STEVEN SPIELBERG’S ‘DUEL.’ (1971) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

duel dennis weaver

DUEL. (1971) BASED ON A STORY BY RICHARD MATHESON. DIRECTED BY STEVEN SPIELBERG. STARRING DENNIS WEAVER, LUCILLE BENSON, EDDIE FIRESTONE AND CAREY LOFTIN.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This fantastic little thriller is every bit as much a horror movie as the famous director’s later blockbuster film, JAWS, in which a monstrous killer shark is literally stalking the waters off the island of Amity, a popular tourist destination, and its destruction is left to one man.

If you’ve seen photos of a ridiculously young and handsome Steven Spielberg during the making of DUEL, you’ll have seen that he looks like a moody director of French New Wave movies in which marriages fail and complex relationships become ever more entwined, lol. So moody, so handsome, and all before he’d filmed so much as a single reel of film featuring a velociraptor with a mind of its own. (‘Clever girl…!’)

DUEL, Steven Spielberg’s debut film, is the deceptively simple story of an ordinary man, anonymously called Dave Mann, a salesman who is travelling down the highway in his car one sunny day to meet with a prospective client before the client jumps in a plane and flies away out of reach.

We see Mann driving out of his garage, we hear the mindless chatter of the chat shows on the car radio as he drives along and we see the city traffic thinning out as Mann reaches those long stretches of isolated out-of-town American highway where the long arm of the law seems conspicuous by its absence, and where, therefore, all kinds of lawlessness can be tolerated.

It happens slowly at first. A monster truck, like one of the trucks from Stephen King’s MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE, gradually intrudes itself on Mann’s consciousness. First it’s behind him, tailgating him to the point of being uncomfortable, then it’s ahead of him but moving aggravatingly slowly. ‘I’ve given you the highway, Jack, why don’t you take it…?’

Mann eventually realises that the anonymous truck driver, of whom we only see glimpses- an arm out the window, usually, or a sighting of a pair of cowboy boots- has actual harmful intentions towards him. The driver waves him on ahead at one point, to Mann’s relief, and Mann takes him up on his offer, only to drive straight out into the path of an oncoming vehicle. From this point onwards, a state of war exists between Mann and the truck driver.

Mann’s emotions range from triumphant elation when he wins a schoolboyish victory over the truck driver to absolute blind terror when he sees that the truck driver wants him dead, and seemingly has no problem with destroying other people’s property or maybe even lives in order to do it.

The psychological tension is ramped ever upwards as Mann desperately tries to explain his predicament to the few people he meets on the highway, but no-one believes him. They all think he’s the crazy one; for example, when the truck driver actually helps the broken-down school bus, whereas Mann just comes across to the school bus driver as someone who has a bit of a screw loose. It’s so unfair, but poor Mann just can’t seem to catch a break.

I love the scene at the diner, where we’re absolutely convinced that we’ve met the real truck driver having his lunch, but then it turns out not to be him. The scene at the roadside petrol station and snake farm after the truck driver has cut a murderous swathe through it all is chaotically spellbinding. Poor Mr. Mann with a tarantula on his trouser leg…! Talk about things can always get worse…

The viewers know by now that they are witnessing a fight to the death. Even Mann probably knows this by now, just like Chief Brody in JAWS is more than likely aware too that either he’s going to kill that massive, man-eating shark or the shark is going to kill him. There can be no other in-betweeny endings. Kill or be killed, that’s how primeval and elemental these two life-or-death struggles are. Mann is Brody and Brody is Mann. God help that truck-driving shark, that’s all I can say…

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 LANDLADY BY CONSTANCE RAUCH. (1975) A BOOK REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

landlady uk

THE LANDLADY BY CONSTANCE RAUCH. (1975) PUBLISHED BY FUTURA PUBLICATIONS LIMITED. BOOK REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is a little paperback book I found in a charity shop the other day. The gems I’ve found in places like that over the years! Just recently, in a box of free-to-take-away old books, I’ve discovered paperback copies of JAWS, PSYCHO 2, THE EXORCIST and ROSEMARY’S BABY. Not bad at all for a free box!

THE LANDLADY, with a distinct BURNT OFFERINGS feel to it, is in a similar vein to these ’70s paperbacks I’ve mentioned. On the cover, it’s referred to as ‘A mind-wrenching tale of malevolent horror.’

There’s a circle cut out of the title page through which you can see a woman’s face, then when you open it up you see that the face belongs to an old-fashioned doll with ‘Twenties make-up, a torn white dress and a grotesquely cracked bare left breast. So far so good, eh?

 It concerns a young married couple called Sam and Jessica Porter and their two-year-old daughter Patience. They move into a gorgeous big old house in upstate New York that has a fabulous view of the mighty Hudson river. Unfortunately, the house isn’t theirs; they’re only renting from a Mrs. Frederick Falconer, the titular ‘landlady.’

The house is so big that it straddles two streets and has two entrances and even two addresses. Mrs. Falconer lives on the Maynard Hill side, and her new tenants, the Porters, occupy the Granite Terrace end that faces the Hudson.

A door in the middle of the house, referred to as the side door, connects the two houses from the inside, but Mrs. Falconer makes it clear she doesn’t want her tenants using this door to come into her part of the house and, to be honest, the Porters don’t much like the idea of their pushy, frequently stroppy landlady waltzing willy-nilly into their side whenever the fancy takes her, either.

Not that she waltzes, you understand. She’s a heavy-set old dear pushing eighty, who walks with a big heavy cane that makes clumping noises overhead as she moves around upstairs.

She has disturbing mood swings; sweet as pie one minute, then screaming blue murder the next. She’s intrusive, nosey and judgemental and feels free to criticise Jessica’s parenting, which outrages Jessica, and she never knows (or cares) when she’s outstayed her welcome downstairs at the Porters.’

Worst of all, Jessica’s new friend from the area, Mary Smith (the Porters still keep in touch with their old eclectic group of friends), tells Jess that tenants who rent the Falconer place don’t tend to stay there long, and they don’t tend to leave with their marriages intact, either.

Mrs. Falconer has a strange, but unerring, habit of coming between couples and pouring poison into the cup of their marital bliss. The locals, in other words, don’t have anything good to say about the widowed Mrs. Falconer.

A word about Sam and Jess as a couple. Sam is thirty-three and can’t settle to anything since he gave up acting as a bad lot. He currently works in building maintenance with a French chap called Pierre Villard, but he’s failing at this enterprise now too and Pierre wants shut of him. Friendship and business don’t mix well, but Sam makes big errors of judgement that usually result in he, Jess and Patience having to up-sticks and move to a new place.

There’s not much stability in this for Jess and her child. You get the impression that the clever, intellectual and well-educated Jess might be better off striking out on her own with Patience, rather than waiting around for Sam to find his ‘dream job’ and finally be happy and settled. (It’s never gonna happen…!)

Sam seems to love his wife and child but he’s absent, either working or drinking heavily, for most of the scary incidents in the book, and I see him as a deadbeat father and a neglectful, selfish husband, thinking of only his own needs and rarely of his family’s.

Twenty-four-year old Jess, on the other hand, is devoted to her family. She’s devastated when, one night not long after they move in, the bright and curious little Patience has an horrific screaming fit in her cot and, afterwards, when she’s calmed down, she seems to have regressed back into being a baby rather than a toilet-trained and sociable toddler.

The discovery of a smoked cigar butt and a hideous female sex doll, covered in slime, in and around the baby’s cot, leads Jess to the horrible realisation that there must have been an intruder in her precious baby’s room, an intruder who possibly committed a heinous sex act near, or even with, the baby. What the hell is she going to do?

Sam is no help, as he’s running around trying to pin down an elusive acting job with the help of an old flame (grrrrr…!) while Jess is trying to cope with everything on her own. Patience’s mental state –– and future mental stability and well-being –– are at stake here and Jess is worried sick about her.

And there’s also the disturbing notion of the intruder coming back to finish what he started with Patience. If he got in once he can get in again, especially… especially if he’s coming from inside the house…

There’s also the murder of local clerk Nora Kelly in the mix, the murder that occurs just as Sam and Jess move into the Falconer place, and the fact that old Mrs. Falconer seems to have an extreme allergy to the police calling to the gaff. What exactly is the old dear trying to hide, upstairs in the Maynard Hill side of the house…?

I guessed the twist just before it came but it was still a great twist. I really enjoyed the book as a whole. It’s the kind of short horror book that used to come out in the ’70s with some regularity, but they don’t seem to make ’em like that any more. Ah well. Thank heaven for the charity shops…!

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 HEARSE. (1980) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

hearse

THE HEARSE. (1980) DIRECTED BY GEORGE BOWERS. STARRING TRISH VAN DEVERE, DAVID GAUTREAUX, MED FLORY, DONALD HOTTON, PERRY LANG AND JOSEPH COTTEN.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

Trish Van Devere, who this very same year co-starred alongside her real-life husband George C. Scott in the classic ghost story THE CHANGELING, has the lead role in this spooky shocker.

She plays Jane Hardie, an attractive young city school-teacher maybe pushing forty who, in the same year, has suffered through the death of her mother and the break-up of her marriage.

Well, those things are enough to shake anybody up and Jane herself admits that she went ‘a little crazy for a while’ when these events came along to rock her world to its foundations.

She’s slowly getting better now though, and she’s ready for a change of scenery. She intends to drive out to the countryside and spend the summer in an old house once owned by her late Auntie, but which now belongs to Jane. She’s inherited it, in other words, lol.

Jane’s shrink- ah yeah, ya gotta have a shrink if ya live in the city…!- thinks that ‘running away’ won’t solve Jane’s problems and that they’ll still be there when she gets back.

Well, that’s certainly true enough but Jane’s adamant that she needs the peace and quiet that getting away from it all will bring. The minute she utters these famous last words, you kind of know what’s coming…

The inhabitants of Jane’s Auntie’s little country town of Blackford are unusually hostile to Jane. They don’t welcome her into the flock at all, in fact they go out of their way to make her feel like she’s got the plague. The people in the local shop don’t even want to sell her her groceries, for Chrissakes, that’s how bad it is.

Jane tries to settle down in the house that she intends to maybe be her long-term home, if the summer works out okay. But a lot of strange things are happening out at the house that give her cause for unrest.

She keeps seeing flashes of a strange woman around the place. Now that shouldn’t be, surely? The lights flicker on and off randomly in the isolated old house on the outskirts of the town and that’s just the start of it.

Jane keeps having these horrible dreams, if they are just dreams, of a huge big black scary hearse driven by a scarred man following her on the dark country roads that surround the house. Once, this ‘dream’ hearse even drives her to the local church where she sees her own body laid out in a coffin, all ready to be buried.

It might help if she’d brought some books or her knitting or a couple of good big jigsaw puzzles with her to occupy her mind. Say, a jigsaw with a picture of nothing but sky and ocean so that it’s all just blue bits and it takes you, like, five years to complete it.

As it is, all she does in her spare time is read her Auntie’s old diary (it came with the house!), which tells the story of a young woman who falls in love with a man who lures her into the rather dubious practice of Satanism…

Well, that certainly explains why the townspeople give the house and its occupants past and present such a wide berth. Obviously they think that Jane’s Auntie was sacrificing goats and babies in the house and holding Black Masses there and summoning up the devil and God knows what else.

But the house is driving Jane batty. She spends more time in her nightie driving away from the house in the middle of the night, terrified and crying after yet another scare, than she does anything else.

What the hell does this cursed dwelling want from her, and are her tormentors really supernatural or is one of the many men in her life trying to send her out of her mind…?

The town’s big sexist Sheriff sexually harasses Jane verbally and treats all her complaints about the house as the kind of hysterical nonsense you might expect from ‘city women.’ He’s a dismissive jerk.

The town’s Reverend is creepy and weird. How can Jane trust him either, any more than she can trust the Sheriff, who makes it clear that he’d like to see her naked? What a jackass.

Paul, the big blonde burly son of the town’s grocers, is madly in love with Jane even though she’s, like, a million years older than him and, frankly, too classy for the likes of him. He wants to polish apples for her every day but she has to rebuff him on the grounds of his tender years.

Paul’s raging about this and blames the painful and humiliating rejection on this strange new fella Jane’s been seeing, a chap called Tom who dresses nicely and talks posh, who literally came out of nowhere and who appears overall as just too good to be true. Well, you know what they say about things that look too good to be true. Is Jane about to learn the truth of this old adage for herself…?

Joseph Cotten (CITIZEN KANE, SHADOW OF A DOUBT, THE THIRD MAN), a true star from the Golden Age of Hollywood, is excellent here as cranky old Mr. Walter Pritchard, the town solicitor who makes no attempt to rush through the courts the papers definitively proving Jane’s ownership of the haunted house out on County Road.

This is partly because he’s a curmudgeonly, boozy old bastard who’s in league with the Sheriff and a fully-paid-up, card-carrying member of the Good Ol’ Boys Network in the town. It’s the most sickeningly sexist town I’ve ever encountered. The #metoo and #timesup movements would be wasting their time there, I’ll tell you guys that for nothing.

The other reason Pritchard drags his legal heels is that, for reasons I’m not quite sure of, he thinks that the house ought to have been his. He thinks he missed out on inheriting it when Jane’s Auntie died. That makes him the prime suspect in the mystery of who’s trying to drive Jane away from her house and out of her mind, doesn’t it…?

This is a great little horror film with lots of terrific views of the house from an intruder’s point of view. Just to mention that the whole being-stalked-by-a-hearse thing was done extremely successfully previously in horror film BURNT OFFERINGS from 1975.

Oliver Reed was the victim of the frightening ‘hearse’ hallucinations in this excellent chiller which co-starred the legendary Bette Davis and scream queen Karen Black. And the manically smiling hearse driver looked as-freaky-as-f**k, so there, lol.

THE HEARSE is nowhere near as scary as BURNT OFFERINGS or even THE CHANGELING, but it’s still well worth a watch. Trish Van Devere, who looks a lot like the sweet-faced DALLAS actress Victoria Principal, does a top-notch job of running around the countryside in the dark in her nightie screaming her lungs out. Ask not for whom the hearse comes. This time, it comes for thee…

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