David Hemmings is excellent in this gripping thriller from John Mackenzie (The Long Good Friday) as John Ebony, the newly arrived idealistic young teacher at the exclusive Chantry boarding school for boys on the remote British coast.
Ebony takes over class Lower 5B whose previous teacher, Mr Pelham, had died in a most unfortunate accident when he fell off a cliff.
When trying to discipline the rebellious lads by threatening to give them Saturday afternoon detention, one of his students – Cloistermouth (Nicholas Hoye) – informs him that it’s not a good idea, adding “Mr Pelham tried it once, sir . . . and that’s why we killed him, sir”.
Ebony is bemused at first but the students provide accurate proof that they did, in fact, kill their previous teacher and intimidate Mr Ebony into believing that the same fate might befall him or his lovely wife Silvia (Carolyn Seymour). He is soon literally under his students’ thumb and in return for his life, must fake exam results and pass their bets to the bookie.
But nobody wants to believe him, not even his own wife. To the headmaster (Douglas Wilmer) and everyone else, the boys of Lower 5B are sophisticated and well-mannered young men.
Only John knows that they are actually deeply disturbed and nihilistic psychopaths – and he is completely and utterly alone in the school with his fears.
The film – adapted from a 1958 radio play by Giles Cooper – has no explicit bloodshed or exciting actions stunts, but the ominous claustrophobic atmosphere is truly tense and suspenseful. The most frightening sequence is the shocking persecution of Silvia Ebony in the squash courts, a superbly staged but uncomfortable scene where the boys calmly announce their intention to gang-bang her.
Unman, Wittering, and Zigo are the last three names on the register for class Lower 5B. Zigo is absent from school during the whole movie – “his father’s taken him to Jamaica, sir”.
The film was shot on location at St David’s College, Llandudno, Conwy in Wales and Reading Blue Coat School in Sonning, Berkshire.