Color, 1970, 101m.
Directed by Freddie Francis
Starring Vanessa Howard, Michael Bryant, Ursula Howells, Pat Heywood, Howard Trevor, Imogen Hassall
Scorpion (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
In a remote English manor, emotionally stunted Girly (Corruption’s Vanessa Howard) and Sonny (Howard Trevor) still frolic around in children’s clothing while playing juvenile but often fatal games with strangers they encounter. One afternoon at the zoo they befriend an ill-fated tramp who goes home with them and, distracted by Girly’s naughty schoolgirl charms, doesn’t realize their role playing might cost him his head. Their antics are overseen by their knitting-happy guardians, Mumsy (Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors’ Ursula Howells) and Nanny (10 Rillington Place’s Pat Heywood), who encourage the youngsters to handle any unruly new family members by sending them off to the angels. Enter their latest “New Friend” (The Stone Tape’s Michael Bryant), a particularly long-in-the-tooth gigolo whose latest patron (El Condor’s Hassall) runs afoul of Girly and Sonny, leaving the newcomer to upset the homicidal family order when he decides to have Girly to himself.
A peculiar and wildly entertaining horror comedy firmly in the tradition of films like The Old Dark House and Spider Baby (not to mention The Addams Family), this parody of traditional English social roles was originally released in its native country as Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny & Girly, with the title usually shortened to simply the last word for most export versions (which also lost quite a bit of footage in the process). The film is perhaps most noteworthy to horror fans as a prime offering from director Freddie Francis, one of England’s finest cinematographers (The Innocents, The Elephant Man, Room at the Top) who branched off into directing with a batch of Hammer horror offerings (Paranoiac, Nightmare, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave) before branching off to other UK horror houses like Amicus (The Skull, Torture Garden). Incredibly, Girly came out the same year as Francis’ most notorious and laughable film, Trog (the one with Joan Crawford and a guy in a Neanderthal mask), demonstrating the wild disparity in quality among his films (which subsequently ranged from sublime offerings like Tales from the Crypt, The Creeping Flesh and The Doctor and the Devils to crud like The Vampire Happening and Son of Dracula). Thankfully Girly plays to most of his strengths, establishing an offbeat atmosphere of meticulous visual detail coupled with a thick vein of sick comedy, here exemplified by the use of traditional children’s songs and games like “Oranges and Lemons” and cowboys and Indians as the frameworks for the discreet but grotesque murder sequences. (And just to remind viewers of Francis’ Hammer connection, one of the studio’s most regular character actors, Michael Ripper, pops up in the opening zoo sequence.)
Of course, the real visual hook for the film is the stunning Howard in her best role; often clad in fetching outfits that would be a bit hit now with the schoolgirl fetish community, she’s always beautiful, compelling, and sinister, making it a real shame she only found limited work afterwards in the underrated What Became of Jack and Jill? and the Shane Briant TV version of The Picture of Dorian Gray. The other cast members do their duties quite well, with perhaps only one-time performer Trevor showing any weakness in maintaining the tricky tone of the script.
Despite its small but dedicated cult following and prominent availability on home video during the early VHS era, Girly sank into oblivion in the late ‘80s with circulating prints becoming impossible to find and most viewers resorting to dismal bootlegs and online streaming options to see it at all. Fortunately Scorpion’s DVD released in early 2010 was the miracle fans waited for, a vivid and pin-sharp transfer from the original negative that finally flatters the film’s careful cinematography and delicate performances. The result truly feels like a different and significantly better film, a twisted treat worthy of a much larger audience. Extras include a half-hour interview with screenwriter Brian Comport (who talks about his other films as much as this one and goes into some detail about the film’s obscure source play, Maisie Mosco’s The Happy Family), another half-hour, audio-only interview with the late Francis (who’s pretty frank about the state of his career in the ‘70s and talks about the varying quality of his horror work), the alternate US title card (with the full UK title present on the main feature), the American and Spanish theatrical trailers, a TV spot, and an additional grab bag of Cinerama trailers including Follow Me, Fools, Goodbye Gemini, and The Girl in Blue.
Four years later in October of 2014, Scorpion revisited the title as a limited 1000-unit edition with an even more impressive 1080p rendering from the already pristine film source. Those candy colors look great, the DTS-HD mono track is solid as a rock, and overall it's very impressive all around (except for perhaps the overzealous windowboxing during the opening credits, but fortunately it doesn't last long). The disc has appeared on and off at Diabolik, so keep an eye out there or watch around for copies to pop up. The Comport video interview and trailer have been carried over here, and in an interesting turn of events, it's also been outfitted as a Katarina's Nightmare Theater title with the energetic hostess covering the history and participants (with a brief cameo from her mischievous sister, too). Be sure to stick around after the film for a bloody, axe-swinging coda that promises to be the end of Katarina... or is it?