Since I already reviewed one British film about cannibalism earlier today, I figured why not review another one? Pete Walker’s film Frightmare was released in 1974, two years after the release of Death Line. You have to wonder what was going on in British society in the early 70s that led to so many cannibal films. When watched together, Frightmare and Death Line present a vision of a society that was devouring itself, both literally and figuratively.
Frightmare tells the story of Dorothy (Shelia Keith) and Edmund Yates (Rupert Davies). Dorothy is a fortune teller who has something of a violent temper. Edmund is her loving but abused husband. However, Dorothy has more than just a temper. She also has a taste for human flesh. She’s just spent 15 years in prison, convicted of killing and eating a man. However, she has now been “found sane,” (and that’s a term that is repeated, with increasing irony, throughout the entire film) and she has been released. She’s even reading fortunes again!
Jackie (Deborah Fairfax) is Edmund’s daughter by his first marriage. She’s devoted to her father and, at the same time, scared of her mother. She doesn’t believe that her mother is truly sane, despite the fact that her psychiatrist boyfriend, the well-meaning but arrogant Graham (Paul Greenwood), continues to remind her that Dorothy has been “found sane.” Jackie knows that Dorothy still wants to eat human flesh so, every weekend, she takes the train to Dorothy’s home and delivers meat. Jackie tells Dorothy that it’s human flesh but, in reality, it’s just a placebo. When Graham finds out what Jackie’s doing, he is outraged. After all, Dorothy has been found sane!
Jackie, however, has other things to worry about. Her younger half-sister, the rebellious Debbie (Kim Butcher), is living with her. Along with dating an obnoxious biker, Debbie also resents the fact that Jackie is obviously Edmund’s favorite. And, as quickly becomes clear, Debbie is as much of a sociopath as her mother…
Speaking of which, Dorothy may have been found sane but it’s obvious that she’s not. (Throughout the film, no matter how erratic Dorothy’s behavior becomes, Graham continually assures us that she has been found sane.) It also become obvious that Jackie’s placebos are not doing the trick. Dorothy is once again murdering the random people who come to get their fortunes told. And Edmund is helping her cover up the crimes, all the while pathetically telling anyone who will listen, “They said she was sane….they said she was sane…”
Frightmare is one of those films that you really do have to see in order to understand just how effective it is. It’s an undoubtedly pulpy story and there’s not a subtle moment to be found in the entire film but it doesn’t matter. Frightmare is properly named because it is pure nightmare fuel. This is a film that work both as a family melodrama and a satire on the trust that people put into authority (the authorities said that Dorothy was sane so, everyone assumes, she must be) but ultimately, this is an intense and frightening little film. That’s largely due to Sheila Keith’s ferocious performance. She turns Dorothy into a force of cannibalistic nature.
Feel free to have a Death Line/Frightmare double feature. Just don’t expect to have much of an appetite afterward…