I’ve watched a lot of movies and by this stage my tastes in film are arguably a bit skewed from the ‘mainstream’. There’s still a lot of classics I have yet to experience. I have never yet managed to stay awake during The Godfather, but equally it’s not all Z-grade crap on my watchlist. But in respect of some of the films I love that are never gonna trouble any 100 Greatest Films issue of Empire, I resist the concept of ‘guilty pleasure’. If you like something the worst way you can enjoy it is ironically. Whatever the film or show is, if it’s something you love, then love it purely, dammit. The worst cinema experience I can recall (outside of the general shit-show that modern movie going has become, when you have to share the theatre with – urgh! – people these days) was during the BFI’s Gothic season. I’d gone with my wife to the showing of The Black Cat with Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, one of my all-time favourite movies. A shame then that we were sat next to a couple of hipster twats who wanted to laugh at everything because, you know, old movies are just all funny, right? People are the worst. So I hold that I have no films I enjoy because of their dated elements, unintentional comedy or cheesiness, but rather that I’m just SO refined in my tastes I can appreciate them despite any such presumed impediments. And in horror, there’s plenty of films that fit that bill. Digging something specifically because of the cheap effects, dodgy acting, an air of silliness…nah, I’m above any of that.
There’s no need to defend enjoying Halloween, or any of the horror greats. But then in my roughly top-30 films (which fluctuates somewhat admittedly but remains fairly stable) there’s one in particular that is arguably, objectively, possibly a bit crap. It’s a film that, although available on disc and on You Tube is not really that well known. If you come to it fresh I guess you might think it’s not that good. But since I don’t do anything ironically – because I’m just so real, y’know – I want to introduce you to it and sing it’s praises, because I love it and hope someone else out there will do too. Take this opening preamble as framing that when discussing the film, I do it with love. I might have a beard (at the time of writing) but I don’t share any cinematic DNA with those guffawing shithawks that nearly ruined Karloff and Lugosi’s finest film that day. I really mean this, man…I should add too that it wasn’t something I caught as a kid so nostalgia’s rose-tinting isn’t at play. I first enjoyed it about 16 or 17 years ago as an adult, so it’s not reminding me of good times long gone, because I was a grown man and long into adulthood’s treadmill of anxiety and repulsion and occasional enjoyment. Anyway, that’s more than enough about me.
Some films have such a brazenly awesome concept you know you’re going to love it. Like Death Spa…it’s a murderously haunted gym! Another great concept is found in Terror at London Bridge, a TV movie from 1985. It’s also known as Bridge Across Time, and for obvious reasons considering recent events, that’s how we’ll refer to it throughout. If you don’t know, the legend goes that when the City of London put the then-London Bridge up for sale in 1968 to make some ready cash, Robert P, McCulloch, a US oil entrepreneur, bought it thinking it was actually Tower Bridge. He denies it, but nevertheless the bridge was shipped and sent out to Lake Havasu in Arizona, where the original stones would act as cladding around a base so that London Bridge had effectively been relocated to the American desert. In Bridge Across Time Jack the Ripper has relocated with it. The story has it that back in the super-foggy London of 1888 ol’ Jack gets careless and is chased by the police onto the bridge where he is shot, falling into the river below and taking a stone with him. That final stone is eventually pulled from the Thames in 1985 and taken to Lake Havasu where a ceremony takes place to finally complete the bridge. The town relies on the bridge for tourism and to compliment it, there’s a cheesy old London town village set up next to it, including a chamber of horrors.
A couple of tourists stop by the town after dark on their way to Vegas. While the husband goes to get a hotel room, the wife goes for a stroll across the bridge and in no time at all has cut her finger and bled on the newly installed stone, which resurrects Jack in a ball of smoke to continue his murderous ways. Also relatively new to town is David Hassellhoff’s Detective Don Gregory, who has moved to the small town to try and escape a tragedy in his past. When the poor wife is discovered floating in the river, Don starts to investigate and tries to get the town council to seal off the area until he’s sure it’s safe. In true Jaws-style they refuse to curtail the celebrations and insist her murder was committed by a transient, with nothing more to worry about. It’s not long before more murders happen and Gregory comes to believe they are the work of the real Ripper, which brings him into more confrontation with his superiors and the council who campaign to get him fired. Awesome concept, right? Right.
In execution it’s every bit a mid-80s TV movie. The fashions and dancing are super-80s. It stars David Hasselhoff at his Knight Rider peak for gawd’s sakes. Maybe it’s too long and the pacing is occasionally a little out. Despite the inherent implausibility of that central premise it’s quaintly earnest in execution, plot holes and all. So what’s so good about it? Firstly it’s got more in common with the best decade of TV movies, the 1970s. For someone who loves The Night Stalker there’s a lot reminiscent of that classic with its tale of supernatural murder and conspiratorial officials. Hassellhoff isn’t the world’s greatest actor and frequently his screen appearances are one of a man vigorously devilling ham, but dammit if he doesn’t try his hardest here, especially with his character’s Al Powell-style tragic history. It’s got Stephanie Kramer in it (hot from Hunter at the time) as well as genre-icon Adrienne Barbeau as the female leads. It’s got a cape-wearing Jack the Ripper and a ranting religious red herring nutbag to add character. Jack could have stepped out of a mid-60s Hammer knock off (that’s a compliment) which is enjoyably incongruous in the 1980s. There’s a proper hall of horror wax museum where Jack hangs out.
If all this isn’t enough for you, perhaps if you know it was written by William F. Nolan of Logan’s Run and Burnt Offerings fame that would help. The score is by Lalo Schifrin (Bullit, Dirty Harry et al) and he does a great job. The director was TV veteran E.W Swackhammer which is an objectively fantastic name (would that we could get his 1979 TV movie Vampire with Richard Lynch on disc or streaming one day). It does things like cut from Gregory revealing his secret police brutality shame to him dancing his grief away chest on display with Kramer which is, when you think about it, a strange editing choice and there’s more than one of these throughout which is charmingly odd. Bridge Across Time is simple, straightforward fun; the type that doesn’t demand anything from you other than that you just enjoy it. It’s a film I can honestly say I do enjoy, every time, like hanging out with a friend that never lets you down. It’s for these reasons and more that I think it’s pretty damn special, no guilt needed.