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A crime drama that veers into horror territory, Revenge! was one of several efforts by the producer of England's "Carry On" comedy series to expand in another direction With Joan Collins leading a good cast and veteran Sidney Hayers (Circus of Horrors, Burn, Witch, Burn) at the helm, Revenge! shows a family falling apart when they attempt a rash kidnapping. This 1971 show was released here in the states under the somewhat misleading title Inn of the Frightened People. Scorpion Releasing offers it as one of their "Katrina's Nightmare Theater" offerings.
In the North Country, the Radford family returns from burying their young daughter, who was found raped and murdered. The Radfords run a public house, and must open for business a few hours later. Jim Radford (James Booth) learns from his friend Harry (Ray Barrett), who lost his young girl the same way a year ago, that the cops have released the obviously guilty man for lack of evidence. Jim, Harry and Jim's son Lee (Tom Marshall) stalk the culprit Seeley (Kenneth Griffith) and then kidnap him. Jim's wife Carol participates in the merciless beating they give Seeley in the basement of the pub. The small group is debating how to dispense of the corpse when Seeley turns out to be still alive. Now nobody has the nerve to finish the man off. As the group loses its sense of purpose, their captive lies gravely injured just below the floorboards of the bar.
Revenge! is a fairly good entry in the mild horror sweepstakes and a good chance to see Joan Collins in yet another effective role. As can be expected, the saga of a family taking vengeance for a crime ends up a criticism of the family itself. Jim Radford is a fairly responsible everyman. His young wife Carol does her best to get along with his children -- she married Jim only after their mother ran away. Daughter Jill (Zuleika Robson) is the only family member to remain uninvolved in the kidnapping, but she immediately picks up on the odd behavior in the pub. Grown son Lee wavers when the stress makes him impotent with his girlfriend Rose (Sinéad Cusak). Good pal Harry takes off on a business trip, leaving Jim to handle the problem on his own. Normally in control, Jim hits the bottle, and the conspiracy formed by the family unit dissolves.
The film stays on its feet as a suspense thriller by sending mixed signals. The story resembles the familiar dramatic pattern seen in everything from Alfred Hitchcock Presents (husband Ralph Meeker avenges an attack on his wife Vera Miles) to various iterations of Ox-Bow Incident, such as the Gregory Peck film The Bravados. We expect the Radfords to murder Seeley and then discover that they have persecuted the wrong man. But that outcome is undercut by our knowledge of Seeley. The man goes out of his way to walk past the school playground and lingers there to gawk at the little girls. In all things he behaves like a classic-case drooling pervert.
Mostly a TV writer, John Kruse was also the credited scribe on the terrific Cy Endfield picture Hell Drivers. Kruse provides good dialogue for the leads and goes quite a ways toward making the thriller situation credible. We believe the Radfords' state of mind when the movie begins, assuming that they've gotten over the initial few steps of rage and grieving over their lost little girl. Jim, Harry and Lee are fairly thorough in their observations of Seeley before they pull off their kidnapping. As half-baked ideas go, this is believable as well, and so is Carol joining in the savagery when she learns about their prisoner. The last part of the film, when seemingly nobody is in charge, also seems like something that could happen in real life.
The nuclear family kidnappers make a mess of their vengeance mission. Seeley is left more or less unguarded in the basement, where he can get up to all kinds of mischief. Everybody acts as guilty as hell, yet no outsiders seem to notice. Suspense enters when the family must keep Seeley's presence a secret from the police, the pub customers and even the beer deliverymen. After stumbling onto the secret prisoner, daughter Jill has no intention of staying quiet about him. A young romance is ruined when Rose's attempts to calm Lee only make him more unreasonable.
Although James Booth has his fan base, Joan Collins is the name draw in the picture. She takes the role seriously, playing Carol in a non-glamorous mode and carrying the weakest parts of the story like a pro. Carol is already quite fed up with the rudeness and verbal cruelty of her stepdaughter Jill, and frustrated that Jim doesn't take her situation seriously. She and her stepson Lee are clearly attracted to each other, a problem that eventually breaks violently into the open. With tensions at a fever pitch -- it seems certain that they'll all be caught -- Jim collapses in a drunken stupor. The enraged Lee ends up raping Carol on the basement floor, where the dazed Seeley can watch. The situation is so chaotic that it makes sense.
The movie saves some interesting surprises for the ending, although we wish things were resolved a bit more. But we like the actors. So insolent and cynical in the original Zulu, James Booth plays a guy seemingly as straight as Ned Flanders from The Simpsons. His psychological self-destruction gives us a hint as to why his first wife ran out on him. Kenneth Griffith had worked for director Hayers before, playing a mad surgeon's cats-paw in Circus of Horrors. His Seeley is appropriately colorful and over the top. Maybe the streets were crawling with pervs like Seeley back in the day, but I don't think this guy would get within a hundred yards of a small child without setting off alarms, in any era. The most notable name in the show now is Sinéad Cusack, a celebrated actress who also happens to be married to Jeremy Irons.
Sidney Hayers enjoyed a lengthy career as a Hollywood TV director. Based on the ad campaign I didn't expect Revenge! to be anywhere near as good as it is. I've mostly seen a racy still of Joan Collins in her underwear, and so was surprised to find that the corresponding scene in the movie doesn't play in exploitation mode.
Scorpion Releasing's DVD of Revenge! is a very good encoding of an attractively-transferred film element that gives the show an edge over many DVD releases from smaller companies. In the early '70s the British film industry was crumbling and production values for genre pictures were taking a nosedive. Colors are very good. The only drawback is the flat full frame transfer, for a show that was certainly matted off to at least 1:66.
The bad news for hearing impaired viewers is the absence of subtitles or closed captioning. Lovers of older pictures are really taking a hit on this issue, as all those studio MOD discs don't have subs either.
The "Katarina's Nightmare Theater" feature is a playback option that gives us the former wrestling star in hostess duty, introducing the show with fairly useful information and not corny sex jokes. Her input might make the show more viewer-friendly for some situations.
All in all, this is a fine DVD of an obscure title.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
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T'was Ever Thus.