Saturday, June 12, 2021

Screamer (1974) (TV)

... aka: Thriller: Screamer

Directed by:
Shaun O'Riordan

Most horror fans are probably pretty well-acquainted with British actress Pamela Franklin. After all, with a dozen genre films / TV appearances on her resume over a fifteen year period, she was certainly one of the more ubiquitous females in 60s and 70s horror. For awhile, she even managed to avoid the same fate as fellow child actress Linda Blair, whose attempt at a mainstream career pretty much went straight in the toilet soon after The Exorcist had made her famous. Franklin was able to follow her initial success - the superb Henry James adaptation The Innocents (1961) - with a number of other quality projects like Hammer's The Nanny (1965) with Bette Davis, the TV movie Eagle in a Cage (1965), which netted the young star an Emmy nomination, the very interesting (and unfortunately overlooked) Our Mother's House (1967) and the crime-thriller The Night of the Following Day (1969) alongside Marlon Brandon. All that before even turning 20.

The young actresses career then hit a high mark at the end of the decade when she gave an acclaimed turn as Maggie Smith's precocious student in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969). However, while Smith dominated the awards circuit that year, Franklin's equally-deserving contributions were given a cold shoulder from the Golden Globes and Oscars. While I personally don't put much stock in those awards as their histories are riddled with unjust snubs and ridiculous nominations, there's no denying what they can do for a career. Seeing how Goldie Hawn won the Supporting Actress award that year for the long-forgotten comedy Cactus Flower and they had room to nominate Sylvia Miles for a glorified cameo in Midnight Cowboy, the oversight of Franklin certainly qualifies as a huge injustice. Even Blair, a fun though far less talented actress than Franklin, was able to sustain a long B-movie career from her initial Oscar notoriety. All that makes me wonder what kind of boost Franklin's career would have seen had she been nominated herself.

Alas, Franklin's big screen career started to fizzle out just a few years after Brodie. While she was in a few decent theatrical releases early on in the decade, like AND SOON THE DARKNESS (1970) and The Legend of Hell House (1973), by the end of the 70s she was doing nothing but guest spots on TV fluff like Fantasy Island, Love Boat and Vega$. Even worse, the final nail in her big screen coffin ended up being Bert I. Gordon's giant animal schlock-fest THE FOOD OF THE GODS (1976). Not that her previous Gordon starring vehicle - NECROMANCY (1972) - had been much better, but it was still a depressing way for the promising actress to go out. In between, she did land some genre TV work that many remember, like appearances on Circle of Fear and Night Gallery, plus two feature-length entries in the Thriller series: Won't Write Home Mom - I'm Dead (aka Terror from Within), and this one...

Pamela portrays Nicola Stevens, an American living in England working as a stenographer at the U. S. Embassy. She decides to take a late night British Railways train to visit a couple of friends - Jeff (Donal McCann) and Virna (Frances White) - out in the country. A rather sinister old woman (Ambrosine Phillpotts) sharing a cabin with her warns that three young women have all been sexually assaulted and beaten in just three months along the same route. One was almost killed. As her friends have already agreed to meet her at the station, Nicola thinks she has nothing to worry about. As for the old lady, she makes a joking aside: "I suppose if it happened to me at my age I could take it as a complement" before exiting. The next person to enter her cabin isn't quite as humorous. Instead, he's a creepy, leering, silent man (Jim Norton) who seems strangely familiar. That's because the old woman had just been reading the rapist's description to her from a newspaper and this guy fits that description to a T!

The uncomfortable, wordless train ride that follows finds the man staring at Nicola's legs and lighting up his pipe and throwing a match on the floor despite the no smoking sign. Subtly threatening gestures follow, like him reaching toward Nicola numerous times then pulling back to do something else, such as grabbing the newspaper she's just been reading that happens to have a front page article about him, and then peering over the top as if to tell her that he knows she knows who he is. Nicola makes it to her stop shaken but unharmed, but gets some bad news from the stationmaster upon arrival. Her friends still haven't arrived back in town yet due to car problems and won't be home until tomorrow. She's to walk to their home a quarter of a mile away and let herself in using a key hidden under the doormat. While she makes it, she forgets the key in the door and the rapist, who's followed her there, manages to get inside. When her friends arrive home the next morning, they find their home a wreck, blood smeared on the walls, a missing hatchet and a bruised and battered Nicola.

Nicola is rushed off to the hospital in a state of shock. At first, any man who enters her room, whether that be her attending physician (Michael Hall) or the police inspector (Derek Smith) investigating her case, she envisions is her rapist and hysterically screams them right out of the room. She's then sent to a mental home run by Dr. Ward (Peter Howell) for six months, where Nicola improves somewhat but still recoils from any man's touch and continues to have nightmares about her assaulter. Still, progress is progress and she's allowed to return to live with the (amazingly kind and patient) Jeff and Virna, who feel guilty about what happened and want to help her fully recover. However, that proves to be difficult when Nicola starts seeing fleeting glimpses of attacker around town...

The opening fifteen minute set-piece is tense, suspenseful and really quite excellent; perhaps the best spot of filmmaking I've seen on the series thus far. All of the performances are good and, though this has its slow spots afterward, the plot eventually introduces enough twists and turns to keep your interest and keep you guessing. The eventual resolution itself, however, is the most obvious of the possibilities when all is said and done and perhaps doesn't hold quite the same impact that something a little less obvious would have.

While this debuted as part of the Thriller series in the UK (the first episode of the 4th season), it premiered on TV here in America as a standalone movie on ABC and had a new opening credit scene added that's not in the later DVD versions. The 1986 VHS release from ThrillerVideo, which claims to run 71 minutes on the box (the original British version runs just shy of 67 minutes) appears to be this new U. S. cut.


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