"In the name of the Brethren he washed away
the sins of women ...and led them to the Gates of Hell!"
"Sinner... meet your maker!"
Director Robert Hartford-Davis' career has sadly become a small footnote in the history of British horror. Partly due to his tragic early death at the age of 53 in 1977 he none-the-less directed a sizable chunk of interesting films including the early sexploitation GUTTER GIRLS (1974), the really bizarre GONKS GO BEAT (1964), the underrated Gothic THE BLACK TORMENT and the sleazy & sordid CORRUPTION (1968) with Peter Cushing in his most jaw-dropping role and the blaxploitation BLACK GUNN (1972) with Jim Brown and Martin Landau.
Re-tilted in the U.S. BEWARE MY BRETHREN from its more straightforward British title THE FIEND it opens with juxtaposed scenes of fanatical minister figure giving a fire & brimstone sermon over a baptism which is intercut with a young woman being stalked and brutally stripped and killed before being tossed in a river all of which is set wailing gospel number by Shirley Bassey impersonator Maxine Barrie.
The film quickly sets up a spoiler-free reveal of the killer being Kenny with his other part-time being a pool attendant which along with his nighttime guard job allows him a full range of victims including prostitutes and other women who he feels are of "loose morals". In homage to Michael Powell's PEEPING TOM Kenny also records his victims words before killing them ("Two punds for a play about in the back of yer truck") and spends his off time gleefully listening to them in his basement (decorated with Goya prints of dismembering) while the film cuts to McGee delivering a fire & brimstone in the church.
There are several startling (and sometimes darkly humorous) juxtapositions in the film including a newspaper headline screaming "Third Nude Found!" before cutting to Kenny slowly polishing his nightstick and a women's naked body falls out of a cement mixer while Kenny scrapes cement residue carefully off his boots.
The main cast is excellent with Anne Todd a standout as the mother who slowly begins to realize what her son is while desperately clinging to her religious beliefs. Considered one of the most beautiful English actresses she was married to David Lean for 8 years during the 50's. Tony Beckley is quite good playing a mentally unbalanced killer who we do feel some pity for and there's a wonderful scene where he desperately tries to hand out flyers for the Brethren to uncaring pedestrians as seems to the task as a penance. Suzanne Leigh has great fun in the role of as Paddy and there's a wonderful scene between her and Todd late in the movie that revels more about Todd's character and her feelings toward Kenny. The film is also interesting in that it doesn't have a male central hero to save the day (and heroine) as Brigitte's doctor boyfriend washes his hands of the situation and quickly leaves it to Paddy to investigate.
With its naked female bodies hanging on meat hooks or tumbling out of cement mixes BEWARE MY BRETHERN has very grim atmosphere about it with a seediness and sordidness that seems to creep into every frame. Borrowing serial killer troupes from PSYCHO and PEEPING TOM it combines these with the new "permissiveness" of 70's horror cinema and looks forward to Pete Walker's work a couple years down the road and makes a nice companion to the major studio 10 RILLINGTON PLACE from 1971. The film's screenplay is by Brian Compton (GIRLY) and was photographed by Desmond Dickinson who also was the DP on TROG, THE HORROR ON SNAPE ISLAND, THE BEAST IN THE CELLAR, BERSERK and BURKE AND HARE among others. At one-point Kenny enters a cinema that's playing SCARS OF DRACULA.
Part of the film's flying under the radar status for years was that the BBC imposed some serious cuts on it upon release with the full strength version appearing in the U.S. on a murky looking VHS in the 80's (which I remember renting and seemed to have lurked on the shelves of every mom & pop video store). Odeon released the uncut version on DVD in 2011 and Vinegar Syndrome put out a beautiful Blu-ray/DVD in 2018 with a highly informative commentary by Samm Deighan.
All screen shots above are from the Vinegar Syndrome DVD