Friday, 4 March 2011

Review - Straight On Till Morning (1972)

Hammer’s horror department spent much of the early 70s experimenting with their formats – they tried transplanting gothic horror into the “modern day” (or a kitsch interpretation of it, anyway) in Dracula AD72, ramped up the sex (ie. added more boobs) in films like Lust For A Vampire and The Vampire Lovers, turned Dracula into a Bond villain in Satanic Rites, and dispensed with all sense of decency and plot with To The Devil… A Daughter. None of which had an effect on their ailing fortunes. But it was a nice try, and made for some astonishing films.
Perhaps their biggest gamble was this little oddity, in which they dispensed with all the ingredients moviegoers wanted from a Hammer horror film, and decided to make a character-driven drama.
Having seen the promotional material for Straight On Till Morning you’d be forgiven for expecting a “pretty boy on the prowl” shocker in the same vein as Twisted Nerve or Endless Night, set in a swinging London full of Carnaby Street types wearing big floppy felt hats, mini skirts and enormous thigh length boots. But it’s not like that. Not really.
Yes, there is the obligatory boutique full of “hip young things” wearing a lot of purple and orange shouting over some VERY LOUD  instrumental music with a lot of wah-wah guitar effects, and a sexy party with a lot of bright young things and James Bolam, but the swinging really is kept to a minimum.
You can tell this is going to be nowhere like a traditional Hammer film from the opening scenes, as Rita Tushingham’s childlike character Brenda announces to her mother that she’s pregnant and off to London. It’s like a mid 60s kitchen sink drama , 10 years too late, complete with “grim oop North” terraced streets and rain-slaked slate roofs.
Brenda, a plain mousey creature in a badly fitting dress, finds a rundown flat in the city, gets a job at the aforementioned boutique (who’s that with the Richard Ashcroft hair, Jimmy Saville specs and Jason King suit? Bloody hell, it’s Tom “Prime Suspect” Bell), and finds a much nicer flat with fellow assistant and “man mad” Sally Thomsett lookalike Caroline (Katya Wyeth). Arriving at her new home mid party, Brenda is immediately told to grab a drink and look for someone to hook up with by her new friend. She sets her sights on fellow boutique employee James Bolam, but is left devastated when a bored Caroline grabs n’ shags him while Brenda’s back is turned.
Out getting a bit of fresh air, she chances on Tinker, a scruffy mutt owned by Peter (Shane Briant, in his first performance on screen and perversely one of his better ones). Peter has already been seen by Brenda twatting around the nearby streets in his white E-type Jag, and she decides that, rather than handing the dog back to his owner, the best thing to do would be to take the creature home with her (ie. steal it), give it a bath and take it round the next day, which she does.
Her reasoning is clear – she’s seen Peter, she likes what she sees in his finely chiseled cheekbones and bouffant blonde locks, and she would like him to be the father of her child. She’s not yet pregnant, you see – that was just a ruse to get her out of oop north and into darn sarf.
But what she doesn’t realise is that behind the bone structure and the curls, Peter is a complete nutjob. After a lifetime of being told how pretty he is, he has grown to hate beauty in all its forms (how this equates with him driving a beautiful sports car is never explained) and likes nothing better than destroying beautiful things with his trusty Stanley knife. This includes a succession of women, whose money he keeps in the kitchen drawer to supplement his louche lifestyle.
He immediately takes to Brenda because she’s a bit of a munter, and asks her to move in with him. If she cooks, cleans and looks after him, he might very well do what she asks and give her one (a child, that is). He asks that he can call her Wendy, and just in case we haven’t picked up on the sledgehammer referencing going on, quotes a line from Peter Pan about his bedroom being “straight on till morning” (aha!).
Brenda does what he asks, and the pair (sans dog, which has been butchered by Peter because of Brenda’s sprucing up) start living their blissful, childlike existence. But it isn’t long before the real world begins to intrude – Brenda has been missed by both her mother and Caroline, and the girl, now pregnant and  totally enamoured of Peter but still unaware of his real raison d’etre, has decided to do a bit of sprucing up on herself…
Straight On Till Morning would, with any other name before the credits, be a functional handsome-young-man-is-a-psycho story amongst the many other being farmed out at the time (as well as the already named, there was See No Evil, The Road Builder, and Night Must Fall). With its funky editing, weird voiceovers and flashback overdrive, it’s a nicely put together, if a tad boring, tale of obsession. The inclusion of Rita Tushingham adds a certain amount of class, but because you’re expecting  a Hammer horror, what you see comes as quite an odd experience. Yes, Hammer had experimented with thrillers before, but this is something very different – a strange little genre hybrid that doesn’t quite work on any level. There’s no blood to be seen (which seems very odd, given the times it was made in), no kitsch 70s-sploitation, not even much gratuitous nudity. Very odd.


Saltwell said...

I find this a fascinating film. The scene when the Rita Tushingham character has had her "makeover" is bizarre because, rather than looking beautiful, she looks ridiculous - in the commentary, the actress herself compares her wig to a cowpat! Somehow, this doesn't harm the watchability of the film, which comes over as a melancholy but atmospheric relic of the 1970s.

Anonymous said...

Just watched this on the Horror Channel and was quite impressed. A very subtle but disturbing film.

The scene with the reel to reel recorder at the end is so creepy. It reminds one of the Lesley Ann Downey murder and I wondered if it was a nod to it.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this film. Loved the seventies London locations and thought Rita Tushingham was superb - as always. Best Hammer film I've ever seen.