Helen (the very creepy-looking Angela Pleasence, pictured above) invites her friend Anne (Lorna Heilbron) to spend a few days with her in her enormous countryside mansion somewhere near London. She lives with the estranged housekeeper Brady (Peter Vaughan), whom she despises and fears. Soon ghostly noises and sightings suggest that the three are not alone in the mansion. Anne begins to show an introspective and dysfunctional behaviour, and she urges her friend Anne to stay with her for a few more days.
“They are about to return”, Helen warns at the start of the movie without giving any further explanations. Is it the “symptoms” in the movie title? Is it the ghosts? Or is it her fear and dark secrets that are about to come back? One can only speculate.
Despite being made by a Spanish director, Symptoms is a very British film in all six senses. Helen constantly describes the weird smells, the different tastes, the sounds and the sensations of the English countryside. She also claims that she can hear “things” nobody else can. The woods, a large spooky mansion and constant rain provide the perfect backdrop to this spooky tale.
Symptons is very elegant and effective, particularly in the first half. Some very unexpected and subtle scares will make you jump out of your seat. The eerie photography and shriek soundtrack of the film were very carefully concocted to make the countryside look like a nightmare. There are plenty of squeaky staircases, window and mirror shots, in the good old tradition of horror. There are also very sexual and lesbian elements, a trademark of Ramón Larraz often described as exploitative.
This is not a perfect horror movie, however. The plot has some loose ends that make the film disclosure a little awkward, if still creepy. This does not diminish the artistic merit of a film worth rediscovering – preferably alone, at night and in a countryside house.
The BFI has now restored Symptoms and it is finally available for purchase at the BFI Shop – just click here for more information.
You can watch the movie trailer below: