Frightmare is a wonderful little horror film directed by Pete Walker that is completely unassuming at first. It begins with a flashback and as such, you have an idea of just where the picture might be going and of what it might entail. It does not expressly tell you, but with a grisly murder and the mention of mental institutions, it is not going to be all sunshine and roses. For the first while, the film focuses upon Jackie as played by Deborah Fairfax, who is looking after her younger sister Debbie. Debbie is a bad seed, even at fifteen and loves to cause trouble. She is the complete opposite of Jackie who is responsible, has a job, a boyfriend and for whatever reason, goes to visit her parents in the wee hours of the morning. Things soon come to light though as it is soon learned that those very same parents are the two people who were committed at the beginning of the film, what they were in for and how Debbie comes to fit into all of this.
As far as horror films go, this one is a little more thriller than it is horror, but when it appears, it does so gradually, slowly over the course of the movie as the suspense builds up. It finally breaks when Jackie’s mother reverts back to her old ways, seventeen years later after being released from the mental institution. It is a little disquieting to say the least because when it happens, even though you had to know at some point that something would happen, it is completely unexpected. Perhaps it was a bit more distressing because it came from what seemed a sweet old lady, but the film pointed you in that direction from the start. Director and writer Pete Walker and co-writer David McGillivray even throw in a bit of a twist that some might say they saw coming, but was also surprising to say the least.
Aside from the beginning of the film, we learn very little about our characters except for the fact that Jackie is a good girl, her dad is loyal to a fault, her mom is absolutely crazy and her sister seems to have inherited it. Even so, the lack of characterization, at least to a point, does not inhibit the film as Walker immerses you in the present and starts to unravel the mystery that is taking place. As a thriller, it does not get into the psychological aspect of what is happening very much, you simply take it as it is and that tends to make it just a little more chilling because you have no idea why the old lady does what she does. It is a stylish film, careful and elegant until the violence erupts and when it does, there is no going back.
At times the picture tends to be quite shocking and Sheila Keith who plays the killer in the movie, is quite splendid in the role. Even though it all but tells you by looking at the poster that she is at the heart of everything, seeing Keith go crazy is quite scary. What really brings this film home is the ending which is not only alarming, but terrifying and when it leaves off, you have no idea just what might happen, instead leaving it for the viewer to imagine. The best movies are those that leave a lasting impression and after watching Frightmare and that final scene, that is exactly what it does.
3.5 out of 5