Review Date: August 29, 2002
Released by: Anchor Bay
Release date: 10/8/2002
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
What is it about one-armed men that intrigue writers to pen them as the villains of so many of their works? Perhaps it provides feelings of perplexity to the viewer, giving the villain an immediately interesting past. How was their arm severed, and why does he kill now? Productions like the ever-famous Twin Peaks
and The Fugitive
have used this device with skill, and even Star Wars
has dipped its palms in such a gimmick. Predating all these though, was a little Hammer production entitled Fear in the Night
, which explored the mystic of a one-armed man much earlier than the other films. Now, thanks to Anchor Bay, this little seen shocker is finally out on DVD as part of their Hammer collection. Should the film be given a hand, or is it a missed opportunity? Let's find out!
The film begins with a lengthy pan around an isolated all-boys school. Empty desks, a barren cafeteria, a lifeless schoolyard…a dead body. Hanging from a tree, the camera reveals, is the feet of a deceased person. Who is it, and how did it get there? The film cuts to London, where young Peggy Heller (Judy Geeson
) is packing her things. She is preparing to move in with her newly married husband who works at the previously mentioned prep school. She dismisses her maid, and finishes packing…but there is somebody else lurking. Unknowingly, Peggy treads by the bathroom and is then attacked by a gloved madman. As she struggles, she pulls of the murderer's prosthetic arm and is then rendered unconscious.
Minutes later, Peggy's maid discovers her in the bathroom and calls a doctor. Peggy tells the doctor of her interpretation of the attack, but both the doctor and her maid believe she was imagining things. It appears that 6 months prior, Peggy was victim of a nervous breakdown, and she may be hallucinating like other sufferers of nervous breakdowns are said to do. The next day her husband, Robert (Ralph Bates
), picks her up and they arrive at the beautiful school. Once there, she meets her husband's employer, Headmaster Michael Carmichael (Peter Cushing
), but there is something peculiar about him, other than the fact that he talks with suspicion. He has only one arm, although Peggy does not notice.
Peggy is attacked once again by the one-armed stalker, but her husband, like her maid and doctor, does not believe these events are actually happening. Michael has to go away to a conference, but someone is lurking, there is something out there to "fear in the night". Armed with a rifle, Peggy is determined to fight for her survival, but things are not quite the way they seem. Is Peggy seeing things? Is a one-armed man really on the prowl? These questions, and then some, are answered in quite a revealing and unpredictable finale.
Fear in the Night
is an ambitious horror film with a story structure that is quite different than most other shockers. Time is at times manipulated, and all of the characters, including the protagonist, appear to be concealing the truth. Throughout nearly the entire movie, the viewer is left in the dark as to what is really happening. Because of such a structure, the film is detached and distant, making it extremely slow moving and at times uninvolving. Although remaining oblique about the characters does make the film slow moving, it also ensures that the climax is irregular and enlightening, with a more than worthy payoff.
Watching the film may seem lengthy and fruitless throughout, but the final 20 minutes of exposition provide both action and a worthwhile conclusion. Admittedly, the plot does lag, but the actors are all top notch, and the film also has Hammer's traditional refined photography and elegance. The majority of the shots are lengthy and consist of soft pans to keep the audience at ease. It appears as if everything is normal and without problem, providing a sharp contrast to the actual happenings of the story. There are also many cleverly edited sequences which have the camera zoom in on a character and then zoom out, revealing an entirely different background. This helps separate and confuse time, which becomes especially meaningful during the end.
Peter Cushing is the standout in the film, with his slowly annunciated phrases and his creepy glare. He has only scant minutes of screen time, but the way they are handled makes them seem like much more. Joan Collins, as his equally suspicious wife, is also rarely seen but undeniably effective. And for the most part, Judy Geeson does a good job with the central character, even though the script somewhat let's her down at the end. She is nearly abandoned by the screenplay in a twist, and such a mistake does harm the film.
In the end though, this is a slow-moving, but still intriguing thriller, with a more than acceptable payoff. There is hardly a drop of blood in sight, as the film relies more on suspense than on graphic violence. So while traditional horror fans may be turned off by its snail-paced running time, those with patience and a preference for ambience should enjoy the title. One of Hammer's lesser works, but still a good film in its own right.
Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, Fear in the Night
looks every bit as good as what is to be expected from Anchor Bay's high standards. The print is sharp and with hardly any grain at all, and the flesh tones are nicely saturated. Colors are also true, but the film's 30-year age is very noticeable, evidenced by the limited and muted color palette. There are some white specs of grain that appear sporadically throughout, but they are kept to a minimum. This is easily the best the film has ever looked.
Presented in both French and English Mono, the track sounds free of distortion and the dialogue and music sound nice and clear. There are a few instances where the track sounds thin and distant, with a partial echo to it, but it is not too distracting. Not an involving track at all, but it serves this obscure film quite nicely.
Although not an all out special edition, Anchor Bay has provided a few quality supplements to satisfy fans of the film. Firstly is a 3-minute widescreen theatrical trailer enhanced for 16x9 televisions. It is nicely made, but too revealing, and should only be seen after the film. The only other supplement is a feature length audio commentary with Director Jimmy Sangster and Hammer Historian Marcus Hearn. The two talk at length about the film, and after all these years it is surprising how much Sangster remembers about the film. They talk about the story's original location (on a boat!), the cast, Sangster's Diabolique inspirations, and the shooting locations used in the film. Hearn keeps Sangster going with some literate and digging questions, and the track is overall a good listen. Sangster sounds very old, and the track is a tad dry, but there is nary a moment of silence, and both participants are very well prepared.
Fear in the Night
is a good, if somewhat slow-moving film. The quality of production, the acting and the twisty climax make the film worth watching throughout. The video presentation is stellar considering the film's age and the commentary is oozing with information and insight. While certainly not one of Hammer's best, or most remembered works, it should still please Hammer fans and all those looking for an unfolding and dramatic film.
Movie - B-
Image Quality - A-
Sound - C+
Supplements - B
- Running time - 1 hour 34 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English mono
- French mono
- Commentary by Director Jimmy Sangster and Hammer Historian Marcus Hearn.
- Theatrical Trailer