The Comeback (1978)

It’s been six years since Nick Cooper has recorded an album. He left the UK behind for Los Angeles and his wife, but now, divorce has landed him back home and back behind the mic. Retiring to the English countryside to record what he hopes will be his return to the limelight, he finds himself haunted by screams and visions of death.

Pete Walker’s filmography is filled with sex and murder and little, if any, subtext. From House of Whipchord and Frightmare to Schizo and House of the Long Shadows, which united Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and John Carradine, his films are quickly made and easily digested.

The opening of the film has Gail Cooper (Holly Palance, daughter of Jack and the doomed nanny from The Omen) is going through her ex-husband’s London apartment one more time. She’s not bitter, but almost wistful, remembering their love. Nick isn’t home, but she isn’t alone. Someone is there, watching her answer a reporter about her upcoming divorce and field questions about her husband’s comeback. Moments after she finishes a phone call, someone in an old lady mask kills her in graphic detail, even chopping her hand off. As graphic as this scene is, it gets worse as we return to the scene of the crime multiple times as the camera watches her decompose. And this is one of Walker’s restrained movies!

Gail’s ex-husband Nick (Jack Jones) has no idea that any of this has happened. He’s just trying to get through the recording sessions and make his manager Webster (David Doyle, TV’s Charlie’s Angels) happy. He’s moved into the Surrey countryside where Mr. and Mrs. B (Bill Owen and Sheila Keith, who appeared in four of Walker’s films) take care of his every need. Yet all is not well. At night, he hears screaming and sees visions of his ex-wife’s decaying face. At least he’s hooking up with Webster’s secretary Linda (Pamela Stephenson, an SNL cast member for season 10 of the show, which was the year Lorne Michaels came back, as well as Superman III).

Nick has all sorts of shady people around him, including his right-hand man from the old days, Harry. At one point, Nick ran with a druggy crowd, but now tries to avoid everything, even cigarettes. After discovering that Webster and Linda used to be a couple and the disappearance of Harry, Nick goes crazy. He searches for the voice in the house and only finds Gail’s severed head, which sends him into a catatonic state. He’s admitted to the hospital for exhaustion and they put him into five days of medical sleep (which sounds wonderful).

Nick and Linda finally have sex, but she disappears the next day. This makes Nick even crazier and we start to wonder who is behind all of this. There’s a red herring thrown when we discover Webster likes to dress up as an old woman. He also paid off Gail and got her to divorce our hero.

When Nick goes back to his old apartment, he learns that it’s been cleaned and all the carpeting has been replaced.

As Mrs. B tells him not to worry, the old woman attacks. He ducks an axe blow and the old woman is killed, revealing the killer as her husband! It turns out that their beloved daughter was an obsessed fan who committed suicide once Nick married Gail. All of this psychological torture has been their attempt to drive him to suicide.

Webster and the police arrive, just as Nick discovers that Linda has been walled inside the house, along with the body of the B’s dead daughter, who is clutching a photo of Nick as her body lies in state within a shrine to the singer.

As the police arrest Mr. B, Nick looks to the window of the house and sees his ex-wife waving goodbye to him. It seems that all of the psychological turmoil he had been put through wasn’t all in his head or in the hands of his would-be murderers.

Initially, Walker wanted Bryan Ferry from Roxy Music to play the lead, but Jack Jones chose this as his film debut. A legitimate pop singer who performed nightly concerts while acting daily in this film, he’s probably best known for singing the Love Boat theme song. He’s had a long career with several Grammy awards and acting roles to his name, including Top Secret and American Hustle.

He’s really great in this film, a rare example of a man in peril. This British giallo-style shocker is centered by his performance, as his sanity slowly slips. Also, he has the most chest hair I’ve ever seen on a man, a veritable forest of fluff that freaked out Becca.

Redemption put this film out several years ago and you should be able to find it at an affordable used price. It’s worth looking for. Diabolik DVD has it at a great price, too.

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