Bite Size: Lurkers (1988)

While likely best remembered for her collaborations with her husband Michael, Roberta Findlay keep on grinding out films long after his 1977 death. After a stint in hardcore, she spent the last phase of her long career turning out New York local horror and exploitation efforts, with Lurkers being one of her final releases before retiring from filmmaking in 1989.

Cathy (Christine Moore) is a deeply unhappy child. Already timid and near constantly afraid because of bloody nightmares and visions of spirits climbing out of the walls of her apartment building, her abusive mother uses the young girl’s worries to exert control. The slightest infraction is grounds for her mother to shriek that she’ll call “them” to take Cathy away. In the thrall of the specters the little girl will be forced to behave.

Despite a near death experience in a childhood game of jump rope and the horror of losing her parents in a murder/suicide, Cathy miraculously manages to be a (mostly) well adjusted adult. She’s grown into a beautiful young woman, with a successful career as a cellist and a fashion photographer fiancee named Bob (Gary Warner). While heading to meet Bob after rehearsals she sees an all too familiar ghostly figure in the crowd, and almost gets hit by a cab trying to catch up to her.

All of Cathy’s childhood nightmares and visions come flooding back, of hands reaching out to grab her in the night, her mother’s bloodied face and a wan little girl. The ghostly woman in oddly old fashioned Gunne Sax dress continues echoing warnings in her ear. Cathy should have more of a support system as an adult, but her estranged brother Phil (Gil Newsom) still blames her for the past. Even Bob doesn’t take any of her distress very seriously— perhaps because he’s too busy making eyes at his business partner and anyone else he can find with a pretty smile and a pulse. Increasingly anxious and unhinged by paranormal history repeating itself, she’s heard but not really believed.

Lurkers takes a while to get where it is going, strolling through the usual signposts of the “beautiful woman who may or may not be having a breakdown” trope. The reoccurring nature of the nightmares allows for some budget friendly recycling of the nice for the price special effects the legendary Ed French (Terminator 2: Judgement Day) created for the opening scenes.

While nothing of too much narrative consequence happens in the first two thirds of the film, at least the meandering pace is garnished with healthy dollops of both sleaze and silliness. There’s a brief bit of softcore sex, goofy photoshoot montages, Bob’s corny pick up lines, and a deliciously stupid bit of gratuitous nudity as two models undress while discussing the finer points of investment strategy.

One doesn’t necessarily dive into a Roberta Findlay film for the performances, but Colleen Moore’s Cathy is neither unduly narcoleptic or excessively hammy, landing firmly in the land of “adequate” at the lovestruck mooning and cowering in fear that are her primary jobs in the film’s first two acts . Gary Warner’s Bob fares slightly better, only because he gets more to do as a two faced scheming slimeball.

A pile of plot contrivances get Cathy back inside of her childhood building for Bob’s studio opening party. Her homecoming is when Lurkers finally abandons the slow burn format for some proper exploitation, “everything but the kitchen sink” style weirdness. A mallet wielding maniac cackles through the streets, a rainbow of color gels and a symphony of synth hits coming out to play. There’s a scuzzy set piece lurking behind every door— from crucified bondage boys to geriatric group sex. The malevolent spirits weren’t all in Cathy’s head, and now they’re reciting poetry in thick Bronx accents.

The reveal of what is actually going on doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but the larger regret is that the bulk of the movie’s runtime could have been just as much shaggy fun had it tossed its remaining restraint aside a bit earlier.

Roberta Findlay may not have been the most technically proficient filmmaker, nor were her choices of scripts always the easiest to parse. What she did have was a sharp eye for sleaze and a hometown gal’s pleasingly unromantic vision of the streets of New York. In the late career world of Roberta Findlay, every overpriced apartment is haunted and brutal disco gangs rampage through the Bronx. Why couldn’t the gateway to an eternity in Satan’s service lie at the end of the West Side Highway? If you can bind souls here, you’ll make it Hell anywhere else you might want to supernaturally go.

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