[review by JA Kerswell]
Fred Walton – the director of WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (1979) and APRIL FOOL’S DAY (1986) – wrung some more slasher action out of this small screen suspenser starring Kathleen Quinlan and Bruce Abbott as an odd couple thrust together in a skyscraper in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with a mad killer bent on revenge.
|TRAPPED premiered on the USA cable network on 14 June 1989.|
Quinlan plays Mary Anne, the building manager of a nearly completed tower block (who suffers a fear of heights that you just know will come into play in the next 90 minutes). Most of the building is completed; with the space given to a mall, ice rink, apartments and office units. On the very top floors are the penthouse of the shadowy owner Mr Manley (Wirt Cain) and the research laboratories of his even more shadowy corporation. One of the owners of a shop in the mall, Mr Kappleman (Miles Mutchler), complains that a mysterious figure has been spotted on CCTV footage; much to the surprise of the building’s security guards. The new building has state-of-the-art security measures, but the fact that a street cat had wandered in showed it had teething problems.
Working late one night, Mary Anne and her colleague Renni (Katy Boyer), decide to leave. However, they are delayed when Renni’s car won’t start. When they are finally ready they discover that someone had destroyed the security systems and not only will none of the doors open, but all the phones are out, too. Trying to find help they discover the security guards gone and pooled blood in their office. They also soon become aware that not only is their one mysterious figure prowling the floors of the now deserted office block there could be two. The only option is to survive until morning …
Fred Walton’s TRAPPED becomes a tight suspense movie once a curiously talky and slow moving first 30 minutes have passed. As soon as Mary Anne realises she is in real stranger danger the next hour rarely lets up, as she is pursued by the killer around the building. The ambidextrous assassin (he carries a dagger in one hand and baseball bat in the other) appears to be on a mission to kill whoever remains trapped inside the block. His motivation is pieced together in the film’s opening sequence through a series of press photographs detailing a scandal over toxic poisoning that resulted in the deaths of children (each of his victims has a newspaper article pinned to their chest). Although not explicitly stated, the target seems to be Mr Manley and his shadowy, baboon hoarding company. Everyone else appears to be collateral damage.
Mary Anne is surprised by another stranger as she hides from the killer. Calling himself simply ‘John Doe’ (Bruce Abbott) is a thief – presumably after industrial secrets (although the script doesn’t make that clear). Although he starts interrogating Mary Anne roughly, they soon become allies against a shared foe.
Quinlan and Abbott are a likable pairing (although, the film ends on an unlikely romantic note). There’s much fun to be had watching their cat-and-mouse antics trying to, first hide from the killer - and then go on the attack, as ‘Doe’ reckons he’ll be blamed for the bodycount if the killer slips into the morning unnoticed. Walton’s direction is flawless and he wrings every ounce of suspense out of the claustrophobic setting – and exploits Mary Anne’s fear of heights to maximum effect in one nail-biting scene. As expected, the more exploitive elements of TRAPPED are toned done for the small screen (although Walton has never been a fan of blood and guts anyway). Most of the violence is off-screen apart from a vicious baseball beating. Actor Ben Loggins is simply listed as ‘killer’ in the credits. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Loggins was better known as a stunt man – and worked in that capacity on the relatively obscure PJ Soles partially Dallas-lensed slasher INNOCENT PREY (1983). He has no lines and is perhaps one of the few slasher killers that sports a moustache! Walton doesn’t seem particularly interested in exploring his motivation and it feels simply a plot device to have him kill everyone in the office block. It feels a little by-the-numbers – but, when it’s this much fun, who cares?
|Kathleen Quinlan hides from a high rise psycho in TRAPPED.|
Fred Walton’s mostly effective WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (1979) made a splash at the box office in the wake of audiences hungry for more HALLOWEEN (1978) style thrills. Although, Walton’s film – a feature length expansion of his 1977 short THE SITTER – went into production the month Carpenter’s was released in October of 1978. Its more obvious inspiration was Bob Clark’s seminal 1974 proto-slasher BLACK CHRISTMAS (and the urban legends that inspired it). Although perhaps incidental, TRAPPED (which Walton co-wrote) is very similar to another 1974 film: Shaun O’Riordan’s I’M THE GIRL HE WANTS TO KILL (a TV movie produced as part of Brian Clemens’ giallo inspired THRILLER series). In O’Riordan’s film, a young woman who inadvertently stumbles across a killer leaving a murder scene becomes his next target – and he stalks her around the office block where she works after everyone else has gone home for the night. Still, regardless of the similarities TRAPPED is highly effective on its own terms. For a director who doesn’t particularly care for scary movies – and felt pigeonholed by WHEN A STRANGER CALLS’ success – he is very good at making them. Or at least he was. After a series of TV movies – starting with an effective 1980s updating of William Castle’s I SAW WHAT YOU DID (1988) – he dropped the directorial reigns in the mid-1990s.
Walton was hired by the cable USA Network to co-write and direct TRAPPED. DIE HARD (1988) had been released the year before and hit big at the box office; which kick-started a short-lived vogue for high rise movies (HARD TO DIE (1990) saw five busty lingerie workers stalked in an office building to slightly more exploitative effect!). His co-writer was Steve Feke, Walton’s old college friend and co-writer and producer of both THE SITTER and WHEN A STRANGER CALLS. Like THE INITIATION (1983) – some of the action takes part in the building’s mall – TRAPPED was filmed in Texas. The building used is The Renaissance Tower, which is amusingly located on Elm Street in Dallas. It featured in TV’s DALLAS as the home of Ewing Oil and was the headquarters of Blockbuster Video from 1996 until they went bust in 2011. The production filmed from six in the evening until six in the morning.
Quinlan had skirted the subgenre before with another TV movie with slasher trappings (and VHS mainstay back in the day), BLACKOUT (1985). In interviews at the time, she confirmed the nods to DIE HARD were intentional – and called it a “female version”. Interestingly, it was promoted as an “action movie” and not a horror – let-alone a slasher – movie. Testament to the fickle nature of movie fads (1989 was, relatively, a mainstream genre wasteland), in the promotional material Fred Walton’s horror pedigree wasn’t even mentioned. As a former gymnast Quinlan relished doing her own stunts, saying: “Usually this kind of movie is male-orientated. I loved doing all the physical stuff. I did all the stunts except going off the building. I’m a jock so if I get a role where I can act and do something physical I’ll take it.” But she was less enamoured of the explosion that tops the film: “Trust me, if I’d known it was going to explode so big I wouldn’t have done it.” Of the film she said: “What I like about it is that she’s not a woman who thinks herself as a fighter, but when she finds herself in this situation she has to pull herself together and fight her way through it … […] it becomes more one-on-one than Die Hard.”
Her co-star, Abbott (who was also formerly a gymnast), is best remembered for the first two RE-ANIMATOR movies (1985 and 1989), but he got his start in the ultimately bloodless play-on-slasher-movie-conventions in TAG: THE ASSASINATION GAME (1982) (where he met his future wife – a pre-THE TERMINATOR (1984) Linda Hamilton). Tyress Allen, who has a small role as a security guard, was also in INNOCENT PREY (1983).
I bought TRAPPED on VHS back in the late 1990s. Although, to be more exact, I bought what I thought was this movie. The box was right and the tape was on the CIC label, but ironically turned out to be another TV movie called TRAPPED from 1973 (where James Brolin is accidentally locked in a department store where he is stalked by six Doberman guard dogs). I’m glad I finally got a chance to finally watch it.
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female: 2 / male: 5
1) Female seen dead (natural causes)
2) Male killed (method unseen)
3) Male killed (method unseen)
4) Female killed off-screen
5) Male found stabbed to death
6) Male beaten todeath with baseball bat
7) Male burnt to death