Saturday, March 18, 2023

Early Frost (1982)

... aka: Amanecer (Dawn)
... aka: Chilling
... aka: Early Frost Can Kill
... aka: Er det mord? (Is It Murder?)
... aka: Frío de muerte (Frozen to Death)
... aka: Frost - Der Frauenmörder (Frost - The Woman Murderer)
... aka: Geada na Madrugada (Frost at Dawn)
... aka: Murhaaja iskee selkään
... aka: Something Wicked
... aka: Something Wicked This Way Comes
... aka: Terry O'Connor's Early Frost

Directed by:
Geoff(rey) Brown ("post production director")
David Hannay ("post production director")
Brian McDuffie (uncredited)

Middle-aged Val Meadows (Diana McLean) is in the midst of a personal crisis. Her husband, who rightfully suspected she never loved him and only married him to keep up appearances as all of her other friends were starting families at around the same time, is no longer in the picture. As a result, she's been driven into a depression, which has led to a lot of smoking, a lot of drinking and a relationship with abusive (and still married) private investigator Paul Sloane (Kit Taylor). Paul treats her miserably, flirting with younger women right in front of her, negatively commenting upon her hair, make-up, looks and age and telling her "conversation isn't on of your strong points" as a means to shut her up so she'll have sex with him. A real nice fella he is.

Val's reckless and self-destructive behavior has also been having an effect on her two children. While she's out in the singles bars and running around with Paul late at night, her 19-year-old son Peter (Jon Blake) and 14-year-old son Joey (Daniel Cumerford) have been left to their own devices. Their home is an unkempt mess, with trash everywhere, clothes strung about and dirty dishes filling the sink, and Peter absolutely detests her. Val's best friend, Peg Prentice (Jan Kingsbury), tries her best to help out; taking Val to get a makeover, watching her kids while she's out late, helping her clean, do laundry, etc., but she can only do so much and even her teenage son, David (David Franklin), is getting fed up with the amount of time his mum has to cater to her friend.

As if her life isn't shambolic enough already, Val begins to suspect that someone is after her. She has the constant feeling she's being followed and watched. Someone driving a Jaguar frequently parks right outside her home and seems to be stalking her around town. And then there are the "accidents"...

During a shopping trip, Val and Peg are almost killed when someone pushes a trolley into a display, knocking it over, almost crushing them and killing a stock boy instead. Val returns home late from one of her dates, finds the power is out and is then electrocuted unconscious when she touches the fuse box, which she suspects has been tampered with. So who's #1 on her list of people who would want to off her? Why, her own son, Peter! He seems to hate her more than anyone else in her life and she's been so uninvolved recently that she doesn't even know he's been dating Chrissie (Joanne Samuel) for the past year and the two have gotten engaged.

The man in the Jaguar turns out to be private investigator Michael Hayes (Guy Doleman), who was initially hired to find evidence about an unfaithful spouse for an upcoming divorce case but instead has uncovered a string of suspicious, interrelated deaths. It turns out that no less than three of Val's former acquaintances have all died from what appears to have been a stroke and Michael suspects she either has something to do with it or is next on the hit list. He also learns that she's the one who's been having an affair with his client's husband, who happens to be Paul, and that Paul's estranged wife has become another of the victims. But how is this all connected and who's running around doing the killings?

Though fairly well acted, this Aussie "thriller" is a pretty murky combo of incoherent and downright unpleasant. Making the victimized female lead such a detestable character may be somewhat unusual but it also ensures we never really care about the fate of this horrible biddy! Val stays sloshed through most of the film and, as we learn via frequent flashback, not only abused her husband and kids but was also responsible for the drowning death of her spouse in a lake. It's no wonder her sons can't stand her, especially considering she's just as terrible a person in the present day as she was in the past.

While she's been a neglectful, self-centered lush since the husband's death, she also seems dead set on now ruining her children's lives for some strange reason. When Peter announces his plans to leave home, Val suddenly goes into overprotective mother mode out of nowhere and proclaims that no one's going to take her son away from her. During an engagement party scene, she dresses sexy, tries to hit on her son's friends and is nasty to Chrissie, calling her a "cheap tart" and demanding to know how good her son is in bed (!!) There's also a bizarre moment here that strongly suggests that Val either had sexually abused her oldest son or now has incestuous designs on him, though that remains muddled... just like nearly every other aspect of this plot!

Speaking of muddled, the finale is such a mess that it doesn't even offer up a clear cut killer reveal. Actually, it appears there are at least two killers if the ending (and a briefly-seen newspaper clipping) is anything to go by, though that too is left inadequately explained. The adults are not really presented as potential suspects here, just the children. Peter makes it well known that he could care less if his mom gets murdered, Joey had the traumatic near-drowning experience, David keeps a scrapbook filled with newspaper clippings about the killings and he and Joey are seen secretly having a conversation about something at one point. Whoever is doing it seems to be some kind of brilliant, evil mastermind as they're able to administer deadly injections to the housewife victims, sabotage a car to make it explode once a key is turned in the ignition, can overpower and decapitate an adult male and set up an elaborate booby trap in the pitch dark using rope and a spear gun.

Most of the criticisms I've seen for this online have nothing to do with coherence or plausibility or even the hundred mirror shots used throughout, but are instead from viewers complaining that this isn't a slasher film (?) That's hardly the first time this has ever happened but I always wonder how in the hell this stuff even gets started in the first place. I couldn't find any promotional materials or advertisements that ever tried to present this as a slasher film, or even a horror film for that matter. How some people got it into their heads that this was something it's clearly not and never sold itself to be is beyond me. Perhaps some reviews or websites classified it as such or something, but it takes more than a few murders and heavy-breathing killer POV shots to qualify something as a slasher.

You can probably tell from the multiple directors listed above that this was a troubled production. The movie was produced under the title Something Wicked This Way Comes (later shortened to just Something Wicked) and was primarily directed by Brian McDuffie, a New Zealander who mostly worked in TV and ultimately decided he'd rather not have his name in the credits. After principal photography wrapped, he was supposedly fired by producer David Hannay, who'd clashed with McDuffie throughout the production. Hannay and co-producer Geoffrey Brown then put the finishing touches on the film; both claiming "post production director" credit for doing so. This was based on a script by Terry O'Connor, which was being bounced around since 1974 and one that Hannay spent years trying to get produced. Well, here it is, I guess, for better or worse.

Though never released theatrically, this seemed to receive a home video release nearly everywhere in the world... except for the United States. That may have had a little to do with the same title getting used just a few years later for an award-winning AIDS drama made for NBC. And it may also explain why when this finally showed up on American TV it was under the new title of Chilling.

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