Of Dogs, Dreams and Doom:
Ray Newman examines Lindsey C. Vickers' obscure 1981 British horror, The Appointment. Granted only a VHS release, the film is notable for being Vickers' one and only feature-length film...
“Extract from police report number 727a, strictly confidential, unpublished and unavailable. Subject: Sandy Freemont.The last positive sighting was on her way home from a school orchestra rehearsal. This was on Tuesday May 14th at approximately 6:30 in the evening. At about this time her friend Janey Carr places her positively as entering the footpath through the area known as Cromley Woods, a then popular shortcut for several of the children living in Millard Heights…”
In the suburbs of a middle English town, a schoolgirl walking takes a shortcut through a wood. From the undergrowth, she hears the mischievous laughter of children and her name is called. She pauses and then, in a moment of sudden, startling violence, disappears.
These events, accompanied by amplified natural sounds, an off-kilter music box theme and, finally, shrieking strings after Bernard Hermmann, establish the tone of Lindsey C. Vickers’ 1981 British horror film The Appointment. The rules do not apply here; anything might happen; brace yourself.
It’s possible you’ve never heard of The Appointment. I hadn’t myself until a few weeks ago, via a mention by Elric Kane on the Pure Cinema Podcast. At present, the only way to see it is via a VHS rip on YouTube. Once you get used to it, the video murk and constant hiss only add to the unsettling quality of the film. Nor is it inappropriate: this film was only ever released on VHS, in the early days of the home video boom.
It’s hard to find much information about Vickers online and, in fact, quite a few writers have assumed he is a woman. So, for the sake of anyone who might stumble across this in future, here’s a potted biography.
Vickers was born in 1940, brought up in Norwood Green, Southall, London, and educated at Dormers Wells Secondary School and Southall Technical College. He left school without qualifications and got a job working as a messenger at London Airport (now Heathrow) before moving into film, starting as a cinema projectionist. He went on to study film at the University of London and became a film assistant at the BBC where he directed a documentary short called ‘Impressions of Richmond’. He became assistant director to Denis Mitchell before moving to the Government advertising office, COI, where he made a film a week for global distribution. He worked as an assistant director on a slew of Hammer and Amicus films throughout the 1960s and 70s, including Taste the Blood of Dracula (Peter Sady, 1970) and The Vampire Lovers (Roy Ward Baker, 1970)
In 1978, he was given the chance to write, direct and edit a short film called The Lake which preempts the mood, themes and imagery of The Appointment. It’s beautifully shot and highly effective, despite limited resources, and is available, fully restored, on the recent BFI collection Short Sharp Shocks.
The Appointment was Lindsey Vickers’ first and only full-length feature film as director, which perhaps explains why the astonishing opening doesn’t quite connect with the rest of the film: my suspicion is that the first five minutes were shot separately as a ‘sizzle reel’ to convince investors.
In 1981, the British film industry was in trouble. According to a contemporary article in the BFI magazine Sight & Sound, only 27 features were produced in the UK that year. The Appointment was one of them. It cost £650,000 to make and was funded in large part by the National Coal Board Pension Fund – resolutely unglamorous. It was produced by Vickers’ own company, First Principle Film Productions, with hopes of breaking into the US market.
After that startling pre-credits sequence, the narrator disappears, never to return, and we find ourselves, unexpectedly, in a suburban family drama with engineer Ian (Edward Woodward) obliged to break the news to his daughter Joanne (Samantha Weysom) that he won’t be able to attend her school concert.
The opening sequences are calculatedly bland and the performances almost blank. Edward Woodward, in V-neck and sensible spectacles, chats to his friend, a mechanic, and to his wife (Jane Merrow) with the same dry tone as Jack Torrance speaks to his new employer at the Overlook Hotel. Woodward consistently defaults to a half-smile. Even so, just as in The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980), everything feels just a touch off.
In an interview he gave in 2020, Vickers said, ‘I live in the supernatural world up here. The World of the uncanny. The world of ‘How can that be?’’ We can see that in The Appointment.
Even before anything truly horrific happens, Joanne’s over-strong reaction to the news that her father is going away – only enhanced by Weysom’s eccentric delivery of the lines – puts us on edge. Where is he going? To give evidence at the inquest following a fatal mining disaster in which his engineering firm was implicated – apparently no more to him than an inconvenience. After he snaps at Joanne and sends her to bed he spends an uncomfortably long time staring at the door to her room, thinking about turning the handle. Does he often visit her room at night?
Things really get interesting when Ian tries to get some sleep before his early start the next day. We’ve all been trained to understand that a prowling camera means we’re seeing through the eyes of someone or something; this someone or something is at Ian’s house, moving through the garden, through the door, along the hallways, in the midnight blue. Time stops – a recurring theme – as Ian dreams that his wife, in a red dress, turns into his daughter, touching him with more than filial affection. He is woken by a sudden image of a furious barking of a slavering Rottweiler. When he returns to sleep, he dreams again, this time of his forthcoming journey, and his own death.
The film’s long third act answers questions about that dream: was it a nightmare, or a premonition? From suburb to motorway to service station to remote country roads (filmed in Wales) he is stalked by those black dogs in a way that would amount to a decent gag in a less disturbing film.
There are startling images throughout, with distortions of time and gravity, accompanied by equally disconcerting sound design: wind, unexpected echoes, sudden silences, skittering and skipping. Much weight is added by Trevor Jones’s romantic, melancholy music, interspersed with electronic droning.
When the end comes, it is shocking and surreal, starting with a biblically tempting apple that seems, somehow, to fall upwards and fly away into space.
In a more mainstream horror film, we’d get a Van Helsing, a priest or a policeman – perhaps that narrator from the opening sequence – to explain what’s going on and to conquer the evil. Here, there’s no such bow-tying. We’re left bewildered and are expected to put the pieces together ourselves.
Is this a story about a poltergeist summoned by a rage-filled teenage girl? Is it about a demon or the devil? Are we trapped in Ian’s dream?
I have my ideas. You’ll no doubt have yours.
‘British film production 1981’, Sight & Sound, Autumn 1982, pp.258-261.
‘Making the grade in filmland’, County Times and Gazette, 15 July 1966.
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