Comeback, The (1978)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2013-02-28 03:47

Written by: Murray Smith
Directed by: Pete Walker
Starring: Jack Jones, Pamela Stephenson, David Doyle

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman

Millions loved him. Could someone hate him enough to kill and kill again?

Pete Walker is well-regarded as one of Britain’s preeminent schlock-masters thanks to a career lined with psycho-sleaze cult classics. Comparatively speaking, The Comeback probably didn’t go a long way in earning Walker such a reputation since it’s not as overtly lurid or graphic as some of his more infamous shockers. Even though it re-teamed him with writer Murray Smith (who penned Die Screaming, Marianne and Schizo), The Comeback seems like a calculated attempt to go with something a little more conventional—it’s sort of just pulp for the sake of pulp, which is a little different for this duo, and the result is one of the director’s more tame and uneven efforts.

Nick Cooper (Jack Jones) is an American soft-rock/pop singer who’s been out of the game for six years thanks to his decision to settle down and get married. After the union crumbles, he hooks back up with old manager Webster Jones (David Doyle) and decides to start recording a new album. To get Nick's creative juices flowing, Web sets him up in an old, secluded house in the British countryside; he’s not alone, however, as a couple of elderly housekeepers (Sheila Keith and Bill Owen) are there to keep him company. There may be other tenants as well since Nick frequently hears the cries and screams of a girl echoing through the house at night—is he crazy, or is something sinister actually afoot? Don’t call it a comeback—call it malicious intent.

Well, I can answer that one pretty easily: someone is out to wreck Nick’s big return. Don’t worry—that’s not much of a spoiler at all, as the film’s opening scene actually features Nick’s ex getting offed in the couple’s old apartment by someone wielding a mini sickle and donning an old hag’s mask (clearly, someone involved with Curtains must have been a fan of this film). The gruesome opening number is among Walker’s most vicious scenes, but it’s what he does with the body afterwards that’s more fascinating: he just leaves it there to rot and occasionally returns to observe its slow decomposition throughout the first half of the film. It’s an odd, almost off-putting move that subtly signifies that something will be a little off about this murder mystery since it doesn’t seem like the culprit is in any hurry to bury the evidence.

However, the film then proceeds along leisurely and attempts to echo Polanski with a psychologically-driven pot boiler that wants us to question the protagonist’s sanity. The only problem is that we know Nick isn’t nuts thanks to the opening scene; presumably, his instability could make him a suspect, but even that rests on shaky ground since he arrives in Britain while his wife is butchered (or does he?). Anyway, the movie seems to have a problem making up its mind about what it wants to be, as it divides time between Nick’s possibly unraveling psyche and a sea of whodunit red herrings. Walker practically shines a neon light on several characters, including the bizarre elderly couple (Walker regular Keith gives the film’s best performance as Mrs. B, the doting but vaguely sinister housekeeper). The script also presents Web as an overbearing Colonel Tom Parker sort of manager, only he might be more inclined to homicide (and cross-dressing, which is a calculated but subversive tic to prey on the era’s fear of queerness). Even Nick’s buddy Harry (Peter Turner) is a peculiar sort whose own perverse advances towards women make him another obvious suspect.

Clearly, Nick could pick better company; about the only person who seems well-adjusted here is Linda (Pamela Stephenson), the blonde tagalong that Web presents as an “assistant” for Nick. Of course, she seems so normal that she’s subtly a suspect as well, so the film has no shortage of possible psychos. What it does lack, however, is an abundance of murders, as there are only two (with the second occurring about an hour into the movie, so The Comeback is a little dry on that front). Still, there are some nice flourishes: the bleak British countryside looks desolate as ever, and the sequences that find Nick traipsing about in search of the mysterious wailing are genuinely eerie. While the film is uneven as a whole, there are a few moments when Walker successfully marries the two modes, such as a histrionic, dizzying scene that culminates with Nick stumbling upon a gruesome discovery. The climax is also wicked and brings the film’s giallo stylings to the forefront and provides the tiniest whiff of commentary. The Comeback isn’t as thoroughly preoccupied with savaging British institutions as Walker's other outings, but it does take a potshot at the country's conservatism when its murderer basically blames their ills on sex, drugs, and rock and roll (thus making the text out of the subtext of many slashers yet to come).

It’s hard to fault Walker and Smith for churning out this little stylistic exercise, particularly since it is so sturdily produced with silky camerawork and solid performances. That I watched it shortly after revisiting Happy Birthday to Me seems appropriate since both flourish by throwing themselves into a general looniness; The Comeback is ultimately pretty absurd, but it takes its time in getting to its frenzied climax. For whatever reason, this was one of the few Walker films I never picked up on DVD from Shriek Show (who released most of his other horror work), a slight that was ultimately rewarded since Redemption recently released the film on Blu-ray with a restored widescreen transfer (Shriek Show’s DVD is full-screen). It’s a fantastic transfer too, as it really brings out Walker’s distinct, fluid visual style. The disc also provides extras in the form of an interview with Walker and Jack Jones, a theatrical trailer, and a commentary with Walker and horror critic Jonathan Rigby. For all the good press that Scream Factory is rightfully receiving, Redemption and Kino’s recent Eurohorror revisits deserve just as much praise, and this is another fine release that’s part of a Walker collection that also features The House of Whipcord, Schizo, and Die Screaming, Marianne. The Comeback is probably the one to check out after you’ve exhausted your store of other Walker offerings. Rent it!

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