Got To Get Ourselves Back To The Garden… ASSAULT Beautifully Restored By Network.

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BD. Network. Region B. 15.

Although the upscaling from DVD to Blu-ray has produced miraculous editions of some old favourites (CultFilms’ Suspiria springs to mind) there have been at least as many (and probably more) titles which make you wonder why they bothered. We can all think of stuff that was scanned through 4k and all the rest of it, sometimes crowd-funded on its way and to great fanfare, only to emerge drowning in grain or compensated-to-shit with DNR. So why has this visually astonishing Network restoration, drawing from 35mm negative elements in the vaults of the BFI, been such a low-key affair?

Well, Assault is something of a problematic viewing experience from a 2018 perspective. While the assaults on the schoolgirls are obviously not rendered with any kind of pornographic expliciteness, the presentation of such subject matter in the guise of entertainment now seems vaguely questionable, the BBFC’s classification of it as ’15’ notwithstanding. The casting, furthermore (as a traumatised and catatonic assault victim) of Lesley-Anne Down, whose name so closely resembles that of a real life victim of Britain’s most notorious sex killers, seems rather insensitive and just to put the tin hat on it,  when Tony Beckley’s emasculated teacher tells Frank Finlay’s gruff cop that he has fantasised about raping all of his students, you ask yourself if things could get any more non-PC… only for the Detective Chief Superintendent to retort by suggesting that the guy is probably “not man enough” to rape anyone… ouch!

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In the words of Cicero: “”O tempora, o mores”…

1971 was arguably the annus mirabilis of the giallo, the year that brought us Mario Bava’s überinfluential Bay Of Blood, Fulci’s psychedelic three-ring circus Lizard In A Woman’s Skin, Sergio Martino’s masterly The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh and an Argento brace in the shape of The Cat O’Nine Tails and Four Flies On Grey Velvet, amid countless others. One of the most intriguing yellow shockers from this year, though, was made right here in dear old Blighty and produced, as if that weren’t already a sufficiently surprising proposition, by Peter Rogers,  the man responsible for all those jolly Carry On Romps

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The director of Assault, though, was ideally placed to handle a British attempt at the giallo (which this film so clearly is)… Sidney Hayers, having racked up a couple of routine thrillers in 1950, revealed a knack for transcendental cinematic delirium with the completely demented Circus Of Horrors (1960), a film that would give the trashiest Eurotrash competitors a run for their cheesey money. Hayers subsequently directed Peter Wyngarde in Night Of The Eagle aka Burn, Witch, Burn (1962) an effective little variant on Jacques Torneur’s Night Of The Demon (1957) but 1971 turned out to be his busiest year in terms of Freudsteinian credits. As well as the  The Firechasers (an insurance fraud thriller) and episodes of both The Persuaders and the short-lived Shirley MacLaine vehicle Shirley’s World, Hayers directed Revenge aka After Jenny Died and Inn Of The Frightened People, in which Joan Collins and family take the law into their own hands when their young daughter is raped and murdered… not a million miles removed, thematically, from the film under consideration here.

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Straight after Circus Of Horrors, Hayers began a prolific career in TV direction with episodes of The Avengers and The Edgar Wallace Mystery Theatre. Anyone whose caught even a handful of the German krimi cycle, which was so influential on the giallo, will know how often these Wallace thrillers featured schoolgirls in peril as a plot point and that’s the theme around which both Assault and Revenge (not to mention the subsequent Italian trilogy written and / or directed by Massimo Dallamano) rotate…

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… but Assault’s credentials as a giallo all’Inglese go way deeper than that. You want a plot that hinges on its protagonist half-glimpsing a crucial clue and agonising about its exact significance? You got it. You want said character to be played by giallo icon Suzy Kendall? Here she is. Lascivious subjective camera work… a hard-ass cop… a shoal of lecherous and disreputable red herrings… convoluted plotting wherein all sense of proportion is lost (a trip to pick up some sodium pentathol concludes with the pharmacy blowing up… *) … a spectacular demise for the newly unmasked culprit, so ingeniously (some would say stupidly) devised that it suggests divine retribution? All present and politically incorrect. Overblown alternative titles? Well, Assault played the US grindhouse circuit (presumably post-Exorcist) under the alias In The Devil’s Garden, a rebranding actually justified (kind of) by the fact that Kendall’s feisty Julie West spends much of the film believing she literally saw Satan himself at work when she stumbled upon a fatal sexual attack inflicted on one of her students in the woods adjacent to the posh school where she teaches. Indeed, her insistence on sticking to this lurid account leads to her being ridiculed by the prickly coroner (Allan Cuthbertson) when she gives evidence at the inquest. Det. Chief Supt. Velyan (Finlay) co-opts a sleazy tabloid reporter (Freddie Jones) to vindicate her, unmask the culprit and set up a truly electrifying climax…

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Perhaps it would be inappropriate, given Assault’s subject matter, to describe this restoration as “ravishing” but it’s an incredible step-up from Network’s previous DVD edition. Even the bonus trailer, which looked pretty knackered on that, is significantly improved here. The stills gallery remains but the 1981 Tales Of The Unexpected episode There’s One Born Every Minute, starring Finlay, is conspicuous by its absence… no great loss when weighed against the sumptuous presentation of the main feature.

My screener didn’t come with the limited edition collector’s booklet with essays by Adrian Smith and Laura Mayne, plus PDF material. Hopefully that comes with some information on this beautiful renovation job. Hell, I might even shell out £9.75 to find out. Talk about a bargain… what are you waiting for?

Trivia note: much of Assault was filmed in Black Park, Iver Heath, Bucks, subsequently the home of pre-Cert video distribution legends IFS.

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(*) … and taking with it, in his first credited screen role (as “Man in chemist shop”), David Essex. Is he more, too much more than a pretty face in Assault? I don’t think so…

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