At this rural school for girls, it's the end of the day and the pupils have been allowed to go home, but one of them, Tessa Hurst (Lesley-Anne Down) decides to take a short cut through the surrounding forest, to her great personal cost when she hears a twig snap and realises she is being watched. To make matters worse, a figure looms out in front of her and gives chase, with her losing her schoolbooks and shoes in her attempts to flee - it is no use, however, as the man is stealthy and forces her to the ground, assaulting her and leaving Tessa catatonic. It is clear to the investigating detective Velyan (Frank Finlay) there is a dangerous man on the loose...
This was one of those British thrillers which arrived at a transitional time in the development of the nation's film, where the old style of thriller plots were being dressed up with newfangled depictions of sex and violence to fashion movies which fell between the two stools, their plots not much that would not have been seen on series television, but the trappings very much embracing the more sensational side of cinema to keep the punters amused. Often this would be designed to appeal to their baser instincts, and the central villain here, the rapist of teenage schoolgirls, was pretty much on the edge of responsibility.
That this came from some of the Carry On team, the behind the scenes members that was, highlighted the troubled waters contemporary filmmakers were sailing in, as if the saucy shenanigans Peter Rogers produced were the other side of the coin from the leering perverts stalking the land, at least according to this. As a result, even the most paternal of characters here has suspicion thrown on them, leaving us pretty sure if a character has a penis he is a potential criminal, and so it is that when the culprit is finally revealed, he abruptly transforms into a drooling sex maniac as if that was what was behind the façade of any number of males who did not channel their rampant desires into humour.
It's an uncomfortable take on society, and no less self-conscious for that: many have noted the schoolgirls' uniforms include miniskirts, as if we were intended to see them as inviting the wrong sort of attention, though that was the fashion of the day, as seen by what was worn by the star and Brit screen queen of the miniskirt era, Suzy Kendall, here playing the art teacher who stumbles across the body of the second victim and actually witnesses the killer illuminated in the rear lights of her Morris Traveller when she's out searching in vain for the missing girl. She goes on to describe him as looking like "Satan" which the authorities see as little help, though does bring her to the correct conclusion by the end.
With every man a suspect (OK, maybe not David Essex), that was not to say there were no red herrings. The husband (Tony Beckley) of the school governess is obviously a rum cove, a deeply frustrated chap who is being driven a little crazy by his proximity to all these teenage girls, with the most misjudged scene seeing him groping the legs of one of the pupils (Janet Lynn, Carol from Cool It Carol!) with her apparent consent. Then there's the scummy newspaper reporter (Freddie Jones) who is rather overenthusiastic about pursuing his leads, to the point of outright aggression - could he be about to attack Kendall's Julie West? And what of the psychiatrist Dr Lomax (James Laurenson, the Shadmock from The Monster Club, best known in Australia for blackface Aboriginal detective serial Boney) who seems nice enough but is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Hell, there's even The Master from Doctor Who (Anthony Ainley) in there. With a flat appearance and a curiously inert tone for all its lurid possibilities, Assault is often identified as a British giallo, but still seems too staid for the term. Music by Eric Rogers.