One of Peter Walkers best known and best remembered films, Frightmare gave the director the chance to really capitalize on his working relationship with oddball actress Sheila Keith and give her a starring role that fit her unusual looks and acting style perfectly. At the same time, Frightmare also stands as an excellent example of the type of darkly humorous and semi-satirical horror movies that Walker excelled in, the kind that weren't afraid to rub the viewers nose in the dirt a little bit or to give the establishment the big middle finger salute.
The opening scene introduces us to a woman named Dorothy (Keith) as she and her husband, Edmund (British horror regular Rupert Davies of Witchfinder General in his second to last role) are sent off to the local insane asylum after being convicted of eating a few of their friends. Their two kids, Debbie (Kim Butcher who would work with Walker again a year later in The House Of Mortal Sin before fading into obscurity) and Jackie (Deborah Fairfax) are left to their own devices with Jackie shouldering responsibility for the younger sibling. Fast forward years later and both Dorothy and Edmund, aged quite a bit, are being released back into society, having done their time in the bin and being found sane enough that the council in charge of such decisions has ok'd their departure.
With the older couple settling in to a new life in the lovely English countryside, you'd think that things would get back to some semblance of normality for the family but no, nothing could be further from the truth. Not content to move on, Dorothy still craves flesh and has Jackie bring her brains to feast upon on a regular basis and when she's not chowing down on those, she's trying to communicate with the dead via her Tarot cards. To make matters worse for Jackie, her younger sister seems to be following in mom's footsteps and as she gets older and brought back in to her mother's fold, her behavior becomes more and more erratic and aggressive. The only solace Jackie seems to have anymore, thanks to her insane family, is a man named Graham (Paul Greenwood who had a supporting role in Hammer's Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter), who she really does start to fall for. Unfortunately for Jackie, however, she knows that she can't let Graham find out about what her family does, but her mother is getting so out of hand that it might not be long before he finds out the awful truth for himself.
As good as everyone else is in this film, Rupert Davis and especially Sheila Keith really do steal the show. They play ‘crazy' with such demented enthusiasm and at times very chilling authenticity that you can't help but be pulled into their seriously messed up little world. Lest the whole plot of the film sound like a farce, rest assured that although there are very definite doses of dark comedy throughout the film, for the most part is played straight enough that the movie still manages to be quite unnerving when it decides that it wants to be, and again, Keith's performance is a big part of how the film manages to make this aspect successful.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, Walker also makes sure that we know that as demented as this family is, they do love and care for one another in a way that isn't all that removed from the normal family dynamic that (hopefully) most of us knew in our younger years. The interaction between Dorothy and Edmund does come off as quite sincere, which adds a really unusual element of sympathy to a pair of elderly folk who really should be looked upon as the monsters that they are.
Walker's direction is sharper than usual here, as he paces the film really deliberately but doesn't slow things down too much at all. He uses the effective and sufficiently grisly gore set pieces as accents to the horror that comes out of the story, while the cinematography from Peter Jessop does a really good job of becoming more and more claustrophobic as the film reaches its dire and unholy conclusion.
Frightmare debuts on Blu-ray framed in its proper 1.66.1 widescreen aspect ratio in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. Transferred ‘from the original 35mm negative' the movie looks very nice in its high def debut. There's very little print damage here to note, just a few white specks here and there, and there's no evidence of noise reduction or edge enhancement. The film's grain structure is left completely un-tinkered with while color reproduction and skin tones both look quite nice and natural. Black levels are solid and the movie's frequent darker scenes show decent shadow detail. This is a gritty looking picture but this transfer would seem very true to the movie's roots and it offers quite an impressive upgrade in detail, texture and color from the previous DVD release.
The only audio option on the disc is an LPCM Mono track in the film's native English language. This isn't a particularly fancy track, it's an older single channel mix for a modestly budgeted picture but it gets the job done without any problems. The levels are nicely balanced, the dialogue is clean and clear and there aren't any problems with any obvious hiss or distortion. The music used throughout the movie also sounds quite good here, it has got noticeably more depth than it did on the previous DVD release.
The commentary that was on the Anchor Bay UK DVD release of the film and then the Media Blasters US DVD release has been ported over for this domestic Blu-ray release. On the commentary is director Pete Walker who is joined throughout the discussion by the director of photography that he employed for the shoot, Peter Jessop and moderator Steven Chibnall who wrote Making Mischief: The Cult Films of Pete Walker. There's a nice sense of humor between the two participants but there's also a lot of really good information in here as well. Walker is a bit of an eccentric character but he's got a lot of really great stories about this film and about his career in horror and exploitation in general. The two men cover casting choices and location shooting and there are some fun anecdotes about Sheila Keith's work on this film and her work on a few other Walker movies too. This track is definitely worth a listen for fans of the film or the director.
New to this Blu-ray release is For The Sake Of Cannibalism, which is a twelve minute video interview with the director in which he talks about the cannibalism in the movie, the sense of humor employed in the picture, his efforts to push some buttons with the picture and his thoughts on the cast used in the film. Also carried over from the Anchor Bay UK DVD is the fourteen minute Sheila Keith Profile featurettes in which Pete Walker, writer David McGillivray, Peter Jessop, actress Susan Penhaligon and Pete Walker super fan/filmmaker Graham Duff discuss the late Keith's contributions to Walker's films as well as her off screen personality and acting skills.
Rounding out the extra features are trailers for the feature and for The Comeback,Die Screaming, Marianne!, The Flesh And Blood Show, and The House Of Whipcord, menus and chapter selection.
A twisted and completely enjoyable horror movie, Frightmare hits a lot of the right notes and does a fine job delivering some delicious black humor and a few genuine shocks as well. The Blu-ray release from Kino/Redemption Films improves on the Media Blasters presentation in every way that you'd want it to and offers up the film in excellent condition and with some very solid extra features as well. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.