Category Archives: Mystery

Weekend of Shadows (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Manhunt for murder suspect.

In rural Australia during the 1930’s a farmer’s wife is found murdered inside her home. Suspicions immediately fall on a Polish laborer who had always been deemed ‘peculiar’ by the locals and while there’s no other evidence pointing to his guilt it’s enough to get the men in the community together to form a posse. Sergeant Caxton (Wyn Roberts) hopes that if he can capture the suspect it will help mend his reputation, which had been tarnished while working in Sydney and got him demoted to the small town that both he and his wife (Barbara West) don’t like. Vi (Melissa Jaffer) feels this will be a perfect opportunity for her shy husband, Rabbit (John Waters) to bond with the other men by going along on the hunt, but he resists thinking that the whole thing is just a knee-jerk, mob reaction and wants nothing to do with it, but at the behest of his constantly prodding wife he eventually joins, but learns to regret it.

Out of all of the manhunt movies that are out there this one may be the most unusual in that it doesn’t focus on the suspect at all, in fact you barely ever see him, but instead on the various men in the group. Surprisingly though this manages to be quite effective and I found myself wrapped-up in the various personalities of the participants and how all of them clash with each other at various times. The budget though is quite low, screenwriter Peter Yeldham and director Tom Jeffrey were forced to make many concessions on the script just to get the necessary funding, and while the stark production values will initially be a turn-off, the overall drama, which is based on the novel ‘The Reckoning’ by Hugh Atkinson, will eventually compensate.

I didn’t though like the flashbacks showing Vi and Rabbit’s courtship, which I felt wasn’t necessary and bogged down the tension. The relationship between them is intriguing on a certain level as it shows how wives can have a strong influence over their husbands and get them to do things they wouldn’t otherwise, this same scenario also gets played-out between the constable and his wife, but the scenes showing their dating period offers no further insights and no effort is made to make the actors appear younger even though the courtship had been many years prior.

Spoiler Alert!

While the film was a hit with the critics it sank at the box office recouping only $61,000 of the $495,000 that had been put into it, which soured Jeffrey from directing movies and he helmed only one other, The Last of the Knucklemenafter this one. Ironically Hugh Atkinson was quite impressed with the finished product, which was odd since most of the time author’s of the book which the movie is based are usually not happy with the director’s interpretation of their work, but Atkinon felt Jeffrey ‘got it’ particularly with the ending, which he stated represented the crucifixion. Personally I didn’t see this connection, and neither did Jeffrey, who felt like I did that the story was more about how group dynamics can get out of hand, but Atkinson insisted the crucifixion element was the centerpiece. The ending will be a surprise to many and leaves open many questions, but what you ultimately make of it will be up to your own personal perspective.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 12, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Tom Jeffrey

Studio: The South Australian Film Commission

Available: VHS

Goodbye Paradise (1983)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Searching for Senator’s daughter.

Michael Stacey (Ray Barrett) is a retired cop whose written a scathing exposé on the corruption of his former profession, which has gotten him many enemies and, along with his alcoholism, pushed to the very fringes of society. He now lives in a tiny, rundown apartment while playing chess with himself as his only means of companionship. One day he gets a call from a high-ranking Senator (Don Pascoe) who wants Michael to find his runaway daughter as he’s concerned that she’s gotten involved with an underground cult movement, which he fears could be detrimental to both her safety and to his own political career. Have no other means of income Michael takes-up the offer and soon gets immersed with an array of odd people and many twists that ultimately finds him in the middle of a military coup.

This offbeat movie starts out strong, but eventually goes overboard. The original idea by screenwriter Denny Lawrence was to have an ex-cop working as a private investigator who takes on a case of a runaway daughter who joined a religious cult run by a charismatic charlatan that eventually lead to the deaths of many of its members. However, after the Jonestown massacre, which was led by religious cult leader Jim Jones, this idea got nixed and the plot, with the help of co-scripter Bob Ellis who wanted a more political bent, got turned into a completely different direction, which doesn’t work as well.

The whole idea of a parent hiring a down-and-out, aging guy to find his long lost daughter doesn’t make much sense. The father’s a rich senator with lots of connections, so why not use the resources of the police, or a more polished detective to do the searching instead of an old bum more focused on when his next drink will be? Had Michael’s actual job, like in the original script, been as an private investigator then maybe, but in this version Michael was a struggling writer, so why pay someone to do something that they had no practice in doing, or if they did it had been a seriously long time and someone else could’ve been found to do it better?

The protagonist is a lovable loser, a sort of anti-hero who was meant to be a modern-day Philip Marlowe, and the main reason that get me hooked into the movie right away especially with Barrett’s perfect portrayal that is both raw and funny at the same time. However, the supporting characters are dull. The is especially evident with the Senator’s daughter, which due to a case of mistaken identity, he ends up dealing with two different young women, but both of them are stereotyped and cliched to the extreme. The dialogue and conversational exchanges that they have with Michael are flat making these scenes the most boring part of the movie. Nothing is worse than a film that does a excellent job of creating a multi-faceted person in one area, but then cuts-corners with the rest making the viewer like they’ve gotten stuck with only half a movie.

Spoiler Alert!

The climactic sequence, which involves an all-out military coup and lots of warfare-like action, is just too extreme and surreal especially for a story that starts out in a realistic vein. Much of the fault could be blamed on the two script writers with Lawrence wanting it to be a genre piece while Ellis preferring a more political take. The result is an imbalance that gets increasingly more wacky and implausible as it goes on until it becomes too cluttered to make much sense. Whatever statements the writers hoped to make here gets lost in the insanity and leaves the viewer feeling overwhelmed with all of the absurdity.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 21, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 59 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Carl Schultz

Studio: New South Wales Film Corporation

Available: DVD (Region 0 Import)

Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Don’t say ‘cleaning woman’.

It’s the 1940’s and private investigator Rigby Reardon (Steve Martin) gets a visit from Juliet Forrest (Rachel Ward) who wants him to investigate the mysterious death of her father, which she believes to have been murder. Rigby’s investigation turns up two lists both showing names of people who were either friends or enemies of a person named Carlotta. As Rigby continues his research he becomes menaced by a man who shoots him and steals the lists forcing Rigby to interview a wide array of different people in order to get to the truth.

In the spring of 1980 Martin got together with Carl Reiner and screenwriter George Gipe to go over his next movie project idea. He had just gotten done starring in Pennies from Heavena 1930’s period musical, and wanted to do another film from that era, a comedy that was entitled ‘Depression’. While going over the plot he mentioned using a clip from an old movie and splicing it into his film and making it a part of the story. This gave Reiner the idea of doing an entire movie centered around old movie clips ultimately leading to them using footage from 19 vintage films from Hollywood’s golden era with most of them being dramas that were meant to be taken seriously, but with Martin’s character responding to the lines mentioned by the actors in the clips in such a way that it becomes funny.

Incorporating a plot completely around old movies is certainly an inspired idea, but the result is only so-so. On the technical end you can clearly tell when an old film is spliced into the scene because it’s footage is much grainier than when it shows Martin or Ward. Having it all filmed in black-and-white helps a little but the new footage is too pristine and intentional scratches should’ve been added to make it better match the old stuff.

As for the story, well, it works for awhile, but then starts to get downright boring by the third act. There are definitely some laugh-out-loud moments, but the concept wears itself out. Some have called this a one-joke movie, but I would describe it more as a joke that gets told over-and-over again until it’s predictable and redundant. Having old film clips put in during a certain part of the movie, but then focusing on other comedy angles during the rest of it would’ve worked better. Had it spliced-in only 1 or 2 other movies and with a smaller character count would’ve created less of a diluted effect as ultimately there’s just too many people to keep track of and the plot itself is too fabricated to hold much interest.

Martin is excellent and the fact that he didn’t watch any movies from the 40’s in order to prepare for the role as most other actors would’ve done, was a wise decision as he ends up creating his own style instead of coming-off like he’s imitating somebody else. Ward is good too and while she isn’t particularly funny she does make for a excellent straight-man, which is what a solid comedy needs by having a normal person play-off the other wackiness around them. Carl Reiner is engaging in a send-up of Erich Von Stroheim and it’s interesting seeing Reni Santoni appear here as he played a young Reiner 15 years earlier in the movie Enter LaughingThe characters though are flat and never evolve, which like with the other issues described above, make this movie a novelty experiment that never fully gels.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 12, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Carl Reiner

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Summerfield (1977)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Island holds dark secret.

Simon (Nick Tate) is the new teacher at an elementary school in a seaside community. He soon makes the acquaintance of Sally (Michelle Jarman) who’s one of his pupils and she invites him out to the island of Summerfield where she lives with her mother Jenny (Elizabeth Alexander) and Jenny’s brother David (John Waters). While visiting he accidently hits Sally with his car causing her a broken leg and forcing Simon to visit the residence twice a week to give her personal tutoring. He soon starts up a relationship with Jenny and realizes to his surprise that his predecessor had also dated her, but has now disappeared without a trace. This along with finding out that Sally has a rare blood disorder causes him to do some investigating of his own, but the answers that he finds are both shocking and perplexing.

The story here, at least the main plot point where a new teacher comes in to replace an old one who’s disappeared, is quite similar to Unman, Wittering and Zigowhich was a British thriller that came out in the early 70’s however, this film approaches it in a much different way and has a far more unusual outcome. The pace though is slow and borders on being almost too slow with clues that trickled in too leisurely. The whole blood disorder thing doesn’t even get mentioned until well into the third act and yet for some reason I still found it quite intriguing and was never really bored. Much of the credit goes to the cinematography and the way it captures the picturesque beauty of the landscape, which was shot on-location at both Phillips and Churchill Island, which sit off the coast of Southern Australia.

While the film is for the most part atmospheric I did have a few issues with some of it although not enough to hurt my enjoyment. One problematic element has to do with Simon accidentally running over Sally, who can’t be much more than 10, with his car, but instead of her screaming out in pain and crying, she remains quite calm, which to me was unrealistic. I was also surprised how she continues to like Simon even after the incident and trusts that he didn’t intentionally do it on purpose even though she really hadn’t known him for that long and therefore should’ve been more suspicious and defensive with him than she is. Don’t get me wrong, Sally is one of the best things about the movie and I loved the way she gets played by the young actress Jarman, but I felt there could’ve been a better way that she gets injured, like having her running to meet Simon and accidently stepping into a hole that breaks her ankle/leg, which then would’ve avoided the other issues listed above.

The Simon character is a bit too transparent as he’s middle-aged, but single and with no children. Not that this has to be a problem, but for the viewer to become emotionally connected to him a backstory is generally useful, but here there isn’t any. Having the plumpy lady (Geraldine Turner), who works at the boarding house that he stays at suddenly one morning sneak into his room, disrobe, and then hop into bed with him as he sleeps is a bit weird as the two had never dated, or shown any overt interest in the other and yet Simon and her have instantaneous sex instead of him waking up shocked and disoriented, which is the reaction just about anyone else in that situation would’ve had.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending in which Simon finds that Jenny and David, who despite being brother and sister, are having sex together I didn’t find all that surprising as I’d pretty much had been expecting it almost from the beginning. What did surprise me is the way David has an immediate meltdown and kills not only Jenny and Sally, but also himself the minute he realizes they’ve been caught, which to me was too quick of a surrender. They’ve supposedly been doing this for years, so why cave so suddenly? Why not simply move away to another place where their secret isn’t known, or try to blackmail Simon in some way not to tell, or even just deny what Simon tells everyone as it would simply be his word against theirs. I thought David was going to make an attempt to run Simon over with his jeep in order to quiet him. There’s a tracking shot earlier in the film where see things from the vehicle’s perspective, which is driven by David, go into a parking lot where Simon is walking and it gets close to hitting him at that point, so I felt that was a foreshadowing, which is something many directors will do, to what was going to happen at the end. There’s a brief set-up, which makes it seem like David is going to hunt Simon down, which could’ve been exciting, but ultimately it fizzles out.

I was also confused why the former teacher suddenly reappears out of nowhere at the very end. I had presumed, like most viewers probably will, that he had been killed when he found out about Jenny’s and David’s relationship, but apparently that wasn’t the case. Yet having him suddenly get throw-in seemed to serve no real purpose.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 30, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Ken Hannam

Studio: Spectrum Films

Available: DVD (Region 0 Import)

The Hospital (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: An incompetently run hospital.

Dr. Herbert Bock (George C. Scott) is the chief of staff at a teaching hospital in New York where patients routinely die due to misdiagnosis and other blunderings. There’s also a protest by a group of tenants from a nearby apartment building that’s been annexed by the hospital to make room for a drug rehabilitation center. Bock not only must deal with these issues, but also his crumbling personal life which has turned him to both alcohol and thoughts of suicide. His only ray-of-light is meeting the beautiful Barbra (Diana Rigg) who has come to the hospital to seek treatment for her father (Barnard Hughes), but just as Bock starts to come out of his depression the place becomes terrorized by an unseen assailant who begins killing both the patients and staff.

In 1969 after his wife had received poor care at a local hospital Paddy Chayefsky set-out to write a script exposing what he felt was the corruption and incompetence going on inside the American medical institutions. He managed to get full control over his screenplay and final say over any proposed changes, which was a good thing since initially the studio felt it was filled with too much medical terminology that would go over many viewer’s heads. I’ll admit there’s an excessive amount of lingo, both with the dialogue between the doctors and staff as well as the opening voice-over narration by Chayefsky, that’s done at a rapid-fire pace and I really didn’t understand it, but I still kind of liked it. I have no medical background myself, so I and most viewers aren’t going to get the ‘medical speak’, but leaving it in helps make it sound more authentic. It also impresses the viewer with how much research was put into it and you basically trust what’s going on because it ‘sounds intelligent’.

Another complaint was the shift in tone where things start out in a darkly-humorous slap-dash fashion only to end up during the second act becoming quite serious. Normally this would’ve been a big problem, but I liked the shift here. I think the reason is because underneath the comedy there’s still life-and-death consequences going on and if you’re going to make a statement movie, which this is attempting to do, then at some point things have got to slow-down and get serious in order for that statement to get out, which this thing ends up successfully doing.

While I enjoyed the fluid pace that manages to encompass not only satire and drama, but even shades of horror without ever losing its realism I did find that it spends an inordinate amount of time telling us about all of the problems without bothering to give us any solutions. There’s no focus on what the underlying causes are nor any balance by showing an well-run hospital in comparison. One might start to believe that all hospitals are like this and become afraid to ever go into one even if they are really sick, which isn’t exactly a good thing. This may have been the reason why Chayefsky himself died at the relatively young age of 58 from cancer because he feared Dr.’s would “cut me up because of that movie I wrote about them” and thus refused surgery that might’ve saved his life.

Spoiler Alert!

There’s a few issues with the casting as well. Overall, I was impressed with the performances particular Scott who got his second Oscar nomination for his work here. Rigg is also quite good, in a part that seemed better suited for Jane Fonda, who was the studio’s choice, but Rigg’s British accent and terse style makes for an interesting dynamic. You can also glimpse young soon-to-be-stars in small bits including: Nancy Marchand and Robert Walden, who later went on to co-star with each other in the TV-show ‘Lou Grant’ as well as Stockard Channing, in her film debut, and Frances Sternhagen as an exasperated medical clerk. The main problem though comes with Barnard Hughes, who appears for some strange reason in two completely different roles. He is very funny as the surgeon who finds he’s been operating on the wrong person, but then later he reappears as Rigg’s father, which didn’t make much sense. Since the father turns out to be the mysterious killer many people thought the scene with Hughes as the surgeon was meant to be the father in disguise, but that was not the intention. Again, if there’s no specific/underlying purpose story-wise for an actor to play two different parts in the same movie then don’t do it. There’s no lack of actors out there clamoring for work, so one of the two parts could’ve easily have been filled by someone else and thus avoided confusing the audience for no good reason.

It’s possible that the reason Chayefsky had Hughes playing dual roles was to help explain how the killer was able to get away with his crimes for so long. While the killer is always shown off camera, so the viewer does not know the identity, the Dr.’s and nurses do seem to recognize him as being a colleague and are put at ease just before he kills them. Of course the odds of a patient entering a random hospital and looking similar to one of the staff is astronomically low, but if this was the underlying concept, and it very well may have been, then the film should’ve eventually made this clear by having a split screen scene where Hughes the surgeon bumps into Hughes the killer.

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My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 14, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Arthur Hiller

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, Tubi, YouTube

Stone (1974)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Somebody’s killing the bikers.

Toad (Hugh Keays-Byrne) is a member of the Grave Diggers biker gang who stops off one sunny day to hear a politician giving a speech at a park. He has just taken some acid and feeling the effects of it and so goes straying from the rest when he sees a shooter hiding inside a nearby building and when the gun goes off and kills the politician the bikers gets blamed for it. Soon members of their group start getting knocked-off in bizarre ways convincing them that somebody is after them for what they witnessed. Stone (Ken Shorter) is the long-haired police detective who infiltrates the group in order to find out who the killer is, but the bikers are initially unhappy with a ‘pig’ being a part of their organization, but eventually they form a friendship and work together to nab the bad guy before he kills more.

The story was originally meant as an episode for an Australian TV-show, but when that series got canceled before this episode could air, it was then reworked into a feature film. Real Australian bikers were used as supporting players with many of them being paid with free beer for their efforts. The film eventually did quite well at the box office and has garnered a cult status worldwide although the 99 minute length, which is what is widely available, was not the original cut, which was much longer at 130 minutes, but director Sandy Harbutt did not like this version, so this became a rare occasion where the director’s cut leaves out many scenes that was originally shown in the theaters.

As a film it’s not too bad and I particularly liked it’s moody opening that has a lot of weird camera angles and freeze-frames. The funeral procession showing hundreds of bikers careening down the highway leaves a memorable impression as well. The killings are cool too, including a dangerous stunt that required a driver to ride his bike off an 80-foor cliff and into the ocean.

On the drama ends there’s some interesting moments including Stone’s initiation, but when he’s off by himself it gets boring quick especially since Shorter’s mop-top hairstyle makes him look more like a lost singer to a ’70’s Glam band than a cop. The film only works when the bikers are in it and becomes nothing more than a tepid, pedestrian drama without them. The wrap-up isn’t as interesting as the opening and I kind of wondered if the mystery angle even needed to be put in as there are long segments where the investigation isn’t even talked about to the point that it almost seems forgotten.

The much ballyhooed violence isn’t all that impressive either with the fist-fights looking like poorly staged stunt work by amateurs. They’re also quite brief and don’t take up as much of the runtime as you’d expect. However, as a character study it has an appeal as I found the bikers themselves to be a fascinating bunch and wanted to get to know them better and the plot should’ve focused on them solely.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 28, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 39 Minutes (Director’s Cut) 2 Hours 10 Minutes (Original Studio Version)

Not Rated

Director: Sandy Harbutt

Studio: British Empire Films Australia

Available: DVD

 

Games (1967)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Playing tricks on others.

Paul (James Caan) and his wife Jennifer (Katharine Ross) are an affluent upper East Side couple who are into illusion/magic trick shows and entertain their friends at posh parties that they hold inside their spacious townhome. One day Lisa (Simone Signoret) arrives at their door selling cosmetics only to fall ill when she gets inside the home. A doctor (Ian Wolfe) comes over and finds her condition to be only temporary and says she’ll recover in a day if given plenty of rest, so they decide to let her stay the night, which then becomes an extended visit as Lisa and Jennifer begin to bond. The two then start playing tricks on Paul by pretending that Jennifer is having an affair with their delivery boy named Norman (Don Stroud). Eventually Paul realizes he’s been duped, but wants to get revenge by pretending to catch Norman coming onto Jennifer the next day. This time Paul accidently shoots and kills him forcing the couple to get rid of the body without Lisa becoming aware, which they’re able to do, until Jennifer begins seeing what she believes to be Norman’s ghostly presence.

The film has potential, but consistently misses-the-mark and ultimately becomes a misfire. The games the two play are amusing, but nothing special though it’s enough to hold interest particularly at the beginning during the party scenes with all of their pretentious friends. The townhouse the two live in is ritzy and I enjoyed the design, but if you’re going to have a story take place in Manhattan then you better film it there and not on a sound stage in Los Angeles as the ambience of the neighborhood is missing and having almost all of the action take place in one setting eventually becomes claustrophobic.

The real problem though is with the characters. Signoret is fantastic and her presence helps immensely, but the way she enters into the story is ridiculous. What kind of couple would let a strange woman stay overnight in their home? If she’s sick then let her spend it at a hospital. Turning her one night visit into an extended stay is equally farfetched and where exactly did she find this wardrobe to wear when she initially just came over to peddle perfumes?

Ross’s character is a big mess too and it’s no wonder that she has referred to this film as being ‘terrible’ and it’s not her fault either. She’s quite beautiful as always and if you need an actress to give off the perfect scared expression she’s tops, but I didn’t understand why her character allowed herself to be so taken in. This was a couple used to playing tricks not only on their friends, but on each other, so why didn’t she have a more jaded reaction and presume that her husband really didn’t kill Norman and it was all some elaborate game?

Spoiler Alert!

The twist ending is a complete letdown as it hinges on Paul meeting Lisa a year earlier by chance and then springing this idea on her of scaring Jennifer to death to the point that she inadvertently kills someone, so that he can get at her fortune and split it with Lisa, but how would he know that he could trust Lisa to keep this secret and not go to the authorities, or tell Jennifer? It might’ve worked better had the third person been a lifelong friend/family member to Paul, and not just someone he met at random, and therefore not likely to betray him.

A double-ending would’ve been more satisfying as Lisa poisons Paul and walks away with the money, but Paul should’ve been cunning enough to try and poison Lisa first, or through mutual mistrust they poison each other and no one gets the money. An even better idea would’ve had Jennifer only pretending to fall victim to the ruse, so when Lisa walks outside with the suitcase full of money, after having killed Paul, Jennifer and the police squad could’ve been there waiting for her.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: September 17, 1967

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Curtis Harrington

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD-R (Universal Vault Series), Blu-ray

The Stepford Wives (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Suburban wives become robots.

Joanne and Walter (Katharine Ross, Peter Masterson) decide to move with their two children (Mary Stuart Masterson, Ronny Sullivan) from the big city to the quiet suburb of Stepford, Connecticut. While Walter immediately starts to fit-in with the exclusive men’s club that they have there Joanne feels unable to connect with the other wives who all behave in a robotic fashion and more concerned with keeping their husbands happy and cleaning their homes than anything else. She manages to find one other woman named Bobbie (Paula Prentiss) who like her find the women’s behavior in the town to be a bit odd and they team up to investigate what the cause of it may be.

When this film was first released it was met with controversy particularly by feminists who felt the storyline was misogynistic and one protester even went as far as attacking director Bryan Forbes with her umbrella. When the movie was screened to a group of feminists they all hissed and groaned at it during the viewing while some other women, like screenwriter Eleanor Perry, came to the film’s defense calling it more of a sharp satire on men and their superficial views on women than on the women themselves.

I saw it more as a trenchant take on the suburbs, which can initially seem like a quiet, safe refuge, but ultimately can become a trap with a lot of hidden strings that you don’t initially see. While the Stepford wives do behave as overly conforming to domestic roles it’s really not all that much different than what you’d find in reality making you wonder if the rest of us suburbanites all slowly getting sucked into the Stepford trap too and just don’t realize it.

While the ill-advised 2004 remake tried to turn the concept into a comedic tale the story really works best as a horror film, which is what the 1972 Ira Levin novel, of which the film was based, intended and there are some good creepy moments. I particularly liked the moment when Joanne is talking to her therapist, played by Carol Eve Rossen, about how she feels the men in town are turning the women into robots and she fears she will be next. Her therapist advises her to grab her kids and leave town, but Joanne admits her other family members are dead and she has nowhere to go, which brought out what the truly frightening aspect of this story truly is, which is that women back then were completely dependent on their husbands for everything. Many of them weren’t in the job force and simply living off of their husband’s income. If the marriage went bad they were pretty much trapped in it, so even if a woman wasn’t getting turned into a robot like these women were they still weren’t really free either.

I also enjoyed the moment when Katharine Ross stabs Paula Prentiss, Ross had grown to like Prentiss so much during the production that she was nervous about doing this so director Forbes shaved the back of his hand and used it in place of Ross’ when the scene was shot. You may have seen many stabbing scenes in your film watching lifetime, but the one here is truly unique and quite memorable and voted as one of the 100 Scariest Film Moments by the Bravo Film Institute.

The film though still does have its share of faults. I liked how the viewer initially doesn’t know anything more than the main characters about what is going on, but ultimately the viewer starts to catch onto things more quickly than the protagonist, which proves frustrating. Joanne comes upon the creepy house where the exclusive men’s club meet, filmed at the historical Lockwood-Matthews Mansion in Norwalk, Connecticut, which looks quite ominous at night, at the film’s 60 minute mark, but then doesn’t go back to it until 50 minutes later. The viewer has already connected-the-dots that the bad things are happening inside that place, but instead of Joanne investigating the place more she goes on a wild-goose-chase with Bobbie about researching that town’s water supply, thinking that may have a chemical in it that is brainwashing the other women, which is clearly just a waste of time.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s ending has a several issues as well. In the novel Joanne gets chased down by the town’s men, which should’ve been in the film as it would’ve allowed for some much needed action, but wasn’t. William Goldman’s script had originally called for Joanne to fight violently for her life when she gets attacked by her prototype robot, but Forbes decided to simply fade to black and not show the struggle, which makes it look like Joanne allowed herself to go down too easily.

When Joanne confronts the sinister Diz, played by Patrick O’Neal, he alludes to the idea that she wasn’t necessarily going to die, but would simply be ‘moving onto another phase’. He then describes to her about how nice it would be for a woman to be married to a husband who would adore her even when she grew ‘old and flabby’ making me think that Joanne was simply going to be taken away to another suburb somewhere else where the husbands would be the robots that the women controlled while the men remained in Stepford enjoying the wife robots. Seeing this scenario would’ve been a more interesting and unexpected twist and ultimately was later done in the 1986 TV-Movie The Stepford Husbands. 

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 12, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 55 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Bryan Forbes

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

The Gore Gore Girls (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Somebody’s killing the strippers.

Private investigator Abraham Gentry (Frank Kress) gets hired by Nancy (Amy Farrell), a reporter for The Globe newspaper, to investigate the murder of a stripper named Suzy Cream Puff (Jackie Kroeger). Abraham will get $25,000 to investigate the case and another $25,000 to solve it as long as he gives The Globe the exclusive story. Soon more strippers turn up dead and Abraham starts to have a long list of suspects including Grout (Ray Sager) a Vietnam veteran who enjoys smashing melons with faces drawn on them, similar to how the strippers got their heads smashed, in order to relieve his post traumatic stress disorder.

This was schlockmeister Herschell Gordon Lewis’ final film until 2002 and was meant to be a combination between the lighthearted nudies that he made in the early 60’s and the more graphic gore films that he did in the later part of the decade. The result though is a misguided mess where it seems more like a gag reel with tacky gore thrown in at certain intervals than a horror film.

The production values are really cheap even for a low budget production and contains basically just a few settings. One features the cramped living room of Abraham’s house that looks to be nothing more than a one bedroom apartment, which doesn’t quite make sense since the guy is a world famous detective you’d think he be living in a plush place especially with his elitist attitude. The other setting, which takes up the majority of the story, is the strip club that looks like it was filmed in the corner of somebody’s dingy basement.

The gory murders aren’t much fun and would be considered quite sick if they weren’t so tacky and fake. The jump cuts are the biggest problem as the bad guy kills the stripper one second and then in the next frame has seemingly been able to skin their heads completely and crushed their skulls, which is too quick. The ping pong ball sized eyeballs that the killer gouges from their heads are ridiculous looking too as eyes are actually oval shaped and not round as presented here.

The stripping routines take up too much of the runtime and seem put in simply to pad the anemic plotline. I’m not going to complain about watching beautiful women taking off their clothes, although to be honest the women here aren’t so hot, but I got real tired of hearing the same music played over and over again during each different set. Aren’t strippers allowed to come up with their own music and dance routines, or is that a new phenomenon that wasn’t a thing back in the 70’s?

I hate to psycho-analyze a film director and have never done it before, but the misogyny here is rampant. If there had been one strong, smart woman character present then it would’ve have been a issue, but instead females get portrayed here as being incredibly dumb and easily manipulated. The Nancy character is shown to be unable to take care of herself and needs a man present to look out for her particularly when she passes out on a city sidewalk after having only a couple of drinks. She faints and screams at the sight of a dead body too while the man remains stoic and shows no emotional reaction at all. Maybe this was supposed to be a part of the ‘comedy’, but it comes off as severely dated and out-of-touch with the times.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: September 22, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 21 Minutes

Director: Herschell Gordon Lewis

Rated X

Studio: Lewis Motion Picture Enterprises

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Savage Weekend (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: The first slasher movie.

Maria (Marilyn Hamlin), who has a very contentious relationship with her ex-husband Greg (Jeff Pomerantz), but who is now in a relationship with Robert (Jim Doerr) a successful businessman, decides to take a weekend trip with some friends to upstate New York. Robert is having a large boat built there and wants to see its progress. The quiet country atmosphere seems like the perfect spot to getaway until a masked killer shows up killing each of them one-by-one.

While Halloween typically gets credited as being the forerunner to the modern day slasher film it’s actually this one that was the first and don’t let the release date fool you. This was filmed in the summer of 1976, a full two years before Halloween came out, but was shelved by its distributors as they thought the concept of a mysterious masked killer was ‘too weird’ and wouldn’t catch on only to eventually release it to theaters once they saw the success of Halloween.

The concept for this came about completely by accident. Writer/director David Paulson was originally hired to write a screenplay for a completely different type of movie, but the investor then retracted the majority of the money he promised leaving Paulson with a mere $20,000 to work with. He decided with such little funds he’d be forced create a story that required a single setting and then came up a scenario that would make the characters stay there and thus the killer-on-the-loose idea was born.

The critics were originally not kind: TV Guide subscribed this as a ‘reprehensible exploitation film’ and ‘the gore effects are extremely gruesome’, which just isn’t true. At best the blood is quite minimal especially when compared to today’s slashers. In fact you’ll find more explicit gore in modern dark comedy films like Shaun of the Dead than you will here.

Critic Joe Baltake criticized the Nicky (Christopher Allport) the gay character stating that he ‘set gay rights activism back several decades’, which I totally disagree with. I actually liked Nicky and was impressed at the way he walked into a backwoods bar and when the rednecks tried to hassle him he single-handedly kicked their asses, which to me worked completely against the gay stereotype.

Through the years critics have become much kinder to this film and its attained a strong cult following and deservedly so. Despite being made 4 decades ago it actually comes off as fresh and inventive because it’s not stifled by the conventional ‘rules’ of the formula, which we’ve become so accustomed to now. I liked how the film opens with a point-of-view shots of our heroine running madly through the forest making the viewer feel they’re the ones being chased.

The fact that the majority of it takes place during the daytime actually makes it scarier especially with it’s weird yellowish tint that permeates every shot. I’m not sure if this was intentional or just a poor film transfer, but it helps to create a surreal look. I also really loved seeing the skeleton of the large boat that was being built inside an abandoned shed. I presume with the low budget this was not made for the story and instead simply worked into the script when the producers came upon it while scouting for locations, but the effect is cool especially when the cast walks around inside it.

The soundtrack is way different from the conventional horror film as well with a country tinged sound and at one point even a classical dance piece, but after watching soooo many scary movies with the same old Friday the 13th-like sound I was more than happy to hear something different. The characters are also multi-dimensional with distinctive personalities. Usually I more than happy to see a cardboard slasher film cast get hacked-up, but here I kind of wanted them to stay around as they were interesting. The murders also don’t work in a mechanical way, but instead start occurring suddenly to the shock of everyone else, which gives it more of a real-time feel.

The only real negative is that despite having a strong beginning and ending the middle part is slow. There’s still enough interactions between the characters to hold mild interest, but there’s no running tension. A good horror movie should be creepy to some degree from beginning to end, but the second act veers off too much making it at times seem more like a soft core porn flick, but overall for the horror connoisseur I’d still recommend this.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 14, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated R

Director: David Paulsen

Studio: Cannon Group

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region 1), Amazon Video