FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Aug 27, 2007

once in a lifetime

If you've been hanging around here for any length of time, you probably know by now that I've got a serious thang for nighttime soaps and Lifetime movies that feature murder, treachery, murder and treachery, and/or someone acting crazy. When Terror in the Shadows (1995) came on the other night, it was so many great tastes tasting great together that my tongue caught on fire from all the flavor.

OK, that makes no sense, but look! The description:
A Colorado family man fears an escaped mental patient who killed his first wife and son.
Look again! The cast, honey, the cast: Genie Francis of General Hospital! Leigh McCloskey of Dallas! Marcy Walker of Santa Barbara! Victoria Wyndham of Another World! It's like Battle of the Network Soap Stars from Stacie's Childhood up in here. Now, normally I don't review these sorts of movies, but I thought the words "escaped mental patient" and "killed" might merit Terror in the Shadows the ol' Final Girl treatment. Besides, in the end, I can do whatever I want.

Right off the bat, I learned a little bit about prejudice from this film. See, after reading the description, I assumed that the cuckoo nutso in question would be some dude. Imagine my simultaneous delight and deep deep shame when Terror in the Shadows opened in an asylum and said cuckoo nutso turned out to be Marcy Walker of television's Santa Barbara. Lesson learned? Vengeful mental patients can be either gender...or perhaps, even both. Or neither!

Marcy Walker is Christine. Christine is crazy. Christine escapes the hospital by hiding an I.V. pole in her jammie jams and then using it to conk out a guard. Within minutes she's hitchhiking her way outta Albany, New York and telling "Timmy" that she's coming for him. I loves me some soap stars acting crazy.

Marcy Walker will cut a bitch.

Christine makes it to Ohio and gets picked up by some sad-sack woman who has no one in the world to love her. Christine knows an opportunity when she sees it and, having had enough of the whole thumbing a ride thing, conks the woman with a big rock and steals both her car and her identity. Yes folks, Christine is all about the conking.

Meanwhile, in Colorado...

Leigh McCloskey of television's Dallas and Genie Francis of television's General Hospital are Alex and Sarah Williams, who have been happily married for about a year. Alex is a high school teacher, Sarah owns a coffee shop, and their biggest worry is that Sarah's son Brian likes scary stuff. Horror movies and ghost stories are off-limits; they're damaging, you know...and that's so true- I mean, look at me. Reading Famous Monsters of Filmland as a child seriously fucked me up, y'all. I can barely function and remain civilized.

Alex gets a call notifying him that Christine has escaped and Sarah is all "Huh? Who's Christine?", so Alex decides to come clean about his past in delicious TV-movie fashion. See, originally he told Sarah that his first wife and baby son died in a car accident, but that was such a lie! Their son was adopted, and the birth mother was Christine- a real nutcase who didn't remember that she gave the child up for adoption. Convinced her child had been kidnapped, Christine killed Alex's wife and then managed to drop the baby before she could make her getaway. The baby died and Christine got shipped off to the asylum. Alex thought that was the end of the story, but now Christine is coming to get him, Barbara! Sarah is miffed about the lie, but conquers all.

Genie Francis SO cares.

Christine makes it to Colorado in record time and has no trouble finding Alex and his family. When I say "record time", I'm not kidding- Christine is in the Williams house and there's still a good hour and a half remaining in the film...I guess she's waiting for the right time to strike or whatever rather than going into Operation: Get 'Timmy' all willy-nilly. All willy-nilly, I say. She hides out in their basement, sneaking upstairs at night to stare at Brian and pilfering cans of tuna to survive, all the while looking sullen and crazy.

They call her one-eye.

In order to "get closer" to Brian, Christine wrangles herself a job at Sarah's coffee house. Here we meet Kay (Victoria Wyndham), who runs the shop with Sarah. I immediately peg her as The Main Character's Friend Who Is Always Suspicious Of The Too-Good-To-Be-True New Person And Will Go On To Discover The Too-Good-To-Be-True New Person's Secret And Therefore Will Be Killed Before She Can Notify Her Best Friend About Her Startling Discovery. Julianne Moore in Hand That Rocks the Cradle, anyone? Really, if you've seen one of these thrillers, you've seen them all- not that I'm complaining.

Alex receives another call from the police, this time letting him know that a body was found in Ohio and they're sure it's Christine. But we know the truth- we know the body is not Christine, but rather it's the sad-sack that Christine conked! Don't let your guard down, Alex and Sarah! The streets of Colorado still aren't safe!

Alex and Sarah do let their guard down, however, and brazenly decide to go out to dinner. Brian gets the babysitter to let him watch a horror movie: Bloody Zombies. When we see footage from "Bloody Zombies", however, it's actually George Romero's Night of the Living Dead. While I gave myself props for my mad recognizing skillz, the moment served as a sad reminder that one of the greatest horror films of all time is in the public domain for people to do with as they please. Countless inferior DVD releases and clip usage galore, and Romero doesn't see a dime (and yes, I'd feel bad for John Russo as well, but then he went and released that horrendous '30th Anniversary Edition' with all the new footage, so John Russo can suck it. OK, maybe that's a bit harsh. I've met him and he's very nice, but still). Anyway, Christine, listening to the zombie movie madness goings-on through an air vent, gets peeved that "her son" is watching a horror film- "Little boys shouldn't watch horror!" What the fuck is with these people and the condemning of the horror? Pfft, like Christine is one to talk, what with the whole stabbing and baby-dropping and the various conkings. In a righteous maternal fury, Christine cuts the power and heads upstairs...where she...oh god, this was so scary...manages to take the tape out of the VCR without anyone seeing her! BRR! A chill of fright went up my spine even now, just typing about it.

Meanwhile, back at the coffee shop...

Kay does indeed find out about Christine's secret...guess how? Yes! Via a newspaper clipping that Christine keeps in her purse! How awesome is that? Much as I predicted, Kay's discovery leads to her demise when she meets the business end of...err, well, that's a mystery. See, this is a modern-day made-for-TV film, so when push comes to shove all we see is Christine turning off the lights in a, uh, threatening fashion and that's that. The next day Sarah finds Kay's body in a pool of blood, so we can assume that Christine made with the conking yet again.

At this point, I'm thinking that it's time for Christine to make her fucking move already and take Tim- err, Brian away or whatever the hell it is she intends to do. Lo and behold, she takes my advice! Christine volunteers to take Brian out for a while so Sarah can rest and recover from The Death of Kay. Then she sets her plan of evil in motion by slipping Brian a milkshake mickey. Oh, the deviousness!

Num num...zzzzzzzzz..........

The police have finally figured out that the body found in Ohio is not Christine, and they call Alex yet again to let him know...and then Terror in the Shadows becomes a non-stop white-knuckle roller coaster thrill ride you'll never forget (that's totally my bid to get quoted on the DVD case)!

Alex goes searching for Christine and Brian! There's a sudden thunderstorm! Alex finds them and tries to convince Christine that Brian is not Timmy! Christine gets her conk on yet again and Alex is down for the count! Brian wakes up and wonders where he is! Sarah discovers Christine's secret basement hidey-hole! Christine inexplicably returns to the Williams home! Sarah and Christine have a hee-lar slo-mo fight! They move their fight outside into the relentless pouring rain! Alex returns and runs over Christine, ending her reign of lite terror! Brian calls Alex 'dad' for the first time and everyone is super psyched, hugz all around, the end.

Well, despite the absolutely blinding mega-watt star power attached to Terror in the Shadows, I have to admit that it's a (not at all unenjoyable) bit of a letdown. There's simply not much terror to be found anywhere. Marcy Walker plays a decent cuckoo nutso, but she's not really given much of a chance to actually do anything. She spends her time hanging out in the basement with her ear pressed to a heating duct, listening to the Williamses, and then when she makes her way upstairs in the dead of night she doesn't seem particularly threatening- unless staring and cooing weirds you out, which I guess depends on who's staring and cooing. Her bid to get 'in' with the family and get closer to Brian is pretty lame as well- Christine is no Peyton Flanders, if you can dig it. But then again, who is?

Like I said, though, the film is still fun to watch. The acting is what you'd expect from a bunch of soap stars, and the plot adheres to the tried-and-true thriller formula. Again, it's a contemporary made-for-TV film, so it's no Home for the Holidays or Dark Night of the Scarecrow; it's bland and unhorrifying, so you most likely won't see much of its ilk here again, unless I change my mind. I am a woman, after all, and changing our minds is what we do. Men never do that sort of thing. That's why men still think the earth is flat.

Regardless of whether or not the Lifetime flicks show their faces at Final Girl again, that doesn't mean I won't still be watching this sort of crap. Next up: Joan Van Ark of television's Knots Landing in...With Harmful Intent!


Jason Meek said...

You review movies in such an entertaining way I sometimes get suckered into watching them ( although Lovers Lane was fun and I think I need to see Superstition), but this time, unless I happen to chance across Lifetime, I doubt I'll be able to catch this one, even though my better judgement says "don't be a fool! Don't watch something like that!" And I say, "but when Stacie describes it it sounds cool. " It looks like my better judgement will win out in this case by default. And if the earth isn't flat then what is it?

Jason Adams said...

Heh, I watched Superstition over the weekend and your advice was spot-on on that one, Stacie - good, surprisingly genuinely-creepy-at-times stuff.

As for this, all I have to say is - No, Eden!!! Don't do it! Does Cruz know she's gone mad? But... their beautiful love!!!

Stacie Ponder said...

Oh my god oh my god oh my GAAAWWWWDDDD!

JA, that picture is the best thing that anyone has ever linked to in the entire history of The Internet. My new Life's Goal is to get a van and have that image airbrushed on the side...and for giving me purpose, I thank you, sir.

And I'm glad you dug Superstition!

Hey Jason, thanks! If my reviews sometimes make people want to watch shitty movies, well...that's a huge compliment! :) I do try to tell it like it T-I-IS, though, so people will know what they're getting into should they take the plunge. If someone seeks out something that I said I wouldn't watch again with...err...ten foot eyes, what can I do? :D Terror in the Shadows is totally The Hand That Rocks the Cradle lite...but then, for me, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle is The Hand That Rocks My Face Off, so ye be warned!

I will go on record as saying you should probably see Superstition, though...I mean, if you made it through Lovers Lane you can handle just about anything!

Anonymous said...

I'm a modern man, so I think just certain parts of the Earth is flat. Which parts? Sheesh, I dunno. Women! With the questions all the time...

Anonymous said...

So Forrie Ackerman sent you down the road to blood-thirsty madness, eh? Me too. What was the first issue you ever bought? I think mine was this one. I still love me some Sand People. Well into my 20s, I saw a Bantha in a Suncoast Movies store and had to buy it. Also, in my view, the sole scene in Phantom Menace that recalls the humor that permeated Star Wars is where the Tusken Raider is taking potshots at the podracer.

But wait, what were we talking about? Oh yeah. Next time I'm out West, I'm going to rifle through your purse to find out what incriminating clippings you keep in there.

Anonymous said...

I was in to Ackerman's mag too, but my first one was bought in the late '60s, long before "Star Wars." I think it had Barnabas Collins on the, I'm way old.

Anonymous said...

Sorry,x I forgot to say, MY GOD, WHAT HAVE I DONE!

M said...

Maybe they intentionally chose someone who looks like Louise Fletcher, who played the nurse in a Cuckoo's Nest, to play the psycho. Maybe it's to draw a parallel, and make us think the tables are turned and now it's her who is the patient.

Amanda By Night said...

Oh man, Stacie. I SO want to see this movie.

I too have a certain affinity for the Lifetime Movie. I mean, yeah, it's like you said, no surprises, but so fucking what?!? They're fun and entertaining as hell.

Although the parts with the crazy lady watching them in the house felt all Bad Ronald and shit.

Scott Jacoby + Lifetime = Heaven.

Great review once again!

Arbogast said...

I love Lifetime movies, too, because they're so straight ahead and they still care about story (however pedestrian that story may turn out to be). So much horror now is done like a PSA for something, all jump cuts and step framing that make you think the thing's moving quickly when in fact the goddamn thing drags on forever. But enough about THE DEVIL'S REJECTS.

Stacie Ponder said...

The first Famous Monsters I remember probably buying for myself- or at least begging my mom to buy me- was this one...though my mom had handed down plenty of copies to me from the 60s and 70s before that one. I was pretty much raised on Famous Monsters, Fangoria, and Mad Magazine, yet I think I'm surprisingly well-adjusted.

Amanda & Arbogast, you've nailed it- these movies are definitely FUN, and quite well-made- solidly made, at any rate. The stories might be rote, but the acting is usually decent and yeah, there's no unnecessary "flashiness".

I saw The Devil's Rejects for the first time somewhat recently, and...well, I didn't hate it as much as I hated 1000 Corpses. But when it was over, I thought...OK, that was an hour and a half, but NOTHING FUCKING HAPPENED.


They're going to make their big getaway, they drive to a hotel about a mile down the road, they drive a little further, they get killed. It was just...well, dumb.

Priscilla Barnes and Leslie Easterbrook rocked the fucking house, though. They are leagues above the material they were given.

And what the hell happened to EG Daily's face? STOP WITH THE PLASTIC SURGERY! I wept at the memory of good ol' Dottie and whatever her character's names were in One Dark Night and Bad Dreams. :(

Anonymous said...

"they drive to a hotel about a mile down the road, they drive a little further, they get killed."

It's not the destination; it's the journey.

And it's not what a movie's about; it's how it's about it.

Stacie Ponder said...

Sure, I buy the journey as destination bit, but even in this regard, I thought Rejects was lacking. Maybe it's just not my cup of tea- and I'm saying the film wasn't without it's moments- but tell me, what exactly was their 'journey' about, beyond an excuse for frat boy humor and "terrifying" crazy antics?

I don't think there was much substance underneath all the "style"- Rob Zombie seems to be infatuated with white trash culture, but at the same time he's denigrating it.

Given the lengthy "Free Bird" segment at the end, I suppose we're supposed to identify with the Firefly family somehow, or at the least find them to be 'tragic' figures. How? Or why? They're character sketches at best, and what's likable about them? What's the bigger 'statement' Zombie is trying to make here- what's his theme, or his point? I'm not sure if he even has one.

His films feel terribly self-indulgent to me, and while I might be interested in seeing him direct something written by someone else, I don't think he's a strong enough writer (yet, perhaps) to rise above "Wouldn't it be cool if..." or "Wouldn't it be funny if..." or "What this movie needs is more of my wife"*.

As to your second point...hmm. Sometimes. But if you (the filmmaker) don't have a clear idea of the first part of that sentence, you're sure as shit gonna fail at the second.

*Sheri Moon Zombie is undeniably a stone cold fox. But watching Zombie's films becomes..."OK, Rob, we get it- you love your wife's ass."

Arbogast said...

THE DEVIL'S REJECTS was 90 minutes or so of shit happening but without the character development to make the shit have any impact at all. Yes, you can stick a revolver up a woman's vagina and make me uncomfortable but it doesn't make you a Master of fucking Horror.

Anonymous said...

Ouch. I just got trounced...

Arbogast said...

You are Priscilla Barnes to my Bill whateverhisnameis.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

god it was a soap review lol