Et Al. April23

One Exciting Night (1922)

Agnes Harrington (Carol Dempster) is forced into an unwanted engagement to J. Wilson Rockmaine (Morgan Wallace), when the latter sees Mrs Harrington (Margaret Dale) stealing a valuable trinket and uses this as blackmail. Meanwhile, John Fairfax (Henry Hull) returns to his long-unoccupied family estate and opens up the house. Unbeknownst to John, bootleggers have been using his home as their hideout, and his actions force them to move—though not before the leader of the gang has concealed a half-million in profits inside the house. At a nearby hotel, John encounters Agnes and is immediately smitten: impulsively he invites her and her mother, and the entire party with whom he finds them, to his house, not realising that he has given the criminals a way in. Before the house-party gathers, the gang-leader tries to retrieve the money—only to be shot dead by a mysterious figure in black… I’m always chary of anything widely declared “the first”, and in spite of many attempts to posit D. W. Griffith’s One Exciting Night as the progenitor of the “old dark house” horror-comedy that proliferated in the 20s and 30s, the reality is that it was preceded (and obviously inspired) by the stage versions of The Bat and The Cat And The Canary, and even by a handful of key films including the first filming of The Bat under its original title, The Circular Staircase, and The Ghost Breaker. Both of these are now lost, which has probably contributed to One Exciting Night being given too much credit—that and Griffith, of course. But the director was copying rather than creating here, shooting fast and cheap to try and recoup his losses from Orphans Of The Storm; and perhaps it is to a lack of real interest in, or real understanding of, this genre that we can chalk up the absence or the misuse here of most of the tropes that we now associate with it. The film does give us an extra, “secret” villain, who creeps around masked and cloaked doing a silly walk for no reason; and it also does the clutching-hand-from-behind-a-sliding-panel bit; but otherwise it lacks any real mystery or suspense. Furthermore, the plot makes little sense – though you could argue that’s par for the course – and I’ve ignored one major subplot altogether because, really, it doesn’t matter. Carol Dempster as Agnes is an irritating heroine, but I blame Griffith, not her: she’s playing younger than she is, and acting even younger than that; though she gets a few physical scenes towards the end that feel more in character. Ultimately, however, the film’s most egregious fault – or rather, one of two – is its length: One Exciting Night belies its title by turning out to be a gruelling endurance test, nearly two-and-a-half hours of uninteresting characters running around in terror, real or “comical” as the case may be. And this brings us to the film’s other great stumbling-block: its main black characters are played by white actors in blackface, accompanied by derogatory language and, in one case, a surfeit of “cowardly darkie” scenes—which Griffith obviously thought was a selling point, since the actor in question, Porter Strong, was third-billed. One Exciting Night  was spruiked at the time as “a picture that has EVERYTHING”: this may have been true, but unfortunately about 80% of it we didn’t want.

(The more I think about it, the more I think The Monster is actually the key film in this area.)

Design For Living (1934)

Based upon the play by Noël Coward. Friends Tom Chambers (Fredric March) and George Curtis (Gary Cooper), playwright and painter respectively, are travelling by train to Paris where they share a studio. Having dozed off, they wake to find their compartment also occupied by Gilda Farrell (Miriam Hopkins), who supports herself as a commercial artist while fending off the romantic overtures of her boss, Max Plunkett (Edward Everett Horton), an advertising executive. Knowledgeable in the arts, Gilda assumes the role of muse for the two aspiring artists, whose work improves under her stern but fair criticisms. Both Tom and George fall in love with Gilda—while she, in turn, cannot choose between them. Finally she proposes that the three of them live together—but under a strict “gentleman’s agreement”…  It is frankly astonishing that Design For Living was made at all, let alone allowed into general release—even before the enforcement of the Production Code, which it escaped by a whisker. Though it differs significantly from the play on which it was based, and seems initially to have rejected the ménage-à-trois situation that made it so scandalous, with Tom, George and Gilda entering into a platonic relationship, it finally dares to have Gilda becoming sexually involved with first George, and then Tom, when the equilibrium of their “agreement” is left unbalanced by the men’s separate departures for their work. All of this is only implied, of course (though we’re left in no doubt of what’s going on); the moment that always astonishes me is Gilda’s blunt, “No sex” when the three are first discussing their proposed living arrangements. It is hardly surprising that the film was banned by the Legion of Decency, and – like its predecessor, Trouble In Paradise – denied a seal for re-release once the Code was enforced. Though to me it lacks some of the charm and lightness of touch of the earlier production, this is still a very funny film with many moments that speak more of Ernst Lubitsch than Noël Coward—like the visual joke of the potted plants. The central trio are delightful together, while once again poor Edward Everett Horton does sterling work in what is, in this case, a fourth wheel role.

Aerograd (1935)

Also known as: Frontier, Air City. This film by Oleksandr Dovzhenko is sometimes called “futuristic”, or even classified as science fiction; but while I’m sure it isn’t either of those things, I’m not quite sure how to describe what it is. Its premise is the construction of a gleaming new air base / city on the far eastern shores of Russia, but this doesn’t actually happen, there is just talk about how it should, and will. And though all the while it celebrates the technological advancement of the Soviet, the body of the film is set within the taiga of Siberia, and involves the struggle between one group of peasants who are loyal Bolsheviks, and another who call themselves “Old Believers”, who are religious, who have a Rasputin-ish priest to drive them on—and who are (in the film’s terms) traitors, working hard to establish an alliance with the Japanese, in order to overthrow the new regime. (The problem with Japan, we learn, is that the workers haven’t yet risen up.) As the two sides clash, we have interludes celebrating the reach of the new Soviet, with the leader of the “good” peasants also being the father of a young man in the air force; and other passages showing the peaceful integration of the eastern Russians with their Asian neighbours, with the son being married to a Chukchi woman and the birth and naming of their child a significant set-piece. Structurally the film is all over the place, so that it is hard for an outsider-viewer to keep up (also, no offence, but one group of hairy Russian peasants looks very much like another); though the poor English subtitling on the most readily available prints certainly doesn’t help. There is also experimentation with editing and flashbacks, the acting from the bad guys is broad to the point of caricature, and every now and then we cut away for another celebration of the air force. A little of this goes a long way, frankly, but there are compensations to be had in the form of the film’s location shooting in the taiga and its cinematography, which are both extraordinary.

(And here I am back in the Ukraine / Russia divide again, what is going on with the universe??

The Divorce Of Lady X (1937)

Based upon a story by Gilbert Wakefield. When a heavy fog descends upon London, the guests at a charity costume ball at the Royal Parks Hotel are trapped for the night. Management tries to find accommodation for the women by asking guests to give up their rooms; but barrister Everard Logan (Laurence Olivier) refuses to surrender his suite, much to the indignation of those left stranded. One young woman (Merle Oberon) declines to take no for an answer and infiltrates the suite. Before long – exactly as Logan feared – she has taken possession of his bed, his spare pyjamas and his book: banishing him to a mattress on the floor of the sitting-room. Made cynical by his work in the divorce court, when Logan notices the ornate ring on the young woman’s left hand, he has a few tart words to say about “women like her” and how they deceive their husbands—but this does not stop him from beginning to fall in love with her; nor lessen his dismay when, the next morning, she slips away… At his office, Logan acquires a new client in Lord Mere (Ralph Richardson), who wants a divorce—having discovered that his wife just spent the night with another man at the Royal Parks Hotel… Boasting a witty screenplay and an excellent cast, The Divorce Of Lady X is a delightful surprise—and not least for the chance it offers to see a young Laurence Olivier handling a comic role with aplomb. (Weirdly, he’s much better here than in the period drama, Fire Over England, which was made the same year, and which you’d think would have suited him better.) That said, for much of the film Logan is the butt of its humour, as he tries to deal with the fallout of having made all the wrong assumptions about his involuntary roommate—including that he is the unknown co-respondent in Lord Mere’s divorce suit. The viewer, meanwhile, has been let in on the real identity of the young lady in question, a Miss Leslie Steele—whose grandfather, Lord Steele (Morton Selten), just happens to be the judge before whom Logan argues most of his divorce cases. Leslie is right about Logan: he is cynical, and rather pompous, and wants taking down a peg or two; and we can hardly blame her for enjoying the sight of him falling in love with her – which is to say, with “Lady Mere” – against his better judgement, and in spite of knowing what a scandal would mean to his career. But when this comedy of mistaken identity suddenly blows up, Leslie has a fight on her hands… Modern viewers need to keep in mind that when The Divorce Of Lady X was made, Britain had only just overhauled its divorce laws; and given the controversy surrounding allegedly “easier” divorce, this is quite a daring film—take, for example, the hilariously matter-of-fact recitation of the chequered sexual past of the current Lady Mere (Binnie Barnes) by her long-time maid, Saunders (Gertrude Musgrove). However, my favourite touch here is Logan’s twinned courtroom speeches, as he handles two divorce cases in two very different moods—poor Mrs Johnson!

(Noting that two years before it caused such a stink in the US, this British film uses ‘damn’ quite casually.)

Men With Wings (1938)

The flight of the Kitty Hawk inspires Nick Ranson (Walter Abel) with aviation fever: he attempts to design and build his own plane, inspiring in turn his young daughter, Peggy (Virginia Weidler), and two local boys, Pat Falconer (Donald O’Connor) and Scott Barnes (Billy Cook), all three of whom haunt Ranson’s workshop. However, the first test flight of his plane ends in disaster… Ten years later, as Europe arms for war – including building up their air forces – America has fallen behind in the aviation race, with government hesitating over the need for investment. When Pat Falconer (Fred MacMurray) and Scott Barnes (Ray Milland) are testing the plane they have designed and built together, they are spotted by J. A. Nolan (James Burke), head of his own aviation company, and offered jobs. This works out perfectly for Scott, who has Nolan’s resources placed at his disposal for his design work; but pilot Pat becomes bored and frustrated. When a workplace fight leads to his dismissal, he dissuades Scott from quitting too, and announces his intention of heading for Europe, and the war. Pat’s imminent departure jolts Peggy Ranson (Louise Campbell) into realisation of her love for him. Two years later, when America enters the war, Peggy joins the Red Cross. Once in France, she and Pat find each other… Meanwhile, Scott too tries to enlist, only to be told that he is more valuable where he is, improving the design of American planes… Men With Wings is yet another of William Wellman’s aviation dramas, this one following the development of American aviation from its earliest days through to the 1930s. This was a lavishly produced, no-expense-spared effort, shot in Technicolor and filled with all sorts of early plane models (some real, some mocked up), and with much insane stunt flying; but as a film it is somewhat lacking, one to best appreciated by those who are here for the hardware and the flying scenes. The overriding problem is the tedious familiarity of the love-triangle that forms its framework: Peggy loves Pat, but while he loves her too, he can’t settle down; while Scott keeps his feelings to himself and lets himself be walked on by both of them. The one really refreshing thing here is the film’s tacit support of “those who stand and wait”: though Pat gets the all the danger and the glamour, it is Scott behind the scenes who is doing the aviation industry’s heavy lifting, and the film gives all due credit to his efforts. We also see the same being point made here as was raised by the Ernest Gann-penned Blaze Of Noon (clearly this was a real issue in 1920s aviation): Pat refuses to use the new instrumentation designed by Scott, as if this somehow “cheating”, or not “real flying”; and his stubbornness costs them both dear, with their record attempts being achieved instead by a young flyer called Lindbergh…

The Last Alarm (1940)

Captain Jim Hadley (J. Farrell MacDonald) of the fire department is pressured into retirement because of his age. Having given so much of his life to his work, he is depressed and ,lonely, and continues to visit the men of his old fire station—though often they are called out, leaving him behind. There is much for the fire department to do: the city is hit with a series of fires that are almost certainly arson. Frank Rogers (Warren Hull) of the Great Eastern Insurance Company teams up with the police to investigate the fires, but although they confirm the arson, the clues they find do not lead to a suspect. Then, when one of Hadley’s old work friends, Burt Stafford (Joel Friedkin), is killed fighting one of the arson attacks, Hadley comes out of retirement to join the investigation… The Last Alarm is an odd though interesting film that doesn’t quite say what it means to. Obviously intended as a protest against retirement by age rather than ability, it presents Jim Hadley to modern eyes as a man with no life, no friends, no interests outside work; he seems to have little connection with his wife and daughter, except that Joan (Polly Ann Young) is engaged to Frank Rogers, who becomes his conduit back to his job. Conversely, Hadley’s friend, Stafford, is looking forward to his retirement and all the things he’s going to do—so guess what happens to him? (In fact this is the earliest example of the ‘x-days-until-retirement’ trope that I’ve come across.) The film’s psychological profile of its arsonist (George Pembroke) is surprisingly accurate, though of course the sexual component is not mentioned, and the film uses stock footage of real fires in an appropriately frightening way; but the arsonist is something of a disappointment, very much a movie madman as he sees himself as the “god of fire”, and the way in which Hadley identifies him as a suspect is overly coincidental (not that such things don’t happen). But between showing his suspicions, and almost depriving the fire-bug of his totemic statuette of Vulcan, Hadley nearly brings disaster upon himself, as the arsonist targets Mrs Hadley (Mary Gordon) and Joan in retaliation…

Son Of Ingagi (1940)

Ingagi was a fake documentary released in 1930, purporting to be about the African adventures of a certain “Sir Hubert Winstead”, but instead offering a mixture of footage stolen from other films, a lot of onscreen animal killing, Charles Gemora in an ape-suit, and bit-actresses taking off their tops—something permitted in documentaries if the people involved were black; though in this case the “primitive natives” in question were actually rounded up in darkest Los Angeles. The film’s main selling-point, however, was the suggestion of human-gorilla sex and the production of half-human offspring. Ingagi was exposed for what it really was soon enough: in an escalating series of disasters for the film’s distributors, the Federal Trade Commission forced them to withdraw any claim to authenticity from their advertising, the Better Business Bureau proved that there was no such person as Sir Hubert Winstead (all together now: duh), and the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association (now the MPAA) issued a cease-and-desist order against the film. Ingagi nevertheless made its mark, and would inspire both real documentaries and other ape-focused films including King Kong. But despite the flurry of righteous indignation that finally shut it down, it apparently bothered no-one in authority that Ingagi was also deeply racist—which makes its name-checking in the title of cinema’s first all-black horror movie all the more puzzling.

Having attended the wedding of Eleanor (Daisy Bufford) and Robert Lindsay (Alfred Grant), Dr Helen Jackson (Laura Bowman) asks her attorney, Bradshaw (Earl J. Morris), to call upon her, to make out her new will. At home, Dr Jackson is confronted by her ne’er-do-well brother, Zeno (Arthur Ray), who tells her that he knows she smuggled gold back into the country from Africa, and tries to blackmail her into giving up half. Instead, Dr Jackson strikes a gong—and Zeno flees in terror from N’Gina (Zack Williams), a strange creature also brought from Africa. In her laboratory, Dr Jackson perfects a formula that she believes will be of great benefit to humanity; but N’Gina finds it and drinks it—and goes on a rampage that leaves Dr Jackson dead… Given its collective circumstances, I really wanted to like Son Of Ingagi – in fact I was hoping it would give me enough material for a full review – but the sad fact it, what’s on the label is not what’s in the box. You can find numerous synopses out there calling Dr Jackson “a mad scientist”, but actually she’s eminently sane, if somewhat misanthropic and miserly; or at least, she is if you can overlook the quirk that led her to keep what we take (in the context of Ingagi) to be a half-human / half-ape creature in her secret basement. There is no suggestion, by the way, that she has created N’Gina—leaving this as mild horror, rather than science fiction; and while there’s no questioning this film’s place in the history books, it’s a pity there aren’t more genuine scares, or indeed, any. Sadly, N’Gina is fairly dire, merely a shaggy half-mask cast over an ordinary, if tall and well-built, human being. Meanwhile, the early dispatching of Dr Jackson leaves the rest of the film to be divvied up between the Lindsays, who move into what quickly becomes “the murder house”, and the schtick of Spencer Williams as Detective Nelson, which belongs to the run-around-in-the-dark-shrieking school of comedy. Williams also wrote the screenplay of Son Of Ingagi, adapting his own short story, House Of Horror. Most of the acting here is rather ropy, but the film does offer a pleasant surprise in the form of two musical numbers by “The Toppers” (usually called “The 4 Toppers”: Jimmie Spring, Steve Gibson, Dave Petillo, Richy Davis). So apart from being the first black genre film, Son Of Ingagi is also an interesting forerunner to the rock-and-roll / monster movies of the 50s.

Cheyenne Autumn (1964)

Based upon the book by Mari Sandoz, and the novel, The Last Frontier, by Howard Fast. A year after the Cheyenne have been settled upon a reservation in Oklahoma, a year of death from disease and starvation, the tribespeople wait in vain for the arrival of a Congressional committee tasked with responding to their needs and keeping the promises made to them. This insult is the final straw: overnight, the Cheyenne leave the reservation and head for their own lands, some 1500 miles to the north… Already sickened and enraged by the government’s treatment of the Cheyenne, when he is assigned to pursue and bring them back, Captain Thomas Archer (Richard Widmark) struggles to accept his distasteful orders. The task takes on a very personal dimension when Archer learns that Deborah Wright (Carroll Baker), a young Quaker who has been running a school for the Cheyenne children, has gone with them to care for the orphans during the journey: the two are in love, but Deborah will not marry a soldier. Archer must also fight to keep in line his young subordinate, Lieutenant Scott (Patrick Wayne), whose father was killed by the Cheyenne and who longs for an opportunity for revenge—even if he has to create one… Archer holds his men back in the initial stages of the pursuit, pointing out that until they cross the river, the Cheyenne have broken no law; but when they do, the matter becomes one of grim and bloody pursuit… John Ford’s Cheyenne Autumn is a heartfelt but significantly flawed film that ends up making itself a part of the problem—though this was not entirely Ford’s own fault. Increasingly bothered by the historical mistreatment of the Native American, and by his own culpability in propagating stereotypes and misconceptions through his films, Ford envisioned Cheyenne Autumn as a sort of overarching mea culpa, but his plans hit a snag at the outset when Warners interfered in the film’s casting. Initially conceived as a small project film with actual indigenous actors, once the studio got involved Ford gave up on that idea, but wanted Anthony Quinn and Richard Boone, both of whom had Native American ancestry at least, as the main native characters—only to have Gilbert Roland and Ricardo Montalban thrust upon him, with Sal Mineo and Dolores del Rio cast in supporting roles. (A number of Navajo people played the more minor parts, and amused themselves by talking dirty in their native tongue when asked to “speak Cheyenne”.) But in other significant ways, Ford himself is at fault—erring in other than the usual direction by making his Cheyenne guiltless of anything but a passionate determination to go home or die trying, as many of them do. Contemporary accounts were exaggerated, as Ford shows, but nevertheless there were raids and killings as the Cheyenne moved north, and in omitting this Ford shows himself still unable to tackle reality head on. Furthermore, though several of the incidents depicted, including the abortive canyon ambush and the Fort Robinson massacre, have an historical basis, too much of the rest is invented or distorted. All that said, the film’s focus on the cruelty, injustice and broken promises that were the bedrock of the government’s interaction with its indigenous population is wholly justified. Cheyenne Autumn is for the most part a gruelling experience—and where it is not, it is something even harder to take. The humorous tone of the Dodge City interlude, which visits with an elderly Wyatt Earp (James Stewart) and Doc Holliday (Arthur Kennedy) and their friend, Jeff Blair (John Carradine), is jarringly out of place, and it is not surprising that this sequence was sometimes cut from the film. On the other hand, we can hardly be sorry to spend time with those three actors; while the film also features supporting performances from Karl Malden (overacting badly as the commander of Fort Robinson) and Edward G. Robinson as the Secretary of the Interior. And whatever its flaws, Cheyenne Autumn allows us to visit Monument Valley one last time in company with the man who made it a shrine—with William Clothier’s extraordinary colour cinematography a major highlight.

Beware My Brethren (1972)

Also known as: The Fiend. The minister (Patrick Magee) of a small but fervent evangelical church leads his congregation in a service before baptising by immersion a young boy. Meanwhile, a woman runs for her life through the darkness—unavailingly. Her body, stripped of clothing and jewellery, is found floating in the river… Kenny Wemys (Tony Berkeley), a security guard, returns home after his night-shift and checks on his mother, Birdy (Ann Todd), who is the most devoted member of  the minister’s flock—having given up most of her house to provide a chapel for the congregation and playing the organ for the services. Birdy immediately insists upon a morning prayer and, though Kenny initially baulks, habit makes him drop to his knees by her bedside… News of a third murder hits the morning papers, including that for which journalist Paddy Lynch (Suzanna Leigh) works. Her sister, Brigitte (Madeleine Hinde), the new District Nurse, calls on Birdy to give her an insulin injection, and is disturbed by her interaction with her son. Kenny departs for his second job as an attendant at a public pool. There, he berates a young woman for untying the strings of her bikini top, but later apologises and persuades her to let him drive her home; though she refuses to let him into her flat. Unperturbed, Kenny produces a large bunch of keys… Like his spiritual confreres, Pete Walker and Norman J. Warren, Robert Hartford-Davies dabbled in the genre that I think of as grotty-horror: films whose milieu as much as their violence leave you needing a long hot shower. Beware My Brethren is sometimes tagged a proto-slasher film, but its point is not the serial killer who is strangling and stripping women “guilty” of sexual conduct or provoking male desire, but the environment that could produce such a killer. The film tips its hand soon enough about the killer’s identity, following Kenny Wemys as he channels sexual temptation into hands-on violence. In a nod at Peeping Tom, Kenny makes audio-recordings of his murders, reliving them in the basement of the chapel-house he shares with his repressed, hysterical mother, where his recordings blend with others of the minister’s most intense exhortations of sin and repentance… Beware My Brethren is an unbalanced film, one that undermines itself by allowing its exploitation elements to overwhelm its framework of religious and sexual oppression—so that sometimes it almost feels like it is siding with the minister. Furthermore, the ease with which the clearly unstable Kenny picks up young women is insulting, albeit quite typical of this type of film. Coming off his appearance in the previous year’s In The Devil’s Garden, Tony Berkeley gives a performance here that is effectively a dry run for When A Stranger Calls. The disturbing triangle of the minister, Birdy and Kenny implodes when the Lynch sisters, in their separate ways, infiltrate the household—and Paddy’s initial investigation of the Brethren leads her to evidence of the killer’s identity… The most unexpected thing about Beware My Brethren is the two gospel-folk songs performed by Maxine Barrie (playing a member of the congregation), which are both fabulous and completely out of place here—as indeed is the rocking musical accompaniment for them provided by Birdy / Ann Todd. (Remember when the church organist in The Simpsons got to play “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”? Yeah. Like that.)

Night Of The Sharks (1988)

Original title: La notte degli squali. Having obtained a recording of wiretapped conversations between corrupt businessman Rosentski (John Steiner) and the White House, James Ziegler (Carlo Mucari) puts a blackmail scheme into action. As a precaution, Ziegler forwards the original disc to Father Mattia (Christopher Connelly), a priest who runs an orphanage near Cancún. He in turn gives it to Ziegler’s brother, David (Treat Williams), who scrapes a living around the local beaches. Rosentski’s strong-arm man (Stelio Candelli) ignores his boss’s orders and tries to have Ziegler killed, but he escapes and flies to Mexico in a sea-plane. However, this move has been anticipated, and no sooner has Ziegler landed than he is attacked and fatally injured. His death brings his enemies no closer to recovering the disc—and now their target becomes David and those closest to him… Night Of The Sharks is a fair actioner spoiled, if not ruined, by the Italian conviction that nothing says “entertainment” like a dead shark: its climax, or secondary climax, has Our Hero hands-on killing the animal that appears periodically throughout; plus there are other scenes featuring specimens probably caught locally to the production. So consider this a PSA. (This is another one we can add to Ramón Bravo’s shit-list, by the way). I can’t imagine why anyone thought we needed such a thing, but Night Of The Sharks quite often feels like a reworking of The Shark Hunter, with Treat Williams likewise playing an ex-pat American bumming it on the beaches of Mexico and conducting a feud with the local sea life, and such repeat touches as David’s barely-there relationship with a local woman and a semi-comic all-in bar-brawl. This film makes a bid for our preference by having far fewer scuba-diving scenes (though not none); but loses any gained goodwill by taking forever over its set-up, when it is perfectly obvious that James Ziegler and his CD are purely the film’s MacGuffin. When things settle down, Rotenski tries finesse by sending David’s cash-strapped ex-wife, Liz (Janet Agren), to vamp him into giving up the disc; but the goons are again ahead of things, with an attempting bombing of David’s boat landing Liz first in the water and then in a shark—and of course you know this means war… Night Of The Sharks was directed by “Anthony Richmond” (Tonino Ricci) and, like his earlier Cave Of The Sharks, was shot in the Dominican Republic—here standing in unconvincingly for Cancún. One unexpected touch is the casting of Antonio Fargas as David’s sidekick, Paco. Note that none of the scenes involving sharks takes place at night, and that really there’s only one shark here that means anything, so I don’t know what that was about.

Carnosaur (1993)

Based upon the novel by Harry Adam Knight (aka John Brosnan). Government efforts to determine the current whereabouts of scientist Dr Jane Tiptree (Diane Ladd) reveal that she is employed by the Eunice Corporation, where her work in its poultry division is done under strict contractual arrangements that forbid any interference with her research. Dr Tiptree, meanwhile, is remotely observing the activities of two security personnel, who have been sent in to examine one of Eunice’s poultry plants. A strange, oversized egg hatches, and one of the men has his face slashed open by something that vanishes in the dark. Dr Tiptree orders the plant secured, but not before a truck loaded with chickens departs. The birds are unusually agitated, prompting the driver to stop and inspect them—and to be savagely killed… Though agreeing with Sheriff Fowler (Harrison Page) that the driver was killed by an animal, Dr Raven (Ed Williams) is unable to determine what could have inflicted such injuries. He sends samples to a government colleague—and by these means it is discovered that the saliva of the killer animal contains a substance propriety to the Eunice Corporation. Meanwhile, the daughter of Jesse Paloma (Frank Novak), head of security at Eunice, sneaks out with her boyfriend and his best friend to go joyriding in the desert—where they meet a gruesome fate… Though these days it tends to be ranked with the “mockbusters” of The Asylum and others, in producing Carnosaur Roger Corman in fact replicated the tactics of the makers of Rocketship X-M, rushing his film into cinemas in order to cash in on the publicity wave of another, better, bigger-budgeted film—in the earlier case, Destination Moon; I’m sure you can figure out whose wave they were surfing here. Carnosaur is an uneven, often exasperating film, with both its good bits and its enjoyably bad bits struggling to overcome its stretches of mediocrity and other shortcomings, which include the nasty and unnecessary chicken footage at the beginning (I won’t say “unnecessarily nasty”: it is indeed a nasty business), the script’s failure to explain who half its characters are (just who is Fallon, anyway? – government sp00k? evil CEO?), and – as indicated by their absence from my synopsis – the fact that we just don’t care about the people who are supposed to be the film’s hero and heroine: alcoholic night watchman “Doc” Smith (Raphael Sbarge) and commune-living environmental protester “Thrush” (Jennifer Runyon), whose only real purpose in a film they take up too much of is to set up the bravura sequence in which, having chained themselves to some excavation equipment, the protesters are sitting ducks when a dinosaur comes calling. Carnosaur makes me feel like someone was listening all those times I said I’d rather watch a rubbery puppet than bad CGI, because that’s exactly what it gives me: its dinos are all over the place here, completely unconvincing but rather adorable; and what the film lacks in convincing special effects, it makes up for in grue. (Also, big points for the correct deployment of Deinonychus.) Those of you who enjoy games like “Bela / Not Bela” may also get a kick out of the film’s reckless disregard of night and day and the passage of time, with events apparently playing out across twelve hours and three days simultaneously. Apart from its dinosaurs, Carnosaur offers Diane Ladd as resident mad scientist, Dr Tiptree, intent upon wiping out mankind and restoring the dinosaurs to their former glory, via a viral infection that causes women to lay dinosaur eggs. (The script is, ahem, just a little fuzzy about the mechanics of that.) It seems at first that Ladd is going to spend the whole film sitting in the shadows and staring at computer monitors, but things pick up during the second half, where she allowed to voice her biological theories—and full credit to her for her commitment in reenacting the chestburster scene from Alien. And that is by no means the only allusion here: Carnosaur is peppered with references to other science-fiction films, right down to its bleak ending; though one in particular stands out these days. While the fact that this film understands population control much better than its model / competitor is amusing, and while at the time it was probably intended as a nod at Dr Strangelove, the scene in which the government responds to the escalating crisis by saying, in effect, “Oh, boy, now we have a really good excuse for controlling women and their bodies and their reproduction!” is just a bit too resonant for comfort.

(Sigh. I need to copy Jurassic Park over, don’t I…?)

Love Bites (1993)

Distracted by a violent thunderstorm, Kendall Gordon (Kimberly Foster) accidentally accepts the proposal of her boyfriend, Dwight Putman (Roger Rose), rather to her own dismay. She makes up her mind to set things straight with Dwight in the morning, but before the night is over Kendall is dealing with a very different crisis. The storm wakes the original owner of her house, Zachary Simms (Adam Ant), a vampire whose resting place is in a secret crypt accessible by a secret passage through the fireplace. Zachary is appalled to realise that he has been asleep for over a century, and that his house is occupied by someone else—though he soon takes a liking to Kendall, and not only as a potential food-source. Afraid at first that she’s dealing with a dangerous madman, Kendall is finally convinced that Zachary is telling her the truth, and finds herself intrigued by him—making it her business to introduce him to the 1990s… Written and directed by Malcolm Marmorstein, adapting his own play, Love Bites is an odd, increasingly pointless exercise in dragging the cute-meet out to feature-length. The decade-after-the-event stunt-casting of Adam Ant is only one of the questionable choices here (although that said, he’s quite good), in a story that seems intent upon undermining its own premise. Almost every aspect of vampirism is (you should excuse the expression) de-fanged here: Zachary can control his impulses; “turning” someone takes quite a lot of work; and it is actually possible to convert yourself back into a mortal, if you are determined enough—but be careful what you wish for. That, in fact, is the film’s main joke: its horror is centred, not in vampirism, but yuppie-dom. Three-hundred-year-old Zachary charms Kendall in a way that her thoroughly 90s boyfriend quite fails to do (in this respect, the film plays like a forerunner to Kate & Leopold); but as he adjusts to modern times, he also, to her dismay, becomes more and more like Dwight—which is the last thing she wants. Some big decisions have to be made—and urgently, when Kendall realises she’s pregnant… Love Bites has some enjoyable moments but it all seems a bit pointless. It brightens up with the appearance of Michelle Forbes as Nerissa, the vampire who turned Zachary in the first place and has come to get him back. Philip Bruns lends support as private investigator Vinnie Helsing, who is hired by Dwight to dig up dirt on the new man in Kendall’s life, and finds out a bit more than he expected…

Visions Of Murder (1993)

Dr Jesse Newman (Barbara Eden), a San Francisco-based therapist, rushes to the home of one of her patients, fearing she is suicidal—and finds her in the bath with her wrists slashed… Jesse’s supervisor, Gwen Singleton (Joan Pringle), offers sympathy and support, but also reprimands her for potentially putting herself in danger, and for becoming too emotionally involved with her patients. Jesse sees a new client, Gloria Hager (Anita Finlay), who is in great distress, expressing fear of her husband and for their daughter. Suddenly, blurting out how much Jesse would hate her if she knew the whole truth, Gloria rushes away. That evening, working late and alone, Jesse glances up to see Gloria in her doorway—but the next moment, she vanishes… Jesse receives a call from her estranged ex-husband, homicide detective Hal Newman (James Brolin): their marriage fell apart after the stillbirth of their baby and Jesse’s subsequent breakdown. Telling her he saw a report on the suicide, Hal invites Jesse for a drink and to talk. The two meet at a bar, where Jesse sees in a mirror another vision of Gloria Hager, this time in violent conflict with a man. The next evening, as she drives away from work, Jesse catches a glimpse of the same man in the back seat of her car—and in her panic, crashes… Visions Of Murder is a competently made but increasingly absurd made-for-TV movie: not unenjoyable, but requiring the viewer to do a lot of swallowing. The best thing about it is the outrageous secret upon which the plot turns (beware online searches, which like to give that secret away!); but this is one of those thrillers where the protagonist behaves so recklessly, it becomes harder and harder to sympathise. The issue is exacerbated here because Jesse’s behaviour is driven by her visions—and while we know she’s telling the truth, her expectation that others will believe her and her huffiness when they don’t tests our patience. When Gloria Hager is reported missing, Jesse experiences a vision that suggests that she was in fact murdered by her husband, the newly promoted Admiral Truman Hager—and since Hager is played by Terry O’Quinn (with hair!), what do you think? Jesse’s efforts to convince the police and the Naval Investigation Service that the case is one of homicide only serve to make her a suspect when Gloria’s body is eventually found, in spite of Hal’s staunch defence of her. Refusing to be cowed, Jesse continues her dogged attempt to get to the bottom of the situation—and in doing so, discovers a shocking connection between herself and the Hagers… Visions Of Murder is sufficiently fun if your suspension of disbelief is up for some heavy lifting, and it’s always nice to watch old pros like Barbara Eden and James Brolin in action. The film also features Erika Flores as the Hagers’ daughter, and Scott Bryce as Lt. Sayles, the naval officer who obligingly does his best to get Admiral Hager cleared.

(Visions Of Murder has a sequel [!], Eyes Of Terror aka Visions Of Terror, but alas I cannot find a copy.)

Mirror Mirror II: Raven Dance (1994)

Trying to calm an hysterical patient who insists that there is evil in her mirror, Sister Aja (Veronica Cartwright) is confronted by a demonic presence and struck blind… Years later, Sister Aja remains in residence at the convent, which now operates an orphanage. New arrivals, teenage Marlee (Tracy Wells) and her young brother, Jeffrey (Carlton Beener), are alone there when a rock band booked for a charity benefit shows up. Setting up, the musicians discover the mirror in a cupboard and remove the black drapery and crucifixes in which it is wrapped. A storm outside suddenly breaks inside: the musicians are killed, and Marlee is left damaged eyesight. This incident provides an excuse for Marlee’s much-older step-sister, Roslyn (Sally Kellerman), and her lover / co-conspirator, Dr Lasky (Roddy McDowall), to force themselves into her life: furious and resentful over the disposition of her father’s will, Roslyn is determined to get her hands on Marlee’s inheritance. She doesn’t want her hurt, but Dr Lasky, who hires perverted convent handyman Roger (William Sanderson) to help, is less concerned about that… Struggling with her loss of vision, Marlee discovers that her eyesight improves when she dances in front of the mirror; she also makes friends with a mysterious boy called Christian (Mark Ruffalo), who has a strange ability to come and go… I rather liked the original Mirror Mirror, which despite its flaws was a heartfelt exercise in teen-focused horror; but this almost-in-name-only sequel has little to offer beyond a ridiculously good cast (which includes Sarah Douglas cameoing as the hysterical patient), most of whom are wasted (ibid.). There are some fair kills in Raven Dance (one of those to go is William Sanderson, returning from the first film but playing a different character), some amusingly cheesy special effects, Mark Ruffalo in his feature-film debut and, yeah, occasionally a raven; but ultimately it just feels like there’s less at stake here—which, given that the first film was about high-school friendships, is proof positive that it ain’t what you do… Instead, we are required to be invested in Marlee’s relationship with Jeffrey, who disappears for long stretches of the film whenever his presence would be inconvenient, and in Marlee’s ambitions as a dancer (she calls it “classical”, but we suspect she’s seen Flashdance once too often). Still recovering from the incident which damaged her eyes, Marlee disobeys orders and gets out of bed to find her cat, but ends up falling from a ladder and injuring her ankle. This presents an opportunity for Dr Lasky, who begins drugging her as part of his and Roslyn’s scheme to get her committed; but set against this is the power of the mirror, which restores Marlee’s sight and allows – even encourages – her to dance… Everyone else seems to be against Marlee, which draws her even closer to the mirror; but when Jeffrey tries to convince her of its evil, and when the mirror strikes at Jeffrey in retaliation, Marlee must find a way of fighting back—and decide who she can trust…

Deja Vu (2006)

A New Orleans ferry carrying naval personnel and their families explodes, killing over 500 people. The tragedy is confirmed as a bombing when AFT agent Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington) discovers a fragment of the device at the water’s edge and examines the residue thrown onto the underside of a overhanging bridge. He delivers his findings to an FBI unit led by Special Agent Paul Pryzwarra (Val Kilmer). The badly burnt body of a woman is pulled from the river: when Carlin learns that she was found an hour before the explosion, he deduces a connection between the woman and the bomber, who he believes killed her in a way that would make her look like a ferry victim. To his astonishment, Carlin learns that the woman, Claire Kuchever (Paula Patton), called his office on the morning of the bombing, asking that his colleague describe him. When Carlin reports his theory about Claire and the bomber to Pryzwarra, he is invited to join his unit’s investigation, which he discovers involves the use of extraordinary new technology that streams a seamless and detailed feed of satellite footage from four days prior, allowing the agents to observe events in the lead-up to the bombing. At Carlin’s suggestion, the others focus on Claire Kuchever—and it is soon clear to Carlin that the technology is capable of doing a great deal more than just observing the past… Deja Vu is a very mixed bag of a film. At its base level it is an example of the always intriguing time-paradox story, questioning whether the past could be changed even if you had the capacity to travel back, whether the traveling itself would become part of the time-line, whether events would still play out as the future observes them—whether the bombing must happen because it did happen; whether Claire Kuchever must die because she did die… The explanation for the FBI’s miracle spy-system comes via some frantic technobabbling delivered by the science team in charge of it – Dr Alexander Denny (Adam Goldberg) and his colleagues, Gunnars (Elden Henson) and Shanti (Erika Alexander) – and what it amounts to is that they accidentally created a wormhole to four days in the past…and you better believe we get a folded-over-paper visual demonstration. However – or should that be HOWEVER – Deja Vu is ultimately a Tony Scott film, meaning that its intellectual pleasures end up buried under a mountain of flashy visuals, car chases, explosions, gun-play and cameras leering at Paula Patton in various stages of undress. Also, Carlin learning that his actions in the present have gotten his partner, Larry Minuti (Matt Craven), killed in the past apparently didn’t carry enough emotional weight: he has to fall in love with Claire too (first introduced as an absurdly attractive corpse, seeing how she’s supposed to have died). There are some jolting action-movie absurdities here, like Carlin causing a serious multi-car crash while pursuing his suspect (yelling, “Send paramedics!” does not excuse this), the way he shrugs off a through-and-through bullet wound, and above all the leisurely “race” to disarm the bomb. (It’s against cinematic law to leave more than five minutes, I guess.) But the main problem, ultimately, is that the film all but privileges Carlin’s rescue of Claire over his prevention of the bombing. Of course, it thinks these two events are one and the same—but they’re not, and therein lies the main problem with Deja Vu: it feels like it either got so caught up in its technology that it lost track of its own premise, or that it got cold feet—or, that providing a “happy ending” was considered more important than internal logic. For what it’s worth, Bill Marsilii and Terry Rossio claim that their screenplay was airtight before Tony Scott got hold of it…which I don’t have any trouble believing. The film also features Jim Caviezel as its Ted Kaczynski-esque bomber, Bruce Greenwood as a senior FBI agent and Enrique Castillo as Claire’s father.

The Pastor’s Wife (2011)

Based upon the book by Diane Fanning. In Selmer TN, Matthew Winkler (Michael Shanks), pastor of the Church of Christ, and his wife, Mary (Rose McGowan), are much loved and admired by their community; though behind the scenes, Rose is finding the demands made upon her as “the pastor’s wife” more and more difficult to bear… One morning, Emily Winkler (Lilah Fitzgerald) is awoken by a loud noise. As she investigates, she catches a glimpse of her father on the floor of his bedroom and hears the word, “Why?” The next moment, her mother is hustling her to help get her younger sisters ready for a trip away—assuring Emily that her father will be joining them later. When Matthew misses evening service and no-one can contact him, concerned neighbours go to the Winkler house to investigate. To their horror, they find Matthew dead of a shotgun blast on the floor of his room. With the fate of Mary and the girls uncertain, authorities put out an alert, fearing that they have been kidnapped; but when a patrolman finds the four on a beach in Alabama, he also finds a shotgun in the car… The Pastor’s Wife is based upon the true story of Mary Winkler, who in 2007 was convicted of the voluntary manslaughter of her husband after convincing her jury that she had suffered years of psychological and sexual abuse. The case was particularly controversial not just because of the parties involved, and the diminution of the charge from first-degree murder, but the brief period of incarceration served by Mary Winkler before she reclaimed full custody of her daughters. The Pastor’s Wife suffers from the same difficulties as the following year’s Blue-Eyed Butcher, inasmuch as the nature of the case makes reliance upon the defendant’s own testimony the inescapable backbone of the movie—with the result that it tends to take sides whether it wants to or not. The Pastor’s Wife works hard against this, punctuating its narrative with short scenes in which family, friends and neighbours are “interviewed” for their opinions: some believe Mary, some do not; some think she’s a victim, others that she’s a cold-blooded murderer. The viewer can feel the production trying to be even-handed: the way that the Winkler marriage is portrayed, and the staging of the fatal shooting, plus the performance of Rose McGowan as Mary, leaves room for doubt; but unavoidably, the film’s climax must be the courtroom scene, with Mary, under the guidance of her defence attorney, Steve Farese (Martin Cummins), peeling back the layers of her abuse.

Devil’s Knot (2013)

Based upon the book by Mara Leveritt. West Memphis, Arkansas, 1993. One afternoon, three young boys go missing while out riding their bikes. The police are initially slow to move, but when there is still no sign of them the next day, a full search is instigated. To the horror of the entire town, the boys’ bodies are found in a creek outside the town, stripped and hog-tied, along with their clothing and their bikes. The crime horrifies the small community, while the nature of it begins rumours that the victims fell victim to a satanic cult. Suspicion falls upon three teenagers, Damien Echols (James Hamrick), Jason Baldwin (Seth Meriwether) and Jessie Misskelley (Kristopher Higgins), all outsiders with a history of trouble and, in Echols’ case, a professed interest in the occult. After twelve hours of questioning, Misskelley confesses, implicating the other two. Ron Lax (Colin Firth), an investigator hired by the defence team, accepts the assignment with the aim of helping the three defendants avoid the death penalty; but the more he looks into the case, the more he becomes convinced of their innocence…While Devil’s Knot is a well-made and seriously intended true-crime drama, it could be argued that it was unnecessary: the case of the so-called “West Memphis Three” had already been thoroughly re-investigated and its controversies highlighted by documentary-makers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky in their “Paradise Lost” series; as well as being covered in a number of true-crime shows. Atom Egoyan’s film consequently feels like a bit of a pile-on, and something of an unsatisfactory one at that, inasmuch as it effectively tells only half the story—the rest being presented to the viewer at the end in about five minutes’ worth of silent titles. All that said—the case is a distressing one in all its aspects, and Devil’s Knot does a good job in evoking the time and the setting of this doubly tragic story, and in depicting both the profound impact of the boys’ deaths upon their small, deeply religious community and the frightening tunnel-vision of the investigation and the trial, which set aside conflicting evidence and ignored process in pursuit of the three suspects. While using Ron Lax, with his outsider eye, as its main identification figure, the film also follows Pam Hobbes (Reese Witherspoon), the mother of one of the victims, as she struggles to come to terms with her terrible loss, and as she likewise begins to doubt the case against the defendants—and to fear that the truth may be closer to home. Though from one perspective they seem out of place, both Firth and Witherspoon manage to bury themselves in their roles here, so that their presence does not distract from the film’s docu-drama approach. For anyone knowledgeable in this area, the comprehensive misconduct of the investigation, which is meticulously recounted here, is enough to make your hair stand on end; but so too is the social and religious prejudice that was, in essence, determined to believe in the satanic cult theory of the murders—and for some of us, the reality of that belief might be the hardest thing about this case, and this film, to accept.

Crime Wave (2018)

Original title: Ola de crímenes (Wave Of Crimes). Having stopped by to inform his ex-wife, Leyre Blanco (Maribel Verdú), that he is evicting her in order to sell the house, Cosme Insausti (Luis Tosar) moves on to tell his teenage son, Asier (Asier Rikarte), exactly how much of an embarrassing disappointment he finds him… When Leyre discovers that Asier has driven his scissors into his father’s throat, her only thought is to protect him from the consequences of his actions. The two clean up the scene as best they can, hiding Cosme’s body in the boot of his own car; though their attempt to dispose of it hits a snag when they remember that neither of them can drive. Leaving that detail for later, Leyre goes out to create an alibi for herself, roping in her cab-driver (Raúl Arévalo) who, as an aspiring actor, is only too willing to play a scene in public. Cosme’s disappearance causes problems for his second wife, Vanesa (Paula Echevarría), and his lawyer, Susana Salazar (Juana Acosta), who are busy brokering an extremely profitable and extremely illegal business deal, but cannot close it without Cosme’s input. Asier, meanwhile, has confided the situation to his older, better looking and much dumber friend Julien (Miguel Bernardeau) who, obsessed with Leyre, is willing to do literally anything to help… A pitch-black comedy in which each character is worse than the last, Gracia Querejeta’s Crime Wave is the kind of film you just have to let yourself go with, if you’re going to get on with it at all. Full of violence and completely amoral, and with a distinct ‘ick’ factor in the relationship that develops between Leyre and Julien (though the screenplay is careful on the age question), it might be too much for some viewers to take; though its sense of escalating farce covers a multitude of sins. Though, as she says herself at the outset (the story is told in flashback), Leyre is almost entirely responsible for the crime wave that has broken out in Bilbao, the film excuses everything that she does on the grounds that she is protecting her son; while Asier and Julien, in turn, each for their own reasons, do their best to protect her. The screenplay by Luis Marías also goes out of its way at the outset to reveal exactly how vile Cosme was, so we’re not obliged to waste a thought on him (and goodness knows his murderer doesn’t!). After this set-up, Crime Wave bounces between its various characters as they try to pin the murder on each other, exploit the situation for all it’s worth, evade the investigation of close-to-retirement Detective Galarza (Antonio Resines) and his younger partner, Detective Juantxu (Raúl Peña), and try desperately to locate Cosme’s phone, which has gone missing somewhere between the murder and the discovery of the body, and which is chockful of incriminating information… Self-evidently not for all tastes, there are also several points where Crime Wave drops the “comedy” and just leaves us with the “black”—in particular the subplot dealing with Galarza’s unhappy home life, but also that involving Evelyn (Montse Pla), who has the thankless task of caring for Leyre’s elderly but hard-bitten mother (Teresa Lozano). Still, it is difficult not enjoy what becomes, increasingly, a matter of “last woman standing” between Leyre, Vanesa and Susana—and here Leyre’s devotion to Asier becomes a deadly vulnerability…

Shock Wave 2 (2020)

Poon Sing-fung (Andy Lau), a Hong Kong police officer attached to the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Bureau, manages to balance his dangerous job and his relationship with Pong Ling (Ni Ni), an inspector in the Counter Terrorism Response Unit. Fung and his partner, Tung Cheuk-man (Sean Lau), are called to a building where a woman’s psychotic ex has strapped her and her new husband to linked bombs with pressure triggers. Fung and Tung succeed in freeing the two and disarming the main bombs, but a secondary device is triggered: in the resulting explosion, Fung loses his left leg below the knee. Determined not to let his injury stop him, Fung learns to use a prosthesis and trains himself to the very limit to prove his fitness to return to work—but his superiors have other ideas… Five years later, Hong Kong is hit by a wave of bombings believed to be the work of an underground organisation called Vendetta, led by Ma Sai-kwan (Tse Kwan-ho). In the aftermath of an explosion at a luxury hotel, Fung is found unconscious in the wreckage… This standalone sequel to 2017’s Shock Wave is rather disconcerting at first, with Andy Lau returning as a different Hong Kong EOD officer. This film opens with an outrageous cheat-scene (“Okay, this hasn’t happened…but it might!”) before settling in to the task of showing us how brave, smart and dedicated Fung is—until his superiors get cold feet about an officer with a disability on the bomb-squad and try to shunt him aside to Public Relations. Shock Wave 2 then skips forward five years, to the hotel bombing and to Fung handcuffed to a guarded hospital bed and suffering total amnesia. The film does stumble somewhat here, in that it is not made sufficiently clear at first that the amnesia is genuine: we tend to assume he’s faking it, in spite of what the doctors say, particularly when he immediately goes into action-man mode—presenting us with the delightfully absurd sight of Fung outrunning what feels like half of the Hong Kong police force, first on one leg, then using a stolen prosthesis. After this, Shock Wave 2 becomes an intriguing guessing-game, with Fung’s struggle to remember what he has been doing – and who he might have become – set against Counter Terrorism’s race against time to stop a major terrorist attack by Vendetta: an operation in which Pong Ling’s knowledge of Fung becomes the critical factor… Overall, Shock Wave 2 is a better film than its predecessor, offering a more complex plot and characterisations, and with only Andy Lau really going over the top as he expresses Fung’s rage in the face of what he considers his superiors’ betrayal. The quieter performances of Sean Lau and Ni Ni provide balance, however, as both Tung and Ling struggle to reconcile the Fung that was with the Fung that is: Ni Ni is particularly good as Pong Ling, who in many ways is the film’s most interesting character, though the focus remains on the heroics of Fung and Tung. At the same time, the film ramps up its explosions, chases, gun-play and stunt-scenes to the nth degree, with its use of Hong Kong’s geography a real strength. The climactic sequence is built around Vendetta’s planned attack upon the International Finance Centre and the Hong Kong airport, using a stolen nuclear warhead. Left without enough time to prevent the attack, Counter Terrorism fights to divert the bomb onto the Tsing Ma Bridge…

The Disappearance Of Cari Farver (2022)

Based upon the book A Tangled Web by Leslie Rule. Though Liz Golya (Alicia Witt) is hoping for more, Dave Croupa (Zach Gilford), still gun-shy after the breakdown of his marriage to Sara (Lisa Marie DiGiacinto), insists upon keeping their relationship casual and that both are free to see other people. When Cari Farver (Rebecca Amzallag) drops her car for servicing at the auto-repair shop where Dave works, they are immediately attracted. During their first date, Cari is firm about not looking for anything serious, which suits Dave. However, after she has an ugly encounter with her ex, Anthony (Erik Athavale), against whom she has taken out a restraining order, Dave suggests to Cari that she stay at his place for a while. She accepts, also glad to be nearer her place of work while she finishes up a major project. The next day, Dave is dismayed when Cari sends him a text suggesting they move in together. He firmly rejects the idea, and receives in return a furious, abusive message—the first of many. The next to be attacked is Liz, who finds foul graffiti on her garage door. Meanwhile, Cari’s mother, Nancy Farver (Lea Thompson), also receives a text from her daughter, stating that she needs to get away and asking that her mother continue to care for her teenage son, Sam (Brandon McEwan). Nancy agrees—but as time passes, with no contact from Cari except by text and email, and when she misses various family events – including her father’s funeral – Nancy knows something is badly wrong… Another ripped-from-the-headlines Lifetime drama, and to be fair better than most—probably because (without wanting to be disrespectful) this is a story that not only cried out for the Lifetime treatment, but is so bizarre that all the film-makers had to do was point their cameras at the truth. A few minor tweaks aside, The Disappearance Of Cari Farver accurately depicts the intensifying abuse and terrorisation of Dave Kroupa, Liz Golyar and Sara Brower following Cari’s disappearance, in which threatening texts make it clear that they are being stalked, and which culminates in the arson of Liz’s house. Meanwhile, Nancy Farver tries unavailingly to get the police to mount a missing person’s case for her daughter; but given the fairly constant contact by text and Cari’s history of mental illness, they view her absence as voluntary; while Nancy, though she does not reveal the fact to anyone, knows that wherever Cari is, she has left her medication behind. The two aspects of the case finally collide when Liz is shot—and at long last the police find themselves on the trail of the truth… If there is one major misstep in The Disappearance Of Cari Farver, it is that the screenplay by Tawnya Bhattacharya and Ali Laventhol compresses the timeline of events for ease of story-telling: the parties involved were stalked and threatened for four years before the police investigation began to make headway. “Truth is stranger than fiction” hardly covers the escalating insanity of this case; and the film-makers were right to keep their production low-key and allow that insanity to speak for itself.

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7 Responses to Et Al. April23

  1. RogerBW says:

    One Exciting Night – I’m reminded of your fascinating exploration of early disaster films, in which I think it would be fair to say you picked up quite a few which were clearly disaster films by any reasonable definition but didn’t have the full array of standard elements. Can this sneak in as a “proto Old Dark House”?

    Beware My Brethren – I was going to mention Ted Bundy as an example of the charming insane killer in the popular mind, but he wasn’t arrested until 1975 so couldn’t have influenced this film. The only well-known US insane killer who comes to mind before the 1970s is Ed Gein, who certainly didn’t fit that pattern…

    Night of the Sharks – hmm, in 1988 burning a CD was not a trivial process. 🙂


    • lyzmadness says:

      It’s certainly one of the protos but it’s not quite there despite the dogma. (Never trust the dogma!)

      One of my problems with this film is that Kenny is anything but charming yet has no trouble picking up random women. (Even Bundy had to fake a broken arm!) This is pretty standard in these grotty-horror films but here it leads to the film condemning sexual repression and sexual unrepression at the same time, which is one of is weaknesses.

      I did react to the fact that it was a CD not a tape! Particularly since we get a passing allusion to Watergate. 😀


  2. GeniusLemur says:

    “and every now and then we cut away for another celebration of the air force.”
    Kind of the inverse of The Starfighters, where every now and then we cut away from celebrating the air force (or at least the F-104) to watch some amazingly dull people.


  3. KeithB says:

    I thought for sure that in “The Last Alarm”, the retired firefighter was going to be blamed for the arsons (?) and that he would have to work to clear his name.


  4. Xander77 says:

    erograd note – “Old Believers” doesn’t refer to merely those who maintained their religious conviction with the rise of the Soviet Union. It’s a group that splintered off the main Russian Orthodox church quite a few centuries ago (when the Czar overrode the church’s independence). There’s a rich history of persecution that the communist authorities were more than happy to maintain.


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