Two and a half stars   
"It's the Sexiest Late-Night Soap Opera Around.
And Someone's Stalking its Hottest Stars.
Murdering Them ... One by One!"

directed by: William Wiard
starring: Suzanne Pleshette, Barry Newman, Robert Vaughn, Patrick O'Neal, Lenora May, Allyn Ann McLerie, Madlyn Rhue, Ben Marley, Barry Corbin, Aarika Wells, Peter Bergman, John Gabriel, Robin Mattson, Stuart Damon, Robert S. Woods

choice dialogue:

"He's off the show alright. Someone's bashed in his head!"

- One cast member down. Plenty to go.

slash with panache?

[review by JA Kerswell]

It is perhaps surprising that when the slasher movie was at its apex of popularity in the first few years of the 1980s that more examples weren't made for the small screen. Certainly the modest budgets and typically limited locales would have appealed to producers. Yet the more salacious elements simply couldn't be broadcast at the time and so limited their appeal. Despite its title (not to be confused with Bo Derek's erotic 1981 film of the same name) the fantasies on display here do not refer to smutty ones - which I expect disappointed some of the audience who tuned in.

  Carla (Suzanne Pleshette) tries to figure out how to plot her soap opera in light of the fact that all her villains are bing bumped off in FANTASIES.

Whilst few attempted the relentless body count approach of the much of the subgenre at the time, a few notable attempts and hybrids did filter through. 1982's FANTASIES was one such example; an attempt to marry the daytime soap opera and slasher movie. It even featured many recognisable TV faces of the day - and was sold to audiences on the fact that the film starred five then famous soap stars.

Middletown USA is the country's top rated daytime soap. The only problem is that someone is bumping off its fictional villains. Firstly, Mallory (John Gabriel (GENERAL HOSPITAL)) - a bad guy on and off screen - has his head bashed in by an unseen assailant. Predictably this sends the network into a panic. The show's principle writer and series creator, Carla Sherman (Suzanne Pleshette), decides to make another actor the principle villain to replace the dead star. However, even before he has a chance to film his new scenes someone attacks him in his apartment and pushes him through a high rise window. How can Middletown USA survive when someone is bumping off all of its fictional bad guys?

Who is the killer? Is it the disgruntled fired star (Stuart Damon (GENERAL HOSPITAL))? The goofy girl with big glasses (sadly not Jan Brady) who verbally attacks Carla for producing trash? How about sardonic panel of writers of the show? Or April (Robin Mattson (SANTA BARBARA, ALL MY CHILDREN) the hungry-for-fame new kid on the soap block? Carla's teenage daughter and number one fan of the show (Lenora May (THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS)) or her goody two shoes boyfriend (Ben Marley (who appeared in JAWS 2 (1978) and BLOODY BIRTHDAY (1981)). Or any number of crazed fans who take the show that little bit too seriously?

  Fandom can be a dangerous thing in FANTASIES.

FANTASIES perhaps stays truer to its soap roots than its slasher ones. However the nods to subgenre are unmistakable. The killer's gaze is represented by POV and he hums the nursery rhyme Ring-a-ring o' roses ("We all fall down") as he spies on potential victims. The murderer wears knitted ski mask like the one in PROM NIGHT (1980). There is a shower scene (sans nudity) followed by a frenzied knife murder (sans blood), with a natty shot of the killer hiding under the bedsheets with a flashing blade. Plus there's a pathologist who eats his sandwiches next to cadavers (why are pathologists always hungry?). There's red herrings aplenty and a chase scene and showdown with the killer and Carla at a remote seaside house. And in one bizarre scene Carla is attacked in her apartment by the killer; she struggles free and he flees when there's a ring at the door. She answers to a delivery man and calmly thanks him and shuts the door, even though her assailant could still be lurking. A rather laissez-faire reaction to your own attempted murder!

However, the slasher narrative definitely plays second fiddle to the soap operatics. This means it is ultimately rather languid as a thriller. Still, Pleshette is eminently likeable as the self-made woman, whose success was spurned by the rejection of her ex-husband (Patrick O'Neal). The film spends much of its running time on the burgeoning romance between her and seemingly the only detective investigating the murders (Barry Newman - who was nervous of the climactic fight scene in the surf because he couldn't swim). Newman is probably best remembered for VANISHING POINT (1971), but was a recognisable face on TV at the time (and is still working today). The film is blessed with a witty script that pokes fun at itself - and daytime soaps - without tipping over into parody. One of the fictional soap's writers dead pans: "Why bother writing scenes when the actors don't live long enough to play them?". The film even has an arresting post-modern sting in its tail. Best of all Carla gets surprised with a pitcher of Martini by her daughter. It's times like this I wish I had kids!

  A pitcher of Martini? I wouldn't normally, but as today has a y in it I say why not!

The film also nods to exploitation flicks. Promising sleaze, but delivering a distinctly 'lite' version. The promotional blurb makes a big play of the fact that the fictional soap opera is the "sexiest" on screen - although there's little actual sexploitation on show. However, in one scene, Carla is forced to strip at gunpoint in a dressing room - which goes as far as the moral confines of the small screen in the early 1980s will allow. It is telling that, whilst the film sold itself on the dual ticket of soap event and slasher movie, ABC were loathed to actually describe it as such. It is worth remembering that many critics at the time saw slasher movies as one notch above (or even below) porno. Rather, it's one-by-one narrative was compared to Agatha Christie's TEN LITTLE INDIANS rather than FRIDAY THE 13TH. This coyness seemed rather misplaced considering the TV ad (pictured above) clearly aimed to draw in the slasher movie crowd with its iconic image of a madman silhouetted with a knife (seemingly cribbed from the artwork for FINAL EXAM (1981)) towering above a scantly clad woman.

Interestingly, press at the time sold the TV movie partly on the basis of the then relatively newly recognised problem of celebrity stalkers. Adrienne King (FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980) and FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 (1981)) infamously withdrew from public life after she gained a stalker and said later that the phenomenon was little understood at the time. A number of the cast recounted their problems with demented fans, whose ability to separate the line between fact and fiction had become dangerously blurred. Newman said: "I used to get mail all the time. You know, the letters on yellow-lined paper, and some of the things they'd write you wouldn't believe." Gabriel said that after filming one TV soap - where his character jilted a teenage lover - that actress received correspondence from a man who promised to hunt Gabriel down to make sure he never did it again. "That got me worried", he admitted.

FANTASIES was shot in early summer 1981 in Southern California and at 20th Century Fox studios. It originally aired on North American TV (ABC) on the 18th January 1982.  It was shown on UK screens in 1983 under its STUDIO MURDERS title. Director William Wiard returned to small screen slasherdom the next year with DEADLY LESSONS (1983).


BODYCOUNT 5   bodycount!   female:1 / male:5

       1) Male clubbed to death
       2) Male pushed through window
       3) Male killed (method unseen)
       4) Female stabbed to death
       5) Male shot