Dark Places (1974)

Rating: B

Dir: Don Sharp
Star: Robert Hardy, Joan Collins, Christopher Lee, Herbert Lom

This feels like it could have come out about a decade previously. At that time, Jimmy Sangster was churning out psychological horrors for Hammer, frequently about people being targeted for some purpose or other, and driven towards insanity by a series of events which have at least the appearance of supernatural activity. This operates along similar lines, yet also succeeds in including more genuine ghostly events, in a way which seeks to combine psychological horror with its Gothic ancestor. If the script could have used the sure hands of someone like Sangster, the cast are uniformly very good. That helps hold things together, whenever the more implausible elements threaten to topple proceedings over into absurdity.

It begins with the death of Andrew Marr, and the arrival of the heir to his house and fortune, Edward Foster (Hardy). However, there are rumours in the local area that Marr hid a six-figure sum of cash somewhere on the property, and there are a number of people who are very interested in finding it. These include the deceased’s physician, Dr. Ian Mandeville (Lee), his slutty sister Sarah (Collins) and the family solicitor, Prescott (Lom). However, barely has Edward shown up before mysterious lights and figures are seen in and around the dilapidated manor. Foster begins to exhibit an affinity for Marr, and experiences visions which reveal what actually happened years earlier, leading up to the disappearance of his wife, children and nanny Alta (honorary EuroTotty, Jane Birkin).

Sharp had indeed worked for Hammer, most notably on Kiss of the Vampire over a decade previously, and does a good job of keeping the two disparate threads of the plot – the prosaic and the paranormal – moving forward without many pauses. There aren’t an excess of effects here to juice things up, beyond a rather cringy bat-attack sequence which features the return of HoverBat™. Given the lack of quality thereof, I’m glad they didn’t bother otherwise. Instead, it’s reliant on the performances, in particular that of Hardy, who also plays Andrew Marr. The Hammer psycho-horrors typically had vulnerable young and emotionally fragile women as the victims, which made for an easy sell. This requires heavier lifting from the actor, and he’s up to the task.

The supporting cast are good too, though Lom’s character seem almost peripheral to the action. It’s clear Sarah is intent on sidling into Edward’s affections, and I was amused by Dr. Mandeville saying to his sister, “You are a bitch, Sarah,” in light of Collins’s role as exactly that, later in the decade. However, the external pressures end up being less significant than the ones imposed by the house on its new owner. Andrew’s malignant spirit seeks to take over Edward entirely, replacing his personality: the symptoms are misinterpreted as evidence of Edward heading towards the intended breakdown. Things end in a surprisingly downbeat manner, where nobody seems to get what they want, and it’s all more poignant than expected. If I’d not call this a forgotten classic, it likely deserves a higher degree of recognition.

A new Blu-ray edition of the movie will be released on February 27th, including two audio commentaries, a documentary, interviews and trailers. See here for more information.