DALLAS BUYERS CLUB. (2013) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB. (2013) BASED ON TRUE EVENTS. DIRECTED BY JEAN-MARC VALLEE.
STARRING MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY, JARED LETO, GRIFFIN DUNNE AND JENNIFER GARNER.
REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

I’ve never liked the actor Matthew McConaughey, but he’s so damn good in this based-on-real-events drama film that he won a Best Actor Oscar for it, and I whole-heartedly agree with the Academy’s choice, as it happens.

He’s virtually unrecognisable as Ron Woodroof, a Dallas electrician and rodeo cowboy who, in 1985, is hospitalised after receiving an electric shock at work and is told that he is HIV-positive, with such a low T-cell count that the doctor tells him he only has about another thirty days to live. Ron’s response will tell you the kind of charming individual he is when we first meet him:

‘Get the fuck outta here! I ain’t no fucking faggot. You gotta be fuckin’ kidding me.’

Oh yes, our Ron is deeply sexist, foul-mouthed and homophobic; I don’t know how he feels about people of colour…! He’s devastated when his diagnosis sinks in (he remembers the intravenous drug-using prostitute from a few years back) and also when his friends, the lads with whom he’d normally hang out, drink himself insensible and pay hookers for sex, all reject him. This is because they assume he must be a ‘faggot’ to have contracted HIV. He even loses his big macho-man job at the rodeo and his trailer park home, all thanks to good old-fashioned ignorance, prejudice and fear.

Ron demands drugs, all the drugs he needs to fix him, from Doctors Saks (Jennifer Garner) and Sevard of his local hospital. All that’s available to AIDS patients at the time is AZT, which can kill off more cells than it helps if given in the high doses normally given to AIDS patients. This is what Ron finds out for himself when his condition worsens after taking AZT through the hospital.

A dying Ron pops off to Mexico to see a Dr. Vass, who’s been struck off the medical register in the States for treating AIDS patients with unapproved drugs, that is to say, drugs which may not necessarily be illegal but which may not be approved by the all-important FDA, the Food and Drug Administration.

Dr. Vass treats Ron with a cocktail of his own drugs and food supplements, and, three months later, Ron is feeling much more like his old self. Ron realises that he can make money out of importing these drugs himself and selling them directly to AIDS patients who are willing to pay a one-off fee of four hundred bucks. Thus, the Dallas Buyers Club is born…

Ron’s partner in not-quite-a-crime is Rayon, a trans woman whom he meets in the hospital. There’s often a trope like this in AIDS movies: the tough, possibly homophobic male who has somehow found himself HIV-positive comes in contact with the kind of person to whom he’d normally refer as a ‘raving queer’ or a faggot or a queen. ‘Don’t put yo’ faggotty-ass hands on me,’ and so on.

The gay or trans person normally initiates contact by being friendly, upbeat and often making a joke of their shared plight. The macho man initially rebuffs the gay or trans person, but gradually softens towards him/her when he discovers that this person is the one other human being in his life who knows what he’s going through and fully, properly empathises with him.

This is the way of it with Ron and Rayon. The latter is beautifully played by another actor who is virtually unrecognisable as himself, the normally-plays-a-tough-guy Jared Leto. Leto won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Rayon, who has been rejected by her family for being gay, and they don’t even know she has AIDS yet.

The scenes with Rayon and her lover, a young man also dying of AIDS, are just tragic, and it doesn’t get any cheerier when Rayon bravely goes to her homophobic dad and asks him for the money Ron needs to keep the Dallas Buyers Club open and operational for the people who need it.

One of my favourite moments in the film is when Ron and Rayon are shopping for food together at the supermarket, and Ron forces a deeply homophobic old mate of his to be polite to Rayon and shake her hand. One gets the impression that it’s the nicest thing that anyone has done for Rayon in many a long day.

Ron and his Club run afoul of the cops and the FDA, but it’s all part and parcel of the chaotic life that Ron has only partially chosen for himself. When he eventually dies, it’s a good seven years since he was told by Dr. Sevard that he only had thirty days to live.

He buys himself seven years more of life through his willingness to go out and find the drugs that work for him and others. In that seven years, doctors like Ron’s good friend Dr. Eve Saks come to realise that the drug AZT may be more efficacious at a lower dosage, but I’m no doctor, so you might want to research those medical facts for yourselves. I do know that the drugs Ron used and advocated the use of for others were not always effective or even necessarily safe, and that’s why he was often in conflict with the FDA.

The film is set in the era when the American public feared and reviled AIDS patients because not much information was available to the public at the time, other than the fact that AIDS was initially known as ‘the gay plague’ or ‘gay cancer,’ not exactly terms to invite tolerance, compassion and understanding.

The American government of that period allocated much less money for AIDS research than it did for other aspects of the health service, even though full-blown AIDS had a one hundred percent mortality rate in these scary years.

Early treatments often had horrible side-effects too. By the time the mid-Nineties rolled around, it was discovered that AZT worked quite well in conjunction with two other anti-virals, as this reduced the chances of the virus becoming immune to any one treatment, but that all came too late for Ron and Rayon.

The film is grim, depressing in places and sublimely touching in others. McConaughey and Leto are superb in their roles and that’s about all I can say about the film. Watch it if you can, because it’s a great inspirational story and a masterclass in character acting.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
 
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO
Her new book, THIRTEEN STOPS EARLIER, is out now from Poolbeg Books:
https://amzn.to/3ulKWkv
   

FATAL LOVE, or SOMETHING TO LIVE FOR: THE ALISON GERTZ STORY. (1992) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

FATAL LOVE, or SOMETHING TO LIVE FOR: THE ALI GERTZ STORY. (1992) BASED ON TRUE EVENTS. WRITTEN BY DEBORAH JOY LEVINE. DIRECTED BY TOM MCLOUGHLIN.

STARRING MOLLY RINGWALD, LEE GRANT, MARTIN LANDAU, PERRY KING AND GEORGE COE.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘Ali, Darren died three years ago of AIDS. I thought you knew.’

I think I remember seeing this one on the television in the ‘90s. It’s one of those really good, made-for-tv early AIDS movies that came out in the ‘90s when, from what I recall, we were still a long way from knowing everything there is to know about the horrible disease known as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

Molly Ringwald, queen of the Brat Pack, does an excellent job playing pretty little rich girl, Ali Gertz, who develops AIDS from a one-night-stand with a handsome, long-haired bartender called Darren who sleeps around big-time.

The reason everyone’s so shocked that Ali gets AIDS is that she’s not a gay man hanging around the notorious bath-houses or a homeless drug addict begging on the streets. She belongs to a group of people that doctors didn’t realise could get AIDS at first… the heterosexuals.

In fact, Ali is young, white, rich, female, heterosexual, the pampered child of rich parents, Carol and Jerry, all living happily living in their fabulous Park Avenue apartment. The world is her oyster. She can do anything, go anywhere, have anyone. She’s a very privileged young lady indeed.

When Ali is fifteen or sixteen, however, she goes through a bit of a wild child phase. She sleeps with a bisexual bartender at Studio 54, and then seven years later, after being struck down by a mystery illness, is told by her family doctor, not that she is HIV-positive, but that she already has full-blown AIDS.

She’s devastated. So are her parents, her much older boyfriend Mark and her friends. One female friend, Tracy, can’t get her head round the fact that she, as Ali’s partner in crime in the boozing, drugging and sleeping around, could just as easily have been the one who got AIDS. Ashamed but unable to act any differently, Tracy jumps ship, as does Mark, Ali’s boyfriend, who can’t stomach the idea of having sex with a woman who has AIDS.

Another friend of Ali’s, a gay guy called Peter, chides Ali for never having paid any attention to AIDS until she gets it herself. Where was she when Peter was a terrified wreck, having lost half his friends to the deadly disease the whole way through the ‘Eighties?

Now it’s Ali’s turn to feel ashamed, but she more than makes up for it, I think, by becoming an AIDS activist and presenting herself as ‘the face of AIDS’ to the kind of people who need to hear it most, heterosexual, sexually active school-going teenagers who all think that AIDS doesn’t apply to them. By saying to them, look at me, I didn’t think it applied to me either, she stands a very good chance of getting through to them.

Bernie Siegel, American writer, inspirational speaker, retired paediatric surgeon and the author of LOVE, MEDICINE AND MIRACLES, is the catalyst that turns Ali’s attitude towards her illness to positivity rather than negativity and apathy. She attends one of his seminars on illness and healing, and comes out of it with renewed hope and energy.

The thing she finds hardest to come to terms with is the fact that, as she’s got full-blown AIDS, she may now never experience what it feels like to be a wife and mother. She’s been loved and spoiled and pampered her whole life. She can’t bear the thought of never again being touched in love by a man she cares for.

Ali paints a horrible but accurate picture to her parents about what she can ‘look forward to,’ AIDS-wise, in her ‘future.’ The terrified parents, Jerry and Carol, react by tearing strips off each other and playing the ‘Blame Game.’

‘It’s all your fault! You never disciplined her! You spoiled her, you still do!’

It’s true that a fifteen-year-old should not have been allowed to drink alcohol at Studio 54, to take drugs and have one-night-stands. But the Gertz family paid the highest price for it, so I’ll hold the lecture. There but for the grace of God go any of us, anyway.

It says at the end of the film that Alison Gertz is still talking to people about her experience and inspiring them with her amazing courage and positivity. Then I looked up the date of her death online. 1992, just four months after the release of the film. Well done, Molly Ringwald, for a terrific performance, and rest in peace, Ali Gertz. You’ve earned it.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
 
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO
Her new book, THIRTEEN STOPS EARLIER, is out now from Poolbeg Books:
https://amzn.to/3ulKWkv
 

THE DEVIL NEXT DOOR. A NETFLIX CRIME DOCUMENTARY REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

THE DEVIL NEXT DOOR. (2019) A NETFLIX CRIME DOCUMENTARY SERIES DIRECTED BY YOSSI BLOCH AND DANIEL SIVAN.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

There’s a scene in that excellent Nazi-hunting film, THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL (1978), in which Frieda Moloney, an imprisoned former concentration camp guard, screams at Laurence Olivier’s character: ‘It was thirty years ago! No-one cares any more!’ She’s talking, of course, about the Holocaust, and deriding the elderly Nazi-hunter for his continued efforts to track down Nazis and bring them to justice.

There are two schools of thought. One is that the past is the past, it’s dead and gone, let sleeping dogs lie and we should all move on from the horrific happenings of World War Two. The other is that it’s never too late to prosecute wrong-doers for their evil deeds, even if the perpetrator is currently a feeble old man who’s lived a blameless life for decades now.

John Demjanjuk is the subject of this brilliant documentary. In 1986, he was extradited from the United States to Israel to stand trial for being the notorious concentration camp guard Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka. He had been positively identified by eyewitnesses, all Holocaust survivors.

Apparently, this particular guard stood at the door of the gas chambers in Treblinka with a sword, which he used to cut off the breasts of female prisoners as he herded them roughly to their deaths.

As if death wasn’t enough, they had to be tortured first too. All that this guard was required to do was shepherd the Jewish captives to their collective deaths. The torture was his own idea, something ‘extra’ he did purely out of his ‘enthusiasm’ for his ‘work.’

Although John Demjanjuk was initially found guilty of being this Ivan the Terrible fella, it was ultimately decided that this was a case of mistaken identity, However, and it’s a giant however, he was still a former concentration camp guard, only from Sobibor, another of the death camps.

John Demanjuk, now deceased, was born a Ukrainian in 1920. He served in the Second World War, but was taken prisoner by the Nazis, after which he started working as a guard in their death camp machinery.

That happened to a huge amount of captured Ukrainians in the war. I’ve read that, as concentration camp guards, they became even more brutal than the Nazis themselves, and more dreaded, feared and hated by the Jews they guarded.

Anyway, after the war, John Demjanjuk fled to the United States with his wife and daughter. They settled in Ohio and John worked at the Ford automobile factory, becoming a US citizen in 1958 and living a life of complete anonymity until the time of the trial in Israel.

The documentary deals openly with the shocking fact that, not only were former Nazis allowed into America to live in peace and quiet after the war, but some of them were actively encouraged, especially if they could lend the United States an expert hand with, say, their space programme. And to think that America fought the Nazis in World War Two! It’s difficult to fathom.

The trial of John Demjanjuk in Israel was a complex and emotive affair. Both the prosecutor, the quiet and unassuming Michael Shaked, and Demjanjuk’s defence lawyer, the flamboyant Yoram Sheftel, a Jew, were still alive in 2019 and each contributed to the documentary.

Sheftel, a powerful personality, reveals how he received hate mail and death threats and even had acid thrown in his face for being a Jew being paid big money to defend an alleged Nazi.

Demjanjuk, a big burly smiley fella who looked like he hadn’t a care in the world, maintained his innocence all the way through the trial. Although he may not have been Ivan the Terrible, he was still a former concentration camp guard with blood on his hands, and I don’t believe he ever apologised to any Holocaust survivors for this. I have to say I didn’t care for him much. He seemed arrogant, full of himself, and confidently relaxed about the prospect of getting off.

The Holocaust survivors who took the stand in the trial and talked about how they and their families had been treated in the camps were much more sympathetic. There’s an electrifying moment when John Demjanjuk has the cheek to offer his hand in friendship to Eliahu Rosenbaum, an eye-witness to the crimes of Ivan the Terrible, but Rosenbaum explodes in righteous anger.

I won’t reveal the ins-and-outs of the verdict and the appeal and related activities, in case you want to watch this excellent five-part documentary series for yourself and, if you have an interest in the Holocaust, you really should. It contains graphic images of concentration camp victims, as you might imagine.  

I especially liked Eli Rosenbaum, formerly the Director of America’s OSI, or Office of Special Investigations- ie, Nazi Hunting- and the way he wasn’t deterred from pursuing a criminal just because the crime was decades old.

This man, who once questioned Hitler’s own pet film-maker, Leni Riefenstahl, has probably done more than anyone else in America to hunt down and prosecute former Nazis. God bless that man.

As for John Demjanjuk, deceased since 2012 at the age of ninety-one, I expect he’s where he’s meant to be right now. You may escape the hangman, but there’s no escaping the higher power who judges us all.      

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

CASTING JONBENET. (2017) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©


CASTING JONBENET. (2017) DIRECTED AND CO-PRODUCED BY KITTY GREEN.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

I watched this eighty-minute documentary on Netflix recently, and was struck by how it managed to tell a twenty-five-year-old story in a new and unusual way. Various actors and actresses, adults and children alike, are taking part in auditions for the roles of players in the story of the real-life murder of a little American girl called JonBenet Ramsey.

The story is told through the auditionees’ recital of their various lines and actions, and frequently they get to voice their own opinions as well regarding the guilt- or innocence- of the various characters in the real-life drama. The still-unsolved murder has been referred to as ‘the ultimate cold case,’ and seemingly everyone has an opinion on it.

So, what are the facts as we actually know them? Well, on the day after Christmas in 1996, a wealthy and outwardly happy family called the Ramseys, resident in Boulder, Colorado, had their lives turned upside-down forever by the discovery of the death of its youngest member, pretty little blonde angel JonBenet, aged only six.

This is what supposedly happened. The mom of the family, Patsy, who never appeared in public without her flawless make-up on and co-ordinating outfits, came down the back staircase of their home between five and six in the morning. Lying across the bottom step of this spiral staircase were three pages of closely-written handwriting.

Patsy read part of the first page. Realising that it was a ransom note that stated that ‘a small foreign faction’ had taken her daughter and wanted $180,000 for her safe return, she ran back upstairs to check JonBenet’s bedroom. Finding it empty, she screamed for her husband John, a very rich and successful businessman. Their nine-year-old son Burke apparently ‘slept through the whole thing.’

The Ramseys called the police, who did an initial search of the house that yielded no results. The Ramseys also phoned various friends and asked them to come over. Soon the house was crowded with people wandering all over the place. Shortly before lunch, John Ramsey and a male friend wandered away from the crowd and found little JonBenet’s body on the floor under a white blanket in a room off their basement.

Seemingly forgetting that a crime scene should be left untouched in order for the police to be able to investigate a case properly, John Ramsey removed the duct tape over the child’s mouth and loosened some of the ties that bound her. Then he carried her up to the living room and laid her under the Christmas tree, almost like a little wrapped present.

The media went nuts for the case. It was a slow news period, those quiet days between Christmas and New Year, and the case was ‘sexed-up’ considerably once it emerged that Patsy Ramsey, a former Miss West Virginia, had entered her beautiful little daughter into beauty pageants, and had been planning to ‘put her through the pageant system’ all the way had the child not passed away.

Photos began to appear in the media of JonBenet in full pageant make-up and regalia. She was a darling little girl and looked lovely in photos, being super-photogenic, but some of the pictures sexualised her and basically turned her into a certain type of paedophile’s dream: a little blonde angel in make-up and high heels.

Some of the professional photos of Jonbenet that Patsy had paid big money for made the child look about ten years older. Even in some of the family photos, JonBenet is pouting in a highly suggestive manner with heavy red lipstick on.

Some people were very critical of Patsy for decking her daughter out to look like a tiny, pocket-sized Lolita. She was accused of trying to live vicariously through her daughter. Seriously, six years old is a bit young for that kind of adult carry-on, surely…?

The autopsy conducted on JonBenet’s body found that she had been killed by asphyxiation. She’d also had a blow to the head and, distressingly, as if all that wasn’t bad enough, there was some blood in her underwear and signs of rough handling in her vaginal area.

It was thought at the time that semen was found on her corpse, which immediately put a sexually mature, adult male in the frame. I’m not entirely sure of myself here, but I think that later investigators were found to have been mistaken about the presence of semen on the body. But what about the ‘rough handling’ of the child’s vagina, and the fact that someone had supposedly wiped down her genital area with a cloth…?

Theories abounded, some of which you’ll hear from the actors auditioning for the parts of Patsy and John. Did Burke kill his pageant queen sister in a fit of jealous rage, and his parents then covered up for him by staging a kidnapping?

Did Patsy slam the little girl’s head against a wall in response to yet another aggravating bed-wetting by JonBenet? Did a complete stranger, or a friend, neighbour or disgruntled former employee of John’s sneak into the house and kill the little girl? Was it planned or opportunistic? Or purely accidental?

The three-pages-long ‘ransom’ note, addressed to John Ramsey, was found to have been written in the house, with a pen and pad of paper belonging to Patsy. The note was thought to have contained certain stock phraseology from crime movies. The Ramseys were known to be big movie fans and had some movie posters on display in the house.

I read the note myself and thought some of it honestly sounded like a pissed-off wife taking the opportunity to have a few sly digs at her ‘perfect’ husband. Don’t try to grow a brain, John…! Why not use some of that famous Southern common sense of yours, John…?  The tone of the note was thought to be more likely female than male, and plenty of people seem to think that Patsy Ramsey wrote it.

A garotte was found around the child’s neck and included part of a paintbrush also belonging to Patsy. The police were unable to find evidence of any forced entry into the house, all of which suggests it may have been an ‘inside job,’ rather than a crime committed by an outsider.

Also, for quite a while Patsy and John Ramsey more or less refused to co-operate with police or be interviewed by them at the police station, but their considerable wealth allowed them to hire expensive attorneys, private investigators and even a publicist to handle their TV and other media appearances. They appeared on CNN shortly after the murder, before they’d even spoken to the police, and body language analysts had a field day deconstructing their on-screen behaviour.

This film makes the most of a strikingly different approach to story-telling. I can’t get the image of all those red-sweatered, fully made-up Patsies all acting out scenes from the murder/kidnapping out of my head.

Ditto the house all dressed up for Christmas. One of the boys auditioning for the part of Burke walloping a water-melon with a blunt object to see if a young lad would have the strength to kill a younger child in such a way. The beefy chap who works nights as a ‘sex educator’ who’s auditioning for the part of one of the cops. In a film about a genuinely tragic event, this guy is a ray of sunshine.

 AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
 
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO
Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:
https://www.amazon.com/Thirteen-Stops-Sandra-Harris-ebook/dp/B089DJMH64
The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:
 https://www.amazon.com/dp/1781994234

SOPHIE: A MURDER IN WEST CORK. (2021) A NETFLIX SERIES REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

SOPHIE: A MURDER IN WEST CORK. (2021) A NETFLIX TRUE CRIME DOCUMENTARY SERIES DIRECTED BY JOHN DOWER.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

Once upon a time at Christmas, a beautiful young French woman travelled from France to West Cork in Ireland to stay in her isolated holiday home by the sea. Left behind in France, her husband and young son eagerly awaited her return.

She pottered round the small village of Schull, getting in a few groceries and probably passing the time of day and exchanging season’s greetings with the locals she met. Most of them knew her by sight, if not to speak to. She was a popular visitor to the town. The lights could be seen on in her house at night, indicating that the desolate cottage was occupied for the festive season.

Then, one fateful morning just before Christmas, the beautiful French woman was found beaten to death by the gateway to her house, clad in only her nightdress and a pair of boots. That woman was Sophie Toscan du Plantier, and this Netflix documentary attempts to tell her story…

Sophie was thirty-nine years old when she was brutally murdered outside her holiday home in Schull, prounounced ‘Skull.’ It was a quiet seaside town peopled with lots of artistic ‘blow-ins’ as well as the native inhabitants.

The ‘blow-ins’ were people who came to this isolated part of the world to paint and draw and write and sculpt and craft things and design things, because it’s a dream location for anyone who wishes to create anything.

Sophie herself was a writer, a film-and-television producer in her native France and a lover of Irish poetry. I’m guessing William Butler Yeats & Co. She was married to a famous French film producer called Daniel Toscan du Plantier, and their life together sounds like a hectic showbizzy round of red carpets and movie premieres and glittering parties attended by celebrities like themselves.

She was Daniel’s third wife, and a good sixteen years younger than him. She had a son from her first marriage, Pierre Louis, who was about fifteen at the time of his mother’s murder. In the photos of Sophie and her son, with their identical freckly faces and giant grins, Sophie looks like the happiest woman in the world.

So, who called to Sophie’s windswept cottage long after dark on the cold, frosty night of the 23rd December, 1996, somehow inveigled her out of the house wearing only her nightie, chased her across the fields, maybe, to the gateway to her property and there bashed her brains out with a concrete block and then left her there to die…?

Two upturned wine glasses were found on the draining board of her sink, leading the police to think that maybe she’d offered hospitality to her killer before he turned nasty and frightened her enough to flee from him. Sophie, who’s been described by friends and family as having a side to her that was attracted to all things gothic and mysterious, had had unsettling premonitions of doom shortly before her murder…

This Netflix documentary is possibly unique in the history of documentaries in that it features, alive and well and actually walking and talking, the man accused of Sophie’s murder but never charged with it, Ian Bailey. He’s a former journalist from Manchester and a massive hulking brute of a man who moved to Ireland in 1991 after the failure of his marriage.

He has lived in Schull since then, and, from 1992 to earlier on this year, he lived with his partner of thirty years, Jules Thomas, an artist with three daughters. Ian Bailey, according to nearly everyone who takes part in the documentary, especially the locals of Schull, is not a man you would want to see within a mile of your daughter, sister, mother or female friend…

The account of the injuries he inflicted on Jules Thomas while drunk is so sickening I won’t recount it here. That just means, of course, that he’s a man who’s committed violence towards a woman, and it doesn’t necessarily mean he murdered Sophie. So, what makes so many people think it was him?

On the night of the murder, he claimed to have been in bed with Jules all night. Then he admitted having got up, after all, and gone down to his writing studio a little way down the road and stayed up all night working. A witness who later strangely retracted her statement said she’d seen him on the bridge near Sophie’s house at 3am on the night of the murder, wearing his trademark long black coat and acting oddly.

As a local journalist ‘on the spot,’ so to speak, he covered the story himself for different newspapers, often suggesting that the clue to Sophie’s death lay in France and not Schull. There were things he knew about before other people knew about them that suggested he had some ‘insider knowledge’ of the murder.

A guest at the Thomas house around this time claimed to have seen Bailey’s long coat soaking in a bucket of cold water in the shower of the house, not the usual way of cleaning such a garment. You normally only soak a garment like that if it has blood on it.

On St. Stephen’s Day- the day after Christmas Day- Bailey lit a bonfire in his back garden. Forensic experts later found the remains of a coat and wellington boots amongst the ashes, but nothing that constituted solid evidence, apparently.

Strangest of all, Bailey confessed to more than one inhabitant of Schull that ‘he’d done it; he’d gone too far and bashed her head in with a rock.’ He denied knowing Sophie, but locals say otherwise.

Bailey, an obvious narcissist and known attention-seeker who apparently, when he moved to Schull, would shush an entire pub without warning so he could dramatically recite one of his poems, was the man whose name was on everyone’s lips. (In the film, he quotes his own poetry whenever a chance crops up.) To hear him talk, he seems to relish the publicity and being in the limelight, even if it’s mostly notoriety he’s gaining.

He was arrested more than once, but released each time for lack of evidence. Files were sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, the fellow who decides if there is enough evidence to go ahead and charge someone and commit them for trial, but they came back with the directive that the evidence against Ian Bailey was all circumstantial and not hard fact.

So, the man who nowadays effects an eccentric style of dress- in the film, he’s writing a poem on a public bench dressed in shorts, sandals, a big wide-brimmed hat and fringed scarf- still walks free. He apparently runs a village stall in Schull these days selling pizzas, if I’m not mistaken, and, erm, his poems, and Jules Thomas has finally ditched him…

The French held their own trial, urged on by Sophie’s now grown-up son and her friends and relatives. They found Ian Bailey guilty of murder in absentia and sentenced him to twenty-five years in prison.

The Irish courts apparently are not going to boot him across the Channel to face the music, so, to all intents and purposes, he’s a free man. Until the next development in this sensational case, and, trust me, it’s not the last we’ve heard either of Ian Bailey or Sophie Toscan du Plantier, the beautiful Frenchwoman who met a horrible death in a lonely field in the dead of night one fateful Christmas…

It was kind of chilling, yet strangely endearing, to see all the old television news reports and the coverage of the death by the Irish state broadcaster, RTE, and watch all the old familiar faces reading the News and commenting on the murder. Marian Finucane is dead now; Brian Dobson retired. Pascal Sheehy is still going strong. The scenery is stunning and as gothic as Sophie could ever have wished for; the haunting music ditto. A few local legends and rumours of hauntings are thrown in for good measure.

The film is crystal-clear about who is the villain. They might as well put horns and a tail on Ian Bailey. Is he just a bullying, controlling asshole who beats women and craves and cultivates constant attention, or is he something even worse?

Feel free to convict him yourself in your own mind, as the Irish courts seem oddly reluctant to do so, or you can of course plump for ‘innocent until proven guilty.’  Or does the latter go out the window when a man has already been convicted by the court of public opinion? If Ian Bailey isn’t actually guilty of Sophie’s murder, then he’s had a hell of a rough quarter of a century…

     AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

THE RIPPER. (2020) A NETFLIX MINI-SERIES REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

THE RIPPER. (2020) NETFLIX. DIRECTED BY JESSE VILE AND ELLENA WOOD.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This four-part true crime documentary mini-series was released in December 2020, and it tells the story of the serial killer known as ‘the Yorkshire Ripper.’

He was named for his Victorian counterpart, ‘Jack the Ripper,’ who became infamous for killing and horribly mutilating five (maybe more, but definitely five) prostitutes in the overcrowded and notoriously poor and crime-ridden area of Whitechapel, London in the ‘Autumn of Terror,’ otherwise known as the autumn of 1888.

The press christened both serial murderers with their ‘catchy’ nicknames, each of which sold newspapers. The true identity of Jack the Ripper was never discovered, although there was a list of suspects as long as your arm. For a long time in the mid-to-late ‘Seventies, the people of England despaired of the Yorkshire Ripper ever being brought to justice either.

The Yorkshire Ripper, who turned out to be Bradford lorry driver Peter Sutcliffe, murdered thirteen women in the West Yorkshire and Manchester areas between 1975 and his eventual capture, quite by accident, really, in early 1981.

He also attacked another ten women (at least) who survived his cowardly hammer-and-knife assaults, and, who knows, there may have been more we never knew about. Quite the charming customer, eh?

The mini-series focuses on the police investigation to catch the man dubbed ‘the Yorkshire Ripper.’ It was an investigation which spanned several years and generated so many files jam-packed with bits of paper that concrete pillars were needed to prop up the room in the police station that contained them. Nowadays, of course, it’d all be done on computers, but computers were very much in their infancy back then.

The investigation engendered more cock-ups than the police generally like to admit to, and the public were privy to most of them. Because the odious little killer’s first few victims were prostitutes, the police assumed that the murderer must be a prostitute-hater and also that the only women in danger from him were prostitutes.

This theory was sorely tested when schoolgirl Jayne MacDonald was murdered in 1977. So, the Ripper was killing ‘innocent’ women now, was he, and not just prostitutes? The police actually used the term ‘innocent women’ to describe the non-sex-worker victims, something they’ve had to quite rightly apologise for in recent years.

The public were no less derogatory themselves, though, and were quite voluble on the subject of Jayne MacDonald’s being on a whole different level to the prostitutes who were killed: ‘She weren’t in their category at all,’ said one housewife who was interviewed.

No offence is meant here to poor Jayne MacDonald and her heartbroken family. A victim is a victim is a victim. But prostitutes, and not just prostitutes, but any ‘good-time’ girl or woman who went out late at night drinking and dancing without the ‘protection’ of a man, was seen to be ‘asking for it.’ No wonder women everywhere were up in arms.

Bruce Jones, who played much-loved cabbie Les Battersby in Manchester soap opera CORONATION STREET in the Noughties, was interviewed in this Netflix documentary because he actually found one of the victims himself, something I hadn’t known until I watched this programme. Jean Jordan was found on waste ground, with one of the most important clues of the whole investigation in her handbag… a brand-new five-pound-note, given to her by her killer as the price of a quickie…

The police had only a few clues to go on: tyre marks, a boot print, this five-pound-note. Peter Sutcliffe was actually interviewed three times about the five-pound-note and a whopping nine times overall, but he managed to give the investigating officers satisfactory alibis each time.

Except, that is, for the time he was seen by Andrew Laptew, one of the officers on the case. Laptew had a ‘hinky’ feeling about Sutcliffe after visiting his Heaton home, but when he brought up Sutcliffe’s similarity to the many Ripper ‘photo-fits’ to a superior officer, he was unceremoniously shut down.

Letters and a cassette tape purporting to be from the Yorkshire Ripper proved to be no more than nails in the coffin for George Oldfield and Ronald Gregory, then Assistant Chief Constable and Chief Constable for West Yorkshire respectively.

They both put their complete trust in these items, particularly the tape in which the ‘Ripper’ talks with a Geordie, or Newcastle, accent. This led them up the blind alley of only suspecting men who spoke with a Geordie accent, leaving the real killer, Sutcliffe, free to kill three more women and attack a further two.

A million pounds was spent on an advertising campaign to catch the Ripper on the authority of Ronald Gregory. The prize exhibits were the letters (the killer’s handwriting?) and the tape (the killer’s voice?). This campaign was probably the biggest and most shocking waste of time and money in police history.

And then one night in January 1981, a couple of humble coppers on the beat spot a bloke and a prostitute up an alley together in a car which turns out to have dodgy number plates, and decide to wander over to have a shufty. The rest, of course, is history. In the heel of the hunt, it was good honest coppering ‘what done for’ the Ripper.

This is a pretty good documentary that should bring the crimes of this evil but highly ordinary little man to a new generation of crime buffs. The investigation was rough on the police, and rougher still on the women of England and the victims and their families.

Women were told by the police to stay off the streets at night. Women wanted a curfew imposed on men. The killer was a man, wasn’t he, not a woman? The police didn’t take seriously some of the women who came forward to report that they’d been attacked by a man in a similar manner to the Ripper victims. Shambles, much?

The police, Oldfield and Gregory and Co., moulded the facts to fit the theory instead of the other way around. It mightn’t have mattered so much, if women’s actual lives hadn’t been so much at stake the whole way through.

And meanwhile, everyone was so busy looking for a monster with horns and a tail that the real killer, a painfully ordinary little runt with a Jason King moustache and a job driving a lorry, was able to wreak havoc in the red light districts of Leeds and Bradford, among other places, and escape detection for nearly six years. Lessons were learned, but, sadly, too late for some…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

GIRL, INTERRUPTED. (1999) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

GIRL, INTERRUPTED. (1999) BASED ON THE 1993 MEMOIR BY SUSANNA KAYSEN. DIRECTED BY JAMES MANGOLD.

STARRING WINONA RYDER, ANGELINA JOLIE, WHOOPI GOLDBERG, VANESSA REDGRAVE, JARED LETO, CLEA DUVALL, BRITTANY MURPHY AND JILLIAN ARMENANTE.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘Do not drop anchor here.’

‘Susanna, you’re hurting everyone around you!’

‘No-one cares if you die, Lisa. You’re already dead!’

‘Because I don’t want to kill myself, that’s not cool to you…?’

‘I’m curious as to why I should have to be in a mental institution, Melvin.’

‘Here’s a piece of advice, lady. Don’t wag your finger at fucking crazy people!’

I don’t really know what blokes would think of this girlie movie, but it’s been on my list of favourite films ever since I actually saw it on the big screen early on in the year 2000. It was my first time ever clapping eyes on Angelina Jolie and I was completely mesmerised by her stunning ‘LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME!’ performance.

I’ve never cared much for Winona Ryder, thinking her too moo-cow-eyed, drippy, wishy-washy and mopey-faced, and in this film she’s surely at her mopiest ever playing Susanna Kaysen, the writer of the memoir on which the film is based, but Angelina Jolie, mon Dieu! She steals every scene she’s in as the beautiful, charismatic, dangerous, damaged and unpredictable sociopath Lisa Rowe. Susanna is drawn to her like a moth to a flame, and truly, so was I, lol.   

I should explain. It’s the late ‘Sixties in America. Susanna Kaysen has ‘the distinction of being the only girl in her year at school not going on to college.’ That’s because, although she knows she wants to write, she has no idea of what she wants to ‘do,’ because of course writing is not a proper job or course of action for a young woman on the cusp of life, according to the adults in her life. Grrr.

After having a disastrous affair with a college professor, constantly self-harming and attempting suicide, Susanna is packed off, more or less against her will, to a mental institution called Claymoore for a so-called ‘rest’ of two weeks, which turns into a stay of one whole year.

She has a diagnosis of ‘Borderline Personality Disorder’ slapped on her, something of a nothing diagnosis if you ask me. Far be it from me to say that this mental disorder or that one doesn’t really exist, but it just seems like a mish-mash of all the feelings young women tend to normally have in late adolescence anyway, feelings like insecurity, fear of abandonment, fear of never finding the perfect relationship or partner, stuff like that.

Susanna quickly becomes as badly-behaved and self-indulgent as the other brats in her ward. Whoopi Goldberg as the sensible Nurse Valerie- ‘two kids and one bathroom’- doesn’t tolerate her nonsense for a second.

She tells Susanna that she has so much going for her that it would be criminal for her to just get comfortable with the ‘crazy’ label and lie down under it. It takes a while for Susanna to work out that Nurse Valerie is spot on when she advises Susanna: ‘Do not drop anchor here.’

Brittany Murphy, who died tragically young a mere decade after making this film, is superb as the poor Daisy Randone, a sexually abused young woman with an eating disorder and a fast pass to self-destruction. Angelina Jolie’s Lisa is horrible to her and selfishly, almost for fun, gives her that extra push she needs to step off the edge of the world completely. It’s a really sad storyline.

Jared Leto plays the handsome Toby, who’s terrified of being sent to Vietnam (well, I don’t really blame him for that, do you?) so he asks Susanna to run away with him just as company for himself, the little gurrier.

Vanessa Redgrave is suitably superior and ivory-tower-ish as the Great and Powerful Dr. Wick, head shrink at Claymoore. I’m not sure how in touch with the real world and the patients she is, though, up there in her lovely office with her dictionaries and her fancy Latin words.  

Again, though, Angelina Jolie, who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Lisa, just steals every scene she’s in and is so infinitely watchable as the too-cool-for-school ‘lifer’ who, under her tough, prickly smart-mouth exterior is just crying out to be loved.

And not just the love of a man for a damaged, broken but still sexually desirable little girl, either. She’s had plenty of that, it would seem, but she’s probably never known the genuine affection of one human being for another, and that’s really sad too.

A pretty cool ‘Sixties soundtrack accompanies the scenes of Susanna and her pals at Claymoore running amok in their nice safe sanitarium for- mostly- the daughters of rich folks who can afford to pay to have their problems kept neatly out of sight for a while.

This is mine and my daughter’s favourite girlie film, along with White Oleander, Sleeping with the Enemy, Tina Turner: What’s Love got to do with it?, Erin Brokovich and Gorillas in the Mist.

As I said earlier, I’m not sure what guys will think of the film but, as a woman who was probably just as angsty and as prone to navel-gazing and endless introspection as Susanna Kaysen when I was seventeen (in all fairness, isn’t that what your late teens are supposed to be for, anyway?), I bloody love it. That’s about it, really.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

10 RILLINGTON PLACE. (1971) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

christie wall

10 RILLINGTON PLACE. (1971) BASED ON THE BOOK ‘TEN RILLINGTON PLACE’ BY LUDOVIC KENNEDY. DIRECTED BY RICHARD FLEISCHER. STARRING RICHARD ATTENBOROUGH, JOHN HURT, JUDY GEESON AND PAT HEYWOOD.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is a superb film- it’s beyond superb, even- but the subject matter is chilling in the extreme. John Reginald Halliday Christie (born in 1898) has always given me the willies as a serial killer. He was no gleaming-toothed, charismatic Ted Bundy with an army of ‘Ted’ groupies behind him and the hearts and minds of women everywhere under his belt.

Christie comes across as a creepy little man, odious and whispery, with his big bald dome of a head, his prissy, old womanish mannerisms and all those repressed sexual hang-ups that come from his apparently having been abused by his father and dominated by his mother and sisters.

I’ve always reckoned that dear old Dickie Attenborough (JURASSIC PARK and the original DUNKIRK movie) plays Reg Christie pretty much as he really was, the softly-spoken weirdo. (Christie, I mean, not our lovely cuddly John Hammond!) Rubbish at sex, maybe under-endowed to boot, drawn to women but afraid of them too, only really relaxing around them once he’d killed them and they no longer represented a threat.

He doesn’t seem to have sought out the company of men at all. Men probably scared him with their loud voices and latent capacity for violence always just simmering away under the surface. Women were easier prey, women could be pushed around and gassed and, once they were ‘under,’ as it were, well, it was playtime for the man known throughout his adolescence as ‘Reggie-No-Dick’ and ‘Can’t-Do-It-Christie.’ Well, that won’t surprise anyone. These kinds of sickos are frequently impotent, aren’t they, or have some complicated sexual hang-ups that can only be satisfied by a particular, peculiar set of circumstances.

10 Rillington Place is one of those British addresses notorious for having had horrific murders committed there. 25 Cromwell Street (Fred and Rosemary West) and 16 Wardle Brook Avenue, Hattersley (Ian Brady and Myra Hindley: the Moors Murderers) are two others you might know. The local council normally ends up having to raze such properties into the ground, to prevent their becoming shrines of evil for sightseers and souvenir hunters.

(In the extra features on the DVD, Richard Attenborough relates how that’s exactly what happened to 10 Rillington Place, Notting Hill, London. People nicked nearly enough of the bricks to make the house a safety risk, for crying out loud! Part of the film, by the way, was made in and around the real-life Rillington Place, which no longer exists today. Now, how gruesome and grisly is that…?)

In the film, we know straightaway that Christie is a killer. There are women’s bodies buried in his garden, and it’s extraordinary that no-one discovered them for so long, especially given that the Christies were only renting and didn’t own the property. Christie’s living with his rather passive wife Ethel (Pat Heywood, Nelly Dean from the 1978 BBC dramatisation of Wuthering Heights), but God alone knows how he persuaded anyone to marry him, is all I can say.

What happens to his lodgers, Tim and Beryl Evans and their baby daughter Geraldine, is sad beyond words. Christie commits the most heinous of crimes against Tim’s little family and poor, stupid Tim, young, Welsh and frequently unemployed, known for telling ridiculously tall tales down the boozer that even the drunks don’t believe, takes the rap for it.

Tim, who can’t read or write, isn’t the brightest tool in the box and he allows the sneaky liar that is Reg Christie to run rings around him. It’s just too sad. What happened to Tim ultimately should, of course, never have happened. All the pardons and exhumations in the world wouldn’t have given him back what he lost in 1949 and 1950.

Christie was a mad thing altogether, with his hypochondria and his ‘medical books,’ his potions and bits of hose and his preoccupation with gas. It’s true he was respected for joining the police as a special constable during ‘t’ war, even though he had a criminal record (I suppose anyone would do in a crisis!), and convictions for fraud and malicious woundingbut I bet he had no more medical experience than my left big toe.

Pretending that he did, however, have the skill-set of a doctor and, particularly, of an abortionist, was a grand handy way of luring unsuspecting women back to his flat while his wife was out. He was a pest, a menace to society in general and to womenkind in particular. Their house truly was a bona fide House of Horrors.

I’m getting all angry here now, lol, thinking about what a nasty piece of work John Christie was. He’s certainly on a par with John George Haigh, the Acid Bath Murderer, and George Joseph Smith, the guy who drowned his wives in the bath and Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper.

I’m angry with his wife Ethel too though. From remarks she makes to her husband towards the close of the film, it’s clear she knew something of Christie’s disgusting activities and may have been at least partially responsible for sending an innocent man to his death. I’ve heard she feared her husband, and that may well be true, but if she could have saved Tim Evans from his cruel fate, then surely she had an obligation to do so?

Ah well. Superb acting from everyone involved (John Hurt was AMAZINGLY GOOD as poor Tim Evans!) makes the film a pleasure to watch, although the content is greatly disturbing. You must certainly watch this magnificently acted film if you haven’t already seen it, but don’t watch it alone. I did, and it still has the power to freak me out.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

THE STRANGER BESIDE ME. (2003) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

stranger beside me ted

THE STRANGER BESIDE ME. (2003) BASED ON THE BOOK OF THE SAME NAME BY ANN RULE. DIRECTED BY PAUL SHAPIRO.

STARRING BARBARA HERSHEY, BILLY CAMPBELL AND MEGHAN BLACK.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

The book on which this made-for-TV film is based is far superior to the film, sadly, but then it would have been hard for any film to fully capture the sheer brilliance of Ann Rule’s true crime masterpiece. It’s no slur either on the sweet-faced Barbara THE ENTITY Hershey’s acting.

She makes a very nice Ann Rule and neatly captures the fact that Ann Rule was a lovely decent person who was put in a very awkward situation by her friend and co-worker, a certain serial killer by the name of Ted Bundy. What am I saying, awkward situation? It was a situation probably unprecedented in the history of true crime writing.

Ted had committed several murders in Seattle, Utah, Washington, Idaho and Colorado in ‘Seventies America, and former policewoman Ann, who wrote true-life crime stories for magazines for a living, was commissioned to write a book about the murders that would be finished only when the murderer was caught and convicted. If that ever happened, that is.

In her fabulous book THE STRANGER BESIDE ME, first published in 1980 and then updated in 1986 and 1989 (Ted was finally executed in 1989), Ann describes working nights as what we here in Ireland would call a ‘Samaritan’ but what the Americans referred to as working as a telephone crisis counsellor in a Crisis Centre.

Ted, a handsome young Republican law student who once worked on Governor Evans’s election campaign in Washington, worked right alongside Ann as a telephone counsellor. Students and other young people would phone in with their problems, just as people would phone the Samaritans over here if they were feeling suicidal, depressed or even just a little low.

Ann does a very good job in her book of describing the good feeling she and Ted would get when someone who was intent on committing suicide while on the phone to them was saved by her and Ted’s intervention. In the film you see them working as a team to save a life, so it must be said that Ted actually once used to save lives, rather than just snuffing them out forever.

Ted befriended hard-working single parent Ann and was fascinated by her work as a true-crime writer. He even asked to borrow copies of the detective magazines that carried her stories.

Ted would almost certainly have enjoyed reading about women who were beaten, raped, tied up and murdered, and if there were pictures too, well…! So much the better. He was in his element. This was exactly his area of interest. He lived for brutally hurting women.

Of course, Ann at the time didn’t have a clue that Ted was the mysterious faceless phantom who was spiriting pretty young college co-eds away from their lives and families forever. When she saw that the photofit pictures of the serial killer, who strangely enough was actually calling himself ‘Ted’ to his victims and potential victims, resembled her own friend Ted from the Crisis Centre, she told her friends on the police force.

She had always remained good friends with her buddies on the force and their tip-offs and inside information on criminal cases made good stories for Ann, who helped them out also whenever she was able to do so. It was a good strong symbiotic relationship that helped both sides.

Ann was unaware at the time that Ted’s then girlfriend, a young woman called Elizabeth Kloepfer whose whereabouts today are a total mystery, as far as I know, had had her own suspicions about her boyfriend’s frequent absences and was also trying to alert the police. Ted Bundy was about to become the Number One Suspect in a major murder case.

Ted was caught initially by a traffic cop, I believe, who was puzzled as to why an upstanding citizen with nothing to hide would be carrying around a rape kit and burglary tools in the boot of his car. In the film, Ann meets with Ted while he’s still free but under police surveillance, and he tries to persuade her that the charges against him are bullshit.

Ann has her suspicions, though, and she’s especially worried about the murders because her own daughter Leslie- with whom I’m friends on Facebook, thanks to the magic of the Internet!- was a teenager at the time and liked to go around doing as she pleased, as most teenagers like to do. There’s a bit in the film where Ted tells Ann categorically that Leslie will not, repeat not, be harmed by the murderer. Only a man who was the murderer himself could make a promise like that.

The film doesn’t have the same ambience of dark, lurking menace that Ann’s marvellous book contains. I was scared for weeks after reading Ann’s account of the terrible murders in the Chi Omega sorority house in Tallahassee, Florida.

Ted, who’d escaped from prison for the second time and was still on the run, gained access to the sorority house through a door with a faulty lock. He then bludgeoned two sleeping students to death and inflicted grievous bodily harm on two others. Unbelievable though it sounds, all the attacks were carried out and achieved within a matter of twenty minutes or less. No-one heard anything, and only one person saw anything.

Ann wrote the account so well that I felt like I was crouching there in the darkened stairwell myself, watching Ted run down the stairs and out the front door carrying the oaken club he’d used to bludgeon the sleeping girls. He was actually seen by one of the girls leaving the house.

The film doesn’t even come close to capturing the horror of that dreadful night. After Ted exited the Chi Omega sorority house, he attacked another woman in a nearby ground floor apartment. Posing as a fellow called Chris Hagen, he only had a few more weeks of freedom left before he was re-captured and incarcerated for good. For the good of the community at large, you might rightly add.

There was something about a cat too in Ann’s book (I’m a bit hazy on the details here), a cat who’d apparently sensed the terrible evil in the Chi Omega house on the day of the murders and done a legger for several weeks until he felt it was okay to return. And the bit about the girl who was in the bathroom that very night and had no idea that it was Ted’s footsteps she heard outside the closed bathroom door…! It gave me chills for days.

In the film, Ted apparently goes to his execution in the electric chair without having his head or legs shaved or his rectum packed with cotton wool as would have actually happened, but I suppose these are mere details.

I’m more disappointed with the total lack of atmosphere in the film, the total absence of any real horror in its depictions of Ted’s heinous crimes. Their Ted is kinda wrong too, his face is too long.

It’s still a good watch though, THE STRANGER BESIDE ME, although I stand by what I said. The book is better. The New York Times described it as follows: ‘As dramatic and chilling as a bedroom window shattering at midnight.’ They’re not wrong. Rest in peace, dear Ann. I wish I’d known you. You sound like one heck of a great lady.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

 

THE RIVERMAN. (2004) A SUPERB TRUE-LIFE SERIAL KILLER MOVIE REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

riverman bundy georgann

THE RIVERMAN. (2004) DIRECTED BY BILL EAGLES. BASED ON ROBERT KEPPEL’S 2004 BOOK THE RIVERMAN: TED BUNDY AND I HUNT FOR THE GREEN RIVER KILLER. STARRING CARY ELWES, BRUCE GREENWOOD, SAM JAEGER, KATHLEEN QUINLAN, SARAH MANNINEN AND DAVE BROWN.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘That guy’s sure a piece-a work. Talking to him’s like having a slug crawling over your face.’

Florida State prison officer about Ted Bundy.

This is a fantastic film. It’s a film initially about the Green River Killer, otherwise known as blue-collar worker Gary Ridgway, the American murderer who killed so many prostitutes in the 1980s and 1990s that he had ‘a hard time keeping ’em straight,’ as he said himself.

It turns out then to be a film about the relationship between criminology professor Bob Keppel and Ted Bundy, a certain serial killer whose name you might know, and that’s when the film goes from being already very good to bloody brilliant. Let’s start at the beginning and see how things pan out.

Dave Reichert is the promising young detective who’s just been assigned the post of lead detective on the case of the Green River Killer in ‘Eighties America. The killer is known as the Riverman because so many of his victims’ bloated corpses ended up in or the banks of the mighty Green River. He operates in the Seattle-Washington area.

Dave Reichert himself discovered one of the bodies. He literally stumbles over the heavily decomposed remains on the overgrown river bank while investigating the case of another victim found floating in the Green River.

The Riverman only kills prostitutes, and often only very young ones at that. The girls are vulnerable, desperately impoverished and frequently under-aged runaways who are estranged from their families. It’s very hard to keep tabs on girls like that. If one goes missing, who’s to say whether or not she’s been abducted and murdered or simply packed a bag and moved on?

Even if someone reports such a girl missing because, say, she doesn’t phone home on her birthday or Christmas one year like she’s been accustomed to doing, it’s hard to imagine the police doing much more than making a note of her name and promising to keep an eye out for her.

How would you even begin to look for such a girl, who could have hitch-hiked a lift with some trucker and been several States away by the time the investigation into her disappearance gets underway?

The killer, of course, was counting on either this lack of interest on the part of law enforcement or the difficulties the cops faced in tracking down the missing girls. Their problems were his opportunities, as it were.

Dave Reichert is stumped, anyway, as to who’s killing these girls and dumping them in the river or on the river banks or in the most depressing, deserted stretches of waste ground known rather gruesomely as ‘dump sites.’ The killer himself referred to them as ‘clusters.’

Sometimes the horrible smell of decomposing flesh might alert a passer-by to the existence of something terrible in the bushes or behind the pile of rubble. More often than not, the corpse would turn up in the Green River, floating silently along all bloated and discoloured.

The killer treated the Strip where the prostitutes would ply their trade as his own personal playground or ‘supermarket’ for roughly two decades before he was finally collared in 2001. He more or less ran amok and there was nothing, really, to deter him for long.

The guy who plays Gary Ridgway in the film is exactly right for the role. He captures precisely the ordinariness, the sheer nothingness of this little weasel of a guy who played God with the lives of so many women for so long. The Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe, was another such nondescript loser, with a boring blue-collar job and a so-so marriage, whose wife knew nothing of his crimes.

Anyway, Dave Reichert calls in Robert Keppel to help him to find the killer. Bob Keppel, a professor of criminology at the University of Washington, was a member of the Task Force responsible for tracking down Ted Bundy.

Ted, of course, was the handsome, charismatic law student-cum-serial killer who in the 1970s murdered several women in America, usually beautiful young college co-eds with long straight hair parted in the middle to resemble a woman he’d once loved who had rejected him.

For a long time, Ted’s victims simply disappeared into thin air. A college girl would go to sleep in her bedroom in her sorority house while her sorority sisters slept in their own rooms all over the house and, by the next morning, she’d be gone. How had he done it without alerting anyone to his presence in the house?

Or maybe a college girl would set out to walk home late at night from her boyfriend’s fraternity house to her own sorority house and she’d never get there. Even though there’d be just a short walk between the two buildings, somewhere along that short walk Ted had found her and spirited her away with him forever.

Once, he’d even removed two women, separately, from a crowded National Park of picnickers and sun-worshippers on the same day and brought them both to a hideout in the woods where one of them was forced to watch him murder the other. One of them had her bicycle with her, which vanished into thin air also, just like its owner.

Then, high on a cold lonely mountain, some remains were finally found. The manhunt for the man who actually told his victims he was called ‘Ted’ was one of the biggest America had ever known.

The police even had a photo-fit that closely resembled Ted and Ted’s friends would tease him about how much he looked like this man that the whole of the American police force was trying to catch.

I think it was the first time too that American law enforcement came up against a serial killer who travelled across various State-lines to hunt his prey. Now that everyone had their own transport, a killer could be in one State in the morning and in another in the evening. It made the job of law enforcement that much more difficult than, I suppose, in the days of travel by a horse and cart.

Anyway, when the then-incarcerated Ted Bundy, on Death Row in Florida State Prison at the time for only a fraction of the crimes he’d actually committed, found out that his old Nemesis Bob Keppel was on the case of the Green River Killer, he wrote to Bob at his family home asking Bob to come and see him. What was Ted offering? Insight, he claimed, into the mind of a serial killer. It was too good a chance for Bob to turn down.

Bob’s wife Sandie goes ballistic, though, when she sees the letter with Ted’s name and address on the outside of it. How did this man find out where we live? Are you seriously going to let this evil man back into our lives, after all the trouble he caused last time? Burn his letter, burn it! I don’t want anything of his in this house! Bob, you must be out of your mind if you’re considering getting mixed up with him again!

You couldn’t really blame the wife. The men and women on the Ted Bundy Task Force ate, slept and breathed Ted for weeks, months and even years, presumably leaving Bob little time for his wife and three young children.

On the other hand, I assume she knew what job her husband did when she married him. If his job is to help track down serial killers, then that’s his job. A lot of little families like hers end up making sacrifices for the ‘greater good.’

Bob and Dave go to Florida State Prison to see Ted, brilliantly played by Cary Elwes (THE PRINCESS BRIDE, the SAW franchise). Ted, even heavily guarded on Death Row, is still sarcastic, constantly sneering, constantly goading Bob.

He’s arrogant, haughty, desperate to show off his superior knowledge of the serial killer’s mind, desperate to prove that, even locked up as he is, he ‘still matters.’ He’s still important. He’s still a big wheel down at the cracker factory. (THE SIMPSONS!)

Ted has little insight really into the mindset of the Green River Killer, so Bob wisely uses the time to find out more about Ted’s own criminal activities. Ted is initially cagey but the closer he gets to his execution date, the more information he coughs up, thinking it might land him another stay of execution, which it doesn’t.

Bob learns a lot from Ted. He learns that full possession and control of the woman and, afterwards, her corpse, are the things that help Ted to ‘get his rocks off,’ to use Ted’s own words. Once she’s inside that car, that VW Bug, she’s his. To do with as he wishes. Just get them in the car. Ted will do the rest.

Ted would return many times to ‘his’ corpses to spend time with them and have sex with them till, presumably, they became too heavily decomposed. One can almost imagine that he would love to have lived with them in his house, if such a wild aberration had been permissible by law.

I’ve watched a few of the ‘Ted’ movies and they’re all really good, but none is as good as the five-minute segment in ‘THE RIVERMAN’ which shows us the terrible fate of pretty college co-ed Georgann Hawkins, the girl with the Spanish test in the morning.

The night-time bits see Ted pouncing and making off with his prey, but the bit in the cold sharp light of morning, the bit in the woods on the isolated mountain when an exhausted, satiated Ted is returning to his car really tells us so much more.

Did he drive home then to sleep for the whole day? What did he normally do after a kill? Did he wake up in the evening after hours of a dead sleep, starving with the hunger, and go and see his girlfriend Liz for a bite to eat with her and her daughter?

Did he have sex with Liz that night while re-living in his mind what he’d done to Georgann or the other women he took and killed? Did he smile to himself as memories of that night on the cold, lonely mountain or other similar nights came back to him? Ted took many of his secrets to the grave with him. Some things about him we’ll never know.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor