Mumsy (Ursula Howells) and Nanny (Pat Heywood), along with overgrown "children" Sonny (Howard Trevor) and Girly (Vanessa Howard) are a happy family living together in a sprawling, decaying mansion. Sonny and Girly bring friends home to play but if they don't obey the rules, they are tried and "sent to the angels." The arrival of "new friend" (Michael Bryant) - a man on the run after his girlfriend is accidentally killed whilst playing with Sonny and Girly - upsets the household with his very own brand of adult games, seducing the w women of the house. Trouble is, Girly doesn't like to share her friends, not even with Mumsy and Nanny....
Mild Spoilers ...
- Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly review by NP
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Freddie Francis, prolific director for Hammer films amongst many others, cites this as his favourite film. The reason may be that he had complete creative control over much of it. It was filmed entirely on location in and around sprawling Oakley Court, a Victorian Gothic Country House in Berkshire (a location Francis had used in previous projects).
There is a likelihood viewers may spend a chunk of the film’s opening moments wondering quite what they have stumbled upon, but before long, the eccentricities of the characters and the increasingly disturbing nature of their lives draw us into their world. As an audience, we are very much their guests.
The dysfunctional ‘happy’ family indulge in a perverse fantasy called ‘The Game’, in which they very much role play their own characters. Matriarch to this is the ever knitting, ever smiling Mumsy (Ursula Howells) who charmingly and reassuringly initiates the goings-on and keeps her children in line, along with Nanny (Pat Heywood), whose cheerful compliance hides a thinly disguised veneer of deadly jealousy – more of that later. The children are Sonny (Howard Trevor – for whom this is his only known screen credit) and Girly (Vanessa Howard. The film was built around her as a result of her convincing performance, even changing its name to ‘Girly’ for the American release. The failure of the film in the UK – which was saturated with horror films around the early Seventies – contributed to her decision to give up acting, which is a genuine tragedy. She wasn’t made aware of the film’s success in the US until later; maybe this would have influenced her decision to retire. How she didn’t become a star is a huge injustice – a true casualty of the floundering UK movie industry at the time). There is a briefly suggested incestuous relation between these two, which is never elaborated upon. ‘The Game’, in which the abductees are eventually killed, or ‘sent to the angels’, is recorded and viewed as a snuff film. The household can be seen as a genteel fore-runner for later successes like ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.’
The children travel occasionally to ‘the playground’, where they pick up strangers and bring them home to indulge in their game. With the latest acquisition, New Friend (Michael Bryant), a problem arises. A male prostitute, he becomes the focal point for the affections of Mumsy, Nanny and Girly (“Show Mumsy you’re not a little boy anymore.” “Sometimes a growing girl gets an appetite.”). A canny soul, New Friend uses this to break the family up by feeding the jealousy between characters.
Bryant is excellent as New Friend, playing along with the family’s games, but wily enough to build up his own agenda. At one point, after secret sex with Girly, the film cuts back to Nanny and Mumsy knitting in the front garden, with Nanny asking “Do you think he’s settled in?”
This is a wild, black humoured uncategorisable picture, but if a film in which a girl chops the head off her nanny and kills her brother whilst her friend contemplates poisoning her mother is not horrific, I don’t know what is. The cast are uniformly excellent (with Hammer stalwart Michael Ripper making an appearance as an outraged – he was often playing outraged characters – zoo attendant), with Howard in particular taking full opportunity to exploit Girly’s unsettling mix of innocence, sexuality, precociousness and psychotic tendencies. This is an absolute must-see – one of the most entertaining pictures I have seen in a long time.