Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Cultish Shenanigans

The Fiend 1972
Director: Robert Hartford-Davis
Writer: Brian Comport
Starring Patrick Magee, Ann Todd, Tony Beckley, Madeiline Hinde, Suzanne Leigh, Percy Herbert and David Lodge

This film caught my eye when I saw it as a recent new release on Netflix, so I thought I would take a chance and rent it. I would have to say, it is definitely a look see. It is a film that combines Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy with Psycho. Just with a far more sleazy and exploitative bent to it. The main thing that interested me was that it had Patrick Macgee of A Clockwork Orange fame in a central role. I have always dug his work, and was curious to see him playing a sinister religious pastor in this film. This is also a film that is very timely, as it's central theme is the fanaticism of religious zealotry. With what is happening in the world today, I think that theme really hits home in this film. Also, one of the main characters is diabetic and has their life put in danger due to the habits of the religious doctrine, with no regards to their health issues. That really struck a nerve with me, since I am also a diabetic. The film also relies heavily on sexual sleaze and exploitation, which really works in its favor. I think without that touch the film would not be as memorable or as exciting.
The plot basics are this, in London a sinister sect of Christianity that calls themselves "the Brethren" and lead by a controlling and unfeeling minister (Magee), has been rising in popularity. The Minister has a controlling aspect over Birdy Wemsy (Todd), who is a diabetic and has periods where she is unsure of her reality. She is watched over by her son Kenny (Beckley), who is spiraling into madness. He begins to stalk young girls and killing them, rationalizing that he is baptizing them for the Lord. We then meet Brigitte Lynch (Hinde) a reporter who decides to investigate "The Brethren" and soon discovers the bizarre things that Kenny is doing. While this is happening the Minister coaxes Birdy into fasting and her being a diabetic, could make that fatal for her. As Kenny spirals deeper into his depravity and madness, his mother goes off the deep end with the Minister and who knows what this will drive Kenny to do?
This is a good film. Hartford-Davis direction has a slow build of menace throughout the film. It definitely takes its own leisurely pace to get going and that kind of pacing may not be for everyone, but it worked very well for me. He stages the murder scenes very well and I did enjoy how he went back and forth from one murder to a baptism, making a great analogy there. The script is very good too, it is all about the manic zealotry of fringe cults and the themes are never beaten over your head, but are just a organic development of the development of the story. The cast is the best part of the film. Magee is dynamic as the sinister Minister of "The Brethren". He commands the screen with every moment he is on screen. Beckley as the psychotic Kenny is very good too and reminds me a lot of Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates. I also liked Todd as Birdy, she was really the only character you felt any sympathy for. You really hoped she woke up and saw what the Minister was doing, but she was just too deluded and too ensconced in the cult of "the Brethren" to get past it. There is not much SFX in the film, it is more about mood and atmosphere than showing in full bloody revelry the grisly murders. If anything, this film relies on T & A more than any thing else and it does that really well. I recommend this to exploitation film fans and for fans of Hitchcockian films.
This one gets 3 out of 5

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