Saturday, June 5, 2021

Next Victim, The (1975) (TV)

... aka: Thriller: The Next Victim
... aka: Wide World of Mystery: The Next Victim, The

Directed by:
James Ormerod

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.


Goeshi (1981)

... aka: 괴시
... aka: 怪屍
... aka: Goesi
... aka: Grotesque Corpse
... aka: Guai shi
... aka: Koesi
... aka: Monster
... aka: Monstrous Corpse, A
... aka: Strange Dead Bodies

Directed by:
Beom-gu Kang

Supposedly South Korea's very first zombie movie, this borrows so much from Jorge Grau's No profanar el sueño de los muertos / LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE (1974) that it's a virtual remake of that minor classic. This is also set in the country, has essentially the same plot about using sound waves to tamper with an ecosystem with disastrous results, the same exact central characters and even exactly replicates most of that film's scenes, right down to certain zombie designs. Pampered city gal Su-ji Yu (Gwang-ok Yu), who's just spent five years in the U. S., arrives at the airport in Korea, gets a rental car and heads out into the country. Her destination is Suri village, where she plans on visiting with her estranged older sister, Hyeon-ji (Yun-jeong Hong), who moved out there a few years earlier with her photographer husband, Yeong-tae Jeong (Wang Kuk Kim). Getting lost on the back roads, she offers to give a ride to Taiwanese professor / scientist Myeong Kang (Ming Chiang), who's there to attend an environmental conservation conference in the mountains near the village. Su-ji proves to be so squeamish that she shrieks at the mere sight of a fuzzy caterpillar on his sleeve but she'll have a lot more to actually shriek about here shortly.

The two pull over to get their bearings and Myeong wanders off; eventually stumbling upon a small team of researchers led by American Doctor Steve. He recognizes one of the scientists, Jun-su, as one of his former students. Initially concerned they're polluting, the scientists put Myeong's mind at ease when they inform him that they're merely experimenting with ultrasonic waves to see how effective they are at eliminating harmful insects from the area. While Su-ji is waiting by the car, she's attacked by a gray-haired man dressed in black, who is eventually revealed to be the village drunk, Yong-dol (Song Baek). The issue? Well, he supposedly drowned to death two days earlier and really shouldn't be out walking around.

Su-ji eventually makes it to her sister's home to find her in hysterics. She too has had a run-in with Yong-dol, who was just chasing her around when they arrived. Soon after, her husband, who'd gone out to photograph plants near a stream, is found dead. A bald police chief (Am Park) and his assistant, Detective Jee (Chan-il Sin), show up to investigate. They grill Hyeon-ji, who was in an unhappy marriage, has a long history of mental illness and refused to be admitted to an asylum when her husband tried to have her institutionalized, as well Myeong, which is kind of idiotic considering he was with Su-ji the entire time and didn't even arrive until after he was killed. With no evidence, the investigators are forced to led everyone go. Before they do, Myeong swipes a roll of the victim's film off the desk and takes it to get it developed.

A female doctor (Pauline Yuk-Wan Wong, who'd later have some success in Hong Kong ghost comedies) reveals that there have been a rash of recent deaths to premature babies and insists on going to the research site to ask questions. Meanwhile, the skeptical Myeong becomes a believer when he and Su-ji visit a cemetery and are attacked by four zombies, who have to be taken down with fire. A detective gets killed there while trailing them, which gets them into even further doo doo with the main investigator, who becomes convinced our heroes are responsible. It isn't until the kilometer radius at the research site is extended and corpses start attacking at a nearby hospital that he and the officers comprehend what's going on.

While not completely worthless, this is still a far cry from Grau's film in nearly every conceivable way. The only noticeable improvements are the casting of Ming Chiang, who makes for a far more likable protagonist than Ray Lovelock, and the portrayal of the hateful main investigator character (played by Arthur Kennedy in the original), who's a little less annoying here. Other than that, this simply fails to measure up. For starters, as a remake that replicates most of its scenes to lesser effect and offers nothing new, this gets docked points right out of the gate. And then there's the fact it's entirely gore-free and it doesn't have near the quality of make-up effects. While the living dead in Grau's film weren't given an elaborate make-up job or anything, they still did at least look like corpses. To try to make up for that here, they apply the same technique used in many Asian ghost movies from the period: lighting the faces with blue and red. Contact lenses are also sometimes used. I personally don't mind the simpler look, but the zombies certainly looked scarier and more threatening in LSCL.

Though there's a serviceable synth, it's not nearly as effective as the inventive score from the original film. The editing is also pretty wonky at times too, with the hospital bloodbath climax of the original reduced to a bunch of cut-aways. I'm not sure if what I watched was a censored version or if the uncut version is the same way. It ran 84 minutes, nearly all of the murders are off-screen (all we get to see are a few people getting strangled and some crackling noises to imply their bones are being crushed), there's hardly a drop of blood and it quickly moves to something else any time there's a chance that something violent or gory might occur. Not that a film necessarily needs blood and gore to be effective, but it certainly wouldn't have hurt this particular movie any.

There was a VHS release in South Korea on the Oasis Video label and I believe this also may have been hawked by mail order bootleggers Video Search of Miami at one point under the Strange Dead Bodies title, yet it remained very difficult to see until just last month when a somewhat restored version was issued by the Korean Film Archive. While this new print is in widescreen and perfectly watchable, it still features a lot of damage, fading and is in desperate need of lightening for the night scenes and color correction (there's often a reddish tint) for many of the day scenes.

Hopefully KFA can get some other older Korean genre films out there because most of these were never released outside of the country and many were barely even released on the Korean home video market in the 80s so they are even incredibly difficult to find there.

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