Monthly Archives: October 2012

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Where is Michael Meyers?

Dr. Dan Challis (Tom Atkins) is an emergency room physician treating a patient (Al Berry) who arrives in the facility clutching a Halloween mask and stating that someone is out to kill him. When the man does end up being killed Dan becomes suspicious that it may have something to do with the mask. He teams up with the victim’s daughter Ellie (Stacey Nelkin) and the two find that the trouble began when her father visited the Silver Shamrock factory. It is here that they meet the company owner Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy) who turns out to be a maniacal man who has created Halloween masks that have a computer chip implanted in them that will kill the children wearing them.

Although listed as the third part of the Halloween franchise there is no Michael Meyers here, nor any of the other familiar characters. The idea was to continue the series by having creepy stories with some connection to the Halloween holiday released each year, but this film did so poorly at the box office that the idea was dropped. The original script by Nigel Kneale was meant to be a dark comedy, but producer Dino De Laurentis wanted to play it as a straight horror film and striped the screenplay of the humor. Had it been kept in the humorous vein it might have worked, but the idea is too ludicrous to be taken seriously with glaring plot holes that defy all logic.

One of the biggest ones is the fact that Cochran plans on killing the children by having them all watch an advertisement his company has created and will be broadcast on all the channels at 9:00 Halloween night. Supposedly there is some sort of signal in the ad that will set of the computer chips in the masks, which the children are all supposed to be wearing while they watch the ad that will kill them instantly while also creating deadly snakes and spiders in the process. How a computer chip could create live creatures is ridiculous enough, but the fact that somehow Cochran does this by using pieces of a Stonehenge rock that he has stolen is even more absurd. There is also the fact that if the commercial airs at 9:00 eastern time it would only be 6:00 on the west coast. Therefore the commercial would be delayed by four hours, which would be enough time for the authorities to figure out what was going on and pull the ad before it ever even aired in California and probably have Cochran under arrest by then.

There also the fact that Cochran seems to have no plan B here. The reason for why he is doing this is murky at best, but what he hopes to gain from it is even more elusive. There is also the question of how he plans to escape once it becomes obvious to everyone what happened. None of this of course is ever explained and these are just a few of a myriad of implausibilities that the story spits out. There are so many of them that they aren’t even worth explaining, but clearly any film that expects the viewer to overlook so many glaring loopholes is not good. The film is like a flimsy outline to an idea that no one bothered to think through with the details.

I was also unimpressed with the masks themselves and couldn’t understand why all the children would be so excited to have them. They looked like something one could pick-up at a cheap dime store and had nothing unique or distinctive about them except that they could supposedly glow in the dark. The factory where the masks where is made is equally unimpressive looking like an old, rundown, non-descript building that had no visual presence. I was expecting the building especially from a company that could create such a nefarious technology as these masks to be sleek, modern, and imposing, which would have helped create a more foreboding feeling. The commercial used to advertise the masks is unimaginative and cheap looking. The jingle used in the ad, which was set to the melody of ‘London Bridges’ because apparently that was under public domain at the time, becomes irritating to listen to and gets overplayed.

One of the few things that I liked about the movie was the fact that the protagonist was a middle-aged man instead of teenagers. The gruesome special effects are okay and veteran actor O’Herlihy shows enough sinister mugs to the camera to be fun. I also liked at the end how Ellie for some unexplained reason turns into a robot and keeps on attacking Dan even as he vigorously dismantles it.

Segments from the original Halloween can be seen in this one. The first time it is shown while Dan is watching TV at a bar it is a clever in-joke, but when it gets shown again near the end it becomes a mistake because it reminds the viewer how much better that movie is compared to this one.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: October 22, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated R

Director: Tommy Lee Wallace

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Halloween II (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Michael won’t go away.

It’s still Halloween night 1978. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is rushed to the nearby Haddonfield Memorial Hospital to have her wounds attended to while Michael Meyers (Dick Warlock) roams the streets. Eventually he becomes aware of where she is and stalks her in the hospital while killing off anyone who gets in his way.

The film starts out okay. I liked the camera closing in on the pumpkin during the opening credits and revealing the shape of a skull inside. A fiery car crash that burns a kid wearing a similar mask to Michael’s is effectively graphic and  showing things from Michael’s point-of-view as he peers inside the neighbor’s homes has shades of Rear Window to it. However, I was confused why it wasn’t shown through the two eye holes of the mask since Michael was still wearing it and that was how it was done in the first film.

Things start to decline as it goes on and deviates too much to the standard slasher formula. I forget where I read it, but I remember somebody writing about the perennial characteristics of a tacky 80’s slasher film and one of them was having a scared cat jump out at someone some time during the film. The scene where the hospital security guard (Cliff Emmich) is going through the dumpster behind the building I started to think that this is the part for the proverbial scared cat and sure enough within seconds one jumps out pretty much cementing this for me as a second-rate shocker.

Donald Pleasance as Dr. Loomis is solid as always. The intensity that he displays is good and seeing him as a good guy for a change since the majority of his career he played dark and twisted characters is refreshing. Curtis is also good in the reprisal of her part, but for the first hour she barely appears at all. I was also confused with the scene where she for some unexplained reason falls into a comatose state and then just as strangely snaps out of it a few minutes later.

The Meyers character becomes a detriment here. Having him constantly getting shot at and then bouncing back up without any rational explanation was irritating. He gets around at too many different places and seems a little too slick. For instance he’s able to cut off the phone lines to the hospital in some unexplained way as well as slashing the tires of every single car in the hospital’s parking lot. Also, where does a guy who has been institutionalized since age six manage to figure out the meaning and origins of samhain, which is a word that he writes in blood on a wall of a classroom?

There are other loopholes as well. For instance the hospital seems extremely dark and shadowy. Most hospitals I have been to are always well lit inside especially the hallways, but here it is almost like there are no lights on at all. The part where Michael stabs a nurse in her back with a thin surgical blade and then is able to lift her from the floor with it is ridiculous because the blade just wouldn’t be strong enough. The knife that Michael steals from an old lady (Lucille Benson) when he sneaks into her house is different from the one that he jams into the desk of a classroom that he breaks into.

The extreme lapses of logic are a big problem. When the film starts to have no bearing in reality then I find it hard if not impossible to get caught up into it. Clearly the screenwriter and director were making up the rules as they went along causing the climatic sequence that should have been suspenseful to be, at least to me, boring and annoying instead.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 30, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated R

Director: Rick Rosenthal

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video 

The Jokers (1967)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rob to avoid work.

Brothers Michael (Michael Crawford) and David (Oliver Reed) decide that working life is not for them and come up with an elaborate robbery that will afford them enough money to drop out of society for good. Their plan is a clever one as they stage random bomb threats across parts of London, which creates a panic in the city. Then they threaten to blow up the tower of London, disguise themselves as military experts who can go in to diffuse the bomb and then run off with the crown jewels in the process, which they conveniently hide underneath the floor boards of their home.

The film has a great irreverent flair that was common amongst the new wave British films of the late 60’s. The quick edits, fragmented narrative, and quirky humor is similar to Richard Lester’s The Knack…and How to Get It, which also starred Crawford. The comedy, especially its potshots at the establishment, is right on target and engaging. I was surprised that it was directed by Michael Winner as so many of his later films, especially the ones he did with Charles Bronson, seemed so formulaic that I could never imagine he could show so much spunk and flair.

The crime is imaginative and plays out nicely. There is also a neat and completely unexpected twist near the middle that keeps things intriguing to almost the very end.

Crawford shows charm and his boyish looks help strengthen is character. He somehow manages to upstage Reed, which I never thought would be possible and his charisma carries the film. He does though look too scrawny and almost anorexic in parts and having him gain some weight and ‘putting some meat on his bones’ before filming began would have been advisable.

British character actor Harry Andrews is amusing as the exasperated Inspector Maryatt. However, I found James Donald as the completely clueless Colonel Gurney-Simms to be the funniest.

If the film fails anywhere it is in the fact that it loses its satirical edge and focus. It starts out making fun of the upper-crust English society, but then becomes too preoccupied with the crime itself. David and Michael’s interactions with their stuffy, conservative parents (Peter Graves, Rachel Kempson) are cute and I would have liked to see more of it as well as more jabs at ‘respectable’ society. The film’s conclusion is extremely weak. For such a clever movie I was hoping for something a little better. It is almost like they ran out of ideas and threw in some bland denouncement simply as a way to end it because they didn’t know how else to do it. Nothing is more of a letdown then seeing a writer write themselves into a hole that they can’t get out, which is what you get here and it almost ruins the entire film in the process. However, the majority of it is so slick I was willing to forgive it and almost wished there could be more movies like these coming out today.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: May 15, 1967

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Michael Winner

Studio: Universal

Available: None

Halloween (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Michael Meyers comes home.

On Halloween night in 1963 6 year old Michael Myers stabs to death his older sister Judith. He is taken away to a mental institution, but fifteen years later he escapes and comes back to his hometown of Haddonfield to stalk three teenage women (Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Loomis, P.J. Soles) on Halloween night.

I first saw this film 25 years ago when I was in College and thought it was cool, but now on my second viewing I’m not quite as impressed. There are still some good things about it, but also in my opinion some glaring loopholes. I’ll start with the things I liked.

Cinematically it is a well mounted thriller. The lighting is perfect. The dark shadowy interiors create the feeling of menace and the little light that is shown has a bluish tone and resembles authentic moonlight. The music by director John Carpenter is distinct and has an effective up-tempo beat almost like a warning siren. The editing and pacing is great. It builds the tension nicely and has some creepy imagery.

One of the scenes I always found to be the creepiest is when Tommy, the young boy that the Curtis character is babysitting, sees from across the street Michael carrying one of his dead victims from the car to the house. In fact all the long shots showing Michael are the most effective. Somehow it was a combination not only of the way the actor walked in the costume, but his mask as well, which was apparently a William Shatner Captain Kirk mask that was painted all white.

The fact that there is never any reason given for why Michael became the way he did is also good. There are many similar true-life crimes where even after the murderer is interviewed by the psychiatrists they still can’t always come up with a satisfying explanation. Movies that try to show the reason behind why the bad guy becomes murderous usually end up being contrived and clichéd.

The three actresses looked too old for teenagers and in the case of both Loomis and Soles where already in their late twenties. Loomis though is kind of funny in her part especially with the way she interacts with Lindsey (Kyle Richards) the young girl that she is babysitting. Curtis is good and although I respect her right to going natural with the gray hair that she now sports I still felt she was at her most attractive when she had the long red hair like she has here.

On the negative side there seemed to be too many story elements that didn’t make sense. For instance Michael is institutionalized when he is six and then escapes fifteen years later and is able to miraculously drive a car even though he was never trained. The book version of the movie explains this anomaly by stating that when Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) would take Michael to sanity hearings over the years that Michael would watch very closely how Loomis operated the vehicle and thus ‘learned’ how to drive, but that still doesn’t make sense because watching how something is done and then finally doing it yourself are two completely different things. Besides if watching how somebody drives where enough then every child who watched his parents drive could learn it and there would be no need for driving schools. Also, Michael escapes from the asylum without any explanation, which seemed way too convenient.

When Dr. Loomis shows up in town and tells the sheriff (Charles Cyphers) that there may be an escaped mental patient in the vicinity the sheriff comes up with the logical step of warning everybody about it, but Loomis disagrees and his reasoning is ridiculous. Also, when Laurie (Curtis) gets a call from Lynda (Soles) that sounds like she is being murdered Laurie doesn’t do the most sensible thing and that is to call the police and let them investigate it. Instead she decides to go over to the home in the middle of the night and investigate it herself, which not only needlessly puts her in a dangerous position, but also leaves the two kids that she is supposed to be watching home alone in bed, which is something a good babysitter should never do.

I also had some problems with the setting itself. Now of course the town of Haddonfield is fictitious, but the state of Illinois isn’t. It is situated right in the middle of the Midwest and there are no palm trees anywhere within its borders and yet I spotted a few lining the streets especially near the beginning when Laurie is seen walking home from school. I didn’t buy into the idea that the Meyers house would stand vacant for 15 years either. There are a lot of homes that have murders committed in them that do not remain abandoned, or considered ‘haunted’. In some cases the original house is torn down and a new one is built in its place such as the infamous John Wayne Gacy house in Des Plaines, Illinois, which is now being occupied by a new family. The neighborhood in the film looks nice and well-kept. The other homeowners wouldn’t stand for a building being abandoned for that long as it brings down the property values.

When I first saw this movie I got a real kick out of the part where Michael kills a man and then hangs him by a knife on a wall and stares at the corpse in a child-like way. However, on second viewing I don’t think the blade of the knife would have been long enough, or strong enough to go through a man’s body as well as a wooden door.

The opening sequence where we see Michael killing his sister from his perspective didn’t completely work with me either. I liked the idea of seeing the action through the two eye holes of the mask that Michael was wearing, but I think if someone is stabbing someone else that they would be looking at what they are doing, but instead the eye holes remain fixated on the sister’s face during the stabbing that is being done on the lower parts of her body, which looked stilted and unrealistic.

Now, I know this movie has a large legion of fans and some may take umbrage to my negative points, but hey, I take my film criticism seriously and feel I need to say it the way I see it. That is not to say that I ‘hated’ the movie either. I still liked it overall, but when given the issues that I described above I can only give it 6 points.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 25, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Carpenter

Studio: Compass International Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray

Single White Female (1992)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: A roommate from hell.

Allison (Bridget Fonda) is a young entrepreneurial business woman who breaks up with her boyfriend and decides she doesn’t want to be in her apartment alone. She finds Hedra (Jennifer Jason Leigh) for a roommate and things go well until the relationship with her boyfriend is rekindled. Hendra then starts to become possessive until it eventually culminates into full blown psychosis.

This thriller really never gets going until the final thirty minutes when it climaxes with a real rock ’em, sock ’em, duke it out showdown, which is full of clever twists and good action. The first third though stagnates. In some ways this is good because it avoids being a formulated thriller that feels the need to always telegraph its punches. The viewer is as in the dark as to Hedra’s psychosis as Allison is. Things work so slowly that at times it almost seems like a drama. In some ways it might have been better had it stayed that way. There are some good ingredients here for an insightful look of two young women from different backgrounds trying to forge a friendship. Having it turn into your general psycho/thriller seems almost like a cheap gimmick that prevents it from being a deeper and more original piece.

Another thing that separates this from the other psycho/thrillers is the fact that the two are on equal footing. Unlike most thrillers the bad guy doesn’t have any unfair advantage over the other or the good guy isn’t impeded with any type of handicap. It all just comes down to smarts, inner strength and determination, which makes it interesting. It’s almost like giving them both a pair of gloves and then putting them into the ring.

Fonda is likable enough. She is normal, but not in a boring way and has vulnerabilities that she must face. Leigh has always had an interesting ‘clenched jaw’ like delivery. Usually this has a sexy appeal yet when she becomes psychotic it makes her more frightening. Leigh is also portrayed as the ‘frumpy’ one, but with her long hair and young girl look she actually is more enticing. Fonda of course is also attractive, but not with the hairstyle that she has here. Both have some good nude scenes.

There are some loopholes. One involves the murder by the heel of a shoe which gets lodged in the victim’s eye socket. This has an almost one in a million chance of happening especially at the angle it is done in. The assailant (Leigh) is a woman who is already shorter than the victim who is male. Added was the fact that she was sitting down while the victim was standing. Logistically she would not have been able to reach his eye and even if she had it would have taken so much effort to reach up there that she wouldn’t have had enough strength to drive it in the way she did especially in the split second that this movie has it happen in. Also, when one is wrestling with a perpetrator who has a gun that they drop it is a good idea to grab the gun before making a run for the door especially when it is in easy reach.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: August 14, 1992

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Rated R

Director: Barbet Schroeder

Studio: Columbia

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: They were really hungry.

A group of people go into the deep dark jungles of the Amazon looking for a missing film crew. They never find the crew, but they do find some lost film footage of theirs. They bring it back home and play it and what they see is so gruesome that it startles the imagination.

This is truly a gross-out classic. If you have ever watched a horror movie purporting to have gruesome special effects and then walked away disappointed then this one will make up for the rest and everything else in between. No cutaways here and certainly no restraint for good taste. The effects look real and, at times, almost too real. Best of all is the fact that the story is handled in a realistic fashion giving the effects even more credibility. For instance the cutting off of one of the characters legs after he is bitten by a snake looks completely authentic. There is also a castration scene that has to be one of the most vivid ones ever filmed. There is also the cutting up of man’s body into little pieces and some really graphic rape scenes.

The film also doesn’t have that cheap look like with most horror films and it gets you immersed in the jungle atmosphere. It is well paced and builds up some really good tension. The editing is seamless without any of those annoying jump cuts. The music score is melodic, but distinct and effective making it one of the best scores ever made for a horror film. The eventual showing of the lost crew’s footage packs a wallop.

Former adult film star Richard Bolla plays the professor and the leader of the search party. He is credited as the star of the film yet his character is bland and forgettable. His only memorable moment comes when he jumps naked into a river and allows the adolescent girls from a nearby tribe to grope him, which has got to be a cinematic first. My favorite character was Chaco (Salvatore Basile). He is gruff and rough and absolutely nothing seems to faze him. He is so hardened by it all that it actually becomes amusing and I wished he would have stayed on for the duration.

The actual lost film crew is a vile bunch giving the film its main message of just who is ‘civilized’ and who is the savage. Their behavior is so disgusting that most viewers will actually look forward to their eventual gruesome demise.

The same cannot be said for the animals. There are graphic, ugly scenes involving the torture and mutilation of animals and it is not pretty. The animals flail their arms and legs and scream in very real pain and fright. It’s all handled in a distasteful and mocking way with the dissection of a sea turtle making even this jaded viewer feel nauseous. This will certainly be unsettling for animal lovers, but fortunately for those people the DVD release has a version that will cut out these segments while still allowing the viewer to enjoy the rest of the movie.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 7, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated: NC-17

Director: Ruggero Deadato

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD

Seconds (1966)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Starting a new life.

Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph) is a middle-aged man just going through the paces of life. He is stuck in a marriage that no longer has any spark and a job that is boring. His life is confined to the basic suburban rituals and he is quietly looking for a way out. Then he gets a call from Charlie Evans (Murray Hamilton) who he thought was dead. Charlie tells him that he is very much alive, but with a new identity. Arthur goes to a address that Charlie gives him and there he is told for $30,000 dollars he can be ‘reborn’ and given a completely new identity via plastic surgery as well as a whole new life with new friends and no connection to his dreary past. He would even be given a new set of fingerprints and new teeth while the death of his former self would be created in a way that it would leave no question, or suspicion.

This story is unique and fascinating on many levels. It pinpoints the monotony of middle-aged life and views living in suburbia not as the great American dream, but more as the American trap. I enjoyed the part where one of the Doctors named Davalo (Khigh Dhiegh) tells Arthur who has now been changed into Tony Wilson (Rock Hudson) that his new identity will be that of an established painter and he will no longer have to be quarantined with any responsibility and will instead be able to live the rest of his life pursuing is own individual interests, which is probably what everyone secretly desires.

The second half of the story where Tony tries to adjust to his new ‘dream’ lifestyle is equally as interesting if not more. Tony finds that his new friends and neighbors are other ‘reborns’ who will not allow him to backtrack into his old identity and seem compelled to keep in line with his new environment whether he was completely happy with it or not. During this segment I couldn’t help but think of the characters from Easy Rider and how Tony’s situation wasn’t much different. Both longed for complete personal freedom, but the more they tried to escape the societal strings the more they seemed to be dragged back into it. The part where Tony goes back to visit his wife while under the disguise of being a long lost friend of her late husband is revealing and dramatically the strongest part of the whole film.

John Frankenheimer’s direction is superb and intoxicating. The opening sequence featuring a lot of distorted imagery is excellent and creates a terrific mood for the story. The dream sequence where Arthur finds himself in a hotel room with another woman is captured in such a way that it looked almost like a Salvador Dali painting. The use of the fish-eyed lens that is put in at certain strategic moments is effective as well as stylish. The black and white cinematography is evocative and the organ playing soundtrack is distinct and moody.

Rock Hudson has always seemed to me as a weak leading man and apparently Frankenheimer considered him ‘lightweight’ as well, but when his first two choices turned down the role he decided to go with him and here it actually worked. I felt Hudson’s blank expression and confused demeanor fit well with the character’s situation. The part where he is shown tied to a bed and struggling to get out while his mouth is gagged is convincing. Veteran actor Randolph is quite good in the beginning playing Arthur a man who seems run over by life. The close-up of his nervous and sweating face leaves a strong impression. Will Geer is also excellent in support as the founder and head of the secret organization.

The twist ending is well done although I saw it coming long before our naïve protagonist did. Unlike the book it is clearer and less vague. This is one case where the film can make a great companion piece to the book, or vice versa. This is a definite sleeper of a movie screaming for more attention and has strong cult potential.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: October 5, 1966

Runtime: 1Hour 46Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: John Frankenheimer

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD,  Blu-ray (Criterion Collection) Amazon Instant Video

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Man can she scream.

Four young adults on a summer trip inadvertently come into contact with a mutant family and their chainsaws.

This is the type of horror film most others strive to be, but usually never succeed. The tension builds right from the start. It’s slow but consistent and eventually hitting on an almost unparalleled level. Director Tobe Hooper and cinematographer Daniel Pearl make terrific use of the location shooting. Between the music and visuals you are given an otherworldly sense. The atmosphere literally hugs you with the dementia of the situation. You feel as engulfed with it as our heroine Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns). It transcends most other horror films simply because of its intensity and grotesque perspective. It blends so many unusual things together and yet everything still works. It’s both artsy and raw, moody and exciting, humorous and ugly and a masterpiece in many ways.

If you are looking for gore you may end up disappointed. Despite its reputation there really is very little if any. Apparently they were going for the ‘PG’ rating, but even so certain scenes become almost laughable with their restraint. One scene in particular features Leatherface (Gunnar Hanson) jumping out at a man in a chair. He jams his chainsaw into him and yet only small droplets of blood can be seen coming out.

There is also the problem of Marilyn Burns running. By most crew accounts she was a slow runner. This caused problems because it would allow the assailants to actually catch up to her even though they weren’t supposed to. Both Hansen and Edwin Neal as the Hitchhiker have to do some goofy things to avoid reaching her. This is obvious in the final chase sequence and it hurts the tension a bit.

I still feel though that Marilyn was a good choice for the part. Her face holds an authentic look of terror and her screams reach amazing decibels. The graphic close-ups of her eyes are astounding and memorable.

This film makes its sequels look awful. A good companion to this picture is Hooper’s follow-up film Eaten Alive. It has the same atmosphere and intensity and is interesting in an equally odd way with Neville Brand making a unique villain.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: October 1, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 23Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Tobe Hooper

Studio: Bryanston Distributing

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray 

The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Not a good nanny.

Claire (Annabella Sciorra) is a young mother who feels that her doctor (John de Lancie) molested her during her exam. She goes to the authorities, which brings out more complaints from other patients. This leads the doctor into killing himself and causing his widowed wife (Rebecca De Mornay) to miscarry. In revenge the widow decides to destroy the life of the woman who brought up the charges and does so by posing as the family’s nanny named Peyton Flanders.

Just when you think that the old psycho formula has gone stale this film comes along that injects a whole new life into it. That is not to say that there is anything new here because there isn’t yet it is a pure thriller that captures the formula well and hits it on all cylinders. It builds the suspense slowly but consistently without throwing in any cheap teasers. You really ARE on the edge of your seat as the tension grows. The climatic sequence is well mounted, but the best part is that it creates a villain that is not only a threat, but also someone you hate, really hate! You look forward to the inevitable showdown and become emotionally involved in its outcome.

De Mornay makes a terrific bad lady. Usually villainess females work of their sensuality, but not here. Yes it is intimated, but it is incased in a very cold and calculating exterior. The character is deliberate and spins an elaborate web while coming up with some clever deaths for her victims with the best one being the death by greenhouse. Her icy stares reminded me of the legendary Bette Davis.

The good guys aren’t quite as interesting and in many ways are a bit boring. The husband/father (Matt McCoy) is especially bland and almost transparent. Sciorra’s beautiful and very angelic face helps, but she seems to get rattled too easily. Julianne Moore, as Marlene a family friend, is the only one who offers anything in the way of tenacity to her personality.

The Ernie Hudson character, who is mentally handicapped, is a nice addition. It shows sensitivity to those with disabilities and doesn’t exploit it simply for entertainment. His final showdown with De Mornay is another one you just can’t wait to see. The kids are adorable and it’s nice to see that they too can be resourceful when they need to be and can’t be so easily brainwashed either.

In all fairness there are some logic loopholes that should be mentioned. One is the obvious fact that this woman makes up her past in order to get the job as the nanny. When she applies for the position you would think that a careful and responsible family such as this one would check her references carefully and find her discrepancies. Also there is the fact that the De Mornay character was at one time a prominent doctor’s wife. This would give me the impression that she would have had a large circle of friends and they would have all wondered what happened to her or at the very least spotted her in her new identity since she apparently only moved to the other side of town.

Still, this is a solid thriller that is perfectly made for fans of the genre and deserves to be on the list with the best.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: January 10, 1992

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated R

Director: Curtis Hanson

Studio: Buena Vista Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray

The Prowler (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Just another slasher flick.

A gruesome murder is committed during a graduation dance in 1945. Now, thirty-five years later, the town decides to hold another one and soon the gruesome murders start back up.

The film does have an unusual opening for a slasher film, which consists of actual newsreel footage from World War II. It also nicely recreates a 1940’s dance scene. The presence of veteran’s Farley Granger and Lawrence Tierney help a little, but not much. Neither is seen a whole lot and in the case of Tierney isn’t even given a single line of dialogue. Bill Nunnery comes off best in his brief appearance as a lazy and apathetic hotel clerk. There is also a good moment of juxtaposition featuring the girls dressing up for the dance while cutting away to show the killer dressing up to kill them.

However, the movie is incredibly boring and redundant. There seems to be no point to the murders from before and why it was even put in seems ridiculous. The teen characters are one-dimensional and useless. The scenes that are supposed to be intense and scary become excessively dragged out until they become dull. The much ballyhooed special effects by Tom Savini don’t seem all that gruesome. The killings are pretty much standard stuff with most consisting of just a quick slash to the victim’s throat and then cutting away. The only decent one involves the death of a nude shower victim via a pitchfork. One particular killing seemed hard to believe if not completely impossible. It involved the killer putting a large knife all the way through the top of the victim’s skull and then out the bottom of his jaw with just one swoop. Then somehow the killer is able to easily take this same knife all the way back out, clean if off, and use it on his next victim. The girls are decent looking, but there needed to be a lot more nudity to make it worthwhile.

Despite attaining a cult following I found the film to be unimaginative and formulaic. The killings are boring and there isn’t one single scare or fright in it.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: November 6, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 29Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joseph Zito

Studio: Sandhurst

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video