There’s something unsettling about London on film in the 1970s. Streets appear a little too empty. What traffic there is flows freely, with cars slowing down to park easily so their drivers can reveal what’s concealed inside the boot. Police come across as particularly inept, and allow teenage gangs to run riot on their motorcycles. Teenagers in general tend to fall into two general camps in 70s horrors; the easy victims or the out and out nasties. It’s a bleak and creepy 70s landscape.
Creepier still if it’s a Pete Walker film. Frightmare was directed by Walker in 1974 and follows his similarly gruesome offering from the same year House of Whipcord. Like the earlier film, Frightmare leads the viewer down an increasingly dark and narrowing path, where no-one is saved and the viewer is left particularly aghast. Or all the 70s horror films, it is one of the most shocking.
Frightmare begins in the 1950s, where a lone figure (Andrew Sachs) is murdered at a run down funfair. Jumping to the present day, Edmund and Dorothy Yates (Rupert Davies and House of Whipcord’s Sheila Keith) are released from a mental institution. Apparently they are now cured of their irritating cannibal tendencies. So we can all rest peacefully. No, hang on a minute, this is a Pete Walker film…
If you’ve dared to watch the trailer, the film provides reassuringly melodramatic music to its horror, and as well as the London setting Walker uses a desolate but far from comfy farmhouse, where open fires provide easy access to red hot pokers. The nastiness of Frightmare will be no surprise for anyone familiar with Walker’s work. The director kept British cinema alive in the 1970s, although perhaps alive is the wrong word to use for a series of films generally dealing with some degree of bloodbath. Walker directed a series of successful films before retiring in the early 1980s. Rumour has it that he became a property developer. As well as horror films, Walker knocked out a series of mild sex comedies, the most well known probably being Tiffany Jones in 1973. He almost directed a movie starring The Sex Pistols, possibly more interesting than Julien Temple’s limp Great Rock and Roll Swindle. But we’ll never know. Walker’s final film was a brilliant swansong. The House of Long Shadows brought together Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, John Carradine and Christopher Lee.
Pete Walker creates an absurd world that is really beyond criticism, and his recent appearance at the BFI easily proves this. An amiable and eloquent gentleman, he comes across as something of an English Roger Corman. An exceedingly nice man who just happened to make horror films, there’s little point in digging too deeply into the meaning behind the flicks. The films, if you like this sort of thing, are just fun, and Walker is happy to admit that he stopped directing at a relatively early age simply because he’d run his course as a filmmaker. And, more to the point, how could you possibly top The House of the Long Shadows?
Walker’s cinema remains elusive and obscure, making him the truest cult filmmaker. His movies rarery, perhaps never, appear on television and are difficult to track down on DVD. So sadly many of his feature have escaped my attention, such as this intriguing looking film with the bizarre casting of the singer Jack Jones and the future Mrs Connolly Pamela Stephenson:
The Comeback looks fantastic, but I’ll have to make do with the trailer for now – that familiar deep voice telling me
Perhaps he is going mad. Or perhaps there is someone there…
Pete Walker: Significant Horror
- Die Screaming, Marianne (1971)
- The Flesh and Blood Show (1972)
- House of Whipcord (1974)
- Frightmare (1974)
- House of Mortal Sin (1976)
- Schizo (1976)
- The Comeback (1978)
- House of the Long Shadows (1983)