Dance, Fools, Dance (1931)
When businessman Stanley Jordan (William Holden) loses everything and then drops dead in the face of the Wall Street Crash, his children, Bonnie (Joan Crawford) and Rodney (William Bakewell), are left penniless. Spurning a proposal of obligation from her lover, Bob Townsend (Lester Vail), the tough-minded Bonnie gets a job at a newspaper; while Rodney gets drawn into the boot-legging activities of a criminal gang led by Jake Luva (Clark Gable). When members of a rival gang are slaughtered, reporter Bert Scranton (Cliff Edwards), who has mentored Bonnie, is put on the story. He gets most of the truth out of the terrified Rodney, who was a witness, but is recognised by Luva before he can get away. Luva solves both his problems by forcing Rodney to shoot Scranton. Scranton’s colleagues are determined to bring his murderer to justice, but face the problem of being known to Luva and his gang; all, that is, but rookie Bonnie, who agrees to go undercover to flush out a killer… Except for its absurd kiss-and-make-up ending, this MGM production, with its mixture of violence, sex and scandal, might have issued from Warners. Although many commentators seem to find Dance, Fools, Dance a disappointment after its frenetic, jazz-age, pre-Crash opening, the rest offers a gripping, if not exactly entirely credible, crime drama, enlivened by such touches as a blunt reworking of the infamous St Valentine’s Day Massacre, and with Clark Gable in one of his early, moustache-free, bad-guy roles: this was the first of eight co-appearances by Crawford and Gable. It’s Joan who holds the film together, though, with Bonnie morphing from sexually active flapper to social outcast to hard-bitten reporter over the course of the film; while the interplay between Bonnie and Bert makes her determination to help find his killer no matter what believable. And the film means “no matter what”, too: Bonnie knows when accepting her assignment that it may require her to become Jake Luva’s mistress. But when, while at Luva’s apartment, Bonnie answers the phone and recognises the voice of a terrified Rodney, the penny drops—and she realises that she must choose between getting justice for Bert Scranton and protecting her brother…
Fog Over Frisco (1934)
Everett Bradford (Arthur Byron) despairs of his step-daughter, Arlene (Bette Davis), who plunges uncaringly from scandal to scandal; but Arlene’s public recklessness is nothing compared to her secret involvement with a criminal gang dealing in stolen bonds. Arlene is a key part of the conspiracy, as she uses her besotted fiancé, Spencer Carlton (Lyle Talbot), who is attached to her step-father’s brokerage firm, to launder the bonds. Carlton’s nervousness and depression have already been noticed by Bradford and his partner, Porter (Henry O’Neil), when Police Chief O’Malley (Alan Hale), acting on a tip, contacts them. After conducting an in-house investigation, Bradford and Porter succeed in winning a full confession from the humiliated Carleton. Recognising that the jig is up, Arlene begins making plans for her future; but before she can leave town, and after clashing with both nightclub owner Jake Bello (Irving Pichel), who is the head of the gang, and Joshua Mayard (Douglass Dumbrille), another important player in the conspiracy with whom she has been secretly involved, she disappears… Sneaking in under the wire as a Pre-Code film, Fog Over Frisco is a breathless bit of melodrama, cramming an incredible amount of story and action into a mere 68 minutes, and throwing in any number of touches that make you blink in disbelief. In this respect, most commentators seem to single out the butt-slapping game (no, really); however, I found my eyebrows shooting highest over “nice guy” Everett Bradford’s plans to deal with his scandal-dogged step-daughter by having her committed. Like many films of this era, Warners films in particular, this ends up being a “newspapermen to the rescue” story—even though in this case the same newspapermen are repeatedly shown up as callous, dishonest and incompetent. Most jaw-droppingly of all, at one point the film’s nominal hero, reporter Tony Sterling (Donald Woods), notifies his paper of developments before calling the police, with the direct result that Arlene’s step-sister, Valkyr (Margaret Lindsay), who he is supposed to be in love with, is kidnapped by the gangsters! – and if she isn’t murdered, it’s not for any reason beyond IITS©! (“Oh, don’t rub it in,” Sterling grumbles when a furious Bradford calls him on his behaviour.) The early months of 1934 found Bette Davis playing nice with the Warners management in the hope of being allowed out to take the part of Mildred in Of Human Bondage; she got her way, but Fog Over Frisco is one of four rapidly shot B-films by which she paid her dues first. Bette is hilarious as the completely amoral Arlene, lighting up nightclubs, flirting with gangsters, feathering her nest via cool criminality and making a complete sucker out of Lyle Talbot—not that nature wasn’t a big help there. Alas, Pre-Code or not – and Bette’s top-billing notwithstanding – Arlene is self-evidently riding for a sticky end…
Dance, Girl, Dance (1940)
Madame Lydia Basilova (Maria Ouspenskaya) manages a dance troupe for which she tries to find “respectable” work, but the times being what they are, nightclubs and the burlesque beckon—with the troupe more often than not kept afloat by the “oomph” of Bubbles (Lucille Ball). Nevertheless, Judy O’Brien (Maureen O’Hara) refuses to give up on her dream of a career in ballet. For her, Madame arranges an audition with Stephen Adams (Ralph Bellamy), manager of the American Ballet. Tragically, however, on their way to the meeting Madame is struck and killed by a car. With her dying breath, she urges Judy to, “Dance, dance, dance…” When the troupe disperses, the self-sufficient Bubbles joins the burlesque, becoming a star under the name of “Tigerlily White”. When she offers Judy a place in her act, the girl is thrilled and grateful—only to suffer the mortification of realising that Bubbles wants her as a stooge, with her classical dance attracting hoots and insults from the rowdy crowds. To Judy’s angry protest, Bubbles points out coolly that anyone could do the job, and that $25 a week is $25 a week. Remembering Madame’s last words, Judy swallows her pride; and together, she and Bubbles are a hit—until newly-divorced millionaire Jimmy Harris (Louis Hayward) comes between them… The penultimate film directed by Dorothy Arzner, Dance, Girl, Dance is a fascinating mess. Its various subplots never really hang together properly, and the irreconcilable tension between what the studio wanted and what Arzner intended is evident from its first frames; yet the periodic eruptions of angry feminist protest and the film’s refusal ever to be quite like any other Hollywood backstage drama keeps you watching. As was the case with The Big Street, considered in the previous update, the daring of Lucille Ball’s performance as Bubbles takes your breath away—yet equally interesting is Arzner’s refusal to condemn her: rather, she makes Bubbles the vehicle of an ugly exposure of a world that prefers “oomph” to real talent. Maureen O’Hara, meanwhile, is a bit too much the wide-eyed naif as Judy—yet it is she who finally gets the film’s most famous scene, when Judy stands up and calls out the sniggering, hooting, cat-calling burlesque audience (“What do you suppose we think of you?”). To balance this, however, the film then offers a full-on cat-fight between Bubbles and Judy, which leaves the former with an impressive black eye, and the latter explaining herself to the world’s most understanding night-court judge (Walter Abel, in yet another of his wonderful supporting roles). Meanwhile, nothing in this film plays out as you might expect—most obviously with respect to the fact that after Bubbles and Judy spend most of the story fighting over Jimmy Harris, each with her own weapons, neither of them gets him. And rightly so, you can almost hear Dorothy Arzner saying, as she rewards her contrasting heroines according to their own desires, and without either of them settling for a mere man: Bubbles gets a large lump-sum, and Judy the career she’s always wanted most—and which (as the film’s last moments acknowledge) she could have had a lot earlier, if only Stephen Adams had bothered to introduce himself to her, instead of just following her around with a creepy-stalker grin on his face… Men, amiright?
Susan And God (1940)
Upon her return from an extended visit to Europe and England, scatty socialite Susan Trexel (Joan Crawford) dumbfounds her friends by declaring that she has found God and is a new woman in consequence. Using this as her justification, she immediately sets about “fixing” her friends’ relationships, interfering between Irene (Rose Hobart) and Mike (Bruce Cabot), who have begun an affair without waiting for her divorce to be granted, and bringing to flashpoint the tension between “Hutchie” (Nigel Bruce), his new wife, ex-actress Leonora (Rita Hayworth), and actor Clyde Rochester (John Carroll) who, under Susan’s prodding, admits to being in love with his former colleague. However, when it comes to her alcoholic husband, Barrie (Frederic March), and introverted teenage daughter, Blossom (Rita Quigley), Susan prefers to evade her responsibilities in favour of evangelising for her new “Movement”. When Barrie overhears Susan expounding her beliefs, he challenges her to live up to them, proposing that the three of them live together as a normal family for just one summer. When Susan hesitates, Barrie promises he will stop drinking—and that if he falls off the wagon just once, she can have the divorce he knows she wants… I generally hate the term “dated”, but it applies to this adaptation of Rachel Crowther’s play, which is fatally mired in the mores of its time. Not for a fraction of a second will Susan And God concede that everyone might be better off if Susan and Barrie did get a divorce. Instead, we are required to believe that Barrie and Blossom both “adore” Susan, even though she has completely neglected the latter and helped to drive the former into the bottle; and that Susan herself will eventually undergo an epiphany regarding her feelings for Barrie that will instantaneously “cure” her of what is otherwise presented as unrepentant, constitutional selfishness. Written from another perspective, this might have been an interesting study of a destructively self-absorbed personality; as it is, “unconvincing” is hardly the word. Joan Crawford’s brittle performance as Susan is hard to take, but again the problem is with the character as written: she spends so much time play-acting and self-dramatising, we’re given very few glimpses of the “real” Susan, even though the story’s denouement depends upon there being one. Frederic March, underplaying in contrast, does better, but gets all the benefit of a script determined to soft-pedal Barrie’s culpability in Blossom’s neglect and unhappiness. The supporting cast, which includes in addition to those mentioned Constance Collier, Marjorie Main and Gloria DeHaven, is uniformly strong; with two standout performances from Ruth Hussey as Charlotte, long and silently in love with Barrie (the screenplay barely spares a thought for her misery, in its forcing of the Trexels’ domestic bliss), and Rita Quigley as Blossom, whose interplay with Fredric March is one of the film’s genuine strengths, but who is ill-served by a storyline suggesting that Blossom’s “real” problem isn’t a disinterested mother and an alcoholic father, it’s that she doesn’t know how to make herself look pretty so that boys will like her…
The Man I Love (1947)
Lounge singer Petey Brown (Ida Lupino) travels to California to visit her sisters and brother, and finds the family in trouble. With her soldier-husband hospitalised with psychiatric issues, Sally Otis (Andrea King) is working as a waitress to support her young son, and has attracted the unwanted attention of nightclub owner, Nicky Toresca (Robert Alda). Joe Brown (Warren Douglas), meanwhile, is being drawn into Toresca’s criminal activities; while Virginia Brown (Martha Vickers) has fallen for married neighbour, Johnny O’Connor (Don McGuire), who only has eyes for his selfish, gold-digging wife, Gloria (Dolores Moran). Deciding that Sally’s situation is the most urgent, since she cannot afford to lose her job, Petey intervenes by drawing Toresca’s attention to herself: a situation that becomes complicated, even dangerous, when she finds herself falling for emotionally damaged jazz pianist, San Thomas (Bruce Bennett)… Based upon the novel Night Shift by Maritta Wolff and directed by Raoul Walsh, The Man I Love is a well-executed but somewhat depressing noirish melodrama. As far as it does so, it is Ida Lupino who makes the film work with her performance as Petey (whose masculine moniker goes refreshingly unexplained), which is part of the problem: Petey deserves so much better than the self-absorbed, occasionally abusive San, who hasn’t recovered from his failed marriage and is still hung up on his ex-wife, that it is hard to feel anything but dismayed by her willingness to settle for so little. The surrounding subplots, meanwhile, are pure soap, though not without a certain amount of daring with respect to Roy Otis’s post-war trauma, Virginia’s evident love for a married man, and Gloria’s disinterested neglect of her baby twins. (You get three guesses how those last two subplots work themselves out, and the first two don’t count.) The Man I Love is perhaps most notable for its soundtrack, featuring songs by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II and the Gershwins, with with and several different arrangements of the title song offered; the latter becomes the film’s dominant motif as Petey and San struggle towards some semblance of happiness.
The Sound Barrier (1952)
Also known as Breaking The Sound Barrier and Breaking Through The Sound Barrier. We might as well deal with this film’s two elephants in the living room at the outset. First, its depiction of the breaking of the sound barrier, and the means by which (in-film) it is achieved, contains some significant errors; although given that some of the details of how this had actually been achieved were still classified in 1952, perhaps this isn’t too surprising. The second issue is that there is a section of the opening credits where all the real planes used in the film are, effectively, given their own “and starring” page. This was a lovely idea—except that the page is headed by the de Havilland Comet, which in the early years of commercial jet flight was notoriously involved in a series of shocking crashes (and so ushered in the modern disaster movie; but that’s just by the way). These factors together probably account for this film’s slide into obscurity, but on its own merits it is a fine if sombre drama—as you would expect, given that it was written by Terence Rattigan and directed by David Lean. During WWII, flyer Tony Garthwaite (Nigel Patrick) marries Susan Ridgefield (Ann Todd), and so finds himself son-in-law to one of Britain’s leading aircraft manufacturers, John Ridgefield (Ralph Richardson). As a member of the family, Tony is made privy to the company’s revolutionary efforts to design a so-called “jet engine”. After the war, Tony accepts a job as a test pilot at Ridgefield’s: a profession whose inherent danger escalates when John Ridgefield becomes obsessed with designing and building a plane capable of breaking the sound barrier… There is an odd double-vision about The Sound Barrier, which simultaneously celebrates the ingenuity and courage involved in technological breakthroughs such as those which led to first jet propulsion and then to supersonic flight, while asking uncomfortable – perhaps unanswerable – questions about what price we should be willing to pay in exchange for the advancement of human knowledge. There is also a tacit contrast drawn between male and female values, with a pregnant Susan struggling to build a life for herself and Tony apart from the demands and dangers of Ridgefield’s, even as Tony and his friend and fellow pilot, Philip Peel (John Justin), refuse to walk away from a job that will almost certainly kill them—though neither is able to articulate why not. (The second half of the film plays out in the shadow of the real death of Geoffrey de Havilland Jr, who was killed during a test flight in September, 1946.) This isn’t really an actor’s film, with the cast almost overwhelmed by the technology. However, Ann Todd and Nigel Patrick both do a competent job (granting that some of their characters’ behaviour is confusing); while Ralph Richardson is unusually unsympathetic as the obsessed John Ridgefield—even though the film pulls a not-entirely-credible back-flip on his character in its closing stages. The film’s best performance comes in a supporting role: Joseph Tomelty as aviation designer Will Sparks, the human face of Ridgefield’s, for whom the burden of guilt associated with the crashes of his planes (though the result of circumstances beyond his control) becomes almost too much. Meanwhile, Denholm Elliott has a small but poignant role as Ann’s young brother, who can’t find the courage to tell his father that he has neither the desire nor the aptitude to be a pilot…
Also known as The Deadliest Sin. Prodigal son Michael Nelson (Sidney Chaplin) returns from America to the small English town where he grew up, to the house still shared by his wheelchair-bound father (Jefferson Clifford) and his sister, Louise (Audrey Dalton). Nelson is evasive about his time in America and why he returned, and with good reason: he is carrying the proceeds of a bank robbery, of which he defrauded his partner-in-crime. Corey (Patrick Allen) soon catches up with him, however. Family friend Alan Pool (Peter Hammond) stumbles into a violent confrontation between the two men and, in a moment of panic, shoots Corey with Nelson’s dropped gun—looking on in numb horror as Nelson strips from Corey’s body anything that might identify him. At first, Pool gives in to Nelson’s bullying insistence that he keep quiet, but his guilt is overwhelming; so much so, that he finally carries it to his priest, Father Neil (John Welsh)—only to be shot dead in the middle of making his confession… An early directorial effort from Ken Hughes, Confession is an interesting crime drama, though one unfortunately undermined by the casting of Sidney Chaplin; not that it’s entirely his fault. This is one of those annoying instances where an American actor is cast in a British production in order to sell it in the US, and Chaplin is convincing neither as an Englishman nor as the product of the Nelson household; while his accent, justified as having “brushed off” on him during his few years in America, is completely jarring. (The fact that his character is called “Mike Nelson” doesn’t help either!) The film is also undermined by the contrived circumstances under which Corey is killed. Granted, he was doing his best to strangle Nelson at the time; but surely Pool might have tried to pull him off, or pistol-whipped him, or even shot him in the arm or leg, rather than pumping a fatal bullet into his back? However, the subsequent drama that unfolds is generally quite gripping. On one hand we have the police investigation into the two murders that have rocked this quiet community, with all the early evidence pointing to Alan Pool as the killer of the unidentified first victim, and the subsequent hunt for Pool’s own killer baulked by Father Neil’s refusal to reveal what he said in the confessional. On the other hand, it is not long before Louise and her father come to realise that even if Alan did shoot Corey (they don’t really believe it), it could only have been Mike who shot him… Working around Father Neil, Inspector Kessler (John Bentley) soon comes to a correct understanding of both murders, but hasn’t the evidence to prove it. Finally, in desperation, he persuades Father Neil to act as bait for a killer, and lets it be known that the priest is attempting to obtain dispensation from his bishop to reveal the content of Alan Pool’s confession…
Attack On The Iron Coast (1967)
Major James Wilson (Lloyd Bridges), a Canadian commando attached to British naval command, proposes a dangerous mission to destroy the vital LeClair repair dock on the so-called “Iron Coast” in France. The plan is at first rejected as too reckless, particularly in light of an earlier mission led by Wilson which suffered an appallingly high casualty rate. However, the opportunity to cut the largest German destroyers off from the only dock big enough to receive them finally sees “Operation Mad Dog” given the go-ahead. Things begin badly when several man are killed during Wilson’s battle-condition training, and the mission’s naval commander, Donald Kimberly (Mark Eden), is temporarily blinded. Kimberly must be replaced by Captain Franklin (Andrew Keir), who has been from the outset the most vocal opponent of “Mad Dog”—and whose son was killed during the previous mission led by Wilson. Despite his mission being officially approved, Wilson receives not the destroyer he asked for, but only a minesweeper, and four motor launches for support and transport back to England; furthermore, although air support has been promised, when the moment comes the RAF decides none can be spared. As the explosives-laden minesweeper approaches its destination, urgent orders are received to abort—but Franklin and Wilson, who have buried the hatchet, decide to proceed on what is now all-but a suicide mission… The first of several similar collaborations between director Paul Wendkos and screenwriter John C. Champion (the co-producer and screenwriter of Zero Hour!), Attack On The Iron Coast is based upon a true story, that of the “Operation Chariot” raid upon the German repair dock at St Nazaire in March 1942. Unfortunately, the end product is a mediocre war drama that can’t overcome the combination of its low budget and its casting. This was one of several such productions shot in England in the mid-60s, with a predominantly British cast but an American star; in the latter lies this film’s main shortcoming. Lloyd Bridges’ Wilson is supposed to be a no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners type, determined to get the job done in the teeth of hidebound protocol and no matter what the obstacles, but he comes across as so brash and obnoxious that the viewer ends up siding with those opposed to him. Excusing his accent by making his character Canadian doesn’t work either. Bridges’ characterisation throws into strong relief the much lower-key performances of Andrew Keir, Mark Eden and Howard Pays as Wilson’s second-in-command; while there is a lovely supporting bit from Welsh actor Glyn Owen as the commander of the minesweeper, who is (to put it mildly) unhappy that his venerable ship is considered disposable enough to be handed over to the reckless Wilson. But though these actors do what they can, they are scuppered by John Champion’s screenplay, which is undistinguished and cliché-ridden; while its presentation of the German high command at LeClair is just silly, with the officers watching pornography and swilling French wine and ignoring reports about the odd behaviour of the stray minesweeper right up to the moment it crashes into the dock’s gates and begins disgorging commandos—and even then it doesn’t occur to them what the real point of the mission is. However, the belated retaliation from shore does damage the mission’s “Trojan Horse”, including severing the wires set to trigger the massive explosive charge concealed in the minesweeper’s hold…
Blood Sabbath (1972)
As you know, I like to offer an editorial-free summary at the beginning of my reviews, but in this case that “summary” is reduced to a helplessly blank iteration of, “This happens – then this happens – then this happens”. So— A young man called David is wandering through Mexico when he is attacked and almost raped by four completely naked, giggling young women. (As one reviewer has pointed out, this is rather ironic given that David is played by Anthony Geary, who went on to a lengthy career as “TV’s favourite rapist”.) David struggles free and runs, but the women chase him until he falls down and hits his head on a rock. Afraid that he is dead, the naked women flee. David comes to by the side of the river, where he finds himself under the care of water sprite Yyalah (Susan Damante, in a terrible wig), and promptly falls in love with her. When he comes to the second time, he is in the lonely cabin of Lonzo (Sam Gilman), who tells him he dreamed the whole thing. David is sure that Yyalah is real and sets out to find her; while Lonzo takes care of his yearly task of ensuring that the crops don’t fail by delivering a child for sacrifice to the local witch coven, which is led by Dyanne Thorne, whose character is called – get this – “Alotta”, and who bizarrely enough keeps her clothes on more than any of the other female characters. (Oh, don’t worry: I said “keeps them on more”, not “keeps them on”.) David finds Yyalah, who loves him too for no reason, but tells him that they cannot be together because he has a soul and she does not; so David starts looking for a way to get rid of his. And after that, things get weird… You’d go a long way to find a film with a higher WTF!? quotient than Blood Sabbath, or one with more gratuitous nudity, male as well as female; and on both counts it delights me to report that it was directed by a woman, Brianne Murphy. (On the other hand, it delights me not one little bit to discover that various stereotypical thinkers have it as directed by Brian Murphy.) Throw into the mix some psychedelic cinematography, a little interpretive dance, a few minor gore effects, a van full of rather nasty-natured hippies (one of them played by Russ Meyer regular, Uschi Digard, who flashes her assets), a priest who divides his time between loudly denouncing sinners at the local tavern and taking sexual favours from the witch coven, and a wandering Vietnam vet (if Bob Clark’s Deathdream was the first film to tackle Vietnam head-on, Blood Sabbath, made the same year, may have been the first to use the word “Vietnam” as an all-purpose explanation), and you have a film that functions as a perverse time-capsule of the early 1970s.
Maid Of Honor (2006)
When her sister is killed in a car accident, Laci Collins (Linda Purl) moves in with her widowed brother-in-law, Richard Wynn (Linden Ashby), to help care for his children, teenage Molly (Dani Kind) and young Daniel (Steven McPhail). When, two years later, Richard announces his engagement to Nicole Harris (Shannon Sturges), it triggers a psychotic break in the unstable Laci, who has come to think of Richard and the children as her own—and who isn’t about to give them up to another woman… A typical Lifetime psycho-drama, Maid Of Honor is almost completely predictable, yet manages to score a few points—albeit they seem accidental. Richard’s sheer obtuseness is so exasperating, you almost end up siding with Laci; do side with her when his engagement to Nicole comes with a second barrel-blast: in effect, “Thanks for two two years of your life, Laci, now out you go!” This plot-point is bundled up with the flashback to Laci as carer for her dying mother, a duty from which favourite daughter Carrie is excused since she “has a life” elsewhere. The revelation that Laci, in a fit of temper, let her mother die is supposed to be a shocking illustration of the depths of her psychosis (as if we hadn’t already figured that out!), but what I took away from it was a message about the unfair way that unpleasant family duties devolve upon single women. Both the direction and the writing of Maid Of Honor are almost absurdly unsubtle, but, and particularly in the supporting roles, the film does somewhat better on the acting front—even if subtlety isn’t the attraction there, either. Bruce Dinsmore has a few good moments as Kevin Lansing, Richard’s colleague and potential best man, and an old friend of Laci; Dani Kind grows into her role as Molly (an unusually unannoying teen, for this sort of film); and I was glad to see Shannon Sturges again—though it must be admitted that, as “nice girl” Nicole, she struggles to hold her own against the scenery-chewing of Linda Purl, who throws herself with an enthusiasm both admirable and amusing into the task of depicting Laci’s escalating psychosis. Her plan to stop the marriage by exposing the skeletons in Nicole’s closet and/or manipulating the children failing, Laci is driven to violence—stealing Nicole’s epi-pen before feeding her nuts and then sticking a pillow over her face while she’s recovering in hospital, before resorting to a good old-fashioned butcher-knife. When Kevin makes the mistake of getting her alone to tell her that he’s onto her, he gets his head smashed in for his troubles; but luckily, suspicious teen Molly is on the case…
Black Swarm (2007)
Jane Kozik (Sarah Allen) moves from Manhattan back to her upper New York State hometown of Blackstone with her ten-year-old daughter, Kelsey (Rebecca Windheim). Kelsey is apprehensive about the change, although Jane assures her that she will learn to love small-town life; plus, she will be much safer in Blackstone. However, Jane’s first day on the job as deputy sheriff coincides with the bizarre, gruesome death of a young homeless man, who was apparently stung to death after sneaking into the tool-shed of blind resident, Beverly Rowe (Sheena Larkin). Neither local pest control expert, Devin Hall (Sebastien Roberts) – the twin brother of Jane’s late husband – nor consultant entomologist Katharine Randell (Jayne Heitmeyer) have ever seen anything like the dead man’s injuries. Meanwhile, Kelsey begins an odd friendship with Beverly’s next-door neighbour, Eli Giles (Robert Englund), who lives in a trailer—a trailer which conceals a secret underground laboratory, where Eli is experimenting on wasps… This 2007 SyFy production toggles between stupid-but-entertaining and too-stupid-to-care-about, but in the end its few strengths outweigh its many, many weaknesses. Like all of the productions of the Halmis, Robert Sr and Robert Jr, the plot makes precious little sense, even while serving up the same old stuff we’ve seen a thousand times before. (Would you be astonished to learn that the wasps are the result of an eee-vil military project to make a super-weapon? No, didn’t think so…) Speaking of which, once again we’re forced to wince our way through the reunion of the romantic leads, both of whom like to stop in the middle of wasp-induced crises for lengthy conversations about their failed relationship and future prospects; although this isn’t as hard to take as Jane Kozik’s back-and-forth between Helpless Screaming Female and Badass Action Girl. Meanwhile, although there are a few overtly jokey moments, it’s hard to know whether we’re supposed to take it seriously or not when – Shaun Of The Dead-like – half of Blackstone’s population are turned into grunting, staggering “drones” without anyone noticing. What rescues this silly film are the performances of Robert Englund as Eli and Rebecca Windheim as Kelsey, the latter in her first film: the way these two, veteran and neophyte, play off each other puts the rest of the cast to shame. Refreshingly, Kelsey is anything but the whiny little brat we’re used to encountering in these sorts of films—which isn’t to say she doesn’t have behavioural issues of her own, some of which lead her to sneak into Eli’s secret laboratory, taunt his experimental wasps, and take a bite out an equally experimental peach, with unpleasant consequences for all concerned. However, all is forgiven when Kelsey, hearing about Eli’s long history of batshit-crazy experimentation, responds with a gleeful cry of, “I want to be a scientist when I grow up!” And then there’s this gem, when Jane begins to second-guess her decision to leave Kelsey in Eli’s care while she and Devin go bug-busting:
“What do we really know about him, other than he’s a mad scientist cooking up killer bees for some Black Ops security squad?”
Ghosts Of Goldfield (2007)
Five college students travel to the ghost town of Goldfield, Nevada, to investigate a notoriously haunted hotel: project lead Julie (Marnette Patterson) and her boyfriend, Mike (Richard Chance); sound-man Dean (Scott Whyte) and his girlfriend, Keri (Mandy Amano); and cameraman Chad (Kellan Lutz). The expedition begins badly when the engine of Dean’s car suddenly dies outside the town, and the five are forced to walk the rest of the way. They detour to investigate the local cemetery, where Julie has a strange vision… Once in Goldfield, the kids learn to their dismay that the hotel at which Julie booked rooms does not exist; nor is the number she called now working. Julie persuades the bartender (Roddy Piper) to let them have the keys to the Goldfield Hotel; he also speaks on camera about the history of the haunting: how the hotel’s owner, George Winfield (Chuck Zito), tortured and murdered his mistress, Elizabeth Walker (Ashly Rae), after discovering he was not the father of her baby, which he also murdered. Now, Elizabeth walks the corridors of the hotel, crying out for her child… At the hotel, Julie’s visions increase, somehow linking her to the death of Elizabeth; while the investigators soon discover that not only is the hotel haunted, the inhabiting spirit is malevolent… Ghosts Of Goldfield was filmed on location and has a screenplay based upon the real-life haunting of the Goldfield Hotel in Nevada (which is to say, it’s supposedly haunted and has been subject to paranormal investigation), but that is all that can be said for this tepid and increasingly annoying ghost story. Our characters, using the term loosely, are the usual walking stereotypes, in the usual inexplicable relationships: straight-arrow Julie with obnoxious jerk Mike, nerdy Dean with whiny princess (and habitual thief) Keri; while huge chunks of the film involve the five of them wandering around in the dark, flashing torches, and “getting readings”, or not. (Ghosts Of Goldfield starts out looking like a found-footage film, but while some bits are shown through Chad’s camera, it’s mostly shot straight.) Elizabeth Walker is an amusingly co-operative ghost, appearing almost at once and showing herself repeatedly and clearly; the kids, meanwhile, behave like they’re in an episode of Scooby Doo (“Oh, my God, it’s a real ghost!”). Not much actually happens while Julie’s flashbacks / visions are busy filling us in on the film’s back-story, which includes the critical detail that her grandmother, who was a maid at the hotel at the time of the murders, was the person who tipped George Winfield off to Elizabeth’s affair with bartender Jackson Smith; but once we’ve established the link between Julie and Elizabeth, the film gets busy—and effectively turns into a slasher movie, with a strangely corporeal Elizabeth hunting the kids down and picking them off one by one. Personally, I disconnected from the story at the moment the “ghost” used a shovel to beat over the head and then decapitate one of her victims; although it was a drunken Mike informing Elizabeth that, “I don’t fuck dead chicks” that was the film’s death-blow. The acting in Ghosts Of Goldfield is pretty terrible, including from veterans Piper and Zito (in fact, particularly so from the latter); although we could forgive that if the film was scary, which is just isn’t. The screenplay by Dominic Biondi not only chooses to exploit the most slanderous version of the events that are supposed to explain the haunting, it also misspells George Win-g-field’s name while doing so. (The film was directed by Ed Winfield, so it isn’t clear if this was a mistake or an obscure joke.)
House Of Fears (2007)
Six teenagers leave a party for a private, unauthorised tour of a Halloween “Haunted House”: shy Samantha (Corri English); her antagonistic step-sister, Hailey (Sandra McCoy); vivacious Candice (Alice Greczyn) and her boyfriend, Devon (Michael J. Pagan); and Carter (Corey Sevier) and Zane (Eliot Schwartz), who Hailey is playing off against each other. Zane’s father is the owner-operator of the “House of Fears”, and so he has access to the keys: he goes into a guide’s routine as he leads his friends through the various rooms of the attraction, promising that they will be confronted by some of mankind’s worst fears. At first the teens enjoy the mild frights offered; and when Zane briefly disappears, they assume that it is only a practical joke—until they discover his dead body in the guise of a scarecrow, hung up among the other exhibits, and realise they are trapped with someone who means them deadly harm… You’d think a film that explicitly deals with “people’s deepest fears”, and which invokes (among other things) claustrophobia, suffocation and – ulp! – clowns, would have the power to reduce me to a quivering mass of jelly—but House Of Fears barely got a jump out of me (even though, like Candice, I jump at almost everything). This is an almost insultingly mild horror film, which goes out of its way to keep any bloodshed offscreen, and which disappointingly serves up horrors that are too solid to be really disturbing. (I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: supernatural forces that can be beaten up are NOT SCARY!!) What very minor virtues this film possesses are, oddly, on the level of character: though stereotypical in outline, the kids are less annoying than many of their ilk; they look out for, and fight for, each other when in danger, and are genuinely distraught by their friends’ deaths; and they accept almost immediately that something is really wrong, instead of dicking around on the grounds that “this can’t be happening”. (Bonus points: the only actual instance of practical joking is greeted with a kick to the groin and a punch to the face, as all practical jokes should be.) Corri English offers a fair performance as Samantha, whose evolution from introvert to Final Girl is credible, if obvious: she too gets bonus points for keeping a tight hold on her weapon of choice (a circular saw!); while I always like the situation of a Final Girl having to defend someone else, not just save herself. The “real fears” are supposed to be the work of a evil statuette, brought home from Africa during the film’s opening sequence: a plot-point which allows Cydney Neil, creative director of the Rocky Point Haunted House in Utah (where House Of Fears was filmed, though set in Oregon) to appear as herself. Meanwhile, Jared Padalecki has a brief, pointless cameo in the party scene. House Of Fears was filmed in 2007, but didn’t appear on DVD until 2009…which means it made it into release much faster than Amityville: The Awakening. Not that I’m bitter or anything.
Ice Spiders (2007)
A busload of young Olympic skiing hopefuls travel with their coach to a lodge at Lost Mountain, Utah, where they are to undergo intensive training. They are delighted to discover that the lodge’s head trainer is Dan ‘Dash’ Dashiell (Patrick Muldoon), who years before seemed bound for Olympic glory, before a skiing accident that shattered his leg and ended his competitive career. Meanwhile, two hunters out in the snowy woods nearby have a deadly encounter with a gigantic spider: one is bloodily killed; the other is not so lucky… Scientist Dr April Sommers (Vanessa Williams) stops by the ski-lodge to collect some private mail: test results on a sample she secretly sent away for analysis, which confirm her worst fears… April returns to the restricted research facility on the far side of Lost Mountain to discover two of her colleagues dead and one encased in webbing. Narrowly avoiding one of the giant spiders which her work has helped produce, she sets off a fire-alarm, which brings running from the attached military installation soldiers under the command of Captain Baker (Thomas Calabro). Discovering that six giant spiders have escaped, Baker begins making plans to track and kill them—only for this to be vetoed by project head, Professor Marks (David Milburn), who tells him that the spiders are to be captured alive at all cost… Ice Spiders is an almost hilariously paint-by-numbers SyFy original production, although sufficiently engaging from one point of view, offering up even less explanation for the making of the giant spiders than we get for the giant bats in Bats, some enjoyably loopy science, a handful of gigantic plot-holes (“Cold should make the spiders dormant”, we’re told repeatedly, without the slightest hint of why it doesn’t), a terrible screenplay and acting that is even worse. BUT—the spiders are completely adorable, each with its own personality and behaviour, and as long as they’re onscreen this thing is watchable—albeit that they’re aren’t enough of them, and they don’t kill nearly enough people. (Because if you were spending billions of government dollars, you would make just one of each type, right?) Meanwhile—well, what does it say about a film when Stephen J. Cannell (as lodge-owner Frank Stone) gives the best performance? Otherwise, only Thomas Calabro escapes with his dignity intact, though David Milburn is amusing if not exactly good as mad scientist Professor Marks. Patrick Muldoon is awful as Dash, and unfortunately, Vanessa “No, Not That One” Williams is every bit as bad as April. Granted, it’s refreshing to see a science-fiction film with a black actress in the lead; but as far as movie scientists go, Williams joins the sad sorority populated by the likes of Tara Reid and Denise Richards.
Shadow Puppets (2007)
A woman (Jolene Blalock) wakes up in a brightly lit padded cell, with no memory of who she is or how she got there. An interruption to the electrical power opens her cell door, and along the corridor she finds first a man (James Marsters), then another two people (Marc Winnick, Diahnna Nicole Baxter), in the same situation. The two pairs are divided from each by a locked barred door; they all agree to separate, search for an exit, and meet back there. The second couple go down a darkened staircase to a huge, open room containing a swimming-pool, where to their bemusement they find a naked woman (Natasha Alam) swimming: she is unnaturally cheerful as she observes that they’re all going to die… Meanwhile, the first couple discovers a man lying on an operating table, his head surrounded by electrodes leading to a bank of equipment with a read-out indicating it has been used eight times. When the woman, having examined the man, pronounces him alive but brain-dead, her companion observes that she seems to have medical training. The two then have a violent encounter with another stranger, who blames them for his situation. They manage to convince him that they are like him—but as the three move away together, a strange, shadowy creatures unfolds itself from a nearby wall and attacks the newcomer, bloodily impaling him… Jeez, what was it with 2007 and films with no character names!? As this synopsis probably makes clear, Shadow Puppets is a low-budget mish-mash of several films, and an unimpressive example of the strangers-in-a-strange-land subgenre of thrillers, complete with endless “wandering down dark corridors” non-action. The eventual revelation that the group consists of people subjected to an experimental “brain-wiping” technique intended to remove traumatic memories and/or violent or self-damaging impulses is one that should have been in a better film. Instead, writer-director Michael Winnock throws away the potential of this psychological scenario and confronts his cast with a cheesily unconvincing “shadow monster”, which is nevertheless solid enough to pick them off one by one as they try to figure out who and where they are, and how to get out. Indeed, the only thing more unconvincing than the creature itself is the explanation for its existence—with all of Shadow Puppets ‘ real effort going into coming up with a justification for the majority of the cast spending most of the film in their underwear—and, in the case of Jolene Blalock and Natasha Alam, stranglingly tight underwear, at that: honestly, I haven’t seen knickers that looked so painfully undersized since Ellen Ripley’s original circulation-cutters. (At the same time— Boxers not briefs on the men, of course…) The wandering group eventually expands to seven, including a man chained up in a cell (Tony Todd) and a woman in a straight-jacket and leather facial-mask (Jennie Ford), both of whom the first woman insists upon releasing. This presents the group with something of a dilemma, since including the first man killed and the one found on the operating-table, it makes their total number nine—while the readout on the medical equipment indicates that only eight people had their memories wiped…
The Shadow Within (2007)
France, 1940. In a small, isolated village, already suffering both from the absence of the men and the threat of a diphtheria epidemic, people begin to gossip about young Maurice Dumont (Laurence Belcher), who they believe is able to talk to the dead. And in fact, Maurice is in contact with his twin, Jacques, who died at birth—strangled by his umbilical cord. Consumed with guilt, Marie Dumont (Hayley J. Williams) allows her obsession with Jacques to her overwhelm her feeling for her living child; and when four bereaved village mothers – Madame Armand (Bonny Ambrose), Madame Dauby (Belinda Peters), Madame Corbeil (Lacey Bond) and Madame Piecuche (Georgia Mitchell) – approach her about the possibility of using Maurice’s mediumistic powers to contact their own dead children, she sees the chance to “reclaim” Jacques… Based upon a novel by Pascal Françaix and directed by Silvana Zancolò, this is an ambitious but problematic film, more mood-piece than horror movie, which offers some creepy moments but finally takes much too long to get where it’s going. It also (like the same year’s Ghost Son) has a plot which turns upon the depressing suggestion that people become vicious, vindictive entities once they die. There is a sense of disconnect about The Shadow Within, which was a British-Italian co-production, and requires the viewer to deal with French people played by British actors with a range of regional accents (and one person speaking French, at which point the already shaky structure collapses), and which never succeeds in making either its WWII setting nor the diphtheria epidemic supposedly “sweeping the valley” a real presence in the film. In addition, this is yet another film where the soundtrack tends to drown out the dialogue; and given how oblique the plot and the character motivations are anyway, the viewer can’t afford to miss those moments. The best thing about The Shadow Within is the performance of young Laurence Belcher, who projects sweetness and vulnerability as Maurice without ever crossing the line into “cute”. The special effects are used sparingly, but are effective if you can accept Jacques’ tendency to manifest as a child’s-drawing-like shadow. (It’s a legitimate choice in context, but not entirely convincing.) Among the supporting cast, Bonny Armand as Madame Ambrose stands out as the film’s leading “women in black”; while Beth Winslet and Rod Hallett lend good support as Doctor and Monsieur Prevost, the doctor and teacher who take an interest in Maurice and begin to suspect he is being abused, but are incapable of grasping what really threatens him…
Travelling through the desert of Arizona, a truck driver swerves to avoid something and crashes his rig, severing the power-lines that serve the scattered local community and blocking the only road. Investigating the accident, Sheriff Annie Flynn (Emmanuelle Vaugier) and her deputy, Luis (Isait De La Fuente), do not find the driver’s body. However, Annie extracts from the truck’s grill what looks like the leg or feeler of an enormous insect. She takes this to scientist Nodin (Tonantzin Carmelo), who agrees to examine the object, although it is not her area of expertise. Annie is then called to the ranch of Rob Horn (M. C. Gainey), where several of his cattle have been killed and mutilated—he believes, by a wolf. Horn tells Annie frankly that he intends demanding her removal as sheriff at the upcoming town meeting: it is an open secret that she has been slipping into alcoholism since being involved in an incident that led to the accidental shooting of a child. Meanwhile, Nodin’s grandfather (Russell Means) is dealing with several travellers who have been left stranded at his service station due to the road blockage. He is interrupted by archaeologist Kale (Luke Goss), who has a dig nearby, and wants him to interpret some pictographs found at the site—which depict the Anasazi in conflict with a monstrous creature… This low-budget monster-movie has a decent if hardly original premise, but is ultimately not worth bothering with. The creature, when it finally shows itself, is a fairly unabashed Alien clone; while the film itself has been compared to The Relic: a conclusion with which I heartily concur, not because of its story and its monster, but because like its Peter Hyams directed and shot predecessor, most of Unearthed is so damn dark, you cannot see what is happening. Add to this a raft of uninteresting characters, few of whom are properly introduced (leaving us to figure out for ourselves who is who amongst Kale, Kelly, Caya and Curtis), and a lot of garbled dialogue, and the end result is tiresome in the extreme. The only relief comes in the form of the decent performances offered by Emmanuelle Vaugier and M. C. Rainey, and screenplay’s amusing deployment of Nodin, who despite being a botanist is (i) able to conclude that the object brought to her by Annie is part of a DNA-collecting alien, and (ii) has the knowledge and equipment necessary to whip up the uranium-containing poison by which the creature may be killed, if anyone can get close enough to inject it. (Naturally, we never find out what her real job is, unless it’s lost in the mumbling.) As the creature cuts a swathe through the cast – for some reason, “collecting DNA” requires animals and humans alike to be disembowelled – Annie tries to round up and convey to safety the rapidly dwindling band of survivors; while Kale – who starts out defending the creature, which he initially believes to be a returned Anasazi god – joins forces with Nodin, in order to discover a way to defeat the alien…
Accused At 17 (2009)
Sadly not also known as Caving Someone’s Skull In At 17. When her boyfriend gets drunk at a party and cheats on her, Bianca Madler (Nicole Gale Anderson) and her two best friends, Sarah Patterson (Stella Maeve) and Fallyn Werner (Janet Montgomery), concoct a plan to teach Dory Holland (Lindsay Taylor) a lesson. Lured out with an invitation to a frat party at as isolated cabin, Dory allows herself to be driven to a remote location—where she finds Bianca already waiting. Far from being abashed, Dory taunts Bianca before knocking her down. Bianca pushes her to the ground in turn, before revealing the friends’ plan to leave her to walk home, and then driving away. Fallyn and Sarah too turn to leave, but the infuriated Dory throws a rock at Fallyn, striking her in the back. Fallyn responds with an explosion of violence that leaves Dory dead. The horrified Sarah starts to call for help, but Fallyn frightens her with visions of jail, and bullies her into helping to hide the body… The story told in Accused At 17 is grim enough (true enough, too), but the absurd handling of it dissipates whatever point the film-makers thought they were making. Bianca behaves like such an annoying brat during the film’s over-long set-up that it’s hard to feel any particular sympathy for her, even when Dory’s “disappearance” is revealed as murder, and two tunnel-visioned cops, Detectives Reeder (Linden Ashby) and Gilson (William Stanford Davis), zero in on her. However, the way in which Fallyn and Sarah close ranks, backed up by a false alibi provided by the self-absorbed and enabling Claire Werner (Barbara Niven), is quite chilling. Not surprisingly, Janet Montgomery is the best thing about Accused At 17 (albeit that 17 she ain’t), properly affect-less as budding psychopath Fallyn; while Stella Maeve is also effective as weak-link Sarah. The rest of the cast just flounders amongst the contrivances of Christine Conradt’s screenplay, which has Jacqui Madler (Cynthia Gibb) turning detective in an effort to clear her daughter after she is charged with Dory’s murder. Already pushed to breaking-point by Fallyn’s shift from passive silence to actively framing Bianca by hiding the hair-slide that Dory dropped in her car in Bianca’s, Sarah cracks under pressure from Jacqui and tells her the truth, agreeing too to go to the police—but before she can do so she is confronted by an enraged Fallyn, who terrorises her into an asthma attack and then takes away her aspirator, coolly emptying the device as Sarah gasps helplessly for breath…
Adopting Terror (2012)
Tim (Sean Astin) and Cheryl Broadbent (Samaire Armstrong) are thrilled when they are granted provisional custody of a baby girl called Mona, hoping to be allowed to legally adopt her pending regular inspection visits by social worker Fay Hopkins (Monet Mazur). However, during a one-year birthday party held for Mona in a local park, Tim and Cheryl are confronted by a man called Kevin Anderson (Brendan Fehr), who claims to be her biological father—and warns them that he wants her back. The Broadbents contact Dr Ziegler (Michael Gross), who works for the adoption agency, but he tells them that information about the biological parents of adopted children is confidential. Kevin begins stalking the Broadbents, but refrains from any overtly violent or threatening act; until, without any legal redress, the Broadbents consider taking the law into their own hands… A Lifetime Movie produced by The Asylum!—what could possibly be better!? Adopting Terror is one of those bizarre, paranoia-fuel dramas whose intention is to illustrate, not merely that The System Doesn’t Work, but rather that The System Exists Purely To Screw You Over. We have to swallow at the outset the shooting of a Child Protection Services officer being treated as a “misdemeanour”, because she didn’t wait for the warrant (she didn’t—but she thought a baby was in imminent danger, which I’m pretty sure covers that situation); and then that the shooter would serve only six months, because of “good behaviour”. From there it’s all about how The Law Can’t Help You, as Kevin lurks around the neighbourhood, while the Broadbents deal with disinterested, irritated police officers who have better things to do and adoption agents who can’t tell them anything, until Tim – of course – is provoked into stupid, illegal behaviour…and The Law lands on him like a ton of bricks. From there Adopting Terror escalates into an ever more absurd psycho-drama, with not one but two instances of someone surviving, without explanation, what ought to be a fatal incident, and the revelation of a “secret” villain so obvious, you’ll think they had to be kidding. This is one of those films where the good guys behave so stupidly, you end up siding with the psychopaths; even aside from the fact that, frankly, the Broadbents seem like pretty crappy parents: weeks – months? – after Mona’s arrival, they haven’t baby-proofed the house, and don’t even own a baby thermometer! (Mind you, this would seem to be genetic: Cheryl’s own parents like to let random strangers enter her house and hold the baby.) Sean Aston and Samaire Armstrong have no chemistry as the Broadbents – although they do look tired and irritable throughout, as if indeed they’ve been up all night with a crying baby – but Brendan Fehr’s blank-faced, Terminator-esque performance as Kevin Anderson is pretty hilarious. My favourite moment, though, is Cheryl’s cold-feet, guilt-ridden declaration that Mona can’t love her, because, “I’m not her real mother!”…which comes after she learns that the “real mother” in question is a serial child-abuser suffering schizophrenia and Dissociative Identity Disorder…
The Assistant (2016)
Also known as Killer Assistant. The pressure from her job as managing editor of Style Harmony Magazine causes Suzanne Austin (Arianne Zucker) to develop anger issues, which in turn prompt her boss, Janet McAlper (Joanne Baron), to force upon her a new personal assistant, David Barinas (Brando Eaton). David’s almost over-the-top dedication to his new job rubs Suzanne’s incumbent staff the wrong way; while research assistant Mary (Alison Haislip, who seems to have had this film expunged from her resume) grows suspicious when the details David gives about his background contradict her own knowledge. That night, Mary is jumped in the car-park, and left with a slashed Achilles tendon… As she struggles to put together Style Harmony’s celebratory 50th edition, Suzanne’s work pressures are exacerbated by the behaviour of her rebellious daughter, Calista (Natalie Lander), and her shaky marriage to failed rock star, Robert (George Stults). When Suzanne sees Robert with the woman with whom he has had affairs in the past, she is shattered. In her vulnerable mood, she allows David to take her out for a drink, with a drunken evening turning into a one-night stand. The next morning, horrified, Suzanne tries to break things off with David, and announces her intention of having him transferred to a new job—but in both cases, David has other ideas… A Lifetime Movie with everything that implies, The Assistant offers few surprises in terms of its central, gender-reversed, Fatal Attraction-esque plot, but does manage to be both hilarious and insulting in its depiction of a, ahem, “high-powered female executive”. As so often with this sort of film, the man might be a psychopath but it’s the woman at fault for the heinous crime of being successful outside of the home. (In a counselling session, when Robert complains that Suzanne earns more in a year than he expects to in his life, the implication is that she should get a lower-paying job, not that he should get off his backside and stop skating on the royalties of his single, sixteen-year-old hit song.) When Suzanne’s career and marriage implode simultaneously, The Assistant is smugly certain that she’s getting what she asked for—though of course, a lot of other people will pay the price too. Mary discovers that “David” has stolen someone else’s identity just in time to get beaten to death; Robert gets his head caved in with a crowbar; and Calista is only too ready to defy her parents over the cute new guy she met while interning at Style Harmony… The final reveal of the “secret” connection between Suzanne and David is both bewildering and icky in its implications; but the—how shall I put this?—mother-daughter bonding activity that closes the film is worth sticking around for. Soap star Arianne Zucker does a reasonable job as Suzanne, although the screenplay by Sophie Tilson and Shanrah Wakefield almost defeats her; while Brando Eaton oozes so much smarm as David, you can’t imagine anyone letting him get within touching distance. (That said— Between what what American TV thinks I ought to find attractive in a man, and what I actually do, there’s a gulf the size of the Grand Canyon.) However, the highlight of this film is undoubtedly the contribution of Todd Cahoon as Detective Westwood, who starts out by dazzling us with his description of the first attack on Mary (“Her Uh-kee-leez was slashed in a case of gree-vee-ous bodily harm”), then progresses to conducting the best post-murder interview EVER: “I am here to inform you that your husband, Robert Austin, was found dead. I am so sorry, Mrs Austin.” [single beat] “Where were you last night?”