lunatic, and his hatred for beauty is an intriguing concept. Collinson seems so intrigued with this idea that he has fabricated a film devoid of any cheer or redemption.
Straight on Till Morning
is depressing and uneventful, and because of such, it is tough to recommend. The film is artistic and layered, with its many references to Peter Pan and fairytales, and the performances are convincing. What hurts the film is its lack of plotting and a traditional payoff. There is no recompense for staying with the film for its entire length, and that attribute may be its kiss of death. This Hammer production has definite qualities going for it, but it is a tough film to enjoy and to recommend.
Like Collinson's other film, Fright
, this is presented in anamorphic 1.66:1 widescreen, and it looks about as good. The print is clear and sharp, and it is virtually blemish free. The color scheme seems dated, but it accurately recaptures the important time and feel of the early 70's. Blacks are not as strong as they could be, but overall (cue broken record) this is another fine transfer from Anchor Bay.
Again, like Fright
, this is presented in Dolby Digital mono, and sounds just like it. The dialogue is clear but ultimately sounds flat and lacking any real depth. The music is equally as unimpressive, if still audible. Considering this is a Hammer film, I would have expected perhaps at least a stereo remix, but the mono track is serviceable. It is important though, to view this film in the context of the 1970's when it was made, so the mono track does help preserve that timeframe.
The crown jewel of the DVD is its informative and nicely paced commentary with Hammer journalist Jonathan Sothcott acting as moderator to actress Rita Tushingham's comments. Both of them are very witty, and they keep the track fairly lively. There are a few moderate gaps in the track, but they are done at the right times in the film where it is hardly noticeable. They talk several lengths about the Hammer franchise, the swinging London at the time of the film's production, Tina's career, and even voice their interpretation of the ending. It is a very good track, and those with the time to hear it should have a good time with it.
Also included is an anamorphic theatrical trailer with much too many spoilers, and therefore it is recommended that it be seen only after the film's viewing. A Peter Collinson biography rounds off the DVD, but it is the same one included on the Fright
DVD. The menus are static, and unappealing, unlike most of Anchor Bay's latest efforts. Overall though, a nice bit of extras for a fairly unseen Hammer film.
Straight on Till Morning
is a fascinating film about relationships in the early 1970's, but remains inaccessible to many because of its depressing tone and lingering story structure. Its commentary on the sexual revolution is a rarity in cinema, and the performances and editing make the film a worthwhile hour and a half. The video quality is great, as is the included commentary track, but the sound is unfortunately lacking. Overall, this DVD is tough to recommend, but those looking for a thought provoking but slowly paced story will undoubtedly be satisfied.
Movie - C+
Image Quality - A-
Sound - C
Supplements - B
- Running time - 1 hour 26 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English mono
- Commentary by actress Rita Tushingham and journalist Jonathan Sothcott
- Theatrical Trailer
- Peter Collinson Biography