Thursday, January 30

Some quick thoughts on Roger Watkins' Shadows on the Mind (1980)

Years after being traumatized witnessing the drownings of her father and stepmother as a teen, a wealthy young woman, Elise (Marion Joyce), is released from a sanitarium and returns to the remote country estate where she grew up. Shortly afterwards, her estranged stepbrother, psychiatrist, and his fiance converge on the estate and a series of grisly murders begins.

Roger Watkins' Shadows of the Mind is really only worth a look if you're a devotee of the director's prior The Last House on Dead End Street (1977). Much like that infamous effort, Watkins apparently had a terrible experience with Shadows, disowning it and having his name taken off the film's credits prior to release. Watkins only finally revealed in 2005 that he had worked on the film under the name "Bernard Travis". Ryan C. over at Trash Film Guru has has more about the man, who effectively destroyed Watkins' mainstream hopes, behind that pseudonym in his recent entry covering the film. Disenchanted, Watkins' helmed several adult features before surfacing again after the new millennia upon rekindled interest surrounding Last House. Ultimately, Watkins never attempted to reclaim copyright over this meek slasher before his passing in 2007, a strong indication of his feelings toward it.

Shadows simply doesn't possess the constant manic rawness of his chipped 1977 masterpiece. It's about forty tedious minutes of watching a disturbed woman listen to inner voices followed by Watkins' rough-hewn style finally flourishing in several murders. Even then; an overbearing, hackneyed score blaring over the killings undermines their shock value. By the last twenty minutes, you might feel a little of what the director felt after wasting so much unappreciated time on someone else's project.

Co-writer and lead Marion Joyce's Elise is just another boring psychotic stereotype. We never feel anything for her character, making the inevitable killing spree all the more unsurprising. A better, or at least more game, actress might have tried valiantly to breathe life the role, making the experience more bearable, like the unhinged Sallee Young in Demented (1980). The few other cast members add nothing than a body count and their connections to Elise are barely sketched out.

A great example of this Shadows' terrible pacing is when Elise's stepbrother, who wants her out of the picture to inherit the estate, makes it known to the caretaker that his sister probably doesn't want to live there and he might lose his gig. His immediate response in the very next scene is to try and strangle her while screaming, "I need to talk to you!" and "Listen to me!" while her stepbrother pleasingly looks on in the distance. Then right afterward the caretaker is mysteriously killed (seen above). This entire sequence literally makes no sense because the caretaker is hardly given any screen time prior, much less his motives established. Was he always intending to kill her, easily swayed, or mentally handicapped? Or did Elise's stepbrother somehow magically know telling the caretaker that would lead to an altercation that would then drive her to kill the caretaker so he's not a nuance?! My damn head hurts.

Though the film's choppy nature echoes the fate of Last House, which was massively truncated to under eighty minutes from an over three-hour version essentially stolen away from Watkins (sadly still the only version known to exist today). Who knows how much Shadows was tampered with, but likely Watkins didn't have any say in the editing process and it's curious to note the basic credit sequences also resemble those of Last House. Shadows of the Mind is only for those that either love stuffy slasher also-rans, I know you're out there, or wish to see a director's last embittered shot at legitimacy in the face of those that couldn't have given a damn about him as a filmmaker.

However; copies of Shadows of the Mind are pretty damn scarce. The film only received VHS releases in Australia, Netherlands, Venezuela, and Japan. There hasn't been an authorized DVD released anywhere yet. So needless to say this Japanese tape screened for this review, from obscure distributor TSI Group, is extremely rare with just a couple copies ever surfacing. The full frame presentation is in English language with small Japanese subtitles. The Japanese title, 血に飢えた少女, translates to "Bloodthirsty Girl".

1 comment:

DrunkethWizerd said...

Sounds like a real gem. you dare tread upon the staircase?

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