Black and Blue Films.
made in 1975, is a film notable mainly for being the only British
production ever to appear on the notorious Video Nasties list
in the 1980s, despite the video release being the censored theatrical
version, and for featuring cult icon Linda Hayden and softcore
queen Fiona Richmond in lesbian sex scenes that guaranteed the
front cover of Cinema X. The film itself was a muddled affair,
mixing psycho thriller and Straw Dogs rip-off
(the alternative title is The House on Straw Hill).
It’s grubbily entertaining, but nothing special.
I tell you all this because Stalker is, ostensibly,
a remake of Exposé (it was shot under
that title) but in reality has no connection to the original film
other than the theme of a struggling author experiencing bad things
– hardly a concept unique to the original film. I doubt
even the most determined lawyer could make a case comparing the
two movies, and I really hope Black and Blue Films didn’t
spend too much money buying the story rights.
Having said that, the connection does keep you on your toes during
this film, as it veers off from the direction you expect it to
take, based on the earlier film – a cunning move, if a deliberate
one. In this film, author Paula Martin (Anna Brecon) heads out
to the country to try and break her writer’s block and deal
with the aftermath of a nervous breakdown. Things are not going
well until the arrival of PA Linda (Jane March), which initially
seems to boost her confidence. But soon, Linda is taking control
of everything, making Paula stay in bed and writing the novel
herself. And her control extends to seeing off pushy journalist
Billy Murray and the maid (Linda Hayden, in a nod to the original
film). When psychiatrist Colin Salmon and ambitious agent Jennifer
Matter turn up, things get decidedly sticky.
Stalker (a much more effective title –
if you discount the Tarkovsky film of the same name – and
one that could apply to more than one character) plays with your
expectations rather well; if you’ve seen the original film,
you’ll be thrown off the scent of the twist in the tail
more than fresh-faced viewers I imagine, if only because of pre-conceived
expectations. When it does come, the twist is not that original
– in fact, you may have seen it in other stories about troubled
authors – but it is nonetheless effectively handled by feature
film debuting director and writer Martin Kemp (yes, that one…).
performances from the two leads – who have to carry much
of the film – are solid, and the film keeps the action moving
as much as is possible in a slowly developing psychological drama.
At 77 minutes, it certainly doesn’t drag things out! This
is more a psychodrama than a gorefest, but there are certainly
some grisly moments – the flashbacks to naked bodies drenched
in blood, and the early hand injury that is toe-curlingly painful
to watch. Animal lovers will be distressed to note that the friendly
black cat we see near the beginning meets a nasty end in a scene
that first establishes Linda as less than stable.
There are faults, of course – the final moments are too
dark to actually see what is happening properly, and there seemed
to be a glaring continuity error, when Matter claims to have sent
Murray to the house, even though we see him bribing Salmon for
the address. Perhaps I missed something. The low budget nature
of the film also comes through sometimes, making it look now and
again more like a TV production than a movie – but on the
whole, the film manages to transcend its limitations and offer
up a satisfying mix of shocks and suspense.
Of course, it really needs a gratuitous lesbian scene
to compete with the original Exposé, but
on the whole, this is a rather impressive attempt to both reference
and subvert the horror movies that producer Jonathan Sothcott
grew up loving. ..
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