The Golem (1915, incomplete)
Original title: Der Golem; also known as: Monster Of Fate. This was supposedly the first filming of Gustav Meyrink’s novel, Der Golem, which itself drew upon Jewish folklore in its tale of 16th century Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, who created the Golem to protect his people. However, some sources claim that this version bears little resemblance to the novel. The Golem was directed by Henrik Galeen, who wrote the screenplay with Paul Wegener: both starred in the film, Galeen as the modern antiques dealer who finds the living Golem and tries to turn it into his servant, only to lose control of it; and Wegener as the Golem itself. This version is a lost film, with only fragments surviving: enough to show us, however, how close Wegener stayed to his original concept of the Golem when he made his famous, surviving version in 1920.
Laughing At Danger (1924)
On behalf of the government, Cyrus Remington (Joseph W. Girard) negotiates with Professor Hollister (Joseph Harrington) for possession of his devastating Death Ray. However, unbeknownst to Remington, his secretary, Darwin Kershaw (Stanhope Whatcroft), is secretly a member of a dangerous gang trying to obtain the device for themselves. Meanwhile, after a romantic disappointment, Alan Remington (Richard Talmadge) sinks into depression. Eventually his father becomes worried enough to call in a doctor, who tells him that there is nothing wrong with Alan physically: what he needs is excitement… Running just under an hour, Laughing At Danger is a fair comedy-thriller, though one built around a premise a bit more exasperating than its makers probably intended it to be (and not just because it treats its Death Ray so casually): Alan’s refusal to listen to anyone occasionally makes him as annoying to the viewer as he is to his various pursuers. As always with the films of Richard Talmadge, the highlight of Laughing At Danger is the various stunt sequences that punctuate the lengthy chase which makes up most of its action. Accidentally coming into possession of a key component of the Death Ray after Carolyn (Eva Novak), the Professor’s daughter, defiantly disables the machine, Alan finds himself targeted by a gang that resorts to all sorts of tactics to get the object back. However, having seen Kershaw amongst the others, he assumes, not unreasonably, that the situation is a set-up by his father to snap him out of his funk, and consequently refuses to take his very real danger seriously; in fact, one might say he laughs at it…
The Monster (1925)
Based upon the play by Crane Wilbur. Near the town of Danburg, a man called John Bowman is kidnapped by a mysterious man in black, after his car is forced off the road. The resulting search is an opportunity for local store clerk, Johnny Goodlittle (Johnny Arthur), who has ambitions as a detective, and hopes to find a way of impressing his employer’s daughter, Betty Watson (Gertrude Olmstead), with whom he is in love. Johnny does find what he thinks is a clue, a scrawled message for help on a scrap of paper from an abandoned sanitarium; but it is dismissed by the local constable (Charles Sellon) and Amos Rugg, Johnny’s rival for Betty, as merely rubbish. Nor does Jennings (William H. Turner), the detective hired to assist in the investigation, think anything of it; rather, he joins Rugg and the constable in mocking Johnny. Betty tries to console him with an invitation to her party, but this too turns sour for Johnny when Rugg persuades Betty to go driving with him. However, Rugg’s car is also forced off the road, and he and Betty are kidnapped. Meanwhile, a disconsolate Johnny has spotted and followed the strange man in black, but ends up stumbling into a secret passage that lands him in a room within the sanitarium. There he also finds Betty and Rugg—with the three discovering that the sanitarium is not so abandoned after all… Ultimately, the historical value of The Monster far outweighs its cinematic virtues: this was in all likelihood the progenitor film of the “old dark house” horror-comedies so popular with American film-goers in the 20s and 30s; a genre whose main appeal was it allowed, along with scares of greater or lesser seriousness, for a jokey tone and explained-away horrors—thus placating the disapproving critics and censors. Since it was the first, it is perhaps not surprising that The Monster can’t get its tone right: it is neither sufficiently spooky nor sufficiently funny – or even “funny” – and there are long stretches when it isn’t trying to be either. Furthermore, Johnny Arthur is very strangely cast as the hero: he seems to be trying to channel either Chaplin or Keaton – or both – with his poor-pitiful-me demeanour, but he hasn’t the personality to carry it off. It is therefore doubly annoying that the film focuses on him in preference to the reason we’re all here (surely the audience’s reason at the time too): Lon Chaney in a rare, non-made-up appearance as Dr Ziska, who claims to have taken over the running of the sanitarium after the departure of Dr Edwards, and who introduces to his three frightened “guests” some of his patients: Rigo (Frank Austin), aka the man in black; Daffy Dan (Knute Erickson); and Caliban (Walter James). The others don’t buy Ziska’s story, but play along in the hopes of finding a way of escape. What they discover instead, however, is that far from being a doctor, Ziska too was once a patient; that Dr Edwards (Herbert Prior) and the missing Bowman are being kept prisoner; and that Ziska has plans for all of them as subjects in his soul-transference experiments. The situation looks desperate—until Johnny rises to the occasion…
(More on this film at 1000 Misspent Hours – And Counting.)
The Murder In The Red Barn (1934)
Based upon the play, Maria Marten, or The Murder in the Red Barn. Maria Marten (Sophie Stewart), the only child of the stern Thomas Marten (D. J. Williams), is loved by Carlos (Eric Portman), a young gypsy. However, after a community dance, Maria’s head is turned by the attentions of the local squire and magistrate, William Cordner (Tod Slaughter). When Carlos angrily intervenes, the gypsy troupe is turned away; with the matriarch of the group (Stella Rho) warning Cordner that, in reading his palm, she has seen death… Telling her parents that she is going to choir practice, the infatuated Maria slips away to the squire’s house. Once there, he seduces her with praise of her beauty, promises of London, and hints of marriage… Hurrying home, a remorseful Maria is caught by Carlos, who is furious with her, but tells her that he still loves her. Meanwhile, Mr Marten discovers that Maria has lied about her whereabouts. Rushing out, he catches sight of her with Carlos. Subsequently, he carries his complaints to Cordner who, after a moment’s terror that he has been found out, assures Mr Marten that he will do everything in his power to protect Maria from Carlos. He then takes the opportunity to escape to London where, unable to pay his gambling debts, he courts the spinster daughter of a wealthy, puritanical family. When the banns of their upcoming marriage are published, it is another crushing blow for Maria, who is pregnant… Maria Marten, or The Murder in the Red Barn was perhaps the definitive Victorian stage-melodrama: a much cleaned-up and sentimentalised version of the true story of Maria Marten’s murder, it was a perennial favourite with audiences of all levels of sophistication. The story was also filmed five times between 1928 and 1980; while the play is still being revived today, with various degrees of seriousness. The fact that the play “promoted” the story’s villain from a farmer’s son to a wicked squire made the material perfect for Tod Slaughter who, in 1935, brought it to the screen in conjunction with his usual producer, George King. Far from disguising its origins, The Murder In The Red Barn begins as a filmed stage-play, with the cast being introduced to a live audience; nor does the film subsequently tone things down, with Slaughter, Sophie Stewart and D. J. Williams emoting for the benefit of those in the rafters. Modern audiences, alas, are likely to find Maria too stupid for sympathy, with Stewart unable to suggest the necessary degree of naivety (which is a LOT). Amusingly, this version of the story got itself into trouble with the censors in both the UK and the US, who objected to some of the language (“slut”, chiefly), to what they felt was too much explicitness about Maria’s pregnancy, and to the last-act execution scene…which really does wallow. On the other hand, they could hardly have taken exception to Maria’s “seduction”, which the viewer is pretty much asked to take on faith—with neither party having a hair out of place afterwards, let alone a single button or bow, despite the 19th century wardrobe. Thankfully, the murder scene itself and the subsequent discovery of Maria’s body are presented much more frankly—and with unabashed melodrama, and shameless scenery-chewing from Slaughter.
Queen Of The Jungle (1935, 12 chapters)
John Lawrence (William Welsh) and Frank Worth (Reed Howes) occupy a camp in the heart of Africa: Lawrence is searching for the elephants’ burial ground, and Lawrence for the rich deposits of radium he is sure are to be found nearby. One day, threatened by a lion, young Joan Lawrence (Marilyn Spinner) takes refuge in the basket of a balloon intended for an air-search, and is borne away. When it descends again, in the Garden of Rad, she is acclaimed by the local tribe as a daughter of the heavens, and accepted as their queen… The loss of Joan shatters her parents. As he grows to manhood, young David Worth (Reed Howes) begins a series of expeditions, hunting for evidence of her survival—or otherwise. At long last, he discovers the balloon basket and a dropped doll, and has reason to believe that Joan may still be alive. However, his search leads him into grave danger from two directions: the tribe itself, still ruled by its “Jungle Queen”; and those determined to keep the secret of the area’s radium… As that synopsis makes clear, Queen Of The Jungle makes very little sense; and after an opening that seems to promise a fair serving of mad science – and indeed, its bizarre ideas about radium are one of the few bright spots – it devolves into a particularly dreary wandering-through-the-jungle story. This serial was produced independently, and consists of new material intercut with footage pirated from the 1922 silent serial, The Jungle Goddess—which is of a totally different visual quality and projected at a different speed. In between, we get a frustrating repetition of incidents, dialogue, and feeble “jokes”; with David and Joan’s wandering literally ending up with them just where they started. (Was I surprised to find that this was all cobbled together by Griffin Jay? Not really.) Furthermore, though not as relentlessly racist as The Lost City, Queen Of The Jungle certainly has its teeth-clenching moments. On the other hand, a couple of the black characters come close to being actual people, so there’s that. (The actors are all uncredited, though, despite their prominence, which speaks to the prevailing attitude; the main black villain, Garu, is played by Zack Williams.) The action, such as it is, is occasionally enlivened by a strangely short and pudgy “Leopard Woman” (also uncredited, alas); and by the bizarre arrangement that sees “the Garden of Rad” – whose people worship “the Great God Rad” – sitting cheek-by-jowl with – what else? – “the Temple of Mu” (you again, Mu? Really?), ruled over by “the High Priest Kali”…played by Lafe McKee, who insists upon pronouncing it “moo”.
House Of Secrets (1936)
Based upon the novel by Sydney Horler. On a ship bound for England, Barry Wilding (Leslie Fenton) saves a young woman from the unwanted advances of another man, and ends up falling for her. However, she slips away without telling him her name. Upon his arrival in London, Barry receives a visit from his friend, Tom Starr (Sidney Blackmer), a Chicago detective, who tells him that he is chasing a killer. Barry is summoned to the office of Mr Coventry (Jameson Thomas), a solicitor, who tells him they have been trying to find him for the past year. To his astonishment, Barry learns that he has inherited a country house called Hawk’s Nest and a fortune from his late uncle; willingly enough, he goes along with the family tradition that insists he swear never to part with the property. Barry travels into the country to see his new possession, only to be violently driven away by two men; he does not see the woman from the boat watching on. Back in London, Barry is bemused when Mr Coventry tells him of an excellent offer for Hawk’s Nest, and urges him to sell; and even more so when Julie Kenmore (Muriel Evans) calls upon him and begs him to stay away… House Of Secrets is a hodge-podge of a film that tosses together a pig-headed “hero”, maniacal cries in the night, a secret conspiracy involving the Home Secretary, Sir Bertram Evans (Holmes Herbert) and Commissioner Cross (Ian Maclaren) of Scotland Yard, and three treasure-hunting gangsters led by Three-Finger Wharton (Noel Madison)—and ties all these plot-threads into a messy bundle via a “heroine” who does nothing but bleat, “I can’t tell you!” The characters are unappealing, and the various “secrets” don’t make a lot of sense even when explained (though the transgressions of the Home Secretary and the Commissioner make us raise our eyebrows). Sidney Blackmer gives the best performance as Tom Starr, but his is only a supporting role; neither Leslie Fenton nor Muriel Evans has much charisma, and we are given no reason to care about Barry and Julie and their unconvincing “love at first sight” romance. Determined not to be driven away despite physical violence and the threat of worse, Barry is nevertheless dismayed to discover that Julie and her father, Dr Kenmore (Morgan Wallace), are deep in whatever plot is unfolding. He thinks he understands when he comes into possession of a family document, a torn piece of parchment suggesting that an ancestor’s treasure is hidden somewhere at Hawk’s Nest—but the truth is much darker than that…
Based upon The Bird’s Nest by Shirley Jackson. Awkward, mousy museum employee, Elizabeth Richmondt (Eleanor Parker), is plagued by headaches and insomnia—and by threatening letters signed by someone called ‘Lizzie’. Elizabeth is grateful for the friendly overtures of her colleague, Ruth Seaton (Marion Ross), but shies away from the crude advances of Johnny Valenzo (Ric Roman). Elizabeth tries to talk about her problems with her hard-drinking, rough-mannered Aunt Morgan (Joan Blondell), but gets nowhere. Morgan, however, is astonished and offended when Elizabeth suddenly abuses her; though a moment later, she denies saying anything. Alone in her room, Elizabeth gazes at herself in the mirror—and with sudden eagerness, begins fixing her hair and making up her face… When Elizabeth continues to complain of headache, her aunt accuses her tartly of secret drinking and slipping out of the house at night. Morgan later confides in her neighbour, the writer Walter Brenner (Hugo Haas), who urges her to seek help for Elizabeth from his friend Dr Wright (Richard Boone), a psychiatrist… Lizzie was overwhelmed by the only-too-similar The Three Faces Of Eve, released the same year, and perhaps rightly so; though this low-budget effort from director Hugo Haas is at least a good-faith attempt to present someone with a split personality—or as we would say now, Dissociative Identity Disorder. The main problem with Lizzie is that it is, necessarily, something of a talk-fest; though there is a welcome maturity about the film’s handling of the traumatic childhood events that triggered its heroine’s crisis, which we eventually see in flashback. Finally driven to seek help, Elizabeth puts herself under the care of Dr Wright who, via hypnosis, gets in touch with her other two identities: the well-adjusted Beth, who claims to have been “sleeping” for a very long time; and the violent, angry, sexually provocative Lizzie, who continues to threaten Elizabeth’s very existence… Eleanor Parker tries hard in Lizzie, but each of the three personalities feels just a little overdone; and the film’s better performances are in its supporting roles. Richard Boone in an outright good-guy role seems a bit oddly cast; but Joan Blondell is brave as the faceted Morgan, who is warm, crass and bitter in turn—having always harboured a grudge against her late sister, Elizabeth’s mother, which she sometimes takes out on her niece. (There turns out to be a vicious irony in that.) And as usual, Hugo Haas gives himself a nice part, as the concerned Walter. The other person of note here is Johnny Mathis, who appears as the pianist at the bar frequented by Lizzie, and who debuted in this film one of his most successful songs, “It’s Not For Me To Say.”
Hercules And The Masked Rider (1963)
Original title: Golia e il cavaliere mascherato (Goliath And The Masked Knight). Pursued both in sport and vengeance, a newly married young couple, Felipe (Piero Leri) and Dolores (Dina De Santis) cross the border from the territory of Don Romero (Arturo Dominici) into that of the elderly Don Francisco Val Verde (Renato Navarrini). Don Romero initially demands the return of his “property”, but changes his mind when Don Francisco is joined by his daughter, Dona Blanca (José Greci): he gives them to her instead. Fearing for his people in the event of a war with Don Romero, Don Francisco sees a chance for lasting peace in a marriage between him and Blanca. The latter is obedient, though secretly she loves her cousin, Don Juan (Mimmo Palmara), who has been absent for a year fighting in Flanders. When Juan returns home, he finds Blanca cool and distant. Dolores, now her maid, contrives for Juan to slip into her bedroom, to confront her. Blanca confesses the truth, and Juan presses her to run away with him; however, the two are discovered by Don Francisco, who furiously banishes his nephew. Juan’s absence is the trigger for Don Romero to instigate a violent coup, in which Don Francisco is killed along with many of his people. Meanwhile, Juan is captured by a band of gypsies, but saves himself by a spirited fight with Hercules (Alan Steel aka Sergio Ciani). Juan and the gypsies find they have a common enemy in Don Romero, and join forces against him… Though generally classified as a peplum, Hercules And The Masked Rider is out of the same stable as the following year’s Hercules And The Black Pirate, being a swashbuckling adventure film with a Spanish setting. Its title is entirely misleading, though: “Hercules” (Goliath in the original) plays a relatively minor, almost dialogueless, role in things, being the muscle of the rebel gypsy band led by the smart and beautiful Estella (Pilar Cansino), whose people wage guerilla warfare against Don Romero’s forces. After joining up with them, Juan assumes the identity of “the masked rider”, donning a scarlet mask and cape and adding his Zorro-esque activities to the gypsies’ Robin Hood tactics. Meanwhile, though it isn’t clear why he couldn’t just have seized control by marrying Blanca, Don Romero takes over Don Francisco’s territory via escalating violence; though in this, he finds himself opposed by a mysterious masked man, whose capture becomes his obsession… Hercules And The Masked Rider is a fair actioner, albeit damaged in its English-language prints by its dubbing and some rough editing that leaves details obscure. The cast is surprisingly good, though (given his track record) it is disconcerting to find Mimmo Palmara in an outright heroic role here. José Greci is lovely as always, but Blanca is predictably useless: that’s okay, though, because Estella is the film’s real heroine. The most interesting character is probably Captain Blasco, the commander of Don Romero’s private army, played by Ettore Manni: an honourable man, Blasco finds himself increasingly unable to stomach Don Romero’s cruelty and deceit, and finally changes sides. All ends happily, of course – except for Don Romero – and the film concludes on an eyebrow-raising note when, as all the characters pair up romantically, Hercules rides off into the sunset with his, ahem, little buddy.
The Green Berets (1968)
Based upon the novel by Robin Moore. At Fort Bragg, a demonstration of the capabilities of the ‘Green Beret’ special forces unit is held for members of the public and a group of journalists. George Beckworth (David Janssen) displays a hostile attitude and questions American involvement in Vietnam; until Colonel Michael Kirby (John Wayne) tells him that if he hasn’t seen South-East Asia, he cannot understand. The Green Berets are deployed to Vietnam, to assist the South Vietnamese forces, with Kirby is assigned to take over command. When they land in Da Nang, they are approached by Beckworth, who tells Kirby he decided to take his advice about seeing for himself; Kirby invites the reporter to accompany his unit. Their first task is to reinforce a camp held by Captain Coleman (Jason Evers) and Captain Nghiem (George Takei), with Sergeant Muldoon (Aldo Ray) and reluctant recruit, Spc. Peterson (Jim Hutton), a champion “scrounger”, taking charge of the practical work. Nghiem, meanwhile, warns Kirby that the Viet Cong are nearby, and conducting sporadic attacks; and that there are likely spies within the camp, where displaced villagers have found shelter. Beckworth remains unconvinced of the necessity for the war, particularly when he observes the treatment of a captured spy, until he also observes the torture and killing of civilians who turned to the Americans for help; and when the Viet Cong attack the camp again, he finds himself fighting alongside the soldiers… Having mentioned this film apropos of Inchon, when it turned up on cable I felt more or less obliged to watch it again for the first time in many years: enough years to have gained a far better understanding of both the subject matter and the controversy surrounding its production. Ultimately, there are two major reasons why The Green Berets fails—and frankly, its politics hardly come into it: in fact, after one anti-Commie outburst at the outset, there is less speechifying here than in a number of similar productions that come to mind (including Flight Nurse, which is a better film). The overriding problem with The Green Berets is that when all is said and done, it is simply a WWII propaganda film in more modern dress—and not very much more. Except for a few more non-white faces, and a bit more blood, the film is almost indistinguishable from its 1940s models, right down to the annoying bonhomie of its characters, a tear-jerk “surprise” death at the end, the Oscar-clip-moment final speech, and the adorable war orphan who is “what this is all about”. (Maybe so; but that doesn’t win him the dignity of an actual name. “Ham Chunk”? Really??) And all this, in turn, highlights its second and most fundamental failure: the film does not at any point address the specific issue of American involvement in Vietnam; it does not answer the questions that were being asked at home; it does not reflect what was being broadcast into American homes, nor acknowledge the political, ideological and tactical aspects that made this war different. The only explanation it gives is “atrocities are being committed”; and if you’re going to make that the basis of American intervention, well… Ultimately, The Green Berets gives itself away completely in being built about – duh! – the Green Berets: this is a film about professional soldiers doing their military duty; there’s not a single draftee in sight (nor, for that matter, anyone under the age of forty). As Kirby, John Wayne is John Wayne; we don’t doubt his sincerity, however questionable his choices. David Janssen gets the short end of the stick as Beckworth, whose job is to be proved wrong over and over, until he sees the light. The film’s one really effective performance comes from George Takei—though we might wonder what he’s doing here at all—while Raymond St. Jacques has some good moments as the company medic. The supporting cast also includes Bruce Cabot, Irene Tsu and Patrick Wayne; a couple of disconcerting-in-context TV-M*A*S*H faces in Mike Henry and Jack Soo; and – ahem – Richard “Cactus” Pryor. The film was shot predominantly around Fort Benning in Georgia, and the incorrect vegetation and landscape add another layer of fakeness to the production.
(Thanks a bunch, Roger…)
The Getting Of Wisdom (1977)
Based upon the novel by Henry Handel Richardson. Laura Tweedle Ramsbotham (Susannah Fowle) leaves her isolated country home for a Ladies’ College in Melbourne. She immediately finds herself under fire, mocked for her home-made clothing and her ignorance of correct conduct; she desperately hides the fact that her widowed mother is the local post-mistress and supplements the family income by taking in sewing. To this point self-educated, Laura first amuses, then stuns her teachers and peers with her idiosyncratic learning and her musical ability. However, she continues to struggle to fit in, and so plays along with the other girls’ snobbery and bullying. Making one of a party for a “cultural tea” at the home of the Reverend Strachey (Barry Humphries), where the guests are expected to perform, Laura mortifies her friend, Lilith (Kim Deacon), who has used an injured finger as an excuse, by offering to accompany her and so forcing her to sing: Laura then shows off her own talent on the piano. When Lilith, who is the one person Laura has confided in, threatens to tell the other girls about her mother, Laura retaliates with the threat of a story about Lilith’s father: it isn’t true, but what does it matter if the others believe her? Having discovered the power of lying, Laura tries to grow her popularity by inventing a forbidden romance between herself and the school’s new young minister, the Reverend Shepherd (John Waters)—but she is courting disaster… Bruce Beresford’s adaptation of the seminal Australian coming-of-age novel by “Henry Handel Richardson” (Ethel Richardson) is both a sympathetic portrait of a fish out of water, and a stringent dissection of conventional expectations—and conventional authority. Unlike most school stories, which which tend to force their protagonists into conformity, the “wisdom” (if any) gained by Laura is that she may never fit in: not, in any case, within the narrow and stifling bounds of permitted female experience at turn-of-the-20th-century Australia. Laura is far from an entirely sympathetic protagonist – she lies, cheats and bullies if it serves her turn – but her instinctive defiance of social expectation and the conformity of her peers allows us to wish for her success. Furthermore, The Getting Of Wisdom places Laura’s bumpy and often ill-judged rebellion in the context of the cruelty and hypocrisy of many of those in authority, as exemplified by the cold, domineering headmistress, Miss Hicks (Dorothy Bradley); by the school’s minister, Reverend Strachey (Barry Humphries), who, when he has the chance to expose a sinner, does so with ungodly zest; and even by the private conduct of the Reverend Shepherd who, in his own home, reveals himself as a petty tyrant. In one other aspect of Laura’s rebellion, this film adaptation goes further than the novel, adding more explicit lesbian overtones to two of its relationships: to the adoration of a new “outsider” girl for Laura, which ends in disaster; and conversely, to Laura’s own feeling for an older student, Evelyn (Hilary Ryan), which becomes so obsessive, it almost ruins her scholastic career. The Getting Of Wisdom succeeds partly through its careful, realistic evocation of its time and its setting – its location shooting at Melbourne’s Methodist Ladies’ College; the mix of looks and body shapes amongst the girls, and an absence of makeup – and partly via because of its wry understanding of its characters, including the grace-note of its sympathy for the school’s teachers, who have even less opportunity for escape from their destiny than the students. The film was one of the examples of the “acceptable” face of the Australian New Wave, screening at Cannes in 1978. Though Susannah Fowle never had the career that her performance here suggested she might, The Getting Of Wisdom nevertheless offers a glimpse of the burgeoning talent of that time, with Kerry Armstrong, Sigrid Thornton and Noni Hazlehurst amongst the students; John Waters transitioning from TV to film; Julia Blake appearing as his unhappy wife, and Maggie Kirkpatrick as the Rambothams’ servant; an unrecognisable Barry Humphries as the school’s minister; plus cameos from Terence Donovan, Max Fairchild and Philip Adams, who also produced the film.
Cave Of The Sharks (1978)
Original title: Bermudas: la cueva de los tiburones (Bermuda: Cave Of The Sharks); also known as: Bermude: la fossa maledetta (Bermuda: The Cursed Pit), The Shark’s Cave, Shark Cave. Well. I remember, once upon a time, watching an English-language copy of this; but I have now been unable to find it again, either in my collection or online; so behold me trying to make sense of a Spanish-language copy of what from memory makes precious little sense to begin with. After a pointless windsurfing opening that makes you feel like you’re accidentally re-watching The Last Shark, dive expert Andrés Montoya (Andrés García), who has been missing and presumed dead for months, is found floating in the water; although sadly not being nibbled on by sharks. This causes some embarrassment for his brother, Ricardo (Máximo Valverde), and his fiancée, Angelica (Janet Agren), who have been, ahem, consoling each other for their loss. Although he has no memory of his experience, Andrés recovers sufficiently physically to return to work. He and his partner, Enrique (Pino Colizzi), are hired by an American called Jackson (Arthur Kennedy) to salvage the cargo of a plane that crashed in the Bermuda Triangle—and who, once they have completed the job, does his best to dispose of them both…
And then things get weird…
By 1978, the “sleeping sharks” of Isla Mujeres were a well-documented if not well-understood phenomenon; so things being what they were in the 1970s, we can’t be altogether surprised to find this Spanish-Italian shark film offering them up as evidence of aliens on Earth…or the Bermuda Triangle as the natural habitat of both. After setting itself up as an action movie, and testing our patience with its diving scenes and Jackson’s double-cross, Cave Of The Sharks takes several abrupt left-hand turns, serving up Cinzia Monreale in a strange supporting role, a bloody-mouthed doll, a group of hippy-ish friends compelled to throw themselves to the sharks, some lousy model work, an alien civilisation rendered via a tacky diorama, and a climax that finds Andrés trying to save himself by feeding Jackson’s goons to the no-longer sleeping sharks—piece by piece. I did have hopes that, given the overall scenario, perhaps no sharks would be harmed here (in fact at one point, Andrés stops Enrique from killing one); but sadly there is a scene of a couple being fished for and dragged from the water, and their dangling bodies punctuate the next dialogue exchange. Plus it looks like a couple of live animals have had their teeth removed. There is also a shoehorned-in cockfight early on.
(The shark fishing notwithstanding, I did get one laugh out of this film: it’s over in Spinning Newspaper Injures Printer.)
Having inherited a notorious property under the condition that he neither demolish nor sell it, Devon Lauder (Kevin S. Tenney) decides to exploit its reputation by converting it into a “haunted inn”. However, when an entertainer hired to perform at the opening is driven to his death there, apparently by supernatural forces, Lauder turns to parapsychologist Dr Agnes Goldberg (Judy Tatum): she in turn recruits her husband, Felix (Rob Zapple), a mental medium; Whitney O’Shay (Kathleen Bailey), a physical medium; and technical expert Ginger Kowowski (Linnea Quigley). Lauder also provides extra security in the form of private detective Murphy (Jack W. Thompson), who brings along his operatives, Tony Vincente (James W. Quinn) and Levi Jackson (Clyde Talley II). The group learns that the house is supposedly haunted by Avery Lauter, who was a practising warlock and serial killer. A ritual intended to make Lauter immortal was interrupted by the police, leaving his spirit at large. In spite of the detectives’ scepticism, the parapsychologists set to work trying to contact Lauter’s spirit—and succeed in a manner that brings his bloody vengeance upon themselves… Played straight, Witchtrap might have been a fair example of the Bad Place horror film; however, it is disappointing – if not surprising, given its production date – to discover that the film’s kill-scenes and attempted scares are punctuated with smartmouth dialogue intended to be funny, but which undermines the entire venture. In its uncut form (there are trimmed prints around), Witchtrap does offer some impressively gruesome deaths; but the acting here is almost universally poor, and Tony Vincente, offered up as the hero, or at least the audience identification figure, is a real jerk. Likewise, the screenplay (by Kevin Tenney, who also directed) makes Agnes Goldberg a complete muddle: clearly she was intended as the sceptical scientist who doesn’t believe in anything and is therefore destined for a comeuppance; but at the same time she is supposed to be a dedicated parapsychologist who “believes” sufficiently to have invented a device for trapping spirits like Lauter’s—and has accepted her current assignment chiefly to try the untested device out. (The script has the grace to nod at Ghostbusters with respect to the unfortunately named “vacuum”.) Meanwhile, as Ginger – one of the film’s few bright spots – Linnea Quigley fulfills her contractual obligations by getting completely naked and then dying horribly (even before the black guy!). Also disappointingly, too much of Witch Trap‘s violence is of the real-world variety, emanating from Elwin (Hal Havins), the property’s groundskeeper, who in his lifetime was Avery Lauter’s assistant—or perhaps more correctly, his familiar. Elwin’s activities help to disguise the fact that the investigators have succeeded only too well in contacting Lauter’s spirit, who communicates with the group via Felix; though Agnes thwarts his efforts at physical agency via Whitney—or thinks she does. In fact, Lauter gains control over the unwitting physical medium, and begins picking off the group one by one, on his way to completing his interrupted ritual and achieving immortality…
Former high-school friends are invited to a party by Elizabeth LaFey (Ashley McKinney), who has inherited an old house in Dunwich, Massachusetts: a house with a dark reputation. Arriving early and finding the house apparently deserted, one couple slips down into the cellar for some “quality time”—but find horror instead… Some time later, the other guests arrive: Scott (Dane Northcutt) and Maria (Marissa Tait); Jack (Matt Raftery); Brad (Ryan Scott Greene); Janet (Brooke Mueller); and Tony (Dave Oren Ward). The friends discuss their past history with Elizabeth, who always had a reputation for being “weird”; and who, in fact, most of them didn’t get along with. However, they take the current situation as an opportunity for burying the hatchet—or at least discovering what weirdness she’s up to these days. Elizabeth herself then appears, and introduces Jennifer (Monica Snow), with whom the shy Jack is already smitten after sharing classes with her. With the gathering complete – though Bob and Margaret have already slipped away to find a bedroom – Elizabeth announces that the party can really get started: she leads the others to a pentagram on the floor, and tells them the history of her ancestor, Lilith LaFey, who was burned as a witch… “I’m an applied science major, right? So let’s APPLY some SCIENCE!” I’m sorry, but I really can’t hate any film that serves up a line like that with (more or less) a straight face. Witchouse – don’t ask me where the other ‘h’ went – is in many respects a textbook straight-to-video production, right down to its shonky early-computer-generated special effects and that awful red font that no-one seems to be able to dissuade low-budget film-makers from using. It’s not good…though in the end it’s quite not as terrible as it seems shaping up to be, either. Produced by Charles Band, and directed by “Jack Reed” (David DeCoteau), Witchouse revolves around Elizabeth’s attempted resurrection of her ancestor, via a ritual that involves the sacrifice of – say it with me now – the descendants of the original witch-burners, all of whom just happen to still be hanging around in Dunwich. In addition to this slab of complete unoriginality, the film lifts footage from 1994’s Dark Angel: The Ascent; while it also seems to be ripping off Night Of The Demons (speaking of Kevin S. Tenney), in that in spite of all its talk of witches, both the resurrected Lilith and the killed-off-one-by-one party-guests show up as toothy-mouthed demons for some reason. Witchouse takes forever to get going – in a 72-minute film! – but once Lilith is up and around it becomes reasonably amusing, not least because the surviving cast-members have by that time relaxed into their roles—particularly Dave Oren Ward as stoner Tony, and Brooke Mueller as two-fisted rocker-chick Janet; though it is applied-science major Jack and suspiciously-unaccounted-for Jennifer upon whom the task of saving the day mostly descends. The four survivors try to find away of stopping Elizabeth and banishing Lilith – assisted by multiple copies of the Necronomicon, conveniently scattered all over the house – while avoiding their now blood-thirsty former friends. And if magic fails, there is always SCIENCE!!…
(You know, there really should be a law that if you’re going to set a film in Dunwich, you have to hire actors who can pronounce Dunwich. Though admittedly, I was less triggered by this than by the mispronunciation of “Amityville”…)
The Perfect Storm (2000)
Based upon the book by Sebastian Junger. October, 1991: towards the end of the season, the commercial fishing boat, the Andrea Gail, returns to its home port of Gloucester, Massachusetts, with another poor catch. Its captain, Billy Tyne (George Clooney), must face the boat’s owner, Bob Brown (Michael Ironside), who speaks ominously of his “cold streak”: Tyne responds with an angry promise of a huge haul, but then must convince the rest of his crew to undertake one more expedition, despite the worsening weather conditions. Most of them agree immediately or are eventually persuaded, though the inexperienced Bobby Shatford (Mark Wahlberg) is reluctant both on his own account, and because of his deepening relationship with Chris Cotter (Diane Lane), who tries to talk him out of it. Knowing that he can earn more money this way than on land, however, Shatford finally signs up. Finding a tropical storm building around the usual fishing grounds of the Grand Banks, Tyne decides to push on to the Flemish Cap. There, the boat strikes gold with a huge run of fish. However, almost immediately the catch is threatened by the breakdown of its ice machine; though set against this is the increasing violence of the storm through which the Andrea Gail must pass in order to reach port. Tyne decides to try and save the catch by pressing on—not knowing that the storm is rapidly building into a hurricane… One of our cable channels here has taken to running The Perfect Storm in a double-bill with Deepwater Horizon and, conceptually, that feels correct. Both dealing with recent, high-profile disasters, albeit of very different kinds, both of them are well-executed and sincere, but suffer from the same sorts of shortcomings, in particular a certain sense of—I don’t know if this is quite the right term—of “homogenisation” of the characters, presumably to avoid upsetting anyone (though that didn’t stop this film being sued by several relatives); and the tendency is underscored by the presence of Mark Wahlberg in both, and the similarity of his characters. Above all, however, The Perfect Storm turns on Billy Tyne’s decision, as captain, to push through the storm rather than risk the catch by waiting it out, overriding the objections amongst the crew, the film tacitly supports this decision in spite of is disastrous consequences. In fact, the whole film is, without acknowledging it, really about people making bad decisions. Presumably, conscious of the outcome, we’re not supposed to be too critical, but really, it becomes harder and harder to sympathise. (This is where Deepwater Horizon has the edge: that film has villains.) The second half of The Perfect Storm is all about its special effects – and its sound effects – and while these are convincing, I had the same old problem with hearing the dialogue—in fact, I had no idea during the antenna scene what was going on, which made it hard to stay engaged. However, the sheer horror of the situation in which the characters find themselves, and their desperate fight for survival against impossible odds, have all the desired impact. George Clooney, cast late, is effective as Tyne, but perhaps more so as he grapples with the realisation of the tragedy his choices have created than during the early scenes, which somewhat romanticise him. The Perfect Storm also features Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, John C. Reilly, Bob Gunton and Karen Allen.
The St. Francisville Experiment (2000)
I’m not quite sure how to go about this— I was aware of this film, inasmuch as I had it logged in my memory as having been dealt with by one of my colleagues (“Santo? No, that’s right, Will!”); and I knew that it was perhaps the first overt rip-off of The Blair Witch Project—found footage and ad-libbed dialogue and all. I also knew not to expect too much of it—but I was left with even less, after it turned out that the print I had access to had been edited to remove almost everything that even attempted to be scary, up to and including the Spring-Loaded CatTM. So maybe this short review can’t help but be unfair; or maybe it’s as fair as it ever needed to be.
So. An individual whose credentials and authority are never clear, rounds up four other individuals via a selection process left to our imaginations, planning to send them for a night into a notorious haunted house. The four are Paul, an “amateur ghost authority”; Ryan, a history student; Tim, a film student; and Madison, a medium. The four are given a crash course in ghost-hunting techniques and equipment by a “ghost historian” (played by real-life ghost-hunter, Troy Taylor, who was apparently royally pissed when he discovered that the
project experiment wasn’t a genuine documentary, as he had been led to believe), and a certain amount of back-story involving St. Francisville in Louisiana, and its tragic and, well, haunted history. The four are not, however, told any specifics about the house in which they are to spend the night, or what they might expect; but the viewer is privy to the (real) history of Madame LaLaurie, who tortured and murdered her slaves, and who, having made New Orleans too hot to hold her, may – or may not – have fled to St. Francisville. It is dark before the four are sent into the house armed with their ghost-hunting equipment, and with cameras with which they hope to capture any phenomena… The main achievement of The St. Francisville Experiment – certainly in this version; I suspect in both – is to underscore exactly how much intelligence and artistry went into the making of The Blair Witch Project. In contrast, everything about this film screams “fake”, in particular the way in which the four characters are so carefully lit, and that there is always a camera just where it needs to be to capture anything there is to be seen (which in this version is not very much). Furthermore, what was clearly insufficient preparation results in the four young actors saying essentially the same things over and over, a tic that becomes particularly painful in the case of Madison, who won’t stop blathering about “the fiery white light of love”. The house itself looks like a well-cared-for B&B; and while such an ordinary setting could have been put to good and/or ironic purpose, here the visual flatness undermines any attempt to build tension. There are a couple of effective moments, including Paul taking on the task of exorcising the attic, only to have his legs refuse to carry him all the way up the stairs; while the best touch has Tim finding a hidden door…with a hidden door behind it…and behind that… Otherwise, what has been left of this film by its editors toggles between boring and annoying.
Infernal Affairs II (2003)
In 1991, Triad boss Ngai Kwun is assassinated by Lau Kin-ming (Edison Chen), at the behest of Mary (Carina Lau), the wife of Kwun’s lieutenant, Hon Sam (Eric Tsang). Unaware of the conspiracy, Sam has already recruited Lau to enter the police force, and become his mole. Even as Lau enters the academy, another young cadet, Chan Wing-yan (Shawn Yue), is expelled after it is discovered that he is an illegitimate son of Ngai Kwun—and therefore half-brother to Ngai Wing-hau (Francis Ng), who has taken over the running of the Triad. In the face of Yan’s passionate protest about the unfairness of his dismissal, he is advised to see Inspector Wong Chi-shing (Anthony Wong)—who offers him a way back into the police force via a dangerous undercover assignment… The best piece of advice I can give you about watching this film is, don’t let too much time elapse between Infernal Affairs and this: not only is it of necessity a prequel, but it assumes you remember every detail of the earlier film, and has little time to spare for those struggling to keep up. Infernal Affairs II is more of a straight actioner and less of a psychological drama than its predecessor. However, the array of double- and triple-crosses is even more extreme, and comes accompanied by an ever-escalating body count as Han and his enemies struggle for control of the territory, and Hon Sam gets thrust into a leadership role whether he wants it or not. Meanwhile, while not exactly guilty of retconning, the screenplay of Infernal Affairs II reveals secrets in the past of several of the characters – one in particular – that throw a different light upon their actions in the earlier film. With Edison Chen and Shawn Yue standing in for Andy Lau and Tony Leung, the screenplay also pulls back somewhat from the original focus upon Lau and Yan: more screentime is given to Lau’s toggling between his police work and his increasing criminal activities, and the two are not presented in the same mirror-image way, in spite of their parallel assignments. What mirroring occurs – and where the psychological aspect of the narrative re-emerges – is in the relationship between Sam and Wong. Infernal Affairs II opens with the two men sharing a companionable lunch; it closes with Sam’s rise to the top of the Triad, and Wong’s vow to bring him down: yet in between we discover that Sam has more of a sense of honour, and that Wong is more capable of crossing the line, than is congruent with either man’s position. Anthony Wong gives us, necessarily , a more conflicted character here; while Eric Tsang shines as Sam. Francis Ng is chilling as Han, who hides utter ruthlessness behind the mildest of demeanours.
Friends gather for a dinner-party at the home of Mike (Nicholas Brendon) and Lee (Lorene Scafaria). There is tension in the group: Em (Emily Foxler) is already struggling with whether or not to accompany her boyfriend, Kevin (Maury Sterling), on a four-month business trip to Vietnam, and her mood is not improved when she discovers that, as his “plus one”, Amir (Alex Manugian) is bringing Laurie (Lauren Maher), who is Kevin’s ex. Beth (Elizabeth Gracen) offers the group an experimental drug, which she swears is all natural relaxation products – except for a dash of ketamine – but they decline. Over dinner, Em describes how her phone completely died in her hand while she was talking to Kevin, and links it to that night’s passing of Miller’s Comet: she goes on to recount several historical incidents involving strange events linked to comets. Hugh (Hugo Armstrong), Beth’s husband, comments that his brother, a physicist, asked to be alerted if anyone experienced anything strange that night, but his own phone is cracked. The others discover that their phones, too, are dead, and that the internet is out. Suddenly the lights go out: Mike and Lee light candles and offer the others blue glow-sticks. The group goes outside to watch the comet passing overhead, and notice that all the other houses in the neighbourhood are also dark, except for one two blocks away. Hugh and Amir decide to walk there, to see if they have a working phone. When they return, the two have facial injuries, are badly shaken up, and bring with them a box found to contain numbered photos of everyone in the group—including one of Amir taken that night inside the house… Coherence was a labour of love for writer-director James Ward Byrkit, being conceived as “a film without a crew and without a script”, and shot within his own house over the course of five days. Moreover, though the project as a whole had been painstakingly worked out by Byrkit prior to filming, the cast was left in the dark about much of its detail, instead being asked to improvise from notes about their own character’s situation, and given the task each day of working certain plot-points into their dialogue. The results are something of an intellectual exercise, but one that will appeal to anyone who ever tried to wrap their head around a time-paradox story. Understanding the film’s background increases the viewer’s appreciation of Coherence, I think, and what the actors achieved here. I may say that I was particularly impressed (and grateful) that the dialogue never devolves into the characters just screaming and swearing at one another, as is too often the case in these improvisational exercises, but stays on-point as the situation worsens. Coherence is technically science fiction, with the characters subjected to strange forces as the comet passes, and the scenario citing theoretical physics, Schrödinger’s cat, and the concept of quantum decoherence to account for its phenomena; though I must confess (should I be ashamed of this?) that what kept coming to mind was the TNG episode “Parallels”, with its multiply fracturing universes; only here it’s happening to everyone. However, increasingly the film becomes a study of people under pressure and what they reveal about themselves (with Beth’s drug, I am happy to report, only a red herring). With the revelation that “the house down the block” is actually the same house, occupied by the same people, Coherence begins to build a genuine sense of unease and creepiness, one which escalates with the revelation that not everyone in the first house is the same person who arrived earlier in the evening. As the characters try to understand their situation – and figure out how to get out of it – they must come to terms with the fact that there may be multiple versions of themselves in existence; perhaps “bad versions”…though it is much later before anyone recognises that they themselves may be the “bad versions”…
I Know Where Lizzie Is (2016)
Though social media magnate Martin Holden (Richard Ruccolo) is remarried to Rebecca (Vanessa Evigan), he and his ex-wife, Judith (Tracy Gold), try to stay on amicable terms for the sake of their fifteen-year-old daughter, Lizzie (Madison Iseman). In fact, Lizzie is enraged when she discovers that Martin is in agreement with Judith over forbidding her to attend a certain party. A blazing argument with her mother ends with Lizzie storming out of the house. Eventually she calms down, and even considers texting her mother an apology—only to be grabbed from behind by a masked figure… Ambitious TV reporter Gale Chambers (Robert Scott Wilson) is one of the reporters covering a press conference given by Martin and Judith when it is interrupted by local psychic, Tracy Spencer (Nadia Bjorlin), who insists that she knows that Lizzie is still alive. Though the desperate Judith wants to accept Tracy’s help, both Martin and Detective Williams (Jim O’Heir) are deeply sceptical—until Tracy shocks Williams with her knowledge of his late wife. After promising to do all she can to help, though warning than she cannot control or compel her visions, Tracy goes home—where she and her husband, Henry (Scott Evans), don masks before descending to their basement, where Lizzie is bound to a bed… That isn’t a spoiler: I Know Where Lizzie Is tips its hand early, and instead of being a psychic-thriller – or even a is-she-a-fake-or-not thriller – becomes a wryly cynical drama about the price of celebrity and the people who pay it. The results may not be for everyone, but for a Lifetime movie this has a more complex set-up than usual, and even a sense of proportion—with a sliding-scale of villains and a sliding-scale of punishments, too, along with a few classic, guffaw-inducing Lifetime touches. Tracy, it turns out, is a fake all the way, bullying the spineless Henry into her scheme for parlaying Lizzie’s kidnapping into fame and fortune; and she is matched by the slimy Gale who, without ever having the poor taste to show he knows she’s a fake, negotiates a series of “exclusives” in exchange for promoting Tracy as “the psychic saviour”. I Know Where Lizzie Is tests the viewer’s patience somewhat during its middle third, but the resolution to its plot is sickly funny and even clever in its way, with Tracy and Henry faced with the choice of letting Lizzie go and being exposed, or making sure that she can never give them away—only for Henry to come up with a Plan C… Once past her initial brattiness, Madison Iseman is quite appealing as the beleaguered Lizzie; while Nadia Bjorlin goes appropriately over the top as Tracy. However, Scott Evans almost steals the film as Henry…who really wasn’t cut out to be a kidnapper…
The Clovehitch Killer (2018)
The small town of Clarksville, Kentucky, is haunted by the spectre of “the Clovehitch Killer”, who tortured and murdered at least ten women before the killings ceased a decade before. Despite the yearly memorial services, sixteen-year-old Tyler Burnside (Charlie Plummer) is more concerned with school, his activities in the scout troop led by his father, Don (Dylan McDermott), and his new relationship with Amy (Emma Jones). One night, Tyler sneaks out of the house and takes his father’s truck to meet Amy, but the date ends abruptly when she finds a folded photograph of a woman in bondage between the seats. Tyler soon realises that in spite of his denials, Amy not only believes it to be his property, but has told others about it; and he finds himself shunned or judged by his peers. However, he is even more disturbed by the realisation that the photo is likely his father’s property. Taking the opportunity of his parents’ absence, Tyler breaks into the garden shed in which his father spends much of his free time, and discovers under the floorboards a stash of pornographic magazines dealing with bondage—but also a Polaroid photo of a woman who has been bound and beaten, with “Lucky’s favourite” written on the edge of it. Unsure where to go with his suspicions, Tyler finally makes contact with Kassi (Madison Beaty), an unpopular teen known for her interest in the Clovehitch case. She is sceptical of both him and his plea for help, until he tells her about the photograph—which the two of them succeed in linking to one of the killer’s known victims… The Clovehitch Killer is an interesting film, but finally stumbles over its uncertainty about what kind of film it most wants to be—shifting uneasily between coming-of-age drama, serial-killer docu-drama and thriller. My own feeling is, it should have stuck with the first, which at least brings something new to the table; and that more time should have been given at the outset to Tyler’s position in Clarksville and within his family—and to the fallout from the gossip about the bondage photograph. While this is there to a point, there is a superficiality about the way it is presented; while the impact is further undermined by the screenplay’s various digs at the bible-belt town—and by the note of wry humour in the scenes in which Tyler is lectured by various concerned parties about his “interests”: no-one believes he has something more important than sex on his mind. Consequently, Tyler’s suspicions arrive on the scene too early, and we are left unconvinced about the depth of his relationship with his father—upon which most of his decisions over the second half of the film, many of which are disturbing, are predicated: this is where the focus should have remained. Once the film shifts gears, it loses its sense of freshness: “Clovehitch” is based without much disguise upon Dennis Rader; while Tyler and Madison’s “investigation” has a slightly Scooby-Doo-ish quality about it that jars when set against the grim reality of the killer’s activities. However, a strong performance from Charlie Plummer holds The Clovehitch Killer together in spite of its missteps; the screenplay serves up a few surprises (in its smaller moments, rather than its broad strokes); and the small-town setting is convincingly rendered.
House Of Darkness 2 (2018)
Also known as: House Of Darkness: New Blood. Though her relationship with Judd (Liam McNeill) is strong, Brooke (Kate Stone) worries that her nine-year-old son, Dylan (Jake Getman) is still resisting a new father figure in his life, after Brooke’s husband disappeared some years before—apparently going voluntarily off the grid. Judd reassures Brooke that he is in it for the long haul; and to prove it, he proposes. Soon afterwards, Judd tells Brooke that he will have to spend some time with his mother, Elaine (Hilary Momberger-Powers), who is showing signs of dementia and may need to be placed in a care facility. In light of their engagement, Brooke insists upon Dylan and herself accompanying Judd to Elaine’s upstate house, in spite of his warnings about its isolated location and dilapidated condition. Before they leave, Brooke consults her doctor (Demetrius Butler) about her insomnia: he prescribes her medication, but warns that it may have side effects, including nightmares. When they arrive in the country, Brooke is dismayed to find things worse than she imagined, including Elaine’s condition; however, to her surprise Dylan takes to country life, and his relationship with Judd improves; consequently, she tries to hide her own discomfort—which soon encompasses a sense that someone – or something – else occupies the house… They really will make a sequel to anything, won’t they? House Of Darkness was a tepid Lifetime would-be horror, with a few creepy moments but more unintentional laughs; House Of Darkness 2 is an in-name-only sequel about different people in a different house: the point of connection being the suggestion that a child, or children, may have met a grim fate in the titular property. I admit to being disappointed in this film: it starts quite strongly, albeit in that ineffable Lifetime way; and though there is nothing at all original about it, it succeeds in constructing some unnerving moments—not difficult, in a creaky old house full of shadowy corners; though the best scene involves Brooke in a well-lit bathroom. It also went close to winning me over entirely with an old-fashioned photo-development / something-nasty-emerges-in-the-image scene. However— Finally the screenplay gives us too many of Brooke’s nightmares in place of real scares; the film’s middle third is repetitive, just spinning its wheels; and the eventual “explanation” comes completely out of left field, with nothing that Brooke has dreamed or discovered (or had served up to her by some pragmatically helpful spooks) really paving the way for the last-act plot-twist. There is also – though other films have certainly played this card – an uncomfortable edge to the use of a dementia sufferer as the fulcrum of seemingly supernatural events. Kate Stone gives a fair performance as Brooke, but a lack of chemistry between herself and Jake Getman means that the mother-son relationship never seems as strong as it needs to be. Liam McNeill is the usual bland Lifetime male lead.