Friday, October 02, 2015

The Urge to Kill (1989)

For some, the world of exploitation films is merely a stepping stone to a career in mainstream film making, for others, it represents the fag end of a previously higher profile career. Many others never escape exploitation, some these, like Norman J Warren, Lindsay Shonteff or Stanley Long, for instance, embrace this world, forging successful careers there.  Others, however, resent their sojourn at the lower end of the film-making scale, feeling that they should be doing something better.  By all accounts, writer/director Derek Ford (who often wrote scripts with his brother Donald) was one such individual.  According to Simon Sheridan in his fascinating history of British smut, Keeping the British End Up, colleagues described Ford as being 'generally miserable', only showing any real enthusiasm when directing the hardcore versions of sex scenes that he regularly inserted into the foreign release versions of his films.  Apparently harbouring ambitions of working in Hollywood, Ford started as a screenplay writer in the early sixties, notching up credits for various Compton films productions, along with a number of TV scripts for high profile shows like Armchair Theatre and Z Cars. Perhaps the high point of this phase of his career was the screenplay he and his brother provided for the 1965 Sherlock Holmes movie A Study in Terror.  But with the dawn of the seventies, Ford found himself fully immersed in the world of exploitation, making his directorial debut with 1970's Groupie Girl, one of three sexploitation flicks he directed that year for producer Stanley Long.

Throughout the seventies and into the early eighties, Ford's output, both as director and writer, was prolific, and included two movies he directed in Italy.  Most of his films were at the 'upper' end of the sexploitation market, including the likes of The Wife Swappers, The Sexplorer and Sex Express, and proved very profitable.  But by the late eighties, with the traditional British sex film (not to mention the rest of the British film industry) on its last legs, Ford found himself working for US exploitation producer Dick Randall, directing from his own script what was to be his last film: Urge to Kill, aka Attack of the Killer Computer.  Presumably intended as a direct-to-video release, Urge to Kill was made on what was clearly a miniscule budget, eschewing studio sets for the actual homes its star and producer, (it appears to have no exterior shots whatsoever, with, apart from the brief opening sequence in a recording studio and a scene in a female charcter's bedroom as she speaks to the main protagonist on the phone, the action taking place entirely within the confines of the main character's flat and garage).   A truly bizarre concoction, Urge to Kill seems to be an attempt to combine elements of the sex film, science fiction and the so-called 'video nasties' which had obsessed the tabloids earlier in the decade.  Clearly trying to exploit the 1980s upsurge of interest in home computing, the plot concerns a wealthy record producer, (played by the late Peter Gordeno, an actor and dancer probably best remembered for playing the regular captain of the 'Skydiver' submarine in Gerry Anderson's UFO TV series), who has his luxurious flat's functions controlled by a computer he calls S.E.X.Y (which, inevitably, has a female voice and 'personality').  In a gender reversal of 1977's Demon Seed, the computer develops an infatuation with Gordeno's character - Bono Zorro (yes, really) -  and attempts to take over his life, finding ingenious ways of disposing of his various female companions, which the computer perceives of as threats.

These methods include boiling one girl to death in a read hot shower, doing something similar to another one in a hot tub and frying another one to death on a sun bed, (this makes her breasts explode, for some reason).  In order to allay Gordeno's suspicions, in each case no trace is left of the unfortunate victim, leaving him to assume, initially at least, that they've simply left the flat.  Eventually finding himself trapped in the flat with his friend Jane by S.E.X.Y (who controls the door locks and external phone line), the film starts to take a truly bizarre turn, with the computer manifesting itself as a green-skinned naked girl. sporting a hairdo reminiscent of Paul Wegener's in Der Golem.  In this guise, not only does S.E.X.Y begin to influence Gordeno's mind, effectively brainwashing him, but also seduces him and appears to have sex with him.  I say 'appears' as at this point in the film it isn't entirely clear as to whether the green girl is an actual physical manifestation of the computer or simply some kind of hypnotically induced hallucination on Gordeno's part.  (During the sequence where she makes love to Gordeno, I was half expecting Jane to walk into the bedroom and find him in bed alone, masturbating furiously.  There is also a later sequence, involving Gordeno watching two prostitutes called up by S.E.X.Y wrestling in his living room, which is shot in such a way that it could be inferred that only he, and not Jane, can see the girls).  The matter is finally resolved later in the film, when the green girl is not only seen by Jane, but twice tries to kill her, demonstrating in the process that she is very real and very solid.  Which, of course, makes no sense whatsoever, but marks Urge to Kill out as an example of the highest order of schlock: a film so barmy that you feel that you've stumbled into someone else's fever dream. 

Indeed, with its lack of any external 'outside' world, bland eighties interiors and green skinned naked killer computer women, the whole thing develops a dream like quality, playing out as a sexual fantasy turned nightmare.  Which seems to be the key to the film.  The female characters are all portrayed as being, to one degree or another, predatory, seeking to exploit Gordeno for their own purposes, with S.E.X.Y being the ultimate expression of the controlling and possessive women.  Whilst it might be possible to give the film some kind of feminist reading - Gordeno's character is clearly a male chauvinist and serial sexual exploiter of women who has the tables turned on him by S.E.X.Y who treats him as a sex object, callously casting him aside when she's finished with him - it is doubtful that was Ford's intention: the film comes over as overtly misogynistic in its portrayal of women. 

Originally to be titled Attack of the Killer Computer, the title was apparently changed when producer Randall realised that he had the rights to a song called 'Urge to Kill', (which plays over the titles). Despite the obviously tiny budget, the film is actually reasonably well made, (which is only to be expected from a director of Ford's experience), with the murder sequences well mounted and delivered with a reasonable degree of suspense. In terms of overall production values and performances, Urge to Kill is very much on a par with other cheap direct-to-video releases of the era, with Ford's direction lifting it above the average. Adding to film's slightly surreal and disembodied feel, (the whole thing seems to take place in some kind of limbo with only a tenuous connection to the 'real' world), although shot in the UK with a British cast, all of the female characters have been redubbed with mid-Atlantic accents, (Gordeno sported his own mid-Atlantic accent as a matter of course).  Even the telephones have had their distinctive UK ring tones replaced with their US equivalent.  Despite this obvious attempt to prepare the movie for the US market, in the event it was never released, gathering dust on a shelf for decades.  Still unreleased in either the UK or US, Urge to Kill apparently had a French DVD release a few years ago.  Something of an ignominious end to Ford's long career, it seems to have precipitated his departure from the world of film making, exploitation or otherwise.  Re-inventing himself as a novelist - he had two roman-a-clef style novels set against a Hollywood background published in 1989 and 1990 - Ford eventually expired in 1995 in the Bromley branch of W H Smiths, the victim of a heart attack.



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