CASTING JONBENET. (2017) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©


CASTING JONBENET. (2017) DIRECTED AND CO-PRODUCED BY KITTY GREEN.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

I watched this eighty-minute documentary on Netflix recently, and was struck by how it managed to tell a twenty-five-year-old story in a new and unusual way. Various actors and actresses, adults and children alike, are taking part in auditions for the roles of players in the story of the real-life murder of a little American girl called JonBenet Ramsey.

The story is told through the auditionees’ recital of their various lines and actions, and frequently they get to voice their own opinions as well regarding the guilt- or innocence- of the various characters in the real-life drama. The still-unsolved murder has been referred to as ‘the ultimate cold case,’ and seemingly everyone has an opinion on it.

So, what are the facts as we actually know them? Well, on the day after Christmas in 1996, a wealthy and outwardly happy family called the Ramseys, resident in Boulder, Colorado, had their lives turned upside-down forever by the discovery of the death of its youngest member, pretty little blonde angel JonBenet, aged only six.

This is what supposedly happened. The mom of the family, Patsy, who never appeared in public without her flawless make-up on and co-ordinating outfits, came down the back staircase of their home between five and six in the morning. Lying across the bottom step of this spiral staircase were three pages of closely-written handwriting.

Patsy read part of the first page. Realising that it was a ransom note that stated that ‘a small foreign faction’ had taken her daughter and wanted $180,000 for her safe return, she ran back upstairs to check JonBenet’s bedroom. Finding it empty, she screamed for her husband John, a very rich and successful businessman. Their nine-year-old son Burke apparently ‘slept through the whole thing.’

The Ramseys called the police, who did an initial search of the house that yielded no results. The Ramseys also phoned various friends and asked them to come over. Soon the house was crowded with people wandering all over the place. Shortly before lunch, John Ramsey and a male friend wandered away from the crowd and found little JonBenet’s body on the floor under a white blanket in a room off their basement.

Seemingly forgetting that a crime scene should be left untouched in order for the police to be able to investigate a case properly, John Ramsey removed the duct tape over the child’s mouth and loosened some of the ties that bound her. Then he carried her up to the living room and laid her under the Christmas tree, almost like a little wrapped present.

The media went nuts for the case. It was a slow news period, those quiet days between Christmas and New Year, and the case was ‘sexed-up’ considerably once it emerged that Patsy Ramsey, a former Miss West Virginia, had entered her beautiful little daughter into beauty pageants, and had been planning to ‘put her through the pageant system’ all the way had the child not passed away.

Photos began to appear in the media of JonBenet in full pageant make-up and regalia. She was a darling little girl and looked lovely in photos, being super-photogenic, but some of the pictures sexualised her and basically turned her into a certain type of paedophile’s dream: a little blonde angel in make-up and high heels.

Some of the professional photos of Jonbenet that Patsy had paid big money for made the child look about ten years older. Even in some of the family photos, JonBenet is pouting in a highly suggestive manner with heavy red lipstick on.

Some people were very critical of Patsy for decking her daughter out to look like a tiny, pocket-sized Lolita. She was accused of trying to live vicariously through her daughter. Seriously, six years old is a bit young for that kind of adult carry-on, surely…?

The autopsy conducted on JonBenet’s body found that she had been killed by asphyxiation. She’d also had a blow to the head and, distressingly, as if all that wasn’t bad enough, there was some blood in her underwear and signs of rough handling in her vaginal area.

It was thought at the time that semen was found on her corpse, which immediately put a sexually mature, adult male in the frame. I’m not entirely sure of myself here, but I think that later investigators were found to have been mistaken about the presence of semen on the body. But what about the ‘rough handling’ of the child’s vagina, and the fact that someone had supposedly wiped down her genital area with a cloth…?

Theories abounded, some of which you’ll hear from the actors auditioning for the parts of Patsy and John. Did Burke kill his pageant queen sister in a fit of jealous rage, and his parents then covered up for him by staging a kidnapping?

Did Patsy slam the little girl’s head against a wall in response to yet another aggravating bed-wetting by JonBenet? Did a complete stranger, or a friend, neighbour or disgruntled former employee of John’s sneak into the house and kill the little girl? Was it planned or opportunistic? Or purely accidental?

The three-pages-long ‘ransom’ note, addressed to John Ramsey, was found to have been written in the house, with a pen and pad of paper belonging to Patsy. The note was thought to have contained certain stock phraseology from crime movies. The Ramseys were known to be big movie fans and had some movie posters on display in the house.

I read the note myself and thought some of it honestly sounded like a pissed-off wife taking the opportunity to have a few sly digs at her ‘perfect’ husband. Don’t try to grow a brain, John…! Why not use some of that famous Southern common sense of yours, John…?  The tone of the note was thought to be more likely female than male, and plenty of people seem to think that Patsy Ramsey wrote it.

A garotte was found around the child’s neck and included part of a paintbrush also belonging to Patsy. The police were unable to find evidence of any forced entry into the house, all of which suggests it may have been an ‘inside job,’ rather than a crime committed by an outsider.

Also, for quite a while Patsy and John Ramsey more or less refused to co-operate with police or be interviewed by them at the police station, but their considerable wealth allowed them to hire expensive attorneys, private investigators and even a publicist to handle their TV and other media appearances. They appeared on CNN shortly after the murder, before they’d even spoken to the police, and body language analysts had a field day deconstructing their on-screen behaviour.

This film makes the most of a strikingly different approach to story-telling. I can’t get the image of all those red-sweatered, fully made-up Patsies all acting out scenes from the murder/kidnapping out of my head.

Ditto the house all dressed up for Christmas. One of the boys auditioning for the part of Burke walloping a water-melon with a blunt object to see if a young lad would have the strength to kill a younger child in such a way. The beefy chap who works nights as a ‘sex educator’ who’s auditioning for the part of one of the cops. In a film about a genuinely tragic event, this guy is a ray of sunshine.

 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:
https://www.amazon.com/Thirteen-Stops-Sandra-Harris-ebook/dp/B089DJMH64
The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:
 https://www.amazon.com/dp/1781994234

LOUIS THEROUX: SAVILE. (2016) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©


LOUIS THEROUX: SAVILE. (2016) STARRING LOUIS THEROUX.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

I watched this seventy-five-minute documentary on Netflix at the weekend and found it fascinating. It’s a kind of a follow-up, if you like, to the film made by investigative journalist and broadcaster Louis Theroux in 2000, WHEN LOUIS MET JIMMY, only now the pair aren’t on chummy, palsy-walsy first name terms any more. Oh no.

Now, Louis refers to the disgraced DJ and broadcaster only by his surname, and talks openly about how he was ‘taken in’ by the consummate liar and performer that was the former BBC star Jimmy Savile. As he- Savile- had been dogged by rumours of paedophilia even during his lifetime, Louis did bring the subject up lightly with him in the 2000 film, only to be told categorically by the ‘celebrity’ that the rumours were untrue.

Savile’s reputation lies in ruins today after numerous accusations of rape, sexual abuse and sexual assault were levelled at him after his death in 2011 at the age of eighty-four. Both his grave and his former home have been vandalised. His name is mud. Louis, quite understandably, wants to distance himself from the ‘friendship’ with Savile that a lot of people probably found quite bizarre in the first place.

We are shown clips of ‘When Louis Met Jimmy’ in this later film. Shades of Norman Bates, I feel, when Savile takes us on a tour of his deceased mother’s bedroom, preserved exactly as she kept it in life. He still calls her ‘the Duchess,’ and has all her clothes dry-cleaned once a year to ‘keep ‘em fresh.’ Louis, as a favoured ‘friend,’ is permitted to sleep overnight in ‘the Duchess’s’ room during the course of making the documentary. I find that whole thing a bit creepy.

It seems to have been common knowledge in his own lifetime that Jimmy Savile, who was a coal-miner, a wrestler and the owner of nightclubs in the north of England before he shot to fame as a DJ on Radio Luxembourg, liked young girls. Really young girls, even as young as twelve and thirteen. People talked and laughed about it openly at the time, apparently. It doesn’t seem to have raised too many eyebrows back then, unfortunately for the girls, in many cases still children, who were abused.

When Savile worked on TOP OF THE POPS as a presenter, he’d apparently pluck young girls out of the audience and have sex with them in his dressing-room, or sexually assault them, as seems more likely from what we’ve been told. He had an instinct for honing in on girls who were vulnerable, friendless, lonely, penniless, or who were having trouble at home or were being abused at home.

Some of the now middle-aged women who speak to Louis Theroux in this film had been abused by relatives prior to meeting Jimmy Savile. They thought it was ‘expected’ of them to give Savile what he demanded when he’d come to their boarding school for troubled young runaway females in the ‘Seventies. (He practically had the run of the place; imagine…!)

Bribing the girls with cigarettes, a spin in his Rolls-Royce and promises of being allowed to appear on Savile’s television shows on the BBC guaranteed the ‘star’ a grope, a blow-job, hand relief and sometimes full sex in the back of the Roller. He didn’t do foreplay, finesse or feelings. It was just a quick in-and-out job, tongue in the girl’s mouth, grab her breasts and then the hand up the skirt. Let your Uncle Jimmy have a feel, that’s a good girl…

Why didn’t the girls report him? Well, they figured, who would have believed them? They were, essentially, girls in the care of the state, and he was Jimmy Savile, OBE, a national treasure, star of the BBC television and radio airwaves, who, in his lifetime, raised about forty million euros for charity. The Spinal Centre at Stoke Mandeville came about because of his tireless charity work and his sponsored marathon running. He was knighted for his charity work in 1990.

He was the darling of old ladies and kids everywhere, a sort of ‘god-like’ figure who was untouchable when it came to rumours of improprieties and other grumblings. He was pictured with such dignitaries as Prince Charles and Princess Diana, Margaret Thatcher, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, and even the Pope. Who wouldn’t be nervous about reporting a guy like that to the authorities, who would be bound to take Savile’s side?

Some women even admit they were afraid of him, and I don’t blame them. I personally reckon that there was a very nasty streak behind the affable, genial, chatty jokey front he kept up the whole time. Watch the bit where, unaware that the camera is still filming, the eccentric showbiz ‘star’ tells us what he used to do to ‘messers’ in his clubs back in the day. It seems excessive and scary to me.

And just watch him say cockily, ‘I can get anything, me,’ when Louis queries how come Savile has his home address which was supposed to be ex-directory. Another girl, who’d given birth secretly as a teenager in the ‘Seventies just before she met Savile, has the distinct feeling that he’d seen her health records prior to seeking her out. ‘You’ve been a naughty girl with your boyfriend, haven’t you?’

That, seemingly, is how he got away with everything for so long. He was more or less King Jimmy, King of the BBC, the presenter of such iconic shows as JIM’LL FIX IT and TOP OF THE POPS.

In his trademark brightly-coloured shell-suits, big plastic glasses and with a fat cigar always clamped between his discoloured and rotting teeth, he was, for a while, the most recognisable man in Britain. Next to him, it’s no wonder the girls from the children’s home felt like nobodies, who wouldn’t be believed if they told on him and who might even get into trouble for so doing.

There are a couple of old dears in this 2016 documentary who have trouble believing that Savile was the monster he’s been made out to be. One lady has worked in the Spinal Centre built by Jimmy’s fund-raising for fifty years, and the other is his long-time secretary, Janet Cope. Even though Savile sacked her without warning in 2001 after thirty-two years of faithful service, she still remains loyal-ish to his memory, appearing doubtful when Louis gives her an example of the many instances of abuse.

Ah well. To them, the ugly little gnome-like man with the shock of white hair and non-stop attention-seeking stream of ‘look at me!’ patter was their hero. Girls today would probably look askance at a picture of him and make vomiting noises at the thought of being made to touch someone so physically repulsive, someone who wore a string vest and revealing shorts at the age of seventy-four to visit Louis Theroux’s office in WHEN LOUIS MET JIMMY. It feels like everyone who knew him back then knew what he was up to, but no-one did anything about it. Thank God things have changed a bit since then.       

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:

FREEZER. (2000) A JAPANESE EROTIC HORROR-THRILLER REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

Freeze_Me

FREEZER, aka FREEZE ME. (2000) DIRECTED BY TAKASHI ISHII. STARRING HARUMI INOUE AND KAZUKI KITAMURA.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

Asian horror cinema during this period in the early years of the millenium was just unbeatable. This erotic horror-thriller hails from that exact golden era, and is a sort of Japanese ‘I Spit on your Grave,’ in which a woman gets revenge on her rapists. Here’s the deal, anyway.

An attractive young woman called Chirhiro is raped one day by three men, one of whom she knows from school. The brutal gang-rape takes place in her own home, while her single mum is out at work. The traumatised girl moves to Tokyo and starts a new life, with a new cropped hair-do instead of her long glossy locks, in order to forget the awful things that have happened to her.

Now she has a good job in a bank, a lovely apartment and even a new fiancé called Nogami, who is one of her co-workers at the bank. Everything is going swimmingly for Chirhiro in her new life, until one day, five years later, to her absolute horror, she encounters one of her rapists in her apartment building. It’s no coincidence. He’s come looking for her specially…

The rapist, a cocky young wanna-be Yakuza-type called Hirokawa, has the gall and arrogance to move in with a terrified Chirhiro, availing freely of all the facilities her apartment offers. He takes baths and showers, leaving his clothes and things around the place for her to clean up. He rudely demands food and sex, and falls sweetly asleep in Chirhiro’s bed after raping and battering her again and re-awakening all the horrors of five years earlier.

Hirokawa tells her that the other two men who raped her are en route to the apartment also. One of them, a dangerous thug, has just been released from prison for assault. The three of them are planning, if you can believe the mind-boggling cockiness of it all, to celebrate his release by forcing their way into the life- and body- of the woman they gang-raped together five years ago.

Hirokawa even threatens the petrified Chirhiro with photos and videos of the rape. The scene where he flip-flops stark naked down the hall and sticks the photos in Chirhiro’s neighbours’ letter-boxes is so absurd as to be funny, even though poor Chirhiro’s terror is real enough.

Chirhiro did nothing about the rape five years ago, as in, she didn’t report it to the police or tell friends or family about it, and she does nothing now. The rapists are relying totally on their victim’s sense of shame and embarrassment and even guilt about the rape to keep her mouth firmly welded shut.

They feel confident enough to push her around, even in front of her co-workers, and they’re right to feel so. Chirhiro is too crippled with shame to tell anyone about what’s going on in her apartment. But, when it looks like Hirokawa has cost her her relationship with her fiancé, Nogami, she awakens from her trance and snaps suddenly into revenge mode…

The revenge is a little impractical and the results hard to sustain, but Chirhiro’s mind has cracked under the strain of both the initial gang-rape and, now, of seeing her despised rapists again. And, oh my God, they really are three dreadful examples of male humanity; bullies and cowards rank with the twin stenches of self-loathing and self- pity. Boo-hoo-hoo, everything bad happens to me…!

The ending will break your heart. Your mind will be full of The Things Chirhiro Should Have Done To Help Herself Instead Of The Things She Actually Does, but it’ll be too late by then. The die will already have been very much cast.

PS, I forgot to say that there’s way more sex and nudity in this film than I ever remember seeing in any other Asian horror movie before, so that might encourage some of you naughty boys (and girls!) to stick Freezer on the old to-watch list…!

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

 

ASSAULT, also known as IN THE DEVIL’S GARDEN. (1971) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS.

assault tessa screaming

ASSAULT. (1971) BASED ON THE NOVEL ‘THE RAVINE’ BY KENDAL YOUNG. DIRECTED BY SIDNEY HAYERS. STARRING SUZY KENDALL, LESLEY-ANNE DOWN, JAMES LAURENSON, FRANK FINLAY, TONY BECKLEY, DILYS HAMLETT, ALLAN CUTHBERTSON, DAVID ESSEX AND FREDDIE JONES.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is an excellent British horror-slash-murder mystery from my absolute favourite British horror period, the early ‘Seventies. The stuff they made back then just can’t be surpassed: THE WICKER MAN, THE APPOINTMENT, CRUCIBLE OF TERROR, THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, LUST FOR A VAMPIRE and so many, many more.

In fact, the first six minutes of ASSAULT (the title is the only thing about this that I’d change, it made me word-associate it with rifles, for some reason…!) reminded me of the first five minutes of THE APPOINTMENT, a proper British chiller starring Edward Woodward from THE EQUALISER and THE WICKER MAN.

When the schoolgirl called Sandie is walking home alone from school through the lonely, forbidden path in the forest in THE APPOINTMENT and strange eerie voices are calling to her by name from inside the forest, it gives me chills every time, even though I already know what’s coming.

Speaking of the title, ASSAULT, by the way, the movie does have another title, IN THE DEVIL’S GARDEN, which might have been a little more atmospheric. It’s such a wonderfully atmospheric movie, very of the time in which it was made, and something of a sex pervert’s dream as well, featuring as it does all these sexy, sexually mature seventeen-and-eighteen-year-old schoolgirls in the tiny little pink skirts no longer than gym-slips and pristine white knee-socks they wear to school.

Is it any wonder, then, that an actual sex pervert is loose in the movie, choosing for his victims the girls from Mrs. Sanford’s School For Girls who unwisely walk home alone from school through the adjoining forest…?

The action all seems to take place in a lonely part of the forest called the Common or Devil’s End. He rapes them initially, this dreadful sex pervert, before graduating to rape coupled with strangulation leading to death. It’s a shocking state of affairs.

Lesley-Anne Down in one of her earliest roles plays Tessa Hurst, the first girl from Mrs. Sanford’s to be pursued through the woods and then brutally raped. Lesley-Anne Down (UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS, COUNTESS DRACULA, ARCH OF TRIUMPH with Anthony Hopkins, blockbuster mini-series NORTH AND SOUTH) is one of the most beautiful women ever to grace a cinema screen. Her expressive eyes, her rose-red luscious lips, her lustrous long dark hair all add up to a most pleasing picture indeed.

Her character of Tessa Hurst goes into a state of catatonic shock after the terrible attack. Even I know that, and I’m not a doctor. No amount of throwing a ball at her mid-section and expecting her to catch it will help her to snap out of her coma-like state, are you hearing this, attractive psychiatrist Dr. Greg Lomax…? Heh-heh-heh.

Within six or seven minutes of the first attack, another schoolgirl has been raped and, this time, she’s been choked to death as well. This time round, though, there’s a witness to the murder, the art teacher Julie West as played by Suzy Kendall. She’s an extremely attractive young lady, with her long glorious hippy hair, purple-tinted spectacles, knee-boots and mini-skirts. Very jazzy and of the time.

When she describes the assailant to the Judge at the inquiry as looking just like ‘the Devil,’ the Judge laughs at her and dismisses her as an over-imaginative female. The Judge is played by the same chap (Allan Cuthbertson) who attends Basil Fawlty’s first- and last- ever Gourmet Night at Fawlty Towers when the only item on the menu is, well, duck. And what do you do if you don’t like duck? Well, if you don’t like duck, I’m afraid you’re rather stuck…!

Any one of the men in the film could be the sex killer, which is what keeps the plot ticking over nicely all the way to the end. Every male character is a possible suspect.

There’s John Velyan (Frank Finlay), the copper investigating the dastardly crimes, but you never really get the feeling that he’s anything other than a straight-up copper who’s just dying to put this kinky murdering bastard behind bars where he belongs.

Then there’s the aforementioned attractive investigating psychiatrist Dr. Greg Lomax, who’s played by the devastatingly handsome James Laurenson. He’s sweet on Miss West, the beautiful art teacher, but what’s in all those pills he keeps giving her, that she obediently swallows without even questioning what’s in them? She must indeed be mesmerised by his delicious, chocolatey-brown come-to-bed peepers, because I know I certainly was, tee-hee-hee.

The most obvious suspect is probably the most odious, one Leslie Sanford who’s the husband of Mrs. Sanford who runs the Girls’ School, the school from which all the victims are chosen. Mrs. Sanford, who’s a good deal older and more staid than her husband, is utterly distraught about what’s happening to the good name of her school.

Her husband Leslie, on the other hand, is enjoying seeing his wife’s good name being dragged through the mud. His older wife’s money is what keeps him in the lap of relative luxury and boy, doesn’t he hate her for it! He feels emasculated, so he blames his wife. He even rewards her fidelity and generosity by lecherously groping the schoolgirls under her care.

Leslie Sanford loses no opportunity to slag his mortified wife off to John Velyan, the investigating police officer, but Velyan won’t play ball with the odious little man. He sees right through the nasty piece of work, who even confesses to the rapes but Velyan won’t arrest him. Why not? Let’s just say that Velyan’s got this nasty little scrap of humanity sussed…

There’s also Mr. Bartell, the principal of the local hospital, and Mr. Denning the obnoxious journalist, who absolutely should not get away with terrorising and shadowing Miss West the way he does. Just because he’s a newspaper man in search of a story doesn’t give him the right to behave the way he does.

That just leaves Milton, the police officer assigned to be Miss West’s bodyguard, to round up the list of possible suspects. There’s even a rather sinister-looking electricity pylon in the woods that looks like it might be culpable of some wrong-doing at some point.

Grip, the Sanfords’ dog, is a male all right but he definitely isn’t a suspect. Popular singer David Essex as the chap who comes into the pharmacy with his girlfriend isn’t a suspect, exactly, but he’ll certainly think twice before he whips out his lighter in public again…!

ASSAULT is one of the finest films of its time. I’m only surprised it’s not better-known. It’s got a fantastic cast and a great plot which sees a crazed sex killer running amok amongst the lovely nubile pupils of a local girls’ school. What’s not to love…?

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

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http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

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