Revenge, a 1971 British production distributed by Rank, was promoted at the time as a horror movie. It was promoted even more aggressively in the US as a horror film with various alternative titles such as Behind the Cellar Door, Inn of the Frightened People and Terror from Under the House. In spite of all this it is in fact essentially a psychological thriller, albeit with some horror overtones.
Jim Radford (James Booth) and his wife Carol (Joan Collins) run a pub somewhere in England. Their marriage is reasonably happy although there are some strains caused by the fact that Jim has two children by a previous marriage. Then disaster strikes. Their young daughter Jennie is raped and murdered on her way home from school. The movie opens with the funeral. It is the effect on the family of this murder that will form the subject matter of the movie.
Their grief is difficult enough to bear but the parents also blame themselves for the murder. Quite unfairly, but when an event like this occurs it’s natural enough for the parents to blame themselves, to tell themselves that if only they’d picked their daughter up from school she’d still be alive. The tragedy also heightens tensions between Carol and her stepdaughter Jill.
The breaking point comes when news is received that the police have released the prime suspect in the case. There is strong circumstantial evidence that this man, Seely, was the killer, but the evidence is not strong enough to permit the police to lay charges.
Jim’s rage is understandable enough but it receives a major boost when he starts talking to his friend Harry (Ray Barrett). Harry’s daughter was also raped and killed and the evidence is overwhelming that the same man was responsible for both crimes. Jim and Harry decide to take the law into their own hands. Along with Jim’s son Lee (Tom Marshall) they form a plan to kidnap Seely and force a confession from him. If he confesses they will hand him over to the police. If he can convince them of his innocence they’ll let him go. Jim and Harry are almost totally convinced that Seely really is the killer. There remains just the tiniest seed of doubt in their minds but they believe that kidnapping him is the only way to be sure. And they really have little doubt this is the right man.
They put their plan into operation but it all goes horribly wrong. They put Seely into the cellar of the pub where Jim beats him almost to death. In fact at first they think he is dead. Either way they can see no possibility of now releasing him, not after the extent of the beating they have given him. And in any case they’re still confident that he had it coming to him. But that do they do with him now?
Carol is involved as well. She walked in in the middle of the beating, and actually joined in.
Now the tensions start to mount. They have a half-dead man in the cellar, and they can’t release him since they would certainly be charged with kidnapping with violence and go to prison. Do they kill him? Or just hope he dies?
The marriage of Jim and Carol is now under considerable strain, and the strain is telling even more heavily on Lee, putting pressure on his relationship with his girlfriend Rose. Lee is so badly shaken that he can no longer have sex with Rose and he can’t tell her why. Lee’s feelings of sexual inadequacy and his frustrations will have an unexpected and shocking result. A young man suffering from sexual confusion and a stepmother who looks like Joan Collins can be a dangerous combination.
And now the police are asking awkward questions about Seely’s disappearance.
A lot of people seem to dislike this movie. I suspect it’s because it’s not the movie they expected. It’s not a horror movie or an action thriller. It’s a study in psychological disintegration as rising tensions create an unbearable atmosphere of paranoia and claustrophobia. Director Sidney Hayers (who’d earlier helmed the superb and subtle 1962 horror film Night of the Eagle, known as Burn, Witch, Burn in the US) knows exactly what he’s trying to achieve and he keeps things deliberately low-key. He’s aiming for a slow burn, and he gets it.
The strong cast is a major asset. Kenneth Griffith is ambiguously creepy as Seely. We know there’s something very wrong with him but we’re never quite certain if he’s really a killer. James Booth is outstanding as Jim Radford. The always reliable Australian character actor Ray Barrett is solid as always. This is a very atypical Joan Collins performance but she’s excellent. All of the cast members contribute nicely restrained performances, saving the histrionics for the moments when they’re needed.
There’s one very brief nude scene (from Joan Collins of course) and two sex scenes, one of them a very disturbing scene which Hayers handles skillfully and as tastefully as such a disturbing scene can be handled. There’s nothing exploitative about it and it’s essential to the plot but it’s still unsettling (as it’s intended to be). The one moment of explicit violence is handled just as adroitly and again for maximum shock effect, which is certainly justified.
If you can accept this movie on its own terms then I think it can be accounted a considerable success. Definitely recommended.
The Scorpion Region 1 DVD is presented as part of their Katarina’s Nightmare Theatre range in a good non-anamorphic widescreen transfer. The only extras are a brief intro and equally brief afterward by horror hostess (and professional wrestler) Katarina Leigh Waters who contributes a couple of items of interesting trivia.