THE CATHOLIC SCHOOL. (2021) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS.

THE CATHOLIC SCHOOL. (2021) DIRECTED BY STEFANO MORDINI. INSPIRED BY THE BOOK BY EDOARDO ALBINATI. STARRING BENEDETTA PORCAROLI AND FEDERICA TORCHETTI.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

Wow. This based-on-a-true-story Italian language film set in the mid-Seventies is a really grim watch. For the first hour and a quarter, say, it’s just a mish-mash of a story about the most awful privileged rich white boys you could ever have the misfortune to meet, and how they practically get away with murder in their exclusive Catholic school for rich boys, which is located in Rome.

The sense of privilege and entitlement just radiates off these late-teenage boys like the stink of rotten fish, with heartfelt apologies to the poor fish, who can’t help it. These boys treat women like possessions, to be used, abused and then tossed aside like so much rubbish. It’s horrible to watch.

Then, when they get in any trouble, Mummy and Daddy, who are filthy rich, bale them out and there are never any consequences for their wrongdoings, unless you count the odd slap from a rich father when he loses patience with the little scut he calls sonny boy.

We are told by the narrator, Edoardo Albinati, that consequences for misbehaviour were so randomly applied that the boys chose to go ahead and do exactly what they wanted to do and just take their come-uppance if- and when- it ever arrived.

These rich boys have sex willy-nilly with their friends’ mothers and sisters, all of whom are inter-changeable gorgeous European women with the long dark hair and terrific bone structure. The boys are brought up thinking that the world and everything in it, including the women, is theirs for the taking. Sort of like a bunch of mini-Scarfaces. If no-one ever tells them any different, how are they meant to know right from wrong? The parents and the titular Catholic school are jointly at fault here.

The film is confusing as hell, jumping between the points of view of various boys who all look the same, and it’s divided up into equally confusing ‘time chapters’ such as ‘six months earlier’ to ‘130 hours earlier.’ I mean, what the hell…? It was difficult to make out, not only which boy was which, but which female they were f**king was which. Was it someone’s mum, someone’s sister or someone’s bloody granny? Who knows?

Anyway, the last half hour of the film sees the crime happening, the true-life crime from 1975 to which the whole movie is leading up, the crime that became known as the Circeo Massacre. In September of that year, two beautiful unsuspecting young Italian students, Donatella and Rosaria, are lured to a fabulous seaside villa by two of the boys from the school.

Once there, they are horribly raped, beaten, bullied, humiliated, taunted and tortured by the two boys, who are later joined by another guy whose father apparently owns the villa they’re using to commit their nasty crimes in. The third guy is supposed to be just out of prison as well. Such nice company they keep, right?

Angelo Izzo, Andrea Ghira and Gianni Guido are the mens’ names, though I use the word ‘men’ ironically. They’re not men. They’re cowardly little bully boys who use their superior physical strength to intimidate and frighten defenceless women. Real men don’t seem to feel the need to prove to themselves and their friends that they’re tougher than women or even other men.

I don’t know how any of them expected to get away with it. It’s probably that awful confidence they have in them that makes them feel that there is no price to pay when you’re a rich handsome young guy and your dad can buy off the police. And the school.

One of the girls will be dead after their torturous ordeal, the other as good as. And all because a bunch of lads developed toxic masculinity in the environment that more or less demanded it of its young men. Violence is what is expected of the boys in this environment, the narrator tells us. To be a man is to be violent.

And was justice done, in the end? Sadly, only partially. One of the perpetrators went on to kill two more women after he was released from prison for his part in the Circeo Massacre. As good a candidate for Throwing Away the Key as I’ve ever come across.

Apparently the Italian carabinieri were not exactly ruthless in pursuit of justice for these two lovely young women. Were palms greased, as they undoubtedly had been at the school? I don’t know. One good thing came out of this whole convoluted mess, and that was that Italian law finally allowed that rape was a crime against the person, and not just an outrage against public morality.

Public morality? One wonders how the Italians had been used to prosecuting rape cases in the past. Did a ton of perpetrators walk free? Don’t tell Donatella Colasanti that rape is not a crime against the person. That’s exactly what it is; a crime against the person, and the person’s body, mind and spirit, a crime against the person’s very soul and psyche. Never mind your public morality.

Is this a good film? I don’t even know. Turn to Netflix and see for yourself, but be warned: as I said at the start, it’s a grim watch.

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:

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

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

UNITED 93. (2006) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS.

UNITED 93. (2006) WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY PAUL GREENGRASS.
STARRING CHEYENNE JACKSON, CHRISTIAN CLEMENSON, DAVID ALAN BASCHE, PETER HERMANN AND BEN SLINEY AS HIMSELF.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘Let’s roll…’

What with all the extensive news coverage of Queen Elizabeth’s recent untimely(!) death at the age of one hundred and forty-seven, I actually forgot about this year’s anniversary of 9/11 until the day itself.

I’ll be kind and I won’t tell you again about how I was breaking up with a long-term boyfriend at that time and I equated the collapse of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre with the breakdown of the relationship. Hey, whaddya know, it just slipped out there for about the millionth time…!

Anyway, once I remembered what day it was, I settled down and watched UNITED 93 on Netflix. It’s an excellent and very moving docudrama thriller movie written and directed by British director, producer, screenwriter and former journalist Paul Greengrass. It mostly received rave reviews on its release, and was the first film to directly address the terrible disaster that befell the American people on the eleventh of September, 2001.

That was the day that Al-Qaeda terrorists, members of the organisation started by Osama Bin Laden in 1988, hijacked four American planes and piloted them, in three cases successfully, into various landmarks of U.S. power; the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre in Manhattan and the Pentagon. These were all suicide missions.

United Airlines 93 never reached its intended destination, probably the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, the meeting place of the United States congress. This is because brave passengers and crew members, who realised what was happening, were determined that the hijackers would never reach their intended target.

The story opens on what was meant to be just another beautiful sunny September day, full of promise and laughter and light, in New York. Air traffic controllers on the ground chat and joke with each other as they go about their daily business. Almost agonisingly slowly, it becomes clear to them that today is not going to be just another ordinary day at work.

Three airplanes have been hijacked by terrorists. Shortly afterwards, each of these three planes crash into their intended targets, killing everyone on board. First the North Tower of the World Trade Centre is hit, then the South Tower, then the Pentagon. By this stage, it’s obvious there’s a pattern appearing, and the United States of America, the most powerful country in the world, is under attack by terrorists…

We see the passengers and crew climbing aboard the United 93 airplane, all laughing and chatting away happily enough. One flight attendants talks hopefully about giving up the job soon in order to spend more time with her husband and children. The four hijackers are an-board now too, and are anxious and visibly nervy and sweating in their seats.

They almost miss their cue due to nervousness. When the hijacking starts, it’s a bit messy. Someone gets killed- an innocent passenger- and the whole thing gets frantic. Two hi-jackers are holed up in the cockpit, trying to fly the plane as per the lessons they’ve been given in training for this ‘holy’ mission. Two others, screaming threats in a foreign language and brandishing their fake bomb and their knives, are out in the body of the plane, trying to subdue the frightened passengers.

Here’s the point where the passengers start saying goodbye to their loved ones via the plane telephone and maybe mobile phones. It’s heart-breaking to hear. A lady tells her son or daughter where her Last Will and Testament is stored. Another woman passes her phone to a terrified young girl and tells her gently to phone her family.

Some of the passengers hear from their families on the phone about the shocking fates of the other three planes. Gradually, they work out that the hi-jackers on board have no intention of returning them safely to the airport like they’ve promised. They’re going to be crashed into yet another American landmark for the ‘glorification of Allah.’

Well, the passengers aren’t having it. They may not be able to save themselves, but they’ll certainly stop these four terrorists from achieving their target and floating off up to heaven to live in Allah’s palace for all eternity. It’s time to take stock of what they have on board the plane that can be used as weapons against the terrorists.

Their revolt, even though they’ve had hardly any time to organise it, is ridiculously brave. They fight the terrorists for control of the plane and, in the event that they manage to breach the cockpit using a steel drinks trolley as a battering ram, they’ve even selected one of the passengers, a former pilot, to fly the plane for them.

Those poor frightened people. I reckon they figured, well, we’re going to die anyway, so we might as well do it thwarting these murdering bastards, excuse my language. Thirty-three passengers, seven crew and four terrorists died in the ensuing crash in a field in Pennsylvania. It shows you what the human spirit is capable of when its back is to the wall.

UNITED 93 is included on a list of ‘Great Films too Painful to Watch Twice.’ You should definitely watch it at least once. Even though we know the tragic ending, it’s still filled with the most awful tension and suspense. The acting is realistic and the dialogue painfully believable.

Just to add that Ben Sliney of Air Traffic Control down on the ground plays himself, and the funny thing- well, I don’t know if it’s truly funny or not, or if it’s just ironic or even tragic- is that today is his first day in his new job. (He was the Federal Aviation Administration National Operations Manager, responsible for shutting down U.S. airspace in the aftermath of the attacks.) It sure gives a new meaning to the traditional wife-to-husband greeting when he comes home for his dinner at 5 o’clock; ‘Hi honey, anything happen at work today…?’

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:

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

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

MIDNIGHT EXPRESS. (1978) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS.

MIDNIGHT EXPRESS. (1978) DIRECTED BY ALAN PARKER. SCRENPLAY BY OLIVER STONE. BASED ON THE BOOK OF THE SAME NAME BY BILLY HAYES.
STARRING BRAD DAVIS, JOHN HURT, RANDY QUAID, NORBERT WEISSER, IRENE MIRACLE, BO HOPKINS, MIKE KELLIN AND PAUL L. SMITH.
MUSIC BY GIORGIO MORODER.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

I’ve always thought this prison drama based on a true story was an absolutely cracking film, and I still do, but it’s regarded by many as an exercise in racism and hate for its diabolical portrayal of Turkey and the Turkish people. The prison guards are seen as sadistic, lazy, inefficient brutes and the supposed upholders of the law as ignorant, prejudiced and corrupt beyond anything you can imagine.

Also, some of the most eye-popping incidents in the film, which I probably shouldn’t mention for fear of spoilers, apparently never happened, and were added by the film-makers for dramatic effect. That might affect the way you see the film when you’re reflecting on it afterwards.

The real Billy Hayes, who penned the book on which this film is based, was disappointed by the portrayal of Turkish people in the film and eventually, I believe, apologised for it to the Turkish nation.

Having said that, it’s still a brilliant and iconic movie, and it catapulted the lead actor, Brad Davis, into international stardom, which was good for him. Everyone in the film gives a sterling performance, and there’s a fantastic electronic score by Giorgio Moroder. (Together in Electric Dreams, anyone…?)

The film tells the story of Billy Hayes, an American college student who, in 1970, is arrested at a Turkish airport with 2kg of hashish strapped to his chest. Don’t worry, folks! We’re not dealing with a hardened drugs kingpin here. ‘I wuz only gonna sell it to my friends.’ Oh well, that’s all right, then.

The Turkish guards are coming down heavy on drugs offenders, however, and Billy gets thrown in prison for four years, a sentence later changed to something much worse, for his trouble.

The prison is so horrific, and Brad Davis as Billy so handsome and personable, that you’d very quickly forget that he wasn’t put there unjustly; there’s been no miscarriage of justice here. He has actually committed a crime here. And, even though the drug is hash and not heroin, it still might have ended up bringing untold misery to the families of the college kids to whom he sold it.

Anyway, back to the horrific prison. Conditions are awful, and the savage brutality of the Turkish guards and their ‘trusties’ has to be seen to be believed. Hamidou, the gigantic head guard, is a veritable monster, the kind who’ll grind your bones to make his bread.

On Billy’s first night under his care, Hamidou rapes him and savagely beats him for stealing a blanket. Poor Billy! He just can’t stop getting into trouble. Paul. L. Smith, an American-Israeli actor, is superb as the sadist with the two small sons whom he allows to witness his horrendous beating of four young boys. I wonder what a guy like that would be like as a husband and father. Don’t tell me there wouldn’t be violence at home behind closed doors…

Whenever Hamidou heaves on stage, practically seething with anger and striding purposely towards the inmates with his big plank of wood (for beating!) in his hand, you just know someone’s gonna be in for a terrible whuppin’…

Rifki, the guards’ trusty, or favoured prisoner, is sly, slimy, self-serving and a terrible snitch (all the s’s!), and Billy and his friends positively loathe him. Billy has formed a little sort of clique with another American, Randy Quaid as Jimmy, John Hurt as Max the Englishman and the German actor Nobert Weisser as Erich.

Jimmy is a crazy hothead who keeps getting beaten half to death for his ill-advised escape attempts. Max is a fragile drug addict who loves his cat, and Erich is a pragmatic German who would like to have sex with Billy but Billy isn’t quite ready to cross that final barrier between his old life in America, when he had a pretty blonde girlfriend called Susan, and his new sexless one in a men’s prison in Turkey.

I love the performance given by Mike Kellin as Billy’s Dad, who has been utterly destroyed by his son’s incarceration. He’s such a good dad and Billy himself is in bits for having put his old man to the trouble and expense of flying over from the United States to Turkey to see his son and consult with Billy’s lawyers.

I always cry when Billy and his dad cry, it’s just too sad! Dad never seems to blame Billy for the whole thing, instead venting his vitriol on the head guard Hamidou, who doesn’t give two figs.

I also love Ahmet, the perfect-English-speaker in the insane asylum played by English character actor Peter Jeffrey, and all his gobbledy-gook about ‘bad machines.’

Irene Miracle as Billy’s girlfriend Susan is good too, visiting Billy in all her clean unsulliedness when he looks like he’s been dragged backwards through the seven circles of Hell. That scene where Billy begs her to take off her top so he can see and touch her breasts through the glass is sad. Very sad. Look what he’s come to, it’s saying to us.

Other stand-out scenes include the tongue-biting-out one, Billy’s speech from the docks in which he calls all Turkish people ‘pigs’ and the scene in which Hamidou, the feared head of the prison, accidentally hangs himself up on his own coat hook. It’s a real ‘ouch!’ moment.

Brad Davis turns in a stunning not-quite-debut performance as Billy Hayes. It’s such a good sympathetic performance that, as I mentioned before, you tend to forget all about the crime that puts him in prison and just notice how bravely stoic he’s being in confinement and how awful the guards are who are keeping him there.

It’s still a genuinely good, exciting and nail-bitingly tense film, though I daresay it did for the Turkish tourist industry what JAWS did for sea-swimming. Over and 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 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
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.co.uk/Thirteen-Stops-Later-Book-ebook/dp/B091J75WNB/
    

THE SOCIAL NETWORK. (2010) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

THE SOCIAL NETWORK. (2010) DIRECTED BY DAVID FINCHER. SCRIPT BY AARON SORKIN. BASED ON ‘THE ACCIDENTAL BILLIONAIRES: THE FOUNDING OF FACEBOOK, A TALE OF SEX, MONEY, GENIUS AND BETRAYAL’ BY BEN MEZRICH.
STARRING JESSE EISENBERG, ANDREW GARFIELD, ARMIE HAMMER, JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE, MAX MINGHELLA, ROONEY MARA AND DAVID SELBY.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

I’d put off watching this film for ages, dismissing it as probably being a load of rubbish, but it’s not rubbish at all. It’s a strangely compelling, gripping and fascinating two-hour peek into the life of Mark Zuckerberg, the man we all know as the founder of Facebook, and I was glued to it from start to finish.

Apparently, the Harvard computer science student gave himself the idea for Facebook after being dumped by his girlfriend and writing some very misogynistic stuff about her on his blog, before figuring out a way of rating the ‘hot’ girls on campus online by using their photos. His Internet-crashing venture led to the creation of the site we know and (mostly!) love in early 2004.

The invention was originally intended as a way for college students at select universities to connect with each other, but the site expanded rapidly and had one billion users worldwide by 2012. I had been aware of it myself only since about 2010, and joined in 2012 with the purchase of my first ever laptop.

I’ve generally found using Facebook to be a really positive experience. I’ve made some wonderful friends there who all share my interest in films and books, and I’ve been able to share my movie reviews and other writings on the site as well, which has been a huge help. I haven’t really encountered too many jerks or dickheads on Facebook- maybe one or two at most- so I guess the jerks and dickheads all congregate on Twitter or Instagram or wherever else…!

Anyway, Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t come across as a very nice guy in the early stages of the film because of the way he reacts to being dumped, but I began to root for him quite seriously when the Terrible Twins, now Bitcoin billionaires Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, come to the forefront of the film when they decide to sue MZ for bazillions of dollars for ‘stealing their idea’ for a social networking site.

I don’t believe that MZ stole the idea for Facebook from the twins. He’s clearly been a coding genius from a young age and was always going to do something magnificent with his life and his brains.

The twins, both ably played by the hunky Armie Hammer (he’s in trouble at the moment for being a bit kinky in his sex life; this just makes me want to embrace him, not ‘cancel’ him!), are spoiled privileged rich boys who claim MZ nicked their idea, instead of coming up with his own, which he would have been perfectly able to do without any help from them, thank you very much.

Sadly, the courts took the side of the Winklevoss twins, probably because they had unlimited use of their billionaire father’s crack law team. Remember old David Selby– he plays their lawyer- as Richard Channing on FALCON CREST? He was always coming up against the might and sleight of hand of Angela Channing (Jane Wyman), the filthy-rich businesswoman with more balls than the Wimbledon finals. God, I used to love that show, with all its fabulous glamour and under-handed shenanigans and the implausibly named Chase Gioberti! Haha, we’ll be talking about DALLAS and DYNASTY next. 

Where was I in the film review, anyway? Oh yes, Justin Timberlake turns up as one Sean Parker, founder of the computer file-sharing service, NAPSTER; I have no clue what that means. Also, he looks exactly like himself. He tries to encourage MZ to party down with underaged girlies and take all kinds of so-called ‘recreational’ drugs as he is a big messer. MZ really only likes to code, however, so he goes on with that and leaves the partying and the madness to other people.  

I don’t think the Winklevoss twins should have been awarded so much money for the so-called ‘intellectual property theft’ of their precious ‘idea.’ They should have gone off and invented something else, if they were that bothered. It was right of the court to restore MZ’s pal Eduardo Saverin’s name to the Facebook masthead, however; he remains one of the legitimate co-founders, after all.

I still remember how much fun it was to look up old boyfriends’ profiles on Facebook, back when I first joined. It was also good for checking if girls I’d gone to school with had gotten fat or had a nicer house than me. (Most of them did; the bitches!)

I’ve calmed down a good bit since then, mind you. It’s no longer such a novelty to look up other people’s business online, as we’ve had that facility for years now. It’s still nice to know it’s there, though, just in case anyone new comes along to send me a friend request.

The main takeaway from this excellent film is a negative one, sadly. Watching the disgraceful behaviour of some of the rich Harvard students in it gave me the shivers, because these are the men- it’s always men- who will one day lead the world. They are the men who’ll invent things, control things and make the big money, so big that we peasants wouldn’t really be able to comprehend it. It wouldn’t really seem real to us, do you know what I mean?

But, just going by what’s in the film, growing up as the privileged ‘few’ who alone have access to the elite, exclusive clubs of Harvard doesn’t seem to be filling these young lads full of empathy and compassion for their fellow men.

It’s kind of like when I saw a picture of Boris Johnson and his university chums in the news recently. All that privilege, I was thinking. All that future power. You can see it in them already. You can even smell it. Maybe one shouldn’t generalise. Maybe there’ll be a few good eggs who only want to do good in their world. It boggles the mind, though, how many of them might forget that with great power comes great responsibility. Pity, that.

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:

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

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

3,096 DAYS. (2013) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS.

3,069 DAYS. (2013) BASED ON TRUE EVENTS. DIRECTED BY SHERRY HORMANN. STARRING ANTONIA CAMPBELL-HUGHES AND THURE LINDHARDT.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

I absolutely loved this brilliantly acted film, which is more or less what you’d call a two-hander, with just a duo of main characters. In 1998, the adorable, chubby little Austrian schoolgirl, Natascha Maria Kampusch, is walking to school by herself after an unfortunate argument with her mother (unfortunate because it’s the last thing they’ll remember of each other for several years) when she is abducted by an unemployed telecommunications technician called Wolfgang Priklopil.

He brings her back to the home where he lives alone and keeps her captive in his house for eight years (or 3,069 days), after which time she escapes. He’s a genius with houses, and has converted a sort of nuclear bunker created by his father and grandfather into a permanent room for his captive. Over the years, he’ll add more comforts and conveniences to the room, but initially there’s just a thin foam mattress, a toilet and a sink in the room which becomes all life to Natascha.

It’s heart-breaking to see Wolfgang, a quiet loner who seems to be visited by only his mum and grandmother, shouting at and bullying the ten-year-old girl in the beginning. But wee Natascha has a stout heart and a lot of courage for a little girl. Remember Punjab from the musical ANNIE? ‘A child without courage is like a night without stars.’ Good on ya, Punjab old chap.

Little Natascha tries very hard, even in the beginning, not to let Wolfgang break her spirit. When she’s older, she even yells back at him sometimes. But her captor is a total control freak. He frequently batters the living daylights out of her for failing to follow his rules to the letter.

He subjects her to sexual violence, though we’re not sure of Natascha’s age when this starts, whether it’s straightaway or not until she’s older. On her escape from captivity, she steadfastly refused to discuss the ‘personal’ side of their relationship.

He often starves her as well, to keep her physically weak and unable to run away. It’s so distressing to see her bony, concentration-camp-thin body naked in the shower, or clad only in his horrible, ill-fitting Y-fronts and vests.

In her entire period of captivity, she only puts on a pitiful seven pounds in weight. Seven pounds in eight years! She has to deal with getting her periods while in Priklopil’s dubious care (she’s so malnourished it’s a wonder she gets them at all), and ‘learning’ the facts of life from him as well.

In the later years of Natascha’s captivity, Priklopil lets her up into the main house a fair bit, mostly to do housework and cook for him, but also to have sex with him in his bed. Sex while attached to him with a cable tied round both their wrists. Talk about possessive. He uses her as unpaid labour for the various construction jobs he wants done around the house.

She can tile and probably grout a bathroom by the time she’s free of him, so she can go into business as a handywoman if she wants to, but as it isn’t her own choice to become a feckin’ apprentice builder, I’d say she never wants to see a fuppin’ bathroom tile again in her life…!

As well as the physical and sexual violence, we also see him forcing her to eat her food off the floor and shaving her head so that she feels ugly and maybe unable to run away. That was the main reason the nuns in the horrible Magdalen Laundries here in Ireland shaved the poor, so-called penitents’ heads. Penitents? The only ones who had anything to apologise for were the nuns…

A couple of random facts about what happens after the film ends. A copper gets in trouble for saying that Natascha had a better life in captivity than with her parents, and, as recently at 2017, Natascha Kampusch owns the house in which she was a prisoner for eight years.

Interesting, isn’t it? Some people, of course, will say that she has Stockholm Syndrome and has come to identify with her captor. I personally would lay odds that she feels terrible guilt for what ultimately happens to the weasly little Prik(lopil). The poor girl. There’s probably nothing she can even do about it.

Even though the exact ending is a matter of public knowledge, I won’t ruin it for you in case you’re not familiar with the case. It’s an incredibly sad story, though it probably gives hope to everyone out there whose child has been abducted, but unfortunately not all of these tragic cases end with the captive returning home. The two actors here play an absolute blinder anyway, and though the film is grim and bleak to the max, it’s well worth a watch. Mind yourselves, now, and your kids.

 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
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.co.uk/Thirteen-Stops-Later-Book-ebook/dp/B091J75WNB/

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: