Fear in the Night, a 1972 picture released by Hammer Films, was a psychological horror film that while good as a whole, did nothing to improve the genre and was slightly formulaic in the telling. It features a young woman named Peggy who is being attacked by a man with a prosthetic arm, always when she is alone and her husband is away and though she is believed at first, soon starts to show a little madness as her claims are soon put in doubt. Midnight Lace with Doris Day had the same plot essentially, but where that had but one main purpose in mind, driving Peggy insane in this film would serve a secondary plot, that to kill headmaster Michael Carmichael so that his wealth might be taken from him.
Though the film is a little paint by numbers, director and co-writer Jimmy Sangster, along with Michael Syson, manages to create a solid little thriller with a few scares along the way and enough suspense to keep one fixated upon Peggy’s travails. It is not the first time that Hammer has made a film with a plot similar to this, at least when it comes to the leading lady in question, but it was good to see them throw in something a little different with the design to kill off Carmichael as played by Peter Cushing. At first, the movie has a very strange The Omen/Rosemary’s Baby vibe coming off of it for much of the first third of the movie as you really do not get where it is going. Ralph Bates who plays Peggy’s husband is charming and seems to care for her a lot, but is a little off-putting at times as you can tell that he is prepping her for something. So too is Cushing when he first meets Peggy. It is a subtle performance from the man and when he is trying to fix the clasp of Peggy’s necklace, you wonder if he is just going to strangle her there or actually help the girl out. Things do become clear later on and the mood of the film changes from that eerie quality to one more standard of a murder-mystery, but for a while, it was almost as if Sangster and company were not sure of what they wanted to do.
Judy Geeson was quite effective as the damsel in distress and for the most part, as you watched this film, you were never quite positive who was going to rescue her from the situation she found herself in. With Bates and his lover, the gorgeous Joan Collins, driving her insane and with Cushing’s character seemingly dead, Peggy was not in a happy place. For a while too, it looked as if she had totally lost her mind and the film leaves off with her sanity still in question. It is probably the most interesting part of the whole movie as there is no happy ending, nothing to elicit any joy from the viewer at all, simply one that is depressing more than anything else. Movies that end as such are not all that commonplace as studios realize that people want a sense of fulfillment when the picture they watch comes to its conclusion. The fact that this one does not, that you wonder about Peggy after it has ended means that it has left its mark on you and though it is not the greatest film ever made, it accomplished that which few do.
Cushing and Bates were great in their roles, as was Collins and when you combined their performances against the very spooky setting, spooky when you learn the truth of it later in the film, this fairly unassuming movie turned out to be pretty good. Maybe the odd thing could have been introduced to make it a little more original, but Fear in the Night was a solid, well-produced film that anyone, fans of the genre or not, will enjoy.