“Pepsi, Where’s My Jet?”

In February of 1996, a twenty year old college student, John Leonard, was watching television at his home in Seattle. During one of the commercial breaks, an advertisement for Pepsi came on the screen. Pepsi was promoting a marketing campaign which involved ‘Pepsi Points.’ The ad was clearly targeted toward children, to get their parents to buy more Pepsi, as well as teenagers, who had disposable income, and could potentially be making the choice between purchasing a Pepsi, or the then industry leader Coke. The voiceover narration of the ad intoned, “The more Pepsi you drink, the more great stuff you get.” For example, for seventy-five points, a person could get a t-shirt; 175 points was the amount needed for a pair of sunglasses; the leather jacket would require someone to turn in 1,450 points, and so on. John Leonard wasn’t interested in clothing or shades. What he wanted was the Harrier jump jet, that was advertised at the end of the commercial, and could be had for 7,000,000 Pepsi points. The reason Leonard felt he could get the jet, if he could come up with the required number of points, is that there was no disclaimer on the bottom of the screen. The fine print, in this case, stating that a member of the general public couldn’t purchase a thirty two million dollar piece of sophisticated military hardware, because it was a joke, wasn’t written on the screen.

The next day, Leonard begins his quest to get the jet. His parents purchase as much Pepsi as their shopping cart can carry. At home, Pepsi is the only drink that the family consumes. When Leonard crunches the numbers, however, he surmised that he and his family would never be able to purchase enough Pepsi to get the requisite amount of points for the jet. Leonard contacts the only person he knows who can get the kind of money he needs to purchase enough Pepsi to acquire the needed points. Leonard’s friend, Todd Hoffman, is an eccentric multimillionaire who has traveled the world over. Even a prognosis from his doctor that he needed surgery, didn’t keep Todd from going on his latest adventure, a scheduled trip to Antarctica. 

While Hoffman is initially on board with Leonard, eventually the endeavor proves to be too much. Back at square one, Leonard thinks his chances at getting the jet are over, until a trip to the supermarket reinvigorates his determination. In the back of a Pepsi points catalog, it states that Pepsi is permitting the purchase of points for ten cents each. When Leonard recalculates the cost, the initial cost of 4.3 million dollars goes down to $700,000 dollars. When Leonard relays the news to Hoffman, he’s back on board. A check is cut to Pepsi, and placed in the mail, along with the request to be sent the jet.

When Pepsi finds out what Leonard wants, they are dismissive of him. They can’t believe he took the ad seriously. In fact, they are so convinced that he’s not serious, that they mail the check back to him, along with two vouchers for free Pepsi. Leonard and Hoffman, at that point, could’ve easily backed down to the major corporation, but they forged ahead. They hired legal counsel, Larry Schantz, a Miami based attorney. Eventually, after legal maneuvering, Pepsi makes an offer to settle with Leonard for $750,000 dollars. Leonard, with his heart set on getting the jet, and with Hoffman willing to back him, turns down the offer. From that moment forward things take an interesting turn, which includes the participation of now disgraced lawyer, Michael Avenatti, who was a law school student at the time. He agreed to help Leonard by doing opposition research against Pepsi.       

“Pepsi, Where’s My Jet? was directed by Andrew Renzi (Ready for War). The limited series was released worldwide for streaming on Netflix, on November 17, 2022. Parts documentary and history, the four episodes have a runtime of 157 minutes. The series utilizes re-creations, current interviews, as well as archival footage. In addition to Leonard Hoffman, and Avenatti, amongst others, Pepsi executives, Jeff Mordes, the former Chief Operating Officer; Brian Swette, former Chief Marketing Officer; and Michael Patti, the creative director, who came up with the original ad, provide their insight. Further commentary is provided by former super model Cindy Crawford, who was a brand-ambassador for Pepsi, back when the commercial with the jet aired. In addition, Jenna Dolan, a colonel in the United States Marine Corps Reserve and former fighter pilot, who was the first female pilot to fly the Harrier jump jet, lends her expertise to explain how the jet functions.      

                                                                                                                                                                

Had I been in John Leonard’s situation, I know I would’ve taken the money. There is no way, the twenty year old me, would have turned down a $750,000 dollar payment. His actions, while I think foolish, did earn my respect. I applaud him for sticking to his original plan, and going after what he wanted most in the world, at the time. I don’t think he was trying to get one over on Pepsi. My belief is that he felt that Pepsi had advertised the jet, that it was obtainable for the right amount of Pepsi points, and that he was entitled to receive the jet. Throughout the four episodes he comes across as a nice, genuine person. If he had to do it all over again, with the hindsight of age and wisdom, I’m not completely convinced he’d do anything differently. Overall, the series is entertaining for one time viewing.

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“Barbarian”

“Things are always better in the morning” is a quote from Pulitzer Prize winning author, Harper Lee’s iconic, 1960 novel, “To Kill A Mockingbird.”  In many instances, applied to numerous situations, the quote may be applicable, but not for Tess, portrayed by BAFTA winner Georgina Campbell (Murdered by my Boyfriend). She has arrived, at night, during a rainstorm, to the Airbnb she booked on-line. Tess has an important job interview the following day. She hopes to be hired to work on a documentary film. Unbeknownst to her, the place she booked, is in a virtually abandoned neighborhood, in a suburb of Detroit, Michigan. The surrounding houses are dilapidated, and appear to have been stripped for whatever value was once contained in them. There is also seemingly no one around for miles. Or is there?    

The aforementioned is a problem Tess won’t even realize until later.  After entering the code into the lockbox, there is no key. As it turns out, the Airbnb that she booked, has been double booked. Keith played by Bill Skarsgard (IT), is already inside the house. He thinks that he has the place to himself, when Tess shows up. Keith is genial about the situation. Even though he is there first, he is willing to share the place with Tess. He even offers to forgo use of the bedroom, and sleep on the couch, so Tess can get some rest for her interview. Tess is uncertain about taking Keith up on his offer, and she is initially guarded. As the evening progresses, however, and Tess gets to know Keith, she starts to feel more comfortable. What neither of them realize is that they have a great deal more to worry about than having double booked the same place.   

Tess notices a door at the end of the hallway. Where it leads to, she’s unsure of. The next day, after she returns from her interview, Tess decides to investigate. Leaving Tess’s exploration aside, the film moves from the downtrodden neighborhood in Michigan, and shifts to California. Driving in his convertible, singing an irritating song is AJ played by Justin Long (Jeepers Creepers). As evident from a phone call he receives, things had, up until that moment when the viewer is introduced to him, been going well in his career. What is said to him during the phone call puts a severe damper on things. I think it would be a disservice, to those of you who would like to see the movie, for me to reveal any more about the plot. This is one of those films, where knowing less about what you’ll be watching, provides a better payoff, at least it did for me.     

“Barbarian” was written and directed by Zach Cregger. The film premiered on August 29, 2022 at FrightFest, in London. Parts horror and thriller, the movie has a runtime of 102 minutes. Zach Kuperstein’s (The Eyes of my Mother) cinematography does an excellent job of capturing the palpable tension and suspense throughout the film. Furthermore, the music composed by Anna Drubich (Odessa), makes what is taking place on screen, especially the more intense moments, feel that much more impactful. Additional cast members of note that have not been previously mentioned were: Matthew Patrick Davis (American Dad!), who portrays the character of the mother. There is also Frank, a role acted by Richard Brake (Bingo Hell), who delivers a spot on performance as a repulsive human being. 

“Barbarian” is the sort of film, where just when you begin to think you’ve figured out exactly what is taking place, the filmmakers, offer a new twist which changes things. The movie is well written and contains a solid plot. Campbell and Skarsgard had wonderful chemistry, and do a more than credible job setting up, in the first act, what will take place, during the remainder of the film. For genre fans that want to watch something that provides scares, thrills, and some dark comedic interludes, this film should hold your interest. As of the writing of this post, “Barbarian” is currently streaming on HBO Max.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

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“Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway” (1976)

On occasion, I’ll hear, read, or see something about a book, film, television movie or show, that was released long before I was born, and one, that up until the moment I learn about it, I was unaware of. “Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway” is one such television movie. I was listening to something, when all of a sudden, I heard someone speak about this television movie from the 1970s, which starred Eve Plumb. She played Jan Brady, on “The Brady Bunch,” which premiered on ABC (American Broadcasting Company), on September 26, 1969, until its final episode, on March 8, 1974. I wasn’t even alive during the series initial run. I don’t remember seeing my first episode until the late 1980s. Like most children I knew, it was a show my parents approved of, so I’m sure I watched every episode. The intriguing aspect of the aforementioned movie for me, wasn’t that Eve Plumb was in it, but the character that she portrayed in the movie – an adult escort. On the Brady Bunch, from what I can remember, Jan was an awkward, sometimes goofy, but nonetheless kind hearted girl, who was always in her sister Marcia’s (Maureen McCormick) shadow. My curiosity was peaked. I searched on Amazon, HBO-Max, Netflix, and Peacock, not expecting to find the movie, and my expectation was confirmed. Next, I searched on-line, and I was able to watch it that way.     

The movie centers on Plumb’s character Dawn Wetherby. She is sheltered by her alcoholic mother, portrayed by Oscar nominee Lynn Carlin (Faces). The viewer learns, from Dawn’s laments, that she seemingly never gets to do anything but babysit her younger brother. One evening, Dawn sneaks off to a high school dance. Her mother, even though she’s working the evening shift at her job, finds out about it. After Dawn’s mother embarrasses her at the dance, fifteen year old Dawn decides she’s had enough. She is going to run away from home. Dawn packs a bag, and takes what little money she has, and gets on a bus for Hollywood, California.    

When she gets to California, try as she might, due to her age, she can’t get a job. While doing an act of kindness, she’s almost mugged. If not for the intervention by sex worker, Frankie Lee (Marguerite DeLain), the little money Dawn brought with her would’ve been taken. Dawn spends some time with Frankie. She learns that Frankie makes money, and is protected by a man who calls himself Swan (Bo Hopkins). Coinciding with her almost getting mugged, shortly after Dawn arrives, she develops a bad cough. She goes to the clinic where the wait to see the lone doctor on staff, will seemingly take hours. Alexander, a role acted by Leigh McClosky (Dallas), intercedes on her behalf. He is a talented, aspiring artist, who supposedly works at a liquor store, even though he doesn’t appear old enough to drink. He invites Dawn to come stay with him at his apartment. Alexander lets her know that he doesn’t expect anything from her. True to his word, he will wind up becoming more than just a kind stranger to Dawn, as the movie progresses.  

For the first time since her arrival, Dawn feels safe. The feeling will not last long. Alex leaves her for a few days, during which time Dawn begins to panic. She thinks that he might not be coming back. Dawn has no money, and no job prospects, so she seeks out Frankie Lee. Dawn wants to work for Swan.  Even though she has been in contact with her mother, who is attempting to get her life together, and has quit drinking, Dawn refuses to return home. When Alexander finds out what Dawn is doing, he tries to put a stop to it. He urges Donald Umber, a probation officer portrayed by Emmy winner Georg Stanford Brown (Cagney and Lacey), to help Dawn, but it is to no avail. Swan is a dangerous man, who is leading Dawn down a dark path. Will she wise up before it is too late?

The NBC (National Broadcasting Company), television movie was directed by Emmy nominee Randal Klesier (The Gathering). The movie was written by Emmy nominee Dalene Young (Locked in Silence). Prior to the movie’s premiere on September 27, 1976, a mass market paperback, based on the movie, adapted by Julia Sorel, was published on September 12, 1976. The drama has a runtime of 100 minutes. Fans of the Brady Bunch were apparently upset with Plumb for starring in the movie. It wasn’t because of the role she played, but because she couldn’t participate in the universally panned “The Brady Bunch Variety Hour.” The short lived show premiered on November 28, 1976, and lasted nine episodes, before it was cancelled. A sequel to the movie, “Alexander: The Other Side of Dawn” premiered on NBC, on May 16, 1976.  

From what I’ve heard, teenagers running away from home in the 1970s was not uncommon. The movie is a cautionary tale. For teens watching it at the time, it depicted what could take place if they decided to take that course of action. There was only so much that a network television movie, in the 1970s, could show or say, but to its credit, it didn’t shy away from the fact that sometimes runaways were killed. For fans of the Brady Bunch, who want to see Eve Plumb in a very different role from her Jan persona, you will probably find this worth a onetime viewing.

                                                                                                         

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“Halloween Ends – A Not So Fitting Ending”

Warning: Several spoilers.

John Carpenter’s “Halloween” premiered on October 25, 1978, in Kansas City, Missouri. From that moment forward, the film went on to  become a marvel of the horror genre. The characters of Michael Myers, Laurie Strode, and Dr. Loomis, brought to cinematic life in the film, have become iconic. Cast members, as well as the crew involved in the making of the original production, didn’t think the movie would launch a franchise, but, it did. Since the release of the 1978 original, and prior to “Halloween” (2018), there have been nine films produced, eight of which feature Michael Myers. “Halloween Ends” is the culmination of a trilogy, that began in 2018, with the release of “Halloween,” and continued with the 2021 release of “Halloween Kills.” In brief, the creative forces behind the trilogy, took the approach that they were going to remove from the franchises’ time line, all of the sequels. The 2018 film, was to be viewed as a direct sequel to Carpenter’s 1978 original.

At the start of the film, “Halloween Ends,” Corey (Rohan S. Campbell) is a young man, with a seemingly bright future ahead of him. In order to earn money, he agrees to a job babysitting Jeremy (Jaxon Goldenberg), on Halloween. At one point during the evening, Jeremy goes and hides from Corey. While searching for Jeremy, in his parent’s large house, Corey enters a room, and Jeremy locks him inside. Understandably upset, Corey implores Jeremy to let him out of the room, but Jeremy is having too much fun at Corey’s expense. In panic mode, Corey begins kicking at the door, in an attempt to free himself. He also yells things out loud, that will come back to haunt him. After a number of successive kicks, Corey manages to burst through the door. Unfortunately for Jeremy, who is standing on the other side, in front of a staircase railing, the kick sends him hurtling to his death. This takes place, mere moments after his mother (Candice Rose), and father (Jack William Marshall), arrive home, and hear Corey yell that he is going to kill Jeremy. The death is ruled an accident, but people are unwilling to believe that it wasn’t intentional, thereby turning Corey into Haddonfield, Illinois’s newest pariah.

The film shifts its time period to three years later. It’s 2022, and Laurie Strode, portrayed by BAFTA winner Jamie Lee Curtis (Trading Places), is attempting to put her past encounters with apex predator, Michael Myers, behind her. Strode is seeking closure from her horrific past, and one of the ways she copes with it, is by writing the book “Stalkers, Saviors, and Samhain,” which contains her memoirs. In addition to her literary endeavors, she is sharing her home with her granddaughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak). She is a nurse, who feels isolated from most people, because of the incidents from her past that also pertain to Myers. When Laurie has a chance encounter with Corey, who is being harassed by a group of bullies, she at first thinks playing the role of matchmaker would be a good thing for both Allyson and Corey. Strode takes Corey to the hospital, where he meets Allyson. She attends to the cuts on his hand, that he got from breaking a bottle while being bullied. During the duration of the film, Strode will come to regret the introduction.   

For a film that supposedly sought to end the storyline between the heroine, protagonist Strode, and her antagonist, the embodiment of evil, Myers, the film takes, what I felt was a distracting departure from what it should have dealt with. Instead of the film centering on Strode and Myers, it primarily focuses on the new character of Corey. I believe the filmmakers were attempting to convey, that anyone pushed far enough has the capacity for evil inside of themselves, as a means of revenge against their tormentors. I am not disagreeing with the premise, but I simply wasn’t interested in Corey’s character. If he had been introduced in “Halloween” (2018), or at least in “Halloween Kills,”  I might have had more of an investment in his plight. I watched the film to see Strode and Myers, both of whom were deprived of screen time, for a character, that doesn’t come to fruition by the film’s conclusion. It would be one thing, if Corey became the next Michael Myers, but he doesn’t. After watching the movie, I wondered, other than being force fed commentary from the filmmakers on the nature of evil, what was the point of Corey’s character? Furthermore, the way his character and Myers cross paths in the movie, and what takes place afterwards, I thought was very contrived.                                                                          

In regard to the final battle between Strode and Myers, which the marketing for the film hyped, it was, at least for me, something which left a good deal to be desired. I fully comprehend what the filmmakers were attempting to do with the trilogy, but as a fan of the entire franchise, I simply was unable to forget all of the films that had come before “Halloween Ends.” I didn’t consider the fight to be exciting. I thought the battle between Strode and Myers, in “Halloween” (2018), was far more entertaining, and would’ve been better served being saved for this film, as opposed to being placed in the first of the three movies. Michael Myers, a seemingly indestructible killing machine, is taken out by Strode far too fast, and, quite frankly, too easily. It is not befitting a character that has endured for the past four decades, and Strode’s vanquishing of Myers comes across as tainted.    

“Halloween Ends” was directed by David Gordon Green (Red Oaks). In addition, Green co-wrote the screenplay for the film withPaul Brad Logan (Manglehorn), Chris Bernier (The Driver), and Danny McBride (Vice Principals). The film premiered at the Sitges Film Festival in Spain, on October 6, 2022. Parts horror and thriller, the movie has a runtime of 111 minutes. One of the highlights of the film was the soundtrack composed by John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, and Daniel A. Davies. It’s a combination of old and new music, and it worked well to showcase what was transpiring on screen. 

Disappointed … that was how I felt, when the film ended and the credits began to roll. As aforementioned, Strode and especially Myers were underutilized in the film. The character of Corey was over utilized. What started off well with 2018’s “Halloween,” and continued with “Halloween Kills,” which contained several thrilling moments, concludes with a disjointed, often times boring film in “Halloween Ends.”  The characters of Strode and Myers deserved better, and so did the viewer.

                  

                                                                                   

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“Danse Macabre By Stephen King” (1981)

The idea for Stephen King’s non-fiction book “Danse Macabre” came from his friend, and former Doubleday editor, Bill Thompson. “Carrie,” “Salem’s Lot,” “The Shinning,” “Night Shift,” and “The Stand” were all edited by Thompson. King was at first hesitant to write a book that chronicled the influence of horror through a variety of different mediums. He changed his mind, however, when he realized he already had the catalyst for the book; his lectures from when he taught at the University of Maine at Orono.

“Danse Macabre” is a retrospective on the contributions that horror made to books, films, radio, and television during the years 1950 through 1980. King doesn’t merely write about the horror genre itself, but how horror can transcend into other genres such as fantasy, mystery, science-fiction, and thriller. In part, King writes about what influenced his own writing. There are other times, when he focuses his analysis on what he feels were not only the best examples of horror, but also what, in his opinion, doesn’t work. Even if sometimes what King feels doesn’t work has received high praise from others looking at the same work with a critical lens, he doesn’t shy away. Throughout, King’s opinions contain his own brand of comedy and sarcasm, that his readers have come to know well. Furthermore, he provides autobiographical accounts from his own life, that connect to what he is reviewing.

One of the things that King expresses in the book is how horror novels, more than any other medium, allow the reader to experience trauma, but it is all vicariously done. The reader from the safety of wherever they are reading the novel, is metaphorically traveling with the character(s) on the printed page, as they take a journey to whatever conclusion the author has chosen for his character(s). King’s words take the reader beyond the surface of the storyline by giving the reader access to the character’s mindset and motivations. King writes that the best emotion a writer in the horror genre can attempt to provoke from their reader is terror. Terror, in turn, allows the reader to fill in the blanks regarding the horror, that is not at the forefront, but resides in the periphery. In order to bring forth genuine terror, the approach of less is more, is highly effective. If terror can’t be produced, then straight horror comes next. When this is done, the reader knows exactly who or what is the threat. Lastly, if neither of the first two can be achieved, revulsion, as King puts it, is a cheap, but sometimes necessary way in order to advance the narrative.   

King refers back often, throughout the book, to three classic works of literature; Dracula, Frankenstein, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In many respects, King feels that most, if not all of horror, can be traced back to the origins of the three books. Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein” published by Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor & Jones, on January 1, 1818, equates to monsters in general. For every wisecracking, Freddy Krueger (who wasn’t around when this was written), there is monster, even if it’s a purported human monster, like a Michael Myers, wielding a knife, or some other weapon. The monster itself can also be the weapon, but overall, the attacker is mute. Next, there is “Dracula,” and the need to fill a blood lust, or some other type of unsavory desire. The vampire can be sophisticated and suave like Count Dracula in Bram Stoker’s novel published in London on May 26, 1897 by Archibald Constable and Company. They can also have a feral appearance, and act with primal rage like those in Richard Matheson’s “I Am Legend,” which was first published by Gold Medal Books on August 7, 1954. In addition, there is the transformation from man into monster, that was written about in “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” The classic novella, written by Robert Louis Stevenson, was published by Longmans, Green & Co, on January 5, 1886. While Stevenson’s novella didn’t deal directly with werewolves, it was certainly an inspiration for the depiction of werewolves in future creative works.

“Danse Macabre” was published on April 20, 1981 by Everest House. In addition to the book that was sold to the general public, Everest also published a limited edition. There were two hundred and fifty numbered copies, and fifteen lettered copies, that were signed by Stephen King. At the conclusion of the book, King provides readers with two appendices. The first is for films that shaped his writing during the time period the book covers. The second does the same for the books that left an indelible impression on him. (As an aside: As of the writing of this post, one of the two hundred and fifty copies signed by King is being auctioned on eBay for approximately $2800 dollars).  

                            

The main complaint from readers who come to the book years after its publication, is that it is dated. No kidding! If that was a non-starter for certain readers, thankfully not the majority, simply go onto the next book on your ‘to be read list.’ I equate “Danse Macabre” to some of the classes I took in college. For example, I needed an elective, and one of the classes I chose was a history elective that dealt with Europe during World War II. I was very interested in what was discussed in the class, and the books that I was assigned to read. It didn’t hurt that the professor was well versed on the subject, and was able to deliver lectures that were entertaining as well as thought provoking. I find “Danse Macabre” to be the same. I had no problems delving into the non-fiction writing, which centered on creative works, in various mediums, that came out long before I was born. There are, however, distinct differences between the class I took in college, and the past few weeks, while I read the book. I didn’t have to leave my home, to travel to campus, in order to physically attend a class. I could read at my own pace, as much, or as little as I wanted, without fear of not being able to provide the correct answers on a quiz, midterm, or final exam. Lastly, instead of having to pay several thousand dollars, I was able to get the wealth of King’s knowledge for the price of the book. If I hadn’t already owned the book, I could have received the same master class from the master of horror for free by picking up a copy at my local library. I highly recommend the book for King fans, especially if you liked the approach he took in his non-fiction book “On Writing.” My only complaint is that he hasn’t, as of yet, written a sequel covering an additional thirty years, with new book and film recommendations.

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“Dracula” (1974)

The television movie “Dracula” begins with a shot of a mist filled lake, in the evening. In conjunction, a large number of Alsatians are barking, as they race toward a mountaintop castle. Thereafter, as discordant music plays, the hulking presence of a striding, black caped and attired Dracula, is seen moving about his castle. Dracula is portrayed by Emmy, Golden Globe, and Oscar winner Jack Palance (City Slickers). A short time later, Jonathan Harker (Murray Brown), whose presence has been requested by Dracula, arrives at the castle. Dracula greets him at the door, and offers him dinner. He won’t be joining Harker, because he’s already eaten.  

Harker is a real estate agent, who has travelled to Hungary from England. He has pictures to show Dracula of properties that are available. Dracula expresses particular interest in Carfax, one of the older properties. He is also seemingly transfixed by a photo Harker has of his fiancée Mina (Penelope Horner), and her friend Lucy (Fiona Lewis). After an evening, in which Dracula has regaled Harker with stories of heroic, military actions, from years earlier, he leaves Harker, as the sun begins to rise. On his way out, Dracula instructs Harker to write to his office, and his fiancée, informing each, that he will be remaining with Dracula for a month. Harker is taken aback, but Dracula leaves the room, without further comment, locking the door behind him.    

The next day, Dracula returns, and reiterates to Harker, that he must write the letters. Dracula once more, locks Harker in his room, but Harker soon discovers that there is another way out. While attempting to find a way of escaping the castle, Harker comes across a large painting, of Dracula, on horseback, suited in armor. Off to the side, in the same painting is a woman who has an uncanny resemblance to Lucy. Harker doesn’t have long to think, before he his attacked by three female vampires. The trio are referred to by different names in various Dracula adaptations. Sometimes they are referred to as the sisters, other times, as the vixens, etc. In this adaptation of Dracula, the vampire women are credited as Dracula’s wives, and are played by Virginia Wetherell,  Barbara Lindley, and Sarah Douglas. Dracula is enraged, when he discovers what his wives are doing, and saves Harker, only, however, so he can write the letters. (As an aside: Sarah Douglas portrayed Ursa in “Superman” and “Superman II.” She was one of the three Kryptonian villains in “Superman II” that battles Superman, in an effort to take over the world).  

The scene shifts to five weeks after the incident with Harker and the female vampires. The Russian ship the Demeter, has brought Dracula, and ten boxes filled with dirt from his homeland to Whitby, England. There are no survivors of the voyage, and the captain of the ship is found dead and strapped to the wheel. A brief time after Dracula arrives, Lucy, who, as it turns out, resembles Dracula’s long lost love, is taken ill. Lucy is looked after by her mother, played by Emmy winner Pamela Brown (Victoria Regina), and Mina. Lucy’s fiancé Arthur, a role acted by BAFTA nominee Simon Ward (Young Winston), is very concerned about her mysterious illness. He arranges for Dr. Van Helsing (Nigel Davenport), to come and examine her.    

After Van Helsing performs his examination, he suspects Lucy is in danger. He orders her to wear a garlic wreath around her neck. Van Helsing also insists that she have constant supervision, especially at night. He and Arthur take turns watching over her throughout the evening, but from sheer exhaustion, both men fall asleep. Dracula strikes, once more. Van Helsing alerts Arthur to what type of creature they are dealing with. Arthur scoffs at the idea, and asks Van Helsing how a man of science can believe in the existence of vampires. Van Helsing states that the force that they are up against is very real, and if Arthur wants to save the life of his soon to be bride, he better start taking the existence of the vampire seriously.     

Will Van Helsing and Arthur be able to stop Dracula? What lengths will they have to go to, in order to try and stop him? Now that Dracula thinks his long, lost love has been reincarnated centuries later, is there anything Dracula won’t do, to ensure that they are together once more? All of those questions will be answered by the conclusion of the movie.

“Dracula” was directed by Emmy winner Dan Curtis (War and Remembrance). The teleplay was written by Hugo Award winner Richard Matheson (The Night Stalker), adapted from the novel of the same name written by Bram Stoker. The television movie premiered on CBS (Columbia Broadcasting System), on February 8, 1974. Parts drama and horror, the movie has a runtime of 98 minutes.

Fans of Stoker’s novel, and those of you, who enjoy traditional Dracula adaptations will perhaps be a bit disappointed. The characters of Renfield, Quincey Morris, and Dr. Seward, are not in the movie. Furthermore, in this adaptation, Van Helsing is British as opposed to being of Dutch ethnicity. Dracula, as played by Palance, is a much more physically intimidating presence. He relies more on his strength, when dealing with those, who oppose him, instead of on his supernatural abilities, although, there is a bit of that, which is shown.       

Trivia buffs take note: Dracula was first published in London on May 26, 1897 by Archibald Constable and Company. Jack Palance was offered the opportunity, a number of times, to revive his role in new iterations of Dracula, after the television movie, but always declined. The movie was originally scheduled to premiere on October 12, 1973, but was pre-empted by the resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew. Gene Colan, penciled Marvel Comic’s “Tomb of Dracula.” The 70 issue series was published between April 1972 and August 1979. Colan stated, that after he saw the “Dracula” movie, he began to base the appearance of Dracula on Jack Palance, as opposed to other famous Dracula actors, such as, Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” season 2, episode 7, “Lie to Me,” premiered on November 3, 1997. The episode was written and directed by Oscar nominee and Emmy winner, Joss Whedon (Toy Story). In brief, it centers on a group of teenagers who revere vampires, and are hoping that Sunnydale’s resident vampire, Spike (James Marsters), will turn them, in exchange for their giving him Buffy. While at the wannabe vampires hangout The Sunset Club, the 1974 “Dracula” film is playing on the screen.

In closing, I feel that Palance gives a memorable performance as Dracula. I am sorry he turned down additional opportunities to revise the role. I like the changes Matheson made to the story. I thought it was an interesting approach to expand Dracula’s background, from the film and television versions that had come before the Dan Curtis and Robert Singer production. I believe the movie would have benefited, if had been a film, and given a traditional theatrical release, with an additional thirty minutes of screen time, to tell a more complete story. For those of you, who can’t get enough of depictions of vampires, this should hold your interest. For fans of Palance, this is must see viewing, because it will be a departure from the type of villains, you’re used to seeing him play. Those who love the story of Dracula, and want to see a differentiation from the more traditional adaptations should also enjoy the movie, at least for a one time viewing. As of the writing of this post, the movie can be streamed on Peacock. Overall, it is a satisfying entry into the Dracula and vampire genre. 

      

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“Frenzy – Hitchcock’s Penultimate Film”

At the start of the film, “Frenzy,” a crowd has gathered. They are listening to Sir George (John Boxer), a politician, who is talking about how the pollution in the River Thames, is going to be cleaned up. The speech is holding the attention of those who are assembled, but not for long. The body of a naked woman is spotted, floating in the river, by someone, which causes everyone to forget about the speech. The woman, it turns out, is the latest victim of a person the press has named ‘The Necktie Murderer.’  (As an aside: Alfred Hitchcock is in the crowd of people listening to the speech).   

Richard Blaney (Jon Finch), ex-Squadron Leader of the RAF (Royal Air Force), is starting off his day with a quick drink, before the pub he works for opens up. It is made known to the viewer that he has done that sort of thing before, and he always pays for his drinks. Unfortunately for Blaney, the owner of the pub, Felix Forsythe, played by BAFTA nominee Bernard Cribbins, (The Railway Children), catches him in the act. He doesn’t believe Blaney, when he tells him he was going to pay for his drink. Even though Blaney’s claims that he is not a thief is backed up by his quasi-girlfriend, and co-worker, Babs Milligan, portrayed by BAFTA winner, Anna Massey (Screen Two), Blaney is fired.  

Blaney leaves the pub, and seeks out his friend, Bob Rusk (Barry Foster), a Covent Garden fruit and vegetable wholesaler. Rusk offers to lend Blaney some money, and gives him a tip on a horse called ‘Coming Up,’ which is a 20-1 shot, that Rusk seems to know is going to win. Blaney leaves without taking the money. Instead of going to place a bet on the horse, he opts to spend the few remaining pounds he has on drinking brandy. Later on in the day, fueled by liquor, and feeling completely dejected, because the horse did win, he goes to see his ex-wife, Brenda (Barbara Leigh-Hunt), at her office. She runs a successful matchmaking service. Behind closed doors, as the two are talking, Blaney raises his voice, and slams his open palm on her desk, which leads Brenda’s secretary, Ms. Barling, a role acted by Emmy winner, Jean Marsh (Upstairs, Downstairs), to believe that the two are having a fight. Barling thinks it is an altercation, which has lead to Blaney hitting Brenda. Blaney quickly calms down, and Brenda treats him to dinner, before he has to wind up staying the night at the Salvation Army building. Brenda slips money into his coat pocket, before he leaves, which, while a very kind act on her part, will also come back to cause trouble for Blaney. (As an aside: “Frenzy” was the feature film debut for Barbara Leigh-Hunt). 

The next day, Blaney returns to see Brenda, but he finds her office door locked. Thinking she’s not there, he leaves. As he exits the building, and turns a corner to walk away, he is spotted by Ms. Barling, who is returning from lunch. As the viewer will already know, Brenda is dead. Chief Inspector Oxford, played by Golden Globe nominee, Alex McCowen (Travels with my Aunt), is called in to investigate. One piece of evidence, after another, begins to be compiled by the police, forcing Blaney to go on the run. He may be moody and temperamental, but he’s not the killer. The viewer knows this, because Hitchcock reveals the killer’s identity early on in the film. Will Blaney be able to prove his innocence, before he’s punished for crimes he didn’t commit?   

The tension filled, and suspenseful “Frenzy” was directed by five time Oscar nominee and BAFTA and two time Golden Globe winner, Alfred Hitchcock (Rear Window). The screenplay was written by BAFTA nominee, Anthony Shaffer (Sleuth), adapted from the novel “Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square,” written by Arthur La Bern. The novel was published by W.H. Allen & Co in the (UK), and by Stein & Day, in the US, in 1966. Two time BAFTA nominee, Gilbert Taylor’s (Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope) cinematography was excellent. It fully captured the grit, grime, and desperation, as it pertained to both the antagonist and protagonist of the story. “Frenzy” premiered on May 19, 1972 at the Cannes Film Festival. Parts crime, horror, and thriller, the movie has a runtime of 116 minutes.

Trivia buffs take note: “Frenzy,” is the only Hitchcock film to receive an R rating. Four time Oscar winner, Henry Mancini (Breakfast at Tiffany’s), was originally hired to score the movie, but was fired by Hitchcock, who thought he sounded too much like BAFTA and Oscar winner, Bernard Herrmann (Taxi Driver). Mancini was replaced by Golden Globe nominee, Ron Goodwin (Candleshoe). Oscar winner, Helen Mirren (The Queen), was Hitchcock’s first choice to play Babs Milligan, but she turned down the role. Mirren stated several years after the fact, that she regretted giving up an opportunity to work with Hitchcock. The part of Robert Rusk was originally offered to two time BAFTA and Oscar winner, Michael Caine (Educating Rita), but like Mirren, he too turned down the chance to work with Hitchcock. Barry Foster was cast as Rusk after Hitchcock saw him in the film “Twisted Nerve” (1968). “Frenzy” was one of only two films Hitchcock made in the 1970s. 1976’s “Family Plot,” would be the director’s final film. 

I have seen most of Hitchcock’s films, but somehow, until a few days ago, I’d never watched “Frenzy.” From the start, the movie drew me in. Even though the identity of the killer is revealed early on in the film, it didn’t hamper my enjoyment of the movie. In fact, it elevated it.  I was absorbed with how the killer went about committing the reprehensible acts that he did, while at the same time, setting things up, making it appear as if Blaney was the person responsible for the murders. I was very interested to see, how and if, Blaney was going to be able to prove his innocence, and escape being sent to prison.  

The cast did an excellent job with their respective roles. Hitchcock’s direction, no surprise, aided, as aforementioned by Taylor’s cinematography was spot on. Some viewers will perhaps be turned off by the film’s dated look, but I can’t see that being the mindset of the majority of people, who watch the film. I found Blaney’s plight to prove his innocence, and the killer’s cunning to stay ahead of law enforcement, more than enough to hold my interest, to the point where the 1970s, faded into the background, and the story was front and center. As of the writing of this post, “Frenzy” is streaming on Peacock.

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“Smile – Once You See It, It’s Too Late”

When I was in graduate school, earning my master’s degree in secondary education, I had a professor, a former lawyer, who was fond of something referred to as ‘but for causation.’ It is a simple test, which asks the following question: “but for the existence of X, would Y have occurred?” Much to my surprise, when I left the movie theater, after watching “Smile,” I thought of the class, and the aforementioned test.

Dr. Rose Cotter, portrayed by Golden Globe winner Sosie Bacon (Mare of Easttown), in a very impressive performance, is a well organized, neat, workaholic. She is a therapist at an emergency psychiatric unit, at a hospital, in New Jersey. Rose is used to dealing with the mentally ill. For example, one of her patients (Jack Sochet), continually repeats the following: “She’s gonna die…i’m gonna die…we’re all gonna die…nothing matters.” The sort of behavior demonstrated by the patient,  doesn’t seem to have much of an effect on her. After working a long shift, Rose is about to leave. She’s earned her free time, but rather than opt to take it, she can’t help but answer the ringing phone in her office. She is alerted to the arrival of a new patient.  

Rose enters a common room, and comes in contact with Laura Weaver (Caitlin Stasey). Laura, a Ph.D. student, it is made known to the viewer, witnessed her professor kill himself several days earlier. Laura is terrified of an unseen entity. She insists to Rose that the evil presence is there, in the room with them, but only she (Laura) can see it. Without hesitation, in order to end her torment, Laura commits suicide, all the while there is a sinister smile on her face.

Rose returns home that evening, and attempts to put the incident behind her. From the outset, forgetting the heinous encounter with Laura is going to be difficult. In fact, Rose begins to experience what she at first believes to be auditory and visual hallucinations. The more time that passes, however, the more the situation gets out of hand. Rose is invited by her sister, Holly (Gillian Zinser), to her nephew Jackson’s (Matthew Lamb) birthday party. Already on edge, an incident that takes place at the party ramps up the inexorable tension and anxiety that seemingly haunt her every waking moment. Rose’s immediate supervisor, Dr. Morgan Desai (Kal Penn), has given her time off. She’s also receiving therapy from her psychiatrist, Dr. Madeline Northcott, a role acted by Emmy nominee, Robin Weigert (Deadwood), but nothing is helping to ease her troubled mind.  

As Rose’s situation gets more dire, almost no one believes she is telling the truth, not even her fiancé Trevor (Jessie T. Usher). The only person who seems to find her story valid is her ex-boyfriend, Joel (Kyle Gallner). He’s a police officer, who is assisting her as best he can, especially, after Rose learns that she might be cursed. Apparently, when Rose decided to interact with Laura, as opposed to going home when she had the chance, a curse was passed on to her. Once the curse, which is driven by an unseen, evil entity, according to research Rose does, makes someone its next victim, it will torture them psychologically, until the person commits suicide. Once the person kills themself in front of another individual, the curse is passed on to the unsuspecting victim. The entity, whatever it is, feeds off of people’s trauma, and that is how it continues to exist.  

Can Rose break the curse before the entity fully consumes her? What would she have to do, in order to rid herself of the entity? Was she chosen because of a traumatic incident that took place when she was a child?  Is everything that is transpiring real, or it is a product of her overstressed imagination? All of the answers to those questions, and more, will be revealed by the film’s conclusion.

“Smile” was written and directed by Parker Finn, in his feature film debut. The movie premiered on September 22, 2022, at the Fantastic Fest, in Austin, Texas. “Smile” is a remake of Finn’s short film “Laura Hasn’t Slept.” The musical score composed by BAFTA and two time Emmy winner, Cristobal Tapia de Veer (The White Lotus), acts like an additional character, and does an excellent job, with its jarring sounds that increase the dread factor. Credit also to the special effects department from Amalgamated Dynamics, and the visual effects department from The Artery, for the potent imagery that was on display during the film. The horror movie has a runtime of 115 minutes.

The film does have its detractors, who opine that it is nothing more than an assortment of loud, jump scares. There are certainly jump scares in the movie, and they are loud, but for me at least, “Smile” is the type of film, I found myself still thinking about, even a week after I saw it. If nothing else, even if I didn’t like the film, and think it was a worthy entry into the horror genre, which I do, I couldn’t say it is not effective. I think the film is the kind that you enjoy with a bunch of people, in a crowded theater, especially if there are easily frightened individuals, who can be spotted by their popcorn flying up in the air, as well as the gripping of the arm, or taking of the hand of a date, or significant other, during the film’s more intense moments. While “Smile” might be a scary, thrill ride, while viewing it in a sold out theater, once you go home, and you’re alone with your thoughts, it creeps up on you, at least that was my experience. As stated earlier, it didn’t even take me that long, as soon as I left the theater, I began to dwell on what message, if any, the filmmakers were attempting to convey. I’m sure I can’t be the only one.

                  

                                                                                                                                                                                                            

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“Jack the Ripper (1988)

On August 31, 1888, the infamous, Jack the Ripper claimed the life of Mary Ann Nichols, the first of his five known victims. Historical speculation has suggested that there could have been more murders. Nichols was an easy target for the predatory Ripper, who committed his killings in the Whitechapel area of London’s east end. Earlier in the evening, Nichols had been turned away from a lodging house, after she begged for a bed for the evening. She didn’t have any money to pay for one. The Ripper’s other victims, all prostitutes, were Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly.

Since the Ripper’s final known murder on November 7, 1888 to the present, people have been attempting to solve the mystery: Who was Jack the Ripper? Many suspects have been considered by various professional investigators, authors, and arm chair sleuths, to be the person responsible for the vile murders, but yet, the case has never been solved. The presumed facts about the Ripper, is that he had a fair complexion, a medium build, was well spoken, and no older than forty. The list of suspects include, amongst others, Prince Albert Victor, The Duke of Clarence and Avondale, who was studying art in the Whitechapel area at the times of some of the murders, and was known to frequent prostitutes, one of whom, he contracted syphilis from. In addition, the Prince’s physician, Sir William Gull, was seen rushing along the streets of Whitechapel on several nights when Ripper murders took place. Dr. Thomas Neill Cream and George Chapman, also suspects, were both murderers, each with a history of wife killing; both would eventually be caught, convicted, and given death sentences. Montague John Druitt, a lawyer and teacher, was also of interest to the authorities. He came from a long line of medical doctors, from whom he could have learned anatomy and dissection, and was supposedly going insane at the time of the murders. In the book “Portrait Of A Killer, Jack The Ripper – Case Closed, bestselling author Patricia Cornwell, made a detailed case, as to why she felt Walter Richard Sickert, was the killer. The list continues on from there; some even theorize that the Ripper was a woman, a mid-wife, who had gone insane. The reasons given for the theory is twofold: women wouldn’t have been hesitant to be approached by another woman, during the time period when the murders were being committed, and because of her profession as a mid-wife, she wouldn’t have seemed out of place, travelling from the scenes of the crimes, back to her residence, with her clothing smeared in blood.  

In the miniseries, “Jack the Ripper,” Scotland Yard Inspector, Fred Abberline, portrayed by BAFTA and two time Oscar winner, Michael Caine (The Cider House Rules), has been assigned to head up the investigation into a murder that has been committed in Whitechapel. Abberline, is a known alcoholic, but when sober, he is one of the best at solving crimes. He has to sober up, because he will need sharp wits if he is going to have a chance to catch the killer. Sergeant George Godley, played by Lewis Collins (The Professionals), works closely with Abberline, and is integral to the investigation.  

From the outset, Abberline’s superiors are seemingly against him. They want the case solved immediately. The press is also causing trouble for Abberline. Benjamin Bates (Jonathan Moore), who follows Abberline’s every move, is stirring up the fervor of the Whitechapel community, and London in general, with his sensationalist articles. Furthermore, George Lusk (Michael Gothard), the head of a vigilante watch group is rallying his followers to perpetrate violence against the police, who he feels don’t care about the disenfranchised. (As an aside: It had been almost twenty years, since Michael Caine had appeared on television. He was persuaded to return because he felt the script for the miniseries was powerful). 

The doggedly determined, Abberline and Godley launch a thorough investigation, and soon amass a list of possible suspects. Among them are the American actor Richard Mansfield, a role acted by Emmy winner Armand Assante (Gotti). The actor is the lead in Jekyll and Hyde, and his on stage transformation from the sane Jekyll to the repulsive Hyde, has been mesmerizing audiences. When he’s not performing, Mansfield, who acts secretive and suspicious, spends much of his time with the working girls of London. Ken Bones (Robert James Lee), is a psychic medium for Queen Victoria. Bones injects himself into the investigation early on, claiming to have had a vision of the Ripper as being two men, as well as seeing the turning of wheels in his mind, which he considers to be a significant clue. Abberline doesn’t know whether Bones is attempting to help, or is merely finding out what is taking place with the investigation, in order to stay one step ahead of the authorities. Dr. Llewellyn (Michael Hughes), is a police coroner, who, Abberline learns, has left out pertinent information in his autopsy report about the murder of one of the Ripper’s victims. There is also the aforementioned, rabble rouser, George Lusk. Perhaps he is keeping himself front and center, so as to throw off suspicion regarding his involvement in the grisly crimes. Additional speculation is cast toward Prince Albert Victor (Marc Culwick), especially when it is learned that a royal coach has been seen in the vicinity of the murders, and that the Prince spends time with prostitutes. (As an aside: In order to not have the ending leaked, separate endings were filmed, with four different people being caught in the act as Jack the Ripper).  

Additional members, of the cast, who are not suspects, include, but are not limited to, Emmy and two time Golden Globe winner, Jane Seymour (Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman).  She plays Emma, a tepid, love interest for Abberline. I’ve enjoyed Seymour in most everything I’ve seen her in, and she is a very good actress, but has very little to do, during the miniseries runtime. The fact that she is often shown in promotional material for the miniseries, is a bit strange. If anyone should have co-shared promotion with Caine, it should have been Lewis Collins. Furthermore, the cast includes, Lysette Anthony, Deirdre Costello, and Susan George; they play murder victims, Mary Jane Kelly, Annie Chapman, and Catherine Eddowes. Sir Charles Warren (Hugh Fraser), is one of the only people Abberline can trust and turn to for help during the investigation. There is also the highly respected, Dr. Acland (Richard Morant), who offers assistance to the investigators. Acland is the son-in-law of the previous mentioned Sir William Gull, played in the miniseries by three time BAFTA winner Ray McAnally (A Very British Coup). 

In relation to Sir William Gull, I wrote the following, in a post from October of 2015, pertaining to the “In Search Of” episode that dealt with Jack the Ripper:  “One piece of evidence that came out over eighty years after the Jack the Ripper crimes was Sir William Gull’s diary. Gull’s diary was examined by Dr. Thomas Stowell, who was a renowned British physician. In a November 1970 issue of the “The Criminologist,” Dr. Stowell claimed that Dr. Gull’s diary contained a detailed medical history of Prince Albert, as well as Dr. Gull’s admission that he knew the Prince was Jack the Ripper. Stowell, stated this claim on the BBC program “24 Hours,” on November 2, 1970, however, on November 5th, he wrote to the London Times and recanted everything he had to say about Prince Albert; several days later Dr. Stowell died. For some unexplained reason, less than a day after the doctor’s death, his son, destroyed all of Dr. Stowell’s research and papers pertaining to Jack the Ripper, including Dr. Gull’s diary.”

The miniseries was directed by David Wickes (Phillip Marlowe, Private Eye). Wickes co-wrote the teleplay with Emmy nominee, Derek Marlowe (The Search for the Nile). The miniseries aired on CBS (Columbia Broadcasting System), on two consecutive Friday evenings, beginning on October 21, 1988, and concluding on October 28, 1988. Parts crime, drama, and history, the miniseries has a runtime of 190 minutes. Michael Caine won a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television, for his work on “Jack the Ripper.” The entire cast, for that matter, was solid, in their respective roles. Oscar nominee, John Cameron’s (A Touch of Class), score was well placed throughout. Alan Hume’s (Return of the Jedi), cinematography did an excellent job of capturing the London of the time period, as did Emmy nominee, John Blezard’s production designs.

There have been a number of new theories that have been proposed as to the Ripper’s identity, since the miniseries aired, and I’m sure that there will be many more in the future. My own feeling on who Jack the Ripper was has changed over the years, but at the moment, if I had to pick one suspect, it would be Carl Feigenbaum. A known psychopath, he was working as a merchant on ships docked near Whitechapel, on every single one of the dates that Jack the Ripper murders were committed. He and his co-workers frequently visited the brothels. When Feigenbaum emigrated to America, he murdered Julianna Hoffman, in much the same manner as the Ripper victims were killed. Feigenbaum confessed that he had mutilated other women. His lawyer suspected him of being the Ripper. He was given the death penalty for his crime, and was sent to the electric chair. Do any of you who are reading this have a Ripper suspect? I’d be interested in reading your take on who you think it is.

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“Mary Reilly Offers an Interesting Take on a Classic Story”

Many of you who are reading this are probably familiar with the basic essence of the characters, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Jekyll, the respected doctor and scientist, represents the educated and genteel side of humanity. Conversely, Hyde is a man run amuck, consumed with carnality, violence, and escaping the consequences of his actions, through monetary payoffs, or the outright fleeing of crime scenes. First, and foremost, unlike other versions of the classic story of Jekyll and Hyde the film, “Mary Reilly,” differs, in one major respect. Instead of the narrative being told from Dr. Jekyll, and his alter ego, Mr. Hyde’s point of view, the film is shown from the perspective of Mary Reilly, a live in housemaid. The part of Mary is portrayed by Oscar winner Julia Roberts (Erin Brockovich).

Robert’s character is a young, intelligent, Irish woman, who came from an impoverished background, where she suffered at the hands of her loutish, drunken father. She still has the physical scars as a reminder. Mary’s father, shown via flashback, is played by four time BAFTA winner, Michael Gambon (Perfect Strangers). After a particularly revolting incident, Mary’s mother, a role acted by BAFTA nominee, Linda Bassett (East Is East), takes Mary from the home, and puts her into a life of service.  

A further departure from traditional depictions of the story, is Dr. Jekyll’s relationship with his fiancée, Emma. In “Mary Reilly,” there is no such character. Tension exists, between, Dr. Jekyll, portrayed by, two time Oscar nominee and Emmy winner, John Malkovich (Death of a Salesman), and Mary. It begins, when he spots Mary reading one of the books in his library. She is embarrassed when he asks her about it, but he states that she is welcome to read any book of his that she fancies. Dr. Jekyll’s curiosity expands, when he notices scars on Mary’s wrists and neck. Mary, is seemingly interested in Dr. Jekyll, something that doesn’t sit well with her immediate supervisor, Mr. Poole, a part played by two time BAFTA nominee, George Cole (Minder). Fortunately, for Mary, she is treated well, for the most part, by the other members of staff: Mrs. Kent (Kathy Staff); her roommate, Annie (Bronagh Gallagher); and Bradshaw, a role acted by Emmy nominee, Michael Sheen (The Special Relationship).  

Eventually, Mary’s comfort level with Dr. Jekyll, reaches a point, where she not only confides in him about her scars, but allows him to examine them; a previous request made by the doctor, which, at the time, she rejected. The new sense of trust, is not surprising. Mary had remarked earlier in the film to Annie, that she feels safe in the doctor’s house, and she states that, that hasn’t always been the situation, during her previous employments.

Mary tells Dr. Jekyll, of the horrid, aforementioned incident, inflicted upon her by her father. He examines the scars, and offers his diagnosis. When the doctor questions Mary about her father, in particular, asking her if she hates him for what he has done to her, he is surprised by her answer. While Mary has never seen, nor wanted to spend time with her father after being removed from the home, she doesn’t hate him. The following morning, when Mary serves the doctor breakfast, he tells her that he was up all night, thinking of what her father did to her. Dr. Jekyll doesn’t so much think it was the continuous imbibing of alcohol that turned Mary’s father into a different man, but that instead, it set him free to be the brute, that he truly was. 

The entire staff is summoned to a meeting. They are informed by Dr. Jekyll, that he has taken on a new assistant, Mr. Hyde. The assistant is to be given the run of the house, and treated in the same manner by the staff as they treat the doctor. From this moment forward, Dr. Jekyll begins to trust Mary with tasks he’d normally assign to Mr. Poole. One such errand, involves a trip to find Mr. Hyde a room to rent. Mary is sent by Dr. Jekyll, with a letter to Mrs. Farraday. Three time Emmy winner, Glen Close (Hillbilly Elegy), plays the part. Mary is taken aback, when she learns that Mrs. Farraday’s house is used for prostitution. Mary returns to Dr. Jekyll, letting him know that Hyde can have the room, in two weeks time. From that point forward, the more time Mary spends with Dr. Jekyll, especially, when he has transformed into Mr. Hyde, the darker things become.

“Mary Reilly” was directed by three time BAFTA and Emmy winner Stephen Frears (A Very English Scandal). The screenplay was written by two time Oscar winner Christopher Hampton (The Father). The screenplay was adapted from the novel of the same name by Valerie Martin. The novel was published by Doubleday in February 1990. Martin was nominated for a Nebula Award for best novel for her work.  First awarded in 1966, the Nebula recognizes the best works of fantasy and science fiction published in the United States. Martin took the source material for “Mary Reilly” from “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” The classic novella, written by Robert Louis Stevenson, was published by Longmans, Green & Co, on January 5, 1886. The film premiered on February 23, 1996. Parts drama, horror, and thriller, the movie has a runtime of 108 minutes.  

Trivia buffs take note: Two time Oscar nominee and Emmy winner, Tim Burton (Frankenweenie), was originally set to direct the film, but instead opted to direct “Ed Wood.” If Burton had directed, he was going to cast Golden Globe winner, Winona Ryder (Stranger Things), in the role of Mary Reilly. John Malkovich and Julia Roberts did not get along during filming. Three time Oscar winner, Daniel Day Lewis (Lincoln) turned down the lead role, as did Oscar winner, Al Pacino (Scent of a Woman). Golden Globe winner, and Oscar nominee, Uma Thurman (Pulp Fiction) was in final contention to play Mary Reilly, before the part went to Roberts.

The film, at the time of its release, was not treated kindly by audiences. In certain respects, I can understand, because traditionalists, who are fans of Stevenson’s novella, or those, who have seen one of the other adaptations of the work, were perhaps disappointed, that it didn’t hold strictly to the story. I can’t imagine, however, someone with that mindset, wouldn’t have known from the film’s trailer, or even a newspaper’s write up, that the movie departed from the well known story. The film, perhaps, was also considered a bit too slow moving for some viewers. Malkovich and Roberts did well in their respective roles. For that matter, the entire cast played their parts competently. The only thing I would critique about Roberts, is that her Irish accent was not as strong as it could’ve been, but it was still passable. Fans of Glen Close, might have been dissatisfied that she didn’t have a more extended part, in the film.    

As of the writing of this post, the film is streaming on HBO Max. This was the second time, I had seen the movie, but it had been a long time, between viewings. I’ll reiterate, that I can understand where people might find fault with the film, but it held my interest from start to finish.                                                                          

                                          

                                                                                                                                                                                                           

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

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