Sunday, February 12, 2012

Satan's Playthings

ASSAULT (1971)

AND SOON THE DARKNESS sees English nurse Pamela Franklin contend with a serial killer and the language barrier in rural France. The film was needlessly remade in 2010, where American girls go on a bike trip in a remote part of Argentina.

THESE thrillers both exploit rural settings as key plot devices, and play like a rebuttal to the sexual freedom of the Love Generation. Directed by Robert Fuest from a script by Brian Clemens and Terry Nation, AND SOON THE DARKNESS tells the story of Jane (Pamela Franklin) and Cathy (Michele Dotrice), two young student nurses from England on a cycling holiday through rural France. Jane intends to keep to a schedule, but Cathy wants to enjoy the surroundings at a slower pace, especially the local males. This conflict of interests leads to an argument where Jane leaves Cathy to lounge at an off-road spot. However, when Jane returns she can find no trace of her friend and, asking around, learns that a few years ago another blond woman was sexually assaulted and killed in the area. Joined by scooter-riding Paul (Sandor Eles), who claims to be a detective for the Sûreté, the evidence leaves Jane unsure as to whether he might be the killer.

The movie is set completely in broad daylight and unfolds almost real-time over a single afternoon. The bare openness of the fields and countryside brood with sinister effect, as the provincial landscape is a foreboding character in itself. The French language notably is not subtitled so the viewer feels the same alienation as Jane ("Meutre? That's French for "murder" isn't it?"), who is faced with a catalogue of unnerving locals all strangely lukewarm about the need to find Cathy; even the English schoolmistress Jane encounters is matter-of-fact ("loathsome business, sex.") AND SOON THE DARKNESS may be too slow-burning for some - especially as it shows restraint at a time when nudity and gore were beginning to characterise most output - but this British film prefigures the Backwoods Brutality cycle that would be defined by the classic slices of Americana THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE and THE HILLS HAVE EYES.

An uninspired tale of killer-baiting, ASSAULT is also known under a dizzying amount of alternative titles, including THE CREEPERS, IN THE DEVIL'S GARDEN, TOWER OF TERROR and even SATAN'S PLAYTHINGS. This is a 1980 re-release ad mat for a Miami theatre.

Based on Kendal Young’s novel The Ravine, Sidney Hayer's ASSAULT begins in Devil’s End wood, where Heatherdene Arts School student Tessa Hurst (Lesley-Anne Down) is raped. When a second girl is attacked and murdered in the same location, detective Velyan (Frank Finlay) is struggling for clues, as Hurst is psychologically traumatised and unable to speak. Velyan seeks the help of Dr Greg Lomax (James Laurenson) in profiling the offender, and eyewitness art mistress Julie West (Suzy Kendall) offers herself as bait by using tabloid journalist Denny (Freddie Jones) to run a story announcing she is about to complete a photo fit painting of the killer. The investigation takes on a different angle when Lomax decides to use Pentothal on Tessa to bring her out of her comatose state, but when he arrives at the hospital dispensary to collect the drug, it transpires that a fellow doctor has taken the supply.

Although any number of Italian gialli were set in Britain and/or were UK co-productions, ASSAULT is unique in that it a completely British giallo, illustrating plot devices made famous by the genre. Sadly, unlike the Italian entries, the cinematography here is staid and unimaginative, and the execution linear and logical. The production uses that infamous British trait of casting twenty year old vixens as fifteen year schoolgirls, and dressing them in mini-skirts short enough to get any real schoolgirl expelled. The most lurid scene involves the headmistress's lecherous husband Leslie (Tony Beckley) and a student librarian on a ladder; the "student" is played by Janet Lynn, a British sex star of the period who had featured the year before in Pete Walker's COOL IT, CAROL. Finlay and Laurenson make turgid investigators, and it rests with honey-blond Kendall - who starred in Dario Argento's notable giallo THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE - to bring some interest to the screen.