A Ward Full of Surprises…
A patient escapes from a secure mental health hospital. As a young woman takes a lift from a stranger, their past and present collide.
Deadly Strangers Trailer, Cheezy Movies and photos © Fox-Rank (UK)
When you think of Hayley Mills, many of you will (possibly) wistfully remember her in her childhood film greats and favourites. These films include her debut with her actor father, John Mills in Tiger Bay (1959). Or in a 1961 double bill of the Bryan Forbes directed Whistle Down the Wind (1961) and the much-adored double role as twins in The Parent Trap (1961).
In the former two films, her character was a young girl who befriended two men who were dangerous criminals. In the Parent Trap, her twin characters swapped names and personalities to fool others…
I ask you now to take a new direction when remembering Hayley’s career and remember her in this British thriller whodunnit. This was one of her first films as an adult. Deadly Strangers (1975) is a British film with quite a lot of sexual and bloody references. It is not the ideal film to watch during a family evening with the kids if you wanting a family film with this one time Disney Darling.
Deadly Strangers is a British crime mystery film from the mid-1970s crossed with a whodunnit slasher and road movie. In this film, Hayley paved the way for another British one-time child actress, Lynne Frederick to star in another British spot the murderer movie, Schizo (1976). These films were both also part of the exploitation films of the 1970s, and also remembered for those killer twists at the movie’s end.
Deadly Strangers starts in Greenwood Mental Hospital, a secure mental health hospital, at night. A nurse is giving out medication and unlocks a patient’s bedroom to give this patient an injection. Then scenes are seen from this dangerous patient’s point of view. On entering the room, this unseen patient attacks the nurse and stabs her with the syringe.
The patient escapes through the unlocked door and the nurse is left injured. Then we follow this patient as they leave the ward. This person then overpowers the hospital doorman and escapes from the hospital into the woods nearby.
The same night, a woman hears someone break into her house. On investigating with her husband, there is evidence of a break-in with the bedroom in disarray. The burglar has disappeared into the night. Later, a car driver stops to use a phone box, and an unseen person steals their car. Then this unseen person runs over the man and kills him, before speeding away into the night.
It’s then daylight, as a lorry driver stops at a pub for a break, and a similar car to the stolen one is parked there. At the bar, the lorry driver tells the barman a secure patient has escaped from the hospital and the police have put up roadblocks. A young man, later identified as Stephen (Simon Ward) spots a young woman, pretty Belle Adams (Hayley Mills) as she enters the pub. She is hoping to get a lift to the station to travel home having missed the bus.
She can’t get a taxi and so she gets a lift from the lorry driver, Jim Nicholls (Ken Hutchison). As Stephen leaves he has another drink in his car, then he drives off. This just as the police stop at the bar hoping to find the missing patient show a photograph to the barman. Stephen’s car strongly resembles the stolen one in both make and colour. The barman’s unspoken actions suggesting this person has been there then left.
The lorry driver asks Belle to hide as they pass roadblocks as he is not allowed to give lifts. But he seems a bit sleazy as he takes more than a few glances at her legs. Later he stops the lorry in a layby and hopes to give her much more than a chunky chocolate bar, as he says wants his fare in some sexy time.
Belle doesn’t agree with this offer, and the spunky Belle has to fight him off as he tries to molest her. He only stops when a car comes he then pushes her away and throws her bag into the road as he drives off. As she collects it, Stephen’s car approaches and he has to do an emergency stop to not hit her.
Belle is offered a lift from the young driver, Stephen Slade. She initially turns him down as he’s been drinking. But he insists and offers to give her a lift to the station. He’s concerned about her welfare and that she’s hitching lifts from strangers. Then he randomly asks her how long you boil an ostrich egg for, this he says is his ploy to break the ice.
It’s then revealed on the car radio that a patient with mental health problems has escaped from the local secure hospital. Stephen switches the radio off and says he’s heard about this hospital in the news recently. He discusses how the patients from this hospital appear normal but then become dangerous.
After they arrive at the train station, Slade spots the police there. Slade tells Belle she’s missed the last train to Whickham, and he insists they travel on together. Belle finds a letter in the car, this letter suggesting Slade not who he says he is…
Both driver and passenger are harbouring a dark past. Belle was orphaned at an early age after she unintentionally caused an accident that killed her parents. She then lived with her uncle. In later flashbacks, it’s revealed her uncle watched her bath, undress through peepholes and later tried to rape her. In flashbacks, Slade remembers his shoe fetish and his tendency to peek at young women undressing to get his thrills. The more acceptable way of lovemaking does nothing for him.
The pair stop for petrol, there Slade spots the attendant changing, and stays to watch her from the broken window The garage assistant (Nina Francis) then appears and gets a bit flirty with Slade. Slade goes off to make a phone call. Again from the view of an unseen person, the garage assistant is brutally and possibly sexually attacked, then killed… Belle apparently sleeps through this. But who is this unseen attacker?
Two bikers intimidate Stephen at a roadside cafe then follow the pair in their car on their motorbikes taunting Slade. He retaliates, but after this turns ugly one biker is forced off the road by Slade. This leads to a nasty firey accident and the biker left for dead.
Stephen and Belle travel on, trying to avoid the police. Going off-road, they sleep in the car overnight. Then the next morning after a misunderstanding, Slade thinks Belle has upped and left him. He’s not a happy man. Belle who had gone to buy some breakfast for them, sees Slade drive off without her.
She soon gets a lift with a passing eccentrically dressed American in his vintage car. This man Malcolm Robarts (Sterling Hayden) takes a bit of a fancy to her and offers her dinner. He hints at the possibility of breakfast.
However, Slade having spotted Belle in Robarts’ car is now in their pursuit. He catches up with them in a seaside town. He’s also spotted some pornographic magazines triggering flashbacks of his angry partner discovering his collection of sadomasochistic magazines he’s bought for his own pleasure.
As Robarts charms Belle with his eloquent speeches and proclaims his love for her. Slade finds them he talks to her, Belle decides to rejoin Slade. Robarts reads the newspaper headlines, he then drives to confront this now reunited pair in the multistorey car park.
After Slade believes Robarts is after him, Belle believes he is after him with regards to the fate of the motorcyclist. Slade drives to avoid Roberts by driving down to the entrance from the car park roof, and Robarts has no choice but to continue driving up to the roof. Robarts then calls the police after he is unable to confront them…
This film is a great whodunnit and it’s hard to discuss anything about it, without giving the game away. Like all films of this type, you can remember the signs and subtle hints to the escaped patient’s identity only once you’ve seen this film in full. It was a nice touch using simple props such as a newspaper headline, radio announcement, an unseen photograph or a car to create suspense.
The grimy seventies British setting with accompanying rainy weather to match enhanced the script and plot. There are chilly looking weather and foggy fields and roadside cafes and grumpy hotel managers, these adding to the 1970s ambience. These factors reminding me of motorway travel as a kid made the film more credible and realistic in nature.
The suspense was built up well and maintained through the main duo’s continuing flashbacks of their past. Their stories pieced together show Slade and Belle as two people, who have been hurt badly by others. With words, random objects and places prompting these flashbacks.
When this pair of travelling companions have to share a cottage later in the film, this prompts more of their past memories to flood back. This impacting on their behaviour as they share the cottage. The audience learns more about their characters via flashback, rather than in conversation normalised this road trip between the strangers.
With this small cast, your question is which of those characters is the escaped patient.. unless of course, it is an elaborate plotline and twist. Belle Adams is believed to be a vulnerable young girl orphan hitchhiker – but with no luggage – who just wants to return home.
On her journey, through little external triggers, she remembers more upsetting moments in her life, such as her parents being killed in a car crash and the actions of her uncle. She also reinforced Slade’s concerns about the police after the incident with the biker, and this may have been to avoid her being caught and taken back to the hospital if she were the patient.
This made me wonder if she were the killer, she slowly remembers these more negative events in her life once she was withdrawing from her medication (as given by injection). Perhaps her medication which had dampened her feelings and those darker memories is wearing off led to those flashbacks. But how would this explain the more sexually motivated attack on the garage assistant?
Or is the missing patient Slade, the apparently mild-mannered man with a thing for peeping at girls undressing, who offers Belle a lift to the station. There are little hints suggesting that he isn’t driving his own car. These including his not knowing he has cigarettes or matches and his avoiding roadblocks at the start of the film. He also hopes the police don’t take the number plate number down suggesting he may have stolen the car.
He lies about Belle missing her train home (and this lie then discovered as they see the train at a crossing) and then offers to drive her there claiming he likes her company and is very insistent in this. He also may have had flashbacks as a result of less medication.
He also is found to have no driving licence and he claims he’s been avoiding road bocks because of his drinking. Later Slade has a few wild fantasies about his travelling companion. But surprisingly with no close-ups of his wistful and lusty looks at her shoes. This is also implied by “his car” appearing the same as the stolen one. These combined with his lies to Belle regarding that missed train, and his constant avoidance of the police made you fear for Belle’s life.
It could even be the random American bloke, Malcolm Robarts – a man with the most impressive beard since movies began – who picks Belle up as a passenger later in the movie. Robarts as the eccentric American driver – his dress reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes, and combined with that beard and car – seemed a bit out of place in this film. He seemed a bit over the top and keen to spend more intimate time with Belle. So perhaps, he could be added as a potential suspect.
Robarts creepily invites Belle for breakfast after she accepts his dinner invite after she believes Slade has left her. This character spent time trying to impress Belle after giving her a lift and he appeared overconcerned after he read those newspaper headlines.. leading to him chasing them in his car suggesting there more to this and more than one of them at risk. Was he a red herring? Or did he have more to play in this movie?
Or is it one of the bikers… or is it someone completely different? After the pair travel on again, Belle gets those more flashbacks of her creepy uncle and Slade imagines Belle in some seductive undies. Red herrings are created and flashbacks are seen and explored all giving us a more rounded picture of those two main characters. This film leads to a chilling conclusion.. as of course, it could be someone completely different. But don’t dismiss this film as a road trip well travelled.. as there’s a helluva twist in those final scenes at the journey’s end.
Weeper Rating: 0 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 /10
Hulk Rating: /10
This film was entered in Shroud of Thoughts’ 7th Annual Rule Britannia Blogathon. Hayley Mills stars in Tiger Bay, Whistle Down the Wind, The Parent Trap, The Love Boat, Murder She Wrote and Appointment with Death. Simon Ward starred in Quest for Love, Lovejoy and Dominique. Ken Hutchison stars in Ladyhawke and Hamish MacBeth. Peter Jeffrey starred in Doctor Who and Anne of the Thousand Days.