In horror terms Edward Woodward shall forever be associated with The Wicker Man, and quite rightly so. But the Croydon-born classically trained actor, who at 16 was the youngest ever person to gain a place at RADA, also featured in another, lesser known British horror film that deserves to be discovered by an audience anew, The Appointment (1981).
It’s a film full of striking visuals that perhaps best evokes ‘Don’t Look Now’ and fantastic camera work that reminds one of the steadicam shots in ‘The Shining’. The film leans more to the arty side of horror and teases out each plot point, which might be regarded as too slow for some people.
It might take its time but it is certainly intriguing and by its very slow nature feels oddly unnerving. What the film does have from the outset though is a scene that hooks you straight away, a schoolgirl snatched sideways into the woods by an unseen force, which is immensely unnerving and stays with you for a long time.
Like many British horror films it is based more around the horror that you don’t see than the one that you do and with that in mind echoes the Hammer House of Horror or The Twilight Zone and perhaps would have benefitted from being slightly shorter than its 90 minute running time. Oddly, with the parallel of a man driving his car across an unpopulated area it did remind me a little of a quasi-quaint British version of Duel, albeit with supernatural undertones.
Like Dennis Weaver in the Spielberg classic Woodward’s character, Ian Fowler, is in pretty much every shot of the film. After the nerve-jangling opening Fowler breaks the news to his fourteen year-old daughter that he cannot attend the concert she is playing in the next day because he must drive to a conference in London, much to her chagrin. That night he has a dream of dogs leaping onto the hood of his car on the road and causing him to crash – and as he sleeps dogs gather outside the house. The next day as he sets out on the journey, all the elements of the dream start to come true.
It’s a shame that this was Director Lindsay Vickers only foray behind the camera as there really are some wonderful shots and sequences. None is more impressive than the actual car crash which is shot, inside and out, from every conceivable angle. The crash occurs on the winding, desolate roads of Snowdonia when a lorry, with familiar dogs painted on the side follows Woodward and causes him to crash – the attacking dogs of his dream coming true.
We are then met with the extraordinary image of the car teetering up in the air balanced on its front tip, on the very edge of the cliff for a long moment before falling over. It’s certainly not something you’d find in your usual episode of Casualty and on paper I know sounds closer to Wile Coyote, but it really does have to be seen to be believed. All of this is accompanied by an unworldly atonal score. It is a remarkably well sustained piece of atmosphere that hovers uneasily between dream and waking and leaves one never sure where they are.
Does it all make sense? of course it doesn’t but it is all so beautifully done that it doesn’t really matter. The visual/audio effects are incredible with some very Hitchcockian touches throughout that even Brian DePalma would be proud of with the aforementioned car crash scene a masterpiece of surrealism.
The film still has that wonderful cache about it as did The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Exorcist did before it, both of which did the rounds on chunky pirate videos, as The Appointment is not available on DVD and has to be sought out in dark and musty corners on good old VHS, which I think adds a certain something to it and is the way horror should be seen.
Of course I’ve managed to snag myself a copy, after years of searching, breathing a sigh of relief when the tape did not snap in the video recorder and those images once seen on late night TV some 25 years earlier were brought once again to life. Once seen it is never forgotten, often for reasons you can’t quite put your finger on, but this really is one appointment that shouldn’t be missed.