The Pete Walker Collection

Starring: Sheila Keith, Susan George, Jack Jones, Susan Penhaligan, Stephanie Beacham and Pamela Stephenson
Anchor Bay Entertainment UK
RRP: 29.99
Certificate: 18
Available 21 March 2005

Pete Walker was a writer and director who arrived on the independent horror movie scene opposite the established mould of Hammer Productions, which at this time was on the decline. He began with raunchy films before combining the two with Die Screaming Marianne. He made 16 films in a similar format to those of Norman J. Warren.

In Die Screaming Marianne (1971), a beautiful young woman (played by Susan George) flees Portugal and a man called The Judge. She returns to England with a man and lives with him until he presses her into marriage. Using a moment of confusion at the registry office she instead marries his best man. The manipulative man becomes angry and she leaves, only to be sought out by the best man who she genuinely falls for. The jilted man was sent by The Judge, who is actually Marriane's father, to take her back to Portugal. The Judge's wife apparently robbed him of half a million, and died suddenly shortly afterward. Marianne has the number of the Swiss bank account where the money (and evidence to send The Judge to prison) has been deposited. But it seems her half-sister is the real danger.

Having no real suspense in the entire film, this example appears to exist only to parade Susan George in figure-hugging dresses and short skirts. Of course, there's nothing wrong with that (she is very striking, after all), but then why bother with a plot at all? It's a movie that you can turn off at any point without worrying about missing anything except who Marianne is going to jump into bed with next. Even the scene where she is locked in the sauna constitutes mainly close-ups of her towel-wrapped sweaty body... Sorry, I drifted there for a moment. Now, where was I? A film with a better reputation than it deserves.

In House of Whipcord (1974), a young woman who has recently been cautioned in a light-hearted act of public nudity, is approached at a party by a man that no one seems to know. They strike-up a relationship which culminates in his taking her on a weekend trip to meet his parents. However, the large foreboding house in the country turns out to be an illicit correctional facility for young women, run by a disgraced elderly judge and his psychotic family, of which the young man is a member. For no worse crime than disgracing herself in public the young woman is stripped of her belongings, locked-up and humiliated at every opportunity. But her problems really begin when she instigates a breakout.

This film is so bad it makes you want to write off Walker as a hack and throw this set into the dustbin (and that would be a shame because there's some good ones coming up). The opening looks promising, with an hysterical young woman in rags being picked-up by a passing lorry driver. The story is told as a retrospective to this point, but then there's no progression as the driver takes her straight back to the house thinking it is a country hospital.

In a monotone introduction to Frightmare (1974), a couple is institutionalised in the fifties for unspecified murderous acts. Jumping forward to the seventies we find a woman charged with the welfare of her fifteen-year-old sister after their parents were supposedly killed. The youngster is unbalanced and violent, but her elder sister is the real mystery. She sneaks out at night to a cottage where her parents are alive, having been released by the psychiatric unit as cured. The father appears well, but the mother is more than a little off-kilter. She advertises herself to strangers as a tarot reader, and the future is always death.

Aha! The gem amongst costume jewellery. This is an honest and brutal film, with twists and an ending that will surprise most people. Sheila Keith (present in all but the first film in this set) is in fine form, but if you view these offerings close together you'll be so used to seeing her as the resident psycho that you won't be surprised by the intended revelations, although that won't stop you enjoying her performance. There's a natural creepiness about her that makes you want to hate her, and that proves she's doing her job properly.

In House of Mortal Sin (1975), Jenny (played by Susan Penhaligan) meets an old friend who is now a priest. A later visit to the church finds him absent so, feeling pretty depressed after her live-in boyfriend has left her, she decides, against character, to go to confessional. The older priest is more than healthily interested in knowing everything about her. When she learns that there is an audio tape of the confessional she demands it back. Her boyfriend returns and immediately goes to confront the old priest, but the man wreaks his own fire and brimstone justice.

As you guess from the outset that the older priest is mad, the possible mystery of the piece is unnecessarily removed. Instead, the screw is tightened so that he gets away with more and more as the story progresses. I know a priest would be expected to hold the moral high ground, but I find it unbelievable that the police would not at least check him out, instead having the hospital keep sedating the victim/witness. Not a bad film, but unable to sustain an evolving plot.

In The Comeback (1978), singer Nick Cooper (played by real life crooner Jack Jones) rents a country house retreat to work on his new album, the first in six years. The housekeepers are Mr and Mrs B, a strange couple. At night he is woken by pitiful cries and terrifying screams, and at one point opens his bedroom door to be confronted with a corpse in a wheelchair. Again and again, he is convinced by everyone around him that he is imagining the events. He even spends a period sedated in hospital. However, unbeknown to Nick, his ex-wife has been brutally murdered at their old apartment, and it seems everyone has a good reason to see her dead.

This, along with Frightmare, is probably the best of the bunch on offer here. Jack Jones is convincing in the main role, Sheila Keith is her normal wonderfully weird self, and Bill Owen of Last of the Summer Wine fame has a minor role as Mr B. It's also nice to see Pamela Stephenson (one quarter of the Not The Nine O'Clock News comedy sketch show, who later married the Big Yin) as the new love interest. This film works well as a whodunit; all the characters come across as equally suspicious. Walker could have gone one step further by implying that Cooper himself could be responsible for the killing, but that chance is wasted when we see her being killed at the same time Cooper's plane is landing.

This is the third coffin-shaped horror box set put out by Anchor Bay, to my knowledge. Again, the packaging is attractive and the booklet informative; however, there has been no attempt to improve the visual condition of the films, all of which contain scratches and jump periodically. House of Mortal Sin is worst of all, some scenes containing a multitude of scratches and green flares, which in this day and age is unforgivable.

Ty Power

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