Whether it’s startling in a good way or a bad way depends on your investment on Sudden Terror being a giallo, but Sudden Terror’s poster art doesn’t sell the movie well. Nowhere is that more obvious than when you get to the main menu of Kino Lorber’s new Blu-Ray and hear this theme song paired with this publicity art. “Eyewitness” was sung by British rock band, Fairfield Parlor. It’s also the name the film went by in the UK, with much better poster art (Kino Lorber’s cover is reversible), and what Ziggy becomes after witnessing a murder.
It’s not that the American cover’s an outright lie. Somebody does get killed with a pin, but not the person Ziggy (Oliver’s Mark Lester) saw kill the visiting president (and while filming took place in Malta, it’s never said where the president was from). That person wants Ziggy dead and has no qualms about killing a kid or anyone else involved.
They keep up their reputation, too. No calculating whether the person they want to kill realizes what they saw. No deciding murder only makes matters worse, and that at some point killing people will get them caught faster than letting them live. Instead of thinking things through, everything’s kept simple and Ziggy’s unfortunately crossed paths with a killer with no conscience (not unlike Barry on Barry, who feels remorse, but never changes his ways).
What makes Sudden Terror stand out from other action-thriller films is John Hough’s direction, which is ambitious and full of memorable framing devices. In their commentary track film historians, Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson, cover a lot of ground, from Mark Lester’s career (and the darkness that seeped through it, despite his association with family fare) to the music (Fairfield Parlor provided two tracks, the score was done by David Whittaker, and other instrumentals were done by Van der Graaf Generator) to “the boy who cried wolf” subgenre. What they really shed light on, though, is the breadth of films and TV shows Hough worked on, from episodes of The Avengers (which gave him experience filming action sequences) to Disney’s Witch Mountain movies and Hammer’s Twins of Evil.
Where you might otherwise criticize Ziggy’s sister (Susan George) for not believing her brother sooner, the film establishes Ziggy’s habit of lying right away. It’s why the British poster art’s better, too – it’s abstract, like Ziggy’s imagination, and pushes his point of view. Berger and Thompson even share a theory that what happens in the movie is all in Ziggy’s head, which would explain the careless murders and why they’re so merciless.
It’s all about perspective (symbolized on the poster by a giant eye) and Berger and Thompson make sure to give Gary Sherman credit, as well, for designing Sudden Terror‘s incredible opening titles, in which reality and what Ziggy sees are pitted side by side. Later this is done with sound design, where you’re not sure whether what you’re hearing is real or part of Ziggy’s pretend play.
There are a few unnecessary attempts to bulk up the plot, where the local police chief think he’s might’ve been the assassin’s target and the mafia are somehow to blame. Pippa’s would-be boyfriend, Tom “not the singer” Jones (Tony Bonner) gets welcomed into the fold too fast (even if he does share some amusing scenes with Pippa’s grandfather (Lionel Jeffries)), and grandpa is a product of his generation. None of these things are critically damaging.
Additional bonus features include an archival commentary with Jonathan Sothcott, Hough, and executive producer, Bryan Forbes (who did a rewrite of Ronald Harwood’s script, uncredited). There’s also a new interview with Mark Lester that ideally would’ve been longer but provides another reason to pick this movie up. Sudden Terror deserves to be better known and is available on Blu-Ray and DVD starting October 15th from Kino Lorber.