Monday, 6 April 2009

How Awful About Allan (1970)

How Awful About Allan is a 1970 made-for-TV movie which casts Anthony Perkins in yet another variation of his Psycho performance. Allan (Perkins) has just been released from a state mental hospital. He is suffering from, among other things, hysterical blindness as a result of a house fore in which his father was killed. It appears that Allan may have accidentally started the fire, and since he disliked his father he is naturally having to deal not just with guilt but with vague suspicions against him. He is to stay with his sister Katherine (Julie Harris) who was left badly disfigured after the fire, which of course adds to the guilt. Allan and Katherine were left very little money by their father so they have to take in a lodger, a student from the nearby university, which makes an already stressful situation even more stressful.

Katherine worshipped her father, a professor at the university. Allan disapproved of what he saw as an excessively close and unhealthy relationship between father and daughter, and Katherine was clearly the favoured child, so there are all sorts of Freudian tensions.

Allan suspects that there is something about Harold, the lodger. Harold seems to be secretive, and keeps to himself to a degree that is certainly extreme. Allan starts to wonder about the identity of this mysterious lodger is, and to suspect he may be someone else, an old boyfriend of Katherine’s. He hears strange voices. He confides his suspicions to his girlfriend Olive, but his relationship with Olive is also somewhat uneasy and she is inclined to think he might not really have been ready to leave the hospital. Allan becomes increasingly paranoid, and tensions mount until the inevitable crisis.

The major weakness of How Awful About Allan is the plotting. The main plot twist is no great surprise, since there doesn’t seem anywhere else the plot could go. The major strength of the movie is Allan’s partial blindness. There are lots of point-of-view shots where we see the world as the same hazy blur that Allan sees, and crucially this means that neither Allan nor the audience can distinguish the face of the enigmatic lodger. And Harold has a convenient speech impediment, so his voice is merely a low mumble, impossible to recognise. Allan’s suspicions could just be paranoia exacerbated by his frustration at being unable to recognise faces, but his suspicions could just as easily be well-founded. Director Curtis Harrington uses Allan’s blindness with considerable skill to create an atmosphere of confusion and fear.

The rather studio-bound feel, the inevitable result of being a low-budget TV movie, is more of an asset than a liability, and we feel as trapped as Allan within the walls of this ever-so-slightly gothic house. Watching Anthony Perkins unravel is always fun, and in this one he is careful not to go too far over-the-top. It’s a decent enough little psychological thriller, and worth a look.

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