While Alpha Video’s latest serving of two forgotten B films from the 50s and 60s isn’t exactly what many of us would refer to as “grindhouse” material, the pairing of W. Lee Wilder’s Fright and the Beverly Garland vehicle Stark Fear is still a lot of fun.
Our journey into low-budget psychological terror begins with Fright (1956), a very cheap but nevertheless enjoyable quickie from director W. Lee Wilder, the big brother of famous Hollywood director Billy Wilder (it’s true, folks). Although W. Lee Wilder was never able to catch up to his baby brother Billy in terms of talent, the elder Wilder, along with his screenwriter son Myles, still managed to etch a name for himself on the Bad Movie Wall of Fame (or Shame, depending on your point of view), bringing us such memorable sci/fi class-icks such as Killers From Space and Phantom From Space along with what is considered to be the industry’s first abominable snowman film, The Snow Creature.
In Fright, W. Lee and Myles tell the less-than-harrowing tale of a nearly expressionless psychiatrist Dr. James Hamilton (played by an equally expressionless Eric Fleming, star of both Conquest Of Space and Queen Of Outer Space). When Dr. Hamilton isn’t using his form of (non-)hypnotherapy to talk cornered escaped killers down from bridges, or hitting up all of the bars in New York in an attempt to drink every last drop of scotch there is, he’s busy wearing ugly shirts and trying to get in the pants of a split-personality patient Ann Summers (Nancy Malone), whose alter-ego is a 19th Century Baroness. For a while, things seem all fine and dandy for the rather quaint doctor, but then, a bored ulcer-ridden reporter leaks the whole thing to the press and the Baroness personality threatens to make Ann go away for good. Hamilton’s solution? Hypnotize the convicted murdered from the beginning into “killing” the unwanted persona! Why, there are so many potential lawsuits in this film that it’ll make you cringe!
With an array of incredibly stilted performances, some extraneously-placed Theremin music, and appearances by character actors Ned Glass (as a cabbie) and Humphrey Davis (as Hamilton’s eccentric tennis-playing historian friend), Fright certainly lives up to its title, but it’ll give you a good chuckle or two.
Next up on the double-bill is Stark Fear starring the late great Beverly Garland. In it, Beverly plays Ellen Winslow (five points if you just screamed “Winslow” in a Paul Williams voice), a secretary whose hubby Gerald (Skip Homeier, who reportedly finished directing the picture after first-time director Ned Hockman walked) is most upset that the woman went out and got herself a job! And suspects that his wife is secretly seeing her employer Cliff Kane (Kenneth Tobey) behind his back–how else could one explain Ellen’s wanting to work even though her husband makes $20,000 a year? Of course, jealousy is nothing new in a relationship (or marriage), but when you take into consideration that this was 1962, when all good businessmen were cheating on their wives with their secretaries, it’s sort of understandable.
Wait a minute, what am I saying? It’s not understandable at all! As a matter of fact, dear ol’ Gerald is downright sadistic and psychotic–and is all about humiliating his poor bride, whether it be at his hands or, (preferably) at the hands of others. But when his woman and her boss actually do get down and dirty, well then the deranged loon just can’t handle it!
Although it, too, does not live up to its name very well and star Beverly Garland never really cared for the movie, Stark Fear does benefit from being one of the first “mainstream” movies to approach the sexual fetishes of humiliation and cuckolding–not to mention the film’s party music is credited to none other than John Williams. Good? Bad? Hell, I had a good time with it…
For one reason or another, Fright has never received much distribution (yet Wilder’s other films have–go figure), and, while the full-frame presentation is cropped way too much to the upper right hand corner and is very abundant with grain, scratching and fuzz, it’s a delight to see what one could call a “lost (synthetic) gem” on DVD (note to Alpha Video: tell the guy who put the 2008 copyright at the end of the film to use a spell checker next time). Stark Fear also has some grain, scratching and fuzziness goin’ on, and its standard 1.33:1 presentation also tends to be a bit too bright. But of course, these issues are really not an issue when you think about the fact that this is a double-feature as well as a budget release (not to mention the back cover has a disclaimer announcing these titles aren't in the best of shape due to their rarity) with some wonderful cover art and a kick-ass retail price of $7.98 (you can also order it direct from Alpha’s website, www.oldies.com, for less than that).
Thrown in for good measure is a look at some of Alpha Video’s other contributions to the DVD world, as well as a catalogue gallery.
Bottom line: it’s two vintage psychological B-Thrillers for only a few smackers–break out the scotch and enjoy.