The Comeback (1978)

*. I wonder how bad a director of horror films has to be, to ever be truly forgotten. In 2014 exploitation director Pete Walker was given a retrospective at London’s prestigious Barbican Centre where five of his movies (including The Comeback) were screened. In 2012 Kino bundled together five films (not the same five, but also including The Comeback) as a “Pete Walker Collection” DVD box set. So I guess this means that he’s been accepted as an auteur of sorts. But let’s be honest: these movies are terrible.
*. You can give Walker credit for being independent and even, in some respects, ahead of his time with his grimy proto-slasher flicks, but how independent is any exploitation filmmaker, really? I mean, they’re nakedly just in it for the money. They’re not pursuing any kind of original or personal artistic vision.
*. Yes, there are some consistent themes that inform most of Walker’s work, but it would be hard to avoid all fingerprints. Meanwhile, stylistically he is very dull and his plots are so silly they actually make one yearn for the modern “American” version of the psycho killer. That is to say, a predator with little if any motivation.
*. In short, I found The Comeback to be boring and stupid and silly. The silliness is the only fun to be had. Apparently Walker’s idea of a pop singer in the late ’70s was a lounge-act fellow who takes girls out on dates wearing three-piece pin-stripe suits. The whole feel of the movie is off. I had the feeling that Walker really wanted to do a Hammer film set in an old mansion or country estate, but was stuck making a nod toward swinging London with a pop-music storyline that he had no interest in or affinity for.
*. Also silly is the transvestite angle, which I suppose is meant to operate as a red herring but which in the end turns out to be otherwise gratuitous. Why does the killer get all dressed up anyway?
*. Finally, the motivation behind the murders is priceless. It seems all of Nick Cooper’s “foul contortions” and “lewd, suggestive songs” were receiving their comeuppance. A lot of horror movies from this period were actually quite conservative, or at least had a conservative strain to them. In some respects they’re like the English village mysteries, where murder disrupts a natural, peaceful, aristocratic order that is ultimately reasserted. But The Comeback dials this up to a whole new level.
*. Of course it’s a bit more complicated than that, but like I say, we do often find a conservative, moralistic strain at work in the Brit horror of this time. Think of the cop’s speech against hippies in The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue: “You’re all the same, the lot of you with your long hair and your faggot clothes, drugs, sex, and every sort of filth.” It’s very similar to what the killer says here. The longhaired young man in Manchester Morgue was the hero and the cop a jerk, but the point of view expressed is not discredited in the film. This then led to all those American slasher films in the ’80s where promiscuity would be made a capital crime.
*. Aside from this I don’t think there’s much to comment on here. It’s not a well made movie, and even the gore is pretty dull. As an interesting footnote, the blood doesn’t have that almost acrylic orange look that a lot of horror movie blood had at the time because apparently it was real (outdated donated blood from a hospital). That couldn’t have been fun to work with. It’s also kind of weird that we keep cutting back to Gail’s rotting corpse in lieu of anything else going on. But even the maggots and rats and real blood didn’t do much to change the impression I had that I was, basically, watching paint dry.

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