Director: Sidney Hayers
Script: John Kruse
Cast: Suzy Kendall, Frank Finlay, Leslie-Anne Down, James Laurenson, Freddie Jones, Dilys Hamlett, James Cosmo, David Essex, Kit Taylor
Running time: 91 minutes
Assault opens with the lovely Leslie-Anne Down leaving her exclusive girls school to meet a boy on the other side of some nearby woods. The audience quickly becomes a voyeur, seeing the world through a sexual predator’s eyes as someone stalks her, all the time getting closer and closer until, finally, the stalker brings her down and rapes her. As she looks up we are confronted with the hum of a large electricity pylon that pokes its head above the tree canopy, surveying the scene like an unfeeling monolith.
Tessa (Down) has been left traumatised and unable to speak by her ordeal, and ends up in a local hospital. However, a few months later another teenage student, Susan, from the same school, is brutally attacked and killed in the same woods, after she sneaks out of school, again to meet someone. This sequence is nicely shot, with the music, by Eric Rogers, really amping up the tension nicely.
One of the girl’s teachers, Julie (played nicely by Kendall), is worried about the girl so takes her car, loaded with three other students, into the woods looking for her. Just as they get stuck in mud she sees the killer, caught momentarily in her red tail lights, before he disappears into the growing gloom. When she’s later questioned by police she describes the man of looking like the devil, so is dismissed quite quickly as an unreliable witness.
Tessa’s psychiatrist gets involved in the case and starts to take somewhat more than a merely professional interest in the young teacher (and who can blame him since Suzie Kendall was a very attractive woman at the time).
As the attacks continue, and the body count grows, we’re led to believe that at least three men could be responsible, since most of the men featured for any length of time, at some point, show some degree of lechery or misogyny. At the very least their very condescending towards the women The husband of the school’s headmistress is quite creepy and feels up one of the pupils in a library while she’s stood on a chair getting a book; a sleazy journalist, played by the ever excellent Freddie Jones, also comes across a bit on the dodgy side; the psychiatrist cops a feel at one point when the teacher is asleep; and the hospital governor is also a bit strange!
In fact, Assault, plays out like one of the Italian giallo films that focused on school girls in the early seventies; films like: What have they done to Solange? (1972); What have they done to your daughters? (1974): and Rings of Fear (1978). Like each of those examples, Assault is quite a hard-hitting, psychological type of horror film that ramps up the sleaze quota to quite a high degree. And, since it was made before these better known films, it can be seen as a precursor to that style of sexually violent horror-thriller.
Acting-wise, Frank Finlay is stoic as Det. Chief Supt. Velyan who feels obliged to let Julie put herself in danger to help catch the killer, and James Laurenson nicely walks the line of being suave and charming with an underlying sense of not being quite right. But the film really belongs to Suzy Kendall who has to carry most of the film and, at times, make herself quite vulnerable, as an actress, to do so. Special mention must also be given to Tony Beckley who plays the disturbed husband of the head mistress. Clearly feeling emasculated by his over-bearing wife, he spends much of his time skulking around the school grounds fantasising about raping the girls in his wife’s charge, or looking at dubious pornographic pictures; truly disturbing.
Based on a novel called ‘The Ravine’ by Kendall Young, Assault is still quite shocking, even by today’s standards, and has an equally shocking finale, in more ways than one. To sum up, Assault is a solid British giallo thriller, and well worth a watch if you’re a fan of the sub-genre
Network Distributing are distributing Assault on Blu-ray and have done a great job at restoring the film from its original 35mm camera negative.. Special features include:
Image gallery of 60 stills and publicity materials from the film including some referring to it under its alternative title In the Devil’s Garden
Trailer (2.16 mins)