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As a child, the 1946 version of this movie was one of the most terrifying I had ever seen...and I loved scary movies. Years later, it still scared the hell out of me. This re-make is a travesty. I don't know what the director and cinematographer were trying to achieve, but it wasn't The Spiral Staircase. Apologies to Christopher Plummer, Mildred Dunnock and Elaine Stritch for having to endure this drivel. Times must have been bad then and paychecks much needed. If you want to see a brilliant horror film, see the original.
The original The Spiral Staircase, made in 1945 in black and white by
director Robert Siodmak, was one of the finest
killer-on-the-loose-in-a-spooky-mansion films of all-time. This 1975
remake is a very poor attempt to update and remake the original. There
is less tension this time around, as director Peter Collinson allows
things to proceed at a sluggish pace. Even the performances are weaker,
despite the fact that this film has a comparatively star-studded cast
for its era.
Helen Mallory (Jacqueline Bisset) has been unable to speak since she witnessed her husband and child being killed in a house fire. Her doctor, Dr Rawley (John Ronane), has tried for several years to help her recover her speech but without success. He is very concerned for Helen's safety, as a serial killer has recently been at work in the city and all the victims share one thing in common they are all disabled in some way. Helen goes away to her uncle's nearby mansion, which also doubles as an institution for the handicapped. Here she finds herself in the company of her uncle Joe Sherman (Christopher Plummer), his secretary and lover Blanche (Gayle Hunnicut), angry brother Steven Sherman (John Philip Law), a strict nurse (Elaine Stritch), housekeepers Mr and Mrs Oates (Ronald Radd, Sheila Brennan) and the ill, old bed-bound Sherman mother (Mildred Dunnock). A ferocious thunderstorm plunges the house into a power-cut, and before long it becomes apparent that the serial killer who has been preying upon handicapped women is one of those trapped inside the mansion. It is now Helen who finds herself next on the killer's list, unless she can find a way to survive .
This is such a reliable, some might say "archetypal", story that all it needed was some thoughtful lighting and a well-judged sense of pace in order to work. But sadly director Collinson has spent too much time setting up pointless and weird camera angles instead of concentrating on the basics of suspense. If he had gone for the afore-mentioned thoughtful lighting and the better-judged sense of pace, this would have emerged a half-decent remake. The actors seem indifferent towards the material and give performances way below their best. Bisset has the difficulty of contending with a wordless role and is nothing more than average in the part; Plummer looks rightfully bored as the professor; Law snaps and snarls ineffectually as his bad-tempered brother; Dunnock spends most of the film acting drugged as the poorly old mother of the clan. For a good hour or so, very little happens in the film and one invariably finds oneself staring vacantly at the screen, waiting with misplaced optimism for a flash of suspense. Not even the music by David Lindup manages to generate any excitement or atmosphere. When the killings finally begin and Helen goes on the run in the dark passages of the house, trying to escape from her murderous assailant, the sequence is done rather flatly with little in the way of true excitement. If you're planning on watching a version of The Spiral Staircase some time soon, the best advice I can give is that you stick with the vastly superior original!
Kind of a disappointment here from the otherwise interesting Peter
Collinson, who's 1974 sleaze-0-rama OPEN SEASON is one of the truly
great overlooked cult movies from the 1970s. He even brings along the
late John Phillip Law from that movie but chooses to lock him up in the
basement during the majority of the film's big shebang sequence, giving
him little more to do than pry open a door and take a shower. His role
could have been played by anyone.
The movie is a remake of a highly regarded Noir thriller of the same name that better judgment suggests one investigate instead -- I was in this for John Phillip Law, so my disappointment is more on seeing his usually bizarre talents go so wasted. The story revolves around a fetching young woman played by Jaqueline Bisset who goes mute in the face of danger owing to a boringly typical childhood drama. There's a family matriarch who sleeps with a .38 under her pillow, a duplicitous doctor played by Christopher Plummer who may be the key to a series of murders of likewise handicapped but fetching young women, a scruffy amoral police detective who couldn't be more ineffective if he was trying to be, and a bunch of unlikeable types sitting around waiting for a rich elderly to die off so they can claim their piece of the pie.
In other words this is a Scooby-Doo type plot with a couple of murders thrown in to beef it up. The most effective element of the film is the sprawling, ornate mansion that the movie is mostly set within, which does become effectively creepy once the power goes out during an electrical storm with a killer prowling the grounds. Director Collinson composes some interesting shots looking out from under the furniture that sort of reminds one of hiding under stuff as a kid when frightened. There is an intriguing use of color and some imaginative camera angles, but those elements aren't what we watch stuff like this for.
As a made for TV movie (CBS) from the 1970s it's not bad, with a first rate cast, some interesting supporting players, a decent disappearing corpse sequence and a respectably staged lightning storm, but what of it? The movie apparently enjoyed a theatrical release overseas, mostly due to the strength of the names in the cast, and is a comparatively rare film not having found a re-release on DVD just yet, and probably never will. The problem is coming up with elements to recommend it for and other than another obscure, nutty, somewhat sinister John Phillip Law supporting role I can't come up with much. Jaqueline Bisset looks marvelous as usual and the unseen hero saving the day at the end was a pleasant surprise. As a whole however it's just not a very involving or absorbing story, well staged for the budget involved, but then again so is your basic trip to the bus station on YouTube.
So here's another "I don't know ..." kind of movie. If low budget made for TV horror is your bag this should definitely find it's way onto your schedule at some point and used VHS copies are relatively inexpensive & not difficult to acquire (just search for the title on Amazon: it's there in spite of what the IMDb's link box says). With a bag of popcorn on a rainy otherwise boring night it would probably come in handy, and for John Phillip Law devotees you should probably grab a copy now before they all fall to pieces.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
***SPOILERS*** Listless and dull remake of the 1945 spine tingling
psychological thriller of the same name "The Spiral Staircase" with the
gorgeous, no matter how much she tries to look Plain Jane, Jackie
Bissett as Helen Mallory in her first and only non speaking role
despite getting top billing in the movie.
When she experienced both her 10 year old daughter and husband killed in a fire five years ago Helen went into shock and ended up losing her voice. With Dr.Rawley, John Ronane, trying to restore Helen's voice he sends her to the prestigious Sherman's Institute for more advanced treatment. As things turn out there's this psycho running around town who's obsessed with culling out those of us in society not worthy or perfect enough to live! This in order for him to create the perfect human, which he feels he is, race by eliminating all its imperfections! This mentally deranged lunatic has had his eye out for Helen in feeling that she's a threat, by being mute, to the advanced evolutionary process of the human race! This nut-case has already murdered five other "inperfect" young women and is now targeting Helen to be his next victim!
As you would imagine the psycho finds his way into the Sherman's Institute in his attempt to murder Helen but, luckily for her, a number of complications arise that makes his job a bit more difficult. One of them is the head of the institute Dr. Joe Sherman, Christopher Plummer, being involved in a three way love affair with his brother Steven, john Philip Law, over the sexy Blanche, Gayle Hunnicutt. This psycho for some weird and insane reason, despite Blanche being about as perfect as any women can be, also feels that Blancheis a drag and burden on he human race, in the air she breaths and food and water that she consumes, in her not being quite perfect enough to be kept alive! There's also Dr. Sherman's diabetic and dying mother Mrs. Sherman, Mildred Dunnock, who this murderous psycho, as a sidelight, also plans to murder. Not that Mrs. Sherman is in his way but because she's, like both Helen & Blanche, not worth living!
***SPOILERS*** Wherever suspense there is in the film is left for last with the killer psycho finally revealing himself, to the total non surprise of those of us watching, and going after a trapped and terrified Helen. The psycho killer who had so many opportunities to murder Helen all throughout the film yet, in him being the "Perfect Human" that he thinks that he is, ended up blowing every one of them. Not much of a surprise ending like the 1945 version of the movie was it still had enough terror and suspense in it to lift "Spiral Staircase II" a notch or two above the dull as dishwater like script that proceeded it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I had first watched the 2000 TV remake of THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE and when
I looked it up on IMDb I noticed that there were earlier films with the
same title and plot.
And so I first watched the original and fell in love with it... and then I moved on to this little gem from the 70's. I must say I really liked it A LOT! Jaqueline Bisset is stunning and the acting here is great. This is true 70's trash so bad its good film. I actually like this one over the original. The only performance I don't care for is the mother's here...in the original Ethel Barrymore played it so well! But still, this is good entertainment! Great way to pass the time!
I was surprised when I learned that "The Spiral Staircase" was a remake
of an earlier movie, and that it's been remade since. The movie is
actually little that we haven't seen before: disabled - in this case
mute - woman (Jacqueline Bisset) suspects that someone is trying to
kill her, she moves in with family, and there's eventually a big
showdown. And the ending was pretty anticlimactic; at one point, you
can basically tell what's going to happen.
However, there was one thing that I derived from the movie. Christopher Plummer's character in one scene talks about no tolerance for imperfection. We in the 21st century have taken that to the extreme. We want everyone made up so that they all look the same, we go for style over substance, and more. Then again, I'm probably reading too far into the movie, as it was most likely intended as a straight thriller (although it doesn't really thrill).
Anyway, it's a mediocre way to pass time. Also starring Elaine Stritch and John Philip Law (the "Barbarella" angel).
In 1945, a suspenseful classic film called "The Spiral Staircase" chilled audiences with its story and atmosphere. Set in the beginning of the 20th. Century, it told the story of the beautiful and mute servant of a wealthy, elderly widow who's threatened by a serial killer of disabled women. Here, the story has been updated to the present, which meant that the filmmakers didn't have to spend money on costumes and sets to reflect the time it took place. The overall plot remains the same, but the flat direction and script causes it to be about as suspenseful as an episode of "Murder She Wrote." There are a few red herrings as we wonder whodunit, but it doesn't make us care. It's not really a bad movie. It features a cast of starts who were big back in the day, so the acting is satisfactory. The mansion where the story takes place is rather baroque and makes a pretty good setting. And the original story remains excellent. The problem isn't that the film itself is terrible, but that given the quality of the source material and the original film, it's a major disappointment.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Searching the video store, I saw the cover for this and remembered reading
about it. I decided to give it a whirl, because there was nothing else
catching my eye at the moment.
Jaqueline Bissett plays Helen, a young mute, who is currently staying at the Sherman Institute. The rest of the people in the house are wary of the fact that women with disabilities are being murdered, and a blind woman was killed that day. That night, though, the killer has spotted Helen as his next victim. And with a thunderstorm threatening to kill the power, this killer starts eliminating those at the house, closing in closer and closer to Helen.
Does that sound like a good movie? I don't know, I thought so. Well, I was wrong. It's very dull for the first three quarters, with characterization up the wazoo, and a couple of suspicious moments. And, supposedly, it's a mystery of who the killer is--but it's not!! The killer is way too obvious! I don't know if it was just because I knew the motive from reading about the original movie, or if movie was just really bad at concealing the killer's identity. And, this isn't a spoiler, because even the plot summary said it, the killer is Dr. Sherman.
But, there are a few holes. First of all, why does the killer kill off people who aren't disabled at the house? Well, the killer's achievements at the house only rank up to two or three, but still, they're all perfectly "normal" people. And why does Steven drag Oates's body outside after he finds it in the foyer? Doesn't that mean that he's an accomplice in something? I don't know, that left me hanging for a while. Still, there are some good things. The last quarter of the movie is quite exciting, with Dr. Sherman chasing Helen around the house. And the movie utilizes her disability well, especially when trying to contact help over the phone. There was a lot of suspense in those scenes. Also, the characters are all quite likable. Mrs. Sherman was very entertaining as the witty mother of the doctor and Steven. And Mrs. Oates was just a very likable character, as the cook. And of course, Helen, played with all innocence and huge doe-eyes by Bissett.
Overall, not a great movie, but the final quarter is quite interesting. I have yet to see the original version, though, and I have a feeling that might be better.
Remake of the 1946 classic. Helen Mallory (Jacqueline Bisset) has been
rendered mute after seeing her husband and only child die in a fire.
She is now staying at her uncle's mansion and getting treatment.
However there is a killer on the loose who kills people who have
disabilities. Is Helen next?
Pointless redo. The original is a classic--what's the point or remaking it? I caught this on TV late at night back in the 1970s. I had seen the original and was interested in seeing how this stood up. Sadly it turned out to be pretty bad. Despite a great cast (Bisset, Christopher Plummer, John Phillip Law, Elaine Stritch) this is pretty slow-moving and dull. There's virtually no suspense or atmosphere and it looks like it was made on a very low budget which hurts. The cast tries their best but even their considerable talents can't liven this up. You can safely skip this one. See the original.
I give it a 3 because the cast does try and Bisset looks stunning (as always).
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The plot summary currently available for this movie is totally incorrect. The viewer has gotten the original film (starring Dorothy McGwire and Ethel Barrymore) mixed up with the television movie starring Jacqueline Bisset and Christopher Plummer. In the remake, Ms. Bisset plays a woman who has become mute because of the trauma of watching her child die in a fire and her husband die trying to rescue the girl--he falls off a ladder and lands on the spokes of the wrought iron fence! She is romantically involved with the doctor who has been treating her. The bad guy in this version is played by Christopher Plummer, who portrays Ms. Bisset's uncle in the film (sorry, can't remember character names). He, not the doctor, as stated in the current viewer summary, is the killer. His father couldn't stand to see physical imperfection or illness and, evidently passed his fetish on to his son--who has added to it the element of psycopathy, leading him to commit numerous murders in his effort to rid the world of imperfect people. Pretty stupid, really, as much as I like Christopher Plummer. I hate to see fine actors lower themselves to appear in productions unworthy of their talents. The original was not quite so far-fetched and much better acted by Dorothy McGwire in the role of the mute.
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