[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.
(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
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
any number of crazed fans who take the show that little bit too
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
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!
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
PART 2 (1981)) infamously withdrew from public life after she
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 -
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).
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