chiller-thriller from the pen of Brian Clemens, 1971's See No Evil was a
notably lower-key affair for director Richard Fleischer, former helmer on such
celebrated cinematic epics as The Fantastic Voyage, Doctor Doolittle, Tora!
Tora! Tora! and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Which isn't to imply See No Evil is
inferior. Quite the contrary, in fact.
blind after a horse-riding accident, Sarah (Mia Farrow) moves in with her Aunt
and Uncle, Betty and George Rexton (Dorothy Alison and Robin Bailey) and her
cousin Sandy (Diane Grayson) at their opulent riverside home. Familiar with the
geography of the sprawling house, Sarah is able to confidently go about coping with
her disability. Arriving home after spending the day with an old boyfriend, local
horse breeder Steve (Norman Eshley), Sarah believes the family to be out for
the evening and prepares for bed, unaware that in her absence all three have
been brutally murdered. She eventually stumbles upon the bodies and encounters
the mortally wounded gardener (Brian Robinson) whose dying words warn her that
the killer is certain to return to retrieve a damning piece of evidence he carelessly
legendary Brian Clemens is probably best known as producer-writer on classic TV
show The Avengers, but he was also the mind behind a batch of very fine Brit
movie chillers, among them And Soon the Darkness, Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde and
Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter, the latter which he also directed. His script
for See No Evil is an efficient little knuckle-whitener, questionable perhaps
only in the motivations of its wrongdoer. Is watching a couple of X-certificate
movies – in the opening scene the killer-to-be, face unseen, leaves a cinema screening
‘The Convent Murders’ and ‘Rapist Cult’ (both fictitious) – and getting one’s gaudy
cowboy boots splashed by a passing car really sufficient impetus for a murder
spree? Of course, no-one expects the bad guy in this type of movie to be sane,
but the heavy-handed message during the opening credits sequence that society’s
glorification of violence is the cause for what follows is pretty tenuous.
any event, See No Evil (which I first saw on late night TV as Blind Terror, its
original UK theatrical release title) is less of a tawdry exploitationer than
it might have been, making up for any perceived deficiency in that regard with
a goodly infusion of nerve-jangling suspense. Indeed, Fleischer and Clemens aim
for burgeoning ill-ease as opposed to gory spectacle and for my money they hit
the target square on. There are occasional moments of nastiness peppered
throughout – the sudden reveal of Sandy’s corpse, a haunting shot of George
immersed in a bathtub of bloody water – but they're fleeting and it’s fair to say
the film works primarily as an exercise in measured pacing and sustained
suspense. Take for example a protracted sequence in which Sarah goes about her daily
routine unaware that she's just feet away from the dead bodies of her family.
Throughout this stretch Fleischer toys mercilessly with the audience and Gerry
Fisher's cinematography really comes into its own as we're treated to a series
of impressive tracking shots, each homing in on a dropped or discarded item,
increasingly telegraphing the sense that something bad has happened, until the
eventual reveal of the Rextons’ corpses. Of course whilst we, the audience,
witness all this – including broken glass on the kitchen floor (which we just know
will be trodden on at some point and, in a wince-inducing moment, it is) –
poor, sightless Sarah sees none of it. Once she finally realises what's
happening the pace quickens and the story mutates into an extended game of cat
and (blind) mouse. There's a beautifully framed instance of tease when our
cowboy-booted killer climbs a flight of stairs; Sarah stands foreground, hidden
from him, and the camera circles so that whilst it remains focused on her it
simultaneously observes the killer's ascent. One can't help but strain to see
the face that remains tantalisingly out of shot! If the suspense loses momentum
a tad when Sarah's plight changes from being pursued by the murderer to an
unexpected ordeal instigated by a latecomer to the party, well, it's only a
UK release poster.
with any murder mystery worth its mettle there's a proliferation of suspects on
hand too – a gypsy encampment just down the lane from the Rexton abode offers
up a whole shoal of red herrings – and it’s not too surprising that one's eye
is frequently drawn to inspect a character’s footwear.
Farrow conveys blindness convincingly and Norman Eshley makes for a suitably
handsome hero, whilst Lila Kaye and a surly Michael Elphick stand out among the
myriad of gypsies. It’s nice to see Paul Nicholas and Christopher Matthews in
small but not insignificant roles. Elmer Bernstein furnishes the proceedings
with a lush score, although rather amusingly he can't help slipping into The
Magnificent Seven territory during a sequence when Sarah and Steve are out
riding on horseback.
There's a bonus for those of a certain age in a nostalgia trip delivered via a sequence inside a pub; a poster for Mackeson Stout, generous sized bags of peanuts for just sixpence each (remember, there were 240 pence in a pound back then!), barrels of Amontillado Sherry and a once racy but now rather innocuous skin magazine will all catch the eye. Meanwhile those who know their British horror movies might smile to see a scene from 1967’s Torture Garden playing on a bank of television sets in a showroom window.
Viewers who demand swift gratification from their chillers may find See No Evil a little too sedate for their palate. But it’s worth persevering through the leisurely first half, for once things kick into gear it manages to hold its own with the best of them.
The film has been issued as a Blu-ray and DVD combo package in the UK on the Indicator label. The transfer of the movie itself is excellent with minimal grain, vivid colours (notably splendid during the autumnal woodland scenes) and bold sound. Heading up the plentiful supplementary features is the option to watch the film in its alternate UK Blind Terror cut in which there are minor editing changes. A useful featurette diligently identifies and compares all the differences between the two incarnations. There's a short interview with the endearingly genial Norman Eshley (who, as an irrelevant aside, I memorably saw on stage opposite Deborah Watling in a stellar production of ‘Same Time Next Year’ back in 1980), an alternative Italian titles sequence, a theatrical trailer and a pair of step-through stills galleries (one a collection of black & whites, lobby cards and poster art from around the world, the other an assortment of rare on-set colour transparencies). Limited to 3000 copies, the release is region free and comes accompanied by a collector’s booklet. Suffice to say that for anyone with an appreciation of See No Evil this is an essential upgrade from the previous barebones DVD.