PRAYING MANTIS (1983)
Article 4677 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Jack Gold
Featuring Jonathan Pryce, Cherie Lunghi, Carmen Du Sautoy
What it is: Noirish thriller
Is a professor’s second wife plotting to kill him for his fortune? If so, how will she do it?
I’m being purposefully vague on the plot here for a very good reason; this is one of those movies where much of the pleasure is derived from growing to understand the situations and the characters, and it’s more enjoyable if you only have your suspicions to go on at first. It’s tempting to describe it as another variation on DIABOLIQUE, but that’s short-changing it a bit; it’s probably better to think of it as a post-DIABOLIQUE thriller in which a conspiracy runs into problems when one of the conspiracy’s intended victims turns out to be a match for the conspirators, and if the first part of the movie is concerned with the conspiracy itself, the second is concerned with the battle of wills between the various parties. That being said, this is a truly impressive movie; the acting performances are great, the script is impeccable, the direction is strong, and the editing is wonderful. It has a complex story to tell, and it clips along at a breathtaking pace while managing to keep you from getting lost in the intricacies of the plot. However, in terms of its fantastic content, however, it comes up short. Its surface similarities to DIABOLIQUE, the presence of a sociopath, and a plot element where one character is believed dead by another when they’re not (we, the audience, know that in advance) are the closest we get to horror content, and it’s not very close at all. Therefore, those looking for a horror movie are advised to stay away; those in the mood for a superb noirish thriller will really appreciate this one.