Revenge (1971)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2012-02-06 08:17

Written by: John Kruse
Directed by: Sidney Hayers
Starring: Joan Collins, James Booth and Ray Barrett

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman

You may never dare to go into the basement again!

Whenever you talk about revenge, itís fashionable (and now worn out) to trot out that old proverb about it being a dish best served cold. I think the characters in Revenge would argue that itís best that it just gets served at all instead of being the undercooked thing they prepare here. Another 70s vigilante shocker, Revenge takes a normal, working-class brood and runs them through a wringer of paranoia that's entirely of their own doing, despite the taglines and alternate titles (Inn of the Frightened People, Behind the Cellar Door) that sold it as a family being terrorized by some uninvited malevolence.

The film begins with the coldest of openings, as the Radford family has just buried their little girl, Jenny. Patriarch Jim (James Booth) learns that the suspected pervert that lives a few blocks from the school (Kenneth Griffith) has been released from police custody, and heís talked into taking his own revenge. At first, he, his son (Tom Marshall), and an acquaintance (Ray Barret) are just going to rough him up into confessing; however, things get out of hand during the confrontation, and the guy gets pummeled to death--at least thatís what everyone believes. Upon further inspection, heís still alive, which is somehow more complicated, as the entire family has to figure out what to do about the battered and bruised (alleged) pedophile and murderer.

From there, the film keeps tightening its noose around its characters, who grow more and more paranoid about what theyíve done. For a long stretch, though, it really feels like it has no place to go; there are a couple instances where people show up at the house and the family is forced to cover up why the basement is off-limits. Also, itís rather inconvenient that the family runs a pub right there with the house, so thereís always the danger of this guy popping up and ruining happy hour. This is moderately suspenseful, I guess--thereís really no reason to feel for these people, most of whom seem like terrible human beings. So when they go skulking about the creepy old guyís house (adding breaking and entering to their rap sheet) in search of damning evidence, Iím not so sure I wouldnít laugh if it turns out they got the wrong guy.

Thatís a possibility the film actually dangles out there, and I think I might have actively been rooting for that outcome. Maybe thatís the intent--Griffith plays a rather pathetic-looking victim, and heís surrounded by a grating dysfunctional family melodrama, headed up by Joan Collinsís finicky step-mother character. Sheís the home-wrecker who ran the kidsí real mother off, and sheís still perceived as such, particularly by Jill (Zuleika Robson), a saucy little teenaged tart thatís constantly smarting off to her parents. Youíd think that her presence would really cause everyone to think twice about harboring a pedophile thatís already (allegedly) responsible for the death of their youngest daughter, but no, not really; in fact, Jill seems to be the only sensible one who wants to go to the police. The other child is twenty- something Lee, a son with a live-in girlfriend (Sinead Cusak) thatís oblivious to the familyís affair; this is why she doesnít quite understand why heís unable to perform sexually.

This leads to a pretty awkward exchange between mother and step-son, and it only gets more awkward as Revenge gets wild and broaches some taboos. Whereas itís a mostly reserved little thriller for much of its run-time, it gets incredibly schlocky at the end, culminating in an illogical double-back twist. It is at least pretty well put together, being well performed and dutifully guided by Sidney Hayers, who also directed Circus of Horrors and Night of the Eagle. Heís particularly adept at visually relaying the claustrophobic paranoia of the family, as he cramps them into his tightly blocked interior shots. Most of the film is situated around their abode, save for a handful of other scenes, including the one at the creeperís house, which is full of the usual psycho paraphernalia, including a shrine to his (apparently) dead mother.

That the film continues to cast his guilt into question after that point is a little absurd, but it does; I canít help but think that Revenge could have been more involving had it dispensed with that pretense and made Griffith into a true menace. Instead, everyone goes a little crazy, which is okay too, especially when things get severely unhinged; I donít know that Iíd call Revenge ďfun,Ē but, at times, itís as wackily entertaining as a movie can possibly be if it involves kidnapping, pedophilia, and pseudo-incest. Scorpion Releasing recently unearthed this one to give it its first legitimate Region 1 DVD release as part of their Katarinaís Nightmare Theater series. As is generally the case with that series, Revenge doesnít pack much in the way of special features--just the opportunity to watch the film as itís hosted by Katarina Waters. Besides that, though, the presentation is fine, with the transfer accurately preserving the filmís 1.66 ratio and mono soundtrack. A movie like Revenge feels like it would work pretty well if it could commit to one thing or another, but it can't figure out if it wants to be a "wrong man" drama or a film about paranoiac guilt and madness. Neither is presented especially well, so it eventually just falls back on mommy issues that create two psychos in this case. Rent it!

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