Suspense

Haunts Of The Very Rich

1972

ABC CIRCLE FILMS

Directed by Paul Wendkos

Produced by Lillian Gallo

Written by T.K. Brown III and William P. Wood

Before we get into the actual review a brief history lesson: The Made-For-TV Movie is a phrase you don’t hear much these days but it was used all the time back in the 1960’s and especially during the 1970’s when ABC, CBS and NBC who at that time were The Big Three of programming got into the business of producing their own movies specifically made for a television audience and tailored for 90 minute prime time broadcast television viewing slots. Which meant that no longer did they have to rely on movies they purchased from Hollywood movie studios. Now all three networks had their own special movie night but the one that most people remember is the “ABC Movie Of The Week” which aired from 1969 to 1976 on Tuesday nights. ABC had other movies nights such as their Sunday Night Movie but those were generally theatrical features. And of course there was the long-running and classic “The 4:30 Movie” which had an opening credit that was so popular it eventually was adopted as the opening for all of ABC’s late night movies:

And then of course there’s the opening for The Tuesday Night Movies itself:

Now, yes, most of ABC’s Tuesday Movie Of The Week’s movies were forgettable, disposal entertainment.  Many TV series such as “The Six Million Dollar Man” “Alias Smith and Jones” “The Immortal” and “Starsky and Hutch” made their debut as 90 minute pilot films here. And then you had a whole truckload of movies that are still remembered and indeed have become legendary in pop entertainment culture. “The Love War” “Brian’s Song” which is still hailed today as one of the best football movies ever made and a movie that guys unashamedly admit they cry when they watch it. “The Night Stalker” which along with “Duel” and “Trilogy of Terror” makes up The Holy Trinity of Made-For-TV horror movies. “A Cold Night’s Death” which is a movie that screams to be remade. “The Legend of Lizzie Borden” starring Elizabeth Montgomery. “Get Christie Love!” “Bad Ronald.” And then there’s the movie we’re going to talk about now: HAUNTS OF THE VERY RICH.

Why HAUNTS OF THE VEY RICH you ask? I remember seeing this years ago back in the 70’s as it was a movie that somebody in ABC’s programming department either liked a lot or they got frequent requests to air it. You have to remember that this was an era that was even pre-VCR so the only way you could rewatch a movie if it was broadcast again. And HAUNTS OF THE VERY RICH was a movie that got quite a bit of airplay during the 70’s. It’s not a classic by any means but it is an awfully intriguing premise with some solid performances. And for those of you reading this who are “Lost” fans then this is a movie you might like to check out as I see a lot of similarities between that TV show and this movie.

An eclectic group of tourists are flying to a mysterious tropical resort called The Portals of Eden. Each of them have brochures that appear to be tailored to their specific desires. All except for Al Hunsicker (Ed Asner) who was supposed to be on a flight to Texas for an important business meeting. Dave Woodrough (Lloyd Bridges) is an aging ladies’ man who’s looking for another sexual conquest and thinks he’s found it in Ellen Blunt (Cloris Leachman) an emotionally needy woman obsessed with her appearance and thinks that The Portals of Eden is a beauty spa. Annette Larrier (Anne Francis) is looking for somewhere she can recover from her nervous breakdown which probably was caused by her husband and kids. Lyle (Tony Bill) and Laurie (Donna Mills) are newlyweds who only want to spend their honeymoon doing what honeymooners do. The Reverend John Fellows (Robert Reed) is suffering a crisis of spirit and hopes that by participating in a peyote ritual performed by the local Indians he can have a religious vision that will restore his faith.

The resort’s host, Mr. Seacrist (Moses Gunn) at first seems a most genial and amiable sort. But that’s before things start to go wrong. First there’s a hurricane that wipes out their communications with the outside world. Their supplies and fresh drinking water start to dwindle. The resort staff abandons them. The guests are left alone with nothing and nobody to rely on but each other. And the more desperate their situation becomes, the calmer Mr. Seacrist becomes. Any and all attempts at rescue or to get help are frustrated and the little band begins to turn on each other as their idyllic dream vacation turns into Hell. And soon, that’s exactly what Ellen and Dave start to think as they discover that everybody has had a brush with death shortly before coming to the island.

Are they all dead and in Hell or some kind of Purgatory? There’s a lot of evidence to indicate so but there’s as much evidence to the opposite. Maybe they’re just a buncha folks with some truly shitty luck in picking vacation spots…but then there’s the dead body that apparently gets up and walks away and one of their number who tries to commit suicide and loses way more blood than a human can reasonably lose and still live….

I’m probably making HAUNTS OF THE VERY RICH seem way more interesting than it really is but while watching it I couldn’t help but think of this as a “Lost” prequel where The Dharma Initiative has brought these people to their island as part of an experiment. What kind of experiment I have no idea but if you decide to watch the movie we can argue about it later.

The acting in this movie is quite strong, especially from dependable pros like Ed Asner who is set up to be the typical stereotyped loud-mouth but develops into a really reasonable character who treats his situation the way I expect a businessman would and doesn’t just rely on his mouth to do his thinking. He and Lloyd Bridges have a couple of nice scenes where they’re discussing their situation as they both turn out to be the natural leaders in this kind of situation. Cloris Leachman is an actress who has never really impressed me in anything she’s done but in this movie I find her amazingly good and she convinced me to invest in her character. But who walks away with the acting honors in this movie? Mr. Brady himself; Robert Reed. And he does it in an amazing scene near the end when he describes what happened to him during the peyote ceremony and explains to each and every one of the other guests why they think they’re dead and in Hell and why they think they’re alive and not in Hell. The man owns the scene from start to finish and it’s worth watching the movie just for that scene. If you only know Robert Reed from “The Brady Bunch”  you watch that scene and you can’t believe it’s the same guy. It’s that good a scene.

So should you see HAUNTS OF THE VERY RICH? It won’t cost you a thing because you can see it on YouTube and I’ve provided a link below. But if you don’t want to watch it, it’s no biggie. But it does have a solid story and good performances. And as I said, if you’re a “Lost” fan and want to look upon this as a prequel, I think it more than works in that context. Enjoy.

And Soon The Darkness (2010)

2010

Studio Canal/Anchor Bay Entertainment

Directed by Marcos Efron

Produced by Chris Clark, Lizzie Friedman, Karen Lauder and Deborah Marcus

Screenplay by Jennifer Derwingson and Marcos Efron

Based on the 1970 motion picture “And Soon The Darkness”

In the first thirty seconds of the 2010 remake of AND SOON THE DARKNESS we see a bound, near naked woman doused with water and then whipped with a live electrical wire until she collapses into unconsciousness.  That told me right there that the writers and the director of this remake were going to throw out everything that the writers and director of the original had done to make their movie unusual, unique and suspenseful.

This version of AND SOON THE DARKNESS follows the basic plot of the original, transferring the setting from rural France to rural Argentina and making the girls American instead of English..  Stephanie (Amber Heard) and Elle (Odette Yustman) are part of a bike tour of that country.  They decide to split off from the group and go their own way for a bit, intending to catch a bus the next day and rejoin the group. They stay the night at a hotel where Elle persuades Stephanie to come with her to hang out at the local bar.  Stephanie’s promiscuous behavior gets her the wrong kind of attention and she’s rescued by Michael (Karl Urban) another American staying at the hotel.

The next day, while biking, Elle wants to stop by a riverbank and sunbathe.  Stephanie reluctantly agrees.  After a couple of hours, she’s ready to go but Elle still wants to hang out there.  This leads to an argument and Stephanie angrily rides off, leaving Elle alone. After she cools off a bit, she returns to the riverbank to find Elle gone, only her cell phone still on the ground where she had been sunbathing.

Now, unlike the original where we never learn the fate of the kidnapped girl until the last ten minutes of the movie, the remake has no problem letting us know that Elle has been kidnapped by the guy she was foolin’ around with in the bar last night.  He’s the muscle of a gang who snatches girls and sells them across the river to a white slavery ring in Paraguay.

Stephanie frantically tries to get help from the local police chief, Calvo (Cesar Vianco) who poo-poohs away Stephanie’s urgent pleas for him to form a search party.  “A search party?” Calvo says with a chuckle.  “Where do you think you are? America?”

Stephanie finally gets help from (surprise, surprise, surprise) Michael who has been in Argentina for six months looking for his girlfriend who also disappeared. Together they decide to track down Elle themselves and maybe find Michael’s girlfriend as well.

Like I said earlier, everything that made the first movie unique has been ruthlessly stripped away to leave only a standard middle of the road thriller than doesn’t thrill at all. The way this movie unfolds and the way the story is told in such a blatant fashion I can easily imagine a group of suburban white families pooling their money together to finance this movie for the sole purpose of showing it to their daughters: “See? See? This is what happens when you go to foreign countries, get drunk and fool around with boys who don’t speak English!”

That nasty subtext is very strong in the movie and I also didn’t like how the script goes out of its way to depict Elle’s carefree indulgence in drinking and promiscuity as justification for what happens to her.  And unlike the original, many of the locals speak English.  Part of what added to the feeling of paranoia and isolation in the original was that none of the locals spoke any English.

Karl Urban does his best with what he’s given and like the professional he is, he comes out of this movie with the acting honors.  Karl Urban is on my list of actors who even if they’re trapped in a really shitty movie more than pulls his weight and delivers a good performance and he does so here.  And I’m glad that I saw Amber Heard in “Drive Angry” before seeing this movie as I might well have passed up watching that highly superior movie if I had watched AND SOON THE DARKNESS first.  If you want to see Amber Heard in a really good movie, go watch “Drive Angry” and leave the remake of AND SOON THE DARKNESS alone.  It’s a totally unnecessary remake that does not entertain one little bit. Go watch the 1970 original if you want to see a really good thriller.

Rated R

91 minutes

 

 

And Soon The Darkness (1970)

1970

EMI Films

Directed by Robert Fuest

Produced by Albert Fennell and Brian Clements

Written by Brain Clements and Terry Nation

AND SOON THE DARKNESS is regarded as a minor cult classic of 70’s British horror movies and now, after finally seeing it for myself I can see why.  It’s a neat, effective little horror/suspense movie that gets the job done with a subtle, intelligent script and solid acting.  It’s my kind of horror movie as the situation is one that could plausibly happen and the characters behave as I can see actual people in such a situation would act and as such I can take the movie much more seriously than say, the brain dead 2010 remake of AND SOON THE DARKNESS.  But that’s another review.  Let’s get back to this one.

Jane (Pamela Franklin) and Cathy (Michele Dotrice) are two young and very pretty English girls on holiday, biking through the French countryside.  They’re best friends but they have very different idea of how they want to spend their holiday.  Jane’s insistent they stay on schedule and she’s constantly consulting her stack of maps and checking their time against their itinerary.  Cathy wants to slowpoke it, take their time and enjoy the local color.

Part of that local color is Paul (Sandor Eles) a handsome young French man who catches Cathy’s eye in a café the two girls stop at briefly to get directions.  They go further on up the road and Paul passes them on his motorcycle, only to stop at a roadside cemetery.  In a blatant attempt to kill time and wait for Paul to catch up to them, Cathy insists that the girls stop to sunbathe at the side of the road.  This leads to a quarrel where Cathy tells Jane she’s fed up with being bossed around and that she’s going to have some fun.  Jane leaves Cathy and continues on by herself, stopping at another café a little ways up the road.  After a while, when she’s cooled off, she goes back for Cathy.

Except Cathy’s gone.  Jane finds her bicycle but except for that, there’s no sign of Cathy at all.  Jane frantically searches for her with no luck.  She runs into Paul, who claims to be a police detective and offers to help.  He certainly is more willing to do so than the local gendarme (John Nettleton) who treats Cathy’s disappearance with a laid-back casualness that frustrates Jane to no end. The locals are of no help because Jane doesn’t know any French and so can’t tell them what’s wrong.  And then it turns out that Paul has disturbingly graphic knowledge of a girl who a couple of years ago was raped and murdered near the same spot where Cathy disappeared…

If you have any knowledge of the careers of the writers and director of this movie then you know these guys aren’t amateurs.  Robert Fuest directed the two classic “Dr. Phibes” movies.  Brian Clements was a producer and main script writer of “The Avengers” as well as writing so many other classic British TV series and movies such as “Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter” which he also directed.  Terry Nation created The Daleks and if I have to tell you who they are then you’re in the wrong place.  He also created several notable British science fiction TV series including one of my favorites; “Blake’s 7”

Add to this the considerable acting talent of Pamela Franklin who starred in what I consider the second best haunted house movie ever made; “The Legend of Hell House” and was a standout in “The Prime of Miss Jean Brody” where she played the intellectually and sexually precocious Sandy. Pamela Franklin had a good career back in the 60’s and 70’s and if you see her name in the credits of a movie, watch it.  She’s a fine actress with terrifically expressive eyes who knows exactly what she’s doing in front of a camera and it’s a treat to watch her work.

The movie also is fun to watch because despite the title, 100% of AND SOON THE DARKNESS takes place during the daytime in broad daylight.  The events of the movie play out in the course of one day and just because it all takes place during the daylight hours doesn’t make it any less scary or suspenseful.  Increasing the suspense is Jane’s inability to communicate with anybody except the two people she suspects of having taken her friend.  It’s a smart move by the director to not subtitle when French is spoken and so as the audience we can share in Jane’s growing frustration and paranoia at her situation.

So should you see AND SOON THE DARKNESS?  I recommend so highly.  It doesn’t have graphic violence or gore but if you’re looking for a nifty little horror/suspense thriller that will keep you guessing right up until the end of the movie, this is for you.  It’s currently available for streaming on Netflix so enjoy.

PG

99 minutes

The Spanish Prisoner

1997                           

Sweetland Films

Directed And Written by David Mamet

Produced by Jean Doumanian

I like the work of David Mamet a lot.   He’s a writer who knows how to write extraordinarily good dialog and no two characters in any of his works sound the same.  His movies are enjoyable just to listen to, not to mention their complex stories and plots.  I loved “House Of Games” which was about a psychologist delving into the world of con men and finding out she doesn’t know as much about psychology as she thought she did and I’ve seen THE SPANISH PRISONER twice now and you would think that after watching one time it would be spoiled for me but it wasn’t.  Even knowing what was going on and how the movie ended I found myself still being totally engrossed in what was happening and I credit that to the meticulously crafted story and terrific performances.  A lot of modern suspense movies are labeled ‘Hitchcockian’ but THE SPANISH PRISONER is one of the few that I can say actually deserves to be compared with Hitchcock’s best work.

Joe Ross (Campbell Scott) is a brilliant scientist flown down to Bermuda with his partner George Lang (Ricky Jay) by their boss Mr. Klein (Ben Gazzara) for the purpose of giving a group of investors an update on ‘The Process’ Joe has invented.  We’re never told what ‘The Process’ is and it really doesn’t matter.  ‘The Process’ is the movie’s ‘MacGuffin’, which was Hitchcock’s term for whatever it was that got the plot rolling.  The important thing we need to know is that ‘The Process’ is worth a whole lot of money.  How much?  We never find that out either but during the meeting with the investors, Joe writes a figure on the blackboard that we don’t see but the investors react as if they’ve seen Jesus bring forth Lazarus.

Joe tries to engage Mr. Klein in discussion as to just how much of a bonus Joe and George can expect but Mr. Klein is suspiciously vague and just keeps reassuring Joe that he’ll be taken care of.  While this is going on, Joe is trying to puzzle out the really weird conversations his new secretary (Rebecca Pidgeon) assigned to him keeps initiating and he meets Jimmy Dell (Steve Martin) a New York businessman who is in Bermuda having an affair with his partner’s wife. Jimmy asks Joe to deliver a package to New York for him.   The package is meant for Jimmy’s sister but as Jimmy says later on, that was just an excuse so that Joe could meet Jimmy’s sister.  Jimmy likes Joe and thinks he’d be good for her.  Problem is, every time Joe’s supposed to meet her, she never shows up.  And while this may not seem like much, it proves to be very important later on.   Because while the friendship between Joe and Jimmy grows in surprising ways, Joe is becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the way Mr. Klein is treating him and all these elements make up the first half of the movie which may seem slow and nothing much happens but you’ve really got to pay attention because the second half is where it all pays off.

The problem with reviewing a movie like THE SPANISH PRISONER is this: everything depends on a first time viewer going into it cold, without having any idea of what it’s about because the story is put together so well that going into too much detail could unintentially spoil the experience of seeing it for the first time and I wouldn’t dream of doing that.  THE SPANISH PRISONER is a movie made for people who love the kind of plot that demands your attention.  It’s a thinking person’s suspense thriller and one you can’t shut your brain off on and coast along on autopilot.  And if you watch it with somebody who insists on talking while watching movies, kick ‘em the hell out of the room.  It’s not that kind of movie.  You miss something and you’ve missed a lot.

The performances are all absolutely first rate with Steve Martin easily walking away with the top acting honors.  Steve Martin is so good in this that if I had watched this without knowing a thing about Martin’s history as a comedian, I would have taken him for a career dramatic actor.  Yes, he is that good in this role.  He plays it absolutely straight with respect for the story and the character and it works supremely well.  Campbell Scott is an extremely appealing hero.  He’s a genius, yes, but he’s also a bit slow and dim when it comes to dealing with people and he’s charmingly simple and uncomplicated.  None of which helps him when he finds out what kind of shark pool he’s been thrown into and he has to smarten up damn fast if he wants to stay alive.

Rebecca Pidgeon plays Susan Ricci, the secretary and it’s the quirkiest, most eccentric performance in the movie.  She’s got an unusual way of talking and finishes her sentences as if she’s waiting to be patted on the head and told she’s a good girl.  Some of her scenes were irritating and others downright strange but by the time you get to the end, they make sense.  Ed O’Neal has a small but pivotal role.  I was disappointed that Ricky Jay didn’t have more screen time but he makes the best of it, dropping several lines of beautifully quotable dialog such as: “Beware of all enterprises which require new clothes”.

So should you watch THE SPANISH PRISONER ?  I’d most certainly say yes if you’re in the mood for a brain twisting labyrinth of a thriller where nothing and nobody is as it seems with wonderful dialog and great performances.  Turn your brain on and enjoy.

Rated PG

110 minutes

Dirty Pretty Things

2002

BBC Films/Miramax

Directed by Stephen Frears

Written by Steven Knight

Produced by Robert Jones and Tracey Seaward

 One of the things that made “Serenity” so memorable was the performance of Chiwetel Ejiofor as The Operative, the movie’s main bad guy.  Even though he was the antagonist and performed a number of truly horrific deeds during the course of the movie, there was no denying that Chiwetel Ejiofor’s acting ability blew me away and made The Operative a character that maybe I couldn’t root for or like but I came away from the movie feeling as if I fully understood his motivations.  This cat was cruel but full of heart.  Emotionless but radiating nothing but feeling.  Cold as a February night in Brooklyn yet warm with the security that he was doing the right thing.  As The Operative, Chiwetel Ejiofor created a memorable character that for me typified exactly what a Good Bad Guy should be: He doesn’t think he’s The Bad Guy.  As far as he’s concerned, he’s The Good Guy and his actions make perfect sense to him according to his spiritual, emotional and intellectual directions.  I’d seen the movie DIRTY PRETTY THINGS in his resume of films and it was always cited as one of his best.  I decided to check it out and you know what?  It is.

Okwe (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is an illegal Nigerian immigrant living in London.  By day he drives cab and at night he works at a really nice hotel where he supervises the Russian doorman Ivan (Zlatko Buric) and the cleaning staff, including the maids.  One of them is the Turkish immigrant girl Senay (Audrey Tatou) who has fled an arraigned marriage that would have been just as good as slavery.  She and Okwe have a working friendship: he cleans and cooks for her and she lets him sleep on her couch.  Okwe’s boss Mr. Juan (Sergi Lopez) is kinda on the sleazy side but Okwe has no idea how really bad the man is until one night when Okwe goes up to one of the rooms to fix an overflowing toilet and finds a human heart in it.  Okwe takes the heart to Mr. Juan, suggesting that somebody should call the police.  Mr. Juan, knowing Okwe’s situation quite well, dials the police and holds out the receiver, daring him to report the heart.

It turns out that Mr. Juan is running a lucrative black market organ operation out of the hotel.  Give up one of your kidneys and he’ll give you a passport.  For the immigrant subculture of London, a passport is The Holy Grail, The Ark of The Covenant and The Sword In The Stone all in one.  It means that you can escape a life of drudgery and servitude, the poverty of working a below minimum wage job and go somewhere else, like New York or Los Angeles and start a new life.  Senay has a cousin who lives in New York and she desperately wants to go there.  Preferably with Okwe, with whom she has fallen in love with.  But Okwe is haunted by his dark past that comes to light in a surprising way when Mr. Juan learns that Okwe is a doctor.  Mr. Juan puts pressure on Okwe to come into the business with him.  He’ll give Okwe $10,000 dollars and a clean passport for Senay as Mr. Juan has a 12-year-old girl who is flying into London with her parents to get a new kidney.  Okwe refuses to have anything to do with the whole deal until he learns that Mr. Juan has talked Senay into being the donor for the girl.  All of a sudden, things change.  Boy, do they ever.

The way I lay it out like that you’d be fair in thinking that DIRTY PRETTY THINGS is a thriller/suspense movie but it really isn’t.  The fascinating thing about this movie is the way it explores the illegal immigrant subculture in London but this story could have been told in New York, Paris, Beijing, Los Angeles and anywhere there is a sizable population of illegal immigrants who clean up society’s shit.  There’s a wonderful scene where a buyer of illegally donated organs asks Okwe who he and his friends are and he says: “We’re the ones you never see.  But we drive your cabs, clean your rooms and suck your dicks.” And I liked the scenes where we see how Okwe’s boss at the taxi company steers business his way.  His boss has friends who have all caught the clap from the same nasty ho and Okwe makes a few bucks on the side treating them.  He steals antibiotics from the hospital by the simple means of going in with a mop and bucket right into the room where the drugs are kept since nobody pays any attention to a black man with a mop.

In fact, except for the customers of the hotel and the immigration officers who are pursuing Senay.  We never see any native Londoners or native British citizens.  The movie is all about the illegal immigrant culture that is a necessary part of everyday London life and economy.  They’ve formed a network that crosses racial lines and boundaries as in a very real sense they are all in exile and trying to survive in a foreign land.

I really can’t praise Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance enough in this movie.  He’s got these incredibly expressive eyes that he knows how to use to maximum effect.  There are several great scenes where he says nothing but we can look in his eyes and see exactly what he’s thinking and feeling.  And he backs up his expressive eyes with really good acting.  This guy is terrific and he’s an actor who should be getting a helluva lot more work than he is now.  I also liked Benedict Wong as Okwe’s best friend, a Chinese immigrant who works in a hospital’s morgue.  He throws away human remains, cleans off autopsy tables and manages to keep a very good sense of humor and real sense of how the world works.  He tries to pass this onto Okwe with little effect.  And because of their differences about how they view they lives, their conversations make for some of the best scenes in the movie.  Audrey Tatou also does very good work as Senay.  We can tell right from the first scene that she’s in love with Okwe but it takes him most of the movie to catch on.  And Sophie Okenedo does exceptionally fine work as Juliette, a prostitute who works the hotel who most definitely does not have the clichéd heart of gold but she knows who her people are and comes through for them when it counts.

So should you see DIRTY PRETTY THINGS?  I’d say absolutely yes.  But don’t go into it expecting a straight out suspense thriller even though it’s got elements of that genre.  It’s an absorbing and wonderful look at a subculture of the society that exists in every major city in the world and one that we may not want to admit exists or acknowledge.  But the people who inhabit that world are ones we see every day of our lives and whether we want to admit it or not, they’re human just like us and have dreams and hopes and aspirations of a better life just as we do.  The difference between them and us is that we don’t have to trade our humanity and body parts to achieve our dreams and they sometimes do.

97 minutes

Rated R