Discover Lady Stay Dead, Courtesy of Code Red

With cult labels releasing and re-releasing the same popular titles over and over again, I'm always happy to see something still making its debut on disc. Lady Stay Dead is a slasher/ thriller I hadn't even heard of before, and I grew up on these movies. But this turns out to be the final theatrical film by Australian writer/ director Terry Bourke, the man known for creating Inn of the Damned and possibly his country's first horror movie ever, Night Of Fear. And despite elements that might put some viewers off, I think it's his most satisfying, well-rounded work. So it's a little surprising that Code Red's relatively recent blu-ray is its debut on disc.
Our film opens with an introduction to Gordon (Chard Hayward), standing alone in his apartment wearing nothing but a tiny, unflattering black speedo. He feeds his fish, cleans his rifle, puts his favorite love song on the turntable and pulls a love doll out of his closet for a slow dance. This is not a man living the high life. He's a simple gardener who happens to work for almost his complete opposite: the rich, young and beautiful Marie (Aussy soap star Deborah Coulls), a singer/ model/ actress who couldn't possibly see Gordon as any less of a human being. But he doesn't seem to get that, truly believing he has a shot with her.

Well, things go about as badly as they conceivably could when Gordon winds up accidentally drowning her in a fish tank. But while her death wasn't intentional, we learn Gordon is far from the naive innocent he pretends to be. It turns out he's got a history of S&M and abuse, and now that he's crossed the line to murder, he's prepared to do anything to cover it up.
There's a weird mixture of tones at play that might initially put some viewers off. The film doesn't shy away from exposing Gordon's perverted side. Things get a little grim, in fact, as it asks you to follow along on the journey of a lustful and homicidal creep, not unlike William Lustig's Maniac. But about half an hour in, things take a real turn. We even switch protagonists. You see, Marie's death is just the beginning of a very bad day for Gordon, turning into The Money Pit of murder. Naturally, her neighbor sees too much and has to go. Soon everything's going wrong, a la Hitchcock's The Trouble With Harry. The body bursts out of the garbage bags he's wrapped it in, local teenagers show up to race their motorcycles in the drive-way. And how was Gordon to know today was the day Marie's long-lost sister was dropping by for a homecoming?

Now we're in a Wait Until Dark-like, cat and mouse psychodrama, as Gordon tries everything to convince sister Jenny (Louise Howitt) that all's well and there's nothing to be suspicious of. But this is not a bright man, and he's left clues everywhere. It's almost farcical until Gordon realizes his secret's out and he can't let Jenny escape alive.
Once things gets rolling, Lady is actually quite entertaining. There's a bumbling charm to our killer - at one point he puts on a suit and tie and shows up at the front door with a bag of groceries thinking he can convince Jenny to let him inside the house, even after they both already know full well that he's the killer! And the guy gets beat up more than the masked maniac in Scream. But other times he's quite real and menacing. There's a plausibility to his character that can get genuinely unnerving, compared to slasher super villains like Jason and Michael Myers. You won't forget Gordon.

In fact, it's a surprising collection of high production values and strong performances. I'm not going to spoil the third act - there's plenty of surprises - but things ramp up and the money is definitely on the screen. Released in 1981, this has the glossier look of an 80s movie rather than the more rugged, earthy feel of Bourke's earlier films. Although that last fact might come as a surprise to anybody who saw this film outside of this blu-ray or an original theatrical screening.
No comparisons today, because Lady Stay Dead has never been released on DVD (or blu, or laser... although apparently there were a bunch of VHS tapes back in the day) before Code Red's blu, which is thankfully pretty definitive. It's a strong, HD transfer clearly taken from a clean film print. This isn't one of their famous "grindhouse prints," and the grain looks very natural. The audio is just a simple but clear and strong mono track, and framed in full 16x9 1.78:1, Code Red has seems to have gotten it perfectly right straight out of the gate.

There are essentially no extras on this one, not even a trailer, but we do have one of Lady Katrina's infamous "Bucket List Theater" clips. It's an amusing, 4-minute intro with a little green screen comedy between her and "The Banana," and some of the her traditional IMDB reading. And she comes back at the end of the film for another minute (yes, one). Hey, it's better than nothing.
The exploration of Gordon's authentic but sleazy predilections will probably limit this film's audience considerably, which is a shame, since Lady Stay Dead is a really well-crafted film that's smarter and more engaging than many of its better-known contemporaries. The body count's low but it's an above average slasher film in all other aspects. And Code Red has presented us with an excellent introductory release for audiences to discover it. Not for mainstream audiences, but I'd recommend it to any 80s slasher fan.

1 comment:

  1. This film is a pretty effective and well crafted thriller with some shocking moments,for it truly is worth seeking out and watching(as well as an unsung but underrated Australian thriller).