Review Date: June 4, 2010
Released by: Scorpion Releasing
Release date: 3/30/2010
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
Freddie Francis is a man of two lives. As a cinematographer, he was renowned early for his contributions to esteemed films like Sons and Lovers
(for which he won his first Oscar), Glory
(his second), Scorsese's Cape Fear
, and many of the great films of David Lynch. In fact, it was Lynch who pulled Francis out of his second vocation to return back to cinematography for The Elephant Man
after a 15 year hiatus.
In between his stints as an Oscar-winning DOP, and sometimes during, he lead another life as director. And let's just say these things were not Oscar movies. He specialized in a wry, witty kind of English horror, dabbling occasionally in science fiction. Whether he was working with Peter Cushing for Hammer or shlocking it up with Trog
or The Killer Bees
, Francis had no pretensions as a director. One of his lesser known films, Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny & Girly
, or just Girly
, as it's packaged here might just be his oddest. Who else to release it than Scorpion? Let's take a look at this dysfunctional family.
Although they are certainly pushing their late teens, Girly (Vanessa Howard
) and Sonny (Howard Trevor
) don’t act it. Seemingly trapped with a bad case of Peter Pan
syndrome, they indulge in fantasy and saccharine gestures and colloquiums. Everything they say seems to be some sort of cutesy children’s rhyme or play on words, as if they are tucking each other into bed with every spew of the mouth. They may talk like darling children, but what they do on the playground ain’t so angel. They like to play this game where they bring playmates back to their mansion for fun with a captive audience. Literally. They prey on the intoxicated or naïve, and usually those who can’t keep their eyes off Girly’s school girl attire. They bring the victims home, where Mumsy (Ursula Howells
) and their maid, Nansy (Pat Heywood
), plan out days of proper manners, lavish dinners and plenty of deadly games.
One such victim is picked off after he and his girlfriend drink one too many at a party. The man (Michael Bryant
), deemed “New Friend” by the pair, lusts of course after Girly, and even if he isn’t thinking about his girlfriend, Girly is. Minutes later the girlfriend takes an unfortunate tumble from the top of a playground slide, and before he knows it he's captive at their mansion. That's a better fate, I suppose, than the previous "friend", who was buried up to his head in a sandbox. Another was shot with an arrow. Sounds like the kind of friends O.J. Simpson would have....
Anyway, the man is forced to act like a child, although the lust he has for Girly points more to puberty. She seems to be tiring of the whole act for Mumsy and Nanny too, and starts to accept his advances during a number of sexualized encounters from banging pool balls to sucking a bloodied finger. Although the guy is hardly Fonzy (hell, he’s barely a Brendan Gleeson) it seems that Mumsy and Nanny also wouldn’t mind some mustachiod romance. Before long jealousy, treachery and some pseudo-incest reign supreme, as the man tears down a family without a patriarch. They’ll all be children no longer.
What a weird movie. It definitely plays itself like some proper English Disney film along the lines of a Mary Poppins
, and certainly affirms the Disney influence with the notable, glaring absence of a father figures throughout. Yet despite the pomp smiles, it tries in a roundabout way for something subversive in the way it tries to turn goodness into something much more disturbing. This isn’t one of those movies where vile things happen behind happy families or closed doors, but instead the bad things happen in plain daylight and aren’t really all that bad at all. The deaths are as tame as could be, and the intent definitely seems to be to treat them as such. The movie wants to find horror in a different way. You know how two negatives make a positive – well I think Freddie Francis was trying for the opposite.
, you keep wondering when it’s going to go off the rails and give you the carnage that the poster shot of the titular daughter and axe promises. Although there are a couple macabre twists in the final reel, they are more situational than visceral. Deaths come without blood and mostly off camera. After one of the family spouts their hundredth or so rhyme, you wonder why the hell you’re still watching this G-rated banality, but somehow you can’t look away. Even if it really doesn’t show, or even do, a lot, you can tell that there are some interesting threads developing beneath the surface. Like it manages to somehow be unsettling by being unwaveringly kind and mannered, it manages to be deep despite seeming incredibly simple.
One of the biggest plot holes for me, the fact that the victims, grown men easily greater in stature than any and all of the titular family, are unable to simply walk out the front gate. Seriously, this is the least threatening family ever, and it really stretches believability that the men, without chains or locks on their doors, would be unable to walk, not run, out of the joint. But then you see all these bits with Sonny and his 8mm film camera, and it starts to click that Francis, himself a cameraman preoccupied with being the eye behind the lens, is injecting a bit of meta into the proceedings. The men stay not because they have to, but because they are characters. They have a role to the plot, both in the film itself and the elaborate game of pretend that the family fawns. He’s acting for the family and acting for us, and Sonny’s shooting it all for that Peeping Tom-kind of empowerment. The whole movie may just be the most elaborate film-within-a-film metaphor ever made.
I don’t really know if Girly
is enjoyable, but it certainly is interesting. You’ll spend most of the time wondering how such a kitschy, silly and simple film like this could be made, but then you’ll see these subtleties that point to something more. At over 100-minutes there HAS to be something more there. Although Francis’ record as a director is far from sterling (from Trog
to his similarly goofy Tales from the Crypt
episode), you’ve got to give a mind like his the benefit of the doubt. If Code Red’s Weekend Murders
wasn’t weird enough, then welcome Girly
to the bizarre British movie family.
Francis may have been an ace behind the camera, but don’t expect anything groundbreaking from the visuals here. Girly
is a fairly routine-looking movie, well lit and classical, with lavish Victorian set design but little in the way of shadow or style. Scorpion’s transfer preserves the naturalistic visuals with sharp clarity and good contrast. The colors are often very deep and saturated, although there are times when the color temperature changes within a shot from wear to the negative. There are dirt and specs that twinkle in throughout, but they’re relatively minor. The print is steady in the gate, and there are no major defects visible. Overall, Scorpion has popped out yet another lush, quality transfer.
English mono, and it’s what’s to be expected. Girly
has a pomp, classical score that fits the tone of the film, and it comes through clear, if flat. You can hear a light hiss and the occasional crackle, but there aren’t any dropouts or inaudible bits.
Freddie Francis may no longer be with us, but he lives on with a decent audio interview bundled in here with the film. Its vintage seems to be the early-nineties, since he references Cape Fear
. Francis is open and chatty, describing how he became interested in cinema, his favorites, working on bigger budgeted movies and even some of his smaller films. The interviewer mentions Girly
as one of his favorites, but he doesn’t really elaborate on that. Francis speaks well, but the audio quality of this half-hour interview isn’t the best and therefore makes it tough to stick it out the whole way through.
Also included is a video interview, also running thirty minutes, with the screenwriter of Girly
, Brian Comport. He’s enthusiastic, and while it takes a little time to get started – once he starts talking about Girly
he provides some good information. Comport does remember much of the film, from the writing to the filming all the way to the reception. He thinks fondly of the film, and explains how Cinerama going belly-up effectively killed the film’s chances of catching on after its initial release. Thankfully we have Scorpion Releasing for that. When Comport isn’t talking about Girly
he tends to ramble , but still, what he shares about the film is worthwhile.
There’s also the alternate title card with “Girly”. There’s no audio, though, which is probably why it wasn’t used for the film considering they titled the DVD “Girly”. English and Spanish trailers, as well as a TV spot for the film also take up extras space, and you can’t accuse the film of false advertising – they’re just as cheeky and odd as the film itself.
Cinerama trailers round off the disc with ads for Goodbye, Gemini
(released on DVD earlier this year from Scorpion), the sensationally seventies trailer for the May-December Fools
, and the British answer to that, Say Hello to Yesterday
, Doctor Death
(also released), the kitschy sand and surf Follow Me
, a blaxploitation cowboy(!) flick, Black Rodeo
, with Scream
’s Woody Strode, a mercenary revenge flick with Pussy Galore, The Last Grenade
, and the interesting looking The Girl in Blue
is a cheeky, saccharine bit of unbearably wholesome and mannered exchanges coupled with an odd, still tame malice. While much of the film seems simplistic and childish, it does build to a satisfying climax. Throughout, though, there’s a subversive weight to all this forced goodness, with Francis’ fascination with performance and the camera the most interesting. It may not be wholly enjoyable, but it’s always interesting. Scorpion has done another solid job with this release, with a vivid video transfer, acceptable audio and a few nice extras. The tagline boasts that “everyone’s dying to meet Girly
” – I wouldn’t go that far, but if you’re in for some cheeky British horror then you may as well invite her over. Just stay away from any mirrors or stock pots.
Movie - C+
Image Quality - B*
Sound - B-
Supplements - B-
- Running Time - 1 hour 41 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English mono
- Audio interview with the late director, Freddie Francis
- Video interview with writer Brian Comport
- Theatrical trailers
- TV spot
- Alternate title card
- Cinerama trailers