Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964) – A Movie Review

This is a British film from the 1960’s and reflects the filmmaking conventions of that place and time.  This is seen in the realistic and drab scenery and even the look of the actors themselves.  The atmosphere is depressing and claustrophobic in the extreme.

Bill and Myra Savage are a middle-aged married couple.  Myra is a professional medium who performs seances for a small circle of believers who would like to communicate with the dearly departed.  Bill is a man who was forced to stop working because of health problems.  Myra is the dominant partner in the marriage and berates and orders Bill around.  But it is apparent that Myra is delusional about many things including her “gift.”  She wishes to be rich and famous for her ability to speak to the dead.

In support of this desire, she comes up with a plan.  It’s a carefully detailed plan to kidnap the young daughter of a rich man and hold her for ransom.  But in addition, the plan calls for Myra to use her “gift” to allow the girl to be found unharmed after the ransom is delivered.  And of course, Bill will have to perform all the active parts of the plan.  He is to kidnap the girl, make the ransom demand, pick up the ransom and drop the girl off for the return.  Myra’s part is to set up the room for the hostage and act as a “nurse” for the girl in the fiction that they will try to maintain that she is a patient in a hospital.  To that end they have a room painted white and a facsimile of a hospital bed set up in it.  And finally, Myra will contact the kidnapped girl’s family and claim that she is in contact with the girl through her spirit world contact, “Arthur.”  And when they have the money, Myra will tell the parents where to find their daughter after Bill has dropped her off at the pick-up spot.

Surprisingly, the plan is remarkably successful.  The girl’s kidnap goes off without a hitch and the ransom is collected by a complicated and circuitous route that the father has to follow going in and around the London Underground Railway.  But after the ransom pick-up the mother of the kidnapped girl shows up at one of Myra’s afternoon seances and we have the nerve-racking experience for Bill of trying to keep the little girl quiet as she calls out in a delirium of fever for her mother who is right in the next room taking part in a séance that is supposedly in contact with her.  At the climax of the séance Myra faints and the séance is stopped and the girl’s mother departs without incident.

But the excitement that Myra felt during this bizarre and dangerous charade has inspired a new and hideous change in the plan.  Myra tells Bill that Arthur, her spirit partner has asked that the girl be sent to him in the spirit world.  In other words, Myra wants Bill to kill the girl with chloroform and thus allow Arthur to have her spirit as his companion.

This madness horrifies Bill and he tries to force Myra to confront her delusions.  Arthur is the dead child of Bill and Myra but whereas Myra believed that Arthur was a child in their lives into his school age years the reality is that “Arthur” was a stillborn baby.  He tries to convince her that there is no Arthur and all these fantasies are her imagination.  And that killing the girl is madness.  But Myra raves on about her gift and Arthur and screams at Bill until he agrees to do her bidding.

In the next scene we see Bill leaving the child’s body in a wooded area and then rushing away to his vehicle.  When he gets home Myra is delighted at the way the plan has worked out.  But suddenly there is a knock at the door.  Bill answers it and comes back with three plainclothes policemen.  They ask Myra if she will perform a séance to help the police locate the girl now that the ransom has been paid.  She agrees and begins the performance with Bill and two of the policemen forming the circle around the table with her.  Myra goes into her trance and starts talking to and for Arthur and slowly she begins to repeat the conversation that Arthur must have had in her mind about killing the child.  When she lapses into silence where she is pantomiming herself cradling a small child in her lap the senior officer looks at Bill and says, “Where did you hide the money sir?”  And Bill replies, It’s in the coal cellar.”  Then Bill adds, “You found the girl alright?”  and the detective says, “Yes, she’s alright.”  And there the movie ends.

This is one weird and creepy movie.  Myra is a deranged lunatic and Bill is a pathetic weakling.  But he actually loves her.  And the atmosphere and plot are quite effective at providing suspense and interest in the story.  Interestingly, Bill was played by Richard Attenborough, the guy who played John Hammond, the man who built Jurassic Park in that movie.  Taken all in all I recommend this movie to fans of suspense movies.  It’s not as shocking as Psycho but it is a similar experience.