In 1971, subjects such as rape were controversial (arguably still are) and something that were not dealt with much in films. Hammer Horror classic, 1969’s Frankenstein must be Destroyed had a rape scene thrown in rather abruptly towards the end of filming in order to gain some sort of “edgy” credibility as films were taking more chances. Particularly in the US where legendary horror director, the late Wes Craven would go on to make his feature film debut, The Last House on the Left in 1972, which dealt with the brutal revenge on a ruthless criminal gang after they attack, rape and kill a teenage girl. The rape scene in that film is infamous for being graphic and drawn out and is mostly what led to it’s initial ban but in 1971, those type of scenes were quite rare in a film so Assault’s POV of the attacker during those particular scenes in this British murder-mystery thriller must have raised a few eyebrows at the time.
Assault centres around the investigation of the rape of a schoolgirl in the nearby woods by the school she attends. Left in complete shock, the young girl, Tessa (Lesley-Anne Down) is unable to speak, or even move properly, after her ordeal, making the investigation even tougher for Detective Chief Superintendent Velyan (Frank Finlay) and Detective Sargent Beale (James Cosmo) until eventually pretty school teacher Julie West (Suzy Kendall) steps in to help with the investigation by becoming bait for the attacker in the hope of leading him to the same spot as the other two girls and eventually uncover the identity of the rapist and killer.
There are twists and turns throughout Assault which make it quite a compelling watch as you try to guess who the mysterious attacker is – and we are thrown a few red herrings along the way. Although it may seem all very tame by today’s standards where pretty much anything goes, a few scenes must have been seen as quite dark and violent for its time; which is probably partly why this film has garnered a cult audience and has therefore been granted a re-mastered re-release thanks to Network.
Controversy aside, the performances are quite strong too in Assault. The aforementioned Lesley-Anne Down, Frank Finlay, James Cosmo and Suzy Kendall all putting in solid performances to help lift the film from what could have been a bit of a trashy, b-movie in the wrong hands but turns out to be a somewhat classy (for its genre/subject matter) and engrossing whodunit thriller.
Of course, thanks largely go to veteran director Sidney Hayers (Circus of Horrors, Night of the Eagle, The New Avengers, The A-Team, Knight Rider and erm… Baywatch). The Scottish director does a great job with a sensitive subject; never going too far with the dark and violent stuff but making sure the film remains exciting enough and keeping us on our toes throughout.
It way be a victim of its time in some respects. The cheesy 70s music during the chase/attack scenes comes across as unintentionally funny to an extent in 2018, but if you take it for what it is, it can add to the entertainment in what is a decent and somewhat daring (for its time) murder-mystery thriller.
The extras for this release of Assault include an image gallery and the theatrical trailer.
Network presents the worldwide Blu-ray debut of Assault, available now.