After many years with Hammer Films as a producer, production manager, writer, assistant director and director, "Fear In the Night" marked Jimmy Sangster's final film for the studio before returning to the U.S. and spending more than a decade in television.
Originally written as a spec script in 1963, Sangster's "Brainstorm" (later renamed "The Claw") was put into production years later when studio head Michael Carreras was looking for a project that would suit his 'Women in Terror!' double-bill - an ill-fated attempt to restructure the studio's production output and release strategy after relying on a steady dose of vampires, werewolves and monsters since the 1950s.
Dubbed 'mini-Hitchcocks,' writer Michael Syson was brought into the mix, and after transferring the four-character story to a boys' school, the reinvigorated screenplay was put into production.
Anchor Bay's transfer is made from a very attractive print, which contains only minor marks at the beginning, and displays consistent colour registration as the film moves from brightly lit sets - particularly the interiors - to darker, higher contrast lighting when a terrorized Judy Geeson discovers her stalker has tracked her down. The soft-focus lensing flatters the blue-eyed, cream-coloured actress, and the set décor and expansive school location (both interiors and exteriors) add extra menace to Sangster's twisted tale.
Sangster and Hammer historian Marcus Hearn provide an excellent commentary track, which covers important corporate and production studio aspects: the "iffy" relationship between Sir James Carreras and son Michael - the latter of whom purchased the company to assume control; the working environment inside England's legendary thriller/horror studio; and some comments regarding the film's actors, novitiate film composer John McCabe, Hammer musical supervisor Philip Martell, and cinematographer Arthur Grant.
Hearn also uses this opportunity to get Sangster talking about his other Hammer films, and the two manage to cover a solid chronology, starting with some of Sangster's early 60s shockers and his later works. (The best remain the Bette Davis vehicles "The Nanny" and "The Anniversary," with an interesting Julie Christie reference; and Sangster's latest film credit, "Flashback" - an old screenplay reworked as a teen slasher and produced in 2002 by a German company). Note: there's a minor plot spoiler in the commentary track regarding Sangster's 1961 film "Taste of Fear," so viewers unfamiliar with that gem might want to track it down before hearing this commentary!
Rand Vossler's booklet notes recaps some key production facts, and adds a few more details about Joan Collins, whose work in "Fear In The Night" occurred during a low career ebb before "Dynasty" fame on TV. (And in the tangential curio dept., bit actor John Brown, reduced to playing a copper at the film's end, had a brief directorial fling in 1969 with "Monique," a naughty au pair entry in England's short sexploitation wave of the period.)
The theatrical trailer is in decent shape, and plays up the stalking aspect, though viewers are better served by watching it after the film, as a few shots blow some key shocks.
Anchor Bay deserves a special nod for releasing this title and "Straight On Till Morning," so viewers can do their own Hammer "Women in Terror!" double-bill, and see for themselves whether Carreras's production overhaul was inspired, or a misguided rescue attempt during a difficult period in England film industry.
© 2002 Mark R. Hasan