Cassandra 1986 Review
Directed by: Colin Eggleston
Starring: Tessa Humphries, Shane Briant, Susan Barling
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Australia left an often unnoticed but essential mark on the slasher genre and it could be argued that after Canada, they probably had the biggest input outside of the US. Their entries can generally be spliced into three categories: Very Good (Small Town Massacre, Coda), Average (Cut, Stage Fright) and absolutely awful (To Become One, Houseboat Horror).
Thankfully, Cassandra is a member of the first grouping and is one of the rare few psycho-killer flicks that has an endearing macabre sheen. The bogeyman here has taken a liking to writing ‘who killed cock robin’ on the wall at the scene of his gruesome slashings, which measures up nicely with the killer leaving a broken doll beside his victims in The Baby Doll Murders and the spooky appearance of that creepy dolly in the classic Curtains. Of course, there’s bound to be some kind of deluded motive for this psychotic creativity and it’s down to us viewers to figure out the not so obvious connection…
It begins with cool credit sequence that boasts a notable theme tune and a great graphic for the title. Following that, we’re given one of the creepiest openings that I ever remember witnessing in a slasher flick. A young girl is shown throwing stones into a lake beside a remote cabin in the woods. A car pulls up outside the hut and out steps a woman and a creepy looking child who’s singing the nursery rhyme, ‘who killed cock robin?’ Next we see inside the cabin and the woman is turning a shotgun on herself in a suicide bid, while the boy mutters ‘do it’ in a spooky voice reserved only for horror maniacs. The young girl jogs up to the hut in excellent steadi-cam, but arrives too late; the woman had already pulled the trigger. It’s a great launch for the feature, which is skilfully photographed and smoothly edited, giving it enough power to keep your hopes raised for the rest of the movie. It brought to my mind the spooky commencement from that all but forgotten Ozploitation classic, Alison’s Birthday. At first I wondered if the two movies shared some kind of connection other than both hailing from similar parts of the world? But I haven’t managed to find any notes that would confirm this to be true.
Next we learn that the spooky occurrence was only a dream, one that has been plaguing Cassandra (Tessa Humphries) quite regularly just lately. It seems so realistic that she believes it may be a memory recollection from her childhood, but she’s confused and just can’t remember the truth. She asks her mother and father if she could have ever witnessed a similar course of events, but they suspiciously convince her that it’s all in her mind. To be honest, they look as if they have more skeleton’s in their closet than the local morgue has corpses, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they turn out to be hiding a few shocking secrets beneath their obviously false exterior.
Cassandra’s father is a photographer with more than just a ‘photographic’ eye for the ladies and pretty soon we learn that he’s shoulder deep in an affair with one of his projects. Cassandra catches her dad and Libby together, just as the model was in the middle of telling him that she’s fallen pregnant. On top of her continuous restless nights that’s not what the troubled youngster needed to hear at that time. She heads to the local bar, where she pours her heart out to her friend Robbie, who lends a sympathetic ear.
The following night, Libby heads out to a remote beach house after an argument with Steven over why he wont tell his wife about the baby . After an extremely gratuitous shower, an unseen maniac creeps into the house in superb first person cinematography, picking up a bread knife en route a la Michael Myers. Some time later, Steve discovers her corpse in his bed with her throat slashed from ear to ear. He also finds a creepy message left at the scene by the killer, which reads: ‘who killed cock robin?’
The police turn up and question everybody and we find out that Cassie witnessed the murder through a psychic link that she mysteriously shares with the killer. From here on out the majority of the runtime resolves around the mystery, as we learn more about the characters and their shady backgrounds – and boy have they got shady backgrounds. To break up the dialogue, Eggleston chucks in some suspense as the shadowed maniac puts in another appearance. This time, he tries unsuccessfully to murder Cassie’s mother in yet another sequence that’s packed with credible tension.
Eventually the assassin manages to get everyone that’s on his list of would-be victims in the same place at the same time, including the unsuspecting heroine. After a cool decapitation by shovel (the first I remember seeing) and another brutal murder, it’s left up to Cassie to try and save herself and her family from his malevolent rage.
It’s looks a little more than obvious that Colin Eggleston was greatly inspired by the American titans of eighties horror, such as John Carpenter and Sam Raimi. Previously, he had penned the screenplay for 1980′s slasher misfire, Stage Fright and to say that he had ‘borrowed’ the basic plot pointers from Halloween for that script would be a considerable understatement. He showed much more potential once behind the camera, but still kept the horror references pouring thick and fast. Check out some of the flowing photography in the dream sequence, which clearly owes a great deal to Raimi’s first-person-possession from The Evil Dead. Still, don’t hold that against the man, I mean, you show me a slasher movie that doesn’t steal from its fellow genre-men and I’ll show you a pink elephant with wings and a driving licence.
As a matter of fact, Cassandra’s imaginative use of the camera is perhaps its most alluring attribute. Take for example the first murder, which packs a great deal of suspense into a short sequence and skilfully manages to keep the tension running high all the way through. We look on in traditional hand-held shots as the victim climbs into bed, leading us to successfully believe that we’re watching from the eyes of the killer. However as the camera zooms in on the female, the knife appears from a different location than the one we were expecting, which provides a great jolt and a decent shock-tactic that can be credited as one of Eggleston’s own.
Let’s just say for argument’s sake that Stage Fright was Eggleston’s Halloween. Then I guess Cassandra could quite easily be labelled as his Eyes of Laura Mars. The two movies share a great deal of story points, most notably of course, the use of a psychic link between the killer and heroine. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Mars, so I didn’t notice many other similarities that I could immediately remember. I’m pretty certain though that it was somewhere on his list of inspirations before he sat down to pen the synopsis for this closely themed thriller.
Ian Mason’s screeching score helps to provide the tense atmosphere and Josephine Cook edits with a visible confidence that was one of the strongest elements in the brilliance of the opening sequence. It’s also stylishly produced for an underground slasher flick and doesn’t deserve to have become such an obscurity since it’s release. Initially the feature was going to get a cinematic run, but it ended up creeping out direct to video. I had never even heard of Cassandra until I found the DVD in my local newsagent’s bargain bucket. Later I learned that it was briefly distributed in the United Kingdom sometime in 1987, but vanished from existence pretty soon after.
The performances here are a bit of a disappointment, although I quite liked Tessa Humphies (Dame Edna’s daughter) as the protagonist. Despite obvious limitations as an actress, she at least offers some charm and a good screen presence. Surprisingly enough, the lack of any truly outstanding dramatics really didn’t spoil the movie too much and I still thoroughly enjoyed watching it.
There are of course a few flaws to be found throughout the runtime that may ruin the story for the more critical viewers. As I said previously, it isn’t greatly acted and some may find the character driven storyline a slightly disappointing alternative to a numerous body count. It’s also pretty easy to guess whom it is that’s actually killing everyone and I was expecting a slightly more intelligent conclusion than the mediocre and somewhat uninspired result that we ended up with. But the odd stylish sequence lifted this above the majority of its counterparts and almost every murder is neatly staged. Suspense is one of the toughest things to be found in underground slasher movies, but Colin Eggleston successfully manages to create quite a few credible sequences that give the movie a noteworthy professional sheen.
As far as Australian stalk and slash efforts go, it’s actually one of the best of its kind…
Final Girl √√