The Spiral Staircase (1975)


UK. 1975.


Director – Peter Collinson, Screenplay – Andrew Meredith, Based on the Novel Some Must Watch by Ethel Lina White, Producer – Peter Shaw, Photography – Ken Hodges, Music – David Lindup, Makeup – Eric Allwright & Peter Engelen, Art Direction – Disley Jones. Production Company – Raven Films


Jacqueline Bisset (Helen Mallory), Christopher Plummer (Joe Sherman), John Phillip Law (Steven Sherman), Mildred Dunnock (Mrs Sherman), Gayle Hunnicutt (Blanche), Elaine Stritch (Nurse), Sam Wanamaker (Lieutenant Fields), John Ronane (Dr Rawley)


A killer is stalking a town, using a silencer pistol to shoot women that are each deformed or disfigured in some way. As a storm cuts power to the Sherman Mansion on the outskirts of the town, fear closes in among those gathered there. In the darkness, Helen Mallory, who has been mute following a traumatic shock when she was a child, believes that one of the people in the house is the killer and that they regard her as the next target.

The Spiral Staircase (1946) was one of the great pre-Psycho (1960) psycho-thrillers. It had a superbly wound plot and was directed with wonderfully intense and brooding Gothic atmosphere. This is a pointless remake. Both films have essentially the same plot but this one is directed without style or tension.

Director Peter Collinson only induces tedium instead of suspense and there is nothing in the film that ever remotely approaches the superb Gothic atmosphere that director Robert Siodmak infused into the original. The name actors present are largely unused, with only Elaine Stritch and Mildred Dunnock rising above the material. Even for those who have never seen the original, the big surprise revelation is tipped off much earlier in the show rather than left to the end. Even then the surprise revelation about the killer’s identity is given away almost from the outset with one character making obvious and unsubtle lines about physical imperfection. It leaves you asking about half way through – is that going to be it? The answer is is a heavily disappointing yes.

The story was later equally poorly remade as a tv movie The Spiral Staircase (2000) featuring a miscast Nicolette Sheridan.

Peter Collinson was a minor director in the English horror film during the 1970s, also making psycho-thrillers like Fright (1971), Hammer’s Straight on Till Morning (1972) and the Agatha Christie murder mystery And Then There Were None (1974). Collinson is probably best known for the original The Italian Job (1969).

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