April 10: Nightmare USA — Celebrate Stephen Thrower’s book by picking a movie from it. Here’s all of them in a list.
Also known as Slipping Into Darkness and Bloodshed and shot as The Paranoiac, this movie is like a young and scrappy cover band playing Psycho in a small club and you’re like, well, they’re derivative, but that’s a totally different bass part and that singer has some charm, you know? It’s ramshackle and cheap in the best of ways, set in a boardinghouse, as so many of the best horror movies are — particularly regional and low budget examples — where aspiring journalist Karen (Beverly Ross) gets a cheap from Mrs. Brewer (Belle Mitchell). Yet, as always, everything comes at a price, as her new neighbor Grahame (Laszlo Papas) is beyond obsessed with her.
Grahame spies on her through the ventilation system and we soon learn that he was molested not once, but twice in his formative years, leading to him being quite off today. The kind of off where — spoiler, except that by me saying this is so very close to Psycho you should know what’s coming but this goes further — when Karen drowns in the tub, he keeps her body in his room and tries to preserve what little he has of her, all while her ex-boyfriend and a classmate she’s grown biblically close to try to find out where she’s gone.
There’s a detail early on where it’s revealed that Karen is diabetic and suffers from seizures and by the time she’s in her death throes in a bathtub, you realize that this isn’t a movie that just throws out small details. It’s a movie that forces you to empathize with its killer — again, third mention, Psycho — while having its main female character neither be the final girl nor the heroine.
Either you’re going to feel that this is way too long and drawn out or you’ll be fascinated by it, feeling like you’re just like Grahame, watching lives that are not our own, seeing damaged people attempt to escape their dismal fates. In a different story, the way that life has turned both of the leads into shells of people — Grahame haunted by multiple moments of childhood trauma and a lack of being able to connect to anything resembling intimacy and Karen unable to even face her ex-boyfriend as she leaves him and continually being inappropriately approached by nearly every man in this movie — who in a different story may have met cute and worked together to solve their issues.
Instead, the one moment when Grahame’s voyeurism could have been used for good and saved Karen, he’s called away by Mrs. Brewer and misses out on his would-be love’s lonely demise. For a movie that seems to present itself as a slasher, that’s a big idea.
Director and writer Richard Cassidy sadly didn’t do much after this, directing and writing — before being removed and replaced by editor Adrian Carr — the 1983 Danielle Steele adaption Now and Forever, as well as writing The Edge of Power and directing The Riddle of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Mysteries of the Bible Unravelled, which his based on Dr. Barbara Thiering’s book, The Qumran Origins of the Christian Church, which introduces the theory that the unnamed figures in the Dead Sea Scrolls are John the Baptist and Jesus.
An even bigger shame is that this hasn’t been released on blu ray, as there are plenty less deserving movies that have been given plenty more attention.