Color, 1979, 92/101m.
Directed by Simon Wincer
Starring Chantal Contouri, Robert Bruning, Sigrid Thornton, Hugh Keays-Byrne
Scorpion (US R0 NTSC) (2.35:1) (16:9), Platinum, Elite (US R1 NTSC), Umbrella (Australia R4 PAL) / (1.78:1) (16:9)

Puppet on a Chain An oddball woman-in-peril thriller with soap opera overtones, this Australian exploitation outing marked the directorial debut of Simon Wincer, a talented filmmaker who went on to helm Dark Forces and The Lighthorsemen in his native country and later, more prestigious fare like Lonesome Dove, Quigley Down Under, and of course, D.A.R.Y.L. Gifted with an innate sense for scope composition and fleet-footed storytelling, he isn't the sort of guy you'd expect to get his start with a psycho-shoPuppet on a Chaincker about a fashion model stalked by a malevolent ice cream van.

Following a deliberately cryptic opening sequence involving a fire at night on a city street, beauty salon worker Angela (The Man from Snowy River's Thornton) gets tossed out of her house and, after some sage advice at a nightclub, decides to try out some modeling with the encouragement of super-bitchy buddy Madeleine (familiar Ozploitation vet Contouri from Thirst and Metal Skin). She gets distracted when her psycho ex-boyfriend starts following her around in an ice cream truck, photographers keep asking her to pull her top off, and terrible pop songs get blasting on the soundtrack. Is someone really out to get Angela, and why?

Let's clear things up first by noting that this is not a slasher movie in any shape, form, or fashion. This film was originally made under the title Snapshot (which it also bears on its first two American DVD releases as well as the Australian one), running Puppet on a Chain102 minutes. A streamlined 92-minute cut was prepared for American audiences under the title The Day after Halloween to cash in on a certain holiday-themed horror hit from 1978. Okay, the tinkly music score by Brian May (the film composer, not the Queen member) has a certain Carpenter-esque quality to it, but that's about where the connection ends. It's not really "good," lord knows, but there's a certain perverse fascination in watching the film wobble on a tightrope between glossy respectability and completely bonkers trash with the latter finally winning out during the "twist"-filled finale. Actually, divorced from its blatant scam origins, the US cut is a little bit more enjoyable as it trims down some of the pointless chit chat and wandering scenes; nine minutes really does make a pretty substantial difference here.

That American cut is the default option on the Scorpion DVD, which still retains the Snapshot title card on both cuts on the actual print. This apparently marks the first genuine scope presentation of the film on home video; previous versions on DVD were cropped to 1.78:1 and looked pretty lousy, while the less said about the older VHS versions the better. This one actually appeared as a solo budget release from Platinum and then from Elite as part of a four-film Aussie horror set. The Scorpion release easily blows them all away in terms of quality, as the extra width allows the compositions far more breathing room and reveals a few nifty compositions completely lost in the earlier editions. Not surprisingly, this one's packaged as part of Katarina's Nightmare Theater with the mischievous horror hostess kicking things off with an optional video intro in which she gets a nasty frozen dessert treat, gets her head smashed by a runaway ice cream truck, and proffers a few facts and figures about the film ranging from its distributor history to the Aussie cult figures involved with the production. Speaking of which, Waters makes a return appearance moderating an audio commentary with busy producer Antony Ginnane, with whom she previously chatted on the DVD of The Survivor. Included only on a bonus presentation of the longer Australian cut (from the same compromised 1.78:1 master), it's basically a companion piece to that early commentary as he goes into detail about commissioning the original script, the process of casting the two leading ladies including the difficulty of implementing a certain late-film twist, discovering Wincer fresh off of some TV work, and exactly who the heck the target audience for this film was supposed to be. Also included is the American title sequence with the Halloween title pulled off a VHS tape, which is at least nice to have for comparison as well as a reminder of how unwatchable this was back in the '80s.

Reviewed on July 10, 2012.