Blu-ray Review: I Start Counting [Fun City Editions] | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Monday, January 18th, 2021  

I Start Counting

Studio: Fun City Editions

Nov 24, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Wynne is a fourteen-year-old Catholic schoolgirl. Wynne is madly in love with her 32-year-old adoptive brother, George. George might be a serial killer. What’s a lovesick young girl to do?

Released in 1969 and all but forgotten about stateside in the half-century since, David Greene’s I Start Counting is a compelling and odd little bird. Who knew a movie could be this twisted and this twee at the same time? It’s like Belle and Sebastian recorded a song about a serial strangler.

There’s just so much to draw the viewer into I Start Counting, as strange as it is; every little wrinkle makes it that much more different than anything you’ve seen before. Played convincingly by sixteen-year-old Jenny Agutter, young Wynne opens the film crammed in a small, economy apartment with her blended family: her adoptive mother, stepdad, and two stepbrothers, George (Bryan Marshall) and Len. She harbors a romantic obsession with her 32-year-old adult brother, whose last serious girlfriend died in a mysterious, accidental fall down the basement steps of their old home. That old house now lies in ruin, commandeered by the state and awaiting demolition to make way for a new commercial park. She and her tartish, 15-year-old best friend occasionally break into the abandoned structure to conduct séances — mostly asking the ghost for advice about boys — until they’re no longer allowed, as young women are turning up murdered in the area on a regular basis, clearly the victim of the same maniac killer.

You think it would be enough for Wynne to simply stay away, but she notices her brother coming home with scratchmarks all over his back. She spots him stashing away a blood-stained jumper. She catches him lying about where he goes every weekend. . .

A normal mystery might post up Wynne as an amateur gumshoe, doing her plucky best to get to the bottom of her brother’s guilt, or to clear his name. Instead, our teen heroine lets her romantic infatuation lead the way: Wynne becomes a potential accomplice, trying to cover up for the crimes he may have committed so that they’ll be better able to spend the rest of their lives together. If that weren’t enough, there are so many other weird details that are tough to get out of one’s head, from Wynne’s mice-obsessed step-pop, to her younger, pill-popping brother with a scrapbook full of crime scene clippings, to all of the ones we can’t mention here because of spoilers. Whether all of these details were added by the filmmakers or present in Audrey Erskine Lindop’s novel, we can’t say, but hardly a minute will go by without the first-time viewer asking “Is this happening?” or “Did I really just see that?”

None of that would matter if I Start Counting weren’t an effective thriller, and it very much is. By aligning our innocent, young protagonist with the mystery’s primary suspect within the movie’s first few minutes, it makes the proceedings all that more tense. The girl doesn’t have the sense to stay out of danger, and willfully puts herself in harm’s way because of a (very creepy) crush on her sibling.

As the daft, inquisitive, naïve, and over-protective Wynne, Agutter – who’d reappear in movies like Logan’s Run (1976) and An American Werewolf in London (1981) – gives a performance that endears us to a character who behaves like a disobedient child that could probably use some professional help. As her bestie Corinne, a virgin who seems to think of nothing but sex, Clare Sutcliffe provides some welcome humor.

There are few movies quite like I Start Counting, which is why we have to thank young boutique label Fun City Editions for bringing it to our attention. The Blu-ray presents this unheralded film in a crisp restoration, with several excellent extras such as an audio commentary by historian Samm Deighan, a video essay by Chris O’Neill which presents the story as Wynne’s coming-of-age, and a 20-minute, on-camera interview with Agutter, who talks about the movie’s place in her early career. 



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