Hilde Warren And Death (1917)
Original title: Hilde Warren und der Tod. Directed by Joe May from Fritz Lang’s first screenplay, this is another important early horror movie that has survived only in fragmented form. Sources indicate an original running-time of 80 minutes, but today Hilde Warren And Death is readily viewable only via a 40-minute version that is supposed to have English intertitles but doesn’t, or a 60-minute version with Russian intertitles (and we all know from 713 Prosit Posadku how good my Russian is!). The former was cut up with little regard to narrative continuity, particularly around the key subplot involving Hilde’s son, but the latter allows us to better follow the story, even if we miss its nuances. It is also, despite apparently coming from the same source print, in better visual condition.
While in rehearsals, actress Hilde Warren (Mia May) is terrified when a strange, spectral figure (Georg John) briefly appears to her. As he comforts her, Wengraf (Hans Mierendorff), the manager of the theatre, who loves Hilde devotedly, proposes; but though she values Wengraf as a friend and colleague, she rejects him. A chance encounter introduces Hilde to Hector Roger (Bruno Kastner), and they quickly become involved; Hilde has no idea that Roger has criminal connections, and is involved in the planning of a bank robbery. After a whirlwind romance, the two marry; but tragedy soon strikes. The police track down Roger at the hotel where he and Hilde are honeymooning: there is an exchange of gunfire and, after killing a policeman, Roger is killed himself. Another crushing blow follows, when Hilde realises that she is pregnant. As she struggles to come to terms with this, the spectral figure appears to her once again… Like the same year’s Fear, Hilde Warren And Death may strike modern viewers as too much melodrama, too little horror. As things stand, we do not (cannot) know why Hilde is chosen by Death – who comes to her first when, it seems, she has everything to live for – nor the nature of the precise offer that is being made to her; but increasingly we understand that, at each key juncture in her life, she is being offered small-d death as an alternative to fighting on. (Perhaps she is first offered death because she has, unknown to herself, reached the pinnacle of her career?) After her second rejection, Hilde retires into seclusion to bear and raise her son, who begins very early to display violent tendencies. Eventually Wengraf tracks the two of them down and, this time, Hilde agrees to marry him. However, when Wengraf, disturbed by the boy’s behaviour, makes Hilde giving up the child a condition of their marriage, she clings to her son instead—but only faces a future of increasing suffering… There are, in addition to its minimal horror content, a few challenges in Hilde Warren And Death, not least its tacit assertion that criminal and violent tendencies can be “inherited”, holus-bolus, from a parent, and that Hilde’s son will inevitably follow in his father’s footsteps. (I may say, however, that in its current form one of the film’s critical moments is incomprehensible: it seems that something happens – something fatal? – to Wengraf, and that Hilde blames the boy.) The story’s tragedy, of course, is that really Hilde has done nothing to deserve any of this: you can’t really say that at any point she makes the “wrong” choice, though her rushed marriage is self-evidently unwise. Movie morality (if not general morality) would certainly judge Hilde as correct for sticking to her son, but this decision sets up the last disastrous phase of her life—and the film’s justly famous conclusion, which is worth sitting through all the melodrama for. The acting in Hilde Warren And Death is generally broad, much eye-rolling and gesticulation; but Georg John (who would appear as the Penitent, four years later, in the May / Lang collaboration, The Indian Tomb) is a striking figure as Der Tod. The film opens (as German films of the time tended to) with a quick “the director at home” sequence showing Joe May with his dog—who appears in the film as Hilde’s dog. Meanwhile, Fritz Lang has a bit-part as one of the members of Hilde’s acting troupe.
Astonishingly produced while WWI was still in progress, still more astonishingly featuring real servicemen – some of whom died after returning to the front – and scenes filmed on actual battlefields, J’Accuse is in all ways a typical Abel Gance film in that it is beautiful, gripping, infuriating and self-indulgent by turns. Also typical of Gance’s works, after its initial release the film was cut and re-edited into a variety of forms and emphases (including, allegedly, a version for American release that was less pacifist, more anti-German, and with a happy ending [!]). A restoration undertaken in 2008 resulted in a 166-minute print close to Gance’s original vision, and which recreated the film’s extraordinary cinematography, lighting and visual effects. In a French village, the people are happy except for Édith Laurin (Maryse Dauvray), who has been forced into marriage with a brutal husband, François (Séverin-Mars aka Armand Jean Malafayde), and the poet Jean Diaz (Romuald Joubé), who loves her. When war is declared, François is amongst the first group of conscripts, while Jean is to undergo officer’s training: already suspicious and jealous, François sends Édith away to his parents, to ensure that she and Jean are separated. This choice ends in disaster, however, when word comes that Édith has been abducted by German soldiers; though even then, François suspects a plot—until Jean is appointed lieutenant to his own unit. The two men remain hostile until Jean is forced to realise that, in his own way, François loves Édith as much as he does; and when he takes François’ place on a dangerous mission, the two resolve their differences and face the horrors of war together… That summary conveys something of the hardest part of J’Accuse for the modern viewer to take, the melodramatic love-triangle at its core; but it conveys little of the most exasperating aspect of it, which is the film’s sympathy for, and redemption of, François—who physically abuses Édith to the point of marital rape (some quick nudity here, shocking in context), which is apparently loving her “in his way”. Increasingly, Édith becomes merely an object upon which male emotions, male ideas of “honour”, may be projected: even after she is gang-raped and bears a daughter as a consequence, it’s all about how the men react; and in the case of François and Édith’s father, the elderly army veteran, Maria Lazare (Maxime Desjardins), the first impulse of both is kill the child, Angèle (Angèle Guys). This subplot runs the distance of the film, but the real importance of J’Accuse of course lies elsewhere, in its depiction of the horrors of the war, its bitter criticism of the older generations who (mis)managed it and celebrated it, and above all – and most contentious of all – its accusations directed at those who profited from it, literally or situationally. Late in the war, both François, who has been on leave, and Jean, who was invalided out of the service, return to the front: in the barrage that follows, François is fatally wounded, and Jean shell-shocked to the point of madness. When he returns home, he describes to the other villagers a terrifying vision… The climax of J’Accuse is a staggering sequence in which the dead rise from the battlefield and return home to discover whether their ultimate sacrifice was worth it. This extraordinary set-piece is ambiguously presented, in that at first it seems only a product of Jean’s insanity; we are left to decide for ourselves whether the terrified, guilty villagers are actually seeing their dead, or have been swept up into Jean’s mad vision. Whatever its flaws, the final third of J’Accuse, with its focus on the war, its denunciation of those responsible, and its portrait of the consequences for combatant and non-combatant alike, of which death is not necessarily the worst, is extremely powerful.
(Side-note: Jean Diaz is implicitly Jewish—is that why Édith’s father wouldn’t let her marry him?—presumably to underscore the film’s allusion to another act of military madness, with the very phrase “J’accuse” being most strongly associated with Émile Zola’s inflammatory newspaper article during the Dreyfus case.)
Love Me Tonight (1932)
Based upon the play Le Tailleur au Château by Paul Armont and Léopold Marchand; screenplay by Samuel Hoffenstein, George Marion Jr. and Waldemar Young; music and lyrics by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. The new Parisian tailoring business of Maurice Courtelin (Maurice Chevalier) is threatened when he extends credit to the Vicomte Gilbert de Varèze (Charlie Ruggles), who he later discovers is a debt-ridden wastrel. Furious, Maurice sets out for the chateau of the Vicomte’s family—where his uncle, the Duc d’Artelines (C. Aubrey Smith), has just threatened to cast him off if he hears of one more debt. Along the way, Maurice assists a young woman when she is thrown from the horse-drawn carriage she is driving: he is immediately smitten, but she recoils from his advances. Later, however, the Princesse Jeanette (Jeanette MacDonald) cannot help but compare the stranger’s ardour with the half-hearted wooing of the Comte de Savignac (Charles Butterworth). When Maurice arrives at the castle, the horrified Vicomte hastily introduces him as his friend, Baron Courtelin, and invites him to stay—which Maurice does, after catching a glimpse of the Princesse Jeanette… Though many directors were thrown by the transition from silent film-making, Rouben Mamoulian was one of the first grasp the full potential of sound—and that understanding is fully on display in the musical comedy, Love Me Tonight. In addition to introducing what would become some of Rodgers and Hart’s most popular songs – the title song, “Mimi”, and in particular “Isn’t It Romantic?” – this musical uses sound in a way that surprised and delighted viewers of the time: the opening, Paris-wakes-up sequence turns everything into music, while the cross-country “transmission” of “Isn’t It Romantic” from singer to singer – ultimately from Maurice to Jeanette – was revolutionary. The film’s plot, meanwhile, is typically throwaway, with characters breaking into song at the slightest excuse and Maurice charming everyone but the wary Jeanette, who suspects his pedigree and sets out to test it—but ends up falling for him anyway. (In the scene most likely to appeal to modern audiences, Maurice proves himself “no gentleman” in Jeanette’s estimation by saving the deer being hunted by the real aristocrats.) Today, much of the interest of Love Me Tonight lies in its pre-Code character—not least that the plot turns explicitly on Jeanette’s sexual frustration. However, the film fell foul of the censors with respect to some of its other material, with various bits of footage removed and subsequently lost—including, alas, a scene with Myrna Loy wearing a négligée deemed “too revealing”.
The Menace (1932)
Based upon The Feathered Serpent by Edgar Wallace. A man who has been badly injured in an oil-field fire must have his face reconstructed by plastic surgery, leaving him so that even his friends do not recognise him. The man, now calling himself “Robert Crockett” (Walter Byron), determines to put this twist of fate to good use, by returning to England and clearing himself of his father’s murder… At Quayle Manor in England, Caroline Quayle (Natalie Moorhead) and her confederates John Utterson (William B. Davidson), who poses as her brother, and Sam Lewis (Crauford Kent) contemplate their future. Having committed murder for profit, the three have burned through Caroline’s inheritance and now must face the sale of Quayle Manor, which is in the hands of the bailiffs. The butler, Phillips (Halliwell Hobbes), is startled by the arrival of Peggy Lowell (Bette Davis): she tells him hurriedly not to recognise her, and that she is there to act as bailiff’s assistant. Caroline is delighted when a rich American shows an interest in buying the manor. Sam Lewis travels to London to meet with the man, Crockett: a meeting witnessed and overheard by Inspector Tracy (H. B. Warner), who had charge of the Quayle case but was gravely dissatisfied by the outcome… Evidently the budget for The Menace was so low, Columbia couldn’t afford to hire Edgar Wallace to adapt his own book. Nevertheless, this is an amusing little thriller, albeit one that stretches credibility (to put it mildly) in that ineffable Wallace way. Its back-story is even harder to swallow than its main plot, and is wisely kept off-screen, with Ronald Quayle convicted of his father’s murder on the testimony of his scheming young step-mother, escaping prison, supposedly being killed in a plane crash from which he evidently walked away without a scratch, and then having his face burned off in an oil fire: an incident which seems to have caused him astonishingly little physical distress—and which has the side-effect of costing him his fingerprints as well as his face. Arrived at Quayle Manor, Ronald / Robert sets about breaking up the conspirators who he is sure were responsible for his father’s death and turning them against one another… The Menace has fun with its absurd scenario, with Walter Byron frantically chewing gum and saying things like, “You said it, brother!” and insisting that the horrified Phillips call him by his name instead of “Sir”, and generally being as American as possible…and yet he keeps reminding the people who knew Ronald Quayle of someone, if only they could think who… Although she was third-billed, an on-loan Bette Davis has disappointingly little to do in this film, despite Peggy being planted by the suspicious Inspector Grant to dig up fresh evidence. On the other hand, we see far too much of Charles K. Gerrard as the bailiff, who is also the Odious Comic Relief.
Fugitive In The Sky (1936)
Also known as: Heroes Of The Air. As an eastbound flight boards in Los Angeles, reporter Terry Brewer (Warren Hull) checks the passenger list, looking for a story; though he also puts the moves on stewardess Rita Moore (Jean Muir), much to the disapproval of Bob White (Gordon Oliver), the pilot. Brewer recognises one passenger as Mike Phelan (John Litel), a government agent, and hastily joins the flight. After the plane’s first stop in Albuquerque, White and his co-pilot, Johnny Martin (Carlyle Moore Jr), are warned of bad dust storms over Missouri. As the passengers settle down to sleep, Rita makes coffee for the pilots before checking that all is well in the cabin. But all is far from well: to her horror, Rita discovers that a man called Ramon Duvall (Gordon Elliott) has been stabbed to death. Grasping the situation, Phelan takes charge; but his brusque explanation causes one of the female passengers to faint. Phelan instinctively bends over her—only to find himself at the point of his own gun, as the passenger speaks in the threatening tones of wanted murderer “Killer” Madsen (Howard Phillips)… Though it bears a suspicious resemblance to 13 Hours By Air, released earlier the same year (a resemblance that was noted at the time), Fugitive In The Sky is an amusing and effective little B-film, which nicely blends aviation drama with a whodunit plot, after Madsen – wanted murderer as he may be – denies having killed the man in the cabin. (“I don’t use a shiv,” he deadpans.) Running just under an hour, Fugitive In The Sky is a rather over-crowded film, and over-populated with comic reliefs, too, which occasionally gets annoying; but the bits that work make it worth watching. Half of the film plays out in a terrifyingly fragile-looking Ford Trimotor, the other in a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, Missouri, where the passengers find shelter after Bob succeeds in making an emergency landing when the plane loses two of its engines in the dust storm. The murder in the cabin is almost forgotten while the hostage-passengers try to deal with the panicky Madsen, who strikes us as the kind to shoot first and think about it afterwards; but it rears its head again when Phelan reveals it wasn’t Madsen he was actually pursuing… The central performances in Fugitive In The Sky are quite good, though the screenplay doesn’t seem to be able to decide what kind of heroine it wants Rita to be: she does more than anyone else to fight back against Madsen, but her efforts generally fail (not always her fault); and while there is a brief, glorious moment when she gets to fly the plane—well, it doesn’t actually go so gloriously. She does, however, eventually help Phelan solve the murder. Meanwhile, the love-triangle resolves itself with pragmatic brevity, as Bob and Terry rightly recognise they’ve got more urgent matters to deal with and team up to try and find a way of calling for help right under Madsen’s nose…
(More on this film in Spinning Newspaper Injures Printer…both parts.)
In Alaska, isolated communities are linked and serviced by a handful of pilots. Among them is Dr Jason Barlow (Del Cambre aka Alfred Delcambre), known as “the Flying Doctor”, who carries medical care and basic surgery into all corners of the territory by seaplane. Barlow has just returned from a remote Eskimo settlement when he learns of a plague-stricken village many hundreds of miles away, with two men having pushed their dog-team and themselves to exhaustion to bring the news. Barlow is concerned about the condition of his plane but, left with no choice, he sets out on the long flight. To his dismay, his fears prove justified: his plane’s engine fails and, though he manages to set it down on the water, he cannot stop it crashing into an ice wall. Barely escaping with his life, Barlow manages to drag himself from the water—and finds himself alone in the wilderness… Apparently based upon a true story, Tundra started life as a Universal production but was one of the casualties of Carl Laemmle’s loss of control. The project passed to Burroughs-Tarzan Pictures Inc., which committed itself to the location filming that is the film’s great strength—but, as it unfolds, also an increasing source of viewer discomfort. The early stages of Tundra offer impressive footage of the Alaskan wilderness and its wildlife, much of it stunning even in the compromised prints most readily available, and doubly welcome for highlighting a variety of less high-profile animals along with obvious “stars” like the polar bear—though only our knowledge of its subsequent reintroduction makes the footage of the disappearing muskoxen less than heartbreaking. In the course of his desperate journey, Jason Barlow is of course forced to live off the land; and though the cameras do not dwell, a number of salmon, a snow rabbit and a musk-rat (!) make the ultimate sacrifice; while an otter (!!) gets away. However, along the way Barlow acquires the company of two bear cubs—and though we’re obviously supposed to find it “cute”, his interaction with them, and their use in the plot, progressively crosses the line into abuse. (I was unpleasantly put in mind of the unfortunate “Joey the lemur”, in King Dinosaur.) But even this pales in comparison with the film-makers setting not one but two fires, apparently just to capture the stampede of the panicking wildlife. Alfred Delcambre, presumably cast for his willingness to endure the conditions and do his own stunts, was certainly put through the ringer in Tundra, but Barlow’s behaviour makes him less and less sympathetic. Meanwhile – as you’ve no doubt noticed – after its set-up the film basically has no plot. We do cut away occasionally to check in on the search-and-rescue effort, but that plague-stricken village becomes no more than a footnote to Barlow’s crash.
Undersea Kingdom (1936, 12 chapters)
In his final year at Annapolis, Lt “Crash” Corrigan (Ray “Crash” Corrigan) excels at athletics as well as his officer training. Billy Norton (Lee Van Atta), the young son of scientist Professor Norton (C. Montague Shaw), carries a message inviting Crash to his father’s laboratory. There, he finds Norton being interviewed by reporter, Diana Compton (Lois Wilde). Norton has developed a method by which earthquakes may be traced to their source and, if within a certain proximity, stopped; he reveals his belief that the recent quakes that have plagued the world are emanating from the lost continent of Atlantis. Furthermore, when another quake begins, Norton announces his determination to trace it using his newly-developed submarine. Crash accepts an invitation to join the expedition, and Diana pleads to come along too; while once the dive is underway, it is discovered that Billy has stowed away. As the submarine dives, it is caught by a strange force and surfaces in an enclosed, undersea world, where a bitter war is being fought between the forces of Sharad (William Farnum), the High Priest, and the usurper, Unga Khan (Monte Blue). Furthermore, Unga Khan is determined to conquer or destroy the “upper world”, and believes that the brilliant Professor Norton holds the key… Well. I had Undersea Kingdom tagged for a full review but, after a promising opening, it turned out to be a disappointment. Self-evidently rushed into production to cash in on the success of Flash Gordon, Undersea Kingdom copies its model in outline while going underwater rather than into space (William Girdler would be proud), but ultimately steals rather more from The Phantom Empire—including, unfortunately, that serial’s tendency to pad out its episodes by endless scenes of people riding back and forth across unattractive scrubland (in this case, the Iverson Ranch). Science there is, in the form of a war-tank known as “the Juggernaut”, robots – sorry, “Volkites” – flying machine (Vol-planes), television-like communicators and spying machines, and various other nefarious devices, but it’s all a bit perfunctory and occasionally even dull—with the war being fought chiefly with swords, and from horseback or on chariots. I’m not sure if they were consciously going for a Science vs Religion thing here, but all the technology is on the bad guys’ side. Unga Khan’s plan to “conquer or destroy” the upper world has stalled on his inability to develop rocket engines to lift his metal tower to the surface, but a quick trip through the “mind-transformer” and Professor Norton is enthusiastically slaving for his new master (thus dispensing with the always-problematic human quisling issue) and resisting his friends’ attempts to rescue him… Ray Corrigan acquired his nickname here (on the grounds that if you said it quickly, “Crash Corrigan” kind of sounded like another name); and while he’s not much of an actor, he certainly looks the part as the two-fisted hero…particularly after they get him into the de rigueur short shorts. Billy Norton is thankfully not as “cute” as he starts out seeming, and is actually a lot of help to Crash along the way; but there’s no reason at all for Diana Compton to be in this serial: she isn’t even actively useless like Dale Arden, just useless-useless. However, Lon Chaney Jr has a good early role as Captain Hakur, commander of Unga Khan’s Black Robes. Overall, though, Undersea Kingdom lacks the spark and humour (intentional and otherwise) of its obvious models, and even the anti-entertainment value of The Lost City.
Blaze Of Noon (1947)
Based upon the novel by Ernest K. Gann. Calling themselves “the Four Flying Devils”, the MacDonald brothers – Roland (Sonny Tufts), Tad (Sterling Hayden), Colin (William Holden) and Keith (Johnny Sands) – are employed by a carnival to perform dangerous stunt-flying. The arrangement ends when the restless Colin decides to quit and take a job with the newly formed US Air Mail Service; the others, initially appalled, decide they have to stick together and also join the small new outfit based in Newark. There, the MacDonalds are reunited with an old friend, the reckless “Porkie” (William Bendix), who is the bane of his boss, Gafferty (Howard Da Silva). Before being hired, the MacDonalds must pass an aviation physical—and Colin promptly falls in love with Lucille Stewart (Anne Baxter), the nurse administering it. After a whirlwind courtship, they marry, with Lucille dismayed to discover that she has, in effect, taken on all four brothers. Then, too, she must cope with the realities of Colin’s work—required to get the mail through night or day and whatever the conditions, with no technical assistance… Despite its cast and its pedigree – the screenplay co-written by Frank Wead from a novel by Ernest Gann – Blaze Of Noon is a disappointment. There is a distinct sense about it of junking what the novel was actually about, in favour of soapy dramatic and/or would-be “humorous” scenes of the MacDonalds at home—and I may say that despite the cast, none of the characters are particularly likeable or sympathetic. The film’s two great failures, however, are that it never succeeds in evoking the 1920s, and that it doesn’t really seem interested in aviation except as a source of drama on the ground. I haven’t read the novel, but I’d bet that its focus is not only the insanely dangerous conditions of early flying, but the progressive introduction of new technology to make it safer—assuming the pilots can be convinced to use it. All this is there in the film, but is never given the weight it should have. Instead, we’re offered Colin and Lucille’s we-barely-know-each-other marriage and the obliviously selfish behaviour of all four brothers afterwards. This gets tiresome—and consequently, we’re not affected as we should be by the rolling series of tragedies that eventually strikes the family. Also – wise after the event, I know – it may have been a mistake to give the film’s Big Emotional Scene to Sonny Tufts…
Hercules, Prisoner Of Evil (1964)
Original title: Ursus il terrore dei Kirghisi (Ursus, Terror of the Kirghiz). A merchants’ caravan is wiped out by a huge, deformed creature of great strength, one of numerous savage attacks to strike the territory occupied by the Kirghiz and Cherkes peoples. Zereteli (Furio Meniconi), Prince Regent of the Kirghiz, tries to convince people that Hercules (Reg Park), leader of the Cherkes, is controlling the monster—pointing out that it never attacks where he is. Meanwhile, Zereteli is trying to persuade his reluctant cousin, Aniko (Mireille Granelli), the future queen of the Kirghiz, into marriage; however, she is secretly in love with Hercules, and slips out at night to meet with him. The monster’s attacks continue; a trap to catch the creature catches instead Ilo (Ettore Manni), Hercules’ brother: when he rejoins the Cherkes, he is astonished to discover that Katia (Maria Teresa Orsini0), who Hercules found wounded and without memory when she was only a child, is now a lovely young woman. One night, the monster slips into the encampment of the Cherkes and attacks Ilo while he is sleeping. He fights the creature off and it flees; Ilo pursues it, leaving Katia to find and conceal its dropped dagger, which she recognises as belonging to Hercules… First things first: I’m yet to see a synopsis of this film that didn’t ruin its main point of interest, while at the same time giving a completely wrong idea of what this film is like; so if this might be your kind of thing, watch first, read later. Second things second, this is not of course a “Hercules” film at all, but one of several to feature Ursus, a character based upon the Christian bodyguard in Quo Vadis? whose great strength famously saves his young mistress in the arena. This is an important point here, because the usual Hercules heroics do not apply (or even the Maciste heroics); and
Ursus Hercules, while strong, has no particular powers—including, if we’re honest, brain-power. That role falls to Ilo, who is arguably this film’s real hero; though Hercules gets the big action scene at the end, of course. Overall, Hercules, Prisoner Of Evil is not a success: its pacing is poor; there is too much bad day-for-night; the creature attacks are repetitive; the bad guys – the bad guys we know about – are uninteresting; and (those synopses again!) while the creature is generally described as a werewolf, it’s really just a big guy with a deformed face. But there are a few interesting touches here too, like Hercules overlooking Katia to pursue a romance with Aniko, Ilo’s growing suspicions of his brother, and the eventual revelation of the creature’s origins. The most curious thing, however, particularly given the fantasy elements in the plot, might be what seems to me otherwise the film’s geographical and historical accuracy—although why screenwriter Marcello Sartarelli was moved to set his story in what is now Kyrgyzstan is left to our imaginations. Hercules, Prisoner Of Evil is credited to “Anthony Dawson” (Antonio Margheriti), but it seems to have been directed chiefly by an uncredited Ruggero Deodato.
The President’s Analyst (1967)
After some weeks of analysis, Dr Sidney Schaefer (James Coburn) is astonished to learn that one of his patients has in fact been analysing him. Revealing himself as Don Masters (Godfrey Cambridge) of the Central Enquiries Agency, the man explains to Schaefer that, with the weight of the world on his shoulders and no-one he can confide in, the President is becoming dangerously stressed and paranoid; that he needs someone he can safely talk to; that he needs, in short, an analyst… Schaefer is at first delighted with his new position, and with the perks that come with it; but soon reality sets in: he is on call day and night, seven days a week, which begins to destroy his relationship with his girlfriend, Nan Butler (Joan Delaney); while the more the President talks, the better he feels—but the more his stress and paranoia transfer themselves to Schaefer. Furthermore, when the international intelligence community finds out that the US President has an analyst, every country in the world wants Schaefer taken alive—except his own, which wants him dead… Written and directed by Theodore Flicker, this black comedy is a film that retains a surprising degree of relevance for modern audiences. Some of it even works better now than when the film was made, particularly what it has to say about the power of the telecommunications companies and the questions raised by that power with respect to individual privacy. Meanwhile, The President’s Analyst reeks with political cynicism—in particular, in its depiction of the ongoing internal war between the “Central Enquiries Agency” and the “Federal Bureau of Regulation”, and the casual attitude to murder at the highest levels of authority. Eventually, Don Masters and his Soviet counterpart, Kydor Kropotkin (Severn Darden), team up to protect Schaefer from the liquidation order put out on him by the FBR; but even these two master-spies may not be able to overcome the real enemy lurking in the shadows… The President’s Analyst takes a while to get going, lingering too much at the outset over Schaefer’s relationship with Nan; but once Schaefer’s own – perfectly justifiable – paranoia kicks in, and he escapes the White House in company with, ahem, “a typical American family”, the film becomes a snowballing running joke, with Schaefer bouncing from retreat to retreat as the spies and the hitmen close in on him—and each other. As Schaefer, James Coburn offers a skewed take on the Hitchcockian innocent-man-on-the-run, with much of the film’s humour centred in his reactions to the America he discovers once he goes on the lam. Some of the film’s notable performances come in its smaller roles, however: William Daniels as card-carrying New Jersey liberal, Wynn Quantrill; Walter Burke as Henry Lux, Director of the FBR; and Barry Maguire as “Old Wrangler”, head of the commune where Schaefer finds a temporary refuge.
No Way To Treat A Lady (1968)
Based upon the novel by “Harry Longbaugh” (William Goldman). Widowed Alma Mulloy (Martine Bartlett) lets the new parish priest into her apartment where, although she welcomes him with tea, she also tells him firmly that she has lapsed. The priest takes this in his stride and conversation is friendly—until his hands fasten around her throat… The investigation of the murder falls to Detective Morris Brummel (George Segal) – known as “Moe” – who at the scene discovers that the killer has painted red lipstick lips on his victim’s forehead. Learning that an upstairs neighbour of Mrs Mulloy, Kate Palmer (Lee Remick), may have seen the killer, Brummel calls on her—and is immediately smitten, though Kate can be little help; noting only that the priest – or “priest” – said, “Top of the morning” to her, though it was afternoon… A remark from Brummel about the murder being well-planned and executed makes its way into the newspaper. The killer, egotistically pleased with this “recognition”, makes a point of phoning Brummel—but hangs up before the call can be traced. Another murder follows – and another phone-call – until Brummel and the killer are locked in an escalating game of cat-and-mouse… No Way To Treat A Lady is a film I don’t feel at ease with these days—though that said, this is an individual thing and, absolutely, YMMV. (I’m aware, for instance, that the film was later turned into a musical comedy [!]). What we have here is, in effect, a black comedy based on the activities of the Boston Strangler, and one that takes a little too much pleasure in those activities for comfort—or for my comfort. The film makes no mystery of its killer’s identity, and therefore neither shall I: he is Christopher Gill (Rod Steiger), the owner and manager of a theatre, who is fixated on his late mother, a famous stage actress, and who is taking out that fixation on older ladies—using a range of disguises to worm his way into their apartments. While the serial killings unfold, the film shifts back and forth between Gill and Brummel—the latter with personal issues of his own, courtesy of his extremely Jewish mother (Eileen Heckart): paralleling the two men a little too neatly. A brighter spot in Brummel’s life is his developing relationship with Kate Palmer; but when, as a ploy to try and provoke the killer into a mistake, the detective insults and belittles him, Gill lashes back by going after Kate… No Way To Treat A Lady is to a great extent – too much – a vehicle for Rod Steiger, who absolutely chews the furniture here as Gill. George Segal and Lee Remick are quieter but better—with Kate’s striking wardrobe, standing out against the browns and greys of the film’s palette, allowed to operate as a metaphor for her increasingly important position in Moe’s life. (And for a shiksa, she sure knows how to handle a Jewish mother.) The film also features Doris Roberts, Barbara Baxley, David Doyle and Michael Dunn—and (this to my amusement, at least) Murray Hamilton as a senior police official more worried about the department’s reputation than catching a killer.
The Invasion Of Carol Enders (1974)
While parked in an isolated location, Carol Enders (Meredith Baxter) and her fiancé, Adam Reston (Christopher Connelly), get into an argument over the latter’s admission that he wants to postpone their wedding. Distracted, they do not notice a lurking figure. The man attacks and knocks Adam out before closing in on the terrified Carol—and as she struggles to get away, she slips and falls down a rocky slope… Carol is in critical condition when she is rushed to the same hospital where she works as a nurse: Dr Peter Bernard (Charles Aidman) takes over her case. Meanwhile, Diana Bernard (Sally Kemp) has an ugly confrontation with her drunken ex-husband, David Hastings (John Carlen), who promises to leave her alone in future if she bankrolls his plans to start over. When she offers him only a token sum, insisting she owes him nothing, he becomes furious. The scene is interrupted by Diana’s teenage step-son, Jason (Cris Nelson), but though he sees David off, it is evident he has no love for Diana. When Peter returns Diana’s call and hears what happened, he quashes any thought she has of giving in to David’s demands but suggests, since she’s upset, that she leave on her trip to San Francisco immediately instead of the next day. She does so—only to lose control of her car on a steep bend… Diana makes it to the hospital but dies there—just as Peter is breaking it to Adam that Carol will not survive. Suddenly, however, Carol seems to recover—and demands to speak to her husband, Peter… Do we start with the good news or the bad news? The latter, I think: this is, in all practical respects, a soap opera: it is cast, directed, acted, edited, lit and scored exactly like any TV soap of the era, and if you were to see any scene, any frame, out of context, I’m betting that’s what you’d think you were watching. It’s pretty funny, actually. BUT—if you can cope with all that, The Invasion Of Carol Enders is actually an interesting little horror-drama, with the narrative efficiency often seen in TV movies of the time, and the nerve to follow its premise to its logical conclusion. Furthermore, the characters don’t reject the evidence of their own eyes and ears, but finally accept that, somehow, Carol is now Diana. This doesn’t happen all at once, of course: a guilty Adam initially thinks that Carol is punishing him for the wedding postponement; while Peter suspects some sort of blackmail plot. The last to be convinced is Lt Carrea (Phillip Pine), for whom acceptance means the chance to question the victim about her own murder, after it turns out Diana’s car was sabotaged. The situation also means that Diana can conduct an investigation of her own… There are some nice touches in The Invasion Of Carol Enders, including a scene in which Carrea forgets that he’s not supposed to “believe”, and slips from questioning Carol to questioning Diana; while Diana’s investigation, as Carol, reveals to her some very harsh truths—including how much happier David is with his new (from Diana’s point of view) “low-class” girlfriend than he ever was with her. The film’s climax, meanwhile, is hilarious through no fault of its own, just the passage of time: White Noise may have been the last hurrah of the VCR, but The Invasion Of Carol Enders was the first hurrah of another piece of technology, with the solution to Diana’s murder turning on who not only has access to a photocopier, but – gasp! – knows how to use one…
(This film’s budget was so low, it lifted bits from The Norliss Tapes to use as stock footage, which is why Dan Curtis is sometimes listed as co-director with Burt Brinkerhoff.)
This film is known colloquially as “Turkish Jaws“, which is why we’re here of course, but the shark turns out to be nothing more than a tiny island of squee lost in a vast ocean of confusion. Remember when I was trying to make sense of a French film dubbed into Italian and then given Spanish subtitles? Well, this time around I was stuck with using the auto-generated English translation of the auto-generated Turkish closed captions on YouTube—so you can just imagine. The process left me little the wiser, albeit accidentally entertained as per the subtitled subtitles of Seytan. Anyway— Far from being a shark film, Çöl is an action movie, and there’s a whole lot of betrayal going on: that much I could grasp. Cüneyt Arkin plays someone called, I think, Kemel, and when we open he is tracking down the people who betrayed him and killing various individuals along the way; while the people who betrayed him kill a bunch of other people for reasons that are never clear, though I’m guessing it has something to do with betrayal. There are chases and fights and women in bikinis photographed from tacky angles and Cüneyt Arkin being ultra-cool in sunglasses and lots of male posturing, all staged to “Eye Of The Tiger”; the most delightful martial arts scenes I’ve watched since Project: Kill; and a flashback to Kemel having his puppy taken away from him in childhood which was apparently the impetus for all the rest. And of course, there’s betrayal, and more betrayal, and then, just when we least expect it, betrayal; plus some betrayal to cap things off. Eventually Kemel gets lashed to a spar of wood and tossed into the ocean so that he can die slowly, and at long last the shark shows up. It is completely adorable, and what Kemel does to it—well, if you ask me, the bastard doesn’t get betrayed enough.
Play Dead (1982 / 1986)
Also known as: Killer Dog, Satan’s Dog. After her mother commits suicide, Audrey (Stephanie Dunnam) is hurt by the callous attitude evinced by her aunt, Hester Ramsey (Yvonne De Carlo). Afterwards, apparently because of the effort’s of Audrey’s brother, Stephen (David Ellzey), Hester makes overtures of new friendship towards Audrey, and even makes her a gift of a dog, a rottweiler called Greta: both of which Audrey gratefully accepts. However, Hester has long carried a violent grudge over being jilted for her sister by the only man she ever loved, and now sets in motion a plan of revenge using her occult powers—and Greta… Yet another good news / bad news film: the bad is pretty bad, while the good is jaw-dropping. Play Dead is a film that makes precious little sense, and takes its own sweet time over doing it—playing out in a dreary, each-scene-dragged-out, low-budget way that makes it feel like a sub-par TV movie; so that when we get some gratuitous nudity, it’s a genuine shock. The film never really gets around to explaining Hester’s motivations—nor why, if she has these powers, she didn’t just whack her sister and console the widower decades before—nor why she’s taking her revenge on Audrey in particular (by which I mean, everyone but Audrey dies). But none of that is important. The opening credits of Play Dead seem to promise scary-dog action and gruesome maulings, but that’s not what we get. Goodness me, no: Greta is much more imaginative than that; and this film’s delightfully absurd murder scenes make the rest worth sitting through. (Seriously, we’re in It’s About Time territory.) Another delicious touch here is that the film-makers managed to find the world’s least threatening-looking rottweiler; so that you don’t blame the oblivious humans for reacting to Greta in an, “Aww, puppy!” way. (That said, I understand that Greta was doubled by one of her adult daughters in the more strenuous scenes.) I also like that, despite the detective (Glenn Kezer) in charge of the sudden outbreak of “accidents” being your typical hard-headed cop, he does not close his eyes to the fact that something extremely hinky is going on… I should warn you that there is one genuinely upsetting scene towards the end of Play Dead, but it works out okay (sort of). I can’t conscientiously recommend that you watch this, but if you can find a compilation clip of the murders, by all means.
More fun with subtitles, as I turn to “Indian Jaws”. I’ve had an unsubtitled copy of this for some time without working up the nerve to tackle it properly, but now some kindly person has uploaded an English-captioned copy online; and if those captions aren’t entirely accurate (to put it mildly), at least we’re not in trying-to-figure-out-Çöl territory. In an Indian coastal village, Jesu, an illegitimate orphan, is the literal whipping-boy for his better-connected friend, Peter. However, when Jesu saves Peter’s life, the latter’s mother adopts him. The boys’ new happiness is brief: Peter’s mother dies, and he is taken away to live with relatives. Before parting, the boys swear a lifelong friendship… Years later, crime boss Alphonso (Amjad Khan) rules the people of the fishing village with an iron hand, profiting from their labour. One day, Jesu (Dharmendra) intervenes when one of Alphonso’s enforcers is harassing an elderly woman: a brawl breaks out, and ends with Alphonso’s goons being run out of the village. Alphonso orders retaliatory violence, but is distracted when one of his underlings discovers a bed of black pearls in the nearby waters. Since harvesting the pearls is illegal, Alphonso sets to work devising a secret operation—unaware that in those same waters, an enormous shark is lurking… Though we get more shark here than we did in Çöl, Aatank is very much a masala film, with five different song-and-dance interludes rather bizarrely breaking up its tale of crime and oppression and the underdogs fighting back (and occasionally getting eaten by a shark). I may say that it isn’t at all clear at first what Alphonso is really gaining by strong-arming the locals for their fish; and this, Jesu’s revolt and Alphonso’s brutal retaliation all seem like overkill. Another issue for the viewer to deal with is that, while principal photography began on Aatank in the mid-80s, it wasn’t completed until a decade later, meaning that several of the actors, including Dharmendra, look noticeably older in some scenes. Furthermore, for all the good he does, and granting that he’s going through some stuff, Jesu is not the most appealing of “heroes” (at one point the woman who hopes to marry him comments in exasperation that God gave him “a big body but no brains”, and she’s not wrong); so some patience is required from the viewer…but it’s worth the wait. Jesu and Peter (Vinod Mehra) maintain their friendship into manhood; and the latter returns to the village for his wedding to Suzy (Nafisa Ali)—only for the latter to disappear mysteriously while taking a swim; mysteriously to the villagers, anyway. The shark here may not be quite as adorable as the one in Çöl, but it gets considerably more screen-time; and whatever Aatank’s flaws, you have to admire the chutzpah of having a bride’s coy come-on song to her new husband morph into the film’s first attack scene. The shark isn’t remotely convincing, of course, and its scale is all over the place – in some scenes, it’s almost pushing megalodon-size – but it’s a whole-body model that the characters can interact with; it doesn’t roar so much as screech; and it’s not shy about who it eats. There are a few overt Jaws riffs here, including (as per the young man in the opening scene) a drunken Peter passing out and so not seeing what happens to Suzy, and also some business involving harpoons and barrels; but my favourite touch rather references Jaws 2 (or possibly The Last Shark), when Alphonso and his co-conspirator try to flee the area by – ulp! – helicopter. How do you suppose THAT works out for them!?
(Okay, you don’t have to suppose: it’s over in Moments.)
Based upon the novel by Bando Masako. Nutahara Akira (Watabe Atsuro) secures a teaching job on the island of Shikoku. Though he works in town, Akira spends time in the isolated mountain village of Omine where, despite the gradual intrusion of modern technology, most of the villagers hold to the old ways and beliefs. Akira is drawn to shy, middle-aged Bonomiya Miki (Amani Yuki), who supports herself by making fine rice-paper using the traditional methods, which require the gathering of certain herbs in the surrounding forests. Akira’s arrival triggers strange changes in the village: many of the locals begin to suffer from bad dreams; violent incidents occur in the woods; while Miki herself seems to be growing younger. Caught in the rain one day, she and Akira take shelter within a huge hollow tree. There she confesses to him the great secret of her life: that as a teenager, she bore a stillborn child to a man who then deserted her. She and Akira begin an affair… Meanwhile, Miki clashes repeatedly with her mother, Tomie (Fujimura Shiho), who wants her to take over the duty of appeasing the Inugami, the dog-spirits with which the Bonomiya clan has been associated for centuries. However, Miki resists this destiny, insisting that she does not believe in the Inugami—but as death and disaster begin to visit the district, the other villagers turn on the Bonomiyas… Inugami is an interesting and disturbing film, though ultimately it bites off more than it can chew, with director Harada Masato trying to meld together traditional horror and modern social criticism and not altogether succeeding. In his eagerness to get to his multiple subtexts, Harada also, I think, skips too quickly over the introductory material – the relationships between his characters and clans, and the geography of the region – so that the viewer may not have grasped these essentials when the weirdness starts. Though you would have to classify Unugami as “horror”, it bears little resemblance to most Japanese horror movies of the time, being heavy on atmosphere and implication, but light on visual jolts. Harada uses incest, real and quasi-, knowing and unknowing, as the face of his criticisms of certain damaging social arrangements; though unnervingly, he then turns his Oedipal plot-strands on their head by making this the road to liberation rather than implosion. There is criticism here of the assumption of female self-sacrifice, and conversely of male abuse of power. This is exemplified in the character of Takanao (Yamaji Kazuhiro), who indulges his appetites and allows himself the luxury of technology like the internet (and has a string of failed internet businesses to show for it), but falls back on his position as “head of the clan” when it comes to keeping the women in line; though in this he has the support of the older women in the community, too; while the younger women struggle for freedom—in Miki’s case, via her refusal to perform the daily rites, and her hidden affair. The contradictions of the situation finally centre in the Bonomiya women, who are both empowered and endangered by their connection with the Inugami—and pay the price for it…
Ghost Stories (2017)
Based upon the play by Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman. After rebelling against his father’s rigid and punitive approach to religious faith, as an adult Philip Goodman is an academic with a television program devoted to debunking fraudulent psychics and claims of supernatural phenomena: a career path to which he was inspired as a teenager by paranormal investigator, Charles Cameron, who later disappeared. To his astonishment, Goodman is contacted by Cameron, who he finds living alone and ill in an isolated caravan. Cameron shocks Goodman with his bitterness about his past work, which he claims is threatened by three cases of the apparently paranormal which he was never able to debunk. He challenges Goodman to take them on… Night watchman Tony Mathews (Paul Whitehouse), who carries a load of guilt because of a brutal family situation, becomes convinced that the disused asylum he is guarding is haunted… After his car strikes something while he is driving through the woods at night, teenager Simon Rifkin (Alex Lawther) has a terrifying encounter… Businessman Mike Priddle (Martin Freeman), alone in his country house while his wife is hospitalised, awaiting the birth of their child, finds the nursery occupied by a poltergeist… Though I am now intrigued by the thought of how this works on stage, Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman’s film adaptation of their play finally left me feeling a bit let down. Ghost Stories starts out looking like an old-fashioned anthology film, literally following the oh-yeah-then-explain-this template of the Amicus productions of the 70s, with Philip Goodman tracking down the central figures in Charles Cameron’s three troubling cases and listening to their stories—though perhaps not with an entirely open mind. The first story is the least satisfactory (to the viewer, not to Goodman), due to some mumbled dialogue and most of the action playing out in the dark, which is a difficulty on the small screen; though the pay-off is creepy. The other two stories are both, in their different ways, very unnerving. Goodman thinks he can dismiss the first two on the grounds of their tellers’ neuroses, though – for several reasons – he has a lot more difficulty dismissing the Priddle case; but when he carries his findings, and his stubborn disbelief, back to Charles Cameron, matters take a frightening turn… How the viewer reacts to the sharp volte-face that Ghost Stories pulls during its last act will dictate a final opinion of the film. Personally I found it disappointing, not just because of over-familiarity, but because it rests upon one of my least favourite pop-cultural dicta, namely, that sceptics must not only be proven wrong, they must be punished. Furthermore, to me the film’s coda undermines the powerful earlier contributions of Martin Freeman and, in particular, Alex Lawther. There’s some good stuff here, but ultimately I found it a bit less than the sum of its parts.
Shock Wave (2017)
Cheung Choi-san (Andy Lau) of the Hong Kong police goes undercover with a violent criminal gang known for its use of bombs. As the gang prepares for a bank heist, Cheung alerts his superiors, but the gang-members change the license plates on the cars involved, rendering that information useless; and so slick are they, they are escaping the crime scene as the police arrive. During the desperate pursuit, Cheung succeeds in stopping the car he is travelling in, but only at the cost of revealing his identity. Two gang members, including young Hung Kai-piu (Leo Wang), are arrested; but Hung Kai-pang (Jiang Wu), the gang’s leader and Kai-piu’s brother, gets away. Cheung then resumes his duties as a bomb-disposal expert with the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Bureau, working closely with his young subordinate, Ben (Ron Ng), and begins a relationship with schoolteacher, Carmen Li (Song Jia). When a wave of bomb attacks strikes Hong Kong, it is clear that Hung Kai-piu is back for revenge. No-one dreams how far he will take that vengeance, however, until Hung and a team of mercenaries block the entire Cross-Harbour Tunnel, trapping hundreds of hostages inside… In both its strengths and its weaknesses, Shock Wave is a fairly typical Hong Kong action move. Its character writing is lacking in any nuance, with Cheung the exemplary officer pitted against, in Hung, a villain so broad you expect him to start twirling his moustache; the screenplay raises plot-points only to drop them, particularly Hung Kai-piu’s reformation; there are some frankly exasperating touches along the way including Cheung’s superiors announcing his undercover operation in a press conference (!); and while the film’s focus is upon Cheung’s new romance with Carmen, I would have preferred more attention being given to his partnership with young Ben, particularly in light of what the film gives us as its climax. However, it is evident that a lot of work went into getting the bomb-disposal scenes right (including Andy Lau working in real protective gear); and the hostage situation that comprises the second half of the film is a bravura piece of action film-making, tense and shocking and grotesquely funny in turns, with shoot-outs and car crashes and bombs going off, and Hung finding about twenty different ways to stick it to Cheung—mwoo-ha-ha-ha-ing all the way. In a nicely cynical touch, we learn that Hung is doing all this for profit as well as fun, having entered into a secret partnership with the businessman (Liu Kai-chi) who stands to reap the financial benefits of the destruction of the Cross-Harbour Tunnel, but who eventually gets exactly the kind of comeuppance you’d expect. There’s also an attempted escape by helicopter that, well, you know. Ultimately, the crisis narrows to the two trucks parked either end of the tunnel, both of them packed with C-4 and timed to go off simultaneously in a blast that will destroy the entire structure and a good piece of the harbour—unless Cheung and Ben, racing desperately against time, can disarm them…
Killer Prom (2020)
Along with her husband, Dr Tony Wilson (Mark Lutz), teenage daughter, Maya (Erica Anderson), and younger son, Luke (Manny Benda), Hannah Wilson (Megan Vincent) attends a family gathering. There she is reunited with her cousin, Sienna Lawton (Yvonne Zima): the two have a rocky history, but the often troubled Sienna seems to have gotten her life together and greets the Wilsons warmly—so that later, Hannah has no qualms about accepting Sienna’s suggestion of a boat on the lake. Once on the water, however, things take a dark turn, with Sienna revealing a deadly jealousy of Hannah, and her determination to have what she has—literally… Seven months after Hannah’s death in a tragic accident, the surviving Wilsons have moved into a new house in hopes of a fresh start, but they continue to struggle. Tony gets a phone-call from Sienna, who asks after him and the children, and then remarks that she plans to move back to Pennsylvania; though she is having difficulty finding an affordable apartment. Tony invites her to stay while she studies for her real estate exam—and after they hang up, Sienna celebrates the success of her plan. Once established at the Wilsons’, Sienna begins removing any obstacle between herself and her new “family”… Killer Prom is an almost textbook Lifetime movie, with a romantically obsessed psycho protagonist surrounded by various people who might not live long enough to voice their suspicions of her. Over the long haul this isn’t very good, being over-reliant on scenes of Sienna talking out loud to herself about her schemes – thus allowing her to be overheard as required – with the talk only occasionally punctuated by the removal of her rivals, real or perceived, in the forms of the Wilsons’ housekeeper, Janet (Heather Tod Mitchell), and Tony’s office manager, Lauren (Brianna Barnes), who may or may not have designs on her widowed boss. Meanwhile, Sienna is only too aware of the romantic back-story of Tony and Hannah, who fell in love at their prom; and as she helps Maya prepare for her own big night, Sienna becomes obsessed with rewriting history—recreating that famous prom, but with herself as the object of Tony’s devotion. There’s just one problem… Killer Prom is a film that tests the viewer’s patience, but it is worth sticking with for the inevitable meltdown scene, which is cringeworthy and compelling in about equal measure. Tony Wilson is the typical Lifetime “good guy”, both bland and oblivious; and it falls to Maya to put all the pieces together and come to her father’s rescue, even if it means – eek! – missing her prom…
Who Is Killing The Cheerleaders? (2020)
Elliette Oliver (Ella Cannon) returns to her home town to support her mother, Linda (Frances Dell Bendert), who has been diagnosed with cancer. It is anything but a happy return for Ellie: it is the ten-year anniversary of the unsolved killing spree that resulted in the deaths and disappearance of the high-school cheer-squad—with Ellie the only survivor, but no memory of the night of her attack. Linda is dubious about Ellie’s new job at the same high school, but Ellie is determined to face her demons; in the same spirit, she volunteers to take over as cheer-coach—though the current squad – Ava (Summer Madison), Chloe (Grace Patterson), Brittany (Sophia Vettori) and Pippa (Gillian Rabin) – is both small and reluctant. To her surprise, Ellie learns that her mother’s oncologist is Jonathan Colton (Austin Freeman), with whom she went to high school. With some nudging from Linda, Ellie meets Jonathan for a drink: he confesses that he always had a crush on her. However, just when it seems that things are on a even keel for Ellie, the nightmare begins again… First disclaimer: we really don’t do the cheerleader thing here. Second disclaimer: we really don’t understand the cheerleader thing here. Who Is Killing The Cheerleaders? basically asks why anyone would want to do either—though it seems blissfully unaware of its own absurdity in that respect, treating the school’s inability to field a cheer-squad for ten years with the same degree of gravity with which it does its unsolved murders and Ellie’s consequent trauma. However, you certainly can’t complain about a lack of suspects – or red herrings – with the film serving up an impressive selection, also with a straight face. Who could the long-unmasked killer be?—Forest Parker (Greg Corbett), former jock, now P.E. teacher, who married his murdered girlfriend’s twin? Lisbeth Trudel (Kayla Fields), the socially awkward and unpopular maths teacher who was once a socially awkward and unpopular student? Shy nerd turned hot doctor Jonathan? Dr Brigid Whiting (Wendy Wynne), Ellie’s therapist, who is so intent upon having her journal everything she remembers? Supposedly dead cheerleader Dana, whose body was never found? Or could it be – gasp! – Ellie herself? – as her frighteningly fractured memories begin to suggest… Well! – I’m certainly not going to tell you who the killer is, but if you apply to the problem that most oxymoronic of phenomena, Lifetime Logic, you’ll probably be able to figure it out. Meanwhile, this film’s best touch comes in its final stretch when, with Ellie blundering around trying to identify the killer and prove her own innocence and generally making everything worse, a member of the supporting cast also turns amateur detective—and makes a much better job of it…