Monthly Archives: July 2013

Denise Calls Up (1995)

denise calls up 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Friends over the phone.

This is a highly original offbeat comedy dealing with a group of young urbanites living in New York who become friends over the phone, but never meet in person. There is Martin (Dan Gunther) who donates some of his sperm to a sperm bank and then gets a call from Denise (Alanna Ubach) who was impregnated with it and now calls to tell him he is the new father. Gail (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson) tries to play matchmaker with Jerry (Live Schreiber) and Barbara (Caroleen Feeney) with the help of her former boyfriend Frank (Tim Daly). Linda (Aida Turturro) and Sylvia Miles as Gail’s nutty Aunt round it out.

The best thing about the film is that all the characters are very real and it makes concise observations on the young upwardly mobile Generation X. All of them possess a myriad of contradictions, insecurities, and neuroses just like people you know in real-life. They are technology savvy, but seem to hide behind it like it is a security blanket. The more options that they are given to communicate with more people the more isolated they become not only from the world around them, but from themselves as well.

I especially got a kick out of the Barbara character because I dated women who were just like her. She is interested in meeting Jerry and seems to like him, but every time he tries to move the relationship forward she backs away and then when he pulls away she goes on the offensive again. She reminded me of what a marriage counselor friend once told me for how he had managed to stay married for so long, which was ‘let them always think they are in control and also let them think that they have won every argument.’

The film is filled with many uniquely humorous scenes as well as sharp dialogue that are quite funny. My favorite part is when all the characters get on a conference call in order to offer support and give advice to Denise during her delivery.

Director Hal Salwen does a great job of keeping things visually interesting. I loved the extremes close-ups of some of the characters mouths as they spoke as well as the back drop of Jerry’s cluttered cramped apartment and the variety of settings that Denise is in when she calls Martin. Salwen was considered an up-and-coming director at the time, but has only done two other features since, which were quite original as well, but he really needs to do more.

Although in my mind I still consider the 90’s to be relatively recent I was really amazed to see how much the technology has changed since this was made. The phones are big and bulky and still require the use of a little antenna for reception. There was no such thing as the internet and faxes were used to send grainy black and white pictures. In some ways this makes it kind of fun to see how things have evolved, but unfortunately it hurts the film a bit because it gives this otherwise hip story a sort of dated look and feel.

The film also allows for a great chance to see young talented stars at the start of their careers. Ubach with her very expressive face is a standout and looks almost exactly like Donna Pescow. Miles is predictably hammy especially with the way she delights in describing the morbid graphic detail of the death of one of the characters that dies when she talks on the phone while driving.

Spoiler Alert!

The only real complaint I had with the movie is the ending when Frank decides to hold a New Year’s Eve party and invites everyone over to his place so they can meet, but everyone finds an excuse at the last minute not to show up. When one of the characters does arrive and rings his doorbell he decides not to let them in. To me this proves to be a bit false especially for a film that was so otherwise on-target. I get the idea that their laptops and phones are their cocoon and they can only function halfway normally when they hide behind them, but still everyone has to get out sometimes and deal with people in person. In my opinion a better way to have ended it would have been to have them get together, but have it be awkward and uncomfortable for all of them. Then have it cut to 5 years later and show how all of them have remained close friends, but still just over the phone.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: May 17, 1995

Runtime: 1Hour 20Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Hal Salwen

Studio: Dark Matter Productions

Available: VHS

A Return to Salem’s Lot (1987)

return to salems lot

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Town full of vampires

Joe Webber (Michael Moriarty) is a documentary filmmaker who is always looking to tackle the next shocking topic if it will help advance him and his film career. While vacationing in a small New England town of Jerusalem’s Lot with his teenage son Jeremy (Ricky Addison Reed) he becomes aware that the entire town is made up of a population of vampires led by elderly Judge Axel (Andrew Duggan). They are aware of Joe’s film career and give him an offer to film a documentary on them so as to give future generations a better understanding of the vampire lifestyle. Initially Joe is intrigued with the idea, but when he finds out that they want to turn his son into one of them he refuses and spends the rest of the time trying to escape and with the help of elderly but tenacious vampire hunter Van Meer (Samuel Fuller) save his son.

This flick is complete disaster from the beginning. It opens with Joe filming a documentary on a jungle cannibal tribe that looks like a real tacky rip-off of Cannibal Holocaust. The gore and special effects are abysmal and the story and characters have nothing to do with the Stephan King novel to which it is based nor the 1979 TV-Movie. Had the plot gone more with Joe filming a documentary on the populace it might have been interesting in an offbeat way, but the script brings up the idea and then never follows through with it.  There are shades of dry humor here and there and had it been more consistent with it the film could have been viewed and possibly enjoyed as a parody, but as it is it is nothing more than cheap straight-to-video fare.

The characters are poorly defined and at times even contradictory. Joe starts out as this callus man who puts his directing career first and has no concern for his son and hasn’t seen him for years, or even mentioned him to his friends. Then suddenly they get to this town and he will stop at nothing to save him. The son also does not like the father when he first sees him and yet magically and quickly bonds with him the minute they get to town. He is also described to be deeply troubled psychologically, but shows no sign of it during the course of the movie.

There is also the issue of Van Meer shooting Judge Axel in the head twice with a gun, but even as bullet holes spew out blood from his forehead he still goes on walking and talking like nothing happened. Supposedly this is to signify that the only way to kill a vampire is to stick a wooden stake through their heart and if you try to kill them any other way it won’t work, but this still doesn’t make sense. For instance if you break a vampires kneecap wouldn’t that effect the way they walk? If so then the same logic should hold true if you put two bullet holes into their brain. It would more than likely turn them into a complete vegetable a vegetable that may go on living forever until you drive a wooden stake through its heart, but a vegetable nonetheless.

Moriarty gives another great performance that completely exceeds the quality of the material. This one is even more impressive because he actually plays a normal person here and does so effectively, which is interesting given the nature of his sometimes offbeat behavior off-camera. The person though that really steals it is famed film director Fuller as the elderly vampire hunter. The guy shows an amazing amount of charisma and energy and plays up the character to an amazingly amusing degree and helps save what is otherwise a disaster.

Veteran actresses June Havoc and Evelyn Keyes appear as two of the elderly women vampires. Keyes really plays-it-up and the way she sucks the blood from one of the victims off her fingers looks down right erotic. The scene where Havoc, Keyes and writer/director Larry Cohen’s then real-life wife Janelle Webb chew on the dead body of Cohen’s real-life daughter Jill Gatsby gets a few points for audaciousness. This is also a great chance to see Tara Reid in her film debut as one of the vampire children.

The final thirty minutes is an improvement namely because of Fuller’s presence, but it does nothing to hide the film’s many other flaws, which is a perfect example of bad 80’s horror.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 18, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated R

Director: Larry Cohen

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Instant Video

The Fool Killer (1965)

fool killer

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kid roams the countryside.

George Mellish (Edward Albert) is a 12-year-old boy who runs away from home after a particularly harsh beating at the hands of his foster parents. As he roams the Tennessee countryside he meets Dirty Jim (Henry Hull) an old man who takes him into his rundown home and fills his head with all sorts of stories about an eight foot ax-wielding man who kills people he deems to be foolish. After a bout of illness George runs away from Jim and late one night meets Milo (Anthony Perkins) a loner who carries an ax and acts strangely. Initially George thinks that he is ‘the fool killer’ Jim described, but the two soon become friends even though strange ax murders begin to occur everywhere they go.

Servando Gonzalez’s direction is excellent and the one thing that keeps this otherwise thin story intriguing. This was his only English language film and he uses a variety of different camera angles and editing styles to create a sort of hypnotic effect. The on-location shooting is vivid and their ability to recreate the look and feel of the late 1800’s is solid including having the characters occasionally speak with poor grammar, which helps with the authenticity.

The only thing about Gonzalez’s direction that I did not like is where they have a nighttime scene that was clearly filmed in the daytime, but done with a darkened lens to ‘fool’ the viewer into thinking it is night. This process has been done many times in the past, but it never works. Even with the dark lens the sky is too bright and you are unable to see any stars. I remember this done a few times on the old ‘Brady Bunch’ TV-show and I always found it disconcerting. The reason is usually because by law child performers are not allowed to work past a certain late hour, so if the script calls for a nighttime scene they try to compensate using this trick, but it always looks tacky. My solution would be to get the parent’s permission to allow the young performer to work late for one night or alter the script to have the scene done in the daytime.

Despite some good production values and an interesting narrative the story itself, based on a novel by Helen Eustis, is limp and doesn’t have enough action. The middle section, which features a lot of conversations between Milo and George, gets boring and the pace comes to a screeching halt. The George character also gets a bit annoying. I realize he is a young and the story takes place in a more innocent era, but the kid falls too easily for anything and everything he is told and seems to have no center, which eventually becomes off-putting.

For what it is worth Albert is good in the lead in what was his film debut and so is Perkins although with this he was risking getting typecast. I thought Henry Hull in one of his last roles was highly engaging and I also really liked Arnold Moss as a bombastic preacher giving a fiery sermon under a tent during a religious revival. Since the movie otherwise does not have much happening this scene tends to be pretty electrifying and vivid particularly the looks on the people’s faces as he preaches to them.

There is a sort-of surprise ending, but it is not that big of a deal and most viewers will probably see it coming long before it happens and they might also say to themselves ‘I sat through two hours of this just for that!’ as well. If the story had been a little richer with more twists or a subplot this might have been memorable, but as it is the final result is empty.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 28, 1965

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Servando Gonzalez

Studio: Allied Artists Pictures

Available: VHS

Going Places (1974)

going places

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Guys with no morals.

Two small time hoods (Gerard Depardieu, Patrick Dewaere) spend their days roaming the streets, robbing stores, and molesting women. In some ways this is truly an amazing film in what it is able to get away with. The two main characters are immoral, ignorant, insensitive, and brutal and the women are demeaned and degraded. The overall content is vulgar and perverse and yet somehow this thing comes off as a lyrical, offbeat delight that is pure entertainment.

It’s a definite original with every scene being an ingenious comic set-up. The scenario structure and use of locations is perfect. The pacing is fluid and director Bertrand Blier’s eye for detail near brilliant. The two hours move along like a breeze. It never gets boring and I actually almost wished it could have been longer.

The comic threads are hilarious and they get funnier and funnier as they go along. The guys’ constant, futile and very explicit attempts at getting a frigid woman (Miou-Miou) excited are a particular standout.

This is the type of black comedy that should be used as an example for all others. It’s consistently unique and manages to balance the ugly elements with the lighthearted without going overboard on either. It even throws in a surreal angle without a hitch.

Veteran French actress Jeanne Moreau has one of her finest latter career roles playing a lonely lady in desperate need of male attention. Her scene is well played out and even has a shocking conclusion. Depardieus ‘friendly’ conversation with a shopping mall security guard is another standout. The ultimate joke though may be in the film’s title as these guys are truly going nowhere.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: March 20, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 57Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bertrand Blier

Studio: Universal Pictures France

Available: VHS, DVD (Region 1 & 2), Amazon Instant Video

Perfect Strangers (1984)

perfect strangers

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kid witnesses a murder.

Johnny (Brad Rijn) is a local hit-man who knifes someone to death in a back alley. Little does he know that behind a nearby fence is a 2-year-old toddler peeking out through a small opening and witnessing the whole thing.  As Johnny is about to leave he suddenly becomes aware of the child, but as the police are coming he runs. He is connected to the mob and when he tells them of the incident they advise him that he must kill the child simply to be extra cautious. Johnny then decides to get in a relationship with the boy’s attractive single mother Sally (Anne Carlisle) with the idea that he will get close enough to her that she will trust him to be alone with the kid where he will then off him and make it look like an accident.

The child who is played by a very young actor named Matthew Stockley is extremely cute to the point of being adorable. The idea of any harm coming to him is almost unthinkable, which helps create some tension and the climatic sequence where he is chased by Johnny though an abandoned, shadowy warehouse is well done.

However, the film’s biggest weakness is the Johnny character who is too damn nice to the point that I even started to like him as the film progressed. The guy is great with the kid and shows a definite sensitive side and is reluctant to harm the child and only considers it because the rest of the mob pushes him to. This then pretty much mutes the tension and the film would have been more exciting had the character been portrayed as a cold-hearted psycho. I also found it a bit contradicting that this otherwise nice guy could so easily kill other people. The extremes in the personality didn’t connect although at one point he does at least say ‘sorry’ to one of his victims as he drags the dead body away after viciously killing him.

Carlisle is excellent. She is probably best known for starring in as well as writing the screenplay for the cult hit Liquid Sky. There she played a teenage punk, but here filmed only 2 years later she comes off as a mature full-grown woman and her effective performance helps carry the film. Otto von Wernherr who was also in that movie appears as a private eye hired to follow Johnny around.

Stephan Lack who was in Scanners and just about ruined the film with his terrible performance is surprisingly good here as an aggressive police detective who hounds Sally for answers and won’t leave her alone. Ann Magnuson is somewhat amusing as a man-hating feminist Nazi.

If writer/director Larry Cohen scores anywhere it is in his ability to vividly show the street culture and eclectic, busy atmosphere of New York City life. One bit has hundreds of woman marching down the street in an anti-rape parade and when Johnny tries to get involved in it the woman aggressively pushes him back out. Things flow enough to make it mildly entertaining, but the film lacks distinction and is ultimately forgettable.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 24, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated R

Director: Larry Cohen

Studio: Larco Productions

Available: DVD

The Trip (1967)

the trip

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: He tries some acid.

Jack Nicholson wrote the screenplay to this film which is based loosely experiences he had while taking LSD as well as the break-up of his marriage to actress Sandra Knight. The story centers on Paul (Peter Fonda) a director of TV commercials whose marriage to Sally (Susan Strasberg) is on the rocks. He has a need to ‘find himself’ and seeks help from his friend John (Bruce Dern) who is a self-styled acid guru. John gives Paul some acid while promising that he will stay with him during his drug induced trip. The rest of the film then deals with Paul’s experiences both in his mind and in his dealings with the outside world while he is hallucinating.

To prepare for the film Nicholson, Fonda and Dennis Hopper, who appears in a minor supporting role, all took part in a group LSD trip and the various visions that they experienced are incorporated here. Director Roger Corman also tried LSD at a different time to prepare for the film. The only one not to try it was Dern who was staunchly opposed to recreational drug use and in fact even his character doesn’t take any as evidenced by a scene where everyone is taking a puff of some marijuana and when it gets passed to him he simply passes it to the next person without trying even though everyone else does.

The scenes recreating the acid trip are not all that interesting or imaginative. It’s all pretty much what you would expect with a barrage of artsy colorful designs popping up at the viewer in split second intervals that reminded me very much of looking through a kaleidoscope. The images aren’t coherent, nor meant to be, and become vapid in the process. The scene involving Paul sitting on a merry-go-round while trying to justify his existence to Hopper who is dressed in a devil-like costume gets quite tedious.

Things improve during the second half when John, who promised he would stay at Paul’s side during his trip, ends up leaving him momentarily to retrieve some apple juice. During this time Paul escapes from the home he is in and goes out onto the city streets. The editing and effects here are impressive and ahead of its time. Some of the visits he has with the people he meets prove interesting including an offbeat conversation that he has with a lady that he meets inside a Laundromat as well as one he has with a very young girl inside her house.

Although he starts out shaky I felt Fonda’s performance was pretty good and this may be one of the best roles of his career. Strasberg who receives second billing appears just briefly and has very few speaking lines. Dern is always fun when he is playing eccentric or intense characters, but here where he is playing a relatively normal one he is boring. His part was originally written for Nicholson to play and I think he would have done better.

I was expecting some sort of tragic or profound-like ending especially with the opening paragraph that starts the film and is read by a narrator with a very authoritative newsman-like voice describing the ‘horrors’ of drug use and how it is becoming a serious societal problem. However, nothing really happens. The movie just kind of stops and that is it. The weak conclusion hurts what is already a so-so film making it like the drug itself an interesting experiment, but nothing more.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 23, 1967

Runtime: 1Hour 25Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Roger Corman

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Where’s Poppa? (1970)

wheres poppa 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mother has to go.

A beleaguered Gordon (George Segal) is a man who must take care of his invalid mother (Ruth Gordon). Despite being a handsome young lawyer he has literally become trapped by this very difficult woman. The majority of the film takes place in a 1940’s styled apartment. It’s gray, dusty bleakness permeates every shot and shows just how lodged Gordon is in his mother’s world. He is a normal man that is slowly being sucked into madness. He is becoming mad because the world he lives in and life in general is driving him to it. The wall between what he really wants to do in life and his obligations have become so thick that going crazy may be the only real answer.

In fact madness maybe pretty much is what this film is really about. It seems to be saying that there is a certain functioning normality to it and at times even a necessity for it. Everyone in this film conveys their own unique form of madness. There’s the overzealous war general (hilariously played by Barnard Hughes) There’s also the henpecked brother/husband Sidney (Ron Leibman) who goes to almost absurd lengths to make sure everyone is happy. Even innocent, conservative Louise (Trish Van Devere) opens into the crazy world when explaining her rather unique honeymoon experience. The film delves so deeply and consistently into the world of the absurd that at times the senile Mother really doesn’t seem so nutty.

This is the film’s genius. It takes everything we have always accepted and turns it inside out. It takes some of life’s most depressing things and then makes it into an inspired and creative masterpiece. A trip to the old folk’s home has never been considered by many to be funny or memorable, yet a trip to Paul Sorvino’s old folk’s home is. In fact it maybe one of the funniest scenes you’ll ever see.

Writer Robert Klane and director Carl Reiner show an amazing grasp of their material, which is crucial for its success. Everything is fluid and consistent in tone. It shows how you can indeed have an offbeat idea, do it in an offbeat way, and still succeed without compromising.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: July 9, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 22minutes

Rated R

Director: Carl Reiner

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD

Cadillac Man (1990)

cadillac man2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Car salesman versus gunman.

A jilted husband (Tim Robbins) goes off the deep end and with rifle in hand takes over a car dealership where he threatens to kill everybody inside. It’s up to Joey (Robin Williams) a quick-on-his-feet car salesman to use his ‘people skills’ to get everyone out of the predicament.

Outside of a funny opening funeral procession bit, the first thirty minutes are pretty dull. Too much time is spent on Joey’s interactions with friends and family members that are not funny or interesting. In fact the majority of the film seems more like a drama dealing with the daily stresses of life than it does a comedy. When the gunman first breaks into the dealership it is quite intense and even a bit horrific. The film does eventually catch its stride, but it all seems kind of transparent by the end. There is nothing to really distinguish this film from all the rest, which probably explains why it has pretty much been ignored. In many ways it seems very similar to Dog Day Afternoon.

However, I did like that everything is kept on a realistic and plausible level with dialogue and characters that are quite believable. Robbins makes for an engaging gunman and once the film settles into the hostage crisis there are a few genuinely funny moments. Fran Drescher’s pet poodle is memorable and one of the best pet performers I’ve seen.

If you are looking for a passable time-filler then this film has enough comedy and good moments to make it worth it, but it’s nothing more than that. Williams is energetic as always and it’s interesting to see him juggle both a comedy and drama here. It is also worth catching just to see Robbins in his breakout role.

cadillac man1

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 18, 1990

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated R

Director: Roger Donaldson

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD

The Stuff (1985)

the stuff

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Ice cream can kill

An old man comes upon some white stuff bubbling up from the ground and when he tries it he becomes addicted to its delicious taste. Soon everybody in the small town he is in becomes hooked to it as well. Some businessmen, who would never touch the stuff themselves, decide to market it as the next new variation of ice cream and call it The Stuff. It becomes a national craze, but when 11-year-old Jason (Scott Bloom) finds it crawling around in his refrigerator late one night he becomes convinced that there is something wrong with it, but he can’t get his family to stop eating it. Mo Rutherford (Michael Moriarty) begins to get his suspicions as well when he is hired by a competing company to find out what the secret ingredients are only to come at a dead-end with people he talks to. When everyone starts to display odd zombie-like behavior the two join forces to shut down the company that produces.

It is really hard to figure out what genre to put this thing into. Most movie sites list it under the horror category, but there really isn’t anything that scary in it. I might actually put it as sci-fi, but it is a bit vapid at that level. If anything I would say the true category would be as a parody of all those old sci-fi movies from the 50’s as well as a satire on mass consumerism.

The film does feature some goofy commercials advertising the product that is spread throughout the story and features famous B-celebrities as the spokes people. My favorite was the one with Abe Vigoda and Clara Peller. Peller was famous for doing a Wendy’s commercial in the 80’s where she asked “Where’s the beef?” and in the ad here she asks “Where’s The Stuff?”

The special effects are hit and miss. The best ones feature the white liquid that looks like a cross between marshmallow topping, shaving cream and the white foamy stuff that comes out of a fire extinguisher. The best moment is when it starts to spew out of a pillow in a hotel room with such force that it completely covers a man with it and sticks him onto the ceiling. I also liked the part where actor Garret Morris has his mouth opened to an extreme size before he spits it out and then has his head explode.

Moriarty with his unique acting style scores again as a sort of anti-hero. His presence gives the movie an interesting edge. His bowl haircut, Cheshire grin and beady eyes make him almost look like some loner psycho killer from the sticks and allow for one funny exchange between him and actor Alexander Scourby’s character:

Scourby: You’re not as dumb as you look.

Moriarty: Nobody could be as dumb as I look.

As much as I love Andrea Marcovicci who is a truly beautiful woman to look at as well as a great actress I felt her character was not needed. She plays a woman who also teams up with Mo and Jason in their crusade to stop the Stuff. The romantic interplay between Mo and her character didn’t work and takes away from the quirkiness and edge that the Mo character had at the beginning. Having the heroes exclusively been between a kid and a middle-aged man would have been much more of a fun novelty.

The film does not have the schlocky, low budget production values that are a characteristic of most Larry Cohen movies. The lighting, variety of locales and reproduction of an Ice Cream factory are actually quite impressive. This is also one of the few films where you get to see the inside of a liquid storage truck. However, it lacks any type of interesting twist or payoff. There is never any explanation about what this white stuff is, or how it got there. There is also hundreds of potentially interesting scenarios and story threads that it could have taken, but doesn’t. In the end I felt this thing was just tapping the surface and the final result is rather empty and forgettable.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: June 14, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 26Minutes

Rated R

Director: Larry Cohen

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix streaming

Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting (1969)

daddys gone a hunting

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Don’t kill his baby.

Cathy (Carol White) moves from England to San Francisco and almost immediately meets Kenneth (Scott Hylands) and the two get into a relationship. Cathy though slowly sees a dark side to him that she doesn’t like so she breaks up with him, but only after she finds out that she is pregnant. Since she is struggling to make it on her own she decides to have an abortion, which her friend Meg (Mala Powers) informs her is no worse than having a ‘hangnail’. When Kenneth learns of this he becomes enraged and promises revenge. He continues to stalk her from afar as she gets into a new relationship and then eventually marries prominent politician Jack Byrnes (Paul Burke). When she becomes pregnant again Kenneth reappears and tells her that this baby must be killed to make up for the one she ‘murdered’. After the baby is born he kidnaps it setting off a police manhunt throughout the city to find him and save the child.

Although this is a thriller you would hardly know it at the beginning as the movie starts out with a bouncy jazz score that does not create any type of menacing mood. It also initially dwells on Cathy and Kenneth’s early courtship and even has a sappy love song played over scenes of them kissing and walking hand-in-hand, which is awkward and even corny. I believe all thrillers should give some clue or warning to the tension and horror that is coming right from the start and this one doesn’t, which is weak.

However, after the first fifteen minutes it starts to get going from the suspense end and the rest of the way it is good if not excellent. I liked how the viewer is kept in the dark as to whether Kenneth is really stalking Cathy or it is all in her paranoid mind, which helps add an extra level of intrigue.

Director Mark Robson’s career was up and down, but he really scores here. The shot of a close-up of a cat’s eye showing the reflection of Cathy and Kenneth making love on a sofa was novel. I also liked how the abortion sequence is handled by showing a stark shot of the operating table coupled with Cathy’s nervous expression, which is surprisingly quite effective and brings out the horrors of the procedure, but without going overboard. I also appreciated that a real infant is used and not just a doll wrapped in a cloth like with some films. Showing a real live kicking and crying baby especially in close-ups makes it all the more emotionally compelling for the viewer when Kenneth tries to harm it.

Hylands is fantastic in the lead and one of the reasons this film works. He has the perfectly creepy face and menacing ability and this is by far his best performance in his long, but otherwise undistinguished career. White is also really good although she was far from being the producers first choice. Her blonde hair, accent, and angelic features make a perfect contrast to Hyland’s. Paul Burke is solid as the husband. It’s a bland part, but he tends to be good in those.

Although the abortion issue continues to be a hot and emotional topic for most this is not a political film and the emphasis is on being a thriller. However, when you couple this with screenwriter Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive movies you can probably assume he has an agenda in this political arena. Some may enjoy the way Kenneth relentlessly torments Cathy and refuses to allow her to forget what she did. He also kills the doctor who performed the procedure and what he does with the dead body afterwards is well…interesting.

Cohen and co-scripter Lorenzo Semple Jr. put their very creative minds in full gear here. The scenarios are well thought out and the tension builds at a great pace. The climatic sequence that takes place on top of the Mark Hopkins hotel at the Top of the Mark bar is exciting and visually well captured.

The only major flaw I saw with the film is at the beginning when Kenneth first sees Cathy standing on the sidewalk in downtown San Francisco he grabs some snow that is on a nearby car, makes it into a snowball, and then throws it at her to get her attention, but why in the world would there be snow on a car in downtown Frisco? This is never explained, but I felt it should have been.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 2, 1969

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Rated M

Director: Mark Robson

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Instant Video