Friday, 13 February 2009

Girly (1969)

A brief synopsis of the plot and a glance at the DVD box art would lead you to believe that the 1969 British horror flick Girly (or to give it its full title, Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly) is going to be a feast of sex and gore. In fact it’s almost entirely lacking in those two attributes. All it has going for it is a quirky script, skillful direction and good acting, so it’s not going to please most modern horror fans.

Sonny and Girly are a brother and sister who live in a large decaying gothic mansion with their mother (Mumsy) and their nanny. Nanny sleeps at the foot of Mumsy’s bed. They’re apparently still at school, since they’re in school uniform when we first met them (although Vanessa Howard does look just a tad too old to be convincing as a teenager). When they get lonely they go to the park looking for new friends. After making sure that these new friends don’t have any other friends or relatives, no-one who is going to miss them if they suddenly disappear, they take them home. And the new friends always stay. Forever. Or at least until they are sent to the angels. The new friends get to participate in all sorts of lovely games. Sonny likes to film these games. Girly’s games often involve an axe.

Sonny and Girly’s latest new friend has a girlfriend, or at last he has a girlfriend until she meets with an unfortunate accident while playing with Sonny and Girly. The new friend decides to stay with the family, and is soon caught up in the games. Now you have to remember that this is a horror movie, and people in horror movies aren’t supposed to behave rationally (they always go down into the cellar when you know they shouldn’t), so there’s no point in asking why he stays even when it becomes clear just how dangerous Sonny and Girly’s games can be. If you notice how short Girly’s skirts are, you have another explanation for his reluctance to leave. And Girly can be very very friendly. Mumsy can be rather friendly as well. They’re an affectionate sort of family, in their own way.

Of course it goes without saying that the games start to get a little out of hand, and it’s not easy to tell who is playing with whom.

Freddie Francis was always a stylish director with plenty of visual flair and he’s in good form. Brian Comport’s screenplay (from his own novel) is nicely twisted. The contemporary setting is combined effectively with the rambling gothic house. Ursula Howells as Mumsy is delightfully odd and dotty, and Vanessa Howard projects a disturbingly naïve and precocious sexuality. The claustrophobic mix of eccentricity carried to the point of lunacy and bizarre lust works well. The 60s vibe is equally effective. This is subtle horror executed with panache, and it’s well worth a look.

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