“Prom Night” (1980)

Hamilton High School’s principal, Mr. Hammond, played by two time Emmy nominee Leslie Nielsen (The Naked Gun), is concerned for his wife’s (Antoinette Bower) welfare. It’s the anniversary of their ten year old daughter Robin’s (Tammy Bourne) death. The Hammond’s two other children: Kim portrayed by two time Golden Globe winner Jamie Lee Curtis (True Lies); and Alex (Michael Tough), are also saddened by thoughts of their sister’s passing. (As an aside: Eve Plumb (The Brady Bunch) auditioned for the role of Kim Hammond. She was set to play the part, but once Jamie Lee Curtis agreed to take the role, Plumb was released.)

Unbeknownst to the Hammond family, the perpetrators of the crime were four children, now high school seniors: Wendy (Anne-Marie Martin); Nick (Casey Stevens); Kelly (Mary Beth Rubens); and Jude (Joy Thompson). At the start of the film, the four children are playing a game of ‘the killer is coming’ a take-off on ‘hide and go seek.’ The setting is an abandoned psychiatric hospital. When Robin is discovered in the building, the other children repeatedly chant ‘kill,’ their voices getting louder with each passing second. Robin is very frightened, and she backs up toward an open second floor window, and falls to her death. The friends swear themselves to secrecy. The only problem is that someone witnessed what happened to Robin.

Six years later, the anniversary of Robin’s death coincides with the prom. The theme is ‘disco madness,’ a prophetic choice  considering what’s to transpire later that evening. The four friends begin receiving cryptic phone calls. As the film progresses, the mysterious phone calls escalate to murder. Making matters worse, a sex offender, the person the authorities prosecuted, and who was wrongly convicted for Robin’s death, has escaped from the mental hospital. Lt. McBride (George Touliatos), has been alerted. He stakes himself out at the high school, and has his officers searching everywhere for the escaped man.

One of the aspects of “Prom Night” that comes across well, is that it keeps viewers guessing as to who the killer is. The killer could be any of the following: The grieving parents, Mr. and Mrs. Hammond; Mr. Sykes (Robert A. Silverman), the high school’s groundskeeper, who seems to be misunderstood and harmless, but perhaps there is more to him than he’s letting on; In addition, it could be the escaped mental patient, seeking revenge for being falsely accused and incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit. There are also Robin’s siblings Alex and Kim, either of them might feel justified in killing those who were responsible for their sister’s death. Perhaps it is none of the above. Is the mysterious caller responsible? Will he or she turn out to be someone no one would suspect? The killer’s identity and more will be revealed by the film’s conclusion.

“Prom Night” was directed by Paul Lynch (RoboCop). The screenplay for the film was written by William Gray (The Philadelphia Experiment) and eight time Emmy winner Robert Gaza Jr. (Loving). Parts horror, mystery, and thriller, the movie has a runtime of 92 minutes. The film was released in U.S. theaters on July 18, 1980. “Prom Night” was followed by three sequels “Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II; Prom Night III: The Last Kiss; and Prom Night IV: Deliver Us from Evil. (As an aside: Hamilton High School is the only setting that appears in all four films. Furthermore, Paul Lynch had difficulty securing the financing for the film until Jamie Lee Curtis signed on).

Leaving aside Robin’s death at the start of the movie, “Prom Night” takes its time in terms of its horror aspect. The last half hour of the film is when the killer, attired in all black and wearing a ski mask, attempts to exact their revenge. The soundtrack is disco infused, which led to the only part of the film that grew a bit tedious, an almost four minute disco dance scene during the prom. I am always amused at movies that take place in a high school setting, where as soon as the music begins, seemingly everyone becomes a wonderful dancer. When I would attend a high school dance, it seemed that one third of the students would sit on the bleachers, another third, more often than not the group I was in, would stand and talk in small groups, and another third would attempt to dance, in most instances, poorly at that. Overall, “Prom Night” is a good 1980’s slasher film, that rises above many of its competitors from the time period, in terms of the plot where the killer’s motivation is more than just mindless mayhem.

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“The Vampire Lovers”

“The Vampire Lovers” begins on the fog filled, dilapidated grounds of the Karnstein property. Baron Hortog (Douglas Wilmer) has kept watch all through the night. The Karnstein’s are not ordinary people; they are a family of vampires. One of the family members murdered the Baron’s sister to satisfy their need for blood. The Baron is there to seek revenge, and revenge he gets. When one of the female Karnstein’s (Kirsten Lindholm) returns from her nocturnal activity, he beheads her. The Baron than works through the night to destroy the remaining vampires as they sleep in their coffins, but there is one grave he can’t find.

The grave that the Baron could not find was that of Mircalla Karnstein. The scene shifts from the Baron to a lavish party the following evening at General von Spielsdorf’s mansion. The part of the general is played by BAFTA winner Peter Cushing (House of Long Shadows). The Countess (Dawn Addams) arrives with Mircalla, pretending to be the niece of The Countess, she is going under the pseudonym Marcilla. The eyes of every man in the room are focused on the attractive Marcilla and she is immediately asked to dance.

Marcilla is portrayed by Ingrid Pitt (Where Eagles Dare). A short period of time passes when a mysterious man (John Forbes – Robertson), dressed in black, replete with top hat, appears and has words with The Countess. She needs to leave. The Countess informs General von Spielsdorf that she needs to ride through the night, and would he mind looking after Marcilla until her return. The general is all too happy to have Marcilla as his houseguest.

The general’s daughter Laura (Pippa Steel) is taken with Marcilla. At one point, Laura fears that Marcilla will have to leave once The Countess returns, but she tells Laura that she’ll never leave her; it’s all a ploy. Soon after Marcilla arrives Laura begins having nightmares, but unbeknownst to her, they are all too real. Marcilla comes to Laura in what she thinks are dreams and drains her blood. After a bit of time, the young girl dies and Marcilla moves on. She is always aided by The Countess, and the mysterious man in black, who is never far behind.

Marcilla changes her name for her next victim. This time she is called Carmilla. Her intended target is Emma (Madeline Smith). She is the daughter of wealthy, landowner Roger Morton, a role acted by BAFTA nominee George Cole (Minder). Carmilla makes quick work of ingratiating herself to Emma, her father, and members of the household staff, such as the governess Mme. Perrodot (Kate O’Mara) and the butler Renton (Harvey Hall). Once more, even though Carmilla is taken with the young beauty, Emma begins to have nightmares. Will Emma fall victim to Carmilla’s need to drink human blood?

Trivia buffs take note: The role of the Man In Black was offered to Christopher Lee, but he turned the part down. Even though Ingrid Pitt is playing a vampire, she can walk in sunlight and cast a reflection, which is not the norm in vampire lore. The filmmakers did, however, keep the traditional vampire repellants of the cross and garlic. Ingrid Pitt was offered a part in the sequel “Lust for a Vampire” (1971), but she didn’t care for the script and opted to star in the film “Countess Dracula,” (1971). Additionally, there was a third film in the series, “Twins of Evil” (1971). The three films are collectively known as “The Karnstein Trilogy.” “The Vampire Lovers” became the first Hammer horror film to contain nudity, as well as the fist Hammer film to receive an R rating in the United States.

“The Vampire Lovers” was directed by Roy Ward Baker (The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires). The film was adapted from the 1872 novella written by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. The screenplay was a faithful adaptation written by Tudor Gates (Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson). Harry Fine (Fright), and Emmy nominee Michael Style (Luther), brought the adaptation to the screen. The horror film premiered in the United Kingdom on October 4, 1970.

The film has a bit of an unwarranted reputation. Yes, there is some nudity, but not as much as some reviewers make it out to be. There is an element of overt sexuality that exists between Pitt’s character, Laura, and Emma, but for a film that has been dubbed a lesbian vampire movie, it is terribly mislabeled. Those viewers who have heard what the film is about and watch it expecting to see a 1970s version of BAFTA nominee Abdellatif Kechiche’s 2013 film “Blue is the Warmest Color” are going to be woefully disappointed. “The Vampire Lovers” for the most part is implied, almost nothing is shown.

The film features excellent production design and use of atmosphere. Pitt is intense and passionate in the role. Overall, she does a better than average job conveying a centuries old female vampire, who is a master at using seduction to prey on her vulnerable victims. At the same time, however, she is able to bring a bit of pathos to the character, in certain scenes. A viewer might wonder if Pitt’s character enjoys her life as a vampire, or would trade it all away to be able to live with one person who truly loves her. This film is recommended for fans of horror film icon Ingrid Pitt, those interested in vintage horror films, and those viewers who can’t get enough of cinematic vampires.

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“Monkey Shines”

The film “Monkey Shines” begins with Allan Mann portrayed by Jason Beghe (Chicago P.D.) having just woken up. Laying next to him is his attractive girlfriend Linda played by three time Golden Globe nominee Janine Turner (Northern Exposure). The athletic Allan, who is also a law school student, starts his day with a jog. Before leaving his house, he weighs down his backpack with bricks. While jogging, he gets distracted for a second and is hit by a truck.

Allan is rushed to the hospital, where he is operated on by the arrogant, Dr. John Wiseman. In the role of the doctor, is two time Golden Globe winner Stanley Tucci (Winchell). Despite the surgery, the accident leaves Allan a quadriplegic. Before returning home, his house is made accessible, and he is given the use of an electric wheelchair that is controlled by his breathing into a tube.

Things for Allan, after returning home, are less than desirable. Linda leaves him. Maryanne (Christine Forrest), his home health nurse is foul tempered. In addition, his mother Dorothy (Joyce Van Patten), who is well meaning and cares for him, comes across as overprotective. Allan is understandably embittered, and sees utter despair for his future.

Allan’s best friend Geoffrey, played by John Pankow (Mad About You), is a gifted chemist. The experiments he is conducting are under the watchful supervision of Dean Burbage, a role acted by Emmy nominee Stephen Root (Barry). According to Burbage, the work is not advancing at the pace the financial donors of the university were hoping for. Geoffrey is doing work with Capuchin monkeys. The experiments involve him injecting human brain tissue into the monkeys. This, he is doing, in the hopes that the monkeys will become smarter.

Geoffrey knows how desperate and depressed Allan is. He gets an idea. One of his monkeys, Ella, demonstrates that she is superior in intellect to the other monkeys. Stating to Dean Burbage that Ella has died during the experiments, Geoffrey seeks out help. He asks an animal trainer, Melanie Parker (Kate McNeil), to train Ella to assist Allan.

Allan and Ella have a wonderful rapport with one another. The monkey seemingly can anticipate his every need. Furthermore, his mind, much to Allan’s bewilderment appears to be merging with Ellas’s mind. Soon after that takes place, bad things being to happen to those who’ve wronged Allan. He suspects that Ella is involved, carrying out his thoughts of revenge on his behalf. Is Allan correct?

“Monkey Shines” was written and directed by George A. Romero (Dawn of the Dead). The film was based on the novel of the same name written by Michael Stewart. The psychological, horror novel was published by Freundlich Books on September 1, 1983. Parts drama, horror, Sci-Fi, and thriller, the movie has a runtime of 113 minutes. The score, composed by Oscar winner David Shire (Norma Rae), helps to set the right tone for what is transpiring on screen. The film was released to U.S. theaters on July 29, 1988.

This is the sort of film where suspension of disbelief needs to be used, especially as it pertains to the science. There are several scenes involving genuine fright. Animal lovers need not worry, as it states before the beginning of the movie, no monkeys were harmed during filming. Beghe is very believable in the role opposite his primate co-star. The movie is another of George A. Romero’s work that departs from the zombie horror genre, but is no less interesting.

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The Department of Scientific Intelligence, known as The Shop, conducts secret experiments. Golden Globe nominee David Keith (An Officer and a Gentleman) plays Andy McGee. He and his wife Vicky, a role acted by six time Golden Globe nominee Heather Locklear (Spin City), were involved in one of the experiments. Andy and Vicky, along with a number of other people, were injected with something called Lot Six. They are told it’s a mild hallucinogen. Andy and Vicky are the only two participants who survive the experiment, and the drug alters both of them. Vicky gains the ability to read minds, and Andy can make people do exactly what he wants. For example, he gives a person a dollar bill and makes them think he handed them five hundred dollars, but his power comes with a price.

The young couple fall in love and begin a life together. Vicky gives birth to their daughter Charlie. Golden Globe winner Drew Barrymore (Grey Gardens) portrays Charlie McGee. As the child begins to grow, she demonstrates that she has an incredible power, pyrokinesis, which is the ability to create and control fire by using her mind.

The chief scientist of The Shop, Dr. Joseph Wanless, played by BAFTA nominee Freddie Jones (Menace),wants the McGees back under his control. When it comes to eight year old Charlie, he wants her dead. Dr. Wanless is afraid that when she grows older, if her power remains unchecked, she will bring the world to an end. Captain Hollister, portrayed by Emmy and Golden Globe winner Martin Sheen (The West Wing), wants to harness Charlie’s power and use it as a weapon. John Rainbird, a role acted by Oscar winner George. C. Scott (Patton), works as a hitman for The Shop. He has his reasons for also wanting Charlie to live, at least temporarily.

Staying on the run from The Shop is exhausting for Andy and Charlie. Vicky has already been dealt with. During their travels, the McGee’s come across people who lend them help. For example, there is Irv Manders portrayed by Oscar winner Art Carney (Harry and Tonto). He and his wife Norma, played by Oscar winner Louise Fletcher (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), witness The Shop’s attempt to take the McGee’s into custody, and they see the phenomenal power Charlie possesses.

How long will Andy and Charlie be able to outrun The Shop? What will happen if The Shop does capture Charlie? Will she be used as a weapon for nefarious purposes? Those questions and more will be answered by the end of the film.

“Firestarter” was directed by Mark L. Lester (White Rush). The screenplay was written by Oscar nominee Stanley Mann (The Collector). The film is based on prolific, best selling author, Stephen King’s novel of the same name. The novel was published on September 29, 1980 by Viking Press. Parts action, horror, Sci-Fi, and thriller, the movie has a runtime of 114 minutes. The film was released in the United States on May 11, 1984. On March 10, 2002, the television mini-series “Firestarter 2; Rekindled” debuted on American television. The mini-series was directed by Emmy winner Robert Iscove (Save the Last Dance). The teleplay was written by Philip Eisner (Event Horizon). The series centers around an adult version of Charlie McGee played by Marguerite Moreau.

Trivia buffs take note: “Firestarter” was originally going to be directed by John Carpenter (Halloween). He was removed after less than stellar critical reviews and the bad box office take for “The Thing.” “Firestarter” was the film debut of Heather Locklear. King’s novel was the first of his work to ever be published as a limited edition. Martin Sheen replaced Oscar and three time BAFTA winner Burt Lancaster (Elmer Gantry), who needed to have heart surgery. Oscar winner Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind) was considered for the role of Charlie, as was Heather O’Rourke (Poltergeist).

This was the second time I watched “Firestarter.” I watched the movie once when I was a teenager, so it’s been a number of years. If memory serves me correctly, the first time I watched the film, I didn’t particularly care for it. Perhaps I wasn’t in the mood for it that day, because I liked it during this subsequent viewing. The film has an excellent cast, who all perform their respective roles well. Drew Barrymore proves that famous acting family aside, she has talent, which has been validated critically as her career progressed into adulthood. Overall, the film held my interest from start to finish.

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“Malignant” begins in the 1990s at the Simion Research Hospital. Dr. Florence Weaver (Jacqueline McKenzie) is recording a video tape for her records, when all of a sudden the situation inside the hospital becomes chaotic. Dr. Victor Fields, played by Emmy winner Christian Clemenson (Boston Legal), is attempting to get the situation under control; it is not working out so well for him, or the other members of staff. A mysterious patient, who Dr. Weaver refers to as ‘the cancer’ needs to be operated on immediately. Afterward, the film moves forward from the 90s to the present day.

When the film transitions to the present, it centers on Madison Mitchell portrayed by Annabelle Wallis (The Mummy). She lives with her verbally and physically abusive husband, Derek (Jake Abel). Madison returns from work to find Derek lounging on the bed watching television. She asks him if she could please lay down, that she needs some rest. Madison is pregnant, and she is concerned because she’s already suffered three miscarriages in the past two years. Instead of being understanding, her husband, the cretin, shoves her hard into the wall, which causes her head to bleed. Later that evening, after the lights begin to flicker, doors open up on their own, and the creepy image of something is reflected in glass, Derek learns what it is like to be on the receiving end of physical abuse. The only difference is, that unlike Madison, he is killed. His body resembles something the likes of which, would be hard to fathom, even from a horrific car accident. Madison will not be spared, but she’ll survive her would be attacker, and be taken to the hospital.

Arriving on the scene later that evening are Detectives’ Regina Moss (Michole Briana White), and Kekoa Shaw (George Young). They don’t have much to go on, other than thinking it was more than likely a home invasion. Shaw goes to see Madison at the hospital the next day, where he meets and takes a liking to her sister Sydney (Maddie Hasson). Madison is in no mood to talk, so Sydney lets Shaw know what little she can.

The home invasion set up of the film, soon gives way to something more sinister. This will not be a surprise to viewers, based on the opening sequence, as well as the kind of attack that took place inside Madison’s house. Not long after she returns home from the hospital, she begins to have surrealistic visions of a killer garbed all in black, who sports long black hair, and is murdering people. For Madison, who goes into a state of paralysis when the visions overtake her mind and body, it is as if she is actually present where the murders are being committed.

This is not the first time Madison has encountered strange occurrences in her life. When she was a child (McKenna Grace), she had an imaginary friend named Gabriel who wanted her to do terrible things to the people who cared for her, and whom, it seemed, Madison genuinely loved. Madison and Sydney set out to do their own investigation apart from the detectives, who are skeptical of everything Madison tells them, especially about her visions. Their first stop is their mother Jeanne’s (Susanna Thompson) farm. While there, the three begin to piece together clues as to the mystery of not only what took place in the past, but who or what might be responsible for the murderous mayhem in the present.  (As an aside: The voice of Gabriel was done by Ray Chase, and the physical performance was acted by Marina Mazepa).

“Malignant” was filmed on location in Seattle, Washington. There is a scene in the movie, where a tour guide is giving a group of people a walkthrough of underground Seattle. That tour was not created for the film; it is a real attraction, and open to the public. The movie was directed by James Wan (Aquaman). Furthermore, Wan co-wrote the screenplay along with Ingrid Bisu (Cafeaua de dimineata), and Akela Cooper (Luke Cage). Parts crime, horror, mystery, and thriller, the film has a runtime of 111 minutes. The movie premiered in France on September 1, 2021. Originally, the film was scheduled to be released on August 14, 2020. The movie’s release was delayed because of COVID. For those of you who are into graphic novels and may be wondering, in interviews, Wan has made clear that the movie is not based on the graphic novel “Malignant Man.” 

The atmosphere in the film is well done and captures the right feel for what is being showcased on screen. Exposition, especially for the first hour, is limited, and that, in my opinion, is a good thing. The movie takes its time to reveal the truth of what is behind the murders and Gabriel’s presence in Madison’s life. The slower pace of information helped to keep me invested in the story, and aided in terms of building the tension. The movie does not concentrate solely on the horror aspects. There are some well executed action sequences that should also hold viewers’ attention. The music composed by Joseph Bishara (Insidious) matches up well with what is transpiring on screen. In addition, the cinematography by Michael Burgess (Logan) did an excellent job of capturing everything in the film, but most especially the action sequences.

The film has garnered mixed reviews; viewers either seemed to enjoy it and take it for what it is, or outright thought it was awful. I am in the former category. I thought the story moved at a good pace. As mentioned previously, I liked the fact that the information was not given all within the first half hour of the film. I thought the cast as a whole did a competent job; especially, and I am not taking away from the other cast members performances, but the physical acting of Marina Mazepa as Gabriel was excellent. Overall, I found “Malignant” entertaining with a good twist ending.

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“Scars of Dracula”

In the film “Scars of Dracula,” BAFTA Academy Fellowship Winner Christopher Lee (The Wicker Man) portrays the iconic Dracula. At the start of the film an imposing bat hovers above Dracula’s ash filled coffin. The bat drips blood from its fangs. Once the blood touches the ashes, Dracula begins to materialize; replete with the alabaster skin tone, bloodshot eyes and jutting fangs. The menacing and murderous Dracula needs blood to survive, and it doesn’t take long before people from the nearest village, and unsuspecting travelers, fall victim to his blood lust. An angry group of villagers, led by the innkeeper (Michael Ripper) storms the castle and sets it ablaze. They fail in their attempt, however, to destroy Dracula, and the consequences for their actions are dire for those who they love.

Coinciding with Dracula’s re-birth are events that take place in the town of Kleinenberg. Paul Carlson (Christopher Matthews) is on the run. He was having a tryst with the burgomaster’s (Bob Todd) daughter Alice (Delia Lindsay). Paul needed to leave, but Alice wanted him to spend the night. When he refuses, and her father comes home, she accuses Paul of trying to have his way with her.

The place Paul needed to be is his younger brother Simon’s (Dennis Waterman) fiancé Sarah’s (Jenny Hanley) birthday party. While he does make it the party, two guards, one of whom is played by BAFTA winner David Leland (Wish You Were Here), are in pursuit of him. He flees and will eventually wind up at Castle Dracula.

When he doesn’t return, Simon goes looking for Paul. Sarah insists that she go with him. Arriving at the castle, they first encounter Klove, Dracula’s badly scarred servant. The part of Klove is played by Patrick Troughton (Doctor Who). Klove is taken with Sarah. She might be the only reason the couple make it out of the situation alive. (As an aside: Troughton portrayed the second incarnation of the Doctor from 1966 through 1969, on the immensely popular and long running British science fiction television series, Doctor Who).

What will Simon and Sarah find when they get to Castle Dracula? Is Paul still alive? Can Dracula be defeated? All of those questions and more will be answered by the conclusion of the film’s runtime which is 95 minutes.

Trivia buffs take note: “Scars of Dracula” was the sixth film in Hammer’s Dracula series. BAFTA winner Peter Cushing (Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope) was offered a starring role in the film, but had to turn it down due to scheduling conflicts. In “The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires” (1974), John Forbes – Robertson became the only other actor who portrayed Dracula in a Hammer Film, besides Christopher Lee. “Scars of Dracula” is one of four Dracula films made in 1970, in which Lee acted in the role of Dracula. The other three were “Count Dracula,” “One More Time,” and “Taste the Blood of Dracula.”

“Scars of Dracula” was directed by Roy Ward Baker (Asylum). The screenplay was written by Anthony Hinds (Legend of the Werewolf), based on characters created by Bram Stoker in his novel “Dracula.” The horror film premiered in the United Kingdom on November 8, 1970. (As an aside: Dracula was first published in London on May 26, 1897 by Archibald Constable and Company).

The film didn’t have a large budget to work with, but the sets, as well as the use of atmosphere were utilized well. Hammer films, usually didn’t contain as much blood as “Scars of Dracula.” Lee was given more dialogue than he often was in films in which he played Dracula. The ensemble cast did a competent job with their respective roles, and Lee completely embodied the Dracula character. Recommended for fans of Christopher Lee, Hammer films, and those viewers who like vintage horror movies.

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“Survive the Night by Riley Sager”

“Survive the Night,” the newest offering from bestselling author Riley Sager, takes place in 1991. Charlie Jordan, a college film major, at Olyphant University, is struggling to deal with the murder of her best friend and roommate Maddy. She wants to leave campus immediately. Charlie feels responsible for what happened to Maddy. Instead of socializing with her friend, the two got into an argument, and Charlie left Maddy at the bar, to walk home by herself. The next morning, Maddy became the third victim of the person known as the Campus Killer.

In order to leave campus as quickly as possible, Charlie posts an add on the ride share board. She needs someone who is either driving to Ohio, or who will be passing through and can drop her off at her grandmother’s house. The charismatic, Josh Baxter, seems too good to be true. Like Charlie, he is headed to Ohio. Josh says that he needs to get to his father, who is sick. The two agree to travel together, but right from the outset, when Josh picks Charlie up and doesn’t let her get a look inside the trunk of his car, she begins to suspect, that perhaps she made a terrible mistake agreeing to ride with him. Since it is 1991, it’s not as if Charlie had the ability to look up Josh on social media, nor does she have a cell phone if she gets in trouble. Sager was smart to set the story in 1991, because if Charlie did have a cell, unless it got damaged, it would be implausible for her to stay in a dangerous situation for one second more than she had to.  

While the premise of Sager’s novel might seem simplistic, readers have to have a bit of patience, to see that in the end, Sager is not being formulaic. The more time passes that Charlie is a passenger in Josh’s car, the more her dread grows. She believes that she is in a dangerous situation. As the two have been talking, Charlie has picked up on things that Josh says, that are different from what he previously told her; at least that is what she thinks. Her mindset is that perhaps Josh sought her out. Charlie saw someone with Maddy, at the bar, from a distance, the night she was murdered. Unfortunately, Charlie hasn’t been able to recall any details that would help identify her friend’s killer.

A reader might get a sense, while reading Sager’s novel, that Charlie is an unreliable narrator. She is not merely a film major, but a connoisseur of cinema. As the reader will learn, Charlie deals with cinematic hallucinations in her head, as if an actual movie were playing for her own private amusement. Film provides Charlie with a focal point to seemingly everything that is going on in her life. In order to escape the trauma that she has dealt with, which sadly, includes more than just Maddy’s murder, Charlie escapes into her fantasy world. In the process, she zones out from reality and loses time. When she wakes, she’s not sure what is real and what is the product of her imagination. Sager seamlessly blends the lines between what Charlie has imagined and what is actually taking place. This helps to keep the car ride tense. The novel, as it advances, offers some excellent twists and turns. I don’t want to write further about plot points, because I have no interest in ruining anything for those of you who might be interested in reading Sager’s work.

Is Josh Baxter the campus killer? Was he following Charlie, waiting for the perfect opportunity to set up a situation where he can get her alone? Why didn’t he want her to see what was in the trunk? Is the whole situation one of Charlie’s cinematic delusions? All of those questions and more will be answered by the novel’s conclusion.

“Survive the Night” was published on June 29, 2021 by Dutton Books. Parts horror, mystery, suspense, and thriller, the novel is 324 pages. I’ve been a fan of Sager’s since his first novel, “Final Girls,” and this book, the fifth that he’s written, did not disappoint. While reading this novel, I found myself saying “just one more page” as I glanced at the time on my cell phone and realized I had about five hours before I had to get up for work.

In closing, Sager, in my opinion, has done it again. He’s written characters that are easy to cheer for, a page turner that keeps the tension up, and an ending that will bring the narrative together without leaving unanswered questions for the reader to decide what took place. Recommended for fans of the author, and those of you who are reading this that are perhaps looking to get into a new author. I also would recommend this to those of you who enjoy reading well written suspense.

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“Dark Side of the Ring: The Collision in Korea”

The first episode of the “Dark Side of the Ring” series aired on April 10, 2019. The episode was called “The Match Made in Heaven,” and centered on the relationship between immensely popular wrestler Randy Macho Man Savage, and his beatific and equally popular real life wife, Miss Elizabeth. I had a strong familiarity with the events surrounding the couple’s meteoric rise to fame, as well as the successful and tragic events that befell both of them after they were no longer married. While watching the episode, I wondered what other content the series creators were going to showcase to wrestling fans. I particularly wanted to learn about behind the scenes aspects of the wrestling business, that I wasn’t knowledgeable about; as the series has progressed, a great deal of its content I’ve heard discussed before. There are, however, exceptions, such as the episode “The Collision in Korea.” The incidents that took place in North Korea over a four day period was something that I was completely unfamiliar with, and the subject matter held me in rapt attention.

In 1995, the WWF (The World Wrestling Federation), since May of 2002, WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment), dominated the wrestling television landscape. Wrestling promoter and marketing genius, Vince McMahon’s company had a vise grip on the wrestling business. The WWF had achieved its status by building characters since the 1980s, that not only adults could cheer for, such as Hulk Hogan, or root against, for example, Rowdy Roddy Piper, but the WWF was able to delineate between the good and the bad guys. This was done, not only by showcasing wrestling throughout the country, but by creating extravaganzas such as WrestleMania; from its inaugural event at Madison Square Garden on March 31, 1985, it helped to further capture the imaginations of wrestling fans. WrestleMania, at the time, helped to solidify the WWF’s place as the top company in the business. Children were the key, and McMahon knew this. If children are enamored with a product, which they were, seeing people they regarded as superheroes come to life, parents are going to bring the children, and of course, wind up spending money. In 1995, as WWF was continuing to beat its seemingly lone competition in America, WCW (World Championship Wrestling), a highly intelligent, charismatic, young man, Eric Bischoff, whose name, in the not too far off future, would become synonymous with professional wrestling, took over WCW. His main goal upon becoming president of the operation was to increase the ratings. He was not above thinking outside the box in order to compete, as well as having the foresight to renegotiate old business deals, that he felt never should have been allowed to lapse in the first place. 

 The first thing Bischoff did to attempt to build up “WCW” was to reestablish the business connection between his company and NJPW (New Japan Pro-Wrestling). Bischoff felt that there was a lucrative opportunity, and he was correct, to set up an exchange of talent. Wrestlers from NJPW would come to America and garner exposure to American television audiences, and, in turn, American wrestlers would go to Japan and compete on tour; it was a win, win, for both companies. Not long into the success of the talent exchange, Bischoff was approached by Antonio Inoki. The man was not just another wrestler or run of the mill promoter. Inoki was a politician, NJPW’s wrestling promoter, and one of the most popular individuals in all of Japan. In fact, it was Inoki, through his popularity and political gamesmanship, that helped to secure the release of Japanese hostages that were being held captive in Iraq. Like Bischoff, Inoki wasn’t above thinking on a grandiose scale. For example, his trips to North Korea, which didn’t sit well with the Japanese government. The government let him know that if he got into trouble in North Korea, there would be virtually nothing they could do to help him.  

Inoki had a vision to bring professional wrestling, for the first time ever, to the people of North Korea. This was not going to be just another wrestling show, Inoki wanted the wrestling event to be billed as part of a peace festival. The North Korean’s, in an act of sheer surprise, agreed to Inoki’s request. Inoki had been granted permission by the North Korean government to hold a two night wrestling event in Rungrado May Day Stadium, in Pyongyang, the capital and largest city in North Korea. What Inoki needed next, was to line up talent for the event. Inoki attempted to get mega superstar, Michael Jackson, to serve as a good will ambassador, but Jackson’s people, fearing for his safety, declined the offer. Next, he approached Bischoff about asking Hulk Hogan, if he would be a part of the wrestling show, but Hogan politely declined. After the first two rejections, talent-wise, things began to take shape for Inoki. Muhammad Ali, the first fighter to ever win the heavyweight title three times, amongst his 56 victories during a 21 year career, agreed to be Inoki’s good will peace ambassador in North Korea. On the wrestling side of things, Ric Flair, who was second to Hogan in terms of being a household name, agreed to be Inoki’s opponent for the main event. Additional wrestlers and wrestling talents, included, but were not limited to: Scott Norton, Sonny Onoo, and 2 Cold Scorpio, all three of whom comment throughout the episode. (As an aside: The two night wrestling event was attended by approximately 300,000 people).  

From the moment the plane took off from Japan things started to backfire for those who went on the trip. As some of the wrestlers described their time in the Hermit Kingdom, as North Korea is sometimes referred to, was like being in hell. Death threats, fights, intimidation by the North Korean government, constant supervision, and harassment are many, but not all of the things that come up during the episode. One specific example, involved Bischoff. One morning, Bischoff decided to go for a run, like he would in the states. He didn’t inform his attaché, every one of the wrestlers was assigned one, and he went for a run. He said the streets in Pyongyang were pitch black. A short while into his run the sun came out. When people saw him running down the street, they started darting in every direction. Bischoff specifically mentioned that he saw school children with terror in their eyes at the sight of him. As one of the Japanese talents mentioned, most of the people who viewed Bischoff running had never seen an American before. The North Koreans had been warning their people since the end of The Korean War on July 27, 1953, that the Americans were going to come back and help South Korea take over the country. The people on the streets who saw Bischoff, thanks to such tight government control of actual news, thought Bischoff was part of the American military, come to kill them.

“Dark Side of the Ring: The Collision in Korea,” was directed by Jason Eisener (Hobo with a Shotgun). The teleplay was co-written by Eisener along with Evan Husney (The Theater Bizarre). Parts documentary, drama, history, and sport the episode has an approximate runtime of forty minutes. Released on May 20, 2021, the episode was narrated by wrestling star Chris Jericho. In addition to wrestling, Jericho has appeared on the television series “Dancing with the Stars,” and has been the lead singer of the rock band “Fozzy,” since its inception in Atlanta, Georgia in 1999.

In closing, if I had been on that trip, after I got a sense that if I said or did the wrong thing it could cost me my life, I would have passed the time without incident. In my mind, I could go without attempting to find outlets to entertain myself, as if I were back in my home state of Florida. There would be no form of disrespect coming from me, if I managed to get through on the telephone, back to friends or family in the states. The phone calls, in those situations, are inevitably being listened to, so I believe I could refrain from stating how much I hated the host government. The room would be where I’d pass my time, and most assuredly keep my mouth shut. While passing the time, I’d inwardly pray that at the end of the four days, my passport, which would’ve been confiscated, as all of the talents’ were, would be returned to me, so I could leave North Korea. Of course, do I know if I my actions would’ve differed from anyone else on that trip, no. I’d like to think that I would have used my common sense to gauge the situation, and adjusted my behavior accordingly. “The Collision in Korea,” in my opinion, is a can’t miss episode of the “Dark Side of the Ring” series for wrestling fans.


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“The Courier”

The film “The Courier” begins in the early 1960s. Nikita Khrushchev (Vladimir Chuprikov) is addressing a room full of high ranking Soviet politicians and people important within the communist party. The First Secretary of the Communist Party states that he is not content with the Soviet Union’s current standing in the world. He wants to expand Russia’s sphere of influence by placing missiles within communist countries like Cuba, as a strategic military deterrent against attacks from America.

Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze), the ranking member of the Soviet trade delegation, doesn’t like what he hears. He is worried that what Khrushchev wants to do has the potential to begin World War III. From the outset, he begins to formulate a plan to thwart the First Secretary. Who can he turn to?

British businessman Greville Wynne is leading a moderately successful life. He’s a charming, salesman who sells factory equipment to companies throughout Europe. The character is completely embodied by BAFTA and Emmy winner Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock). One of the ways Wynne endears himself to his clients is by playing and losing to them on the golf course. His home life is good. He’s married to Sheila played by BAFTA winner Jessie Buckley (Wild Rose). The couple have one child, a son, Andrew (Keir Hills). Wynne is not, however, as far along in his career as he would like to be.

Wynne’s chance to elevate his standing in the world and grow his business comes from people he never thought he would deal with. The businessman is just the sort of person that MI6 headed by Dickie Franks (Angus Wright); and CIA agent Emily Donovan played by Emmy winner Rachel Brosnaham (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) are seeking. He’s a good businessman, but not so powerful and recognizable that he can’t blend in.

Franks and Donovan want Wynne to travel to Moscow and attempt to entice Penkovsky into business ventures. While Wynne can conduct business and is free to get whatever financial compensation from the Soviets he can gather, the cover story is a ruse. Wynne has signed up to help smuggle secret information such as pictures of military buildups out of Moscow and into the hands of MI6 and the CIA. Penkovsky doesn’t need convincing; all he wants is safe passage to America for himself and his family once the mission is completed.

What starts out between Wynne and Penkovsky as a business arrangement grows into a strong bond. The two men become friends. During one of the lighter scenes in the film, Penkovsky visits London with members of his trade delegation, and they learn firsthand, how people in a free society were living at the time. Wynne is equally taken by the parts of Moscow that Penkovsky showcases to him.

Will Wynne and Penkovsky be able to complete their mission? Does the information Penkovsky is risking his life to get worth the effort? What will happen if either man is caught? All of those questions and more will be answered by the film’s conclusion.

“The Courier” was directed by BAFTA nominee Dominic Cooke (The Hollow Crown). The screenplay was written by Tom O’Connor (The Hitman’s Bodyguard). The screenplay was pieced together from a variety of sources from the time period. The first time Wynne and Penkovsky’s story became widely known was the book “The Man From Moscow: The Story of Wynne and Penkovsky,” which was published on January 1, 1967 by Hutchinson in London. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 24, 2020. Parts drama, history, thriller, and war, the movie has a runtime of a 112 minutes.

“The Courier” is a well done thriller that held my interest from start to finish. The cast as a whole were uniformly excellent. I was not familiar with who Wynne or Penkovsky were when I sat down to watch the film on AmazonPrime a short time ago. I’m actually glad I didn’t have prior knowledge of the two men, because while I had a feeling I knew, in part, what was going to take place, certain aspects of the film caught me by surprise, which helped to enhance the film for me. Recommended for those viewers who are fans of the cast, especially Cumberbatch, and who enjoy watching Cold War thrillers.

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“Lassiter” (1984)

The setting of the film “Lassiter” is June 1939, London, England. The lead character, portrayed by Golden Globe and Emmy winner Tom Selleck (Blue Bloods), is up to his normal nocturnal activity. He’s excellent at what he does, but his occupation is not a main stream profession. Lassiter is a jewel thief. A short time after his latest job, he arrives at a dinner and dancing establishment, where he meets up with his girlfriend, Sara Wells. The part is acted by two time Golden Globe winner Jayne Seymour (Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman). The two spend a relaxing evening together.

The next morning, after leaving Sara’s place, Lassiter is picked up by the police. After being, taken to the police station, he is positively identified by two witnesses as the perpetrator of a crime he didn’t commit. Lassiter is confronted by two men: First by F.B.I. agent Breeze played by Emmy nominee Joe Regalbuto (Murphy Brown). He takes a tactful approach with Lassiter. The other man, Inspector Becker from Scotland Yard takes the opposite approach. The character is portrayed by BAFTA winner Bob Hoskins (Mona Lisa). He lets Lassiter know, that his options are limited.

The information and proposal put to Lassiter is as follows: The Nazi’s have ten million dollars worth of uncut, untraceable diamonds. The diamonds will be delivered and kept at the German embassy for approximately two days. Lassiter is to steal the diamonds. If he doesn’t, Inspector Becker guarantees him that he will be framed, convicted, and sent to prison for a sentence of twenty years to life.

Lassiter knows he has no choice other than to cooperate. He begins to worm his way into the life of Kati Van Fursten played by Lauren Hutton (The Gambler). Officially she’s a financier. Her father, it is stated, was one of Hitter’s earliest financial backers. While she’s interested in Lassiter, she’s followed everywhere by her assistant and bodyguard Max (Warren Clarke), which will complicate matters.

Can Lassiter successfully pull off the job? If he refuses and goes on the run will he be able to escape? Would he take Sara with him if he decides to flee? All of those questions and more will be answered by the film’s conclusion.

“Lassiter” was directed, in his film debut, by Emmy winner Roger Young (Lou Grant). The screenplay was written by Emmy nominee David Taylor (The Spy in the Hanoi Hilton). Parts action, crime, drama, mystery, and thriller, it has a runtime of 100 minutes. The film premiered on February 17, 1984. The promotional advertisements for the movie capitalized on the popularity of the CBS (Columbia Broadcasting System) television show Magnum P.I, which starred Selleck. The series lasted eight seasons, and was comprised of 158 episodes. The first episode aired on December 11, 1980 and its final episode was on May 1, 1988. (As an aside: Three time Oscar nominee Ronald Neame (Great Expectations) was originally set to direct the film).

“Lassiter” held my interest from start to finish. The cast did a very competent job in their respective roles, and Selleck was perfectly cast as the lead. The film is currently streaming on HBO Max. Overall, an entertaining film, thanks to a well paced story, and a likable antagonist.

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