By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: These students are killers.
John Ebony (David Hemmings) leaves his job in advertising to follow his dream of becoming a school teacher. He gets a job at an all-boys private school in rural England replacing a teacher who died accidently by falling off a cliff. His pupils soon tell him that they were the ones who killed the teacher and they will do the same to him if he doesn’t do as they say. John can’t find anyone who believes him even his own wife Sylvia (Caroline Seymour) laughs it off. Soon John finds himself a virtual prisoner of his own students and forced to follow their dictates while he tries to figure out who the ringleader is and bring them to justice.
Director John Mackenzie does a terrific job of building the tension slowly. The film works at a deliberate pace allowing the viewer to see things from John’s point-view-of. The slower pace keeps things realistic and therefore more effective. Geoffrey Unswoth’s cinematography is vivid. I loved the way the steep cliffs are captured at the beginning and a camera is thrown off the cliff making the viewer feel like the victim as they see the landscape swirling on screen before completely submerging in water. A nightmare sequence where John dreams of being accosted by the boys in much the same way as his predecessor is visually exciting. The on-location shooting at an actual private boy’s school in Wales only helps to add to the authenticity.
The students themselves are quite effective and much better than their counterparts in the similar Child’s Play where they came off as too robotic. Here they have more diverse personalities. Their snarky behavior and the taunting both to their weaker peers and to John was so on-target that it made me feel like I was right back in high school. Their polite and formal facades are a thin veil to their sinister side that becomes increasingly more apparent as the film goes on. The pinnacle comes when they lock Sylvia in a darkened gymnasium and threaten to gang rape her. The lighting, done exclusively with flashlights and the frenzied action make this a memorably creepy moment.
John makes for a solid protagonist. The viewer can feel and understand his unique quandary and the character is believable enough to help make the movie engrossing from beginning to end. My only quibble would be near the end when the boys ask him to come with them to look for one of the students that have disappeared and he agrees. I thought this was a little hard to believe as it was right after they had tried to attack his wife and the search was being done near the cliffs, which would put John at a vulnerable risk.
The twist at the end is a bit of a surprise and is overall satisfying. Despite what is stated in the review in Leonard Maltin’s ‘Movie and Video Guide’ there is no revelation of any kind after the closing credits. I have seen this film now twice from two different sources and both times the only thing that comes after the credits is the Paramount logo.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: June 13, 1971
Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes
Director: John Mackenzie
Available: Amazon Instant Video