Tuesday, October 02, 2012

And Soon the Darkness

And Soon the Darkness
Directed by: Robert Fuest
UK, 1970
Horror, 99min

How many “Lost gems” are there really out there? I find that every now and again, say every six months, a movie is released of which there’s little or less know, and after watching it I find myself with the same damned question! How the heck did this film slip off the radar, and why don’t more of us know about it?

And Soon the Darkness shouldn’t have been able to slip through our fingers as it’s more or less the lovechild of several predominate personas in horror and science fiction drama back in the sixties. Director Robert Fuest is certainly no stranger to low budget, low key thriller/horror fare with titles such as The Abominable Dr Phibes 1971, Dr. Phibes Rises Again 1972 and delightful occult “Lost masterpiece” The Devil’s Rain 1975 – which seems to be having a great revival right now. Fuest was also involved with UK Sixties pop culture secret agent sensation The Avengers and it’s follow-up series during the seventies. A quick glance at the screenwriters and you find Brian Clemens, also connected to The Avengers, The Persuaders, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad 1973 and even directed the Hammer outing Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter 1974. Finally, but certainly not least, Terry Nation, again connected to the previous two, through The Avengers, The Persuaders and also The Saint, but most importantly being the simple fact that HE IS the man responsible for Doctor Who’s all time archenemy, The Daleks.
So how come this movie slipped us by? Well in some ways it “rediscovered” in 2010 when Marcos Efron directed a US remake, adaptation featuring American lasses set in Argentina. Yeah, that one went completely past us without an imprint too… More the reason to dig out the original and 1970 Robert Fuest film based on screenplay by Brian Clemens and Terry Nation to see what this “Lost gem" has to offer up, and why.
A three-sentence quick fix is all you need to enjoy this little gem, and here it is: Two young women Jane [Pamela Francis, who also starred in John Hough’s seminal work The Legend of Hell House 1973] and Cathy [Michele Dotrice] are on a bike trip through France. After Cathy flirts with a man, Paul, [Sandor Elès] that they meet at a roadside café, an argument makes the women fall out with each other and go separate ways… But when Jane returns, Cathy is nowhere to be found.
The stranger in a strange land plot is a great one. Take people from one country, stick them in another where the hardly manage the lingo – even if its only French – and hey presto they are alienated and find themselves having severe difficulty communicating with their antagonists.  This device is used frequently in And soon the darkness, and in such a way that the lead character certainly feel the threat of the situations and not the actual meaning of what’s being said.
Quite often stupid reasons separate protagonists from each other, you know, the classic Oh I’ll pop over here whilst you go that way and look for that strange man… thankfully And Soon the Darkness separates Jane and Cathy in a logic way. A classic argument over who has the right to decide what their joint holiday is all about. After bickering Jane takes off leaving Cathy to lap up the sun and listen to pop music in a little secluded woodlands area just off the road. Way down the road Jane starts to see the error of her arrogance and stops at a rural roadside café as she awaits Cathy… but the wait will be long, as we already know something’s happened to Cathy.
This is where guilt comes into play. After her arrogant reasoning blows over, Jane starts to feel guilt. Cathy has gone missing and it’s her fault. Well not necessarily her fault, but she feels guilty for acting like a child and leaving her in the grassy nook of the roadside woods. This guilt is what drives Jane throughout the movie, taking her to places, into situations and talking to characters that she should perhaps have been more careful about. Guilt can drive characters to do completely irrational things if it’s in the goal of satisfying their conscience.
In a series of neat moves, that predates slasher traits a decade later, there’s a warning omen when an old woman [Hana Maria Pravda] warns Jane she’s travelling on “bad road!” a “Helper character” who delivers exposition and a seemingly crazy old mute  [Jean Carmet] who lives in a bust up shack just off the road. With this said, the disappearance of Cathy becomes even more menacing as there’s an apparent threat posed – she may be dead, and Jane might be next! The threat is enhanced as we learn of a previous murder of a young female tourist years earlier, and characters become even stranger in their behaviour. Made today, this would have been survival horror and we’d definitely had seen some torture porn along the way. But being a movie with forty-two years on it’s neck, And soon the darkness, is a classic old school mystery thriller with some rather tense and unsettling moments. The mind wanders easily towards Hitchcock and the great moods he created, as the questions keep being posed and are never answered until the very last moment. Slowly building up to that last minute shocking reveal, and an ending that I’m surprised didn’t earn this movie a wider reputation than what it has!
A lot of the tension comes through the matter of trust. Who is lurking in the woods, are the roadside innkeepers to rely on, can she really believe the story the English ex-pat [Clare Kelly] tells her, is Paul and his suspicious crime preventing theories trustworthy, and should she really put her faith in the help of the Gendarmerie [John Nettleton]. Who is friend, who is foe, your guess could be the last one you make.  The movie presents a gallery of shoddy characters as the plot thickens, and just when you start to decide where you have them, Fuest shakes things up and takes a swift turn in a new direction, quite often due to the paranoia that Jane is starting to experience.
Definitely a movie I’d recommend, and a delightful little thriller that really works. And Soon the Darkness needs to be brought back out into the daylight and re-discovered by fans of UK horror, and old school genre cinema. 

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