The Night Strangler (1973 TVM)

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“Around the necks of both victims there was a residue of rotted flesh as if they’d been strangled by . . . a dead man!”
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US / originally aired cut to 74 minutes; later releases have full 90 minutes / color / ABC Circle Dir & Pr: Dan Curtis Scr: Richard Matheson Cine: Robert Hauser Cast: Darren McGavin, Jo Ann Pflug, Simon Oakland, Scott Brady, Wally Cox, Richard Anderson, Margaret Hamilton, John Carradine, Nina Wayne, Al Lewis, Virginia Peters, Ivor Francis, Kate Murtagh, Diane Shalet, Anne Randall, Francoise Birnheim, Regina Parton.

“This is the story behind the most incredible series of murders to ever occur in the city of Seattle, Washington . . .”

It all begins with a belly dancer. A belly dancer who calls herself Merissa (Parton) when she gyrates on the stage of Seattle niterie Omar’s Tent but whose given name is Ethel Parker.

Regina Parton as Merissa.

But such niceties don’t matter to her any longer because she’s dead—dead in a Seattle back alley, her throat crushed by Continue reading

The Night Stalker (1972 TVM)

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“The story may be apocryphal, but I believe it.”
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vt Kolchak: The Night Stalker; vt The Kolchak Papers; vt The Kolchak Tapes
US / 75 minutes / color / Curtis, ABC Dir: John Llewellyn Moxey Pr: Dan Curtis Scr: Richard Matheson Story: Jeff Rice Cine: Michel Hugo Cast: Darren McGavin, Carol Lynley, Simon Oakland, Ralph Meeker, Claude Akins, Charles McGraw, Kent Smith, Barry Atwater, Larry Linville, Jordan Rhodes, Elisha Cook Jr., Stanley Adams, Virginia Gregg, Peggy Rea, Helen O’Brien.

The Night Stalker was the first of two TV movies—the other being The Night Strangler (1973 TVM), which I’ll be covering here soon—that heralded a TV series, Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974–5). The series ran for just a single season of 20 episodes, which were aired at somewhat irregular intervals, so can hardly have been regarded as especially successful in its day. Even so, it has maintained a cult following ever since . . . as I’ll be pointing out when I write about it shortly for the Wonders in the Dark site’s current TV Countdown.

In the meantime, though, this movie:

Las Vegas, and the authorities are alarmed that there seems to be a serial killer on the list—not so much because he’s killing people as because, Continue reading

Caller, The (2011)

UK, Puerto Rico / 92 minutes / color / Puerto Rico Film Commission, Pimienta, Salt, Alcove, Bankside, Head Gear, Metrol Dir: Matthew Parkhill Pr: Amina Dasmal, Robin C. Fox, Piers Tempest, Luillo Ruiz Scr: Sergio Casci Cine: Alexander Melman Cast: Rachelle Lefevre, Stephen Moyer, Lorna Raver, Ed Quinn, Luis Guzmán, Adriana Benitez, Gladys Rodríguez, Emmanuel Logrono. Molina.

Vulnerable recent divorcee Mary Kee (Lefevre) takes a shabby apartment in Puerto Rico to get clear of abusive control-freak husband Steven Campbell (Quinn), whose attitude to the restraining order issued against him is that it’s there to be breached—he keeps trying to reassert himself in her life. Mary starts getting strange phonecalls from an older woman, Rose Lazar (Raver), whom, it eventually emerges, is living in the late 1970s . . . and is indeed calling from that era.

At first, disbelieving the possibility of a timeslip or the supernatural, Mary assumes Rose is just a crank, but then the calls become more disturbing. When Mary suggests Rose should get rid of her cheating boyfriend Bobby, Rose takes her advice rather literally, bricking up the corpse in the apartment’s pantry. This action changes the present; the back of the pantry is now bricked, where beforehand it wasn’t. Growing seriously scared, despite the entry into her life of new boyfriend John Guidi (Moyer), Mary tries to cut her “relationship” with Rose off, but Rose has discovered that the actions she takes in the late 1970s can affect Mary’s present, with Mary being the only person to realize any change has occurred—as when Rose murders the apartment block’s handyman George (Guzmán): he disappears immediately from the present and even John, whom we’ve seen talking with him, remembers nothing of him. But then it’s John’s turn to go, murdered in childhood.

After Mary finds all three skeletons behind the pantry’s brick wall, Rose phones her yet again; she has abducted the little child Mary (Benitez) and, as the adult Mary listens horrified, throws hot cooking oil over the child—leaving scars that now develop on the adult Mary’s body. The child and adult Marys succeed in destroying both threats, the crazed Rose and the stalking Steven . . .

On the face of it this might seem to have no noir interest, being either a timeslip movie—think Frequency (2000)—or a ghost story, but in the end, as Mary blithely rebuilds the pantry’s brick wall with Steven the latest addition to its inventory, all the while singing Rose’s pet song “Bobby Shafto,” we suspect that what we’ve seen is Mary’s mind trying to make sense of horrific events in her childhood and more recently the hellish marriage to, and continued persecution by, Steven. This late volte face gives the movie at least some tenuous status as a neonoir.

Shot on location in Puerto Rico, the movie’s not flawless, despite a riveting turn from Lefevre and good support from Guzmán and Quinn. Moyer is oddly ineffectual as Mary’s geeky new swain. The dog Dexter, whom Mary claims as part of the divorce settlement but whom Steven seeks desperately to regain, tends to disappear when superfluous to the plotting exigencies, reappearing as needed. The soundtrack is a tad clumsy and cliched, with ominous thunderclap effects in all directions. Yet the intelligence of the script, the neatly swirling direction and cinematography and Lefevre’s committed and very appealing performance all combine to keep us pinned back in our seats.

Both principals, Lefevre and Moyer, share, as it were, a vampire past. Lefevre appeared as the vampire Victoria Sutherland in the first two Twilight movies (2008, 2009), being controversially dropped thereafter. Moyer has for years served as the vampire boyfriend, Bill Compton, of Sookie Stackhouse in True Blood (2008–present).

On Amazon.com: The Caller

Caller, The (1987)

US / 97 minutes / color / Empire Dir: Arthur Allan Seidelman Pr: Frank Yablans Scr: Michael Sloane Cine: Daniele Nannuzzi Cast: Malcolm McDowell, Madolyn Smith.

A woman (Smith) who lives alone in the forest senses she’s been followed home by a stalker, and sure enough that evening a caller (McDowell) knocks on her door claiming his car has broken down nearby and asking to use the phone. The two start engaging in verbal games, it being revealed in their sparring that each knows rather too much about the other for them to be merely casual strangers. Over the next couple of days the caller invades her life to a greater and greater extent, questioning her about her dead husband and her missing lover and daughter Alison. Is she perhaps a multiple murderer? Or is he the murderer, preying upon the suggestibility of a pitifully lonely woman?

For the most part this reads like a borderline noirish psychological thriller along the lines of, for example, DEATH AND THE MAIDEN (1994) and Una PURA FORMALITA (1994), with a dash of Twilight Zone thrown in. It’s a surprise to discover this is not in fact based on a stage play, because it’s all done in a very stagebound style, that impression being strengthened by the fact that this is quite literally a two-hander: no one appears aside from the two principals. The sciencefictional denouement feels like a copout, even though the screenplay has played perfectly fair with us.

A year or so after this movie was made and a year or so before it finally saw its (DTV) release (it had a couple of festival screenings, including at Cannes, but no theatrical distribution), Smith married hockey player Mark Osborne, being thereafter billed—on her relatively few further appearances—as Madolyn Smith Osborne.

On Amazon.com: The Caller