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Forgotten Classic: The Substitute (Mark Wahlberg's Debut)

Like all forgotten trash classics, The Substitute is quite a challenge to get your hands on. This 1993 made for television movie boasted the acting debut of Mark Wahlberg (simply billed here as Marky Mark) alongside the wonderful Amanda Donohoe (The Lair Of The White Worm, Emmerdale). Unfortunately, the film is not in print, only existing as an extremely hard to obtain VHS, but as every trash aficionado knows, there are ways of getting around that (see end of post).

High school teacher, Gayle Richards (Amanda Donohoe), is adored by her colleagues and students, however after catching her husband in bed with another woman - she snaps into a murderous rage. One year later, she arrives in another town and soon picks up a job at another school. However, it is not long until old habits re-emerge.

The Substitute is a wonderfully example of a badly done, Hitchcock inspired TV thriller - something that trash fans will surely adore. The only credit of writer Cynthia Verlaine, features everything you could possibly want in a trashy television thriller: double identity, murders, infidelity and some naughty teacher-pupil relations - oh the scandal!

Martin Donovan does attempt to do something interesting with his direction - mainly by directing the actors facing straight at the camera (mostly in the classroom sequences), even when not addressing the viewer. This obscure angle does help The Substitute serve as a distinct viewing but the narrative purpose of this is less clear. However, Donovan shows a clear knack for directing the more suspenseful and atmospheric sequences - even attempting to make a cat being cooked in an oven, look serious.

Donohoe is a talented actress and manages to remain utterly convincing in a ridiculous role (although one that may strike many parallels with viewers' old teachers). Seeing the British actress flip into murderous rages, then have to hunt down the witnesses and repeat the process all over again makes for an undemanding and enjoyable watch. She truly is a classy killer and upon seeing her glamorous work outfits and hearing her delightful English accent - you are likely to be on her side.

Of course, the real reason many will be interested in The Substitute is to watch Mark Wahlberg's acting debut. Marky Mark plays the class player, Ryan Westerberg and is in full Marky Mark and The Funky Bunch mode - he's given around ten minutes of screen time which is mostly him causing trouble in the classroom. This is not his finest moment, but it is a thoroughly enjoyable to watch the young black vested heartthrob dabble in a trashy television thriller.

The Substitute may satisfy little else apart from trash lovers or Donohoe/Wahlberg die-hard fans. The plot and direction are nothing hugely original, but this is entertaining and thoroughly likeable campy fun - which is completely overdue a DVD release.

If you are after a copy of the film, check here.


TV Movie 6549919903441879637

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