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Frightmare
IMDB Rating: 6.3/10 from 1,315 votes
Release: 6 November 1974 (UK) /

Frightmare

Genre: Horror
Director: Pete Walker,
Stars: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Synopsis: Edmund and Dorothy Yates are freed after fifteen years in an asylum. Edmund covers up for his wife who is a murderer and a cannibal and Dorothy's daughter Debbie and stepdaughter Jackie, who live apart from them, may or may not have inherited her appetites. Dorothy has started to kill again... Written by Gary Couzens <gjcouzens@btinternet.com>

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Critic Reviews


"Frightmare" is one of those films that sticks in your mind from the moment you first see it which, considering the relative daftness of its basic premise, is some achievement. Rupert Davis and the always-excellent Sheila Keith are both on top form as Edmund and Dorothy Yates, a married couple who, in 1957, are deemed insane in a court of law and sentenced to spend their lives in an asylum until such time as they are deemed "fit to take their place in society". Their offence? Well, it seems Dorothy has been committing acts of "pathological cannibalism" (or to put it simply, she's been killing folk and eating their craniums for a little while now) whilst Edmund, despite not being involved directly, is also labelled mad for not trying to stop her even though he was fully aware of her unusual activities.

Fifteen years down the line and they are both "cured" for all intents and purposes, thus let out and sent off to live in a creepy old farmhouse somewhere in the countryside of South-East England. Possibly not a good idea. Edmund has acquired a job chauffeuring around a local aristrocrat but during those long, lonely days at the farm cottage, it doesn't too long before Mrs Yates is looking for something to occupy her time productively. She takes out an advert in London magazine Time Out offering her services as a tarot reader and before long is visited regularly by lost souls looking for guidance. The bulk of her visitors are utterly lonely individuals, no friends, no lovers, no family to speak of and you're probably already ahead of me if you've guessed that when Dorothy draws the DEATH card, it's a lot more literal than you might expect. Yes, she's back to her old "pathological cannibalism" tricks, killing folk and eating their craniums... Crikey! But to make things even more interesting, Edmund has a daughter from a previous marriage who was old enough at the time of her father being committed to be aware of his circumstances. She now lives in London and is also currently the legal guardian of her younger sister, Edmund and Dorothy's only biological daughter together, who was born the very year her parents were locked away and believes them to be dead. The plot thickens somewhat here but to tell any more would be really spoiling things. Trust me though, it's good stuff.

But, as I say, it sounds like a reasonably standard issue horror premise you might think, but in the hands of Walker and his screen writing partner-in-crime David McGillivray, it becomes something entirely more powerful. As with "House of Whipcord", Walker uses much inspired photography and gifted use of light and locations to create a grimy atmosphere of unpleasantness that gives you the creeps without once employing the standard "creepy" clichés. The scenes in the farmhouse manage to pull off a genuine sense of menace even before anything particularly nasty has happened. By the time the seriously horrible stuff starts, the tension has already reached fever-pitch and you're balanced on the edge of your seat, biting your nails and shrieking like a schoolgirl. The quality of the acting (quite rare for a film of "Frightmare"'s budget) helps too, although none of the actors give a particularly 'conventional' performance. In honesty, I could imagine some of them would be quite bad indeed in the hands of a lesser director but somehow Walker manages to extract a strange, hard-to-explain intensity from even the least 'naturally' talented cast members. Needless to say this means that with someone as strong an actress as Sheila Keith, we're talking a tour-de-force performance! As Dorothy she is quite unforgettable, playing a genuinely very disturbed, horribly lunatic individual without once resorting to hokiness or hamming it up. Instead, aided by the strength of the screenplay, she gives Dorothy a worrying sense of genuine pathos - she honestly believes the people she kills are so lost and lonely they would be better off without life and, on top of that, McGillivray and Walker even provide a legitimate, believable reasoning behind her cannibalism, all too rare in this type of film. When this pathos is coupled with the extremity of her nastiness and complete insanity, it leaves us, by the final reel, with a genuinely very threatening, very unpredictable and seemingly very, very *REAL* terror.

Of course, the final reel is another kettle of fish altogether, worthy of paragraph upon paragraph of analysis - sadly, that would be spoiling things. Let's just say that by the end of the film, there have been so many stones overturned and everyone seems so dysfunctional that, as a viewer, you're thrown into a state of sheer confusion, having no idea how things will end. By the time the final, mortifying frame freezes on the screen and the credits begin to roll, you're left mindblown. It's a depraved and wild plot line so loaded with twisted-up Freudian implications that even Andy Milligan would be proud - in fact, it's very nearly like watching an Andy Milligan movie as shot by Hitchcock at times... which, as anyone who's ever come across Milligan would testify to, is a mightily strange and heady experience indeed... Oh, and, trust me, after watching "Frightmare" you may never be able to hear the sound of a Black and Decker power drill again without a very, very cold shiver running down your spine...

I'm sure I don't need to harp on much more - I consider this an absolute classic of British horror. I think it's a crying shame that Walker is often lumped in with his budgetary peers from the Euro-sleaze market when a film as brilliant as "Frightmare" could quite easily wee from a great height on Hammer's entire 1970's output in the 'outright terror' stakes alone. Intense, intelligent and... invigorating. They *REALLY* do not make horror anywhere near this good any more, more's the pity.

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