Home » Unman, Wittering and Zigo [Blu-ray Review]

Unman, Wittering and Zigo [Blu-ray Review]

On the heels of the swingin’ sixties came the angsty and paranoid seventies. In the early seventies, across all movie genres, the anti-authority, paranoia fueled, excessively noir laden stories ran rampant in the movie industry. Unman, Wittering and Zigo (1971) is a British psychological thriller set in an all-boys-boarding-school and released in a particularly angsty era in the British film industry. Other movies that could be classified as direct peers to Unman, Wittering and Zigo include If… (1968), Child’s Play (1972), and Assault (1971), but also A Clockwork Orange (1971). Young people, particularly teenagers, are very impressionable, and make for great subjects in an anti-authoritarian story because bottling up teenagers in a restrictive environment, with all the angst that they carry, can lead to an incredibly volatile situation full of chaos, confusion and violence. Bucking back against authority became less about peace and love and transitioned into something darker, grislier and excessively violent. Unman, Wittering and Zigo is well-regarded, but undeniably lesser known. Like most movies from this era, especially for a younger audience, the assumption is that it should feel dated. Unman, Wittering and Zigo doesn’t feel dated because of how well it was executed on the technical side, but also because of its unusual and unexplainable energy… 

The film is centered around a former advertising executive, John Ebony, played by David Hemmings, who transitions into a career as a schoolteacher. Ebony takes the open position at Chantry boys’ boarding school (due to the death of the previous teacher). He and his spouse, Sylvia (Carolyn Seymour), uproot their previous life and move onto the school property The Ebony’s feel like fish out of water pretty much immediately, both professionally as well as personally. Right off the rip, John’s class, known as 5B, irritates John to the point of threatening the smarmy teenage boys with Saturday school punishment. The class, an eclectic group of young lads, retort with a threat that they will kill him, and without hesitation, admit to killing their previous teacher, John’s predecessor, Pelham. After this revelation, John is punch-drunk, and unable to grasp the seriousness of the boys, while also being waved off by the headmaster, played by Douglas Wilmer, when making the headmaster aware of what the boys had admitted to. The headmaster assumes that the boys are just toying with John and believes that John simply cannot keep the class under control. Between the ignorance of the authorities, and the dangerousness and audacity of the students, John and Sylvia fear they might be in grave danger… 

Unman, Wittering and Zigo was directed by John Mackenzie (The Long Good Friday), in what was his second feature film, and written by Simon Raven, who is one of the most acclaimed writers from England, with Geoffrey Unsworth (2001: A Space Odyssey) handling the cinematography, who is also widely regarded as one of the all-time greats in his field. Unman, Wittering and Zigo having talent behind the camera is an understatement, and it shows in the product. Whether it be the harrowing use of the first-person camera in the opening scene, the beautiful use of the Great Orme landscape of Wales with a wide variety of stylistic camera angles, or the bonkers scene with Sylvia in the gymnasium, the visuals of this movie look incredible, especially in this Blu-ray transfer. The writing is also much better than it had to be, even though this is an adaptation of a previous radio play of the same name (also featured in full as a special feature on the Blu-ray), the dialogue was particularly sharp for a movie in this genre. The way the students speak feels like a well-executed stage play, where every line is effective and operatic. Specifically, the famous line of the movie, “And that’s why we killed him, sir”. Unman, Wittering and Zigo certainly has some flaws, but in regard to the filmmaking itself, it is very high-level…

David Hemmings, of Blow-Up and Deep Red fame, has a very expressive face, but as a performer in this movie specifically, I found him to be incredibly bland, and lacking energy. Even though Hemmings also served as producer of this film, and is a big star in his own right, I would have loved to have seen Michael Caine, Michael Gambon or Anthony Hopkins sink their teeth into this role. I think some more expressiveness would have been beneficial to the energy of the scenes with the pupils, as well as the other teachers and headmaster. But most importantly with his wife. Seymour was far more effective and fitting for her respective role, but the chemistry between the two sorely lacked, in my opinion. Hemmings had a great career and played some great roles, but Unman, Wittering and Zigo might have benefited from someone who brought something different to the table. The students on the other hand, some being familiar faces to be seen later in their careers across the movie landscape, were quite effective as the creepy and angsty pupils. The confusion and hostility and awkwardness of the class is portrayed in such a true way. They actually seem uncomfortable in their own skin at times, but then sly as foxes at other times, a good mix that oozes confusion. Not only do their names rule, particularly Cloistermouth, which might be the best name in movie history, but also the titular namesakes, Unman, Wittering and Zigo. At first glance the title of the movie seems like a misprint, and just the name of the accounting firm that handled the financing for a movie called The Bad Boys of Chantry, a Paramount release, but it turns out those are the last names of characters in the movie, important characters at that, and in fact, the actual title of the movie. To be honest, I love the originality of the title.

Like I had mentioned previously, the Blu-ray edition of Unman, Wittering and Zigo contains the original radio play from 1958, which is interesting and very much so worth a listen for fans of the movie. This Blu-ray also includes other worthwhile special features, most notably a commentary track from Sean Hogan and Kim Newman. As someone who reads and is a fan of Kim Newman, a film historian from the U.K., along with Sean Hogan, who is a filmmaker from the U.K, the perspective and insight into Unman, Wittering and Zigo provided by these two is palpable, and beyond worth the listen.

Also on the Blu-ray, is An Unruly Education, which is a twenty-five-minute featurette where cultural historian Dr. Matthew Sweet examines the story behind the story. Like the commentary tracks, featurettes are common on Blu-ray releases, and An Unruly Education is a great and insightful edition into an already loaded Blu-ray. Other features include a cast commentary with the performers who played the characters of Unman (Michael Cashman), Lipstrob (Michael Howe) and Terhew (James Wardroper), along with Sylvia Ebony (Carolyn Seymour). As a fan of cast commentaries, I find the perspective of the cast and their firsthand experience of making the film to be valuable. Commentary tracks are like film school, you can learn so much from the firsthand anecdotes.

Last but not least, the original trailer from the seventies is included in all of its glory. Even though I was not alive for trailers from this era, I find them to be so aesthetically pleasing, and nostalgic even for someone who doesn’t personally remember. The trailer for Unman, Wittering and Zigo is tons of fun. All in all, this Blu-ray is the total package…

Did You Know? Wicked Horror TV Has Classic and Independent Horror Films Available to Stream for Free!

Overall, the new Blu-ray transfer from Arrow Video of Unman, Wittering and Zigo is an excellent restoration of a cult classic and should be a must have for any fans of this movie, the cover art is simple and classy, so this limited-edition Blu-ray also makes for a great collectible for any fans of the genre…

Wicked Horror Rating: 7.5/10

From Arrow Video, the limited-edition Blu-ray release of Unman, Wittering and Zigo is available to purchase beginning August 22nd.

Link to purchase here!

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