❉ Sidney Hayers’ 1971 thriller boasts a number of familiar names in fresh-faced early roles, including James Cosmo, Lesley-Anne Down, and David Essex making his second screen appearance.
“‘Assault’ remains a satisfying artefact of vintage British genre cinema and one that holds a certain amount of fascination in regards to the current climate of women striking back against sexism and chauvinism. Plenty of which is demonstrated and slyly commentated upon here.”
Electrical pylons loom large over the beginning and end of the 1971 potboiler Assault, directed by Sidney Hayers. They emit an exaggerated eerie hum as if newly arrived from the future planted in England overnight, bringing with them the threat and violence of a new era, confronting us with a seedy and tawdry predator who preys upon teenage schoolgirls as they take the short-cut home through the woods. (“A short-cut from school. A short-cut to terror!” as the dramatic trailer loudly proclaims.)
Viewers in the present day have the buffer of forty-seven years of steadily advancing screen violence and the changing attitudes in watching it to view Assault comfortably. Indeed, the film would come across as tame compared to the following year’s The Last House on the Left, which would display onscreen the graphic horrors of teenage desecration and slaughter in the forest in a matter of fact style that remains just as disturbing to this day. Assault however, particularly here in its pristine hi-def Blu-ray debut, remains a satisfying artefact of vintage British genre cinema and one that holds a certain amount of fascination in regards to the current climate of women striking back against sexism and chauvinism. Plenty of which is demonstrated and slyly commentated upon here.
Suzy Kendall, who starred in her fair share of similarly-themed horrors throughout the seventies, plays Julie, the main recipient of such attitudes after witnessing the attacker fleeing the scene of his second, fatal assault. Eventually emerging as the film’s heroine, she is treated with scepticism by the police, headed by the always stern Frank Finlay playing Detective Velyan, and hounded by the press in the form of the entertainingly pushy Denny, Freddie Jones, who is never seen without his sunglasses, even at night and indoors. (In a further stroke of seemingly unintended prescience, the tabloids and how they would treat cases of murdered teenage girls in the name of coverage is commented upon here; Denny doorstepping Julie late at night, banging on her door and proclaiming “Look, there’s money in this girly. The Sundays. They pay thousands!”) With the help of the nice (or is he?) young Doctor Lomax, James Laurenson, who is treating the first victim, Julie has a plan to trap the attacker no matter what the risk!
Infuriatingly Julie is always treated patronisingly; Lomax, the film’s love interest, is always on hand to either provide pills to calm her down or flat out telling her to date him. The scripting of these scenes however seems to indicate a small amount of satire in these scenes, particularly in showing how creepy Lomax actually is in his actions not just with Julie but with Tessa, the attacker’s first victim. It may be a fine line between satire and actual intent but the line is definitely there, maybe more noticeable today than in 1971.
Hayers’ direction here is frankly nothing flashy. Not surprising as his career was mainly spent in television where he had a hand in helming episodes of everything from The Avengers to Baywatch. However, he manages to hold the viewers interest as he propels the plot along in a quick and always efficient manner that never flags or causes boredom. In one moment of inspiration Hayers’ handheld camera movements actually turn out to be POV shots as victims flee through the woods providing moments of real surprise, aided by a pleasingly bombastic score composed by Eric Rogers. The cast too is full of familiar faces providing viewers with genuine surprise at their fresh-faced early roles; James Cosmo pops up as a young detective, Lesley-Anne Down plays the victimised Tessa in one of her first roles and the Master, Anthony Ainley, appears in here too. And last but not least a special mention must go to a young leather jacket and chains wearing David Essex making his second screen appearance in the important role of Man in Chemist Shop delivering the immortal line; “Have you got any paper handkerchiefs?”
Assault is a straight-ahead thriller written and designed to get the audience in and out in time for the next punters to bring in the box office receipts as quickly and efficiently as possible, indeed the film ends bang on the second after the baddie dies. (Spoiler, sorry.) Reflecting this is the Blu-ray presentation provided by Network, extras are sparse with only a trailer and image gallery on offer where you can find the spectacularly misleading US one sheet marketing it as an Exorcist-style chiller under its alternative title In The Devil’s Garden. However, the presentation of the film itself is spectacular in a clean sharp print which has zero scratches or grain present. Not an essential film by any means but one that provides a number of pleasures in all its retro charms and attitudes and for David Essex completists it is a must.
❉ Network presents ‘Assault’ on Blu-ray 27th August 2018, RRP £14.99. Order on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2OVQ6OB
❉ Special Features:
• Theatrical Trailer
• Image Gallery
• Limited edition collectable booklet written by Laura Mayne and Adrian Smith
• PDF material
❉ Iain MacLeod was raised on the North coast of Scotland on a steady diet of 2000AD and Moviedrome. Now living in Glasgow as a struggling screenwriter he still buys too many comics and blu-rays. Has never seen a ghost but heard two talking in his bedroom when he was 4.