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STALKER
Theatrical. Black and Blue Films.

StalkerExposé, 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…).

StalkerThe 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. ..

DAVID FLINT

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