Friday, October 19, 2012

No Place to Hide (1981) dir. John Llewellyn Moxey

Logline: Young heiress Amy (Kathleen Beller) is plagued by visions of a masked madman stalking her, leaving her on every occasion with the cryptic message "Soon, Amy. Soon." Her stepmother (Mariette Hartley) and numerous others attempt to convince Amy that this madman, who no one else has ever seen, is merely a product of her guilt-ridden imagination. But Amy and the man outside her window are not so certain...

Crime in the Past: Amy's father died a year back in a boating accident-- or was it? In any case, his will leaves all of his money to Amy upon her reaching her 21st birthday (which is just around the corner). Amy's stepmother, Adele, was not written into the will. You can probably imagine where things go from here.

Bodycount: 1, making it the bloodiest of all.

Themes/Moral Code: Money inspires people to do crazy things. Virtually everyone in Amy's life is prepared to murder her for her money (money that she's not even a Scrooge McDuck about sharing!). It's sort of depressing, actually-- her stepmother, her psychiatrist, and (later on) her husband all plot to do away with her. Is this the lot that those who possess ridiculous wealth are burdened with? It's not all eating bonbons on yachts, I suppose. In No Place to Hide, personal relationships become malicious ruses for irrational greediness, and those who are closest to Amy are those who she should trust the least-- cripes, her most loyal friend is her lawyer! I have to imagine he's satisfied with his cut of the vault.

Killer's Motivation: Following the "I did it all for the money" line of reasoning, Adele and her lover, Cliff (Keir Dullea), work out an overly complicated inheritance scheme to gaslight Amy with while convincing everyone she's insane and trying to kill herself through external fantasies of a masked stalker representing her guilt over her father's death (as I said, it's complicated). There are conversations wherein the two discuss that part of their scheme is fueled by their desire to be with one another (apparently they orchestrated Amy's father's death as well), but this doesn't in any way justify their killing of Amy, who would probably be glad to see her stepmother find a new boyfriend. It's so flimsy of a justification that soon after Adele and Cliff carry out their deed, Adele expresses some slight regret for her actions (after all, Amy actually called her "mom" shortly before their evil deed was carried to seeming completion). But it's apparent that Adele simply doesn't possess the mothering instinct: in a fairly brutal moment, as Adele is being led out of their mansion in hand-cuffs and is stopped to confront a doe-eyed Amy, whose eyes plead for any sort of apology or expression of tenderness, she can only snarl her motivation, "I'll tell you why: for the money." Y'ouch, mom.

Final Girl: Amy is a sensitive artist attending college. She's obnoxiously wealthy because of her late father's business ventures, but isn't stingy with her money-- she continues to live with her step-mother and, presumably, plans to provide everything and more for her "mom" once she comes into full possession of her father's estate upon reaching her 21st birthday. She's very sweet to Adele, treating her with love and respect as if she were her actual mother, which makes it all the more a bummer to discover that such genuine feelings do little to dissuade Adele from her scheming. While she's largely absent for the film's last act, Amy establishes herself as a strong final girl before then. She has the requisite tomboyish qualities (wears flannel, prefers to chop wood rather than wash the dishes, knows how to use a hunting rifle), but isn't hesitant to flirt shamelessly with a man she meets in a dark parking garage (Gary Graham). I was most impressed with her resistance to the gaslighting that her mother and her accomplices attempt to pull on her-- she insists, sometimes violently, in the reality of her predicament, refusing to fall back upon their claims of her insanity. She then becomes an avenging, reverse-gaslighting angel in the final act, demonstrating that she can give neuroses as well as she can take them. Curiously, in line with the typical final girl code, the film leaves us with the intimation that she's put herself in true danger by marrying, and hence abandoning her virginal status. It's a low note to finish on, considering all she's been through. Hasn't Amy earned a normal sex life?

The Good, the Bad, & the Cheese:  A made-for-TV thriller with slasher overtones, No Place to Hide is a joy to behold for those who melt at the notion of discovering neglected and forgotten films of that ilk. It should come as absolutely no surprise to any genre fans upon watching the film to discover that it's been written by screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, renowned for his work with Hammer Films from the '50s through the '70s. In fact, No Place to Hide plays out as an Americanized version of exactly the sort of gaslight suspense film that Sangster pulled off so well at Hammer-- the film's plot is a mash-up of elements from Sangster's own Scream of Fear (1961) and Nightmare (1964) with a harmless dash of the then-ascendant stalking madman convention to update it to the times. And that last part will probably be a sticking point for conventional slasher fans, because only small swatches of the film's first half resemble a slasher. Even then, when keeping in mind the above bodycount, it's no shock to point out that this is all stalk and no slash-- though I'd argue the stalking is filmed as well as, if not more skillfully than, it is most outright slashers. Considering it's a made-for-TV production, the film is toothless in most other content areas as well, but I'd hope that's not too big a deterrence for most curious viewers. For me, it offered a refreshing tonal variety in this long month of carnage, providing a simple, melodramatic suspense story that's executed with exquisite panache by its filmmakers and performers. Few of its audacious twists were a genuine surprise to me, but that never affected my enjoyment-- it's a deliberate throwback to an outdated tradition of mystery, reminding us that the cynical grimness of those old morality plays can match that of any dead teenager flick.


  1. I'm really glad you covered this. Excellent little gem from a very competent director. Id say slashtober has been a rousing success! Ive read them all except for the ones I haven't seen. And there's a few of them. Great work as always!

    1. Agreed. I'm looking forward to checking out some of the director's other TV horror-thrillers (and I hadn't a clue that he directed The Night Stalker!).

      I spent my Saturday watching the the final seven films for this month of slashing. It was a tough day. Moreover, it actually turned into eight films because I originally planned to cover Rocktober Blood, but it turns out I have absolutely nothing to say about Rocktober Blood. I'll try to get more sleep in November.

      As ever, my thanks for your patronage of my ramblings!

  2. Sidenote: I relistened to The Hysteria Continues' Pieces episode and I heard your email (knowing who you are this time around) and they read mine right after yours! Its a small world after all.

    1. A small world wherein all us horror fiends listen to the same podcasts. Typical!