Tag Archives: Rachel Ward

Fortress (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Australian schoolchildren get kidnapped.

Sally (Rachel Ward) is a school teacher working in rural Australia where she teaches in an old-fashioned one-room school house. The ten students are made up of different ages and an even mix of boys and girls. One morning while class is beginning a group of four masked men invade the building and take the children hostage. They throw them into an underground cave and then put a large boulder over the cave opening to lock them in. Sally and the students go searching through the underground caverns and manage to find another way out, but every time they think they’ve reached freedom the kidnappers always seem to be one-step ahead of them.

The film’s main selling point are the children, which at first I didn’t think would be a good idea. It can be hard to get kids, for many of them this was their first movie project, to show the necessary emotions in an effective way and while they don’t always respond to things quite the way I think a real kid would I still found their resiliency to be uplifting. I also enjoyed seeing how the older boys grew into men during the experience and watching Sally precariously balance her obligation of the being the mature, brave one while still hiding her inner emotions of fear and panic.

The location shooting takes advantage of many different Australian locales including the Buchan Caves where the action in the first act takes place. Later on we’re given exciting view of a them running through the forest late at night in an attempted escape as well as them returning to yet another cave for the climactic finish. The story manages to be reasonably tense throughout though the killers always managing to catch-up with their victims no matter where or how far they go does ultimately test the plausibility. The film’s tone is a bit off-kilter as well. Most of the time it seems to want to be a story of victim empowerment and resourcefulness, but then intermittently throws in some jarring violence, which wasn’t necessary.

Spoiler Alert!

While it’s great seeing these kids remain stoic it also seems hard to believe. After being put in the cave they find a way out where they then spot a farmhouse, which was several miles away only to ultimately realize that the kidnappers have been there waiting for them. They then great treated to a man getting gunned down before their very eyes, but manage to escape from their to yet another cave that is many miles away and again the kidnappers find them and continue their assault of terror. Normally after all this most people, especially young children, would feel overwhelmed and defeated and eventually fall into a traumatized state instead of the warrior mentality that they do. While the good guy fighting back approach may be more of an audience pleaser I wasn’t sure if this was a realistic response when given the daunting circumstances. Also, why would the bad guys not invade the cave the kids are in right away instead of staying back and giving the group ample time to create the makeshift weapons’, stuff that would take hours if not days to make,  in order to be ultimately used against the kidnappers like they are?

The Lord of the Flies – themed twist ending comes out of nowhere and seems too forced to be effective. Watching the group surround the last of the bad guys and viscously stabbing him with their weapons’ in slow motion made enough of a statement and that’s where it should’ve ended. Adding in the denouncement where the kids are back in school and have the heart of the killer placed inside a glass jar in the middle of the room was just too heavy-handed. With what they’ve been through most kids would never want to step foot in that school again and where are the parents during all of this as they’re never shown?  Having a human heart in a jar is pretty nasty and you’d think  one of the kids would’ve talked about it to others and word would ultimately get around.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The plot is loosely based on an actual event that occurred in the small town of  Faraday, Australia on October 6, 1972 when Edwin Eastwood and Robert Boland kidnapped a young teacher and her students from a remote one-room school house similar to the one depicted in the movie. However, there are many differences between the real event and what happens in the film. For one there were only 6 students and all of them were girls. They were never taken to a cave either, but instead held in the back of a van. When the kidnappers left the next morning to retrieve the ransom money the teacher, whose name was Mary Gibbs, managed to kick out the back door panel with her leather boots and escape with the children and eventually the two men were later caught.

The irony though is that’s not where the story ends as Eastwood was able to escape from jail in 1977 where he then kidnapped another group of children and their teacher, but was again caught. He then served a 16 year sentence, but was eventually paroled in 1993 and has been a free man working as a truck driver since.

Teacher Mary Gibbs and the six students who were kidnapped during the real-life incident.

The van in which Gibbs and the students were held captive.

The school house in which Mary Gibbs and her six students were taken hostage on October 6, 1972.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: November 24, 1985 (HBO Broadcast)

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated: TV-MA

Director: Arch Nicholson

Studio: HBO Premiere Films

Available: DVD

The Final Terror (1983)

final-terror

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer in the woods.

A group of young forest rangers go camping out in the woods only to find themselves quietly stalked by a menacing presence. When some of them go missing and then turn up dead they become convinced that it was caused by Eggar (Joe Pantoliano) a member of the group who was kicked-out for his anti-social behavior, but the killer may actually be more evasive than they thought and somehow able to track them down no matter where they try to go.

The film takes a different approach to most other ‘80s horror flicks in that it emphasizes the tension instead of the shocks or gore, which might’ve worked had the story been better plotted and the characters more rounded. As it is though it comes off like a weak rip-off to Deliverance and nothing more.

The characters are less cardboard here, but the viewer is still forced to slog through a lot of formulaic stuff that seems to have to appear any scary movie dealing with campers including the tacky ghost story told around a campfire, which in this case is even cornier than usual. The opening sequence, which was filmed later after the rest of the movie had already been shot and done by a different director, is completely pointless and should’ve been discarded.

The biggest issue I had though with the movie is that you barely ever see the killer. In fact out of its entire runtime you probably only see the killer’s figure for less than a minute. When you do spot him he comes off looking like a giant human-sized fur ball made by Stan and Marty Kroft for one of their Kroft Superstars show.

The acting is okay and much of the cast went on to have distinguished careers including Daryl Hannah and Rachel Ward who both look beautiful and should’ve been given more to do. Since this was filmed in 1981 it is technically Adrian Zmed’s film debut who manages to do a pretty good howl.

The music, which was inspired by Billy Idol’s ‘White Wedding’ has a good funky beat and the killer’s ultimate demise is well shot, but overall it’s rather lame with not enough to distinguish it from slew of other slasher films already out there. I also thought the title was stupid. Just exactly what is so final about this terror? It never gets explained or addressed and was apparently just tacked on once they found a distributor 2 years after it was already shot. The original working title was ‘Bump in the Night’, which would’ve been better.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 1, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 23Minutes

Rated R

Director: Andrew Davis

Studio: Aquarius Releasing

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video 

Night School (1981)

night-school-1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: They lose their heads.

All across the city of Boston young women are being attacked by a leather clad helmet wearing motorcyclist who hacks off their heads and then discards them in provocative places. Lt. Judd Austin (Leonard Mann) is on the case, but is finding few clues. Since the majority of the victims are coeds attending a local college he decides to interview the anthropology professor (Drew Snyder) who has been known to have affairs with many of them, which places him high on the suspect list as well as the fact that his studies deal with ancient tribal rituals of decapitations.

This is more of a police drama than an actual horror film as a lot of time gets spent on Mann interviewing suspects and tackling potential leads. Unfortunately he’s no Columbo as his personality is quite bland and his investigation leads nowhere, which makes the majority of the movie plodding and uneventful.

Rachel Ward, in her film debut, is the best thing about the movie and helps elevate it somewhat with her effective performance. Director Ken Hughes attempts to add some style to it with a orchestral score and a nice backdrop of Boston’s older neighborhoods, which is good, but the script lacks punch. The special effects are not realistic and cut away before much is seen. Certain scenes like when a woman gets attacked behind a closed door and the viewer is left to hear the strange noises that she makes comes off more as unintentionally funny than horrifying.

The ultimate identity of the killer is somewhat creative although with 20 minutes to go I had already figured it out. The twist that comes after it I had also caught on to, so there really aren’t many surprises here for the observant viewer in what is yet just another would-be ‘80s slasher wanna-be that adds little to the already overcrowded genre.

night-school-2

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: September 11, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ken Hughes

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), Amazon Instant Video

Against All Odds (1984)

against all odds

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Searching for missing girlfriend.

Terry Brogan (Jeff Bridges) is an aging football player who gets cut from the team and in desperate need of cash. He reluctantly accepts a paying assignment from his friend Jake Wise (James Woods) which has him traveling to Mexico in search of Jake’s girlfriend Jessie (Rachel Ward) who just so happens to also be the daughter of the team’s owner (Jane Greer) that cut Terry from the squad. Terry manages to find Jessie rather quickly and the two promptly fall in love, which propels a string of odd events that soon has Terry embroiled in a complex criminal scheme that threatens both his life and others.

This film is a remake from the 1947 film noir classic Out of the Past, but it does not fare as well as the original. The main problem is that it requires the viewer to make some major leaps in logic and only proceeds to get more implausible as it goes along. The fact that both Jake and the team’s owner want to hire Terry to find Jessie is the biggest issue. Why would these two want to throw gobs of money at someone who has no experience in finding people or know the first thing about the process. They wouldn’t hire him to fix their car if he had no experience in that area, so why expect him to have any ability in finding a missing person. Professional private eyes have spent years tracking down people and have attained skills that a novice wouldn’t, so why not just leaf through the Yellow Pages of their local phone book and hire a private investigator with good credentials to do the job instead?

Terry also locates Jessie much too quickly. Mexico has a population of 125 million people and yet in only a couple days he miraculously spots her buying food from across the street from where he is having a drink. In equally miraculous fashion she is somehow able to, after only speaking to him briefly, figure out which hotel he is staying at and bursts into his room unannounced the next day, which is also dumb because who leaves their hotel room door unlocked especially when staying in a foreign country? Later the Alex Karras character is somehow able to find the two as they make love inside an ancient Mayan temple deep inside the remote jungles of the Yucatan, which again is highly questionable and probably even more implausible than the other two examples mentioned above.

The motivations of the characters are another issue. There’s a scene where the Swoosie Kurtz character, as a favor to Terry, goes into a dead man’s office to retrieve some important files from a safe while having a Doberman growling at her and a corrupt security guard ready to harm her at any second, but why someone would put their life on the line for somebody that they really don’t know that well is nebulous and in reality wouldn’t occur.

There is also a scene involving Jake and Terry drag racing down the busy streets of L.A. in broad daylight. Some fans of the film consider this to be quite exciting, but I found it to be unrealistic as it is hard to believe that they could get away with it without catching the eye of a traffic cop as they were doing it. Having two middle-aged men be so utterly reckless not only with their own lives but those of the other drivers is also hard to imagine and puts their most prized possessions, which is their snazzy sports cars in jeopardy of getting totaled. Going to some other less traveled place to do their off-road racing would’ve made more sense.

On the plus side Larry Carlton’s moody soundtrack is great and helps create just the right tone. I also thought Ward was a perfect choice for her role as she is quite sensual and seductive without ever overdoing it. The film also scores with its breathtaking Mexican scenery.

I liked that Greer, who starred in the original version, gets cast as Ward’s mother and although I felt Richard Widmark does quite well as the heavy I was disappointed that the role wasn’t offered to either Robert Mitchum or Kirk Douglas as they had appeared in the original as well.

The plot features many twists, which keeps it mildly interesting, but it also borders on getting convoluted and is never emotionally compelling. The ongoing love affair between the two leads ends up being annoying as well. For one thing she two-times him while also bailing on him the moment things got tough. If a person does that to someone once they will do it to them again if given the chance, so ‘losing’ her wasn’t much of a loss and makes the image of her crying for him, which gets shown over the closing credits, all the more melodramatic and over-the-top.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: March 2, 1984

Runtime: 2Hours 1Minute

Rated R

Director: Taylor Hackford

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD