Monthly Archives: August 2013

Paperback Hero (1973)

paperback hero

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Big fish small pond.

Rick (Keir Dullea) is a hockey player living in a small town on the western plains of Canada. To pass his time he imagines he is a gunslinger in the old west and makes himself the self-imposed marshal of the community.  Outside of Sheriff Burdock (George R. Robertson) the other townsfolk considered it an amusing and otherwise harmless quirk. Then Rick learns that his hockey team will be disbanded and he will be without a job. He is given an opportunity for employment in nearby Saskatoon, but he refuses it feeling that he will lose his ‘mystique’ in the bigger city. Slowly the strains and pressures of his situation start to get to him and eventually it culminates in an old fashioned gunfight right in the center of town between him and the sheriff.

If the film gets one thing right it is in the recreation of small town life. Filmed on-location in Delisle, Saskatchewan director Peter Pearson gives the viewer a wonderful and vivid feel of the town. Just about all the sections of the hamlet are captured including the inside of abandoned buildings, trailer homes and farms as well as a couple of nice bird’s eye shots. The remoteness and flat wheat laden terrain brings to life the region in an almost stunning clarity. Having grown up in a small town not too terribly far from the Canadian border I can say that this film hits-the-mark in its portrayal of people in the Nordic region. All the little dramas that can go on between people locked in a remote local as well as the scenes done inside a dark and dingy bar that many times can constitute as the place to go for a ‘night-on-the-town’ is amusingly well played-out.

However, despite having the right flavor the film lacks direction. It was hard for me to get into this because all the scenes were random and not connected together by all that much. The plot is thin and made up if anything by a series of vignettes.  The main character is brass, egotistical, deluded and arrogant. He treats women like they are his property. He beats up one and considers it minor because her bruises are only the ‘size of a quarter’. He talks about getting turned on by one woman while making love to another and then is surprised when she gets upset with him. Having a film built around such an unlikable character is not entertaining or interesting especially when we are given no history to why he became the way he is.

Dullea does well in the lead and shows a lot more emotion and panache than one might expect from him especially when compared to his most famous role as the rather robotic Dave Bowman in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is always fun to see Elizabeth Ashley and here she plays one of Rick’s love interests, but her role is small and rather thankless though she does get shown in a long and explicit nude scene.

My favorite was Dayle Haddon as the alluring Joanna. Haddon has retired from the acting profession years ago, but was at one time a fashion model and she looks gorgeous here. The scene that takes place in an abandoned house where she tells Rick off and shreds his deluded ego while doing it in a quiet whispery tone is the movie’s best moment.

The segment showing a big hockey brawl where fans jump out of the stands to get involved and even the ref gets bloodied is fun. I also liked the part where Rick takes Joanna on car ride through the wheat fields. The camera is hooked up to the bumper of the car so the viewer gets an up close experience of watching the wheat thrash before them at high speeds. The standoff at the very end in the center of town is also interesting, but the film takes too long to gel and the main character is such a turn-off that it hurts the good points and ultimately makes this a misfire.

The movie also features the Gordon Lightfoot’s song ‘If You Could Read My Mind’, which is a great a song, but it has been played so much on lite-rock stations that instead of getting the viewer more engrossed in the movie it instead takes them out of it. The film works hard to create a gritty appeal and for the most part succeeds, which is why having a long segment with the song played over it doesn’t work and I would have left it out.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: September 21, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R

Director: Peter Pearson

Studio: Alliance Film Distribution

Available: VHS, YouTube

Meet the Applegates (1990)

meet the applegates 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bugs turn into people.

Giant Brazilian Beetles take human form and disguise themselves as a typical suburban family. The father beetle Richard (Ed Begley Jr.) gets job at a nuclear plant, which he plans to use to destroy mankind and thus save their species and the rainforests from human progression.

This cultish-like comedy pretty much kills itself from the beginning by having a farfetched premise that it never bothers to explain. Just how do these giant beetles learn to take human form? Nothing is shown or mentioned. Even a really, really stupid explanation would be better than nothing at all.

The film does have a few good points, which allows you to stick with it despite the complete absurdity. One is the fact that it tackles the very serious issue of environmentalism. If anything it gets the general viewer a little more aware of the problem and by putting the bugs in human form makes them sensitive to their situation.

The film also has its witty moments as it analyzes the different habits of both bugs and humans. The best part may actually be a rather simple bit when the bug wife Jane (Stockard Channing) is not in the mood for sex so Richard grabs a science magazine with large pictures of insects and then ‘gets-off’ on it in the bathroom. There is also a side story dealing with the wife’s obsessive use of credit cards that is right-on-target.

Yet within all the offbeat humor there is also an amazingly high level of inconsistencies. These bugs seem to know a lot about certain technical gadgetry, but then not in other areas. They respond to some things in an odd creature-like way and then at other times like a regular person would. The scenes involving sexual relations between these bugs and other humans seem very unnatural and highly preposterous.

The acting runs hot and cold. Begley can be good in offbeat and nerdy roles, but as a family patriarch he just does not cut it. Robert Jayne as the son Johnny is terrible. He has a dazed expression on his face throughout like he was hit on the head a few times and acts like he was never in front of a camera before. On the plus side it’s nice to see Stockard back to doing comedy as she has a good knack for it. Dabney Coleman is fun even though he is pretty much wasted though seeing him dressed in drag and calling himself ‘Aunt Bea’ is genuinely funny.

Overall the film looks rushed and may have had studio tampering. The special effects are cheap and although some of it is passable most of the time it is downright deplorable. The ‘feel good’ ending is excruciating. Director Michael Lehmann seems to be another casualty to the dreaded sophomore jinx. Heathers, which was his first feature was a great success, but even though this film has its moments it cannot come together as a whole.

meet the applegates 2

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Alternate Title: The Applegates

Released: November 8, 1990

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Lehmann

Studio: Triton Pictures

Available: VHS (as ‘The Applegates’)

Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989)

sex lies and videotape

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sex confessions on tape.

This movie was the critic’s darling when it was released 24 years ago and there didn’t seem to be anyone around that didn’t like it. I remember watching it back then and feeling like it was a bit overrated and although I liked it a little more the second time around I can’t say that my feelings about it have changed all that much. The story is about John (Peter Gallagher) who is married to Ann (Andie MacDowell) and who is having an affair with her sister Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo) due to Ann’s frigidity. In comes Graham (James Spader) an old college buddy of John’s who stays with the couple temporarily while he looks for a permanent residence. Graham has an unusual fetish of recording women confessing to some of their wild sexual moments to the camera to which he records and then gets off to later. Ann is initially attracted to Graham, but when she finds about his habit she is appalled only to later become keen to the idea and agree to do a taped confession herself, which sends everything spiraling out of control.

The movie seems excessively talky with scenes and conversations particularly the dinner one between John, Ann and Graham going on longer than it should. Not a lot really happens and there is little if any action. The production values are pretty basic and don’t seem much different than the ones Graham uses for his taped confessions. For a film that talks so much about sex, which seems to fill pretty much every conversation that the characters have it is not very erotic and the attempts at eroticism is pretty generic. I did like writer/director Steven Soderbergh’s use of editing where conversations from one scene between two characters will be heard overlapping over a shot featuring two different characters. However, the scene where Cynthia gives her confession to Graham is ruined by the sound of a train whistle going off in the background, which became distracting.

I also had a hard time buying into the basic premise. I just couldn’t understand why so many women would freely divulge to a perfect stranger all of their deep dark fantasies and sexual excursions knowing full well that they were being recorded for his own personal gratification with no real assurance that these tapes wouldn’t one day get into the wrong hands and come back to haunt or humiliate them years later. There is also what I considered a glitch when Ann is vacuuming the rug and finds Cynthia’s earring underneath their bed, which was apparently left by her when she had sex with John in the bed a few days earlier, but I kept thinking that after a few days Cynthia would have realized that she was missing her earring and had John go back to retrieve it. It is possible that Cynthia may have intentionally planted the earring there for her sister to find since she seemed to really dislike her, but if that was the case the movie should have confirmed this, which it doesn’t.

MacDowell is great in the lead and looks beautiful. I enjoyed the character and felt her presence in the story made the movie more interesting. I did though have some issues with the opening scene where she is seen talking to a male therapist about her lack of sex drive, which to me wasn’t realistic. I would think that if a woman had sexual problems that she would be reluctant to discuss it with a male and would only talk about it with a female Dr. Also, she sits on his sofa Indian style with her shoes off, which seemed too relaxed a posture for a woman that otherwise is frigid and reserved.

Spader is also likable and conveys a surprisingly sensitive performance. However, I couldn’t understand what type of person in this day and age would leave their door always unlocked especially at night. Gallagher is just too much of a narcissist pretty boy philanderer to have much appeal although seeing how things unravel for him at the end and how he somehow feels morally superior to Graham is interesting.

I didn’t care for the Cynthia character at all. She dresses and behaves too much like a one-dimensional tramp and the only thing that ever comes out of her mouth is a barrage of sarcastic, snarky remarks and at no time ever shows even some remote sensitivity, which might have helped.

Although his part is brief Steven Brill is a hoot as a barfly constantly making feeble attempts to hit on Ann. He is the one amusing part of the movie, which I wished had infused more humor.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 18, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated R

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Studio: Miramax

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray

Sands of the Kalahari (1965)

sands of the kalahari

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Stranded in the desert.

Based on the novel by William Mulvihill the story centers on a group of six individuals, five men and one woman, who fight to survive the blistering heat of the Kalahari Desert when their plane crashes after it’s struck by a large swath of locusts. Instead of working together as a team the group quickly disintegrates with infighting and tensions. The young and virile Brian (Stuart Whitman) who initially takes control of the situation starts to feel that his own survival would be heightened if there were less people needing food and water, so he decides to carefully eliminate them one-by-one, which leads to many interesting confrontations and a very unusual climactic finale.

Filmed on-location in Namibia the desert becomes its own character. The stunning sandy landscape is breathtaking and watching the characters walk along it under the crystal blue sky becomes almost awe-inspiring particularly during birds-eye view shots. The viewer feels like there are right there feeling the heat along with the rest of the characters. Writer/director Cy Endfield keeps things on an authentic level and stays for the most part faithful to the book with the exception of changing one of the characters who had been African American in the novel to Caucasian here. His use of actual animals is what impressed me the most particularly the baboons who become a major part of the story as well as seeing a live scorpion crawling up a man’s arm. The only real technical weakness is the cloud of locusts forming on the horizon, which looked like dust being sprayed on the plane’s windshield and when they started to splatter onto the window it looked more like scrambled eggs and not quite as impressive as I think the filmmaker’s had hoped.

I also had a bit of a problem with the Sturdevan character, which had been the plane’s pilot and is played by actor Nigel Davenport who attempts to rape Grace (Susannah York) after they had only been stranded in the desert for a day and a half. I felt this was too quick for people to so suddenly drop their civilized veneers and cave into their more animalistic urges. I could see this maybe occurring after being there for weeks or months, but I would think initially the urgency would be finding help and just plain surviving and sex being the last thing on anyone’s minds. This same issue occurs with Grace who becomes romantically attached to Brian and even professes her ‘love’ for him after only a couple of days, which again seemed too rushed. The romantic scenes make the film seem soap-opera like and gives it an unnecessary melodramatic feel that does nothing but bog down the pace.

Whitman whose career dissipated after the 60’s and was confined with less significant roles and films is memorable here. The character who comes onto the plane at the last second is initially big and brawny heroic and watching him devolve into a selfish anti-social man is interesting as are the scenes with him trapped in a hole. The segment where he throws a fire into a cave filled with baboons and then shoots the animals as they run out is quite startling. I also enjoyed York. She has always been a splendid actress, but here with her blonde hair matched against her red skin and torn dress looks genuinely sexy.

The one-on-one confrontations between the characters especially the one between Grimmelman (Harry Andrews) and Brian and then later between Brian, Grace and Mike (Stanley Baker) is what helps the film really stand-out. I would have liked it played-out a bit more, but the twist that comes at the end is indeed unexpected and leads to one of the more unusual climactic sequences you will ever see.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Release: November 24, 1965

Runtime: 1Hour 59Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Cy Endfield

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video 

Wedding in White (1972)

wedding in white 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Ending is a kicker.

Jeannie (Carol Kane) is a shy 16-year-old girl living in a small, bleak Canadian town just after the war who is raped by her older brother’s army buddy. Her parents (Donald Pleasance, Doris Petrie) respond as if it is her fault and resort to some extreme even shocking measures in order to ‘save the family honor’.

This is a solid little drama with good scene construction. The pacing is deliberate and an ending that really packs a wallop. The sets and location look authentic for the period and the characters are believable. Jeannie’s friend Sara (Christine Thomas) seems like a very typical teenager no matter what time period and her interactions with Jeannie show the realities of teenage friendships and makes for an interesting sidelight from the main story.

Kane is impressive acting in a style I’ve never seen from her before. Pleasance is solid as usual and his Canadian accent sounds almost authentic, but it is a bit overdone. Petrie is also quite good as the mother. She really brings to surface a character that is so cloistered she is unable to make any clear decision for herself.

The story itself is the real strong point. It is convincing, insightful, and well-crafted and brings out a sort of darkness and ‘evil’ that can come from ‘wholesome small towns’ and ‘God fearing people’. It shows how having a rigid morality can sometimes create a sort of immorality and also brings to light the lies people wish to live by and how at times it can cloud their better judgment, but most of all it’s a study at  how easily sensitive, fragile people can get sucked away and how sadly common it is.

This is a film designed to leave you feeling shocked, angered, saddened, and maybe even a little repulsed. This is quality viewing that deserves more attention.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: October 20, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Rated R

Director: William Fruet

Studio: Cinepix

Available: DVD

The Handyman (1980)

the handyman

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s unlucky in love.

Armand (Jocelyn Berube) is a chump of the first order. Everything he plans or does never seems to work out. He writes a letter to his mother describing how he has finally gotten himself married and how ‘he won’t die a bachelor’ only to have her walk out on him after only a few months. He tells his best friend the secret place where he hides all of his money and then the next day the friend steals the money. He brings in a new roommate only to have that man listen in to his private phone calls and when he does meet an attractive woman who he thinks is interested he gets her a romantic gift only to have her and her friends laugh at him behind his back. “The world is made up of two types of people,” he states “Those that take and those that are taken and I tend to be the latter.”

Things seem to improve for him when he gets a job fixing up the house for bored and attractive housewife Therese (Andree Pelletier). She is unhappy with her marriage to Bernard (Gilles Renaud) who is indifferent to her feelings and more interested in his golf game than her. She considers Armand’s unpretentiousness refreshing and Armand of course becomes immediately smitten. The two make an attempt at an affair, but as usual Armand gets in over-his-head.

One of the things that really stands out in this movie is the way Armand and Therese’s relationship unfolds. In most movies it always seems like love at first sight and both people get animalistic urges that they can’t contain and impulsively jump into the sack, but here it is much different. For one thing their attraction for one another progresses at a much slower and more realistic pace and does not come to a head until after several months. Both parties are shown contemplating their next move and their desire for one another is constantly being balanced by their reluctance at knowing how much trouble and guilt they will have if they do go through with it. How they respond to each other after they have sex is equally revealing and the quirky relationship that Armand later has with Therese’s husband is also quite interesting.

Although I felt that actor Berube’s bushy mustache and 70’s hairstyle seemed a little overdone I still found the character to be highly amiable. You tend to feel for the guy even after he makes one blunder after another. Actress Pelletier is certainly attractive, but her thick Nordic accent was a bit of a turn-off although probably realistic for the region.

My only complaint from this otherwise widely hailed low budget obscurity is the fact that the Armand character doesn’t grow or evolve at all. This is a man that knows he has a weakness for being taken advantage of, but doesn’t do anything about it. Watching him perpetually self-destruct to the point that he finds himself living out of his car and even contemplating jumping off a bridge is frustrating and depressing. Showing him having just one defining uncharacteristic moment where he somehow manages to transcend himself would have been much more satisfying and in some ways more realistic.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 14, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Micheline Lanctot

Studio: Les Films Reno Malo

Not Available at this Time.

Dark August (1976)

dark august

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Plagued by a curse.

            Sal DeVito (J.J. Barry) moves from New York City to a peaceful small town in Vermont in order to further his career as an illustrator and escape the stresses of big city life. Unfortunately he hits and kills a young girl (Karen Lewis) with his car when she runs out onto the street. Although he ends up being exonerated the girl’s grandfather (William Robertson) still holds him accountable and places a curse on him. The curse makes Sal see a strange hooded figure in the distance as well as suffering from mysterious blackouts. To help rid him of it he goes to see a popular psychic in town named Adrianna (Kim Hunter), but her services prove to not be the solution he thought.

Like with most low-budget 70’s horror films this one has a lot of slow parts and extended scenes with extraneous dialogue that goes nowhere. The scares are at a minimum and the few that it does have aren’t real frightening. The hooded figure that Sal keeps seeing in the distance has a creepy quality to it, but the film should have done more with it. There needed to be more action, more confrontations, and just plain more horror. Even a child could watch this and not be upset by it. There are no special effects and although the production is technically competent despite its low budget I found it hard even calling it a thriller or horror film since the suspense is light.

I loved the on-location shooting done in Stowe, Vermont. The woodsy landscapes and green countryside is gorgeous and I liked the scenery better than anything else in the picture, which is another problem. Filming scenes in the bright sunny daytime doesn’t help create a spooky feeling and there needed to be more done at nighttime. There is a very dark ominous cloud overhead during the scene involving the accident, but that is about it.

Barry whose acting career was brief and minor plays a stressed-out character effectively, but I could have done without seeing him lying nude in bed. There is also an extended scene showing the couple sleeping in bed from different angles, which seemed inane and unnecessary. Kim Hunter appears very late in the picture and really can’t do much to save it.

This is a film that deserves its place in obscurity and unfortunately has nothing to distinguish it or make it worth seeking out.

dark august 2

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 8, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Martin Goldman

Studio: Howard Mahler Films

Available: VHS

Casual Sex? (1988)

casual sex

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sex in the 80’s

Stacy (Lea Thompson) and Melissa (Victoria Jackson) are lifelong friends with very different sexual pasts. Stacy has slept with a lot of guys including some one-night-stands while Melissa has had sex with only a few and never achieved an orgasm at least ‘not when someone else was in the room’.  Because of the AIDS epidemic they decide to reanalyze their sexual mores and join a singles resort where they hope to meet their Mr. Right and settle down.

The film is based on the stage play that was originally produced for The Groundlings Theater in Los Angeles. You can tell this right away at the start where the two women stand on an empty stage and talk about some of their past sexual encounters. This proves to be the funniest part of the film with a lot of keen observations on human behavior. Unfortunately after the first five minutes of this the film digresses into a more conventional narrative by having the girls go to a single’s resort and the attempts at satire get either over-played or not played up enough. What is even worse is that it throws in a romance angle by having Stacy fall for an irritatingly perfect looking heartthrob named Nick (Stephen Shellen) who is an aspiring rock star. The two quickly move in together and then all of sudden he becomes completely clueless and harbors a lot of annoying habits that leads to a drawn-out, boring break-up session.

There are still a few funny moments including an amusing dream sequence where Stacy imagines making love to Nick while her boyfriends from the past start to pop up all around her, but overall the film fails to gain any traction, is filled with clumsy characterizations and falls flat. A much better approach would have been to structure it around a collection of vignettes with a sexual theme much like Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex, but Were Afraid to Ask, which is far more original and funnier than anything you will see here.

Lea is really cute and gives a good performance. Normally ditzy blondes get on my nerves, but somehow I have always found Victoria’s cute-as-a-button face and squeaky voice appealing. Her acting skills aren’t up to Lea’s level, but her more natural delivery makes for a nice contrast. Skin hounds will be happy to know that both women appear nude from the backside.

However, it’s Andrew ‘Dice’ Clay who steals the film with an engaging performance as the proverbial lounge lizard. Every scene he is in is funny and he tells a lot of lame jokes, but the way he says them is hilarious ‘they can’t all be golden’. In his attempt to get more connected to women he reads a book entitled ‘How to Pretend Your Sensitive’, which is amusing as well. My only complaint is that in the end Lea marries him and he becomes more ‘normal’, which takes away from the goofy caricature.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: April 22, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated R

Director: Genevieve Robert

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Repulsion (1965)

repulsion 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: She loses her mind.

Love or loathe him one thing is for sure the controversial Roman Polanski has made some great movies and since today marks his 80th birthday I thought it would be good to review one of his films this being his first English language one. The story, which was written by Polanski and Gerard Brach centers on Carol (Catherine Deneuve) a beautiful but lonely young woman living in an apartment with her older sister Helen (Yvonne Furneaux) and Helen’s boyfriend Michael (Ian Hendry). Carol seems detached and troubled and when Helen and Michael go off for the weekend Carol begins to suffer hallucinations while inside the apartment that becomes increasingly more frightening and eventually leads to murder.

The film works at a slow and deliberate pace that some viewers may feel put-off by. Personally I felt it was effective and made it more realistic although things really don’t start to get intense until the final hour. For me it was the little things that made it intriguing for instance the way Carol becomes fascinated with the distorted reflection of herself in a teapot, or a rolling bottle of nail polish. Nothing is over-the-top, but instead subtle and restrained. This is one of the few films that seem to understand the thought process of the mentally ill and makes you feel like you are really inside their head and seeing things as they do, which is what makes it so unnerving. The low-key approach works because like with an actual person having a breakdown it starts with little things that slowly morph into bigger ones.

Polanski shows incredible control over the material. The stark black-and-white cinematography helps to heighten the ugliness of the situation. The variety of camera angles and movements creates an almost hypnotic effect. I loved the way, as Carol gets further into her demented state, that the dimensions of the apartment begins to change, or the hands coming out of the walls. My only complaint is I wished some of these effects had been played up even more. The rape sequences are quite effective and surprisingly explicit for its time period. Yet instead of hearing Carol’s screams during these moments we instead hear the ticking of a clock, which somehow makes it even more disturbing.

Deneuve gives one of her best performances and she was at the peak of youthful beauty here. The blank almost zombie-like look in her eyes is penetrating. You get the feeling that she not only truly understands the madness of her character, but actually is the character. Patrick Wymark is also memorable as the landlord who goes from being bombastic and demanding to kind and cuddling and eventually sexually deviant in a matter of only 10 minutes.

Normally I always like a background to the characters and when they are missing or vague I find it a weakness to the script while here it is strangely a strength. We can surmise that she was most likely abused sexually when she was younger, but the who, when, and why is never made clear. This though somehow makes the character and the situation more compelling and reflects back to how psychologically fragile the human condition can be and how these things can happen to anyone. The final tracking shot, which stops on a picture of Carol as a child showing an angry look on her face is great.

The imagery and psychological approach to this thing is still one-of-a-kind. The movie viewing experience on this one remains potent and aptly deserves its classic status.

repulsion 2

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: October 2, 1965

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Roman Polanski

Studio: Compton Films

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

Death Weekend (1976)

death weekend

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: She can defend herself.

This Canadian thriller, which is loosely based on actual events deals with a rich playboy named Harry (Chuck Shamata) who invites Diane (Brenda Vaccaro) who is also a model to spend the weekend with him at his isolated lakeside cabin that is miles from anywhere. On their way there they run into a biker gang whose leader (played by Don Stroud) takes an intense disliking to Harry. The gang tracks the two down at their cabin where they proceed to terrorize them before eventually killing Harry and forcing Diane to defend herself alone, which she does valiantly.

In a way this is a poor man’s version of I Spit on Your Grave or Straw Dogs, but not nearly as effective. For one the violent scenes aren’t very intense. This is due mainly to the fact that writer/director William Fruet keeps the camera too removed from the action and never once uses a hand held. There is also no gore as Fruet always cuts away just before anything happens and what little you do see looks tacky. Of course a film doesn’t have to be gory to be scary or intense, but if it is going to have this type of violent theme then it should at least equal it in style. The tension also ebbs and flows and the four hoodlums are too dumb and seem like cardboard cutout caricatures that possess no human qualities whatsoever.
The Harry character does allow for some added dimension, which helps and hurts. I liked the way he sees himself as this ‘refined’ gentlemen and yet views women in the same Neanderthal way as the thugs. He brags of having money and power, but when that gets stripped away from him he becomes amazingly spineless. This makes for a good commentary of the rich and successful, but unfortunately also turns him into being too much of a jerk and when the bad guys proceed to tear his place apart we are not ‘horrified’ at all, but instead enjoy seeing it.

There are actually a few good elements one of which is the music score, which effectively creates an ominous feeling. It was also filmed in Ontario Canada during the autumn and the desolate, bleak landscape helps match the bleakness of the situation and characters. I also loved the morning mist captured during the final chase sequence that gives things a very eerie look. There is also a well-staged car chase at the beginning that was done at high speeds and features some great stunt driving.

The film is saved somewhat by Vaccaro’s interesting performance as a victim. She is independent and self-sufficient and refuses to allow herself to be seen or used as a sex object. This goes along with the film’s overall theme which seems to run on the emergence of the woman in a man’s world and the basic redefining of the female role in society. Yet I felt it would have worked better had the character harbored the old female traits at the beginning and then had these new traits come out as the film progressed.

death weekend

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Alternate Title: House by the Lake

Released: September 17, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes

Rated R

Director: William Fruet

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: VHS