It’s amazing what a good poster can do for a movie. I remember this film’s poster from back in the day, with the lights in a hospital lit up in the shape of a skull, and the patently untrue tagline "So frightening, you'll never recover." Well, actually I’ve seen the movie and I’m still alive. This was later revised to the more-accurate but less interesting "There is no known cure for murder."
I am also coming to believe that in the near future, when I rule the universe, I will require all movies over 90 minutes to submit extensive documentation to a review board as to why they need to be that long. Movies over two hours would be subject to an extremely stringent review. This movie would be sent right back, given as it runs 105 minutes, and can only really support, to be especially generous, maybe 67.
So it seems we have an all-star cast. Lee Grant! William Shatner! Michael Ironside! Linda Purl [of 20 episodes of Happy Days]! And that’s about it. So Lee Grant as Debra is on her talk television show, making an impassioned case—but wait a minute, WHAT about that HAIR!?!? Why? Dear God, WHY?! The overall shape of her head is a sphere, as she’s got this kind of overgrown pageboy thing split down in the middle with a curve you might admire in a set of curtains. But Ms. Grant is a long-suffering victim of horrible hair, as anyone who’s seen her model the penis-head look for Damien: Omen II. And personally, despite being decent in Shampoo, to me is one of the worst actresses in existence, but her high-blown haughtiness in relation to that usually makes her compellingly watchable [see Airport '75]. And she better be, because we’re going to be watching her flip out and be stalked in that nightmare hair for wayyy too long.
Okay, right, the TV show. There’s some famous case in the news about a battered wife who murdered her husband, and Debra makes an impassioned plea for clemency, as well as some ugly insinuations about her guest, who is some guy leading the prosecution, to the point where he says she’s verging on libel. But she must speak to her principles! Nevertheless, unbeknownst to her, Michael Ironside is upstairs in the studio, squeezing his ball [a rubber ball, you sicko] as he watches her, apparently becoming enraged and wanting to show that uppity wench a thing or two about who’s the dominant gender.
Then—SHATNER! He’s Debra’s manager or something at the studio, and he tells her the speech was quite incendiary and, oh by the way, he can’t air it. Debra is incensed beyond words and storms off home! She lives in a huge old house, and walks around feeling uneasy for some time. This film, like many horror films, focuses on those moments in which someone is home alone, and nothing is really out of place, they just have a creepy feeling… and it must be said that this movie handles those sequences rather well. There are a few jump scares, but they’re handled decently and it least they don’t do something stupid like having it be just the cat or the next-door-neighbor bringing a fruitcake or whatnot. Although actually I think one of the ones here WAS the cat. Anyway, eventually Ironside, apparently nude and in makeup and extensive jewelry, jumps out and slashes Debra. She runs, etc., gets dumped down the dumbwaiter, and eventually is rescued and taken to the hospital.
Ironside escapes, and returns home, where he is accosted by the lonely crazy lady who lives down the hall, desperate for company. When he finally just walks away while she’s still talking to him, she says “He’s so shy.” He watches talk TV, and sees that Debra has been taken to the hospital, so he puts his murder clothes back on and follows her there. Meanwhile, at the hospital, Debra meets Sheila [or Jess, I was never exactly sure], this kooky nurse with big eyes and an upswept pile o' hair so huge I was sure her hair was going to fall down to her knees when she let it out. Nope, I guess she’s just got a LOT of body. We see the lobby of the hospital, which is HUGE, with multiple security guards and banks of elevators, which makes it a bit odd that each floor that we see is nearly deserted, allowing Ironside to walk around [and around, and around, and around] without anyone noticing. At several points he stands right behind or next to other characters, who are just looking the tiniest bit away, and don’t see him.
SPOILERS > > >
He cuts the life-support cord of Debra’s unit—then opens the curtains to find it’s not her! I thought that was kind of funny. It’s an old woman, and he kills her by giving her a heart attack from fear. Then he kills the nurse that comes in to look after her. Then Sheila goes home, and we have more stalking in her house but—it’s just her babe roommate! Who we’ve never heard of before and never see again.
Meanwhile Ironside goes to some diner, where he picks up a blonde floozy with crimped hair. Let me tell you, never has anyone filled out the description of “floozy” like this woman. He has all sorts of racist certificates on his walls—Arayan, anti-Semitic, etc… no, it doesn’t make sense to me, either—and he puts on a shiny leather vest to torture and terrorize the floozy. His torture of her is extremely exploitative, and really everything short of explicitly-shown rape… like him grabbing her by the hair and dragging her all around the room, ordering her to take off her clothes while sobbing, or the knife run right over her panty-clad pussy [below]. Then—it’s time for some flashbacks! It seems that Ironside’s daddy used to lay on top of him and tickle him in play that edged into creepiness, and also pour liquor down his throat, even though he was only eight or so. Later, at home, his father was doing a similar thing with his mother, and she didn’t like it at all and finally threw a pot of boiling oil on his face. And—it turns out Dad’s still alive, and in the hospital! Which gives them a little father-son bonding time. Man, I must have been tired, because it’s only the next day now, and I honestly cannot see how all these pieces fit together.
Anyway, I am prepared to speculate that a full 35% of this movie is made up of Ironside creeping around the hospital. He is seemingly able to teleport from one area to another, as he does indeed get around quite quickly, and is also a master of disguise, seeming to have the exact right outfit to wear at the right time.
But what of Debra? She keeps getting moved around the hospital, smokes freely, and throws huge scenes. She keeps wanting to leave, and it eventually gets kind of funny as they keep inventing reasons why she has to stay. Eventually she has surgery [for a few cuts? After we see her walking around fine, multiple times?]. She throws several tantrums—some quite hilarious—about how she knows he’s here, in the hospital, and after her. Eventually they realize she’s right, and she wails to Shatner, who shows up periodically to chat, but really has nothing to do in the film, “Why is he after me?” she wails, and he responds “Because you’re a strong woman!” Anyway, it all comes to another long, interminable stalking scene, and—well, you didn’t think the heroine was going to die, did you?
< < < SPOILERS END
It’s a strange little movie. It’s not all that great, very little happens, and when it does it’s often to peripheral characters, and yet it remains somehow compelling. I won’t necessarily say interesting, but watchable. Of course, many others have found this a totally boring snooze, but I don’t know, it kept me intrigued. It has kind of the Maniac about it, in that we spend a lot of time with the killer an find out about his psychological issues. And there’s the whole unusual scheme that the killer is really just after one woman—although this makes it a bit ridiculous that he should end up so diverted by the other characters, and end up murdering and stalking them. And then there’s this movie’s murky politics… on the one hand, it explicitly centers itself around women’s rights, making the heroine a woman who supports battered women who stand up, and the bad guy a masculine man who hates her for that, to the point of murder. So the movie would seem to be in favor of women who stand up, yet a lot of the “enjoyment” this movie offers to viewers is in watching women be stalked and tortured, often in a sexual way. The worst recipient of this is the blonde floozy. So it’s another in the long line of films that offer misogynist entertainment in the wrapping of an anti-misogynist statement.
Still, it’s so off-kilter in so many ways it’s kind of perversely fascinating. And you get Shatner, Lee Grant having numerous hysterical fits, Linda Purl’s goofy nurse, and some menacing Ironside. I don’t know, I would watch it.
I think so.