Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Perfect Bride (1991) [copyright 1990]

... aka: Die Alptraumbraut (Nightmare Bride)
... aka: I död och lust (In Death and Lust)
... aka: La fiancée (The Fiancee)
... aka: Mariage de sang (Blood Wedding)

Directed by:
Terrence O'Hara

One of the most important and influential films when it comes to the development of the modern day psycho-thriller is undoubtedly Fatal Attraction, which became the #2 highest grossing film of 1987 and was also showered with awards, including six Oscar nominations. The film focuses on happily married breadwinner Dan (Michael Douglas), who has a casual weekend fling with the mysterious Alex (Glenn Close), who then refuses to go away and begins to terrorize both him and his family. Many intellectuals dug deep beneath the surface of Attraction to find an offensive underlying subtext where a sexually aggressive single career woman is demonized and ultimately punished while the loyal, forgiving, stay-at-home wife prevails. Nevertheless, the movie struck a chord with audiences and became extremely influential in developing the “psycho bitch” branch of the psycho-thriller, leading to other highly successful films like Basic Instinct (1992), The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992), Single White Female (1992) and many others. For every theatrical release, there were probably 50 that went direct-to-video or cable. The Perfect Bride is one of those.

Stephanie Peters (Sammi Davis), she of the lovely golden locks, dimpled smile and refined British accent, wants nothing more than to have the perfect wedding and then perfect marriage to the perfect man. Unfortunately, there's no such thing as perfect and when things don't go as she wants, she murders the disappointing fiance and moves on to greener pastures. (For the record, this is the exact same set-up as The Stepfather right down to her changing her appearance and name.) A nurse by trade so you just know she's must be caring and compassionate, Stephanie now has her hooks sunk into nice guy Ted Whitman (Linden Ashby). The two met in Denver at a hospital after he had a skiing accident and got engaged after a brief three month courtship. The wedding is to take place in Ted's hometown, so he brings Stephanie back to Ohio to meet his friends and extended family and prepare for their big day.

Though Ted's oblivious father (John McLaughlin) doesn't seem all that interested in the upcoming nuptials, his mother (Marilyn Rockafellow) really throws herself into it. She instantly takes to her future daughter-in-law, appoints herself the organizer of the entire wedding and can't wait for her to become a new member of their family. A void has been left by the death of her other other daughter, Catherine, who was killed in a bicycling accident after she swerved to avoid hitting Ted's other sister, Laura (Kelly Preston). Laura, blaming herself for the accident and never the favorite child anyway, moved away and barely kept in contact afterward, but now she's back per her brother's request to help get things in order.

It isn't long before Laura suspects something is off about Stephanie. She's extremely clingy, insecure and possessive, insanely jealous about other women and proves herself to be a pathological liar who can't keep her various stories straight. After watching her go off on a bridal shop employee and hearing a caterer comment that she looks exactly like another woman she worked with whose fiance mysteriously died the night before the wedding, alarm bells start going off. Against her mother and brother's demands she not to start trouble, Laura begins looking into matters and is soon at the library feeding change into a microfiche reading through old newspaper clippings. She also tries to bait Stephanie to catch her lying so that everyone else will see what she does but it always seems to backfire on her. However, being the black sheep with failed relationships in her own past puts her at a disadvantage since she's written off as merely being jealous.

While Laura investigates, Stephanie goes around town murdering anyone who threatens to expose her, giving potassium shots directly into the jugular of a reverend, the old lady caterer (after a hilarious stunt double cat-fight) and others so they have heart attacks. Wearing a black wig and glasses and doing a terrible American accent, she intercepts a disgruntled ex-girlfriend (Cheryl Arutt) of one of her earlier victims at the airport, who ends up as easy prey in the hospital after being run over by a car. Will Ted go too far at his bachelor party with former fling “The Delectable Deirdre” (Tamara Clatterbuck)? Well, considering Stephanie stops by and sees a shirtless Ted and bathing suit clad Deirdre wrestling on the ground, I'd say that's affirmative. And God forbid if you mess with her precious music box! It's all because as a little girl Stephanie saw her mother slit her wrists after being abandoned by her fiance on their wedding day.

Though this is derivative, unoriginal and destined to fill 2 hours programming slots on channels like Lifetime, Bride still manages to avoid the subtext trap the aforementioned Attraction and many of its clones fell into by presenting a psycho bride-to-be who's glamorous, beautiful and mannered countered by a single Plain Jane who, more than anything, strives for acceptance and connection with a family she already feels on the outs with. By the end of the film, the Laura character has her mother irate and both her brother and his cop best friend (Ashley Tillman) convinced she's losing it. Preston is miscast in her role as the “mousy” sister and giving her a plain / baggy wardrobe, straight dark hair and (sometimes) glasses doesn't make her look any less beautiful, but it's still pretty impossible not to take to her determined character. The highlights of the film are undoubtedly her catty dialogue exchanges with Davis, who has great bitch-face.

Whoever cast this movie must have also been a big fan of 50s sci-fi and horror flicks because small roles are played by Louise Lewis (Blood of Dracula) as an aunt, Jered Barclay (WAR OF THE SATELLITES) as the reverend and, best of all, John Agar in a delightful performance as the senile old grandpa, who usually says things that make no sense whatsoever... but not always. French-Canadian producer Pierre David also backed countless similar thrillers and psycho bitch films. This was his first of many with "Perfect" in the title. Later came The Perfect Nanny, The Perfect Tenant (both 2000), The Perfect Wife (2001), Her Perfect Spouse (2004), The Perfect Neighbor (2005), The Perfect Marriage (2006), The Perfect Assistant (2008), The Perfect Teacher (2010), The Perfect Roommate (2011), The Perfect Boss, The Perfect Boyfriend (both 2013), The Perfect Girlfriend (2015) and The Perfect Stalker (2016)!

There were numerous VHS releases for this one and it strangely got an R rating despite having no nudity, no graphic gore and minimal swear words (Preston does say “Fuck you!” to hell bride at one point). The DVD release is perfectly watchable, though it's full screen and uses the video master.

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