Synopsis: In the English countryside, Sarah Rexton, recently blinded in a horse-riding accident, moves in with her uncle’s family and gallantly adjusts to her new condition, unaware that a killer stalks them.
Stars: Mia Farrow, Dorothy Alison, Robin Bailey, Diane Grayson, Brian Rawlinson, Norman Eshley, Paul Nicholas
Director: Richard Fleischer
Rated: GP (GP was an old rating from the MPAA that replaced the M rating. This was used from 1970 until 1972, when it was replaced with the PG rating.)
Running Length: 89 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: When I was young, well youngER, I always would write-off horror movies that were made in earlier eras because I didn’t think they really understood what the business was all about. The films were drab and slow-moving, they rarely had the blood and guts that I was seeking and forget about any masked killers stalking camp counselors around a lake favored by skinny dippers. Of course, now when I watch these classics, I’m struck by how well constructed they are and see that my reactions then were driven out of Hollywood conditioning me to expect a certain kind of shock every ten minutes. The need to build a modicum of suspense went out the door around the same time Jason found his hockey mask in Friday the 13th Part III.
Take a movie like 1971’s See No Evil (also known as Blind Terror) for example. I’m sure if I had seen this one when I was in my teens I would have been bored to tears. Even despite it being far more intense than I could have imagined watching it today, I just don’t believe I would have been rushing over to my friends house desperate to add this to our sleepover roster along with Halloween and the Freddy films. Yet Richard Fleischer’s stately scare flick is quite frightening and features more than a few edge-of-your seat moments as we watch a young Mia Farrow evade a killer in an otherwise benign country estate.
Arriving at her uncle’s home after being blinded during a horse-riding accident, Sarah (Farrow) just wants to go back to her normal life, even if deep down she’s more than aware that it can never be the same. Attempting to be independent, she declines help up the stairs to her room or assistance in getting ready. One thing I questioned is that Sarah, or more to the point Farrow, seems readily comfortable just charging around the very expansive house with plenty of adornments without any hesitation – if she were newly blind, wouldn’t she at least be a bit cautious? That first night, she heads out to meet up with her boyfriend Steve (Norman Eshley), leaving her aunt, uncle, and cousin at home…where they are murdered by a killer whom we only see from the waist down.
The bulk of the 89-minute film centers on Farrow returning home that evening, narrowly missing running into the bodies of her relatives, and then waking up the next morning and finally discovering not just the horrific scene but possibly a clue that would identify the killer. Trouble is that the killer has also realized their mistake and has returned to get the evidence. Bad news for Farrow and tense news for the viewer as we witness Sarah just barely avoiding being caught and/or seen by the intruder. Screenwriter Brian Clemens throws in a few tasty red herrings as we get to the bottom of the mystery but watching it through a 2021 lens it does paint Farrow’s character as a bit too helpless the more the film goes on. One wants to see her more of an active participant in securing her safety and not just mooning over the horses she wants to get back to riding.
For 1971 and a film that would be considered PG, this is creepy with a lot of shocking violence implicitly implied…especially in the final act. No spoilers, but there are some turns that would never pass muster on a ratings board now. A box office failure when it was released, See No Evil became popular again when broadcast on TV and with its (relative) lack of gory violence it could play easily without much editing that would chop it up. For fans of British horror or suspense, this is one to check out as a solid example of how to effectively get an audience chewing their fingernails to nubs over a shard of broken glass. (See it and you’ll know what I mean.)