Ratings Key



★★★★
= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
★★★
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Mania (1986)

... aka: Mania: Episodes in Terror
... aka: Mania: The Intruder (maybe)

Directed by:
Paul Lynch
David M. Robertson
John Sheppard

I know nothing about the history of Mania - and there's next to no information about this forgotten film online - but it has all of the hallmarks of having at one point been an attempt at developing a TV series. For starters, it's an anthology featuring four unrelated tales with no linking segments. Two, it opens up with a flashy credits sequence announcing that it was “created by” Peter Simpson and then lists four other producers. Three, each segment falls well short of the 30-minute range and cut to black about every 8-10 minutes, clearly because they were intended to be wedged into 30-minute time slots and accommodate commercial breaks. Four, each segment opens with the title in quotes and lists just the primary star(s) and writer / director. And last but certainly not least, it's from Canada. Canada? Yes, Canada. Canada was pretty much the master domain of syndicated horror television in the 80s and 90s. “The Hitchhiker,” “Friday the 13th: The Series,” “The Outer Limits” revival, “Poltergeist: The Legacy” etc. etc. Mania does not show up on the TVarchive database for Canada; meaning the separate episodes never played on TV. My best guess is that to salvage what was shot, someone decided to throw the completed shorts together and then released it as a feature. It likely debuted either direct-to-video or on Canadian TV.

Vista Home Video release [USA]

C.B. Films VHS release [Spain]

We open up with “See No Evil;” written and directed by John Sheppard. Accountant Steve Harold (Wayne Robson) has just spent some quality time with a hooker he frequently hires. As she's leaving his home at 2 in the morning, a bearded guy in a trench coat (Deryck Hazel) stabs her to death right outside in the courtyard. Hearing her screams, Steve looks out the window and sees the killer. The killer sees him. Steve rushes to the phone and starts to call the police but then hangs up. I mean, how would he explain having a hooker over at his place in the middle of the night to the police without getting into some major trouble himself? A police inspector (David Petersen) shows up, Steve lies to him, claims he didn't see or hear anything and then tries to go about life as usual... but the murderer begins stalking and then trying to frame him for the murder using various tactics. This has some sketchy acting and is basically just Hitchcock lite, but the twist at the end is at least a little amusing.






Story #2 is “The Intruder,” written by Sheppard (he actually wrote all four of these) and directed by David M. Robertson. Wealthy couple Jack (Richard Monette) and Ruth (Cheryl Wilson) Benson are worried about three recent burglaries in their area. Ruth wants a guard dog. Because of a traumatic childhood incident where he was attacked and nearly killed by a dog, Jack is deathly afraid of them, but doesn't want his wife to know because he's embarrassed. After some nagging, Ruth ends up finally getting her way, so the two go to a kennel and purchase a big Rottweiler named Dox. Dox immediately begins annoying (and scaring) Jack by sitting in his favorite chair, constantly barking and staring him down in an intimidating way. When Ruth goes away to visit her sister for a few days, things take an unexpected turn. Much better performances than in the first segment and this builds up to a shocker of an ending.






Paul Lynch's “Have a Nice Day” is up next. Kelly Foran (Deborah Grover) sends her young daughter Hillary (Rikki Lynn Wosnack) off to school and, soon after, receives a phone call from someone saying every parent's four least favorite consecutive words “we have your daughter.” The kidnapper (Bill Croft) claims her phone is tapped, she's being watched and if she doesn't do everything he says or attempts to inform the police, her daughter will be killed. The caller also seems to know things only someone very close to her would know, like that she has some valuable jewelry in a safety deposit box at her bank. She's instructed to go into town and retrieve the jewels and then return home, where a few surprises await her. While I kind of figured out the big twist ending, this is a decent piece of suspense about a sociopath using (then brand new) technology to ensnare his victim and cleverly playing up a parent's inherent paranoia to their own benefit.






"The Good Samaritan;” again directed by Lynch, is the fourth and final story. After leaving a bar, divorced advertising executive Dan Weston (Stephen  B. Hunter) stumbles upon a young woman - Julie Somers (Lenore Zann) -  being attacked by a guy with a knife (Dwight McFee) in the subway. He helps her escape and the two run back to his home, but they've been followed there by the mugger. Julie calls the police and, as they wait for them to arrive, the attacker tries to gain access to the home. The least of these stories, this has two twists at the end that don't really work because they requires at least one of the characters to behave in a bone-headed fashion in order to pull off.






As with all anthologies, some stories work better than others. The two in the middle (which feature very good performances from Monette and Grover) were easily the standouts for me. The whole thing is quite glossy in that special 80s kind of way and vividly lit, with lots of bold lighting choices and a handsome blue tint to the night scenes (especially in the first segment). Many of the people involved in this one were involved in the Canadian Prom Night slasher series. Simpson produced all four of those, Lynch directed the original, Monette appeared as a priest in the second and director Robertson, producers Ilana Frank and Ray Sager, composer Paul Zaza, cinematographer John Spooner and others in the crew worked on at least one of the sequels.

No, no, no...

IMDb erroneously claims this played at the 1986 Berlin International Film Festival (!!), but someone has just confused it with a seldom-seen Greek film also called Mania (1985). Yes folks, take the info you see over on IMDb with a grain of salt and always, I repeat always, cross-reference their data you get there before using it. I've learned that lesson the hard way myself, and as much as I love and use the site, it's time we stop treating it like the one-stop-shop for film particulars and continue spreading their misinformation as fact. IMDb also claims this debuted on TV, but it doesn't list when or where, nor have I found proof it was released as Mania: The Intruder as they currently list it (none of the videos have that name and the title screen just calls it Mania). What is easily verifiable is that it received a VHS release here in America in the late 80s by Vista Home Video, which unfortunately came in a box so generic and nondescript that even I wouldn't have rented it back then. It was also released in Spain on the C.B. Films label. The only country I'm aware of that's gotten a DVD is Germany, courtesy of CMV Laservision.

★★1/2
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