"Millionairess actress-singer Marie Coleby (Deborah Couls) lives in a luxurious
villa on a deserted beach. One afternoon following a TV commercial shoot at
the villa she incites gardener Gordon Mason (Chard Hayward) to mayhem and murder.
The unexpected arrival of Marie's sister Jenny Nolan (Louise Howitt) hinders
Mason's attempts to dispose of the body. He then decides to kill Jenny. But
she is equally determined to stay alive ... so begins a battle of wits. Jenny's
salvation seems at hand when two security men arrive at the villa, but only
one, Officer Collings (Roger Ward) survives the initial siege. Then Jenny is
alone to face Mason for the final time ..."
Although appearing in 1981 - the slasher movie’s golden year – this Antipodean offering is a frustratingly uneven mish-mash of horror and thriller clichés that, ultimately, fails to deliver on the cat ‘n’ mouse thrills.
[Apologies in advance to our American chums] … but LADY, STAY DEAD seems designed to answer the question (whether we would want it answered or not!) of what kind of movie villain you’d get if you crossed Jeremy Beadle with Ted Bundy. Gordon Mason is a psychotic handyman and gardener, with unkempt beard and bottle top glasses (shades of the earlier (and better) THE LOVE BUTCHER (1975)). He appears to have an unhealthy obsession with wearily wholesome pop singer Marie Colby (Deborah Coulls) (think Dana in sling backs). The film sets its decidedly sleazy tone from the off, when Gordon whips out a blowup doll and does the dirty whilst Marie’s dulcet tones warble on the stereo and her face stares down from the myriad of posters on the walls. Whilst he does the deed, he flashes back to nude, tied-up women – none of whom look particularly consensual in their bondage. Perhaps this unhealthy obsession wouldn’t be quite so bad were it not for the fact that Mason is actually Marie’s real gardener and handyman. At her remote cliff top mansion he keeps things in order – or, more to the point, mopes about with garden shears in hand and rummages in his underpants when she does an impromptu spot of beach aerobics.
Marie isn’t all she previously seems, in-fact she’s something of a stroppy diva (more Maria Carey than Dana if truth be told). Due to fly abroad for a modeling job one morning she loses it when Mason tramples mud into the cream shagpile (a touch of the Joan Crawfords with some lip smacking overacting to boot – “The dirt! The dirt!”). Clearly rubbing out completely the boundaries between employee and employer, Mason brutally rapes Marie when she doesn’t warm to his embraces. Afterward, he seems almost incredulous that she doesn’t thank him; and when she understandably attacks him he picks her up and dunks her headfirst into the ornamental fish tank! Mason doesn’t appear to realise that he’s killed her, and keeps imploring her to get up – until he finally realises what he’s done and wraps her body up in a bin bag. He manages to hide it just before Marie’s sister, Jenny (Louise Howitt), turns up to housesit …
Sleazy does it. LADY, STAY DEAD sits firmly in the camp of those other bad taste ‘thrillers’ from the start of the 80s, such as DON’T ANSWER THE PHONE and DON’T GO IN THE HOUSE (both 1980). Certainly, it owes more to those dubious grindhouse thrills than it does to either HALLOWEEN (1978) or FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980). Having said that, the director has clearly seen the latter movies and the film briefly rolls out all the slasher movie clichés once Jenny realises the fate of her sister and Mason has done away with a nosey neighbour and a couple of meddling security guards. At some points throughout the movie, LADY, STAY DEAD threatens to explode into a bone-fide slasher flick – no more so than when Mason picks up the chainsaw and comes after the hapless sister, but these scenes are rather clumsily handled and lack much momentum. Considering his job, it’s a shame Mason fails as a competent slasher (preferring Molotov cocktails or a shotgun to the garden shears he brandishes earlier in the movie). The film could, broadly, be read as more of a skewed comedy than a straight-ahead horror movie – it certainly packs the absurd on top of the absurd, no more so that when Mason turns up at Jenny’s door with flowers and a takeaway, only to go on to torment her by turning the light on and off repeatedly! Also, something of a cardinal sin in slashers from this era, whilst Jenny makes for a semi-convincing final-girl to start off with she royally goes to pieces as soon as the cavalry turn up. Although she does rally briefly to admonish the security guard who decides the best course of action when being threatened with immolation via a petrol bomb is to hide behind the sofa (!), she yells “All you do is talk. Do something, you fuckwit!”.
Considering who was terrorising Camp Blackfoot and the mines at Valentine Bluff the same year, Mason really is a bizarre choice for a villain. Still, Australia seemed to specialise in atypical slashers around this time – usually resulting in some real duds, but also resulting in some gems like NEXT OF KIN (1982) and the cheesy delights of NIGHTMARES (1980). Unfortunately, LADY, STAY DEAD edges towards the former: it’s not badly made by any means, and the film has decent production values, but really is too muddled to have any lasting impact. The title doesn’t really live up to much, either. There’s one brief scene when Mason hallucinates that Marie is fighting her way out of the bin bags he’s wrapped her in, but once that’s happened there’s no more reference to it. He, however, returns to life a few times in true slasher movie style. And, it is one of those times that provides the film’s most joyously dumb moments: all I’ll say is that it involves Mason, a police car and two dead bodies!
Australia had already done the crazed handyman to much better effect in the (albeit flawed) TV-movie THE PLUMBER (1979). LADY, STAY DEAD tries to cram as many genres into its 90 minutes as possible and doesn’t really succeed at any of them.
BODYCOUNT 4 female:1 / male:4
1) Female drowned in fish tank
2) Male killed (method unseen)
3) Male shot with shotgun
4) Male shot with shotgun