Folk Horror Country House Party

I watched the new BFI Flipside release of The Ballad Of Tam Lin (1970).

The story begins in London, in a well-furnished flat. We start by seeing a weird decorative display, behind it a staircase where a saxophonist is waiting.

Under the stairs is the bedroom where Michaela Cazaret (Ava Gardner) is enjoying young Tom Lynn (Ian McShane).

They come out and pass the saxophonist. Cazalet asks him who he is. He says he had a strange dream and “some cat” brought him here, and that’s how he came to have the mysterious pair of sunglasses which she claims as her own and takes back off him.

She tells him he can hang around as long as he wants, and so we find out there is a crowd of other hip and groovy youngsters hanging out in the kitchen. Then we all pile downstairs and get in flashy cars for a trip up to her house in Scotland.

We see young Janet Ainsley, the vicar’s daughter (played by Stephanie Beacham), wandering by the house, puzzled by all the weirdos reading Hermann Hesse novels and dancing to psychedelic tunes.

Janet isn’t comfortable around these people, but she later meets up with Tom around the estate and they have a bit of fun together which later leads to her getting pregnant. At the same time Tom is getting tired and restless at Michaela’s increasingly dominant and possessive nature.

Her acolytes are keen on the paranormal, and one of them seems to have clairvoyant powers. The others challenge her to display them in a blindfolded experiment, touching items of jewellery and giving psychic predictions. When she is passed Michaela’s sunglasses she recoils as there is a sinister presence about them.

Hovering in the background is Cazalet’s private secretary and general fixer, Elroy (played by Richard Wattis in an unusual non-comic role).

Elroy tries to warn Tom that his position is perilous and that no one gets the chance to leave Mrs Cazalet once she has her claws in them. There is another young git waiting in the wings to take his place as the alpha companion.

In the end Tom tries to break away and make a new start with Janet away from these horrible joyless creeps. As he was warned, Michaela won’t let that happen, and we get a tense and kaleidoscopic climax, as he is slipped something hallucinogenic and then sent off to be pursued in a deadly hide & seek game whilst seeing visions and imagining himself transforming into wild animals.

The soundtrack is by The Pentangle, as they were known at least in the credits here. The script was credited as based on the poem by Robert Burns, and the direction was by Roddy McDowall on his first and last assignment. Altogether, it is a powerful message about the evils that lurk inside tie-dye fashion and posh hippies.

As usual with BFI Flipside, there’s loads of extra features, including various interviews and also other short horror features made by the same people.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s