BFI Flipside: The Appointment (1981) - Reviewed

Courtesy of BFI Video
Prior to achieving Golden Globe winning immortality on television with The Equalizer, distinguished British actor and singer Edward Woodward first achieved notoriety in the central role of Robin Hardy’s 1973 pagan cult horror favorite The Wicker Man.  Right after taking on the critically acclaimed 1980 wartime drama Breaker Morant, the actor prominently appeared in another sought after cult British horror film from assistant director Lindsey C. Vickers’ one and only time in the official director’s chair: the bizarre and confounding supernatural thriller The Appointment.  

A film originally made as a television pilot for the ill-fated A Step in the Wrong Direction supernatural anthology series that never came to be before executives hastily dumped it as a standalone theatrical feature, The Appointment has since gone on to amass status as one of the top-to-bottom strangest examples the horror genre has ever produced.  Originally thought to be lost until a single broadcast tape was discovered, the film now has a chance to catch up to its cult reputation as a most peculiar offshoot intended for TV that somehow snuck in and out of theaters.

Some untold years ago a young girl is walking home from school by way of the woods when an invisible entity seems to yank her from sight, causing authorities to fence off the woods.  Decades later upstanding family man Ian (Edward Woodward) lives with his wife Dianna (Jane Merrow) and young daughter Joanne (Samantha Weysom) who has been practicing intensely for her upcoming violin recital.  
At the last-minute Ian is called into a work-related appointment that prevents him from attending Joanne’s recital, leaving her heartbroken.  Soon Ian and Dianna begin experiencing strange prophetic nightmares involving Rottweilers stalking the premises and a potentially fatal car accident which grow steadily more real with time.  Coincidence or the work of unseen spiritual forces?
Best remembered for maybe the most baffling car crash sequence ever staged, replete with slow-motion shots of clothing and a suitcase flying out the window before the vehicle proceeds to stand upright on its nose, a strange “accident” involving a mechanical car repair and scenes where the crew seems to toss an armful of big black dogs onto the windshield, The Appointment is at times more peculiarly funny than frightening.  Despite generating a creepy mood with its many running long takes of scenery real and/or imaginary lensed handsomely by Wake in Fright cinematographer Brian West and boasting a moody score by legendary The Sender composer Trevor Jones, The Appointment is so eyebrow raising the concerted efforts to generate fear are threatened. 

Edward Woodward is dependably good in the piece, channeling his good cop everyman vibe in The Wicker Man with many scenes of extended dialogue and intense delivery.  Jane Merrow from The Lion in Winter is also good as a devoted wife and mother who finds herself plagued by bizarre inexplicable nightmares.  Young child actor Samantha Weyson brings a certain measure of creepy child horror aura to the role of a girl who might have some dealings with the devil.  
Mostly, this is director Lindsay C. Vickers one and only chance to flex horror muscles far more dumbfounding than the likes of M. Night Shyamalan aspire to be.  Evidently heavily choreographed and storyboarded, some of the film’s wildest cranium splitting scenes just baffle the mind’s eye with startlingly peculiar narrative choices.  The message of the film involving neglectful parenthood is deceptively simple but The Appointment couldn’t be any weirder about it if it tried.
Perhaps the oddest film since The Visitor in terms of sheer abandon of logic and reason while sort of being a traditional supernatural thriller on paper, The Appointment as part of the BFI’s ongoing Flipside series unearthing forgotten or neglected gems represents a concerted effort to rerelease a film that has been completely lost to time.  Made in 1981 on 35mm film with a brief theatrical exhibition before going to VHS and Betamax tape, the film elements were never recovered despite years of extensive searching with only a one-inch broadcast tape held in the Sony archives being the only survivor. 

Much like the BFI’s DVD for Ken Russell’s The Devils, the tape masters provided have been cleaned up to give this only-on-tape movie a chance to still be seen by moviegoers keen on the wacky, wild and wonderful side of overlooked British horror.  In spite of the low-fi appearance akin to such tape sourced blu-ray releases as Victims or Deadly Prey, The Appointment doesn’t disappoint in terms of the sheer oddball factor while also giving viewers another example of Edward Woodward as a kind of heroic figure of unusual British horror.  You won’t find another example of the English supernatural cinematic scare fest quite as derailed or warped as this, a truly one of a kind go-for-broke hard swing that doesn’t always work but isn’t easily forgotten!

--Andrew Kotwicki