FALLING DOWN. (1993) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

falling down

FALLING DOWN. (1993) DIRECTED BY JOEL SCHUMACHER. STARRING MICHAEL DOUGLAS, ROBERT DUVALL, BARBARA HERSHEY, TUESDAY WELD, RACHEL TICOTIN, DEDEE PFEIFFER AND FREDERIC FORREST.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

I bloody love this film. Michael Douglas as the film’s anti-hero Bill Foster, a man who helps to make missiles for a living until he is made redundant, is a kind of Everyman, at war with the reality of everyday life.

One morning while sitting in traffic on the freeway in sweltering heat, surrounded by angry morons, he suddenly decides that he’s mad as hell with everything and he’s not going to take it any more. (Although, the signs are that this rebellion against life in this particular man has been brewing for some time.)

He abandons his car, telling other pissed-off motorists that he’s ‘going home.’ By this, he doesn’t mean the home he shares with his jumpy mother who’s terrified of his mood swings and explosive temper, but the house where he used to live with his wife Elizabeth, their daughter Adele and their beautiful Labrador dog. Until he was kicked out for, guess what, his mood swings and explosive temper.

Now he’s got it into his head that he’s going home for his daughter Adele’s birthday, despite the fact that the frightened Elizabeth has a restraining order out against him and keeps calling the police out to the house to reassure her that she and Adele are safe enough. Bill’s journey home is an extraordinary one.

He encounters various situations and people as he travels, throughout the course of one day, back to his former family’s home. They are the kinds of situations and people that drive most of us demented but, unlike the rest of us, for whom grumbling passive-aggressively is the only real outlet for our frustrations, Bill Foster actually takes the law into his own hands, while immediately putting himself outside the law for ever after because of it.

Most of us are probably cheering loudly as he steadily dispatches the villains of everyday life, such as the shopkeeper who charges over the odds for a can of fizzy drink and the burger place that stops serving breakfast on the dot of half-eleven, even if you’re gagging for a bite of scrambled egg and you’re only a measly seven seconds late.

My favourite bit in the whole film is when Bill compares the flat soggy burger they serve him in the Whammyburger to the juicy, succulent-looking burger in the advertised picture on the wall in front of him. This is a favourite bugbear of mine own, lol. Aren’t I always complaining about that exact same thing in real life? My kids are vigorously nodding yes, yes she is…!

There’s also the Latino punks who try to rob him because he’s inadvertently wandered onto their crappy derelict ‘pissing-ground,’ and the rich old white man who tries to keep him from walking across his precious golf-course while a game is in mid-play. Rich people in their exclusive golf-courses with glittering lakes and acres of lush green rolling parkland where the poor are forbidden to enter are really pissing Bill Foster off today.

I love the bit where he tells the homophobic and racist guy in the Army Surplus Stores, when the guy tries to make out that he and Bill are the same: ‘We’re not the same. I’m an American, and you’re a sick asshole.’ Woo-hoo! Go, Bill.

The guy is like Herman, the menacingly soft-voiced, one-armed surplus stores owner in THE SIMPSONS, and there’s a similar set-up in Quentin Tarantino’s PULP FICTION as well. Something about a spider catching itself a nice juicy fly…

There’s an hilarious episode of Irish clerical sitcom FATHER TED which sees the titular Fr. Ted inheriting a room full of Nazi memorabilia from a priest who clearly supported that side during the war. ‘Eh, would you have anything there from the Allied side at all, Seamus?’ a bewildered Ted asks his friend. ‘Oh no,’ replies Fr. Seamus instantly. ‘That type of thing wouldn’t interest me at all…!’ Very funny stuff indeed.

Anyway, as Bill Foster gets ever closer to his family home and his little daughter’s birthday party, accumulating scalps and ever bigger and more dangerous weapons along the way, Robert Duvall is superb as Martin Prendergast, the cop with literally one day left before he’s due to take early retirement.

He takes it on himself to track down Bill Foster, the square little man in the short-sleeved white shirt and tie (like Homer Simpson’s beloved Detective Sipowicz, lol!) with the pens in his breast pocket and a buzzcut you could set your watch to.

Prendergast has been virtually emasculated by his neurotic wife Amanda, who is pushing him to leave the force early and retire to some place where he’ll be utterly miserable for the rest of his life. She’s worried to death that something will happen to him in his life as a cop that will take him away from her. She doesn’t seem to be at all worried about the fact that he’ll resent her forever if she takes him away from a job he’s good at and enjoys. Meantime, however, he has the thrill of the chase (with Foster as the prey) to remind him that he’s alive and still a good cop.

The end is both chilling and sad, as we learn what Bill has in mind as a grande finalé for his little family and compare it against what actually happens to Bill, a man who was so tightly wound that, like the delicate mechanism to which we’re comparing him, he was bound to snap and break after so long.

He’s not evil, just sad and confused, pissed-off and fed-up after losing his job and his family. He not only was made redundant, but he feels that he is redundant. No-one needs or wants him any more. Like that other poor guy in the movie, he feels like he’s ‘not economically viable’ any longer.

This is a terrific film. I’m not condoning Bill D-FENS Foster’s violent methods, but I challenge you to watch this film and not cheer him on at least once for his decision to take no more shit from modern life.

Life can be crowded, noisy, sweaty, confusing, irritating, unfair, clogged up with pettifogging bureaucracy and downright baffling and bewildering at times for the people trying to get through it. Is it any wonder that, one day, it should prove too much for someone…?

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

 

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