Trial Run (1984)


New Zealand. 1984.


Director/Screenplay – Melanie Read, Producer – Don Reynolds, Photography – Allen Guilford, Music – Jan Preston, Production Design – Judith Crozier. Production Company – New Zealand Film Commission/Cinema and Television Productions


Annie Whittle (Rosemary Edmonds), Judith Gibson (Frances Hunt), Martyn Sanderson (Alan West), Chris Broun (James Edmonds), Philippa Mayne (Anna Edmonds), Stephen Tozer (Michael Edmonds)


Housewife Rosemary Edmonds leaves her family to take up residence in a remote cottage on the Otago coastline so that she can conduct a photographic essay on the yellow-eyed penguin. No sooner has she moved in than she becomes the victim of a series of increasingly more malevolent attacks from an unknown assailant.

Writer-director Melanie Read announced that Trial Run was a ‘non-exploitation horror film’. She initially set out to make it with an all-woman crew. However, as with several other feminist films – other examples include The Slumber Party Massacre (1982) and the also New Zealand-produced Mr Wrong/Dark of the Night (1985) – the attempt to make a horror film that counters the inherent misogyny of the slasher cycle and its victimization of women ended up being more a case of The Emperor’s New Clothes. It seemed that when offered the opportunity to make films that did not victimize women, that said feminist filmmakers only ended up making were films about men victimizing women. The often difficult-to-detect difference seems to have been that Melanie Read has placed the focus more on the victim of the attacks, whereas other slasher films actively invite participation in the acts of the attacker. There does seem a certain leeriness when a film about men victimizing women is exploitative and misogynistic when it is made by men, but is a Politically Correct statement when there are women behind the camera.

For all its revisionist intent, Trail Run lacks directorial punch as a horror film. While the film is competently made in all the technical areas, it is a strictly amateur city rehash of the usual shock cliches of the genre. Melanie Read never generates any intensity, nothing that gets the adrenaline flowing or makes one sit up in their seats in surprise. Nor does Annie Whittle invest the film with enough to make the situation and her under-characterized role sympathetic. To Melanie Read’s credit, there is at least a completely left field twist ending that provides an effective if hard to believe surprise.

Annie Whittle went onto host a tv gardening show and most recently became a regular on New Zealand’s soap opera Shortland Street (1992 – ). Melanie Read made one other film Send a Gorilla (1988), a comedy about singing telegrams.

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