Fear In The Night


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Fear In The Night
"Geeson is impressive in a role which requires her to show weakness and mental fragility yet still keep viewers identifying with her."

Ally Sheldon called them the women men don't see: women like Peggy (Judy Geeson), quiet, demure, respectably dressed, getting on with their lives in the background, working as assistants to men whose wives find them too bland to be threatening. Peggy has still lower social status than most such women, having recently spent time in a psychiatric hospital after suffering a nervous breakdown. But now, most unexpectedly, things are looking up. She has enjoyed a whirlwind courtship with charming young teacher Robert (Ralph Bates), resulting in marriage and the promise of a new life out in the country. Her smile, like everything else about her, is slight and modest, but there's real joy behind it.

No relation to the 1947 Maxwell Shane film of the same name, this thriller nevertheless has themes in common with it, notably in terms of uncertainty around what is real and what is imaginary. With a woman in the leading role instead of a man, this uncertainty is still more sinister. In England in 1972, women had few employment rights, couldn't take out credit in their own names, and couldn't even order a pint without risking legal rejection just on grounds of their sex. They were significantly more likely to be institutionalised for minor psychiatric problems. So when, the night before she's due to leave for her new home, Peggy is attacked by someone who has broken into her lodgings, it's not surprising that her account is dismissed as the product of a disturbed imagination. She is left with a stark choice between doubting the evidence of her own senses or despairing for her safety.

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If Peggy is a victim of ablist prejudice, so is her assailant - an artificial arm falls to the floor during the struggle, and the sight adds to her fear. So when, having moved out to the school where her husband works, she discovers that its headmaster - an artfully creepy Peter Cushing - has an artifical arm, she is immediately on her guard. As her sense of peril escalates, her husband comes and goes, and she is taunted by the headmaster's glamorous young wife (Joan Collins), who seems irked by her sweetness. But what is really going on? What is the reason for Peggy's apparent persecution, and can she uncover the source of the danger she faces before it's too late?

Geeson is impressive in a role which requires her to show weakness and mental fragility yet still keep viewers identifying with her. The plot is pleasingly twisted and the climax suitably dramatic, if a little drawn out. Though there's not much to make the film stand out, writer/director Sangster does a good job with a small cast, a handful of locations and props some of which sharp-eyed viewers will recognise from other Hammer films. There's an unusually downbeat ending which upends conventional narrative expectations and invites us to find the real horror in something more abstract that the bloody violence we see along the way.

Reviewed on: 03 Nov 2017
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Fear In The Night packshot
A young woman recovering from a nervous breakdown moves with her husband to a boys' school and finds herself being terrorised by a mysterious one-armed man, but nobody believes her.
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Director: Jimmy Sangster

Writer: Jimmy Sangster, Michael Syson

Starring: Judy Geeson, Joan Collins, Ralph Bates, Peter Cushing, James Cossins

Year: 1972

Runtime: 94 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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