By Richard Winters
My Rating: 3 out of 10
4-Word Review: Family plays weird games.
Sonny (Howard Trevor) and Girly (Vanessa Howard) are brother and sister who live with their mother (Ursala Howells) and nanny (Pat Heywood) in a large stately mansion in rural England. Despite both being adolescents they still sleep in cribs and behave as if they’re only 5. They enjoy playing what they call ‘The Game’, which is bringing home strangers, usually homeless men that they’ve met at a park, and forcing them to dress in a schoolboy’s outfit and compelled to behave like a child. If they refuse they are then ‘sent to the angels’.
The film was a product of famed British cinematographer Freddie Francis who wanted to make a movie inside the Oakley Court, which is a castle built in 1859 that overlooks the River Thames. He commissioned his friend Brian Comport to write the screenplay with the only condition being that the action had to take place on the Oakley Court property. Comport decided to revolve the plot around a play called ‘Happy Family’ written by Maisie Mosco, which dealt with a family that got involved with role playing games. Both Francis and Comport disliked the play, but were intrigued with the concept and decided to turn it into the genesis for a horror movie.
The film can best be described as experimental and has an intriguing quality to it, which holds your interest for the first 30-minutes, or so. One of the best elements is the alluring performance of Vanessa Howard, who’s able to mix her beauty with that of an evil mischievous nature. In fact the entire cast does an exceptionally fine job despite the material not offering much in the way of characterizations. The cast gives off an energetic zeal that keeps you compelled even as very little else happens. I kept thinking how sad it was that these actors put so much effort into a movie that fell into obscurity almost right away and this it turns out was the very reason why Howard left the profession just a few years later.
Outside of the acting there’s little else to recommend as the flimsy plot gets stretched far more than it should. There’s also no normal character that the viewer can relate to. Initially I thought it would be Michael Bryant, who plays a middle-aged male prostitute that they bring back to their place as one of their ‘new friends’, but he ends up behaving almost as weirdly as the rest. There should’ve been some outside force that intervened like a police inspector that would come to the castle to investigate the disappearance of one of the prostitute’s female clients, played by Imogen Hassall, that he and the two teens kill when they push her off a slide, which could’ve added tension and nuance that is otherwise lacking.
The film is also too skittish with the shocks. It’s supposed to be a horror movie, but there’s barely anything in it that’s all that disturbing. Sure, it does imply some dark things, but it doesn’t show any of it. The victims die too easily to the point that the death scenes aren’t any fun to watch. The part where a woman falls from a children’s slide at a playground and dies instantly is ridiculous as it wasn’t a high enough for the fall to have been fatal. Another scene is the discovery of a severed head inside a boiling pot of water, but it never gets shown, which comes-off as a total cop-out. I realize this was made in the 60’s in England where the culture was quite prudish to gore and violence, hence the creation of the infamous ‘video nasties’, which was a list of banned horror movies that came out about a decade later, but if you’re going to create a story that is dark and edgy, such as this one, then you should have the balls to push-the-envelope in order to give it a payoff, which this thing is ultimately devoid of.
Alternate Title: Girly
Released: February 12, 1970
Runtime: 1 Hour 47 Minutes
Director: Freddie Francis
Studio: Cinerama Releasing Corporations
Available: DVD, Amazon Video