[review by JA Kerswell]
Another late entry in the Australian slasher sweepstakes, CASSANDRA is a sometimes convoluted, yet often intriguing, Russian Doll of a movie. Despite its tendency to indulge in the soap opera histrionics plaguing a rich fashion house, director Colin Eggleston adds some very skilful and suspenseful stalker set pieces. The film veers from PG-rated violence to one of the most effective decapitation scenes in slasher movie history and it doesn't skimp on the full frontal nudity either. Clearly, the spirit of Ozploitation was still fighting for survival in 1987.
|It's not only Elm Street that's plagued by nightmares in CASSANDRA.|
Flitting between a mansion and beach house, Cassandra (Tessa Humphries) seems to live a charmed life with her fashion designer mother Helen (Briony Behets) and fashion photographer father Stephen (Shane Briant). Yet she is plagued by nightmares that seem too real. The film opens with her dreaming that an agitated young woman kills herself with a shotgun after a young boy urges her to "do it". She also dreams of a fiery inferno. She confesses to her new boyfriend (Lee James) that these dreams seem all too real. She begins to suspect that these might in fact be repressed memories and questions her mother; who tells her that the woman she saw in her dreams existed, but had died in a car crash a few years before Cassandra was born.
Stephen takes on a shifty new assistant, Graham (Tim Burns) at his photography studio. Helen takes an instant dislike to him and urges Stephen to fire him. Meanwhile, he is told by Libby (Susan Barling) - one of his fashion models - that she is pregnant with his baby and he promises to leave his wife. That night, a killer wearing white surgical gloves starts a killing spree; leaving the message "Who killed Cock Robin?" at the murder scenes. The culmination of which threatens to expose long held family secrets ...
|The shadow of John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN (1978) casts a long shadow over CASSANDRA.|
First impressions suggest that the nightmare angle would be a nod to a certain boogeyman on Elm Street. However, surprisingly that isn't the case - especially as the success of Wes Craven's A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984) (and its sequels) led for a scramble for dream slayers throughout the latter half of the 1980s. Rather, the nightmares - which do turn out to be repressed memories - develop into a psychic connection between Cassandra and the killer; where she sees the murders through their eyes. The most obvious inspiration is the similarly fashion-world-set THE EYES OF LAURA MARS (1978). The fashion house setting - which provides the backdrop for the film's best extended chase scene - is, obviously, also reminiscent of a number of gialli. Especially striking are some similarities to the giallo NOTHING UNDERNEATH (1985), which was released the year before this was made. Eggleston also indulges in a number of Hitchcockian touches through the use of repressed memories being the key to the central mystery. It is something he utilised, again within the slasher template, with his earlier theatre set NIGHTMARES (1980). The shadow of John Carpenter and the HALLOWEEN franchise also looms large over CASSANDRA. From the fluid, prowling POV of the camera to a fiery sting-in-the-tail lifted directly from the climax of HALLOWEEN II (1981). And if this weren't enough, the film accentuates the psychic angle with some other - not especially successful - supernatural flourishes.
After a particularly effective opening, which brilliantly captures the disorientating feeling of a genuine nightmare, the film settles into what feels almost like a remake of a soap akin to RETURN TO EDEN (1983). Whilst enjoyable in itself, the thriller/slasher elements take such a back seat you almost wonder if they will ever appear again. However, perseverance pays off when the film shifts gear and the murders begin. Whilst Eggleston obviously had a magpie nature when it comes to his influences, as a director in his own right he was skilful enough to fashion - no pun intended - some excellent suspense scenes. Also, as mentioned at the start of the review, the film features one of the most convincing decapitation scenes in all of slashersom. And one that I'm sure set freeze buttons buzzing back in the days of VHS. It does fall down a little in its central mystery, as the film only really offers two potential suspects and doesn't throw out a sidewinder in the final reel. The plot does get a bit overly convoluted and muddled towards the end, and a few of the character motivations left me scratching my head.
|Who killed Cock Robin? These, and other questions, may not be answered in CASSANDRA.|
Tessa Humphries, as Cassandra, drifts through the movie as if she's sleepwalking much of the time. It is strangely fitting for the role. Humphries is the daughter of Barry Humphries - perhaps best known by his alter-ego Dame Edna Everage. Now, if Dame Edna had turned out to be the killer that would have been a twist! Briony Behets was married to director Colin Eggleston. She appeared in a number of his movies including his seminal nature-runs-amok LONG WEEKEND (1978) and NIGHTMARES. English actor Shane Briant relocated to Australia in the early 1980s. His horror pedigree stretched back to the early 1970s with such features as Hammer's psycho-shocker STRAIGHT ON TILL MORNING (1972) and FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL (1974). CASSANDRA was Eggleston's follow-up to the little seen slasher INNOCENT PREY (1984); which featured HALLOWEEN's PJ Soles in a prominent role. It was also the last film he directed, apart from the horror comedy OUTBACK VAMPIRES, which was released the same year. He passed away in 2002.
CASSANDRA was filmed in and around Sydney, Australia in late 1986 on a budget of almost $1.5 million (AUS). Although intended for a theatrical release it seems that never materialised, despite being shopped at Cannes in May 1987.
Overall, CASSANDRA - despite being in desperate need of a script polish to iron out the plot loose ends - has enough to recommend it for slasher diehards.
female: 2 / male: 3
1) Female kills herself with a shotgun
2) Female stabbed to death
3) Male stabbed, impaled and decapitated
4) Male found dead
5) Male shot and burnt to death
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