BLESS THE CHILD. (2000) FILM REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

BLESS THE CHILD. 2000. BASED ON THE 1993 BOOK BY CATHY CASH SPELLMAN. DIRECTED BY CHUCK RUSSELL.

STARRING KIM BASINGER, RUFUS SEWELL, JIMMY SMITS, IAN HOLM, ANGELA BETTIS AND CHRISTINA RICCI.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is a pretty poor film. I was personally disappointed when I realised that it wasn’t a film about an evil child, like in THE OMEN or THE EXORCIST, but a good child. A super-good child, in fact. A child so good that for centuries the forces of evil have been waiting to get their grubby mitts on her. I would have much preferred an evil child but, even aside from that, it was still a poor film.

Kim Basinger, whom I’ve always felt was just a trifle bland, or blank even, as an actress, plays Maggie O’Connor, a psychiatric nurse at a busy New York hospital. One day out of the blue, Maggie’s younger, not-so-together sister Jenna, whom she hasn’t seen for years, turns up on her doorstep clutching her newborn baby, the niece that Maggie never even knew she had. Jenna disappears again the same day, leaving a shocked Maggie literally holding the baby…

The child, a little girl called Cody, grows up autistic. Her Aunt Maggie dotes on her and gives her the best of everything. She’s not happy, therefore, when six or so years later Jenna turns up unannounced once more.

This time, she has a new husband in tow, the revoltingly smarmy Eric Stark. Eric belongs to a cult called New Dawn. He knows that Cody is a very special child. She has powers that Eric and his chums want to exploit, but not for good. For evil…

The second half of the film basically sees Kim Basinger running around like a headless chicken, trying to get Cody back from the mad culties who’ve kidnapped her so they can use her in their quest for world domination. She enlists the aid of Jimmy Smits’s FBI specialist in occult-related crimes to back her up when the final, inevitable showdown between good and evil occurs.

I don’t like to get personal, but I kind of feel the same way about Jimmy Smits as I do about Kim Basinger. Bland, bland, bland. Is there anything going on behind the bland good looks…? Who knows…?

The ending is disappointing, as are the practically non-existent special effects. A clash between Satan’s minions and God’s army has the potential to be utterly spectacular. Sadly, this is not the case with BLESS THE CHILD. There are contributions by Bilbo Baggins and Wednesday Addams, aka Ian Holm and Christina Ricci, but they’re only worth mentioning in passing.

I really hate being this negative about a horror film but I just felt so let-down by this one. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t watch it, though. You never know, you might see something in it that I don’t. Unlikely, haha, but it’s a free country after all and y’all can do what y’all wants to do…!

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

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

THE FRIGHTENERS. (1972) FORGOTTEN TV DRAMA REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS.

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FORGOTTEN TV DRAMA: THE FRIGHTENERS. (1972) ITV STUDIOS LIMITED. A LONDON WEEKEND TELEVISION PRODUCTION. AVAILABLE FROM NETWORK. STARRING TOM BELL, JENNIE LINDEN, ROBIN ELLIS, JOHN THAW, IAN HOLM, IAN HENDRY, CLIVE SWIFT, JOHN STANDING AND JOE LYNCH.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘No cops and robbers…

No clanking chains…

No well-worn horror themes…

(just) ordinary people threatened by situations that slide startlingly, menacingly out of control…’

I knew I’d happened upon something special when I picked up this box-set in my local DVD and record store. Then, when I played it and saw the old London Weekend Television logo come up on the screen, I got actual shivers down my spine, lol.

What this is, exactly, is an anthology of thirteen (unlucky for some!) stories of roughly twenty-five minutes in length each. They’re not horror stories, per se, but rather ‘haunting tales of malice and manipulation, vengeance and mounting terror,’ as it says on the DVD box.

They won’t leave you lying wide-eyed and awake in your bed till the early hours, trembling with terror at each imagined creak on the stair or rattle of the doorknob, but you might be left with a nasty taste in your mouth and the words, Hmmm, that was unpleasant! on your lips…

I’ve chosen a few of the thirteen for special mention. THE NIGHT OF THE STAG features Jennie Linden (WOMEN IN LOVE) and Robin Ellis (POLDARK, FAWLTY TOWERS) as a couple who are breaking up because he- the bastard!- is marrying someone else in the morning. It’s the ultimate betrayal for Ginnie, the scorned girlfriend, because Mike, the rat, never bothered to propose to her during their time together, much as she might have wanted him to.

Ginny was never the kind of woman who was going to go quietly. Watching this, I was torn between yelling ‘Good for you, missus!’ at the screen when she was bullying him into revealing his plans for the future, and cringing behind a cushion because she doesn’t display any dignity when she’s begging him not to throw away everything they had together.

She manipulates, badgers and browbeats him into spending ‘just one more night together.’ His brain might be screaming no, but his willy is already in the bed, stripped and preparing for penetration, lol. God, men are so predictable.

And in the house where he’s going to be living with his new bride, as well! How could he disrespect either woman like that? Oh yeah, right. Because he’s on a promise of free sex, the bastard. Will the morning find him bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to take his matrimonial vows, or will it find him at all…? This is a really superior vignette, from the pen of Andrea A BOUQUET OF BARBED WIRE Newman.

MISS MOUSE is a torrid little tale of an unhappy marriage that comes to a sudden, shocking conclusion when the hubby does what he’s probably fantasised about doing for years… He accidentally strangles his gobby missus to death.

No-one knows his horrid little secret… except for the titular Miss Mouse, the downstairs tenant, who’s heard everything on the baby monitor. Can Miss Mouse turn this nasty situation to her own advantage, or is there a third person listening in on Miss Mouse’s attempts at enriching her own life through the blackmailing of a wife-killer…?

BED AND BREAKFAST is the most ingenious and also the nastiest of the stories, for my money. Ian Hendry and Wendy Gifford play Anthony and Olive Ashworth, a married couple who seek accommodation for the night in a Scottish country guest-house that’s not really a guest-house at all. Yes, I’m being deliberately mysterious here, heh-heh-heh.

The younger couple unsettle the sweet elderly couple who own the house, the Cartwrights, to the point where we’re feeling terribly sorry for the two old folks, but then the Ashworths play their trump card… a third, even more elderly person whose identity, when it’s revealed to the Cartwrights, will bear all the hallmarks of chickens coming home to roost…

THE CLASSROOM, aka THE SCHOOLROOM, written by Irish writer William Trevor, features Clive Swift (Richard from KEEPING UP APPEARANCES) as a grown-up former pupil of a Miss Smith’s, who turns up unexpectedly to Miss Smith’s retirement party. And let’s just say that he hasn’t been polishing any apples for Teacher, either; rather, he’s been tenderly nurturing some mighty fine grudges, and tonight they might just be coming to fruition…

Finally, HAVE A NICE TIME AT THE ZOO, DARLING is a deeply disturbing story that sees an old man stalking a pretty, thirteen-year-old schoolgirl. Filmed in black-and-white, with some scenes set in Chessington Zoo, this one has the viewer asking themselves: Who is this old man? Is he a paedophile? Why else would he be following this child around the zoo and reaching out to touch her hair…? I must warn you, this one might leave you hanging…

These stories are the most unusual I’ve come across in a while, and this little box-set is my new pride and joy. If you should happen across it yourself, I heartily recommend that you buy it. It’ll give you the creeps for Christmas, and we all like a creep at Christmas. Don’t we…?

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

HOLOCAUST. (1978) THE TV MINI-SERIES REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

holocaust meryl streep

HOLOCAUST. (1978) CREATED AND WRITTEN BY GERALD GREEN. DIRECTED BY MARVIN J. CHOMSKY.

STARRING MERYL STREEP, JAMES WOODS, MICHAEL MORIARTY, FRITZ WEAVER, ROSEMARY HARRIS, JOSEPH BOTTOMS, MARIUS GORING, TOM BELL, IAN HOLM, CYRIL SHAPS, ANTHONY HAYGARTH, SAM WANAMAKER AND DAVID WARNER.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This magnificent television dramatisation of some of history’s darkest and most shameful events clocks in at a whopping four hundred and forty six minutes, or five easily digestible ninety minute blocks.

It’s the story of two fictional families in wartime Germany, the Weiss family and the Dorf family, and how they were both affected by Hitler’s coming to power in Germany, his anti-Jewish laws and his World War that laid waste to most of Europe.

The Weiss family are Jewish, and the Dorfs are not, and therein lies the reason why the lives of two such ordinary German families could have run along such divergent lines in the exact same time period, intersecting nonetheless in places during times of the most dreadful stress and terror.

Let’s get right down to business. Joseph and Berta Weiss are a typical German couple for the time, wealthy, cultured, civilised and decent people who love their children, Karl, Anna and Rudi, and want only the best for them.

When we meet them first, the Weisses are celebrating the mixed marriage (already frowned upon by the Nazis unofficially; soon to be outlawed in Germany by law) of their eldest son Karl, an artist (James Woods) to Inga Helms (Meryl Streep), a beautiful German Christian woman.

Every time Hitler and his Nazis, whom the Weisses are too genteel to call thugs and barbarians outright, lay down another anti-Jewish law, Joseph and Berta tell themselves that it won’t go on for much longer, that, after all, they’re Germans too, aren’t they, and Hitler couldn’t really mean them to be banished from their own country like lepers, could he…?

Berta’s Jewish Pops, a delightful old ex-soldier who proudly displays the Iron Cross he won for fighting for his country (Germany) in World War One, thinks that Germany isn’t stupid enough and cruel enough to treat her loyal German war veterans, regardless of their religion, like vermin. He finds out differently on the black, black night that history refers to as ‘Kristallnacht,’ or ‘The Night Of Broken Glass…’

Berta and Joseph leave it too late to flee Germany. This is partly down to Berta, a classical pianist and a gentle, peace-loving kind-hearted woman, who keeps stubbornly reiterating that she’s German, they’re all Germans, and this is their country too. Why should they up sticks and leave Germany to those jack-booted, black-suited thugs, the Nazis?

By the time her beloved husband, a doctor who’d go to any lengths to help someone in need, is deported to Poland to what eventually becomes the Warsaw Ghetto, Berta realises her mistake. They should all have read the signs and fled Germany when they had the chance…

Her son Karl has been arrested purely on the grounds of being Jewish and sent to Buchenwald, a concentration camp. Her daughter Anna has already suffered a terrible fate at the hands of the Nazis, and even Berta, her mother, doesn’t know just how terrible it is. Berta’s youngest son Rudi has run off to join the partisans, although his mother hasn’t a clue where he is or what he’s doing. She mightn’t ever even see him again.

Rudi, by the way, is a great character. No way is he going meekly like a lamb to the slaughter, as he sees his fellow Jews doing. He’s going to fight those bastard Nazis, and he’ll damn well make sure he takes as many of them down with him as we can. It’s good to have fighters like him and Uncle Sasha and Uncle Moses in a film that touches painfully on the awkward subject of Jewish apathy in the face of Nazi hostilities.

Inga is having to submit to being raped repeatedly by a Nazi in order to get her letters through to Karl in Buchenwald and, when Karl finds out what she’s had to endure to contact him, the ungrateful bastard turns against her. She even gets herself sent to Theresienstadt later on to be near him (he’s working here in their artist’s studio, believe it or not)but he still isn’t grateful for all her sacrifices. I’d leave him to rot where he is, seriously.

Erik Dorf is a handsome young lawyer and father of two who is looking for work. He joins the Nazi party because he needs a job, and also because his fanatical wife Marta is extremely ambitious for him and she thinks that ‘the Party’ is the way to go for their little family.

Erik doesn’t feel like he’s cut out to swagger about in a fancy Nazi uniform, pushing people about, but he gets used to it remarkably quickly. He quickly rises through the ranks after becoming invaluable to Reinhard Heydrich (David Warner doesn’t look much like this young blond god!), the man tasked with carrying out Hitler’s ‘Final Solution of the Jewish Problem.’

Erik’s involvement in ‘Kristallnacht’ earns him a promotion. Before too much time has elapsed, he’s Major Dorf, with a sort of travelling commission as part of the Concentration Camp Inspectorate. His job seems to be speeding up the killing process and making the camps more efficient as death factories.

We see him assisting Rudolf Höss, the Commandant of Auschwitz, with the introduction of Zyklon B, the pesticide used to gas millions of Jews. We see him attending a demonstration of the gas in action (‘Fantastic, utterly fantastic! It’s like a scene from Dante’s Inferno.’), against real people, and we can tell he hasn’t the stomach for it. Is this because he feels that what he’s doing is inherently wrong, or because he’s simply squeamish?

From time to time, we get the impression that Erik Dorf knows he’s going to hell for what he and his precious ‘Party’ have done, and yet there are other times when he can stand and impassively watch an atrocity taking place without batting an eyelid, such as when he’s a witness to the murder of 30,000 Jews at Babi Yar in the Ukraine in 1941. He’s fascinated at the way in which they passively go to their deaths, but I guess we’d all be the same if a bunch of guys were pointing machine-guns at us.

He constantly parrots the Nazi and SS mantra, that he’s only following orders, orders from above, orders from the highest office in the land. Does he really believe that it’s okay to murder women and children though, just on the basis that he’s ‘following orders?’ Does he really believe that blindly following orders justifies the massacres he constantly oversees?

Sometimes it looks like there’s a flicker of remorse behind his dead fish eyes but then, at other times, he’s a blank, a robot, an automaton. He’s the most important character in the show, in my opinion, because he helps us to see the logic, if you can call it that, behind the actions of the perpetrators of the Holocaust.

And, no matter what Dorf tries to make out after it’s all over, he’s a perpetrator. Even his wife, who makes her husband join the Nazi Party so she won’t have to stand in line at the butchers’ for the best cuts of meat any more, is a perpetrator. She makes Erik turn away Dr. Weiss when he comes to them for help when Karl has been arrested and incarcerated in Buchenwald. Goddammit, she’s nearly as much of a perpetrator as he is.

The mini-series does an excellent job of portraying the different situations that arose during the time of the Holocaust. We see the concentration camps, the Sonderkommando (the work details of Jewish prisoners who attended the gassings and afterwards burned the bodies in the crematoria) and the actual killing machinery. We see the Warsaw ghetto and the brave men who tried to defend it at the end. (Uncle Moses, you ROCK, and so does that old Rabbi who’s with you at the end!!!)

We see the Jewish Council (or Judenrat), of which Dr. Joseph Weiss is a member, having to select six thousand people a day to go on the dreaded transportations out of the ghetto to the death camps. We actually see the Jews on these transportations being bullshitted by the Nazis regarding this so-called ‘resettlement in the East.’ It’s not so bad, it’s only a work camp, and families can stay together, see? A wonderful new life awaits everyone in the East, now all aboard…

We see the Jews chosen by the Nazis to ‘police’ the ghettos, and we know how they too end up. ‘Don’t worry, Dr. Weiss, it’ll be my turn soon enough…’ We see the smuggling of food that went on in the ghetto even though the Nazis forbade it, but without the smugglers, even more people would have died in the gutters of starvation, a horrible slow death that no-one deserves.

We see the liquidation of the ghettos and how it was achieved, albeit with much bloodshed on both sides. We also see the Nazis’ T4 Euthanasia Programme (of the sick, the old and the disabled) in action, even though we might feel better for never having seen it at all.

We see Rudi taking part in the Sobibor concentration camp uprising and escape in October 1943, and his brother Karl being tortured by the Nazis over paintings he does in Theresienstadt that accurately represent the various desperate situations in the concentration camps, instead of the nice happy paintings commissioned by the Nazis.

We see how Theresienstadt in Prague was used as the ‘model’ concentration camp, trotted out whenever the International Committee of the Red Cross (the ICRC) wanted to send a few inspectors in. ‘Oh, we didn’t see any signs of any maltreatment,’ they invariably said when they’d completed their inspections there.

Well, d’uh! That’s what the Nazis wanted them to think. They went to a lot of trouble, with their fake coffee shops and their fake post office and their fake bank and their fake happy healthy prisoners, to make sure that the ICRC thought just what they wanted them to think.

The Jews are getting on grand here, the ICRC always said after a visit. They never seemed to question the right of the Nazis to imprison the Jews in the first place, but never mind. As long as they never saw any signs of maltreatment when they inspected the camps, well, I guess that’s all right then…

Tom Bell is utterly odious here as Adolf Eichmann, the number-cruncher of the entire Holocaust, and Ian Holm (Bilbo Baggins to you!) almost unrecognisable as Himmler, the third point of the ‘Final Solution’ triumvirate that had Eichmann and Heydrich as the other two points.

The assassination of Heydrich takes place off-screen, ditto the murder of a German bureaucrat/diplomat called Ernst Vom Rath by the Jewish Herschel Grynszpan, that prompted the shattering events of ‘Kristallnacht.’ 

Two one-off members of the cast of ‘Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em,’ starring Michael Crawford as the hapless Frank Spencer, can be seen in HOLOCAUST in small but important roles. See if you can guess which two…!

The whole mini-series is pretty much faultless. James Woods as Karl Weiss is a terrible husband- frankly Inga would be better off with that fat Nazi (a ‘fatzi?’) Heinz Mueller- but other than that I’ve no complaints. Top-notch viewing, recommended viewing in fact for students of the Holocaust. It certainly proves the point that, for bad men to triumph, all it takes is for good folks to do nothing…

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:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor