AND THE BAND PLAYED ON. (1993) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

AND THE BAND PLAYED ON. (1993) DIRECTED BY JAMES SPOTTISWOODE. BASED ON THE NON-FICTION BOOK, AND THE BAND PLAYED ON: POLITICS, PEOPLE AND THE AIDS EPIDEMIC BY RANDY SHILTS. STARRING MATTHEW MODINE.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This HBO made-for-television drama-based-on-real-events is an effective and chilling account of the AIDS story; how the disease first started turning up in scared gay males in the San Francisco area, then gradually amongst haemophiliacs and people recovering from surgery who had unknowingly been given contaminated blood products.

The film focuses mainly on the doctors and scientists working flat out to discover the exact nature of the virus, because they can’t find a cure for it or devise a test for it until they find out what it is.

It’s very similar to the way that COVID-19 suddenly appeared in China in 2020 and started killing people before spreading to the world at large and causing it to close down for virtually two years. The scientists got to work on it and, relatively quickly, established how it was spread, how we could avoid getting it, how we could test for it and, eventually, how we could vaccinate against it.

COVID-19 affected people of all ages, skin colours, genders and nationalities. Everyone pulled together to find a cure and fight this awful disease. There was no stigma attached and no shame- well, not much; I heard there was some– in testing positive for it. It was just rotten bad luck and everyone wished you well. AIDS was a little different…

Throughout the film we’re looking at now, it’s highlighted that the then Ronald Reagan administration was reluctant to release funds- funds urgently needed for defence!- to pay for research into a disease that was initially seen as a ‘gay plague,’ a ‘gay cancer’ or GRID; GAY-RELATED IMMUNE DISEASE. The Reagan administration is portrayed as unwilling to properly ‘see’ the gay community and acknowledge the devastation AIDS was causing amongst them.

The God-Botherers had a field day with AIDS. It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, remember? Gay men had brought down the wrath of God on themselves for having sex with other men. AIDS was the price they had to pay. Why should anyone feel sorry for them? They brought it on themselves.

By the way, anyone finding themselves short on compassion for AIDS sufferers need do no more than Google images for Kaposi’s Sarcoma, a terrible skin cancer that became widely associated with AIDS in the 1980’s. You wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy.

The scientists in America seemed to be in competition with the scientists in France to find out what kind of virus they were dealing with. I’m not sure if all the fighting and arguing over who came up with it first and all the patent-pending stuff delayed the discovery and distribution of treatments and medicines, but it might well have done.

And politicians argued with the activists and argued with each other over budgets and the wording of bills and whatnot and, in the meantime, hundreds of gay men died, sometimes agonisingly, sometimes alone, and always before their time. ‘I’m thirty-two years old and I’m dying…!’ And the band played on, in other words…

There’s a super-famous cast that includes Matthew Modine as an epidemiologist who once worked on the Ebola virus in Africa and now spearheads the HIV/AIDS research for the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Ian McKellen plays a Gay Rights/AIDS activist and congressional aide who gets the virus. B.D. Wong plays his younger lover, Kico.

Alan Alda portrays Dr. Bob Gallo, the main American scientific researcher fighting with the French scientists for ‘ownership’ of the virus. Musician Phil Collins plays the owner of one of the gay bath-houses that were all shut down when it was discovered that they probably contributed hugely to the spread of the virus.

Other famous faces include Steve Martin in a straight role, as the brother of an AIDS victim who rigidly hid his gay persona from friends and family. Anjelica Huston, Lily Tomlin, Saul Rubinek, Swoosie Kurtz, Glenne Headly and Richard Masur also appear.

My favourite cameo by far is by Richard Gere, an actor I don’t normally rate too highly, but he’s brilliant in this. He plays a handsome young choreographer who gets the virus. He’s in his doctor’s office, answering intimate questions about his sex life, and he looks out the window onto the street.

The Gay Pride Halloween Parade is passing by. A figure dressed as the Grim Reaper, all in black with a skull face and complete with scythe, looks directly up at him before passing by. Richard Gere shivers and murmurs to himself: ‘Party’s over…’  I got chills all over.

I also greatly admire the scenes with the gay French-Canadian flight attendant who was initially regarded as ‘Patient Zero’ for AIDS in the United States. He’s there in the doctor’s office, going, what’s all this AIDS stuff got to do with me, I’ve only got skin cancer, before adding that he couldn’t in a million years remember the names, never mind the addresses and telephone numbers, of all the men he’d slept with. Though he’s handsome and debonair and jauntily moustached, there’s something desperately, desperately sad about him. You know he’s going to be dead very soon.

Bobbi Campbell, an AIDS activist and the 16th person in San Francisco to be diagnosed with Kaposi’s Sarcoma, an early form of AIDS diagnosis, is another real-life tragic figure in the film. He talks so bravely about fighting the virus with everything he’s got, but a quick glance at Wikipedia reveals that he too died in 1984, the same year as our real-life flight attendant.

Elton John sings his ‘The Last Song’ over real-life footage of a candlelight vigil and march in San Francisco, and then a montage of familiar and beloved faces, including Anthony Perkins, Rudolf Nureyev, Freddie Mercury, Brad Davis, Liberace, Magic Johnson, Rock Hudson, Halston, Denholm Elliott and Robert Reed.

Other well-made AIDS films/dramas include AN EARLY FROST (1985), starring Aidan Quinn, and the drama mini-series INTIMATE CONTACT (1987), with Daniel Massey and Claire Bloom in the lead roles.

Such a horrible disease, and so many victims robbed of life way too soon. So much courage in the face of a terrible adversity. We have various treatments now to lengthen life but still, I think, no cure. I don’t even know how to sign off today, so I’ll just say that I’ll see you when I see you. Mind yourselves and stay safe.

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:

APPROPRIATE ADULT. (2011) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

APPROPRIATE ADULT. (2011) BASED ON TRUE EVENTS. WRITTEN BY NEIL MCKAY. DIRECTED BY JULIAN JARROLD.

STARRING EMILY WATSON, DOMINIC WEST, MONICA DOLAN, SYLVESTRA LE TOUZEL AND ROBERT GLENISTER.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘I’m not your friend, Fred.’

‘Can I just ask if the appropriate adult’s all right…?’

‘Heather’s not under the patio. She’s in Bahrain, working as a mule for a drugs cartel. Now, whether you believe that or not is entirely up to you.’

I love this made for television crime drama, first shown in two parts on ITV. It’s considered to be the third part in a trilogy of made for television films about Britain’s most notorious murders from the second half of the twentieth century: THIS IS PERSONAL: THE HUNT FOR THE YORKSHIRE RIPPER from 1999 is one of the best true crime movies I’ve ever seen in my life. SEE NO EVIL: THE MOORS MURDERS (2006) is almost equally good.

APPROPRIATE ADULT is not the story of the horrific abductions, rapes and murders of innocent young women carried out by the loathsome serial killers Fred and Rose West in Gloucestershire between 1967 and 1987, although they did very much commit these crimes with which they were charged and of which they were found guilty. (Fred, of course, committed suicide before he could stand trial, but there was never any doubt as to his guilt.)

Rather, it is the extraordinary story of the ordinary woman training to be a social worker- Emily Watson playing Janet Leach- who had put her name down on a list of volunteers to be the ‘appropriate adult’ for when the police have charged someone of limited mental capacity or with learning difficulties, who might have trouble understanding the charges against them.

The appropriate adult would then sit in on the interview sessions between the police and the person charged with the offences and make sure that the person is okay to go on with the sessions and that they have everything they need, etc. It’s kind of like baby-sitting but with more serious implications…!

Janet Leach, thirty-eight, is a divorced mum-of-five with all the usual worries about money, kids and career. Her current partner is bipolar and needs to be hospitalised when he is going through one of his manic phases. So, as we see, this lady is not without her share of problems even before she encounters one of the twentieth century’s worst ever serial murderers.  

This case is Janet Leach’s first time to be chosen as an ‘appropriate adult.’ When she realises that it’s not only a murder case, but a multiple murder case in which heads have been cut off as casually as chopping up a lettuce for a salad and bodies stuffed into suitcases before being buried in the back garden or cellar, you can tell that she’s been knocked for six a bit.

Dominic West (no relation, I’m sure!) does a cracking job of portraying the evil but oddly genial Fred, a labourer for whom no job was too small, too big or too dirty and who liked to present an obliging, pleasantly hail-fellow-well-met face to the world at all times. He gives the impression that there’s nothing he wouldn’t do for you if you asked him, he’s so congenial.

Janet is obviously repelled by Fred when she meets him first and hears his dreadful stories of lust murders and the sado-masochistic torture of victims before they were murdered. But Fred takes an immediate liking to his ‘appropriate adult’ and it’s not long before Janet, too, falls under his so-called ‘spell.’

Here’s the thing about Fred, and this is my own personal opinion now. He loves all women, but especially the woman he’s with at any given time. He’d probably love D.C. Hazel Savage, who’s conducting the interviewing, except he’s sneaky and he instinctively knows she’s too smart to fall for his bullshit.

But Janet Leach is a tiny, timid little bird of a thing whose shyness and vulnerability Fred probably sniffs out immediately. Here’s a woman he can manipulate, a woman who’ll believe his lies.

He’s the most complete picture of a pathological liar you’ll ever see; if he told you it was raining, you’d be well advised to stick your own head out the window just to check for yourself.

Janet is probably exactly the kind of easily manipulated little mouse of a woman Fred would have gone for in real life. And now, here she is, in his life every day for a while, hanging on to his every word and giving him her undivided attention, which is all Fred ever wanted from a woman.

How does he manipulate her fragile emotions, then? He tells her she’s special, that she understands him in a way no-one else, not even his precious Rose, does. He implies he can’t do any of this without her, and that there’s a special bond between the pair of them that no-one else, outside of their little protective circle, can possibly ever hope to understand.

Janet is probably immensely flattered. What woman wouldn’t be? Has anyone else ever needed her so thoroughly, she’s probably wondering, has anyone else every placed so much trust in her? God Almighty, she’s probably honoured that she was the chosen one.

When he starts comparing her physical appearance to that of the so-called ‘love of his life,’ poor murdered Anna McFall, she’s more than likely half in love with him already. She starts to help the semi-literate Fred with his ‘autobiography,’ ‘I was Loved by an Angle.’ (Yes, yes, he means to write ‘angel!’)

She continues to visit him in prison, bringing him clothes and offering her support, long after her role as appropriate adult has officially ceased to be a thing. When Fred does what he does over the New Year of 1995, Janet Leach has a very curious reaction which I’m not going to tell you about here for fear of the dreaded spoiler. You’ll have to watch the film yourself to find out…!

I’m not saying that Fred was happy about being caught, but, Lord, he must have been in his element, his absolute element, during those long police interviews with the ever-attentive Janet Leach by his side!

Talking, talking, talking to his heart’s content, always with a captive audience and with a new woman now to ‘woo,’ congratulating himself inwardly on being smarter than the police and sending them on a wild goose-chase or leading them- quite literally- up the garden path as they desperately try to wriggle it out of him where he’s buried his own daughter’s remains. Did he believe his own wild stories? I guess we’ll never know.

A word about Rose, the wife. Here, she’s wonderfully portrayed by Monica Dolan exactly as I imagine she was in real life: a liar, vulgar, loud, aggressive, foul-mouthed, threatening violence, making enemies right left and centre. She won’t be free any time soon, if ever. I would say that’s for the best.

     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.

DAUGHTER OF DARKNESS. (1990) A HORROR FILM REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

daughter trio

DAUGHTER OF DARKNESS. (1990) DIRECTED BY STUART GORDON. STARRING ANTHONY PERKINS, MIA SARA, ROBERT REYNOLDS AND JACK COLEMAN.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘They don’t have fangs; they have a thing with their tongue…!’

This is definitely a made-for-television movie because you can see where the breaks slot in, lol. It’s a strange little film but it had its attractions for me, in the form of Anthony Perkins from PSYCHO (1960) and a Romanian backdrop, which will always draw me in. (That whole little-known Transylvania-Dracula connection, don’t you know?)

Mia Sara plays the lead role of Catherine here. She looks very similar to the actress Alyssa Milano (WHO’S THE BOSS?, CASUALTIES OF LOVE: THE ‘LONG ISLAND LOLITA’ STORY), and for much of the movie I forgot that she wasn’t, if you get me. Catherine is an American teacher who comes to Romania in search of the father she never knew, a chap called Paul Alexandre.

She feels able to do it now because her mother has just died, and she’s been having strange- and strangely gothic- dreams about her father and what she thinks might have happened to him. All her dreams seem to be urging her to go to Romania and find out the truth about him.

Paul impregnated Catherine’s mother twenty or so years ago, then disappeared without a trace. I see nothing unusual about this behaviour. Irish guys do this literally all the time, which is why Ireland has such a high percentage of single-parent families on their books. Yes, I know. Miaow…! Catherine, however, clearly has a higher opinion of human nature than I do and she thinks it means that her Pops became a victim of foul play in a police state, God bless her innocence.

So she comes to Nikolae Ceausescu’s Romania, a dictatorship where the Secret Police run the show and everyone who comes into the country can be suspected of spying. Catherine is looking for a man who disappeared without a trace donkeys’ years ago, and all she has to assist her in her search are an old faded photograph of him and a fancy pendant of a gold dragon set in a cross, which her father gave to her mother. So the sperm wasn’t his only legacy then, lol.

Catherine is a friendly, personable and beautiful young woman, so it’s not long before she has enlisted some human resources as well, in the form of madcap Romanian taxi driver Max and an attractive young diplomat from the American Embassy called Jack Devlin who, despite his single-minded devotion to career advancement, just can’t resist the pretty face of this particular damsel in distress.

Devlin is played by Jack Coleman and, if you think you know him from somewhere, you do. He played Steven Carrington on soap opera DYNASTY from 1982-1988, his character being one of the earliest gay characters in mainstream American television. DYNASTY, THE COLBYS, DALLAS and FALCON CREST were HUMONGOUS here in Ireland in the ’80s. They brought us the glamour, the back-stabbing and the bed-hopping our own shows were sadly lacking at this time, lol.

It’s a good thing that Catherine is amassing a little team of supporters around her. She’ll need it when she unwittingly comes in contact with the handsome Romanian man Grigore and his little team of vampires (yes, this is a vampire film!), who are currently waging a war against their leader because he won’t do things the way they want him to. Have you guessed who the lead vampire could possibly be yet…? Heh-heh-heh.

Grigore’s sexy ’80s vampires, with their fabulous big dyed blonde ’80s hair and ’80s leather and denim-style outfits- and that’s just the blokes!- all live underground in an abandoned church-type structure, with a nightclub at street level as their cover. Their cult is dying out because the men who hunt them down can pick them off easily while they are sleeping during the day, which of course, as vampires, they are obliged to do. To their enemies, therefore, they are no more than sitting ducks.

If only the vampires didn’t have to fear daylight and could strut coolly about in it like the Bee Gees in that great video for ‘Staying Alive,’ they could overcome their attackers and rule the world. Grigore thinks that if he could only mate with Catherine and have a child with her, that half-human, half-vampire offspring could save the endangered race of vampires known as the Cyprians.

One man is determined to save Catherine from this awful fate, or two men, if you count the diplomat, Jack Devlin. Now, I’d happily have vampire sex with Grigore myself, as he’s bleedin’ gorgeous, but Catherine is pure and innocent and goody-goody and anyway, she’s repulsed by the idea and begs Grigore repeatedly not to rape her.

Can the one person who’s supposed to protect and help Catherine in her hour of need come through for her, even if he has to be roasted half to death while still alive first? Or will the handsome ’80s rock star lookalike Grigore get to her first and fertilise her eggs with his little toy soldiers…? I’d take either option myself, as I’ve already mentioned, but I think Catherine might be saving her eggs for someone special, so I guess we’d better hope that they- the eggs!- make it out of Romania unfertilised, lol.

Anthony A boy’s best friend is his mother Perkins is marvellously tragic and sinister here at the same time. He still looks so good, nearly thirty years after he played Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s game-changing horror movie PSYCHO. He hasn’t put on any weight or lost his hair and he still looks handsome.

I’ve always quite fancied him, but I could never have married him or slept with him or anything like that. You know that old Rita Hayworth quote about the men she met going to bed with Gilda, her famous screen character, and waking up with her, Rita, and being disappointed about it, the ingrates?

Well, I still think that that’s a pretty good deal, but, applying the quote to Anthony Perkins, I’d be much too scared of going to bed with Norman and waking up with Mother. That film scared the Christ outta me when I was a young ‘un and it’s never lost its power to scare me. Donkeys’ years later, Anthony Perkins’s performance as both characters is as effective as it ever was. Given a choice, I’d take my chances with the vampires, ta…!

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