After a horse riding accident leaves her permanently blind, Sarah (Mia Farrow) goes to live with her mother's sister, Betty Rexton (Dorothy Alison) and the rest of her family (her husband George, played by Robin Bailey, and their daughter Sandy by Diane Grayson) in their country house. Someone is secretly spying on the house and its occupants though, and while Sarah is out with her boyfriend Steve (Norman Eshley), paying a visit to his stables -- the stranger attacks and kills the entire family! Sarah returns and, not expecting the family to be home for the rest of the day, goes about her daily routine unaware that their corpses have been arranged in various positions around the house! Unfortunately, the killer discovers that he has dropped a bracelet which carries his name, and so he goes back to retrieve it. By the time Sarah discovers the bodies and realises that she is trapped alone in the house, the killer has already returned!
Writer Brian Clemens was best known for writing episodes of the cult TV series "The Avengers" until he began penning movie screenplays in the late Sixties. The first fruit of this venture was the excellent, though little-known British thriller, "And Soon The Darkness" (1970) which he also co-produced; this was followed soon after by "Blind Terror" (renamed "See No Evil" in the USA). Clemens was a huge fan of Hitchcock and both films are well-oiled Hitchcock-ian suspense thrillers which take a simple and suspenseful situation and milk it for all its worth! "See No Evil" in particular features as simple a set up as you could imagine and little else -- but under the steady hand of director Richard Fleischer, this British/American co-production becomes a more than worthwhile side-note in the small, "Straw Dogs" instigated sub-genre which features Americans at the mercy of the stark-raving-mad occupants of England's countryside -- although this time it's Berkshire loonies rather than Cornish ones who cause all the trouble for a poor, young Mia Farrow!
Both Clemens and Fleisher were, arguably, at the height of their powers around the time this film was made: Clemens had also just produced and written the screenplay for Hammer's highly regarded "Dr. Jekyll And Sister Hyde" and went on to write, direct and produce the cult classic "Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter" for the company before taking his own version of the Hitchcock formula back to television for his successful "Thriller" series of the mid-seventies. Fleisher's career spanned four decades, beginning in the Forties and taking him up to the end of the Eighties. During that time he directed such memorable movies as "Fantastic Voyage (1966) and "Doctor Doolittle" (1967) and, toward the end of his career, forgettable tripe like "Amityville 3-D (1983) and "Red Sonja" (1985). At the time "See No Evil" was made, he'd recently directed "The Boston Strangler (1968) and "10 Rillington Place" (1971) and would go on to helm the memorable "Soylent Green" (1973). Fleisher seems to be the kind of director who can turn his hand to anything and do it extremely competently without drawing too much attention to himself or gaining the kind of cult following many similarly talented directors have accrued.
Clemens' script is full of the tricks and twists that a thriller like this needs to keep things interesting and Fleisher amplifies the effects very ably with some nice directorial touches that play on revealing information to the audience sparingly or only when doing-so will gain the most punch. The disabled-person-in-peril motif is a sure-fire winner of course, and the film is hardly original in generating suspense from having a blind person being hunted by a killer: Audrey Hepburn essayed a similar role in "Wait Until Dark" (1967), while Robert Siodmak's "The Spiral Staircase" (1947) is probably the classic example of such a device. Clemens would even reuse the idea himself for an episode of "Thriller"! The suspense in such a situation usually comes from revealing to the audience a potential threat that the protagonist is not aware of -- and such is the case here. In fact the whole film is really an exercise in gaining as much mileage from it as possible by exploring every conceivable suspenseful situation which could arise from being blind. The discovery of Sarah's murdered relatives becomes a torturous exercise which Fleisher manipulates -- employing crafty camera angles to withhold from the audience the fact that dead bodies litter the house -- and then exploits by revealing it at the most opportune moment by having one of the bodies placed in the bath. The inevitable moment when Farrow discovers it is continually delayed and when she does, finally, discover the truth, Fleisher and Clemens have the event occur -- in true Hitchcockian fashion -- off screen, behind a closed bathroom door!
Mia Farrow made the film not long after appearing in "Rosemary's Baby" and her frail vulnerability of this period is ruthlessly and efficiently exploited for maximum effect. Not only is the poor mite rendered blind at the beginning of the film but, during the ensuing eighty-five minutes, she gets her feet cut on broken glass, gets knocked off a galloping horse by a tree branch, is kidnapped by gypsies, covered in mud while forced to tramp bare foot through a muddy disused chalk pit, and almost drowned in a bath! The rest of the British cast are virtually unknown except by those who watch a lot of modern British soap-opera! Dorothy Alison would also appear in the Clemens scripted "Dr. Jekyll And Sister Hyde" the same year and Norman Eshley appeared in "The Colour Of Blood": an episode of Clemens' series "Thriller".
Visually the film is quite stimulating: Fleisher uses lots of wide-angle lenses to make Mia Farrow look even more lost and pathetic in the unfamiliar house -- and a lot of ingenuity has to be used to keep the identity of the killer from the audience as well. To that end, much of the film is shot at ankle level so that we only ever see the killer's cowboy boots! It's also notable that the whole film takes place in bright daylight. The screenplay though, isn't quite so hot in generating red herrings: there are not that many suspects who could feasibly be the murderer and the only attempt at misleading the audience is easily seen through. The killer ends up being someone who you will hardly even have noticed previously, and there is absolutely no attempt at providing him/her with a motive. Instead, we get lots of shots, early on in the film, of him reading porno mags and watching X-rated movies (a double bill featuring "The Convent Murders" and "Rapist Cult": two films which, sadly, do not appear to exist) to show what a "psycho" he is!
The Columbia Tristar DVD features an excellent widescreen 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer and a nice clear mono soundtrack. There are no extras apart from three trailers including one for the featured film. There are also alternative audio languages and foreign language subtitle options included. "See No Evil" is not top-draw material and it isn't as good as Clemens' previous thriller -- but it is expertly realised by everyone concerned and is definitely worth checking out.