... aka: Wide World of Mystery: The Next Victim, The
After leaving Hollywood in disgust, Carroll Baker spent a decade plus making movies in Italy, primarily giallo mysteries and thrillers, where she managed to carve out a little niche for herself. It was a win / win situation for awhile. Producers were happy to have a one-time A-List marquee star to sell their product while Baker was happy to cash the checks. While these films almost always promised some sex and nudity as part of the package, it was all fairly coy in the beginning. That all changed as the 70s progressed and relaxed censorship laws in America and Europe meant an abundance of both soft and hardcore pornography. As a result, the types of films Baker was accustomed to doing were starting to include much more explicit sex and nude scenes to compete. It was time to get out. The fact she was already in her mid-40s at the time likely helped to solidify her decision.
This TV production was a first step into getting her foot back in the door in more "respectable" TV and film work. What's amusing and kind of ironic is that this shot-on-video "legit" effort has much lower production values than the "trash" she was doing in Italy! Still, she was appearing alongside some well-regarded British actors, didn't have to take her clothes off and would be seen by millions of TV viewers, so there's that.
A psychotic, bellbottom-clad serial killer is on the loose in London and has been going around strangling young women and then wrecking their homes afterward. Police Inspector Frampton (T. P. McKenna) and his partner Small (Ian Gelder) are on the case. Meanwhile, Sandy Marshall (Baker) has just been released from the hospital into the care of her insurance salesman husband, Derek (Maurice Kaufmann), who's just finished redecorating their luxury apartment. (Too bad he couldn't do anything about that hideous pink-and-puke-green floral wallpaper in the lobby and hallways, though.) Sandy had almost been killed in a terrible car accident months earlier when, curiously, the brakes on her brand new sports car failed. She's now confined to a wheelchair as her back heals. Whether or not she'll ever be able to walk normally is up in the air.
Two more victims, a woman sitting at her sewing machine and a woman washing her hair, are found dead, as the press becomes dominated by stories about a Boston Strangler-style "lady killer" terrorizing the city. Not a good time for poor Sandy to be left alone, is it? However, her next door neighbors, Spiros (Martin Benson) and Laura (Margo Reid), will be out of town for the weekend on a trip and Derek has to go away on a very important, make-it-or-break-it business trip. Even worse, it's a sweltering summer weekend so most everyone else will be heading to the beach. At least trusty handyman Bartlett (Ronald Lacey) will be sticking around. That's a good thing, right? Well, maybe not. He's an oddball and drunk who spends much of his spare time cutting photos of babies and mothers out of magazines to paste on the wall. Oh, did I mention that the killer suffers from an Oedipal complex and talks about his "mommy" before killing?
Even though this takes place in a ritzy, expensive apartment block, there are constant problems with the air conditioning (which is often out), telephones (ditto) and the door locks (which often jam), while the door buzzer security system at the front isn't much better. Thinking she's letting in a deliveryman, Sandy accidentally lets the killer inside the building instead. He makes short work of her downstairs neighbor Betty (Brenda Cavendish) and, when the guy she's let in doesn't materialize and Betty doesn't show up for a drink like she promised, Sandy grows increasingly paranoid. She bumps into the seemingly kind and well-mannered Tom Packer (Max Mason) in the hallway. He claims to have just moved into the building and insists on being gentlemanly and pushing her chair into her apartment, where the two sit down for a drink and chat. Has Sandy just let the killer inside?
This hearkens back to a lot of other classic thrillers about handicapped, incapacitated or otherwise compromised people finding themselves vulnerable and in a dangerous situation with a killer. From the mute heroine in The Spiral Staircase (1945) to Jimmy Stewart with a broken leg and a telescope in Rear Window (1954) to a blind Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark (1967), this is a popular, though perhaps overused, thriller trope. While this one lacks the visual flourish and production values of a theatrical release, to its credit it does at least manage to generate some suspense through simpler means: namely a decent script by Brian Clemens that's able to maintain interest almost entirely through dialogue and fine performances from the cast. Acting-wise, Baker certainly comes off a lot better here than she did in her Italian films, which almost always suffered from wonky post-sync dubbing.
This ITV production was released as both part of the British Thriller TV series (during its sixth and final season in 1976) and as part of the American The Wide World of Mystery series in 1975. While I usually don't cover specific TV episodes here, I'm including this one and many others from the series because they're feature length (this one runs 70 minutes) and were later released as independent VHS features back in the 80s. This one, for instance, was released in 1985 by ThrillerVideo in a somewhat misleading box. The title The Next Victim was also used as one of the U. S. re-release titles for the Italian film The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1971) and as an alternate title for Forced Entry (1975), which centers around a prostitute-raping / killing war vet.