Frightmare, also known as Cover Up, is a Pete Walker film from 1974, and it feels very similar to that year’s other Walker film, House of Whipcord. It stars Sheila Keith as the main antagonist Dorothy Yates, involving nubile young women who get caught up in violent situations and an indictment of politics and established governmental systems. Unlike House of Whipcord, however, which critiqued judicial systems and their release of criminals, Frightmare works to bash mental institutions and their ability to reform ill patients.
The film starts out in black-and-white, following a man who visits a mysterious house and is murdered. A court sentencing is issued, although the receiver is not pictured, and then Frightmare jumps ahead in time to color picture. From here, we follow two sisters: the eldest Jackie (Deborah Fairfax) who must take care of her sister Debbie (Kim Butcher), a 15-year-old who has fallen into some trouble by hanging out at bars with a rough-and-tumble group led by bad boy Alec (Edward Kalinski).
Jackie’s trying to figure out how to keep her sister from getting into any more messes, but she has her own secrets – namely, that she sneaks out at all hours of the morning to bring bloody parcels to her parents Dorothy (Keith) and Edmund (Rupert Davies), who Debbie thinks are dead. Talk about a complicated family situation, made even more messy thanks to a psychiatrist named Graham (Paul Greenwood) who tries to sort through Jackie’s baggage in order to court her better.
Walker keeps a lot of information from the viewer, slowly revealing it as the film heads toward its conclusion. At first, it seems Dorothy has had some sort of sickness that keeps her from going outside in the light, but then the bloody packages begin to highlight a grotesque fascination within the woman. Jackie’s reasoning for keeping her parents away from Debbie is unclear, but the audience can put the pieces together from the opening scene.
The pacing of the film favors characterization over horrific developments, so Frightmare is a slow burn that continues to work in gauzy, dream-like sequences. One in particular finds Jackie dreaming about sitting in a train reading, only to look over and see Dorothy with white makeup and red-rimmed eyes holding a bloody, dripping package. It’s a startling image that’s punctuated by a jump cut. Frightmare doesn’t have many of these moments, but when it does, Walker’s gloomy atmosphere ramps up a notch.
The film is intensely grim, from its appraisal of mental institutions to its bleak finale. Frightmare is not particularly violent – it has its moments, but the vibrant red of the blood probably won’t seem realistic – yet the thematic bent of the story is the most interesting aspect. Walker lingers on mental illness and the lack of proper testing to diagnose whether those disorders have actually been cured in patients; while some could debate the actuality of Dorothy’s release in Frightmare, the idea is still relevant. More interesting, however, is the character of Edmund, who is completely helpless to stop his wife’s descent into madness and cannibalism and forced to help her cover up her crimes.
Frightmare requires a patient audience, and like Walker states in an interview featured on this Redemption disc, cannibalism isn’t as sexy as his other feature House of Whipcord. The best you’ll get is Kim Butcher in her underwear and a couple of shots of Deborah Fairfax with a loose shirt. And yet Frightmare is intensely focused on a cloying atmosphere, from tarot card readings to Sheila Keith’s emotional performance to a conclusion that sees the worst in its characters; it’s a nightmare with a message that horror fans should get lost in.
Redemption’s transfer of Frightmare looks fantastic, and not to be confused with Vinegar Syndrome’s later release of a different Frightmare in 2016; the colors really pop, and if you take a look at the featured documentary on Sheila Keith that has clips from a lesser quality version of the movie, the difference is immense. Detail is fairly crisp and clean with a moderate grain scale, and the film is presented in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio. Occasional softness in close-ups.
Extra features are limited, but the disc sports a great main menu as well as two documentary featurettes. One’s an interview with Pete Walker that serves as a fascinating look at the making of Frightmare, and the other is a tribute to Sheila Keith that goes through her multiple films. Both are worth the watch.
Overall this is one of Redemption’s better releases, both in terms of the film itself – seriously, it’s a fun movie with some interesting commentary – and in its quality. While light on extras, fans of Pete Walker films will definitely want to pick this up.