Newsday, 02-20-1995

New Controversy Over '50s Murder Crossfire in the press over `Heavenly Creatures'
By Bronwen Hruska

Newsday, 02-20-1995, pp B03

IT'S A STORY of murder, hidden identity and, of course, public relations. In recent media appearances, including a "20/ 20" interview and New York Times story, Anne Perry, a best-selling murder-mystery writer (with a new book called "Traitor's Gate" to promote), lashed out against the New Zealand filmmakers who wrote "Heavenly Creatures," about her and a friend whose mother they killed. Perry was identified last July as Juliet Hulme, who in 1954 was at the center of New Zealand's infamous Parker-Hulme murder with her teen friend Pauline. The Times article says Perry insists the film is a "grotesque and distorted portrait of herself" and quotes her as calling Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson (who have won an Oscar nomination for the screenplay) "idiotic moviemakers." She now denies making those accusations, but Walsh and Jackson, as one might imagine, have a problem with the high-profile attacks from a woman who has never seen the film. Walsh bristles at the name-calling in the press. "We don't appreciate being referred to as `idiotic moviemakers.' In all the interviews we've done for the movie, we've treated her with absolute respect. And while it's clear she has no respect for us." When asked how she could trash the filmmakers without seeing the movie, Perry replies, "That was an unfortunate quote, and I don't remember saying it - it must have been the heat of the moment." And Perry now denies ever calling the movie grotesque and distorted. "It's too bad this has deteriorated to crossfire in the press," said Walsh, speaking from her home in New Zealand. "But we do feel compelled to defend our work. We tried so hard to get the research right . . . We wanted to tell their story from a humanitarian perspective to New Zealanders who've seen the girls as monsters all this time. Unfortunately, Perry is feeling this pressure to deny things." The movie explores an intense friendship that was threatened when Parker's mother wouldn't let her move with Hulme to South Africa. Killing Parker's mother seemed the only way for the girls to stay together, and amazingly, the adolescent fantasy turned real when they bludgeoned Honora Parker to death with a half-brick slung in a stocking. The girls each served 5 1/2 years in prison and were released with new names under the agreement they never see each other again. Their identities had remained secret until a New Zealand journalist, Lin Ferguson of The Sunday News, put together the pieces and found Perry (who had taken her stepfather's last name) as the movie was playing at festivals last July. Since then Perry has been profiled in numerous publications and has used the media attention to own up to her past, criticize the movie and, of course, pitch her books. Among Perry's complaints with the movie: Her friendship with Parker was not sexual or as intense as "Heavenly Creatures" makes it out to be. '`It was a schoolgirl friendship," she says now, explaining she felt indebted to the only friend who wrote her while she was hospitalized for three months. Perry also blames a TB drug she was taking at the time for clouding her judgment. "I can understand why Perry has taken a sort of revisionist approach," said Walsh. "Forty years on, she has a career to protect - she's rebuilt her life, and the last thing she wants to do is justify her actions as a fifteen-year-old." Perry says she has no plans to see the movie. "It is all extremely painful," she says of the film. "What others see as fair and objective is not the way you see yourself." Thanks to the publicity surrounding the movie, "Heavenly Creatures" has grossed $2.3 million after four months in theaters, considered a good sum for a small foreign film. And Perry, who has 3 million books in print already, should expect sales of her newest book to rocket, given that libraries in New Zealand haven't been able to keep them on the shelves since Ferguson's story broke. As Barbara Walters summed up the Anne Perry segment of "20 / 20" on Feb. 10: "Boy, I never read her before. I sure want to now."

Bronwen Hruska is a free-lance writer.

Copyright 1995, Newsday Inc.