Peter Collinson, 1972, UK
Peter Collinson’s* ‘Straight on till Morning’ is a totally different creature to ‘Fear in the Night’, the film it was doubled up with under the “Women in Peril” strapline. It’s like Hammer as filtered through Nicolas Roeg and Harold Pinter and owes far more to ‘Peeping Tom’ than Hitchcock or Robert Bloch. This is no bad thing. It is a flawed but fascinating chamber piece whose cross-cutting to other tangential and related scenes broadens this serial killer story into a story of how girls get lost in post-Sixties London culture. 1970’s ‘Permissive’ provides another example of this Little Girl Lost scenario.
Public humiliation and the retreat into fantasy underlies the odyssey of ugly duckling Rite Tushingham as she tries her luck in the big bad world to look for someone to make her a mother. This leads her to pretty boy Peter’s neverland, at the end of a road straight out of ‘Coronation Street’ and British neo-realism. In Peter’s world, beauty is rewarded with murder. Shane Briant plays Peter with a mixture of aloofness, poses, articulate gentleness and eloquent bullying. It’s best when Briant reveals through expression how immature, confused and bewildered Peter is. We don’t know why he does what he does, and it is obvious that neither does he.
The undeniably bleak, cruel and nihilistic qualities of the film have brought it some vitriol and dismissal, which reminds me of reaction to Nicolas Roeg’s ‘Bad Timing’, and both are open to accusations of misogyny and outright cruelty. Even if the Peter Pan allusions don’t quite take flight, ‘Straight on till Morning’ has much say on the random mercilessness of the world and the hopes and dreams of normalcy that take people there. It is genuinely disturbing and troubling long after it has finished, and there really aren’t Hammer films one can say that about.
* Probably best known as the director of ‘The Italian Job’.