18 July 2022


The Appointment. Leslie C. Vickers, director) 1981. Blu Ray, Flipside, Bfi. (July 2022)

Director Lindsey C. Vickers is fascinated by the power that inanimate objects have over us. In the engaging interview on this Blu Ray Vickers reveals his unease about who is really in control of your life. Maybe it’s your ticking watch - a mechanism where time, impervious to you, might actually control your actions. Or inside your car: a mechanism that could inexorably drive you to an unknown fate.
The car as a supernatural agent is central to Vickers’s tiny output (one feature and one short, alas.) His striking short The Lake (included here) has the couple’s car locking its female passenger inside and then driving into a lake to drown her. Whilst the family car of The Appointment acts as an instrument of destruction with a triple form of possession: (a) a malign supernatural power that sucks in its schoolgirl victim; (b) a young daughter’s curse, or unconscious death-wish, for her father and (c) the force itself, a blend of natural and super-natural agencies, that possesses the car and Father’s attempt to control it.

Fourteen year old schoolgirl Joanne (Samantha Weysom) will be playing the violin in a school orchestra concert. She’s bitterly disappointed to learn that her father (Edward Woodward) has been called away on business and can’t attend the event. On the night before his trip Father has a series of dreams involving the sexual rivalry between his daughter and his wife (Jane Merrow) and being trapped by his seat belt when his car crashes.

The Appointment’s most virtuosic sequence is the car crash – and what a crash it is! Or should I say a precipitous near-crash as to reveal more would spoil your enjoyment of what is a brilliantly choreographed sequence comparable to any classic Hollywood action film.

Yet it’s the audacious twenty-minute series of dreams of premonition, with their sexual rivalry and foreboding about the car journey which are the real emotional and expressively visual core of The Appointment. Vickers effectively draws out fear and apprehension, if sometimes only just. For Vickers pacing is often deliberately slow.

The non-dream scene where Father stands outside of the bedroom of his daughter and half-wants to open the door is held for too long (Though its brooding ambivalence does warrant slowness for it obliquely hints at incestuous desire, which is also noticeable in a dream moment when the cloying daughter, watched by mother, erotically fingers, with pubescent intent and infantile innocence, her father’s ear.)

Here composer Trevor Jones’s greatly aids Vickers pace. His music manages to dramatise the dark portents of the night with exciting pulsating rhythms (in direct contrast with the Georges Delerue-like lyricism of his main-title theme.)

The dreams of a car accident are shared by husband and wife. Not only are these dreams filled with a powerful foreboding but the waking up from them, or during them, are intercut with numerous sleep stained, sweaty close-ups of Edward Woodward’s face - low angled powerful shots that greatly assist in conveying the unease of a tiring night before. Vickers’s gets small details precisely right.

And what of those running dogs stalking outside the house? Very creepy and beautifully photographed, as are all the night scenes, by Brian West. Those feral dogs will really come to menace Father during his daytime car journey to the North.

Vickers’s film cleverly plots a family tension of neediness and discreet sexuality that ignites the car, become monster with a supernatural will power, as a catalyst for the drama - hence the assured appointment, in the melodramatic sense, throughout The Appointment film, will be with death.

The Appointment is an unusually good horror film containing more lingering unease than shocks. Yet it’s flawed. I thought the film’s prologue, accompanied by a voice-over police announcement, about the earlier disappearance, by a supposed homicidal killer, of a schoolgirl in the woods, was a bit of a red herring. This is deflected by a sound supernatural reason for the possession of the father / protagonist but doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the film. It provides a kind of explanation (?) to Joanne’s later behaviour, especially her relationship with those wild dogs. But I will say no more.

The slow pace can tend to distract in an occasionally under-written drama. However when the visuals excite the tempo really kicks in and delivers. And The Appointment’s simple plotline never becomes formulaic. Vickers’s conception maintains a sense of mystery throughout. The outcome might be predictable. Yet this very English horror film constantly surprises you with its intelligently crafted style and excellent acting.

The Appointment stands out from eighties TV film culture. Regional TV didn’t appreciate it after only one TV screening. The film was buried and presumed lost. Now the BFI restoration of this forgotten pleasure can only increase its deservedly growing cult status.
  • Alan Price  

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