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Murder By Decree

(Directed by Bob Clark)

When filmmaker Benjamin "Bob" Clark died in a tragic accident in 2007, he left behind an incredibly eclectic filmography that included classics from several different genres. There was the perfect family festive romp with the much-loved “A Christmas Story” and the quintessential U.S. sex comedy with “Porky’s”. There were also several highly regarded genre movies, not least of which was “Black Christmas”, which is generally accepted as being a major influence on the modern Slasher film. Then there was this nigh-on perfect marriage of fiction and reality, as Sherlock Holmes takes on the case of Jack the Ripper in Victorian London. Differing greatly from the earlier same-premise film “A Study in Terror” (where the “Ripper” was just a fictional aristocrat), the story was written by playwright John Hopkins (who wrote the Bond film “Thunderball”). It was heavily influenced by the book “Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution” (by Stephen Knight), which first supposed that the Freemasons and the Government itself were directly involved with the Whitechapel Murders, and a subsequent cover-up. The movie sees Christopher Plummer don the Deer-Stalker hat as Holmes, with James Mason as his erstwhile companion Dr John Watson, as they try to sift through the (often real-life) clues left by Saucy Jack.

There’s so much to appreciate about this marvellous film, which has gone on to win a lot of fans from late-night TV showings. There’s that phenomenal cast which also includes the likes of; Donald Sutherland, John Gielgud, Anthony Quayle, David Hemmings and Geneviève Bujold. There’s the intricate plot (which has gone on to influence other Holmes/Ripper tales), which includes a lot of detail from the actual murders and actors playing historical figures (often in a very unflattering way). But perhaps best of all is Plummer’s outing as the original Dark Night Detective. It’s a fantastically layered performance which defies the usual cold depiction of the character, without betraying the literary version in any way. Plummer plays him as a man clinically obsessed with facts and justice, but also one who lets his emotions occasionally float to the surface. So there are atypical moments where he literally rages against Government officials and Asylum staff, and even shows tenderness towards the female victims and his friendship with Watson. Mason and Bujold also give fine support in their roles, and there’s some welcome humour in the tale (witness Holmes’ clumsiness with his bolas/scarf). “Decree” also works from a mainstream genre perspective and the sequences depicting the Ripper (and his hansom cab) abducting victims in fog-shrouded streets, along with maddened eyes and bloody corpses, are very effective. The climax is particularly ghoulish with Holmes literally stumbling across the final murder, with the gruesome scene lit by firelight. The only downside is the unconvincing miniatures of the London skyline, but otherwise this is superior stuff for Sherlock satisfaction.

Salem's Lot

(Directed by Tobe Hooper)

Given the huge success that “Carrie” was at the cinema, it was no surprise that it heralded an eventual deluge of adaptations sourced from Stephen King novels. What was a surprise was that one of the best turned out to be a made-for-TV production, and that it would be directed by the man who gave us “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. Warners Bros Studios originally tried to develop the project as a major feature length film, but handed it over to its TV department when things didn’t fall into place. It was originally aired as a 2-part miniseries with the second episode airing a week later, but several edits exist with prologue/epilogue sequences and some additional violent details. But to be fair it works fine whether you catch the “movie” or miniseries version, and King himself is a fan of it… which is no mean feat as it’s one of his favourite novels. It was written by the author to comment on the “death” of the typical small American Town, and also as a damned good vampire/haunted house story. The cast is very solid and includes David Soul, James Mason, Bonnie Bedelia, Geoffrey Lewis and Reggie Nalde