Lady, Stay Dead – Australia, 1981

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Lady, Stay Dead is a 1981 Australian horror thriller film written, produced and directed by Terry Bourke and starring Chard Hayward, Deborah Coulls and Roger Ward.

Despite being an English-language horror film released at the height of the video boom, the film received only a brief VHS release in the USA and has never – to our knowledge – appeared officially in any territory on DVD.

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Bourke had already directed two films in the horror genre, both, it has to be said, poorly received; Inn of the Damned (1975) and 1972’s Night of Fearconsidered by some to be the first Australian horror film. His third attempt is by far the most successful and despite its meagre budget of around A$600,000 and more than resembling stalking maniac films already released in very recent memory (Don’t Answer the Phone!, 1980) it’s hugely entertaining and deserves to be far more widely known.

In the Australian suburbs, wealthy, care-free pop singer/model-type, Marie Colby (Deborah Coulls, perhaps inevitably an alumna of the popular TV series, Prisoner: Cell Block H) lives a life of luxury, pausing only from her lounging around and aerobics to fling insults at those around her.

Among these unlucky riff-raff is her spectacularly-bearded and bottle-topped spectacles-wearing gardener, Gordon Mason (Chard Hayward, also to be seen in several television shows, including The Thorn Birds, Babylon 5 and Lost) who is initially willing to accept her anti-social behaviour in return for the sexual kicks her gets spying on her, most disturbingly with the assistance of a rubber doll.

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This unusual arrangement doesn’t last as during one of her particularly ungrateful rants he takes exception, molesting her then introducing her face-first into a large fish tank.

A nosey neighbour is duly dispatched, as is her dog – presumably Australian dogs blab to the cops in the same way TV kangaroos do.

Unfortunately for Mason, Colby’s sister, Jenny (Louise Howitt) comes to visit and it isn’t long before the whiskery horticulturist recognises the threat she poses but not before local cop, Clyde Collings (Roger Ward, almost omnipresent in Australian films from Mad Max to Turkey Shoot to the 2008 remake of Long Weekend) is on the case.

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With a strange matter-of-factness (possibly driven by the high quota of television actors involved) that elevates it from traditional slasher territory to far sleazier fare (the aforementioned Don’t Answer the Phone! and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer), with the cat and mouse action between Mason and Jenny particularly gripping and satisfying. Hayward is terrifically scuzzy as the psychopathic, sexually deviant gardener, and a warning against beards if ever there was one.

The subject matter may be voyeuristic, sleazy and misogynistic but with a low-body count, the tension is ramped up with carefully plotted threat rather than a catalogue of bloody murders.

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Overlooked enough at the time, it now has the indignity to not be commercially available at all, a great shame as it’s a fascinating glimpse at the influence of American horror on Australian filmmakers and their particularly rural interpretation of it.

Daz Lawrence, HORRORPEDIA

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Choice dialogue:

“You really like it when it hurts, don’t you!?”

Filming locations:

Palm Beach, Sydney, Australia

Australian films on Horrorpedia

Thanks to Bruce Holecheck’s Cinema Arcana: The VHS Archive for most of these images, some of which came via Tumblr…

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