Monday, January 13, 2020

BEWARE MY BRETHREN (aka THE FIEND) 1972

"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!"


"It's a Sickness of the Soul!"





     In the early 1970's the British horror industry began to move away from the Gothic style horror of Hammer with companies such as Tigon producing films like WITCHFINDER GENERAL(1968) and THE BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW (1971) while still being period horror pieces also injected a healthy dose of sadism and sex into the proceedings which was far different then Hammer's splatters of bright red blood and "wink-wink" flashes of female skin. There was also a move toward more contemporary based films that featured sex and/or psychotic driven killers along with none-too-subtle plots concerning religious & conservative hypocrisy such as what Pete Walker was directing with such films as HOUSE OF WHIPCORD (1974) and THE CONFESSIONAL (1976), along with the sex, sadism & gore work of Norman J. Warren in SATAN'S SLAVE and the sci-fi based INSEMINOID.
     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 chuck 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 inter cut 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.




   Straight away we're introduced to Kenny (Tony Beckley WHEN A STRANGER CALLS and THE LOST CONTINENT) whose a kind of roving security guard dressed in full uniform and riot helmet  and whose in the midst of a violent knock-down fight with a pair of crooks before being rescued by a police inspector (David Lodge INCENSE FOR THE DAMNED) who informs Kenny about the finding of the woman's body from the opening scenewhich was one more in a string of recent brutal murders. Kenny lives with his mother Birdy (Ann Todd SCREAM OF FEAR) and they both have fanatical religious beliefs that are prodded along by the above-mentioned zealot minister (played in wonderful scene-stealing glory by the great Patrick Magee (A CLOCKWORK ORANGE).
    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 woman who he feels are of "loose morals". In a homage to Michael Powell's PEEPING TOM Kenny also records his victims words before killing them ("Two punds for a playabout 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.




    Birdy has a large home and allows Magee's flock (named The Brethren) to worship there while she plays the organ. There're references to Birdy's husband leaving her and Kenny in the distant past which brings up some Oedipus atmosphere along with vague hints of incest. In addition, Birdy suffers from diabetes which is treated by visiting nurse Brigitte (Madeleine Hinde SCHOOL FOR UNCLAIMED GIRLS) and her treatment must be kept secret from minister Mcgee whose fanatical beliefs forbid the use of traditional care. Birdy's nurse Brigitte tells her concerns about Birdy to her sister/roommate Paddy (a wonderful chain-smoking & wise-cracking Suzanna Leigh from LUST FOR A VAMPIRE) whose an investigative reporter and immediately begins poking into the Brethern. The film ends with a startling (and slightly bonkers) climax as we see Kenny slowly unravel even more mentality along with the pity we feel for Birdy and the emergence of Mcgee's minster as an example of evil almost on par with serial killer Kenny.
    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 



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