My first viewing of this Universal studios release comes just a mere 38 years after it’s release in movie theaters. The only thing I really recall about it is the fact that my parents must have ordered the novelization from the book of the month club. The artwork has kind of stayed with me as things do when you happen to see them at an impressionable age.
So why watch it now? Nostalgia always plays a part as does the fact that I noticed Jimmy Sangsters’ name as the credited screenplay writer on the DVD case. If you happen to know your history of horror movies and more specifically the movies released by Hammer Films, then you know of Sangster and his role in that studios rise to prominence as the writer behind many of their classic releases.
There’s a sinister aura in the air when a young couple are lured to England on the pretext of employment. Katharine Ross and future real life hubby Sam Elliott find themselves in the English countryside in need of a motorcycle repair job after a close call with John Standing who offers up his country estate as a refuge while the repairs are being done. “In England everything stops for tea.”
Shortly thereafter a select group of well to do guests arrive at the estate by helicopter including Roger Daltrey and Charles Gray. With cats all about the house and an evil looking nurse moving about, witches quickly enter my thoughts. Mysterious forces and deaths are soon to follow leaving Elliott wanting to get the hell out of the mansion while Ross seems to believe black magic is involved and that she’s being drawn into the proceedings after being given a ring that won’t come off her finger. When former Blofeld, Charles Gray tells Ross of witches burning at the stake and her role in the proceedings, the deaths and bloody scenes only escalate leaving Ross and Elliott to their preordained fate.
This satanic tale has that old England flavor going for it but is far from being what I would call an effective thriller. Ross and Elliott are well suited to each other in what almost becomes an old dark house thriller as in The Cat and the Canary style. Perhaps a gothic setting would have worked far better as opposed to a contemporary setting at the time of the film’s release. Satanic movies have always been a popular horror theme topic and played a part in countless efforts from Rosemary’s Baby forward as studios would continually attempt to capture that films’ cult status with theater goers.
Charles Gray is a well known actor and one never to be trusted. He had a definite skill at playing evil roles like Mocata in another Satanic movie from Hammer and Dennis Wheatley, The Devil Rides Out. A movie worth finding if you haven’t already. Special kudos to Margaret Tyzack as Nurse Adams. An evil entity of sorts in a habit. She’s a cross between Fletcher’s Nurse Ratchet and Whitelaw’s Miss Baylock. She’s easily the creepiest thing in this Richard Marquand (Return of the Jedi) directed effort.
According to the IMDB trivia link, the estate in the film actually belonged to The Who member Roger Daltrey. In exchange for filming at his estate, he was given a role in the film. Ironically, Ross and Elliott who have been married since 1984 both appeared in 1969’s Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. She in the lead female role, he in a bit. They would go on to appear together in the solid cable TV western Conagher should you be interested in seeing a far better film with the married couple.