Directed by: Sidney Hayers, Starring: Susy Kendall, Frank Finlay, Freddy Jones, Tony Beckley. Crime thriller. UK 1971, 94mins, Cert 15.
Released on Blu-ray on 27th August 2018 in the UK by Network.
Journeyman director Sidney Haynes’ extraordinarily far-fetched filmography stretches from British horror flicks such as NIGHT OF THE EAGLE (1962), to episodes of ‘The Avengers’ (both the old and ‘New’), and a slew of 80’s US TV shows including - but by no means limited to: ‘Magnum, P.I.’, ‘Manimal’, ‘T.J. Hooker’, ‘Airwolf’, ‘Knight Rider’ and ‘The A-Team’! Before this 80’s stint in the US, Haynes directed a quasi (and slightly queasy) British giallo (of sorts). Also known in the US as THE DEVIL’S GARDEN, ‘TOWER OF TERROR’ and numerous other international variations, ASSAULT (1971), as we called it here, was based on a novel entitled ‘The Ravine’ and was executively produced by Peter (CARRY ON) Rogers.
A lurid opening sees nubile schoolgirl Tessa (Lesley-Anne Down) taking a shortcut home through the woods surrounding the edges of Heatherden Hall and being relentlessly pursued by POV camera before being raped by an unseen assailant in the shadow of a towering electricity pylon. Following her ordeal, Tessa descends into a catatonic state and is taken into the care of Dr. Lomax (James Laurenson – the whistling ‘Shadmock’ in THE MONSTER CLUB 1981). Meanwhile, despite explicit warnings, another schoolgirl takes herself off down through the exact same wooded path only this time the perpetrator murders their victim after raping her. Art teacher Miss West “Wash your brushes!” (giallo veteran Suzy Kendall) briefly glimpses the murderer in the red taillights of her car as she’s trying to reverse it out of the muddied ravine close to the murder scene, but is laughed at by the police investigators headed up by Frank Finlay’s Det. Chief Supt. Velyan when she describes the suspect as looking like the devil.
There’s a positive shoal of red herrings served up by director Hayers and writer John Kruse, as the remainder of the film settles down into a very 70’s whodunit with an unhealthy dose of voyeuristic leering of teenage school girls thrown in for good measure. Most of the onscreen leering is conducted unrestrainedly by the husband of the school’s headmistress. Played by Tony (“Have you checked the children?” WHEN A STRANGER CALLS) Beckley, he’s soon offered up as a prime suspect with his stash of pornography in his toolbox (a metaphor?) and his inappropriate ‘assistance’ to the female student shelving books in the library – a scene made particularly uncomfortable by the suggested acquiescence of the student.
Freddie Jones plays a relentlessly over-the-top reporter pursuing Suzy Kendall’s school teacher/witness mercilessly. How far would he go for that exclusive...? And that Dr. Lomax seems to have taken quite a shine to her too, slipping her sedatives and sleeping pills like smarties...If you’re in anyway familiar with the conventions of the giallo, you should be able to spot the killer fairly quickly, but there’s still a few entertaining diversions and unlikely plot developments before the shocking climatic showdown back in the woods.
Whilst the HD transfer on the disc is absolutely pin-sharp and pristine, the dialogue seems a tad muted. Be warned therefore when compensating by increasing the volume (particularly in the first third of the film) as you yourself will be assaulted by the ear-splittingly awful soundtrack by Eric Rodgers, whose totally (and tonally) inappropriate bombastic accompaniment drowns out any possibility of sustained suspense from the stalking scenes.
An odd little thriller this one, dodgy 70’s male chauvinism, schoolgirl voyeurism, a couple of ‘15’ rated assaults (originally garnered with an ‘X’ certificate) and an explosive set-piece in a chemists which feels like a visual cuckoo in the nest of this otherwise pleasingly unpleasant slice of tentative Brit-giallo.
Extras: Theatrical Trailer, Image Gallery, Limited edition, collectable booklet written by Laura Mayne and Adrian Smith, PDF material
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