Wednesday, March 02, 2011

And Soon The Darknesses

Producer Albert Fennell, writers Terry Nation and Brian Clemens, composer Laurie Johnson, and director Robert Fuest, all of whom worked together on the television series THE AVENGERS, collaborated on 1970’s AND SOON THE DARKNESS, a big-screen chiller produced with teeth-chattering aplomb.

As much as the script and direction, the film creates a sense of dread through sound…or the lack thereof. Johnson’s score is terrific, but Fuest also uses silence and quiet sound effects to evoke a nihilistic mood, and presenting occasional dialogue in unsubtitled French puts the audience on the same edge as the English-speaking protagonists.

Two attractive young birds, Jane (Pamela Franklin, later in FOOD OF THE GODS and THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE) and Cathy (Michele Dotrice), embark on a bicycling trip across the back roads of France. The brunette, Jane, intends to keep her carefully planned schedule, while blond Cathy grows bored and wants to dawdle and work on her tan by the side of the road. They separate after a brief tiff, but when Cathy doesn’t show up at the next town, Jane grows worried and goes looking for her. She meets Paul (Sandor Eles), a detective who agrees to help her find Cathy, though he neglects to tell her about the pretty young tourist who was recently raped and murdered along the same road.

Fuest (THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES) masterfully frames each shot for maximum tension, and Franklin, a former child star, is a marvelously vulnerable heroine. The climax isn’t perfect because of some deceptive acting I can’t get into here, but it’s exciting enough that you probably won’t think about it while it’s happening. AND SOON THE DARKNESS isn’t a Hammer movie, but could easily be mistaken for one. Clemens’ next two films were indeed for Hammer: DR. JEKYLL & SISTER HYDE and CAPTAIN KRONOS, VAMPIRE HUNTER.

Forty years later, Anchor Bay Films decided to remake AND SOON THE DARKNESS with Amber Heard (ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE) and Odette Yustman (THE UNBORN) as the leads. Transplanting the terror from France to Argentina, the remake directed by Marcos Efron appears to go out of its way to undermine the suspense Clemens, Nation, and Fuest wrenched from the original premise.

Whereas the protagonists in the original film were alone on barren stretches of road populated only by a handful of people they couldn’t understand, the girls in Efron’s remake are in a town surrounded by solid citizens. Also deflating suspense is the opening shot, which graphically shows us a horrifying event Fuest was content to merely hint at later in his story.

Too lazy to bother with any mystery, the screenplay by Efron (making his feature debut) and Jennifer Derwingson features American teens Stephanie (Heard) and Ellie (Yustman) on a bicycling vacation in Argentina. After a night of drinking and flirting with men—well, it’s really vivacious Ellie doing the flirting while Stephanie frets—the two girls have an argument, resulting in the more responsible Stephanie leaving Ellie sunbathing near some woods. When Ellie doesn’t show up at a predetermined meeting place, Stephanie goes looking for her. The police aren’t interested in helping, but Michael (STAR TREK’s new Dr. McCoy, Karl Urban), another American, appears to be.

Efron has obviously seen the original film—he steals shots from it—but doesn’t understand why it works. Whereas Fuest plunged its Strangers into a Strange Land, Heard’s character comes across as falsely worldly (and able to beat up several men bigger and stronger than she), and Urban’s is just plumb unbelievable. The movie would like you to believe that Michael is involved in Ellie’s disappearance, but its insistence upon showing us Ellie’s kidnapping dispels that theory before Efron can even develop it. By revealing too much of its plot and falling back on standard xenophobic horror tropes, AND SOON THE DARKNESS is a thriller that doesn’t thrill.

1 comment:

Emily said...

I just watched AStD last year, and wow. It's one of the best slow burns I've ever seen, and that climax--even though it's not that BIG--was so effective for me because by that time, I was so invested in Pamela Franklin's character. Also love how well the film establishes being a foreigner in a country whose language you don't speak. I'm hesitant to see the remake: seems, like you said, it just doesn't get what worked in the original. Normally I'm fine with departing from the original source (otherwise what's the point) but on the flip side, the story itself has been so much that what else is going to make your film stand out?