Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Night Watch (1973)

Night Watch has the distinction of being the only horror movie Elizabeth Taylor made. And this 1973 British production is a reasonably successful effort.

It follows the psychological horror formula that had become familiar in the early 60s, in movies like Hammer’s psycho-thrillers of that era. But Night Watch adds a few new twists of its own.

Elizabeth Taylor is Ellen Wheeler. She is married to investment consultant John Wheeler (Laurence Harvey) although she is apparently wealthy in her own right. The marriage seems happy enough. John works fairly long hours but Ellen has her friend Sarah Cooke (Billie Whitelaw) to keep her company. Ellen is somewhat disapproving of Sarah’s mysterious affair with a married man. on the whole these seem like reasonably normal upper middle-class people. Until one night, in the middle of a severe storm, Ellen sees something in the window of the deserted house next door.

Ellen is sure she saw a murdered man with his throat cut. It was jut a glimpse as the shutters briefly blew open before blowing closed again but Ellen is convinced that she did indeed see a murdered man. The police are called but a search of the deserted house reveals nothing unusual or sinister. John is inclined to think that Ellen let her imagination play tricks on her, and the police share his view.

Ellen lost her first husband Carl in a car accident some years earlier. We do not find out the circumstances of the accident until late in the picture but Ellen has clearly never quite recovered from this tragedy.

Shortly afterwards Ellen sees another body in the derelict house, this time a woman’s body. The police are called again and again they find nothing. Ellen becomes increasingly distraught and John, by this time very concerned, calls in his psychiatrist friend tony (Tony Britton) to take a look at Ellen.

Ellen refuses to be shaken in her belief that she really did see those bodies. She is so persistent that they even dig up her neighbour Mr Appleby’s flower beds but they can still find absolutely no evidence to support Ellen’s story. Ellen rings Inspector Walker (Bill Dean) so many times that the police dismiss her as a harmless crank and no longer bother to respond to her phone calls. On Tony’s advice Ellen eventually agrees to admit herself to a private clinic in Switzerland but before she takes that plane flight the story reaches its climax.

As you might expect Elizabeth Taylor gives a wonderfully over-the-top performance. Taylor was never afraid to push her acting to extremes that would have been ridiculously histrionic in any other actress, but she was always able to get away with it. And she gets away with it here. Her performance is the key to the film’s success and she delivers the goods.

Laurence Harvey and Billie Whitelaw provide fine support. Robert Lang is amusing as Mr Appleby, a man who seems both absurd and vaguely sinister.

Brian G. Hutton directed only a handful of movies although these included another rather outrageous and very entertaining Elizabeth Taylor vehicle, Zee and Co  (released in the US as X, Y and Zee). He does a very capable job with Night Watch. Screenwriter Tony Williamson had a prolific carer in British television, writing episodes for just about every crime/adventure series of the 60s and 70s. Twisted little stories were something he was very good at and his screenplay is economical and effective.

This movie has been released in the Warner Archive made-on-demand DVD series, in an excellent anamorphic transfer.

Night Watch is a fine example of the British psychological horror thriller and Elizabeth Taylor’s performance in her only horror outing is certainly an added inducement. Taylor proves that she can do horror very well indeed.

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