Sunday, July 3, 2016

Straight on Till Morning (1972)

          More unpleasant than unsettling, Straight on Till Morning is an atypical offering from UK’s Hammer Films, because even though it has gruesome elements, the picture is a slowly paced psychological thriller rather than an outright horror show. Straight on Till Morning is not the only movie Hammer made in this vein, but it compares poorly to, say, Crescendo (1970), which packs a sexy punch. It’s also hard to defend the way this film utilizes iconography associated with J.M. Barrie’s classic Peter Pan character, since the various allusions that are made to Barrie’s work seem arbitrary and perverse. Linking fairy-tale storytelling to horrific subject matter has worked well in other contexts, but here, the device merely seems distasteful and opportunistic. Anyway, the plot begins when plain-looking twentysomething Brenda (Rita Tushingham) leaves her working-class mom in Liverpool to seek adventure and romance in London. Hopelessly naïve, Brenda talks quite a bit about wanting a baby, and her interest in motherhood, combined with her suffocating loneliness, makes her easy prey for predatory men. Sure enough, Brenda falls into a twisted relationship with Peter (Shane Briant), a fair-haired psychopath who insists on calling each of his lovers “Wendy.” (Pushing the Peter Pan allusion even further, he calls his yappy little dog “Tinker.”)
          The suspense of the piece, such as it is, stems from the question of whether Brenda will realize she’s in danger before falling victim to Peter’s weapon of choice, a retractable utility knife. On the plus side, writer John Peacock and director Peter Collinson take their time with scenes that straddle the line between character development and mood-building; although the filmmakers fail to properly illuminate the psychology of the people within the movie, a strong sense of the characters’ everyday lives comes across, so we get the context if not the substance. For instance, the filmmakers take lingering looks at Brenda’s job in a clothing store, her problematic acquaintance with a beautiful blonde gal pal, and Brenda’s generalized anxiety about life. Tushingham engages her role earnestly, wringing a bit of pathos from the malnourished script, and Briant is acceptable as the far-eyed, poetic murderer. Yet there’s a big so-what factor here, and the arty, fragmented editing style that renders the movie’s first half-hour borderline incoherent does not add to the overall appeal of Straight on Till Morning.

Straight on Till Morning: FUNKY

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