Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964)

Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964), directed by Bryan Forbes.

"Don't be afraid, dear. It's only a game."

In a slow descent into nightmare, Myra, a professional psychic, and her tender, weak-willed husband, Billy, kidnap a little girl. They don't want the money; they want the fame and publicity that will come when Myra uses her psychic powers to help find the girl.

Vampires aren't scary because they aren't real. Psychos are both. Myra has become deranged by the loss of her own child and she really believes in her powers. Or does she? In an awful moment Billy realizes his wife is crazier than even he believed. The story is not explicitly supernatural, unless... what exactly happens in the final scene?

"We're mad, you and me. We're both mad."

The opening is a bit stagey but the story flows remorselessly after that. Nothing explicitly gruesome, it's the sort of slow tension and dread where the viewer wishes: "Please, don't." We have some Hitchcock quotes: the peephole from Psycho (1960), climbing the stairs with the glass of milk from Suspicion (1941), and even a scene that suggests Rope (1948) where a buffet was served on a dead man's coffin. And a moment of dark humor when they fuss over the wording of the ransom note.

Great UK cast, with Kim Stanley (American) and Richard Attenborough as Myra and Billy. Stanley did few movies, more TV and much theater. I see she was the narrator in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). Attenborough has a false nose for some reason. The always sad, always dangerous Patrick Magee appears as the police Inspector at the end.

Myra says "brightness falls from the air" which is a line from "In Time of Pestilence" by Thomas Nashe (1567-1601). I know this only because the phrase was used as the title of a rather good science fiction novel by James Tiptree Jr, pen name of Alice B. Sheldon.

John Barry score. The story has been done as an opera and the film was remade as Japanese horror.

The DVD image has been sharpened such that it looks more like video than the probably excellent film it once was. That's a shame.