HELTER SKELTER. (2004) THE STORY OF THE MANSON FAMILY MURDERS REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

charlie

HELTER SKELTER. (2004) A RE-MAKE OF THE 1976 MADE-FOR-TV MOVIE. DIRECTED BY JOHN GRAY. BASED ON THE BOOK OF THE SAME NAME BY VINCENT BUGLIOSI WITH CURT GENTRY.

STARRING JEREMY DAVIES, CLEA DUVALL AND MARGUERITE MOREAU.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This film, based on true events, will give you the willies. At the moment of writing this, I’m about one third of the way through the book on which it’s based, and the book tells you- and shows you- all the things over which the film, of necessity, has to draw a veil of discretion. The film tells the story of the dreadful events which are collectively known as the Manson Family Murders, and it’s told from the point of view of a young girl called Linda Kasabian.

In 1969, the teenaged Linda breaks up with her husband, who basically abandons her and their baby daughter Tanya. Linda, already used to commune life, is invited to join one located on the Spahn movie ranch in the hills outside Los Angeles.

The head of the commune is Charles Manson, a scrawny little beardy weed of a guy who, for the members of his ‘Family,’ has come to represent God, Jesus Christ, the Devil, good and evil, Heaven and Hell. He is the heart and particularly the Soul of the Family.

Charlie Manson tells Linda Kasabian exactly what she wants and needs to hear at this time. ‘No-one will ever throw you away again,’ he assures the emotionally insecure young girl who has already admitted to him that her husband and stepfather have both made her feel ‘disposable.’

They have sex- Charlie has sex with all the long-haired hippy girls, on whom he also bestows aliases- and soon she’s pregnant again. I don’t think the Family feel kindly disposed towards contraceptives and the notion of keeping oneself safe from sexually transmitted diseases!

Life on the commune is weird, man. Everyone has sex with everyone else and the babies and children are communally cared for, although, in some cases, it would seem like they were communally neglected, ie, left out in the sun all day to burn, stuff like that. Women are indoctrinated into believing that their function is to have babies and look after them and their men.

The guy who plays Charlie here does a terrific job. You can well imagine abused or needy women lapping up his freaky-ass nonsense, silly maxims like ‘No sense makes sense’ and ‘Come to the Now, man!’ He loves the sound of his own voice, which is probably why he founded his own cult.

I could never personally buy into his ridiculous notion that you’re doing people a favour by killing them because you’re ‘bringing them to the Now,’ and it’s hard to imagine how anyone ever did, but they did and that’s how the murders were able to happen. 

Linda is taken out at night by Charlie and various other members of the cult for what they call ‘creepy crawls.’ They wear dark clothing, break into rich peoples’ homes and disarrange stuff so that the occupants of the house will wake up and be freaked out to find that everything’s different.

The ‘creepy crawlers’ all carry knives. If any one of their victims had had the extreme misfortune to wake up during one of these night raids on their homes, I feel confident in saying that murder would have been committed without compunction by the culties.

In August 1969, the ‘creepy crawls’ get really real. In the house known as 10050 Cielo Drive in Los Angeles, five horrific murders are committed one sultry night. The victims are as follows: Sharon Tate, the beautiful, eight-months-pregnant actress wife of director Roman Polanski, who’s away filming in London when the murders happen; Jay Sebring, thirty-five, Sharon’s ex-boyfriend (they’re still good friends) and head of an international men’s hairdressing corporation; Abigail Folger, the heiress to a coffee fortune, and her Polish lover Voytek Frykowski; and finally, poor Stephen Parent, a young guy who was only visiting the caretaker of 10050, Cielo Drive, William Garretson, in the lodge house that night to try to sell him a clock radio. Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

By the time Manson’s besotted followers had done their leader’s dirty work, the house and gardens at 10050 Cielo Drive resembled a slaughterhouse. The following night, a rich businessman called Leno LaBianca, who owned a chain of grocery stores, was brutally murdered in his own sitting-room along with his attractive wife Bianca. The two sets of killings were soon being referred to as the Tate-LaBianca murders, and it wasn’t too long before the hippies out at Spahn movie ranch were squarely in the frame for them.

Linda Kasabian ran away from the Family after she witnessed the murders and was utterly sickened and shocked by them. Unlike the other girls, whom Charlie controlled through sex and drugs and the undeniable power of his words, Linda still had a reasonably unskewed sense of right and wrong.

‘Death to piggies’ might have been Charlie’s and his sick-in-the-head followers’ raison d’être, but it wasn’t Linda’s. Although she ran away from the cult, initially without her daughter Tanya so as not to arouse the suspicions of the other cult moms, she came back of her own accord, to tell the police what she knew.

I’ve been reading in prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi’s book about failed musician, Beatles’ fan and ex-pimp Charles Manson’s disadvantaged upbringing. The child of a teenaged prostitute with no father to speak of, he had spent most of his life before the murders in and out of institutions, from juvenile detention centres to adult prisons. Well, that’s no excuse for any of the things he did. Ted Bundy had only a single mother for a parent too and he never did any of the things… Oh wait, he did. Sorry, bad example, lol.

I must tell you about something absolutely mad that’s referred to in the film but which the book explains in a bit more detail. Before they were all arrested for the murders, the Family were planning en masse to follow their crazy-as-batshit leader out into the desert because there was a ‘hole’ in Death Valley which, if you followed it deep down inside to the very centre of the earth, would lead you to an entire civilization, all apparently living and thriving away underneath the earth. It’s straight out of Jules Verne, is that.

Only Charlie knew where this hole was, and the Family were going to hide out with this other civilization while ‘helter skelter,’ the race war to end all wars, played itself out above ground.

I have only one word to say with regard to this ‘plan,’ which is worse than Homer Simpson’s plan to take his whole clan to live with him under the sea when the heat from his sexual harassment suit becomes too much to bear. (Remember? There’ll be no accusations, just friendly crustaceans, under the sea…!) What is this one word? Well, in a nutshell… Cuckoo…!

Manson, in the end, was sentenced to death for his part in the excessively brutal killings but had his sentence commuted to life imprisonment. That was fifty years ago this very year, and he only died recently there, in 2017. Same year as Moors murderer Ian Brady. He was probably still a nut-job when he passed away, a basket-case, a fruit loop.

That’s nearly fifty years that he was living at the American taxpayers’ expense, and every year he remained on earth was probably another slap in the face for the loved ones of the people he ordered his culties to murder in cold blood, simply because they were rich and ‘rich whites’ represented the ‘establishment, the ‘man.’

Oh well. He didn’t live forever, contrary to the impression he might have been trying to give his brainwashed followers. One day he too, the great Charlie Manson, had to answer for his crimes before a higher power, like we all will have to some day. Only then would real justice have been done.

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

BLOW. (2001) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

blow mirtha mugshot

BLOW. (2001) DIRECTED BY TED DEMME. BASED ON THE 1993 BOOK BY BRUCE PORTER: BLOW: HOW A SMALL-TOWN BOY MADE $100 MILLION WITH THE MEDELLIN COCAINE CARTEL AND LOST IT ALL.

STARRING JOHNNY DEPP, PENELOPE CRUZ, FRANKA POTENTE, ETHAN SUPLEE, PAUL REUBENS, JORDI MOLLA, CLIFF CURTIS, BOBCAT GOLDTHWAITE, LOLA GLAUDINI, RACHEL GRIFFITHS AND RAY LIOTTA.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This portrayal of drug-taking and drug-dealing is nearly as sexy and glamorous as that achieved by Brian De Palma’s SCARFACE (1983). The format and narrative voice-overs are reminiscent of GOODFELLAS, and that movie’s lead actor, Ray Liotta, is here in person, not as the criminal this time but as the criminal’s Dad.

Now Ray Liotta himself is playing the over-worked ’50s/60s Pops who’s trying- and failing- to inculcate a certain values system, his own, into his son, but his son doesn’t even want to know.

All the son sees is the lure and glamour of easy money, not caring a jot that when you live by the sword, you’re frequently called upon to die by it too. Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? You’ll love this film, if you don’t already.

Johnny Depp plays real-life drug-dealer George Jung who, in the ’60s, grew up and moved from his home city of Boston, Massachusetts, to the beaches of California. Here he met and married his first beautiful wife Barbara and, together with his best mate from childhood, the rather fishily-nicknamed Tuna, became the go-to person on the beaches from whom to buy your pot. Marijuana. Mary-Jane. Weed. Grass. Whatever.

Greed seems to be George’s main problem. He goes into the weed business initially with a friend of Barbara’s called Derek Foreal, a fantastically camp, bitchy hairdresser who’s a hard-headed businessman underneath all the kitsch.

When George proves to have a really prodigious talent for selling drugs, however, the temptation to become the world’s premiere importer of Colombian cocaine is too hard to resist. He meets Pablo Escobar, the Cocaine King, and goes into business with him and everything, with an introduction from George’s mate Diego Delgado, with whom he’s done some time in prison.

Prison, by the way, seems to be just some kind of crime school for guys like George. He admits himself that he went into prison with a Diploma in weed and came out with a PHD in cocaine. So much for rehabilitation, anyway.

The Colombian drug business is a freakin’ terrifying one. Life is cheap in Colombia, we’re told, and we see a man being murdered literally the instant the tall, moustached and outwardly charming Pablo Escobar hoves into sight. Yes, I admit, I was a little attracted to him here…!

The scene where George meets Pablo and works out a system of drug deals with him is like the scene in SCARFACE where Tony Montana does the same with Bolivian cocaine kingpin Alejandro Sosa. In SCARFACE during this scene, F. Murray Abraham as Omar Suarez meets a horrible death at the hands of Sosa’s henchmen. You do not fuck with these guys. Ever.

Things get really sexy and glamorous when George meets Mirtha, played by the most beautiful actress in the world today, Penelope Cruz. She was unbelievably gorgeous with Tom Cruise in VANILLA SKY.

Here, she plays the stunning fiancée of one of the drug-dealers George does business with. If it weren’t for the fact that George enjoys the dubious protection of Pablo Escobar himself, this guy would have gutted George like a fish for stealing his ho.

George and Mirtha have a tempestuous relationship. Mirtha is a bit like Michelle Pfeiffer’s Elvira Hancock character in SCARFACE. Beautiful, stick-thin, addicted to drink and drugs, empty inside but desperately trying to fill that void with glamour, danger and endless excitement. They have a daughter together, Kristina Sunshine Jung, who’s the light of George’s life but, while he’s still dealing drugs, he’s only going to keep on letting her down.

When his friends Diego and Derek Foreal cut a separate drug deal together that leaves George with only the shaft, George decides to get out of the drugs business forever. Is it that simple? Can it be done? Or will the promise of just one more big deal lure him back in the game? Mirtha is not a cheap wife to keep, and she and Kristina are George’s responsibility.

When his millions of dollars accumulated from all the drug deals he’s made are literally stolen by the Panamanian government, George becomes desperate for cash. Should he pull off one last job? He owes Mirtha child support and alimony, and she’s making noises about keeping Kristina away from him unless he coughs up pronto. One more quick drug deal should do the trick. Shouldn’t it…?

Rachel Griffiths is great here as George’s awful Mum. She’s obsessed with money and the price of everything, and she’s mortified that her only son is a drug dealer for a living. ‘What are you looking at, Mrs. Gracie? Your son’s no prize!’

Ray Liotta as George’s Dad, however, loves his only son to bits and is prepared to maintain contact with him despite what George does for a living. The relationship between George and his Dad and between George and his daughter are the two bright spots in George’s life.

I always feel really, really sorry for George at the end of the film because it’s Johnny Depp in a padded-out shirt to give him a paunch, but I need to remind myself that George got himself into that pitiful position by selling drugs.

Drugs. The drugs that would have been ruining hundreds, thousands, maybe even millions of peoples’ lives while George got richer and richer off the back of it. Everything that happened to him, he seems to have brought it on himself.

But oh my God, it’s a long-haired Johnny Depp in a padded-out shirt! Can’t I please just cut him a teensy-weensy break here…? Lol. It’s hard to feel contempt or disgust for anyone who’s played by the divine Johnny Depp.

The film has a fantastic ‘Seventies soundtrack. The songs they’ve chosen are perfect for montages, whether it be the taking drugs montages or the getting-rich-quick montages. While watching the film for the first time back in about 2003, I had a kind of personal epiphany during Manfred Mann’s ‘Blinded By The Light’ and decided to actively turn my life around after a bad break-up.

That’s a really clear example of a song’s power to change someone’s life for the better. Well, it was mostly for the better. I kissed an awful lotta frogs during this period but it eventually led me to something wonderful so I can’t complain.

God, why are films about drug-dealers always so goddamned sexy? They glamorise drug-taking and drug-dealing and make you envy the lifestyle, the houses, the cars, the private planes and the sunshine islands, the sexy consorts, the perks, the prizes, the rich pickings.

It’s all built on sand, though, and can collapse at any minute. It’s a house of sand and fog, lol. Please remember that when you sell your first bag of weed to a dopey stoned teenager. Now, preaching time is over. Watch this film. You’ll love it.

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:

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https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

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