Saturday, October 14, 2023

Errand, The (1980) [short]

Directed by:
Nigel Finch

At some gated top secret military post, Captain Garrett (Edward Kalinski, who was apparently dubbed by Andy Milligan movie regular Berwick Kaler) is tapped for a special assignment. A warrant officer tells him he's just going "out for a spin," while his superior (Peter Howell) informs him that it's "little more than an errand." Nothing to get all worked up over. He's to drive into the country and retrieve some papers and then return. Simple as that. After arriving at his destination, a crumbling old home out in the middle of a wheat field, he meets up with a suspicious-acting female contact (Philomena McDonagh), retrieves an envelope and starts to head back to his Land Rover. Immediately after realizing someone has tampered with his vehicle, a man with his face painted black (Brian Attree) jumps out of the backseat and starts garroting him with a wire. Garrett is able to temporarily distract the attacker with a wrench blow to the head but as soon as he exits the jeep, the woman contact shows up and starts attacking him with a knife, landing a few good stabs to his midsection. The terrified and confused Captain then takes off running down the road with his assailants in hot pursuit.

Though able to elude his attackers in the woods, Garrett is now severely injured and out in the middle of nowhere. He's also without transportation as the assassins circled back around and stole his jeep after they were unable to locate him. A weakened Garrett ends up falling over by a road. An old man riding a bicycle spots him and crouches down, as if to administer some help. Nope! He steals Garrett's watch and raids his pockets instead. Mustering up just enough strength to drag himself to a nearby farmhouse, he's met with a mixed response from Maurice (Ray Roberts) and Sarah (Dorothy Alison) Clemens, the elderly couple who live there. While she insists they "get rid of him" and suggest they "take him down to the road and dump him," Maurice refuses to mistreat a dying man.

Refusing to involve herself in the situation due to a similar bizarre occurrence she and her husband observed earlier, Sarah jumps in her car and takes off, leaving Maurice without a vehicle. He instead promises to go retrieve help by foot, but just as he's preparing to go Sarah returns with Lieutenant Barnard (Timothy Morand), who claims he and his men have been out looking for the fallen soldier. Along with him are some other military officers and a couple of doctors, at least a few of whom look awfully familiar.

While 28-minute short looks cheap and grainy (not necessarily a bad thing), the locations are good, the atmosphere is there, the score is eerie and it's entertaining and well made, though the twist at the end (which at least adequately explains nearly every character's peculiar behavior) is a bit predictable. This was written by self-described "prolific hack writer" David McGillivray, who not only has a fine sense of humor but is also well known to us classic horror lovers for writing some of Pete Walker's best films, like FRIGHTMARE (1974), House of Whipcord (1975) and THE CONFESSIONAL / House of Mortal Sin (1976). McGillivray was also one of the executive producers.

Director Finch's most lasting work would be as a producer on Jennie Livingston's documentary Paris Is Burning (1990), which chronicles the New York City drag subculture, was met with widespread critical acclaim and a boatload of awards and was selected as important and culturally relevant enough to be preserved in the National Film Registry in 2016. He also made a Stonewall (1995), a dramatization of the events leading up to the Stonewall riots which sparked the gay rights social movement. That film was released after the director sadly passed away from AIDS in 1995.

The Errand made the rounds at film festivals (including the Chicago International Film Festival in 1981) before vanishing into obscurity. It's recently been remastered and given a second chance at life as the ninth and final short included in BFI's 2 disc "Shock Sharp Shocks" Blu-ray collection. Preceding it on the set are Lock Your Door (1949), The Reformation of St. Jules (1949), THE TELL-TALE HEART (1953), Death Was a Passenger (1959) and PORTRAIT OF A MATADOR (1959) on disc 1, and Twenty-Nine (1969), THE SEX VICTIMS (1973) and THE LAKE (1978) on disc 2. Even though this one isn't bad, The Lake is the only short from the set that I'd consider mandatory viewing for horror buffs. Of special interest in the special features is A Crazy, Mixed-Up Kid, a great 43-minute interview with McGillivray. This is also given script and short story galleries.

BFI followed their first set with a second: "Short Sharp Shocks: Vol. 2" in 2021. It includes the shorts Quiz Crime No.1 (1943), Quiz Crime No.2 (1944), The Three Children (1946), Escape from Broadmoor (1948), Mingaloo (1958), Jack the Ripper with Screaming – Lord Sutch (1961), The Face of Darkness (1976), Hangman (1985), The Mark of Lilith (1986) and one I'd already seen and reviewed here prior to that release: THE DUMB WAITER (1979), which I'm sure looks a hell of a lot better than the copy I ended up viewing!


Lake, The (1978) [short]

Directed by:
Lindsey C. Vickers

Prowling around a deserted farmhouse, both inside and out, the camera captures shattered glass, dead bugs and birds, old newspapers, children's drawings, a birthday card, empty jars and cans and miscellaneous pieces of wood and plastic that used to be furniture and toys; all remnants of a families former life. Most of these things, once prized, beloved and / or useful possessions, have been reduced to little more than debris ready for a landfill. A yard that was once kept is now overgrown, with rusted out farm equipment almost lost within the weeds. A barn that was once used for cattle is now is disrepair and barely standing upright. Accompanying these images are faint sounds of parents and children, a strong wind and creaking wood, along with a light piano melody as it finally closes on a cracked, sideways black-and-white photo of a family of four. A father. A mother. A son. A daughter. As the camera closes in on the father and an ominous note hits on the soundtrack, we notice the father is missing one of his fingers.

This opening scene is both genuinely chilling and well shot, and the good news is that the rest of this 33 minute short is able to sustain the creep factor and the clever cinematography... and thank God for that! By the time I reached this, the eighth of nine shorts contained on BFI's box set "Shock Sharp Shocks," I'd pretty much given up hope of seeing much of anything worthwhile, but this turned out to be a real gem on this set. The ONLY real gem thus far, though I still have one more - Nigel Finch's THE ERRAND (1980) - to go!

Looking for some alone time, young couple Tony (Gene Foad) and Barbara (Julie Peasgood), who were born and raised in the area but had since moved to the city, show up to take a look at the abandoned home before heading over to a nearby lake on the same property. We learn that three years earlier, the father in the photo may have killed his entire family, all of their pets and their livestock. No one is quite sure because he vanished immediately after the murders and hasn't been seen since. Perhaps he was a victim as well and the killer hid his body. Perhaps he killed them himself and then fled the area. Perhaps he killed them himself and is still in the area waiting for some people to come snooping around...

The bank, now in possession of the property, has had an impossible time trying to unload it onto someone. None of the locals are willing to buy it and it's sat vacant and in a slow state of deterioration ever since. After a brief tour of the notorious murder site, Tony, Barbara and their Rottweiler, Condor, travel down the road a piece to a lake to have a picnic, but something that started stalking them around the home has followed them there.

While the set-up is simple, it's the execution that makes all the difference here. This is filled with creepy POV camera shots stalking about in the woods spying on the couple, much of it reminiscent of the same type of camerawork later used in Sam Raimi's breakthrough hit The Evil Dead (1981), though, unlike that film, this is entirely set during the day and is more ambiguous about its threat. The actors are good (the female lead is also given an 18-minute interview as an extra on this set), and it's well directed, scored and edited, but perhaps this film's greatest attribute of all is the incredibly unnerving, distorted sound design full of strange noises, fuzz, echoes, bird-like calls, synths, hushed voices and heavy breathing. While I wasn't terribly fond of the annoyingly inconclusive ending, everything leading up to it is pretty great.

Despite showing all of the promise in the world with this, the director went on to make just one feature: The Appointment (1981), starring Edward Woodward. Back in the early 80s, it was met with indifferent reviews and distribution problems before being unceremoniously dumped onto the home video market in 1982, where it was quickly forgotten. Since then it's developed something of a following and, based on the strength of this one, expect a review for it here sooner rather than later.

In the UK (and Australia) it was common for short films to be shown before main features, which is where some first saw this. That sure as hell beats the 30 minutes of trailers for the 50 super hero movies coming out next month that we get nowadays!

The other genre shorts on the first BFI set (there are two volumes thus far) include THE TELL-TALE HEART (1953), PORTRAIT OF A MATADOR (1958) and THE SEX VICTIMS (1973).

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