❉ Alun Harris takes a ringside seat for Worst Fears – seven sinister tales from the mind of legendary British horror film writer and producer David McGillivray.
Despite being a mainstay of British horror in the ‘60s and ‘70s, the portmanteau horror film is something we haven’t made in years. Yes, America has offered us V/H/S, Trick ‘r Treat and Southbound, but this side of the Atlantic we haven’t bothered for decades, more’s the pity. True, such films are usually a very mixed bag – there’s the comedy short, the silly one, the very silly one, the cheap filler one and the good one that usually rounds the film off, but quite often the linking material is distractingly elaborate and the films rarely cohere as a satisfying whole. It’s pleasing, then, to be able to report that horror legend David McGillivray (you may know him from such BBFC-troubling titles as House of Whipcord or Frightmare) has recently unleashed upon us his Worst Fears. Okay, I say recently, but the truth is that this has been sitting in limbo for several years due to rights issues, although there’s nothing here that dates the film.
Originally filmed as distinct shorts, McGillivray appears on screen to introduce the tales. As linking conceits go it’s pleasingly direct. Instead of offering a framework which at best distracts, having the author simply announce each story offers a simplistically fresh approach. And whilst the shorts may have originally been developed individually, they do work together well; there are no direct links between them, other than a general theme of horror, but they have been placed into the structure of the film well
Tincture of Vervain, the first short, is (despite some bloody gore) a darkly amusing tale of witchcraft in a quiet English village and provides a welcome appearance for a particularly flamboyant Fenella Fielding. Wednesday, the next story, offers Anna Wing and Victor Spinetti having a whale of a time at the expense of their cleaning lady (I’d love to say more, but don’t want to spoil it for anyone, although the tone is pitch perfect in this one). The award-winning In the Place of the Dead is a cautionary tale warning of the dangers of being an innocent (or, perhaps, not so innocent) abroad, filmed in Marrakech and making the most of the location.
The shorts may be made on the lower side of low-budget film-making, but it doesn’t show, principally because the budget is just right for what each short intends to do, and also because they’re made by a clearly experienced production team. Mrs Davenport’s Throat is another example – this time filmed in Portugal. Chiefly a two-hander, and well played at that, it continues the gradual darkening of tone which has been developing with each short. Irony aside, the humour of the early shorts is replaced by real menace.
Child Number Four may be short, but the pay-off is suitably dark and disturbing. The Andrew Cartmel-written (yes, that Andrew Cartmel) After Image provides a moment of respite before the horror of the final story, We’re Ready For You Now. Ending the film on a high, this is the strongest short of the bunch and easily the most chilling.
Another Doctor Who link is that the understated yet perfectly-fitting score for this film is by Dominic Glynn.
It’s difficult to say more – some of these have strong twists, others some real moments of horror, and to reveal which often leaves a viewer trying to anticipate what will happen, rather than enjoying what is already happening. Suffice it to say that although made cheaply, none of that shows on screen, and the actors are better than those usually found in short films. McGillivray’s introductions may verge on the arch, but that’s exactly the tone needed. None of the stories disappoint, and together they do work well.
This may lack the money available to a production like Southbound, but it’s a far more satisfying experience. There’s also something quintessentially British about these stories, about the fears they portray and the people for whom those fears are realised, and they do tap in to the Jamesian fear of the unknown, of dangers unintentionally invited, and of bad things happening to people who don’t deserve them.
Several of these shorts did extremely well on the festival circuit. Linked together they provide a solidly entertaining feature film, in the tradition of the classic Amicus anthologies, and well worth any horror aficionado’s time.
DVD EXTRA FEATURES:
· “Horror Icon”, the never-before-seen documentary edited and completed by Nucleus Films in 2015 (30m), a Frightfest 2016 World Premiere.
· “Facing His Fears” – A new interview with producer and writer David McGillivray, talking candidly about the ideas behind the stories and their journey from page to screen.
· Trailer, Bloopers, Deleted Scenes, Gallery, Collector’s Booklet
· Brand new cover art by Graham Humphreys
David McGillivray’s Worst Fears was released on DVD on 5 September by Nucleus Films, RRP £14.99. Available from www.nucleusfims.com and all good stockists.