What do I know? My persistent thought while watching The Comeback (1978) was that, for a supposedly popular pop singer, the character of Nick Cooper, as played by Jack Jones, didn’t seem like a very dynamic musical performer. I learned only afterwards that Jones’s primary career was as a Grammy Award-winning singer. Then again, I’m the type of person who is most impressed by the fact that he sang the theme for The Love Boat. Yep, you know that voice.
After a six-year marriage that nearly ended his career, Nick is trying to make a comeback, using an old mansion outside London as a recording studio. The title of the film has double meaning, though. The “comeback” could be the spirit of his ex-wife whose body lies rotting at the bottom of their old penthouse staircase after being brutally slashed by an unidentified killer wearing an old hag mask.
Another weakness in the film is that it doesn’t do a very good job of presenting and utilizing its red herrings. Each has a scene in which to establish our suspicions of them, but it’s obvious that’s what the scenes are meant to accomplish. Maybe screenwriter Murray Smith, with an assist by Michael Sloan (“additional script material”), was trying to be subtle. This is not to say the idiosyncrasies of the characters aren’t entertaining.
I particularly enjoyed Nick’s agent/producer, Webster Jones, played by David Doyle (Bosley from Charlie’s Angels.) I don’t think I’ve ever seen him in a theatrical motion picture. His “associate,” Harry, played by Peter Turner, is also compelling, with only his superficial actions hinting at more sinister motivations. Webster’s secretary, Linda, is played by Pamela Stephenson, five years before we’d have to suffer through Superman III with her.
So, we have a slasher lurking in the apartment building and a ghost haunting the halls of Foxwarren Park. How are they connected and how does it even make sense for a ghost to relocate from the scene of its human death? I think it’s safe to assume, and it wouldn’t be a spoiler, that Nick is the connection. What’s odd is that he isn’t even aware that Gail (Holly Palance) has been murdered.
This allows for repeated shots of her decomposing body inserted into other parts of the movie every few minutes. I’m not complaining; they’re gory and sometimes needed to remind us that we’re watching a horror film. Likewise, the murder scenes are sudden and intense, and a final scare for Nick is simultaneously expected and shocking. I won’t say the ultimate reveal isn’t predictable, but the underlying motive is far-fetched.
The Comeback is the first Pete Walker film I’ve seen. I understand from the one bonus feature on the Kino Lorber Blu-ray, Slasher Serenade (2012), that it was one of the director’s most straight-forward movies after a series of shockers written with David McGillivray. I have a feeling that House of Whipcord, Frightmare, House of Moral Sin, and/or Schizo are more distinctive efforts. Their titles certainly suggest so.
Written by Murray Smith
Directed by Pete Walker
Starring Jack Jones, Pamela Stephenson, David Doyle, Bill Owens, Sheila Keith
RT 100 min.
Released June 16, 1978 (UK)
Home Video Kino Lorber (Blu-ray)
Rating 6 slashers (out of 10)