Frightmare / Die Screaming Marianne

Frightmare / Die Screaming Marianne (1970)
Image Entertainment
Cast: Susan George, Barry Evans

For most of my life, I’ve read anything that I could get my hands on that pertained to horror films. Starting from a very young age (and in retrospect, I was probably too young!), I would read about certain movies and then do what I could to try and see them. For years, I’ve been reading about the "notorious British gore-master" (those are Image’s words, not mine) Pete Walker, and his grotesque cult films. However, up until now, his films haven’t received much recognition, or distribution in the U.S. But, that’s all about to change as Image Entertainment brings us "Die Screaming Marianne" and "Frightmare" to American soil as part of "The Euroshock Collection". Although the films were shot four years apart, the only similarities in them is their theme of half-sisters (and the differences between them). As these are the only two Pete Walker films that I’ve seen (thus far), I’m not sure if they’ll serve as a good test of his talent, but they definitely show a diverse filmmaker at work.

We’ll start off by taking a look at "Die Screaming Marianne". The Image Entertainment DVD box claims that this was Pete Walker’s first horror film. Despite the exploitation title, "Die Screaming Marianne" is about as far from horror as you can get. British sex symbol Susan George stars as Marianne "The Hips" McDonald, a young nightclub dancer. (Ironically, it should have been "The Lips", given George’s pouty countenance.) As the film opens, we see Marianne on the run from some thugs. She then hops in a passing car with Sebastian (Christopher Sandford). After they travel to London together, Sebastian proposes, and Marianne accepts. But, due to a mix-up, she ends up being legally married to Eli (Barry Evans), the best-man. (Trust me, it didn’t make any sense in the movie, either.) We then learn that Marianne carries a dark secret and a troubling past. Marrianne is about to turn 21, and at that time, she will gain access to papers, which could incriminate her father, The Judge (Leo Genn). Marianne live in fear that her father will try to have her killed before her 21st birthday, and she therefore lives in fear of most strangers, although she quickly falls in love with Eli. When The Judge invites Marianne and Eli to his Portugese estate, the tension mounts as a game of cat-and-mouse begins.

I hate to be so blunt, but "Die Screaming Marianne" is simply a stupid movie that doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. It takes about 45 minutes for us to learn why Marianne acts so strangely, but by that time, the average viewer is probably far past caring. I just can’t get past the fact that she thinks her father wants to have her killed yet she willingly goes to visit him anyway. And when she arrives, her wicked half-sister Hildegarde (Judy Huxtable), talks about killing Marianne, but never makes a serious attempt. The film takes on an almost organic quality, as scenes simply begin and end with no discernible logic, and it’s almost guaranteed that any scene containing interesting action will suddenly stop halfway through, only to be rejoined a few minutes later. For the most part, the acting in "Die Screaming Marianne" is pretty good, and certainly helps to elevate the rest of the material. The biggest sin that the film commits is that it’s too mod for my own good, with George doing a swinging dance during the opening credits, which would make Austin Powers blush.

The "Die Screaming Marianne" DVD itself also presents some problems. The film is presented full-frame. For the majority of the film, this appears to be an acceptable aspect ratio, especially during a split-screen effect used in Chapter 6, where the sides don’t appear to be cropped. However, this may actually be an open-matte, as evidenced by a shot in Chapter 7 (0:52:15), where Marianne is supposedly naked in bubble-bath, but you can clearly see the top of her bra at the lower portion of the screen. The image itself is very clear, but the digital transfer has uncovered a wealth of defects on the source print. Presumably, Image Entertainment used the best available print to make this transfer, but the problems are hard to ignore. There are many cuts and scratches evident, as well as some noticeable splices. There are lines running down the screen in most every shot. However, it must be noted that the colors on this transfer have been wonderfully rendered, with natural flesh tones, and vibrant reds and greens. The audio on the DVD is a <$DD,Dolby Digital> Mono, which brings us clear and audible dialogue, but also enhances the hiss and pops on the soundtrack. But, the theme song, "Marianne" comes across quite nicely

Frightmare (1974)
Image Entertainment

Length:        84 mins.
Rated:          Not Rated
Format:        <$PS,Fullframe>
Languages: English
Subtitles:    None

After viewing "Die Screaming Marianne", I hesitantly approached "Frightmare", which turned out to be a completely different kind of film. "Frightmare" opens with a black-and-white segment set in the year 1957. Here, we see a man murdered, followed by a scene in which an unseen couple are sentenced to an asylum for the murders that they’ve committed. The story then jumps ahead 17 years. We meet Jackie (Deborah Fairfax), a young Londoner who is forced to take care of her wild younger sister, Debbie (Kim Butcher). We observe Jackie visiting an old couple, Dorothy (Sheila Keith) and Edmund (Rupert Davies), at a secluded farmhouse, where she delivers strange packages to them.

SPOILER WARNING: We then learn that Edmund is Jackie’s father and that Dorothy is a murderer/cannibal who was incarcerated for her crimes, but, having been declared sane, was released. But, Dorothy has found her old habits hard to resist and has returned to killing. Edmund has been attempting to hide the truth from Jackie, who in turn, has hidden the truth about their parents from young Debbie. With the help of psychiatrist Graham (Paul Greenwood), Jackie hopes to help Dorothy. But, she may find that Dorothy’s taste for human flesh is insatiable. END SPOILER WARNING.

As with "Die Screaming Marianne", Walker lets the story take its time and play out at its own pace. It’s not until the middle of the second act that we learn the true identity of the older couple (although, observant viewers would’ve guessed it, not to mention the fact that it’s all spelled out on the back of the DVD box!). But, unlike "Die Screaming Marianne", "Frightmare" remains interesting throughout, thanks to its tightly plotted story, written by David McGillivray, based on a story by Pete Walker. Although there are some plot holes in the film, "Frightmare" presents us with believable characters who are thrown into a harrowing situation. A particularly nice touch is the accurate portrayal of the enabling relationship between Dorothy and Edmund. Walker actually makes a mistake by including a dream sequence in the film that is so unsettling and disturbing, that the rest of the film seems quite timid.

For years, I’ve read about how violent this film is. Well, there are a few scenes of graphic violence, but they are very tame by today’s standards. Also, some individuals have compared the film to "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre". While there are some similarities in plot and theme, the two films are quite different. Where "Chainsaw" presented us with a totally insane family, there are some redeeming characters in "Frightmare". Also, while "Frightmare" is certainly an interesting and suspenseful film, it doesn’t create quite the level of tension seen in "Chainsaw". The one true flaw with "Frightmare" is the fact that it just ends. Now, this can be seen as quite disappointing, or it can be read by a last attempt by Walker to unnerve the audience. Either way, the film doesn’t pull any punches, and the sudden climax (or lack thereof) is just another example of the film’s attitude.

As "Frightmare" is definitely a better movie than "Die Screaming Marianne", and the DVD is of better quality as well. The film is presented full-frame, but there is no evidence that any significant information is missed. The image is clear and quite sharp. And while this transfer does reveal some defects in the source print, such as scratches and dirt, they are negligible when compared to "Die Screaming Marianne". As with the other DVD, the colors on "Frightmare" has survived the decades and look very good, with the red blood standing out quite nicely. The audio on this DVD is a Dolby Digital Mono mix. With this we get audible dialogue and only a mild background hiss. There are no extras on the DVD. It must be noted that one of the stills on the back of the DVD package isn’t even from this movie!

So, what did I learn from my indoctrination into the world of Pete Walker? While I learned that his title of "goremaster" may be outdated, Walker proved himself to be a fiercely independent filmmaker who puts his name on the credits as many times as possible. Walker also demonstrated a very diverse nature, as "Die Screaming Marianne" and "Frightmare" are about as different as two films can be, both in content and quality. While "Die Screaming Marianne" is a good film for campy fun, "Frightmare" emerges as a must see for horror fans, who want a taste of 70’s British horror. I look forward to seeing more of Walker’s films, because even if they’re bad, I’m sure they won’t be unoriginal.