Written by John Peacock
Directed by Peter Collinson
Starring Rita Tushingham, Shane Briant
US Release August, 1974
RT 96 min.
Home Video Anchor Bay
Classic Horrors rating = 6 (out of 10)
Warning: review contains major plot spoilers; ending of movie revealed.
By the time it was over, I think I liked Straight on Till Morning. However, it was a tough sell at the beginning and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to continue watching. The early scenes contain back and forth shots among characters, with flashbacks within each. It’s like you’re watching four stories at once. Happening so fast, it’s confusing at times. I’d guess it continues for a good third of the movie, but finally settles once all the pieces of the story are in place.
In its 1970s setting, the story really works for me. Brenda Thompson (Rita Tushingham) is an odd young girl who leaves home for the big city of London hoping “to find a father for my baby.” I thought she was already pregnant and wanted to lasso a man to marry and help raise it. However, that’s not the case; she literally wants to find a father for her baby. She’s not pretty in the normal sense of the word and is socially awkward.
After looking for work and a place to live, she manufactures a way to meet Peter Clive (Shane Briant). She “finds” his lost dog, takes it home and bathes it, the returns it to the address on its tag. Peter is aware that she took his dog and asks her why she did it. She crumbles under the pressure and admits she wanted to meet him, then that she came to ask him to give her a baby. He offers her a proposition: “if you’ll move in and look after me, then… we shall see.”
She’s not the brightest thing, poor girl. There are a couple of clues that she should reconsider her desires. First, he acknowledges his messy flat and tells her, “Cleaning is a woman’s job and there’s not one around.” Then, he doesn’t like her name, so tells her from now on it will be Wendy. On the other end of the kindness scale, when she moves in, she finds that he’s already purchased a baby crib for her. (He has a kitchen drawer full of money, which is why he doesn’t need to work.)
Now is a good time to mention that the movie is full of Peter Pan references, not only with its title. We have the characters “Peter” and “Wendy,” plus the dog is named “Tinker.” It’s also a good time to mention that Peter is a serial killer. As he was chasing a previous victim, he was babbling something about Never-Never Land. Peter and Wendy both talk in terms of fairy tales, particularly Peter about an endless string of princesses who loved a man for his beauty.
This is where I started to find Straight on Till Morning interesting. Peter does not like anyone or anything that’s beautiful. He kills Tinker, saying, “She’s made you pretty. We don’t want to be pretty, do we?” When Wendy grabs a handful of cash to get a makeover, he’s appalled with the results, wiping off her lipstick and makeup and pulling off her wig. “Don’t you think I’m pretty?” she asks. “I love you the way you are,” he replies.
Only after this scene do they consummate their relationship. “You’ll never leave me, will you, Wendy?” he asks. Apparently, he truly loves her (and doesn’t intend to kill her at this point) because she’s not beautiful. As a final act of complete honesty, Peter locks her in his room with an audio recording of the previous murders he’s committed. I assume if she was able to accept this revelation, they would have lived happily ever after. She’s not, though, and the final shot of the movie is of Peter sitting alone on his bed.
While all this is happening inside Peter’s flat, Wendy’s mother has become worried about her, is asking a lot of questions around town, and files a police report. Headlines about her disappearance and that of several other women begin appearing in newspapers. Ultimately, their efforts are wasted, or at least we never see anything come from their efforts. What happens, happens without any last minute intervention from the authorities to prevent it.
The idea that Straight on Till Morning is a fairy tale within a fairy tale (?) might be stretching a bit. If not literally, perhaps it has the feel of a fairy tale, albeit a dark one. That’s the aspect with which I eventually connected. On any other day, I might have loathed the movie; I certainly loathed it during the first 30 minutes. However, with Briant’s charismatic performance and his character’s twisted psychoses, I ultimately found it compelling.