Friday, 25 January 2013
The Pit Of Panic
Ah, Robert Hartford-Davis: a terrible film director who made some of my favourite films.'The Black Torment' is a Hammer-esque tale with an olden day setting and lashings of the olde Gothic, just don't watch it if you're even slightly tired as you will fall asleep, it's as simple as that.
When Sir Richard Fordyke returns to his ancestral home with his new bride, Elizabeth, he is surprised to find that very few people are pleased to see him. The reason? A nasty rape and murder (is there any other kind?) in which the poor victim gasped his Lordship's name before expiring, even though he was miles away in that London. Very soon, he finds himself seemingly pursued by the unquiet spirit of his first wife (unable to give him an heir, she jumped out of the window) and by a series of witnesses who have seen an angry version of him under circumstances that he has no recollection of. So, if it's not him, then who is it that looks like exactly him and is terrorising the village? & why isn't Sir Richard called Giles like every other eldest son of the Fordyke dynasty? It's a tricky one.
Remarkably restrained for a Hartford-Davis film, the pressure to show some decorum seems to have sucked the life out of the production. The first five minutes has an atmospheric sequence where a busty, frightened woman tries (and fails) to lose her unseen pursuer in a darkened wood, but the rest is flat, slow and, despite a couple of murders, a banging window and the odd flash of wenchly cleavage, pretty dull. When the 'twist' we saw a mile off suddenly staggers into view about five minutes from the end, there's a burst of long overdue activity: women are threatened, villains revealed, murderous imbeciles drool, a bullet is fired into a face, two former friends have a sword fight and, finally, there's an impaling and a happy ending.
I think this is a film that Hartford-Davis made to show people that he could deliver a solid, fairly respectable piece of work after several fairly seamy b-movies and, in doing so, tried out some new things: colour, horror, period drama, a proper story - with mixed results. It's a boring film, but a good career move.