Here’s one I believe to be a forgotten thriller among the many titles in the Christopher Lee catalogue. As a matter of fact to the best of my knowledge it’s never seen the light of day on home video since a VHS release with Dynasty star Joan Collins splashed across the cover for marketing effect upon it’s release to coincide with Joan’s comeback on the small screen. Thankfully I’ve still got a copy.
Directed by Don Sharp, it’s an eerie tale of murder, madness and a missing fortune that is said to be hidden in a run down estate that’s been willed to Robert Hardy after the original owner has died an inmate at an asylum for the insane just moments prior to Lee’s arrival to hear the man’s final words.
“Things happened there.”
Hardy’s arrival at the estate is frowned upon by the neighboring Sir Christopher who along with his sister Joan are both looking to find the whereabouts of 210,000 pounds that supposedly went missing along with the dead man’s wife, nanny and two small children. Hardy makes Lee’s acquaintance as well as the lawyer who is in charge of the grounds, Herbert Lom, looking splendid with silvery white hair and a pair of specs.
Hardy knows all to well there’s a missing fortune and has his own designs on attempting to locate it. As he goes about restoring the estate, he’s about to have a sexy volunteer join in when Joan turns up at the door offering to help. She’s clearly there to gain Hardy’s trust so that she and Christopher can lay claim to it. Brother and sister they may be but it’s clearly a love/hate relationship. When she suggests to Lee that Hardy is rather attractive he responds to her in that classic baritone he possessed, “You are a bitch, Sarah.”
Right or wrong, Joan makes it clear to Hardy that she’s open to any advances he might be willing to make. While Joan may have his attention, so does the noise of children’s laughter and other strange sounds he hears within the walls of the estate. What’s more is the fact that he bears a striking resemblance to the painting in the main hall. A painting of the elderly man who has willed him the estate when he was much younger and the master of the house.
For those who might have been disappointed at the fact that Lee and Lom never actually shared a scene in 1970’s El Conde Dracula despite Lee as the vampire King and Lom as Van Helsing, they do have a number of exchanges this time out and Lom makes it clear that he knows both Lee and Joan are after the money. Lee’s retort leaves the question open as to what exactly Lom’s motives are.
While Lee and Joan do their plotting, there’s a parallel story within our script that sees Hardy losing his own grip on sanity. He’ll soon find himself in flashbacks reliving the life of his dead benefactor. Flashbacks that are intended to explain to us just what happened to the money and the possibility of four murders. Scenes moving from the present to the past and back to the present again are well staged by the director complimented by Hardy’s dress and overall look which are well matched to both time frames. It’s in the flashbacks that we’ll see Hardy has a wife (Jean Marsh) who is herself bordering on insanity, a Nanny (Jane Birkin) whom he is having an affair with and two small children who are more than a handful.
Seeing this film as a pre-teen repeatedly on a TV station out of Toronto years ago, these flashbacks were rather unnerving with Hardy descending into madness and murder. At just 87 minutes the film moves along at a good clip and it’s over the final third that all will be revealed from the past and just who is going to survive the present.
During the early 70’s Joan Collins had done a number of horror films. Among them the anthology horrors, Tales From the Crypt and Tales That Witness Madness, Hammer’s Fear In the Night, the atrocious I Don’t Want to Be Born and even a giant ant flick from Bert I. Gordon, Empire of the Ants. I’ve often wondered how Joan feels looking back about her foray into horror. Lee was already a legend of the genre by this time and had worked with director Sharp previously on a pair of Fu Manchu titles, a pair of Hammer titles, Rasputin and Devil Ship Pirates then would rejoin him one more time on 1979’s star studded Bear Island.
Herbert Lom is always a welcome presence here in the movie room at Mike’s Take and that’s thanks mainly to discovering him at an early age as Chief Inspector Dreyfus in The Pink Panther series who kept our family in stitches and has continued to do so as I got older and had children of my own to share them with.
Again, I’m not sure if this film is an easy one to locate but I do believe it would be a perfect fit in the Scream Factory line of blu rays or one of the overseas brands like Arrow Films or Indicator. We can only hope. As for the original one sheet I’ve had in my possession for over 25 years now? Well, keep looking but don’t expect me to be putting this one up for sale anytime soon. I’m kind of a Christopher Lee collector don’t you know.