Pete Walker had a pretty great run from the late 1960s through the 1970s in British cinema, although in the States he has been more of a cult figure. In the UK, Walker made a name for himself directing and producing exploitation films of two distinct stripes: sex films such as School for Sex, The Dirtiest Girl I Ever Met (aka Cool It Carol, 1970), and The Four Dimensions of Greta (1972), and horror features like Die Screaming Marianne (1971), House of Whipcord (1974), and Schizo (1976). Kino Video and Redemption Films previously released a boxed set of four of his horror films (the previously mentioned films and 1978’s The Comeback) on Blu-ray, much to the delight of Walker’s fans. Not only were these new releases of much better video quality than previous releases, but many of Walker’s films had been out of print or otherwise unavailable in the States for quite some time. Now they have released two more, providing an impressive upgrade to the versions previously available in the States: The Flesh and Blood Show (1972) and Frightmare (1974).
The Flesh and Blood Show is a sort of proto-slasher film that follows a group of actors who have been hired to perform in a musical at an abandoned theater. The theater was closed after a production of Othello ended in real-life bloodshed years earlier, and the theater is thought to be cursed. Unsurprisingly, before too long each of the actors begin disappearing, making rehearsals exceptionally difficult for the remaining cast, although they’re mostly too busy taking their clothes off to notice. True to his exploitation film reputation, Walker delivers on promises of both flesh and blood, although it takes a while to get going. Fans of UK horror and exploitation film will find plenty of familiar faces here to keep them occupied, though: Robin Askwith (of Confessions of a Window Cleaner fame) appears along with Luan Peters (Lust for a Vampire, Twins of Evil), Judy Matheson (Percy’s Progress, Scream… and Die!), Penny Meredith (The Ups and Downs of a Handyman, Confessions of a Summer Camp Councillor), Ray Brooks (Walker’s House of Whipcord and Tiffany Jones) and Tristan Rogers (Frustrated Wives, Walker’s The Four Dimensions of Greta). The pacing of the film is a bit of a problem, though, and overall The Flesh and Blood Show is more of an interesting footnote in horror history than anything. One huge score for this new Blu-ray release worth noting is the restoration of a 3D flashback sequence that has been restored to the film (although the viewer will need either a 3D television or blue and red glasses to watch it properly), not shown in 3D since its original theatrical run!
On the other hand, Frightmare is a genuine classic of British horror, mostly thanks to a spectacular performance by Sheila Keith. Jackie Yates (Deborah Fairfax) lives with her younger stepsister Debbie (Kim Butcher) in a London flat. Lately, Debbie’s behavior has been more and more erratic and dangerous, and Jackie is worried for her. Jackie’s boyfriend Graham (Paul Greenwood), who is studying to be a psychiatrist, takes it into his own hands to investigate the situation. Unfortunately for Graham, the Yates family has more problems than juvenile delinquency in their history: their parents Edmund (Rupert Davies) and Dorothy (Sheila Keith) spent a long stint in a sanitarium for murder and cannibalism. Recently released as being “cured,” Dorothy has taken up reading tarot cards to make a little extra money. And although Jackie tries to tamp down Dorothy’s murderous urges by bringing her raw meat, occasionally Dorothy still hunts and kills the clients who come to her for a tarot reading. Edmund does his best to cover for Dorothy, but as Debbie’s behavior starts to spiral out of control and Dorothy becomes more and more unhinged, it seems like only a matter of time before the Yates are found out again.
Frightmare is a gruesome film, occasionally flirting with black comedy. However, even as the story constantly threatens to pitch into complete lunacy, Sheila Keith’s performance as Dorothy keeps the film from getting too cartoonish. Keith also appeared in Walker’s House of Whipcord and House of Mortal Sin, but Frightmare is the film where she was allowed to really show what she was made of. Dorothy genuinely seems like a sweet (if mildly confused) old lady up until she has an implement of murder in her hand, at which time she becomes a seriously unsettling and very real threat. The rest of the cast is mostly great, although Kim Butcher gets a little out of control (not always in a good way) as young murderess-in-training Debbie. Still, this is absolutely Sheila Keith’s show, and the film is worth watching for her brilliant performance alone. Gore fans will not be disappointed, as Walker keeps the body count ticking up and the blood flying. Frightmare is one of the best British horror films of the 1970s, and arguably Pete Walker’s finest hour as a director.
Kino Video and Redemption Films released The Flesh and Blood Show and Frightmare on Blu-ray 18 March 2014. It goes without saying that the video quality of these discs are vastly improved over the previously-available DVDs released in the States by Shriek Show. The Flesh and Blood Show features an interview with director Pete Walker by Elijah Drenner, the film’s original theatrical trailer, and a 10-minute 3D sequence presented in both stereoscopic format (requiring a 3D television system) and anaglyph format (requiring red & blue 3D glasses, not included). Frightmare features a full-length commentary by Walker and director of photography Peter Jessop moderated by author Steve Chibnall (author of Making Mischief: The Cult Films of Pete Walker), an interview with Walker by Elijah Drenner, “Sheila Keith: A Nice Old Lady?” featurette, and the film’s original theatrical trailer. For diehard fans of British horror, picking these up is a no-brainer. Here’s hoping we see more of Walker’s films on Blu-ray in the near future!