Monday, October 7, 2019

"I Might Be Sleeping Till the Year 2001" - Lurkers (1988) - Film #155

Let's turn to Roberta Findlay's Lurkers (1988), a film with echoes of earlier supernatural films such as Rosemary's Baby (1968) and The Sentinel (1977). Ms. Findlay, wife of the late Michael Findlay whose Shriek of the Mutilated (1974) is one of the finest classics of cinema ever made (Ms. Findlay served as cinematographer on that film), directed Lurkers near the end of her directing career, just before Prime Evil (1988).

Some critics in your universe are unmoved by Ms. Findlay's work. Reviewer david-345 writes, "Lurkers is without doubt, the worst film ever made. It's not a 'so bad it's good' deal but, 'so bad it truly is a worthless peice of complete and total garbage that wasted film stock that could have been used on worthier projects' type of film." Reviewer arfdawg-1 writes (with more than a little blatant sexism), "It's really poorly directed lending support to my theory that women cannot direct. The story is fragmented and boring." And reviewer Chase_Witherspoon writes, "Amateurish and undernourished, the acting is weak and the production values limited, resulting in a lethargic thriller that's heavy on symbolism but light on actual shocks."

Read on for a more realistic view of Ms. Findlay's Lurkers...

The film begins in front of an urban apartment building in the early 1970s as a group of girls plays jump rope. Up in one of the apartments, a mother, busy ironing clothes on the kitchen island instead of an ironing board, admonishes her daughter Cathy to eat her breakfast. When Cathy says she isn’t hungry, her mother says, in an artfully composed shot framed by sharp knives, “Just keep it up. If you don’t eat, I’ll have THEM come and take you away. For THEM you’ll behave.”

(There is no indication the mother is referring to giant ants, unfortunately.)

Cathy still doesn’t eat, so her mother, quite logically, puts her cereal in the refrigerator and tells Cathy to go outside and play. Of course, Cathy starts to sob. “Mommy, don’t make me go out.”

Shockingly, the mother threatens Cathy with the hot iron. Cathy screams. Then she leaves the apartment, though she is afraid of something on the staircase. When she emerges onto the front stoop, however, she is smiling, and she joins her friends playing jump rope.

Cathy’s fears prove well-founded, however, as the girls wrap the jump rope around her neck and strangle her (not quite fatally) while another little girl dressed all in white looks on—and then pops out of existence.

At night, Cathy tries to read a book under her covers with a flashlight, but she is interrupted by the titular lurkers, a group of ghosts floating around her.

The lurkers call her name in ghostly voices, terrifying Cathy.

The film cuts unceremoniously to the present, as a grown-up Cathy lugs her cello through the streets of New York City. She walks into the street, not looking, and a taxi going roughly one mile per hour nearly runs into her, though she is held back by the creepy woman/lurker from the jump rope/strangling incident. Creepily, a little ghost girl watches from the back seat of the taxi.

Cathy and her fiancĂ© Bob experience a romantic photo shoot accompanied by upbeat synthesizer music, then Bob develops the photos in his darkroom. (Outside, in Bob’s studio, an amusing scene unfolds as two models strip down to their underwear while discussing tax forms and junk bonds. Speaking about stocks and bonds, one of the models says, “When my Mensa membership came in, my father bought me a plethora of individual issues.”) Bob also appears to have a relationship with his business partner, a woman named Monica, who tells him, “Would you turn out the lights in the studio tonight? I might be sleeping till the year 2001.”

The next day, Cathy and Bob meet with their wedding planner. Helpfully, Cathy explains the situation to Bob, who is no doubt aware of most of it. “I’ve been waiting a long time to see my future husband’s female partner.”

Rehearsing with her orchestra, Cathy again sees the ghostly, lurking girl near the recording booth.

After making love to Bob at night, Cathy flashes back to that one time her mother killed her father with a knife while Cathy wore excessive makeup. Her mother chases Cathy down the street, and the woman almost murders young Cathy as well.

Later, the filmmakers reveal that Bob is not a good person. In a bar, Bob talks to a man who has apparently borrowed money from the mob he cannot pay back; when Bob leaves the bar, the man collapses, choking.

Meanwhile, Cathy visits her fortune teller friend Rita, who performs a tarot card reading. Ignoring the cards, Cathy tells her friend she plans to give up playing the cello when she marries Bob. “And I really want to have babies.”

“Cathy, that’s prehistoric.”

“When you meet Bob, you’ll understand. He’s so good to me. He doesn’t want me to work. He wants me to stay home.”

After visiting Rita, Cathy visits her brother, a priest, on the steps outside his church. She invites him to the wedding. “It’s in a church and everything.”

Her brother turns her down. In response (perhaps), she breaks down and tells him she’s been having dreams about their mother murdering their father. The priest says, “There’s something wrong with you, Cathy, and I can’t help you.”

Not unreasonably, Cathy replies, “You’re a priest! How can you say that? You’re my own flesh and blood!”

He tells her he doesn’t want to see her anymore, then walks back into his church (despite the fact he was leaving the church for an appointment seconds earlier).

Alone, Cathy has a vision of her mother, knifed in the stomach, being wheeled away by paramedics.

Later, Bob tries to comfort Cathy about her brother’s standoffishness. “Even a priest can be a psycho,” he says. “Maybe your brother is a queer, and he hates women.”

She doesn’t believe Bob’s diagnosis (though she doesn’t question why her brother’s sexual orientation would explain his behavior either).

Back at the bar where Bob plies his mob-related trade (we find out through dialogue that Bob’s victim was taken away in a strait-jacket), Bob flirts with a waitress in a manner that might be described as both sleazy and interminable.

The next day, Cathy carries her cello into a music store that apparently doubles as a jewelry shop, where she invites her fortune teller friend Rita to a recital she plans to give. Meanwhile, Bob is photographing the waitress he picked up at the bar. (The photo shoot could also be described as both sleazy and interminable.)

In a terrifying sequence, Cathy takes a bath and is interrupted by her mother, who attempts to drown her. The scene is made even more terrifying because Cathy lies in the tub with her head, not her feet, next to the spigot. (Rarely has the screen seen such a violation of taboos.)

Fortunately for Cathy, the attack is simply a hallucination. After her mother disappears, she sighs with annoyance.

Bob drives Cathy to the party where she is to meet his female partner Monica, but on the way Cathy sees one of the lurkers. She tells Bob to stop the car, and he says, “She’s probably a hooker.”

“She’s not a hooker,” Cathy replies. “Look at the way she’s dressed.”

“All right, then she’s a lunatic.”

The woman climbs into the back seat of Bob’s convertible, saying nothing. Bob drives off, not believing anything is odd. The mysterious woman tells Cathy, “Don’t go home.”

Bob and Cathy argue about what to do with the woman, but when Cathy turns around she sees the woman is gone. Bob says nothing and continues driving. Later, he espouses the theory that the woman simply climbed out of the car while they weren’t looking.

It turns out the party at Bob’s studio is in a building familiar to Cathy. “I was born in this building,” she says, a little implausibly. “I lived here till I was 10 years old.”

“You’re kidding.”

“No, I’m not.” She can’t go into the building, and she realizes the lurker woman who got into their car meant she should not go to this building, her childhood home. Cathy then explains the earlier flashback to Bob. She tells him about the girls who asked her to play jump rope. “There was this other girl. She wasn’t real.” She adds, “They tried to strangle me.”

Bob justifies their behavior. “They were kids. You know how kids are. They were teasing you. They weren’t trying to hurt you.”

For some unknowable reason, Cathy doesn’t believe that the children who strangled her with a jump rope were just teasing her. “No, you’re wrong. Something made them stop. Someone. These things would come out of the walls. Horrible old people. They’d only come out at night. I was the only one who could see them.”

She adds, “Lurkers. Mother‘d call them lurkers. She could be so cruel.”

Cathy refuses to go inside, so Bob goes to the party to make excuses, planning to return to Cathy, who stands outside. As soon as Bob enters the building, Cathy, like so many people on city street corners, witnesses an attempted murder by sledgehammer as a man chases a woman down the sidewalk.

Cathy runs away but gets lost in a surreal urban dreamscape full of pay phones that don’t work, biker gangs that hang out on playground jungle gyms, and of course dead geese hanging upside-down. She runs in a big circle back to her childhood apartment building, where Bob startles her. Bob doesn’t believe her story about a sledgehammer murderer, but he takes her into the building to find a phone.

At the party, she meets a cadaverous man named Desmond and tells him she needs to use the phone to call the police.

“Ah, are the police coming?” Desmond asks. “Everyone comes to Monica’s parties. A-heh-heh-heh.”

Instead of calling the police, Bob forces Cathy to have a drink and meet his female partner, Monica. Nobody believes her or lets her use a phone, and her nightmare continues when she finds her friend Rita and a female partner trysting in the bathroom. She then overhears a meeting in the darkroom in which Bob, Desmond, and Monica are threatening a man named Steve because he is unwilling to turn his daughter over to them. As the group waits for Leo the sledgehammer man to beat up Steve, Bob says about Cathy, “Monica, darling, the girl is in love with me. She believes everything I tell her.”

Outside the room, Cathy cries. Then she returns to the party and tries to get help from the guests, though it is clear to the audience at this point that everyone is involved. When she sees Leo, she realizes that many of the guests are grotesquely deformed lurkers.

Cathy faints, then wakes up in the bathroom with Rita, but she discovers that Rita is one of them. After Rita leaves, Cathy has a vision that involves a small amount of chocolate syrup pouring down a mirror.

Outside, at the party, Monica and Desmond trade barbs about Bob. They agree that Cathy will make up for Bob’s mistakes with Steve and others. “Love conquers all,” says Monica.

“From your mouth to Satan’s ears,” replies Desmond.

Meanwhile, Cathy escapes the bathroom by spraying Rita in the face with hairspray. While all the others comfort Rita, Cathy tries to run away. She runs down the apartment building’s stairs, finding herself in the same position as when she was a little girl. She stops when she sees the ghostly girl on the steps.

The girl recites a rope-jumping poem: “On a mountain stands a lady / Looking for a bird that’s flown / All she wants is gold and silver / All she wants is home sweet home.”

Of course, Cathy screams and runs back up the stairs—a little girl is far more terrifying than a party full of Satan worshippers. When Cathy opens doors, however, she is greeted by more nightmarish images, including her old apartment, where she sees a reenactment of her mother burning her with an iron, and other visions of sadomasochistic leather-clad people.

Cathy finds the ghostly girl again. “You’re not real. You can’t hurt me.”

The girl flings her jump rope at Cathy and the rope strangles her.

Cathy finally reaches the roof of the building. She considers jumping. Then she sees Steve tied to the floor on a crucifix, his face bloody. Bob appears, and Cathy asks him, “What do you want? Who are you? Who are these people? Monica? The people at the party? Rita?”

“Admirers,” Bob says. He explains that the ghosts are like the lurkers: they try to warn people about the Satanists.

“Are you a criminal? In the mob?”

“Lord, no! This is about Hell. Eternity. The darkness. It’s simple, really. This is a special house. We all lived here at one time or another, and when our time is up, we must return to it to die.” He explains the apartment building is actually Hell, and the lurkers are the damned.

Monica threatens Cathy with a knife.

Bob explains further that Cathy was supposed to die when the children strangled her with the jump rope. “Our Master craves order, a not too common image for the Lord of Darkness.”

The explanations continue. Monica says, “We were chosen to bring his flock home, and the Master rewards us here on earth.”

Bob continues, “Those who lived in this house will go to Hell when they die to serve our Master.” This includes Cathy’s brother, the priest. Also, he says, “There are thousands of buildings like this all over the world and all the evil people in the world have been raised in them. They were born in Hell.”

Monica revises the poem: “On the roof there stands a lady / Looking for her passage home / All she craves are demon lovers / And all she needs is home sweet home.”

Cathy falls off the roof.

In a chilling coda, we see Cathy’s brother the priest visited by a nun named Sister Monica.

In another chilling coda, we see Bob drive the woman he picked up at the bar to the old apartment building, and the woman tells him she used to live there. This time, of course, the lurker/ghost on the way is Cathy herself. “Don’t go home,” she tells the woman, rather than something more useful.

It must be clear to the sophisticated filmgoer that Lurkers elaborates on some plot elements previously included in Rosemary's Baby (1968) and The Sentinel (1977). Like Rosemary in Rosemary's Baby, Cathy is a somewhat naive young woman who is surrounded, much to her surprise, by Satanists using her for a mysterious purpose. Like The Sentinel, the film is set in a New York apartment building that is literally Hell, or at any rate a gateway to Hell--and the people in the building are occasionally seen as deformed. The ace-in-the-hole that Lurkers finally plays, however, is its similarity to the classic Twilight Zone story "The After Hours," in which a woman eventually discovers she is a mannequin who must return to her home in a department store. Cathy is no mannequin, however, but a lurker, i.e., an evil person who once lived in the cursed apartment building. It is not clear how or why Cathy is evil, but just living in the apartment building is enough to make her so--a chilling comment on the nature of man and the randomness of evil.