Heavily cut for its original release by the BBFC for some fairly strong scenes involving violence towards women that pushed the envelope for early 70s British psycho-thrillers, Robert Hartford-Daviesís THE FIEND receives an uncut and restored release from Odeon Entertainment for the first time in the UK.
The film opens to a pre-credits sequence depicting the baptism of a young boy conducted by ranting minister (Patrick Magee) of a Bible-bashing motley of gospel singers who call themselves the Brethren intercut with a sleazy sequence in which a fleeing woman is chased, stripped, strangled and drowned. Despite the murdererís face being concealed and the camera only catching fleeting glimpses of his black gloves and black patent leather boots in true giallo style we are given a blatant clue to his identity immediately after the opening credits when camera zooms into focus on the same boots worn by part-time security guard Kenny (Tom Beckley) who is on the receiving end of fisticuffs by a gang of screwdriver-wielding thugs before the police intervene to save his bacon.
Thatís not all that needs saving as Kennyís diabetic mother and Brethren organist Birdy Wemys (Ann Todd), now disabled with a bad leg and living in a church converted home in which sermons from the Brethren are piped into the rooms via a speaker system, has instilled within him a fear of promiscuous women who it seems must be eliminated in order to cleanse the world of their wanton ways.
Kenny records his victims death throes on audio tape for his own pleasure, which whilst reminiscent of the killer from Powellís PEEPING TOM owe more to revelations reported in the trial of the notorious Moors Murders case of 1966. As Kennyís motherís health deteriorates due to the fact that she is forbidden to take the insulin required for her treatment due to Brethren rules, Kennyís murder spree spreads to the Brethren itself.
The murders, most of which involve young women who either lose their clothes or symbolically raped or attacked with phallic instruments, arenít particularly unsettling since the film canít be taken seriously. Nevertheless, the 70s BBFC scissors deemed it brutal enough to remove one scene in which a prostitute is choked to death by a glowing flashlight.
The film looks rushed and there are several continuity errors. Shots of a young boyís baptism cut back to the thong of the assembly in which we see him sitting amongst the congregation; the killer murders a woman in a swimming pool but her corpse is discovered hanging on a butcherís hook in a meat factory. The accompanying soundtrack by Tony Osborne and Richard Kerr is eclectic to say the least, with gospel tunes (We Are One, Set Me Free, Wash Me in His Blood) offering a bizarre contrast to several 60s action-style tunes reminiscent of Hugh Montenegroís The Man From U.N.C.L.E., but this all adds to the kitsch appeal of the final product.
Fans of tawdry kitchen sink horrors of the period, such as TEN RILLINGTON PLACE (1970), DIE SCREAMING, MARIANNE (1971) NIGHT AFTER NIGHT AFTER NIGHT (1971), and THE NIGHT DIGGER (1971) will no doubt find the film of interest and want to add it to their collection, as will viewers who delight in the OTT theatrics of Patrick Magee who never lets the side down when portraying ranting old men with red faces.
Carl T. Ford
Directed by Robert Hartford-Davies
88 minutes approx / Colour / Rated 15
Studio: Odeon Entertainment
Release date: 7th March 2011
Stills gallery / Original Theatrical trailer / Trailers for selected "Best of British" exploitation titles / 4pp Liner notes by Steve Chibnall
THE FIEND (aka Beware My Brethren)