Friday, February 16, 2024

Worth Mentioning - Too Beautiful to Die

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning. 

In which supporting players take the lead.


Many of us watch at least one Cynthia Dale movie a year, even if that’s not a name we’ve committed to memory. In fact, many horror fans (including myself) just saw Dale this week, in a movie we make sure to watch every February: the 1981 Valentine’s Day slasher classic My Bloody Valentine. I haven’t seen Dale in much other than that movie, even though she has continued to work in film and TV throughout the decades, but this month I did discover that she had the lead role in a 1984 drama called Heavenly Bodies... and when I watched it, I was stunned to see that her role had to be one of the most physically exhausting performances ever put on screen. I almost got exhausted myself, just watching how much Dale had to do in this movie.

Her character is Samantha, a young single mother who has big dreams of running a dance-ercize studio. She rents space in a rundown old warehouse and transforms it into a studio, then proceeds to lead several highly active classes over the course of the film’s 89 minutes. As she goes, she strikes up a complicated relationship with football player Steve (Richard Rebiere), gets offered the chance to host an exercise show on TV, and ends up on the bad side of Jack Pearson (Walter George Alton), the rich and powerful owner of a rival dance-ercize studio. This puts Samantha’s own business in danger, as Jack moves to buy the warehouse out from under her... and the only way to save her studio Heavenly Bodies is to challenge Jack’s students and instructors to a dance marathon. They will dance-ercize until they drop, and the last person standing wins the warehouse for their studio.

The sole directing credit for prolific character actor Lawrence Dane, who also wrote the screenplay with Ron Base, Heavenly Bodies never goes very long without dropping in another scene of Samantha doing her dance exercises or just dancing around, and it’s incredible to watch Dale in action because it’s astounding that she was able to do all of this – especially while keeping a smile on her face most of the time.

The film has just enough story to get by and has some good dramatic scenes here and there, but it’s mainly a showcase for Cynthia Dale, wrapped in a fun ‘80s package. I’ll be watching it again someday to soak in the ‘80s atmosphere and marvel at what Dale was capable of, both physically and in the acting department.


I know Toni Hudson from her supporting roles in a couple of movies I have watched a whole lot of times in my life – the 1985 comedy Just One of the Guys and the 1990 slasher sequel Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III. But the same month Just One of the Guys reached the screen, Hudson also had a lead role in the thriller Prime Risk... and while some movie-goers might have seen her in both that month, I get the impression that not many people saw Prime Risk, as I not only hadn’t seen the movie until almost forty years after it was released, I also had never heard of it before. It’s kind of odd that Prime Risk slipped into obscurity the way it did, because it’s actually a solid movie with an interesting cast.

The sole writing and directing credit for Michael Farkas, the film sees Hudson playing computer engineer Julie Collins, who discovers that an ATM machine at a local bank sends out tones that can be picked up by car radios. When she makes that discovery, she happens to be in the car of Michael Fox (Lee Montgomery), a down-on-his-luck guy whose dream of becoming an airplane pilot is getting delayed by financial issues. So Julie offers to bring Michael in on an ATM robbery scheme... and since Michael is having money trouble, he agrees to take part. Even if the movie was already about Julie and Michael deciphering the tones sent out by the ATM machine and using the information to create fake bank cards they can use to empty every bank account of $200, it still would have been an interesting, fun ‘80s thriller. But there’s more going on than just that.

While Julie and Michael work on their scheme, a mysterious group headed up by Keenan Wynn is also going around their town, disrupting the workings at a bank (and the surrounding mall) with radio signals and even committing murder. When it’s revealed what this group is up to, the scope of Prime Risk expands, the stakes get higher, and Julie and Michael’s ATM robberies look quaint. I’m not sure the bigger story was really necessary, as I probably would have preferred to just see Julie and Michael’s ATM story play out, but Prime Risk would have been a very different movie without it, because more than half of the 98 minute running time is dedicated to Julie and Michael trying to stop Wynn’s group from carrying out their plans.

Along the way, we get an appearance by the great Clu Gulager, who is always welcome on my screens. (Sidenote: Gulager's wife, Miriam Byrd-Nethery, was also in Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III.)

I know Toni Hudson as a supporting player, but Prime Risk proves she could be a great lead as well. This thriller she starred in deserved to get more attention than it’s been given over the decades.


Sometimes Elizabeth Kaitan (or Elizabeth Cayton, as she’s credited on this movie) would show up as a victim in something like Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood, Silent Madness, or Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2, and sometimes she would land a lead role – as she did on director Dusty Nelson’s horror film Necromancer, released the same year as Kaitan’s Friday the 13th movie (not to mention the Arnold Schwarzenegger / Danny DeVito comedy Twins, which she also appeared in). 

In this one, which was scripted by Bill Naud, Kaitan plays college student Julie Johnson, who recently got out of a relationship with her drama teacher Charles DeLonge – because how could a beautiful young woman like her resist the goofy, middle-aged Russ Tamblyn? Even though their relationship is over, Charles has given Julie a role in his latest play... but immediately after Julie receives this good news, something terrible happens. Three of her classmates sexually assault her. She doesn’t want to go to the police about it, but when her friend Freda (Rhonda Dorto) sees an ad in the paper offering people a chance to get revenge, she decides to pursue this option. It involves meeting with a witch, a necromancer to be exact (played by Lois Masten), who unleashes a demon on the people who have wronged Julie. Not only do her attackers get a visit from this demon... which appears to them looking like Julie, then undergoes a transformation that involves a stage where it looks like Julie is wearing gloves made of Jell-O... but so does Charles, who isn’t quite the nice, charming goofball he appears to be.

Most of the people who have run-ins with the demon deserve what they get, but of course things get out of hand and Julie has to find a way to stop the demon from wrecking her life and the lives of people she cares about.

Cheap and poorly made, Necromancer doesn’t provide a very good viewing experience... unless you happen to have a soft spot for Friday the 13th alumni and trashy movies from the ‘80s and early ‘90s, as I do. As bad as some of these movies get, I would still be hard pressed to not get at least some enjoyment out of watching them. So I had fun taking in the badness of Necromancer.

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