I’m so excited to participate in Barry_Cinematic’s and Realweegeemidget’s Great Hammer-Amicus Blogathon!
Also, this is my first post so I have no idea what I’m doing. Send help and cookies. Please.
Currently, I’m being fueled by tea and K-pop (yes, really) and writing a review for one of Hammer’s lesser known films from 1972, Fear in the Night.
Produced and directed by Jimmy Sangster, Fear in the Night is a psychological horror film. Not only has the story been done before, but, arguably, it’s also been done better and more competently. However, there’s something about it that has always stuck with me. Maybe it’s the performance by the brilliant Peter Cushing. Maybe it’s the addition of Joan Collins, who played the iconic Alexis Carrington on Dynasty. Maybe it’s Ralph Bates, an actor that I always find enjoyable to watch. Frankly speaking, it’s none of these although they certainly lend credibility to a lackluster film. For me, it’s the lovely Judy Geeson. Her portrayal as Peggy Heller is convincing, sensitive, and vulnerable. She truly stands out in her role as a victim of “female hysteria” or a woman with a deteriorating mental condition. Outdated, you say? Well the answer is obvious but I think it’s worth it to give this performance another look.
I imagine a lot of people would describe the character of Peggy Heller as meek. modest, shy, quiet, even a bit boring. Would anyone even notice her? Poor Peggy, who is a caregiver to a sweet old woman, has had a nervous breakdown. Despite this, the future looks bright. Peggy has recently married Robert Heller and is moving to the country, where he teaches at a boarding school. Headmaster Michael Carmichael also lives there with his wife, Molly.
Unfortunately, Peggy was attacked by a person with a prosthetic hand before leaving for her new home. As you would imagine, she is quite upset and this adds to her compromised mental state. We are now left with several questions: who attacked Peggy and why would anyone want to harm this young unassuming woman? How will this affect her when we know that she is already fragile?
Immediately, I like Peggy. I can see a little of myself in her. Even though she is intended to be weak and frail, she’s likable. We want the best for her; to see her succeed and be happy with her new life. Keep in mind, at the time when this was made, women were thought to be delicate little flowers. Sure there was a revolution happening. But how long did it take to see any real change? Here we are in 2018, still fighting for equal rights, still fighting to be recognized, still fighting for anti-harassment. So it’s not surprising to see a female character written as a damsel in distress. Cliched as this is, it works. Everyone enjoys seeing the hero rescue the princess. Peggy is a character we can root for and we hope she overcomes her demons, both real and imaginary.
As we watch Peggy adjust to her new life, which includes meeting the kind albeit creepy Michael and the standoffish Molly, we witness her continual downward spiral. Of course, it doesn’t help that Michael comes across as sinister or that Molly is condescending. It becomes apparent that something very strange is going on at this secluded boarding school and it threatens to unravel Peggy’s well-being to the point of no return.
Fear in the Night is not going to win any awards or gain any points for originality. You’d be forgiven for simply dismissing it. However, I suggest giving it a chance. It has an air about it that’s similar to a Gothic novel, the ones with the helpless woman on the cover fleeing from some unknown terror. It will never be one of Hammer’s best but there’s worse ways you could spend 94 minutes. Watch it to see Peter Cushing outwit everyone, watch it to see Joan Collins doing what she does best, or watch it for the tense and unsettling atmosphere. But allow me to argue once more to watch it for Judy Geeson. Watch it for all of the Peggys in the world, who haven’t quite found their voices. And maybe next time you encounter one, you won’t ignore her.