Britsploitation from A-Z: R is for Revenge (1971)

17 Jan

In 1969 Peter Rogers produced Carry On Camping, featuring Sid James and gang merrily lusting after a group of schoolgirls (although most of them seemed long past the school leaving age).  A couple of years later Rogers served as executive producer on a pair of grim thrillers that took a much less jolly attitude toward grown men acting on their schoolgirl fantasies.  Both were directed by Sidney Hayers, whose CV included the marvellously lurid Circus of Horrors and the much-praised chiller Night of the Eagle.  

Assault gives us a pretty routine hunt-the-killer scenario, but Revenge is much stranger, essentially a kitchen sink drama set in a household of inept vigilantes.  Gruff James Booth plays the central character, Jim, a pub landlord whose daughter has been raped and killed.  The prime suspect is local loner Seely (Kenneth Griffith, looking like the textbook grubby old pervert, with greasy hair and milk-bottle specs added to his naturally shifty features).  The police don’t have the evidence to hold Seely, so Jim decides to personally get the revenge of the title.  Aided by his son Lee (Tom Marshall) and friend Harry (Ray Barrett), a fellow bereaved father out for vengeance, Jim plans to kidnap Seely, force a confession out of him, and then carry out gruesome retribution.  Our first inkling that things may not go according to plan comes when the abduction’s nearly foiled by a passing Alsatian enamoured with the rug the gang have brought to throw over Seely’s head.   They just about manage to capture Seely and imprison him in the cellar of Jim’s grotty boozer, where they take it in turns to beat him to a pulp (this is one of the most effective bits of the film, shot from Seely’s point of view with fists flying straight at the camera).  However, none of them can bring himself to finish the pathetic old man off in cold blood, so they’re left floundering in search of a way to dispose of him.  A trip to Seely’s house to arrange an ‘accident’ there, swiftly curtailed when the police turn up, reveals a stereotypical pervert’s pad complete with Psycho-inspired shrine to his dead mother.

Meanwhile Joan Collins, as Jim’s tarty wife Carol, frantically tries to keep a succession of busybodies including barmaid Sinead Cusack and Onslow from Keeping Up Appearances as a brewery delivery man, out of the cellar and rows continually with Jim’s surviving daughter Jill (Zuleika Robson) (it feels like most of the film is taken up with people arguing about one thing or another).  Carol stole Jim from his first wife, and now her sights are set on her stepson.  In the film’s most startling scene Carol offers to help Lee with the erectile problems she’s overheard him discussing with girlfriend Sinead (she intends to give practical demonstrations, obviously).   In a fit of lustful rage he drags her into the cellar and rips her clothes off as the tied-up Seely watches, forcing the old man to watch him force himself on Carol, claiming it’s an attempt to convert Seely to ‘normal’ sexuality.  There doesn’t seem anything particularly normal about wanting to commit rape in front of a suspected paedophile but it certainly seems to help Lee get it up.  Strangely enough the only effect this has on Seely is to tip him into hysteria.  Carol doesn’t seem to mind too much about it though, and the next day she and Lee drive off into the sunset on his moped, much to Jim’s consternation.

I need to talk about the film’s bizarre ending, so if you’d rather not know what happens, look away now.  The film’s kept us guessing whether Seely is in fact the child molester, his dialogue consisting mainly of whimpers and screams that give away nothing.  But when Harry reveals that the police have arrested another man for the murders Jim is left in the unenviable position of trying to apologise to a man he’s left at death’s door.  Booth and Griffith are both brilliant here, Jim searching pathetically for ways to make amends (a nice breakfast and an offer of a few quid are about the best he can do), Seely inscrutably unresponsive.  This would have been a superb way to end the film (though if they’d revealed that the manipulative Harry was the killer all along that might have been quite good too).  However, the story’s not over yet.  Jim pops out for a while (in a wonderful moment of pathos he buys Seely a box of chocolates to apologise – sadly the shop seems to be out of ‘Sorry I accused you of being a child killer’ cards) and a young friend of Jill’s turns up.  We immediately realise from Seely’s drooling reaction to the little girl that yes, he is the culprit after all.  Fortunately, after reading that the latest suspect has been released Jim arrives home in time to stab the old man to death in a frenzy.  It feels like the filmmakers couldn’t decide on whether to offer a savage indictment of taking the law into your own hands or offer a cathartic comeuppance to a dangerous pervert, and decided to just do both, confusing everyone in the process.

Apparently plain old Revenge wasn’t an interesting enough title for the US market, as distributors over there gave it a bewildering array of different titles including Behind the Cellar Door, After Jenny Died, Terror from Under the House and best of all the ridiculous Inn of Frightened People.

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