1973 horror written and directed by Antony Balch, following Jason (Robin Askwith) a young musician who decides to take break to a country retreat, on the train he meets Judy (Vanessa Shaw) who happens to be heading to the same place to meet her Aunt Harris (Ellen Pollock) and her husband Doctor Storm (Michael Gough) who own the place. It’s quickly obvious there’s something strange going on, the doctor seems to be performing experiments on the guests.
There’s no time wasted as the film begins, throwing you in at the deep end with a drag queen singer emerged in smoke getting into a fight and two escaped guests and a sinister looking Gough instructing his driver to make sure they meet a rather grizzly end. It’s a perfectly ominous and energetic way to start, helped even more by brilliant opening credits of pure black and one steady stream of crimson to split it right down the middle. Director, Balch was extremely involved in the redistribution of art/exploitation films in the 60s and 70s but only ever actually directed 2 feature films himself, Horror Hospital and Secrets of Sex, which immediately you can see impacts the style this film was going to have. A style which, though the film has the word horror in the title and is technically under that genre, it falls more towards comedy because you could try and take it seriously but it’s much more enjoyable not to.
The two best examples of why are firstly the events that take place, our lead (and rather instant) couple played by Askwith and Shaw are not exactly the sharpest tools in the shed to put it politely. If you were to have mysterious bikers pick you up without saying a word then arrive at a house where you get an icy reception and are shown to your room while passing another covered in blood, you would run right? But oh no, not these bright sparks. It does however have that classic air of arriving somewhere new and feeling like everyone is in on something, that you’re unfortunately destined to become a part of, it would be impossible not to know a sinister plot was afoot. Not forgetting the second example, the acting is pretty terrible, in a way where it almost makes things more funny because it can’t be possible for them not to realise. It’s the classic B-Movie format, events which are not entirely believable but fun to watch pan out, special effects that will make you laugh rather than jump and the traditional poorly written dialogue. There is one element that is genuinely brilliant, Michael Gough’s performance as Dr. Christian Storm, many of us will remember him as Alfred Pennyworth in the Batman films of 1989-97 but as soon as he first appears on screen in a rather elaborate hat, with his posh but villainous voice, it’s just pure fun to behold.
There’s something about this film that almost makes it feel like an 18 rated episode of Doctor Who, stumbling into a mad surgeon’s house and having to find a way to escape, it’s enjoyably absurd. Yes, the acting is fairly awful, the sound quality is all over the place and effects are about as convincing as Dick Van Dyke’s accent in Mary Poppins but it all inevitably adds to the comedy of it; though it’s worth watching for Gough’s maniacal villain alone.
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