Director: Sidney Hayers
VCI Home Video

VCI’s “The Rank Collection” takes a trip IN THE DEVIL’S GARDEN following the frantic search for a rapist and murderer terrorizing the schoolgirls of a small English village.

Schoolgirl Tessa Hurst (Lesley-Anne Down, COUNTESS DRACULA) is brutally raped when she cuts through the Devil’s End woods on the way home from school. Stunned into catatonia, Tessa is placed in the care of psychiatrist Greg Lomax (James Laurensen, PINK FLOYD THE WALL) who has little success learning about her attacker. The schoolgirls are then forbidden from cutting through the woods, and art teacher Julie West (Suzy Kendall, THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE and TORSO) takes to driving several of her students home since Detective Velyan (Frank Finlay, Tinto Brass’ THE KEY) fears that the rapist may kill his next victim. When Julie and the students drive down into Devil’s End in search of Susan (Anabel Littledale, THE BEAST IN THE CELLAR) and get stuck in the mud, Julie sees a distorted devilish figure through her back windshield as well as Susan’s body. Naturally her testimony at the inquest about seeing the devil doesn’t go over well; however, when Lomax suggests that her brake lights caused the Satanic glow, Julie hits upon the idea to utilize scuzzy reporter (Freddie Jones, THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA) in a scheme to set herself up as bait by running a teaser story in the paper about the painting of the killer she will unveil in the next issue. It seems that they are on the right track when an attempt is made on her life. Suspects include the frigid headmistress’s sexually-frustrated husband (Tony Beckley, who would later stalk Carol Kane in WHEN A STRANGER CALLS), Lomax’s suspiciously benevolent colleague Bartell (Anthony Ainley, BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW), and even Lomax himself when Tessa starts showing signs of recovering.

ASSAULT was the second of BURN, WITCH, BURN director Sidney Hayers’ collaborations with CARRY ON series producer Peter Rogers, which also included ALL COPPERS ARE… and the low-key thriller REVENGE (available on DVD here from Scorpion Releasing), which would make an ideal companion piece with its village terrorized by a child killer. Ken Hodges’ camerawork is as consistently well-framed and atmospherically-lit as his work on the more claustrophobic REVENGE, but Eric Rogers’ score – reportedly recycled from one of his CARRY ON entries – is more bombastic here. Fans of Kendall’s giallo work may want to track this one down since she has more to do here than play “final girl”, although the subplot romance between her character and Laurenson’s seems merely obligatory. Down and Laurenson share an “and introducing” credit, but Down had already appeared in 1969’s THE SMASHING BIRD I USED TO KNOW, as well as ALL THE RIGHT NOISES and – more prominently – Peter Sasdy’s COUNTESS DRACULA for Hammer (in which she played the Countess’ virginal daughter) the same year, while Laurenson had already had brief appearances in THE MAGIC CHRISTIAN and Ken Russell’s WOMEN IN LOVE. Down has little to do since she’s catatonic most of the time but Laurenson gets a rare lead turn as far as his genre work goes (he had smaller role in Dan Curtis’ adaptation of THE TURN OF THE SCREW as the ghostly Quint, as one of Denholm Elliot’s nightmarish tormentors in the “Rude Awakening” episode of HAMMER HOUSE OF HORROR as well as a role in one of the more conventional thriller episodes of HAMMER HOUSE OF MYSTERY & SUSPENSE, and as the whistling Shadmock of Roy Ward Baker’s Amicus-esque anthology THE MONSTER CLUB). In retrospect, viewers will find Ainley – who would become DOCTOR WHO’s “The Master” in the early 1980s – immediately suspicious.

Finlay makes the most of his detective character – he has a nice rapport with Jones’ journalist – but he mostly pops up after the action to put the other characters on the spot for their red-herring behavior (Finlay’s other genre entries include TWISTED NERVE, the well-received 1977 BBC adaptation of COUNT DRACULA, and LIFEFORCE as well as the Sherlock Holmes films A STUDY IN TERROR and MURDER BY DECREE). Beckley and Dilys Hamlett as the school’s headmistress – who also appeared in Hayers’ DIAGNOSIS: MURDER – have enough of a deliciously vitriolic relationship for a feature of their own. Singer/actor/motorcycle-enthusiast David Essex – who would also appear in ALL COPPERS ARE before his trio of starring roles in THAT’LL BE THE DAY, STARDUST and SILVER DREAM RACER – appears briefly as a biker, and his girlfriend is played by CARRY ON vet Valerie Shute.

ASSAULT was picked up domestically by Hemisphere Pictures – distributors of the “Blood Island” films – and released as both IN THE DEVIL’S GARDEN (on a double bill with THE DEVIL’S NIGHTMARE) and SATAN’S PLAYTHINGS (although the poster was so unspecific that I wouldn’t be surprised if the title and artwork were reused for reissues of a couple films in different territories not unlike GRAVE DESIRES, CEMETERY GIRLS, and VAMPIRE PLAYGIRLS). When it played on TV – premiering on “Fright Night” in February 1974 – it bore the semi-misleading title TOWER OF TERROR. The film was released here on VHS more than a couple times. Under its original title ASSAULT, it was released by Blay Video, and as THE CREEPERS by Saturn Productions, Interglobal Home Video, and Genesis Home Video (as part of a handful of handful of shared titles and retitles including fellow Hemisphere releases THE DEVIL’S NIGHTMARE [as THE DEVIL WALKS AT MIDNIGHT] and TORTURE CHAMBER OF DR. SADISM [as CASTLE OF THE WALKING DEAD]); the latter retitling tried to market the film as a teen slasher film (the Interglobal slipcase and Saturn clamshell featured different artwork of a schoolgirl hiding against a tree trunk, while the Genesis edition had a girl being grabbed from behind by a machete-wielding assailant).

ASSAULT was one of a handful of ITV-owned Rank Organization horror films released on DVD in the UK by Network – and that edition featured a non-anamorphic letterbox (1.75:1) transfer, the British theatrical trailer, and an episode of Roald Dahl-hosted series TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED titled “There’s One Born Every Minute” (1981) which starred Frank Finlay (just as Network’s DVD of the Rank-released Hammer film COUNTESS DRACULA featured an Ingrid Pitt episode of the ITV-owned Brian Clemens series THRILLER and an episode from CONCEPTIONS OF MURDER that starred Nigel Green, and their DVD of HANDS OF THE RIPPER featured an episode of THRILLER featuring the film’s ingénue Angharad Rees).

The anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfer on VCI’s single-layer NTSC DVD – licensed from ITV and part of VCI’s “The Rank Collection” – features the IN THE DEVIL’S GARDEN title (seemingly the original film optical and not computer-generated) while retaining the Rank copyright and gong logo (although the logo was also present on the American “THE CREEPERS” VHS releases). Despite the US title card and the 91 minute running time listed on the back cover, the transfer appears to be derived from a PAL source; the 24fps running time – according to the BBFC’s X-certificate submission is – 90 minutes and 40 seconds – while the VCI disc’s running time is 86 minutes and 57 seconds (the Network DVD ran eighty-seven minutes and five seconds, but the extra running time may have consisted of an ITV logo). The image is progressive, so instead of the interlacing artifacts usually seen during sideways movement in other 25fps-to-29.97 conversions are blended. Colors are strong and the upscaling from 4:3 to 16:9 is better than seen on some other domestic 16:9 discs of vintage ITV-owned product – for instance, Scorpion’s NOTHING BUT THE NIGHT – but it also looks like it has undergone some digital sharpening to compensate for the enlargement. In addition to the 2.0 Dolby Digital mono track, there is also a 5.1 upmix option (it’s actually 5.0, or three front and two rear channels but no LRE channel) that gives the mix some breathing room – without the tinny echo of some of the 5.1 remixes on budget discs – but has no noticeable added directional effects or surround activity. There are absolutely no extras. (Eric Cotenas)