Color, 1969, 105 mins. 4 secs.
Directed by David Greene
Starring Jenny Agutter, Bryan Marshall, Clare Sutcliffe, Simon Ward, Gregory Phillips, Lana Morris
Fun City Editions (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Something of a hidden secret in the history of British cinema that bridges the kitchen sink dramas of the '60s and the gritty shockers of the '70s, this early starring vehicle for a young Jenny Agutter (who would go on to Walkabout, Logan's Run, and An American Werewolf in London, among many others) also shares an affinity with the folk horror films coming out around the time, particularly its evocative and haunting soundtrack by Basil Kirchin of The Abominable Dr. Phibes fame.
Living in a recently developed housing community far removed from the house where she grew up nearby in the country, 14-year-old Wynne (Agutter) spends her days going to school, hanging out with best friend Corinne (Sutcliffe), and enjoying a close rapport with her much older brother, George (Marshall), among the family who adopted her. She occasionally slips away in the afternoon to visit the dilapidated old family home, but several clues including back scratches and bloody clothing lead her to believe that George (for whom she's developing vague sexual feelings) could be the serial killer who's been preying on young women in the area.
A unique and haunting little film, I Start Counting announces its intentions right off the bat with a recurring image of a white stuffed rabbit a la Alice in Wonderland that suits the young heroine's journey between the environment of normal postwar urban life and the wild, rural world of her past that also mirrors the savage behavior of the killer at large. This could have easily lapsed into a generic Nancy Drew-style mystery in lesser hands, but the film keeps you on your toes by anchoring the story in Agutter's sexual awakening and her inner consciousness rather than plot mechanics. That said, as a thriller it still offers some truly creepy moments and culminates in a nocturnal finale that would've made Claude Chabrol proud.
For some baffling reason, this film remained stubbornly unavailable on home video in any format for decades and was impossible to see in reasonable condition outside of a small handful of TV airings and a fresh print that was struck in 2001 for some repertory screenings. A transfer of undetermined origin also popped up briefly on Netflix around 2011 but didn't last long either, which was enough to make one wonder whether it would ever see the light of day again. Fortunately Fun City Editions came to the rescue in 2020 with a Blu-ray release (its second following Alphabet City) featuring what's listed as a new scan and restoration in 2K from the 35mm interpositive. The result looks extremely close to that print that did the rounds about two decades ago, retaining that dreamy, desaturated look with an emphasis on cool grays and blues for most of the outdoor daytime scenes. Detail looks excellent throughout, and the occasional splashes of red in the overall color scheme pop out where they should. As this was authored by the folks at Vinegar Syndrome, it features the same menu design and sports a superfluous Dolby Digital track in addition to the primary audio option, DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono (with optional English SDH subtitles).
A new audio commentary with the always welcome Samm Deighan does an astute job of tackling the film's coming-of-age teenage elements, the source novel by Audrey Erskine-Lindop (who also wrote the bizarre The Singer Not the Song), the nuances of Agutter's performance, the handling of sexuality and violence, her love of director David Greene's The Shuttered Room, the state of British horror cinema, serial killer genre fare, and much more. In "A Kickstart" (20m24s), Agutter (who also provides a very brief 28s video intro to the film) recalls her days as a very young actress, her memories of her director and costars (in particular Simon Ward), the role the film played in getting her career off the ground, and the positive treatment she received on the set. "Loss of Innocence" (7m25s) is a short video essay by Chris O’Neill (spoken by Tori Lyons) touching on the film's smuggling of an adolescent character study in the guise of a thriller. An image gallery (55s) and the creepy but spoiler-y theatrical trailer are also included. The insert booklet features two essays, "I Start Directing: David Greene’s Complicated Family Stories" by Amanda Reyes (which does a great job of contextualizing this film in the "new town" setting that mirrors the film's depictions of memory and family) and "Remembrances of Basil Kirchin, David Green and I Start Counting" by Matt Stephenson, an appreciative look at the composer's brief but significant cinematic contributions that are now being justifiably reevaluated today.
Reviewed on November 8, 2020