Taking a short cut through the woods that abut her school, Tessa Hurst (Lesley-Anne Down) is sexually assaulted. The trauma of the attack leaves her mute and oblivious to the world, despite the efforts of young doctor Greg Lomax, giving Detective Chief Superintendent Velyan (Frank Finlay) and his men little to go on in their investigation of the case.
A couple of months later another girl, Susan Miller, unwisely takes the same shortcut. When art teacher Julie West (Suzy Kendall) learns this from the other pupils she is ferrying home in her car - a precautionary measure lest the maniac, who clearly has local knowledge, strike again - they go into the woods to search. The car gets stuck in the mud and in the half-light Julie sees a diabolical figure standing over the girl, who proves to have been raped and murdered.
Through a Glass Darkly - Julie sees the killer standing over the body
Unsurprisingly Julie's testimony that she saw a figure who looks like the Devil does not go down well, although its sensationalist aspect – the place is known as Devil's End, though this remains a somewhat underdeveloped notion despite the film's AKA titles In the Devil's Garden and Satan's Playthings – appeals to sleazy newshound Denning (Freddie Jones), who then proceeds to harass her in a way that would not go down well with the press complaints commission.
The Art of Darkness - Julie painting the devil
This prompts Julie to come up with a scheme of the it's-so-crazy-it-might-just-work variety: get Denning's newspaper to run a story showing a couple of her paintings of a devilish figure with the announcement that the next issue will reveal the real killer's identity, thus forcing him to show his hand.
Whoever it might be, there are no shortage of suspects, like the husband of schoolmistress Mrs Sanford, with his collection or pornography and dubious interest in the pupils, or Lomax himself, with his remarkable ability to always show up at the crime scene and “a pill for every occasion”; no talking cures for this man.
In an Italian film the recurring use of yellow might mean something; here it's harder to tell how conscious the filmmakers were of the colour's associations, not that their main audience would have been likely to have gotten them.
Featuring an unidentified often black-gloved stalker, a traumatic primal scene and an artistic amateur sleuth protagonist who cannot quite remember that vital detail, Assault makes for a fascinating if not entirely successful attempt at transposing the Italian giallo to a small-town British setting, where Fiats and Lancias may morph into Morris Minors and Jaguars but the often dubious sexual politics remain the same.
In common with many Hammer-style films – Edinburgh-born director Sidney Hayers was earlier responsible for Circus of Horrors and Night of the Eagle – the film is hampered by bad day-for-night work and continuity, with darkness quite literally falling in the pivotal what-did-she-really-see sequence. Likewise, while this sequence is effectively rendered, in contrast to the generally undistinguished and by-the-numbers mise-en-scene, it is telling that we do not get any flashbacks to it in the manner of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, perhaps indicative of a fundamental lack of imagination or aspiration on the filmmakers' part. The film also suffers from an overused and unattractive main theme that leaves one longing for the elegance and intricacies of a Morricone or Nicolai score.
Trivia fans may also note that the schoolgirl whom Mr Sanford paws is played by Janet Lynn from Pete Walker's sexploitation entry Cool It Carol!; Walker would later also direct the giallo-esque Schizo from a script by David McGillivray, whose critical beat for the Monthly Film Bulletin saw him cover a number of gialli around this time.
A neat equation, (no sex please we're) British style: nudie pictures equals pervert equals rapist and murderer?
On the plus side, the mystery remains engaging to the end whilst Kendall again makes for an attractive woman in peril. One is also struck, however, at just how wholesome she appears, more wide-eyed dolly bird than potential raptor, affording a more limited range of possibilities than contemporaries like Susan Scott, Edwige Fenech and Barbara Bouchet,but also confirming the appropriateness of her Spasmo casting as uncomfortably moral conspirator.
Sidney Hayers appreciation
A review of the film that makes the giallo connection