Category Archives: 80’s Movies

The Cannonball Run (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: A very stupid movie.

This film is based on the same real-life cross country race that also inspired The Gumball Rally and Cannonball, but unlike those two, which weren’t very good anyways; this movie doesn’t emphasize the race and doesn’t even get going with it until 35 minutes into the runtime. Instead the viewer gets treated to one lame, cornball gag after another making the already threadbare premise seem like only an afterthought.

The most surprising thing is that the screenplay was written by Brock Yates, who was the man who came up with the idea for the race back in 1971 and was participant in all 4 times that it ran. In fact both he and director Hal Needham took part in the 1979 race as driving partners using the very same ambulance that Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise use in the movie. The two pretended to be actual paramedics in order to avoid being stopped by cops when they sped. They even hired a medical doctor to ride along in back to make it seem more legit in case they did get pulled over and Yates’ wife was used as a pretend patient. They almost won it too out of 46 other participants that ran, but lost when their transmission conked out 50 miles from the finish line.

You would think if the script was written by someone who had actually driven in the race that he would’ve been able to offer more insight about the experience, but instead we get bombarded with ‘zany characters’ that are so outlandishly over-the-top that you feel embarrassed for the actors playing them.

The only interesting aspect is the eclectic cast that unfortunately, like with the movie, seem uninspired and going through the motions simply to collect a paycheck. Reynolds, who admitted in interviews to not liking the movie and having ‘sold-out’ simply for the salary, is especially lethargic. He’s not involved in much of the action and never even seen driving while wearing what looks like a wig and ultimately at the cusp of what would eventually be a major career downturn that he was never able to fully recover from.

Supporting players seem almost exploited particularly Jack Elam whose real-life handicap gets used to make his character seem ‘crazy’. Back when he was a child he got into a fight with another kid at a Boy Scout meeting and his left eye was poked with a pencil, causing him to lose his sight with it and giving him a perennial ‘lazy-eye’ that never moved in tandem with his right one. To help make this less pronounced he grew a mustache and beard, but here that gets shaved off making his weird gaze more pronounced, but the ‘crazy look’ gag is a boring one-joke that gets way overplayed.

Dean Martin, in his first movie in 6 years, looks old and washed-up. His Rat Pack partner Sammy Davis Jr. is also on-hand, but is much more energetic and into it while Martin walks around constantly with a drink in hand and looking ready for the grave.

The only member of the cast that comes off well is Farrah Fawcett who was at her all-time hottest and is just cute enough to keep the film passable, but the rest of it is worthless. Silly humor is okay as long as other elements are wrapped around it, but this thing has nothing else to offer. It’s just one stupid comedy bit after another that will prove too moronic for even those with a low bar.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: June 19, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Hal Needham

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The Last Married Couple in America (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Everybody’s getting a divorce.

Jeff and Marie (George Segal, Natalie Wood) have been happily married for quite a while, but suddenly all of their friends, who seemed to be in happy relationships as well, begin divorcing. They start to wonder if their marriage is as fulfilling as they thought. Jeff then sneaks off to have an affair with Barbara (Valerie Harper) and when Marie finds out she leaves him and takes up with a younger man, but the more the two are apart the more they long to get back together.

Wood described this film as being Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice 10 years later, but this lacks the bite and insight of that one. The first act goes on too long. Jeff and Marie’s conversations about their friend’s divorcing are transparent and it takes almost 40 minutes before the film finally works into act two. The story as a whole is shallow and makes no real point while filled with lackluster humor that goes nowhere.

The supporting characters are the most annoying as they are portrayed as being these one-dimensional, sexual revolution zombies whose sole purpose in life is to fool around with anyone they come into contact with married or not. They fail to pick-up on basic social signals that a normal person would and are completely oblivious to the concept that others may not be as ‘liberated’ as they are. If one chooses to be a swinger that’s fine, but they still have to be cognizant to the fact that they live in a world where not everyone will share that liberal lifestyle and having everyone lack this basic understanding makes them seem inhuman and nothing more than cardboard caricatures.

Wood comes off best and is the most relatable. Dom DeLuise is somewhat amusing as a male porn star. We never actually see his character at work, but just the idea that this pudgy man would make a living having sex in front of the camera is funny enough. Harper sporting a bleach blonde hairstyle is solid as well, but Segal with his overly exaggerated reactions and facial expressions is a major detriment.

As for the humor one could find more chuckles from an old episode of ‘Gilligan’s Island’. However, there is one moment that got me to laugh. It entails a conversation that Segal has with his friend (Richard Benjamin) at a bar. The two men lament about getting older and Segal states that having a weak stream while going to the bathroom is a strong signal of aging. The two then go to the men’s room to analyze theirs. While Benjamin stands at the urinal he suddenly looks up with a horrified expression while exclaiming “Oh my God, there’s two!”

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Release: February 8, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Gilbert Cates

Studio: Universal Pictures

Available: DVD-R (Universal Vault Series)

They All Laughed (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Audrey Hepburn’s last movie.

Three male detectives (Ben Gazzara, John Ritter, Blaine Novak) follow around two beautiful ladies (Dorothy Stratten, Audrey Hepburn) whose husbands think are being unfaithful. The detectives have been hired to keep tabs on them, but in the process end up falling for them and then try to somehow get their attention without giving away why they are there.

The film has a nice casual pace that helps bring out its rather eccentric tone. The on-location shooting of New York is outstanding. It’s one thing to show the viewer a bird’s eye view of the skyline, but another to take them onto the city streets and inside all the different shops, from bookstores to museums, while giving them a very real sense that they are going inside these places along with the characters as it picks up the inside ambience quite nicely.

The problem though is that there is no story. The first thirty minutes deals with these men following the women around, but it is not clear why they are doing it and the script’s evasiveness becomes off-putting. There’s no beginning, middle or end, or even any conflict. Just a flat, breezy tale of some cardboard characters having brief flings and that’s it. 2-hours of your time have now just been saved.

The interesting cast allows for some diversion, but even that’s not enough. This is mostly known as being Dorothy Stratten’s last movie as she was murdered before the film was released. However, I was much more impressed with Patti Hansen, who plays a cab driver and has since 1983 been the wife of Keith Richards. I was taken in not only by her stunning beauty, but her relaxed composure in front of the camera. She displays a wonderfully effervescent smile and a laid back persona that doesn’t get intimidated at all by the big name stars around her. If there was one person I wanted the film to be built around it was her and was disappointed it wasn’t.

Stratten on the other hand is not as good-looking and displays all the expected qualities of a model that has no formal acting training as she conveys stiffness as well as a one-note delivery. Her character seems too young to be married to the man that she is and overall I felt the only reason she got cast is because director Peter Bogdanovich was thinking through his penis instead of his head.

Gazzara and Ritter are weak too. They’ve done some good work in other projects, but not here. Gazzara is particularly annoying as his face seems frozen with this leering grinning expression that just never goes away. Ritter plays a bumbling version of his Jack Tripper character and while some of those antics were amusing on ‘Three’s a Company, here they quickly become stale.

Hepburn is the film’s only bright spot and this is considered to be her last theatrical feature as she had just a cameo appearance in Always, but she doesn’t really appear until the second hour and most of the time is seen wearing big bulky dark glasses that almost completely cover-up her face.

Colleen Camp has a few enjoyable snarky moments in a part that was apparently written expressly for her, but she says the name of Ritter’s character, which is Charles, way too much. Most screenwriting instructors will tell you not to have dialogue that reiterates the names of the characters as people normally don’t speak that way in their regular everyday conversations and yet here Camp says ‘Charles’ in an almost repetitive fashion to the point that it gets distracting. I didn’t count how many times she said it during her conversation with him inside a store, but I did start counting when she brought him back to her apartment and during that brief four minutes she says it 29 times. If this was meant to be some sort of joke then it’s a pointless one and if not then Bogdanovich needs to take a course in screenwriting or at least learn how to write a script where something actually happens in it and not just filled with redundant dialogue.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 20, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 55 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Bogdanovich

Studio: Moon Pictures

Available: DVD

Making Love (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Her husband is gay.

Claire (Kate Jackson) thinks she has the perfect marriage yet her husband Zach (Michael Ontkean) harbors dormant feelings for other men and one day he decides to act upon them when he meets Bart (Harry Hamlin). Bart is more into one night flings, which heightens Zach’s inner turmoil as he’s not sure if he should stay with Claire, or live life the way he wants.

This film was considered groundbreaking for its time and even controversial, but it has not stood the test of time well and comes off as quite benign by today’s standards. Part of the problem is with Zach who has supposedly harbored these dormant feelings for a long time, but it is not clear why he suddenly decides to act upon them. The shift between happy married couple to an unhappy one seems to occur overnight and is jarring.

He asks Bart out for lunch when he has only known him for a few minutes, but if he’s quarreling with desires that he has never acted upon then I would think he’d be more hesitant and only move forward with Bart after having known him longer. He also denies to Bart that he’s gay and then a half-minute later is kissing him on the lips. Then quickly after that he’s hopping into bed with him, but I would presume someone who has never had sex with another man before would react more awkwardly and self-consciously their first time.

Hamlin’s character is far more interesting simply because he’s edgier than Zach who is too annoyingly goody-goody. I also enjoyed that he watches movies on a laser disc machine, which you rarely see anymore, but he like all the other gay men in the film has too much of a pretty-boy face and the film should’ve balanced itself by showing that balding, overweight, middle-aged men can be gay too.

The segments where the characters talk directly to the screen is unnecessary and amounts to incessant babbling as they describe things that the viewer could easily pick-up on visually. Wendy Hiller’s old lady character adds nothing and the scene where Zach goes home to visit his folks (Arthur Hill, Nancy Olson) is equally pointless and should’ve also been excised as the film’s runtime is too long to begin with.

Gay viewers may take to this better and the film’s intent may have been noble, but that doesn’t forgive its poor execution as the whole thing comes off like a shallow soap opera with cardboard characters manufactured to fit into an already preconceived concept. In fact the movie’s only good moment comes during a throwaway bit involving Erica Hiller, who was the daughter of the film’s director Arthur Hiller, playing an overly deluded, but woefully under talented singer who is convinced that she will be a smash with the audience during an amateur contest only to be booed off stage the moment she starts singing, which acts as an interesting precursor to a bad audition from ‘American Idol’.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: February 12, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 51 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Arthur Hiller

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

It’s My Turn (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Her relationships don’t last.

Kate’s (Jill Clayburgh) life is in flux. She’s living in Chicago with her boyfriend Homer (Charles Grodin), but feels they are not ‘connecting’ and secretly longing for something more. She travels to New York both for a job interview and to attend her widowed father’s (Steven Hill) wedding. It is there that she meets Ben (Michael Douglas) who is the son of Emma (Beverly Garland) the woman Kate’s father is to marry. Ben is a former professional baseball player with struggles of his own including dealing with an unfaithful wife and a daughter. Kate and Ben hit-it-off during the weekend that she is there and eventually go to bed, but will their new found passion be enough to break them away from their other relationships that they’re still trying to save?

To some extent the film has a fresh feel by portraying the budding romance in less of a mechanical way with dialogue and situations that flow more naturally. The scene where Kate and Ben compete with each other by playing all sorts of different video and table games inside a recreational room is fun as is the old timers baseball game that they attend, which features many real-life baseball legends including Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, and Whitey Ford to name just a few. I’ll also give kudos to Daniel Stern playing a long haired nerdy student who proceeds to disrupt Kate’s algebra class that she is teaching with a lot of redundant questions.

Unfortunately the film doesn’t take enough advantage of its unique storyline. Grown children of a bride and groom to be usually don’t fall in love while attending a wedding event for their parents and the film should’ve focused solely on this scenario including what their parent’s reaction would be to it once they found out. Both Kate and Ben should’ve also been shown calling home to their mates during their time in the Big Apple, which would’ve heightened the drama as we would’ve seen how emotionally conflicted they were to their old relationships despite their new found feelings for each other.

Douglas is a bit miscast as he doesn’t have the necessary upper body muscular build of an athlete. He also looks too young to be a part of the old timer’s game as he was only 32 at the time and many athletes are still playing professionally at that age. The other participants were clearly in their 40’s and 50’s, which means most likely Ben would’ve never have been invited to take part in the event as he hadn’t been away from the game for enough years.

Spoiler Alert!

The biggest downfall though is with the ending that proceeds to leave everything in limbo. Not only does Kate break-up with Homer, but her budding relationship with Ben never comes to fruition. Sitting through a movie just to watch the main character end up right back at square-one is both frustrating and pointless. There needed to be more of a conclusion to her romantic fate. If she learned to become a lifelong single and enjoy it then great, or she found someone else that’s great too, but at least offer some finality instead of just leaving all wide open, which makes the viewer feel like they’ve been treated to only half of a movie.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 24, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Claudia Weil

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Brainstorm (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: They corrupt his invention.

Michael (Christopher Walken) heads a team of researchers who’ve been able to create an invention that allows the sensations from one person’s mind to be recorded onto tape and then transferred to someone else’s. Michael and his team see this as a profitable enterprise, but become uneasy when the government, who want to use it for military purposes, tries to intervene and take over. When Michael attempts to stop them he is fired, which forces him to take extreme measures to destroy the plant before the machine can be made.

This is to date the last feature film to be directed by special effects guru Douglas Trumbull and on a visual level it’s an inspiring ride particularly during the first half. I was also impressed with how the technology that the researchers used in the film didn’t have that dated quality to it like so many other films from that era,  which proves what a keen eye for detail Trumbull had as everything at least on the visual side looks believable and helps keep the film interesting.

Unfortunately the story, which was written by Bruce Joel Rubin, who had intended to direct the film himself years earlier before the financial backing pulled out, is quite contrived and the complete opposite from the state-of-the-art effects. The plot goes off into too many different directions and the pace lumbers along too slowly. The side-story involving Michael’s reconciliation with his wife Karen (Natalie Wood) makes the thing seem more like a romance and should’ve been discarded while the main story suffers from having two different screenwriters, Robert Stitzel, Philip Frank Messina, working off of an idea that was not their own and results in an unfocused final product.

Spoiler Alert!

The climatic sequence, in which Michael and Karen are able to destroy the plant remotely through the phone lines, is too far-fetched. Destroying the plant doesn’t really stop the government from moving forward with their plans anyways as they could simply rebuild the factory and come up with a tighter security system to alleviate the loophole that Michael used so he wouldn’t be able to do it again.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The concept of an invention that would allow someone to essentially read another person’s mind doesn’t really jive as the film portrays the thoughts and memories that people have to be quite linear when in reality it’s more fragmented. Sometimes people can have several conflicting thoughts and emotions going on at the same time making it virtually impossible for another person to decipher the barrage of flashing images that they would encounter from someone else.

The film’s biggest notoriety though is the fact that it was Natalie Wood’s last movie project and while most of her principle scenes where already completed before her untimely death the few that remained were shot using her younger sister as a stand-in. Wood’s presence though and her character are completely transparent and she could’ve been written out of it and nothing would’ve been lost. Louise Fletcher, who plays a bitchy, chain smoking research scientist, gets a far more plum role and ends up being the film’s scene stealer especially with her prolonged death scene. I also got a kick out of Joe Dorsey, who plays this graying middle-aged man who locks himself inside his basement and then uses the device to watch himself having sex with a hot blonde babe over and over again until he becomes completely shut off from the rest of his family and illustrates to a degree an interesting precursor to the porn addiction phenomenon.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: September 30, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 46 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Douglas Trumbull

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon video, YouTube

A Small Circle of Friends (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Three friends sleep together.

Leonardo (Brad Davis), Jessica (Karen Allen), and Nick (Jameson Parker) are students attending Harvard University during the late ‘60s. As they become intertwined with the events of that turbulent era they also form a strong bond that lasts through their school years and on into young adulthood. Leonardo has a relationship with Jessica at first, but it doesn’t work out, so Nick steals her away. Initially Leonardo is angered, but he eventually adjusts and the three later form a ménage a trois.

This was the first film directed by noted producer Rob Cohen and overall I liked the feel. The narrative is fragmented and dreamlike, but it also has a nice nostalgic quality. The script is broadly written, but still gives one a good sense of what life was like on a college campus during that period. The final scene where Leonardo visits an underground student revolution movement where they resort to violent, unlawful means to achieve social change I found to be the most compelling.

Davis gives another great performance and I’m always amazed at the way he can play an effective gay character such as he did in the homoerotic Querelle, but still manage to pull off being a flaming heterosexual too. Allen says little, but her piercing emerald eyes had me hooked on her regardless. Parker is stiff and boring, but still successfully works as an anchor to the other two who are aggressively idealistic.

It’s also fun to see Shelley Long in her film debut. Her character has little to do with the main plot, but watching her portray a man during a stage production while wearing a mustache and male body hair glued to her chest is a hoot.

Usually with these types of films the viewer gets treated to a plethora of overplayed period rock hits, but not here. Instead it’s a loud, booming orchestral score that gets both obnoxious and pretentious as it makes it seem like this is an epic of some kind when in reality it’s just a simple story of young people learning to cope in the real world and the music should’ve reflected that with a quiet folk rock sound.

The film also doesn’t take advantage of the unorthodox sexual activity of its main characters. Three friends, even in these more liberal times, rarely end up becoming a sexual trio. Having this story element introduced late and then quickly dropped is frustrating and should’ve been more explored as it is the one unique thing in an otherwise derivative film that is good enough to get a passing grade, but not much else.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 12, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 53 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Rob Cohen

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD

Four Friends (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Living through the ‘60s.

Four male friends from Indiana go from high school to college and then on into young adulthood while remaining close and supportive. All of them have a passion for Georgia (Jodi Thelen) a very independent woman who enjoys playing-the-field when it comes to men and at various points has jumped into relationships with the four of them individually and at different times. Yet it is Danilo (Craig Wasson) who seems to be the most infatuated with her and he spends his life chasing after her, but finds that when they are together all they do is fight.

The story is apparently very loosely based on the experiences of screenwriter Steve Tesich who immigrated to this country from Yugoslavia at a very young age. The film starts out realistically enough, but quickly devolves into a whimsical tale that introduces interesting plotlines only to resolve them in cutesy ways that ends up making this sprawling tale quite shallow.

One of the biggest detriments is the casting of Craig Wasson who is a horrible actor as he can convey only one type of emotion, which is that of anxiousness and only one type of facial expression, which is that of nervousness. If he dares to try to expand his limited acting abilities away from these two things it comes off as unconvincing. Hs character like all the rest have no appeal as they never grow or evolve and seem put in simply as props to help carry the transparent tale.

I did like Thelen who plays the part of a spacey, free-spirited woman quite well, but even here it ends up getting clichéd. The other male characters have no distinguishable qualities and she sleeps around with them like they are toys on her own personal roulette wheel. Wasson’s character was her exact opposite and the two share no real chemistry making their eventual romance come off as being quite forced.

The film also contains some campy over-the-top dramatic elements that are unintentionally laughable and ridiculous. One takes place during a wedding party where while in front of hundreds of guests the bride’s father goes inexplicably crazy and shoots his daughter, then groom and eventually himself. Later on during a performance art show one of Thelen’s friends, in an apparent drugged stupor, accidently puts her foot on the accelerator while sitting in a car that’s parked inside a building, which sends it crashing through the wall and spiraling several stories to the ground.

The one aspect that I did like is that it didn’t resort to the Forrest Gump formula where the main characters get involved directly into all the famous historical events of the era, but instead view them from afar, which is more realistic. However, the film doesn’t show enough ‘60s nostalgia and half the time you forget the setting is even in that time period.

I admire the ambitious concept, but it takes on too much and would’ve been better had the script been more focused and less sprawling. Nothing here is compelling or memorable and the viewer is left with a genuinely flat feeling when it is over.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 11, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 54 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Arthur Penn

Studio: Filmways Pictures

Available: DVD

Just Between Friends (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Friends share same guy.

Holly (Mary Tyler Moore) and Sandy (Christine Lahti) become friends while attending an aerobics class. Holly then invites Sandy over to her home for dinner unaware that Sandy is having an affair with her husband Chip (Ted Danson). Sandy is equally unaware that the man she is seeing is her new best friend’s mate. After the awkward experience is over Sandy decides to call off her relationship with Chip only to have him die unexpectedly a little bit later. Sandy then tries to help Holly get back on her feet, but without ever confiding with her that she was at one time ‘the other woman’. When Holly is cleaning out her husband’s office she comes across incriminating photographs of Sandy and Chip together and decides to angrily confront her with it.

One of the biggest drawbacks to the film is the casting of Moore in the lead. She’s an actress I’ve always liked, but here she is too old for the part. She was already pushing 50 at the time and Danson, who was 11 years younger, comes off more like an older son than a husband. In fact the opening shot has an extreme close-up of her where you can clearly see the age lines etched on her face making her later conversation where she asks her hubby if they should have another child seem utterly absurd. The intended idea of showing how completely opposite Holly and Sandy are seems more like a generation gap than contrasting personalities and watching Moore in an exercise outfit is genuinely disturbing as she is too thin and her ribs jut right through her shirt.

Lahti’s character is crass and snarky and not at all likable. The idea that she would know nothing about the personal life of the man she was seeing isn’t believable. Now I’ve never been involved in an affair, but I would think if someone is really into someone else, even if it is as the other woman, they’d want to know as much about him as they could including having some knowledge about who he was married to instead of being completely in the dark with what they were up against.

The affair angle gets introduced too suddenly and then right away she gets invited over to Holly’s for dinner and the awkwardness ensues, which isn’t half as funny or compelling as it could’ve been. The film should’ve shown how the affair began as well as to why Chip was unhappy with Holly, which never gets thoroughly explained, and then had the dinner scene played out later on when the viewer was more engrossed with the situation and characters.

There is also a lot of embarrassing comedy that gets mixed into the already cringy drama and only helps to unnecessarily prolong the scenes. The satirical jabs at the on-air news talent are particularly poor as it exaggerates how dumb they are in a film that is supposedly trying to be realistic otherwise. I don’t exactly know what writer/director Allan Burns has against newscasters, but both he and James L. Brooks produced the ‘Mary Tyler Moore Show’, which portrayed Ted Baxter, the newscaster on that series, as being a complete imbecile and here the news anchors are shown in much the same way, but by this time it comes off like an old, overplayed joke.

Having Danson die in the middle was a big mistake as his character was the only thing that brought in any interesting dramatic tension and the film flat lines the rest of the way without him. Allan Burns had some success producing TV-series despite the dubious distinction of having created ‘My Mother the Car’, but clearly making movies was beyond his capabilities and it’s no surprise that he never directed another film after this one.

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: March 21, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 50 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Allan Burns

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD (MGM Limited Edition Collection), Amazon Video, YouTube

Circle of Power (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Weekend retreat becomes brutal.

Executives of a company spend a weekend at a hotel where they’re a part of a large group awareness training that will better prepare them to achieve their full potential in both their business and personal lives. The encounter group is headed by Bianca Ray (Yvette Mimieux) who implements disturbing activities for the participants to go through that become increasingly more abusive and degrading.

This film is based off of the non-fiction novel ‘The Pit: A Group Encounter Defiled’ by Gene Church which documented a 1972 four day encounter group of top executives from the Holiday Magic company and many of the outrageous activities they were required to go through all under the cloak of learning to ‘bring out their inner dynamic’. Many of the activities that the characters in the film are forced to perform are similar to the ones depicted in the book, but amped up for the sake of drama. Some definitely get disturbing including having one participant, played by Walter Olkewicz, forced to strip naked in front of the group and then told to stand on a chair while the others mock his overweight body before having him locked into a cage and feed scraps of food that he must eat up directly from the floor.

Unfortunately the shock value gets muted by having characters that are too cardboard.  The viewer ultimately has no emotional bond to any of them and therefore the increasingly degrading circumstances that they go through achieve no profound impact. It also happens much too quickly as right from the start they are asked to do crazy things. I have no doubt that these encounter groups can sometimes go too far and there have been documented evidence of some even resulting in deaths, but it occurs gradually. A level of trust needs to be achieved to the point that the participants let down their guard and then the darker and twisted stuff gets introduced instead of just having it from the beginning like it gets played here, before any of the people have been psychologically ‘neutered’.

There is also no background given, or at least not a sufficient one, to the people who run the encounter group who are portrayed in a very one dimensional, creepy way that quickly becomes boring.  The issues of how did they decided to get into this line of work and what makes them so brazen to think they can get people to do these outrageous acts and get away with it is never addressed.

The ending is limp. What happens to the employees once they return to work is never captured nor the fate of the people running the retreat and whether they were ever sued or arrested. The idea is an intriguing one and there’s a potential for a really interesting movie to be had, but the plot needed more context and the characters to be better fleshed out.

Alternate Titles: Brainwash, Mystique, Naked Weekend

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 19, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 37 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bobby Roth

Studio: Ambassador Film Distributors

Available: VHS