The first time I saw ‘Don’t Look Now’ was on late night television back in the mid-eighties.  I was a big horror movie fan and already knew about the film’s reputation – particularly where the infamous did they or didn’t they? sex scene was concerned – but, luckily, I was completely ignorant of anything else.

That evening, ‘Don’t Look Now’ unsettled me, terrified me, moved me and opened my eyes to what a true artform horror cinema can be (although calling it a horror film never feels particularly right). It’s a masterpiece that rocked my world and, almost thirty years later and after countless repeat viewings in cinemas, on VHS, DVD and Blu-Ray, my world is still rocking.

‘Don’t Look Now’ is the story of John and Laura Baxter (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) who, at the start of the movie, lose their young daughter Christine in a drowning accident. A short time later, and still obviously in the midst of grief, they arrive inVenice where John has been hired to restore a run-down medieval church. Laura meets a pair of eccentric English women, one of whom is blind and psychic.

She tells Laura that she has seen Christine’s spirit and Christine is warning her parents to leaveVenicebecause  John’s life is in danger. When Laura breaks this news to John, he angrily dismisses it (“Our daughter is dead, Laura! She does not come peeping with messages back from behind the fucking grave!”) and unconsciously seals his fate, although it quickly becomes obvious that he has psychic abilities of his own even though he refuses to acknowledge them.

The climax, which is shocking and bloody (particularly on first viewing), is probably also the weakest part of the film and feels weirdly absurd when thought about later, but it’s an effective pay-off to a hugely atmospheric and tightly constructed psychological journey that, for John, couldn’t have ended any other way.

‘Don’t Look Now’ is justifiably admired for director Nicolas Roeg’s brilliant, almost subliminal, use of colour and audacious non-linear editing technique. He fragments images and juggles time and space, past present and future in much the same way that John and Laura’s lives, and John’s perception of reality, have been fragmented since the death of their daughter.

But Allan Scott and Chris Bryant’s screenplay has never got the credit it deserves. It’s built like the engine of a high-performance car, remaining faithful to Daphne Du Maurier’s original short story while adding many new elements and improvements including a far more violent and disturbing death for Christine (in the story she died from meningitis, which is nasty in the real world but too passive for the world of a movie) and a particularly (and quite literally) dizzying scene when John almost plunges to his death from high above the church floor. Scott and Bryant’s muscular and coolly efficient screenplay is beautifully accompanied by Pino Donaggio’s spare but deceptively overwhelming musical score, with its tentative, almost childishly played main theme.

Together with Sutherland and Christie’s emotional career-best performances, Nic Roeg had all the freedom he needed to direct, what I consider, the most extraordinarily textured, emotionally honest and (para)psychologically true ‘horror’ film I’ve ever seen. And that’s why I love ‘Don’t Look Now’.

About The Author

Ian White is an author, screenwriter and journalist. His book ‘Witchcraft and Black Magic in British Cult Cinema’ was recently published by Hemlock and he is a regular contributor to ‘Paranormal Underground’ and ‘Starburst’ magazines. He’s currently writing a new book and screenplay and his embarrassingly out-of-date website can be found at http://ianwhitelondon.wix.com/ian-white