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Séance On A Wet Afternoon 1964

Richard Attenborough – poster boy to a generation of razor wielding psychopaths – could never be accused of being afraid of playing less than glamourous people.

Seance On A Wet Afternoon 1964In his centuries-long career in front of the cameras, he’s been considerably ugly on many occasions – not least of which as Christie, the gas-happy slap-headed abortionist and interior decorator in 10 Rillington Place.

In Séance On A Wet Afternoon, Dickie (as everyone insists on calling him) is a broken-nosed cuckold with a comb over and motorcycle combination – a kind of psychopathic Wally Batty from Last Of The Summer Wine. Which once again, is not a good look.

To say that his character here is a tad pathetic would be an understatement. By the time the film has come to an end he has been bullied by his wife’s imaginary friend, outwitted by the young girl he’s trying to kidnap, and totally buggered up any chances of getting a penny out of the nefarious scheme he’s involved in. If his wife is a medium, he’s more of a low-to-middling

"If his wife is a medium, he’s more of a low-to-middling..."

Séance On A Wet Afternoon is one of those perennial faves of this website – a little-known British thriller with supernatural overtones (courtesy of the main protagonist’s chosen career). A Hammer horror it isn’t, but it’s certainly a monochrome curio. And it’s never more spooky than in the opening minutes, as candles flutter and half-illuminated faces look vaguely puzzled as the titular event takes place. The group of seancers (séancees?) leave the house where it has been taking place, making sure that the rain has stopped before making their exit. Hence, one supposes, the title of the film. After that it’s child kidnapping high-jinks ahoy, as Billy (Attenborough) and his slightly potty missus Myra (Kim Stanley) begin to reveal what they’ve been up to when they’re not conning gullible pensioners by putting on a silly voice and tapping on the underside of the table.

Worryingly, they’ve decked out a room in their rambling Psycho-style house like a hospital room. Even more worryingly, they’ve light-proofed the windows. And perhaps most worrying of all, she then announces “She’ll be nice and comfy in this (bed)…”

The plan is to kidnap the daughter of a local rich person, which Billy does after being told that Arthur (his wife’s spirit guide) reckons it will all be okay (“Old Arthur says so, does he? Well I mustn’t disappoint.”)

seance on a wet afternoon 1964But it nearly doesn’t go to plan – after snatching the limo which the girl is sitting in (nice touch with the silent cries for help behind the glass partition) and taking it to a patch of waste land, Billy then finds that she’s locked him out of the car. As he scrambles to get in, he realises he’s in a race against time as he is moments away from being discovered by a bunch of kids leaving school. Finally gaining entry, he chloroforms his victim, chucks her in the sidecar of his motorbike (the vehicle of choice for all inept kidnappers, I’m sure you’ll agree) and makes his escape.

With the kidnap done, the pair concoct a ransom note (bickering constantly about the grammar) and Myra justifies their actions as only a deluded middle-aged woman could do: “What have we done? We’ve borrowed a child, that’s what we’ve done.”

After the media reports the crime, Myra turns up at the family’s home to offer her services as a medium to find the girl (all together now: "aha!"). As is often the case, dad isn’t keen but mum immediately latches on. Somehow, the pair manage to get hold of the money, but their luck doesn’t hold and the girl falls ill. With Scotland Yard (led by BHF favourite Patrick Magee) getting ever-more suspicious and the girl becoming more of a burden, it becomes clear that neither of them have the nouse or the bottle to see it through to a satisfactory conclusion, and Myra, who is now quite clearly potty, is making suggestions that she might well move the girl closer to “Arthur”.

Séance On A Wet Afternoon is a nicely made little thriller with enough genre motifs to (hints of the supernatural, potty kidnappers, child in mortal peril) to satisfy its inclusion here, and has a few genuinely unsettling moments – particularly when the scene shifts to Billy apparently washing blood off his hands following the nearly-bungled kidnapping (it’s not blood, it’s hair dye). Attenborough, as always, shines as the out-of-his-depth Billy, and Stanley is excellent too as the out-of-her-mind Myra.

Director: Bryan Forbes
Writers: Bryan Forbes (screenplay); Mark McShane (novel)
Kim Stanley - Myra Savage; Margaret Lacey - Woman at first Seance; Marie Burke - Woman at first Seance; Maria Kazan - Woman at first Seance; Lionel Gamlin - Man at Seances; Marian Spencer - Mrs. Wintry; Richard Attenborough - Billy Savage; Godfrey James - Mrs. Clayton's Chauffeur; Judith Donner - Amanda Clayton; Ronald Hines - Policeman outside Clayton's; Hajni Biro - Maid at Clayton's; Mark Eden - Charles Clayton; Nanette Newman - Mrs. Clayton; Diana Lambert - Sheila - Mr. Clayton's Secretary; Frank Singuineau - Bus Conductor

 

Updated: July 15, 2010

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