This 1971 British movie had a variety of titles for different territories such as In The Devil’s Garden, Satan’s Playthings, The Creepers and Tower Of Terror. Some of them make little sense and dress things up as a supernatural horror which is quite misleading. “Assault” actually works best, as this is a schoolgirl rape and murder film that allows you to play guess the killer in a whodunit kind of sense. Sidney Hayers was a fairly well reputed TV and film director / producer whose credits include probably every American action series you sat through in the 80’s from Magnum PI, TJ Hooker, Airwolf and The A Team. Back in the 1960’s he also directed the classic Circus Of Horrors and Night Of The Eagle. I had heard of Assault and indeed it has had various DVD releases but it is a film I had never seen before so settled down in sleuth mode to see if I could guess who the rather nasty savage murderer was before the police and everyone else managed to nab them.
A posh girl’s school is the location and it has a short cut that the pupils oft use through woods and common land known as Devil’s End. It’s not long before one of them is violently ravished but luckily survives albeit in a catatonic state and the hunt is on. Being a bit heady and daft, warnings are ignored and another girl takes the short cut and is raped and strangled. Art teacher Julie West played by the lovely Suzy Kendall (certainly a reason for watching this in the first place) gets stuck in the mud with a car load of girls as she looks for the murdered pupil who she was meant to be driving home. She glances in the mirror and gets a distorted glimpse of the killer by the body of the dead girl and in the light he takes on a near devilish appearance leading to plenty of confusion with the police and various grotty journalists on his trail. One thing that really caught my attention was some fantastic shots of looming telephone pylons buzzing with electricity by the murder site. They actually reminded me of terrifying children’s TV series The Changes, broadcast in 1975 and made me wonder if they could have been inspirational for it.
I have seen mention of Assault having been described as a ‘British giallo’ and am not disputing that films made outside Italy cannot be afforded the genre tag; the Spanish and Germans certainly made a fair few. There is a lot in Assault plot wise that could compare it to Massimo Dallamano’s excellent ‘What Have You Done to Solange, but that actually came out slightly later in 1972 and throws many more curveballs into the mix. Obviously though Assault does take some inspiration from the likes of Mario Bava and Dario Argento by both location, the red herrings (again sharing one glaring one with a similarity to Solange) and shots of the killer putting on black leather gloves. Another common trope is the police running around like headless chucks, always getting things wrong and just arriving on the scene too late to catch the killer. Personally though I would say calling this a true giallo is a step too far and there are no shortage of good Italian ones set in London to watch as well as the very occasional example of a real British film in the mould such as Alan Gibson’s Goodbye Gemini (1970) a film desperately needing a proper UK release.
So what has Assault got going for it? Well apart from the guessing game, the acting is pretty good. Suzy Kendall of course was star of Argento’s Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970) and Sergio Martino’s Torso (1973) which is no doubt another reason for the giallo connection. She naturally lights up the screen every moment she is in the film going from protector to putting herself in danger to snare the killer. The cast is generally great, we have Frank Finlay as the out of depth inspector, Freddie Jones as a complete over the top obnoxious journalist and Lesley Anne Down in a very early role as the first victim, she proves exceptionally good as playing the catatonic victim (and nope I’m not being sarcastic). Watch out for Silver Dream Racer himself David Essex too as he makes an explosive entrance and exit!
Of course as a vintage period piece of the early 70’s this is also well worth a watch. I would have loved some more insight on the actual filming locations perhaps provided by a walk-through of them today but unfortunately there was nothing in the way of extras on the disc at all. Considering this is produced by Peter Rogers you might well think you are sitting down to a right Carry On as his name comes across the screen at the beginning here but apart from the humour and sexism of the time synonymous with the Sid James led gang this is a sleazy little piece of work that can leave you feeling rather grubby with a nasty taste in your mouth. The restoration with assistance from the BFI looks great too.
I enjoyed this more as a curio than anything else and find that I am still kind of mulling it over in my head a bit. It’s definitely a film that I think I will go back to 6 months down the line for a bit of a reappraisal. For the record I guessed not only the killer early on but also the exact ending, considering I have about a 50% success rate on doing this when it comes to watching real Italian giallos, I’m not quite sure what exactly that says about Assault.