Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.
Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or
improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if
you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can
be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.
Gordon Mason (Chard Hayward) is your typical celebrity stalker: beardy,
rather unpleasant and having a hell of a time with a blow-up doll made up like
his favourite starlet Marie Coleby (Deborah Coulls).
Unlike other celebrity stalkers, he can get comparably close to his chosen
victim/love of his life, close enough to masturbate while watching Marie doing
aerobic at the beach. Those are the perks if one works as a gardener for one's
Less pleasant is the way Marie acts around him. Although she knows nothing
about his disturbing proclivities, she treats him (like she seems to treat
everyone else where she can get away with it) like dirt. After she has gotten
shouty one time to many for Mason's not exactly sane temper, he rapes her and
then - when she doesn't react as if she had the time of her life and is now
madly in love with him - drowns Marie in her own aquarium.
Poor Marie is not the last murder Mason is going to commit that day - a
neighbour who has seen too much and a little later said neighbour's dog have to
die, too. Afterwards, Mason puts the neighbour back in his bungalow and hides
Marie's corpse. When he's just about ready to go, the singer/model's sister
Jenny Nolan (Louise Howitt) arrives to house-sit for Marie who is supposed to be
away for a photo-shoot.
Unfortunately, Jenny is a lot brighter than people in films like this usually
are and soon discovers some things that make her very suspicious of that
friendly gardener. That night, she finds the neighbour's body and can just get
out a short call to the police before her mandatory cat and mouse game with
Even when the police in form of officers Dunbar (James Elliott) and Collings
(Roger Ward) arrive, the night isn't over for Jenny.
Most of the things I read about Australian Terry Bourke's Lady Stay
Dead lead me to the assumption it was going to be another film in the
slasher mold. As it is with assumptions, I was quite wrong. The film has more in
common with the Giallo than with the simpler slasher formula. For one, no
teenagers appear in the movie, and the killer is more or less human - if rather
The sleazy parts (which just stop after about half of the film is over) are
quite unpleasant and a lot more frank when it comes to the sexual motivations of
its killer than most slashers are, having a brutal directness more common in the
Giallo or the rougher US horror films of the 70s, while the film shows only a
mild interest in gory violence, very unlike any slasher I've ever seen. I'll
probably just leave it at calling it a thriller inspired by the Giallo and be
done with it.
The film's director Terry Bourke has unfortunately produced only a small body
of work, starting with the excellent made-for-TV-but-you-wouldn't-believe-it
Night of Fear and is probably best known in cult movie circles now for
his much lesser Inn of the Damned (which annoyed me so much that I
didn't find it in me to even mention it on my blog). What the even smaller
handful of films I have seen out of his small oeuvre shows is a director very
carefully shaping the technical aspects of his films to maximize their emotional
impact, much more so than typical in a low-budget film world where time and
money are really the same thing.
Bourke shows the often conjured painterly eye in framing his scenes, but
where that description often not only suggests beauty, but also a certain
stiffness, Bourke has an excellent sense for movement and the way it builds the
rhythm of a film.
In Lady Stay Dead, there's also a wonderful use of natural light on
display. The first hour of the film takes place mostly by day, but is still able
to convey a feeling of oppression you typically don't get from scenes filmed in
I'm less enamoured of the way Bourke directs the dialogue scenes. As soon as
anyone opens his or her mouth a soap-operatic feeling of false melodrama that is
at odds with the the cleverness on display everywhere else in the film
overwhelms the scene. I'd blame it on the actors, but their body language
whenever they don't have to talk (especially Hayward gives a great physical
performance) and my knowledge of the weakness of dialogue scenes in other Bourke
films put the responsibility here squarely on the director's shoulders.
Lady Stay Dead gets around this problem relatively easily thanks to
the sparseness of dialogue in it. It is not a film built on deep
characterization and clever repartee, but rather on an escalation of violence
and suspense, and so keeps the talking to a minimum. I have the feeling Bourke
realized his own weaknesses as a director quite well, seeing how Night of
Fear avoided dialogue completely. In the earlier film, I initially took the
lack of dialogue to be just a gimmick, but I am not so sure about that
The thing of note about Lady Stay Dead really is the sense of
escalation, though. There is something slightly sardonic about the way the film
goes about this main job. It starts out sleazy, gets nastier and drops the
sleaziness altogether, slows down and then accelerates again and again, raising
the stakes without feeling the need to show anyone's guts other than
To some it might be problematic how little else there is to the film. It is a
thrilling ride, but that is all it is. While it at first seems as if Bourke is
trying to make points about class and the sexualization of the female image,
that potential subtext disappears completely once Marie is dead, leaving only
bare-bones characterization and a well done thrill-ride behind.
However, since the film never pretends to be anything else but a thriller,
I'm judging it by how well it manages to keep me at the edge of my seat. That,
it does very well indeed.