Mr. Wrong (1985)

Director Gaylene Preston
Writers Geoff Murphey, Gaylene Preston, Graeme Tetley
Starring Heather Bolton, David Letch, Margaret Umbers, Gary Stalker, Danny Mulheron
Genre Ghost/Stalker
Tagline If you thought "Christine" was mean . . .

Talk us through it

Meg, a Country girl trying to make it in the big city, buys a Mark II Jag in order to travel home on weekends to see her parents. Unfortunately the car appears to be haunted judging from the sounds coming from the back seat at night, and those aren't sounds in a good way. On a journey back from the country Meg stops to help a young lady but inadvertently picks up a pretty strange hitch hiker who clearly has motives beyond thumbing a lift. Meg quickly discovers the unnamed hitch hiker is stalking her when she gets back home to the city.

While wrapping some dinnerware, she has a job with an Antique Dealer, Meg comes across a story about a young lady named Mary Carmichael who went missing a number of years previously. Meg recognises Mary as being the woman she tried to help and puts two and two together, Meg has brought Mary's Jaguar, which might explain the strange occurrences surrounding the car. After unsuccessfully trying to sell the car Meg not only has to deal with the unwanted advances of Bruce, her flatmate's ex, but also our resident psychopath who just happens to be the bloke she gave a lift to.

Can Meg work out the story behind the car, finish the mutton roast, and fend off the various men suddenly in her life?


“I will not be intimidated by a car!” - Meg.

Director Preston attacks the dark genre with a movie that draws from two pretty solid sub genres, namely the traditional ghost tale and the woman in peril from an unknown psycho stalker yarn. It can either be one hell of a win, mix and matching genres, or a recipe for total disaster. To a certain extent Preston succeeds, Mr. Wrong is entertaining enough, but perhaps the Director tries slightly too hard to shoe horn to much into 90 odd minutes of subdued mayhem. Hey I'm a sucker for a good ghost story so Ms Preston had me dancing to her beat here.

Things kick off with main focus Meg purchasing a MkII Jaguar from the requisite shady used car dealer. Okay it might be true to life but can we please get a motor salesperson played as something other than Mr Shonky from Midnight Motors? The first issue I had with the movie was how quick we jump into things, Meg is buying a car but it's never set-up in anyway to explain why she is hot to trot for the British rolling steel. We later learn she needed the car to visit her parents on their rural farm during weekends and her Mom loaned her the money to make the purchase, but this is certainly after the fact and I was left wondering why a young chick would purchase a medium sized car when a smaller run about would probably be a better option. Preston doesn't let any grass grow under her feet however and has Meg driving into the hinterland in quick order, Meg is of course entranced by her new found freedom, but that's something you'll have to read between the lines. We are pretty much into the supernatural before settling in as some moans, not of the good sort, emanate from the back seat of the Jag at night. Preston nails this, we have a darkened interior, Meg the sole focus in the front seat, and the audience wondering exactly what is going on behind her in the unseen darkness of the back seat. It's a tension laced scene that has Mr. Wrong rocking along and serves notice to the audience that Director Preston might just have her finger on the scare tactics pulse.

Preston will keep hitting the scare tactics through out the movie, right to the resolution in fact, and is all over this aspect. Mr. Wrong works as a solid ghost story, all the trappings are there, but unfortunately that's not the only element Preston is working into her movie which has lead to quite some confusion and some wrong assumptions from Reviewers over the years.

*Big Spoilers In The Next Paragraph Yo!*

If still reading then you have been warned, I need to tick a few plot boxes to explain what's going down in Preston's tightly woven tale of revenge, haunting, and psychotic hitch-hiking. There are any number of indications that the Jag is a haunted house on wheels but it takes a while to work out the haunting is there for revenge and in the process protecting Meg from the movie's well past sociopathic Antagonist. The ghost enters the back-seat of the car as Meg stops to help what she thinks is a young lady in peril late one night on a rain swept rural road. This just happens to coincide with our unknown stalker also catching a lift and provides motivation for that person's particular psychosis. It should be noted the ghost, in time honoured revenant style, is after revenge and has something of an insider's knowledge into what makes our resident Psycho tick. The car later runs out of petrol, it should be seen this helps protect Meg from a danger she isn't quite aware of. She drives into a service station providing the requisite last moment escape from a fate we don't want to think about. Without giving too much away Preston isn't leaving any plot holes or breaking the internal logic of her movie in any fashion, as stated Mr. Wrong is mixing two sub genres and tropes from both are present in highly convincing fashion.

Where Mr. Wrong really breaks down, we'll get to comparisons to another haunted car movie in due course, is when the stalker elements are underlined and take over center stage during the middle block of the movie. Just how many red herrings and false scare scenes can a movie shoe horn in! I'm up for the odd meandering off the long and winding road to stalker heaven but when you have false scares coming at you one after the other, and very little in the way of actual scares, then it gets real old real fast. Preston is clearly hampered by not having the budget or sets for full scale stalking mayhem but she really should of invested more time in developing the premise of the movie rather than rushing from one jump scene to the next. Meg finds out about her car in a pretty contrite fashion, where's the going down to the local library to investigate things, and some of the minor characters are simply just there to provide a sudden false shock. Said shock being prefaced by the soundtrack suddenly going all morbid and louder, audio clues are best left unstated for mine. While the movie is tighter than a space suit there's a feeling that the plot could have been handled in a far more convincing way than what we got lumbered with. I like my ghost stories to have a slow build and sure as hell if we are in Psychoville then I want my Psycho to make more than a cameo appearance through the middle third of the film.

Naturally having said all that, and I believe it to be constructive criticism, I was also highly impressed with Director Preston's handling of her unknown stalker. The dude is off the planet, has readily apparent motivations, gingers who help and drive Jags? - and is so very realistic. At first we think he may be a supernatural force himself but as Mr. Wrong unfolds we find he is very real indeed, and besides the false scares, provides one of the more frightening villains of New Zealand dark genre cinema. He looks like the bloke next door, would appear to be incapable of hurting a fly, but has this underlying menace that makes Dr Lector look like someone you would feel safe to entrust your kids with at a day care center.

Strangely I'm already over my word count and we're only half way through this review, okie dokie going epic with the article. [Editor Note: *groan*, long suffering comes to mind].

The tagline of Mr. Wrong is a clear reference to another haunted car film, Christine from the novel of the same name by one Stephen King. Not entirely sure the comparison is warranted to be honest, one movie tells a believable haunted car tale that manages to run icy fingers down your spine, the other is Directed by horror wonder kid John Carpenter. Director Preston relies on ordinary people put in extraordinary situations, Director Carpenter goes with the cardboard cut-out cartoon characters of the source novel. Have I just stated Gaylene Preston has beaten John Carpenter at his own game? Hell yeah, Gaylene wipes the floor up with Carpenter. Feel free to write in and voice your disagreement, the most venom filled diatribe will get published kids, with a right to reply of course.

The other aspect of Mr. Wrong that is apt to confuse the hell out of people is the reported feminist angle, or how to read a political agenda into anything in order to make it your own. Meg decides enough is enough and she has had enough of haunted cars, she performs a sort of exorcism to cast out the spirits. This doesn't really work as well as expected, and she for sure is reliant on the car full of spooks toward the end of the movie. I guess the other feminist ideal being touted is Meg fighting back against her assailants, it happens twice, but on both occasions it's other forces that do eventually come to her aid. While Meg isn't the victim that Bella Swan is, she is hardly a pin up gal for women's rights. I'm simply going to say “feminism” as a label really hasn't stuck to Mr. Wrong and you really are reading things into the movie that aren't there if you are barking up that particular tree.

Overall then Mr. Wrong is a tightly woven, as tight as a fish's bum comes to mind, tale that Director Preston adds no small amount of tension, atmosphere, and scare tactics to. Don't expect anything revolutionary just a good ghost story mixing in some Stalker spice and simmering to a different take on what the dark genre can do. Guess to a certain degree the movie is dated, with what might have been refreshing and new by now over used and over exposed.

Heather Bolton (Meg), here trying to win a Janet Frame look-a-like competition, pretty much carries the movie on her own and had me enthralled. Bolton readily comes across as the naive country girl in the big smoke who finds herself up against forces she is unable to cope with. Commanding performance, Bolton can act. David Letch (Mr. Wrong) is menacing throughout and totally nails a character with more than a few roos running loose in the top paddock. Letch is almost charismatic in his portrayal of the antagonist driven by chaotic forces.

Special mention of Perry Piercy who provides one hell of a tour de force in method acting in a mute minor role. Was loving her otherworldly work here.

Jonathan Crayford provides the score that ranges from over dramatic, tone it down Bro, to out right eccentric. It's a mixed bag, in parts excellent, other wise dire.

Summary Execution

I'm a sucker for a good ghost story and Mr. Wrong was surprisingly a hell of a lot better than I had anticipated. It's one of those small movies that plays well above it's league and delivers a few unexpected knock out punches, I had to check my undies around the 75 minute mark. I was kept entertained and am giving this one two thumbs up, with noted problems.

Mr. Wrong was one of those movies I had consigned myself to never having a chance to see due to lack of an available DVD option. Thankfully someone across the ditch is working on our behalf with a new series of movies released under the “New Zealand Cinema” banner bringing some bloody hard to get titles to our attention. For anyone wanting a copy, Screenline have you covered right here. That's under $10 NZD for a classic kiwi dark genre flick, we talking deal or what! I can vouch for Screenline, they are pretty solid on the distribution side of things with my disc arriving a lot quicker than expected.

If you dig light yet atmospheric ghost stories then Mr. Wrong delivers on all cylinders and has some stalker cream to add to your coffee. The movie shows exactly what can be achieved without spending a multi million dollar budget and relies on it's atmosphere and locations to get the tension happening. A superb cast will ensure you are getting value for money here. Get behind the driver's wheel and take it for a spin.

ScaryMinds Rates this movie as ...

  Very solid ghost story with attitude