Lady, Stay Dead (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Handyman obsesses over singer.

Gordon (Chard Hayward) works as a handyman and is treated poorly by his boss Marie (Deborah Coulls), a famous singer/actress, who routinely berates him as if he were a second-class citizen. Secretly Gordon fantasizes about having sex with her and one day breaks into her home and rapes her. Afterwards he drowns her by shoving her head into a fish tank. When her elderly neighbor Bill (Les Foxcroft) spots Gordon trying to discard her body he then kills him too and his dog, but Gordon fails to realize that Jenny (Louise Howitt), who is Marie’s older sister, is coming for a visit. When she arrives she quickly catches-on to what’s happening and proves to be a formidable challenge to Gordon, who wants to do to her exactly what he did to her sister.

The film was written and directed by Terry Bourke, who was credited with doing the very first horror movie in Australia, Night of Fear, which many consider a precursor to The Texas Chain Saw Massacreand this made him a horror guru in the Down Under and eventually lead to him making this one. This movie is unique in that it’s the first slasher film released in Australia and received okay reviews simply for its production values, which was a step above most other slasher pics.

Initially I was intrigued with the concept as it captures Gordon’s point-of-view and even sympathizes with him over his mistreatment by the callous Marie. It almost seemed to be playing-off the same idea of another Australian cult-hit The Plumberwhere a working-class male takes his animosity out on a female who he believes looks down on him. Had the movie stuck with this idea it could’ve been interesting and I was fascinated to see how both character’s behaviors and insights into each other would evolve as the scenario progressed, but this gets ruined by having Marie killed-off too soon.

Having her sister Jenny, who in no way looks anything like Marie even though they’re supposed to be related, become the main victim is not compelling and the story devolves from being a potentially compelling psychological flick into that of your standard cardboard thriller. Had Jenny, not knowing that Gordon was her sister’s killer initially, fallen in-love with him, could’ve lent a unique twist and might’ve saved it, but it doesn’t go in this direction either. Ultimately I was unsure why the opening bit involving Marie was even needed as it could’ve just started with Jenny as the target of the obsessed handyman and gotten played-out in exactly the same way.

The script also suffers from plot-points being too loosely connected. There’s no cyclical structure like with most stories where what see in the first act connects with what happens later. Instead characters and events get thrown in haphazardly with only the loosest of threads holding it together. The random policemen, played by Roger Ward, jumping in and becoming a major part of the action in the third-act, is a good example of this. Why not have this part played by Billy, the helpful elderly neighbor, who like with Marie gets offed too soon until you wonder why he and Marie were even in it at all.

Spoiler Alert!

The double-ending where you think the policeman has killed Gordon, but really hasn’t was no surprise at all. It’s also impossible to believe that Gordon would’ve been able to drive a squad car around while hunched beneath the dashboard and unable to look a window to see where he was going. Also, the title itself makes no sense as Marie never comes-back to life, so what the meaning of ‘stay dead’ is I don’t know.

Overall the script is too unfocused making what starts out original end-up being quite formulaic and forgettable although the segment where Gordon uses a chainsaw to cut a hole in the front door is genuinely creepy particularly the sound it makes as he does it, which is the only scary moment.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 10, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Director: Terry Bourke

Studio: Ryntare Productions

Available: DVD

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