A forgotten and obscure gem, director Pete Walker’s first foray into the fright film genre prefigures the slasher cycle by a good five years and manages to wring a good deal of tension and spooky atmosphere from its novel and inspired setting of the decrepit abandoned old Dome Theatre on the pier in the ramshackle seaside town of Eastcliff (the movie was actually filmed at Cromer in Norfolk).
A bunch of eager and good-looking young thespians join a mysterious repertory company and get together to rehearse a play at the old theatre.
Naturally, there’s also a creepy heavy-breathing black-gloved maniac loose in the place, with a hatred of decadent drama types.
Mike (Ray Brooks – the voice of Mr Benn) is the easygoing would-be producer/director of the group. Julia (Magpie presenter Jenny Hanley) is a “proper” actress who comes looking for a bit of stage work and finds only death and mystery.
Other members of the troupe include the sultry budding actress Carol (Luan Peters), dashing hunk Tony (Tristan Rogers), impish practical joker John (David Howey) and cheeky chappie Simon (Robin Askwith who gets some ripe dialogue in what amounts to a rather minor part).
Candace Glendenning, Judy Matheson and Penny Meredith fill out the rest of the performers who seemingly spend more time in bed with male cast members and technicians than actually rehearsing.
Patrick Barr is simply excellent in his part as Major Bell, an eccentric war veteran who lives alone with his dog and gets excited about the prospect of a theatre group inhabiting the long-abandoned pier.
While the film skimps on the gore and has a minimal body count, the conclusion is clever and surprising – complete with a cool protracted flashback sequence shot in stark black and white – and the killer’s motive for committing the murders turns out to be unexpectedly poignant and tragic.
Director Pete Walker livens up proceedings with lashings of gratuitous nudity from most of the well-proportioned female cast members.
When Jenny Hanley refused to appear naked on screen, Walker inserted full-frontal nudity using a body double, resulting in a formal complaint from Hanley’s agent.
Major Bell/Sir Arnold Gates