Category Archives: 80’s Movies

Head Office (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Climbing the corporate ladder.

Jack (Judge Reinhold) is a recent college graduate and business major who gets a job at a prestigious Chicago company named INC. Jack has very little ambition and more interested in making it with the women than climbing the corporate ladder, but despite his lack of effort he keeps getting promoted. He begins to realize that his ascension may not have anything to do with who he is and more with the fact that his father (George Coe) is a influential senator and the company’s CEO (Eddie Albert) wants to gain his favor in order to have a textile plant moved to a Latin American country that will allow them cheap labor and more profits.

The film, which was written and directed by Ken Finkleman, starts off with a bang and has many funny gags, but eventually wears out its welcome by relying too heavily on age-old clichés and caricatures.  Everyone knows the business world can be corrupt and filled with eager boot lickers driven by those with power-hungry career aspirations and willing to backstab anyone that might get in their way. Trying to fill 90-minutes with this same point-of-view that just gets repeated over and over is not amusing nor insightful and if anything becomes boringly predictable.

The characters lack distinction and are more like yes men robots than real people. I worked at several Fortune 500 companies during my lifetime and can attest that there are indeed the proverbial ass-kissers, but they’re plenty of people that have no interest in playing the company game and realize it’s sheer folly because the more you work up the ladder the more a pawn to the system you become. Some are simply satisfied to have a job and provide for their families and yet the film does not show these folks at all, which makes it one-dimensional and ultimately unrealistic.

Reinhold is weak in the lead, which is another reason it doesn’t work. This is a film that is in desperate need of a socialist or someone that is very anti-corporate and just there to openly thumb their  nose at the system and try to muck it up if they can and yet half the time it’s confusing what Reinhold’s position is. He’s too transparent and has no strong presence at all.  There’s also a scene where he gets shot at by a disgruntled ex-employee, which would’ve been enough to make most people never want to go back to that company again as no job is worth that and yet Reinhold returns like it somehow was no big deal.

The supporting cast is interesting and includes such familiar faces as Danny DeVito and Rich Moranis, but they die-off quickly. What’s the use of bringing in big-name stars if they’re going to be killed off right away? It’s fun seeing Jane Seymour playing against type as a power hungry boss. She made her mark in romantic roles for the most part, so it’s impressive seeing her doing a different type of part and doing it well and it’s just a shame she wasn’t in it more. Eddie Albert is good too and plays the violin in a convincing way, or at least is smart enough to know how to move his fingers so it looks realistic.

Spoiler Alert!

However, the gag involving Reinhold inadvertently destroying an expensive Stradivarius violin that gets handed to him by Albert gets ruined when it’s made known that it wasn’t authentic, but simply a prototype. That was the only moment in the film where I had laughed-out-loud, but leave to this dumb movie to botch even that.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: December 29, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Ken Finkleman

Studio: TriStar Pictures

Available: DVD

Breaking All the Rules (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Shenanigans at amusement park.

It’s the last day of summer and Jack (Carl Marotte) plans to spend it a an amusement park with his friend David (Thor Bishopric). On the bus ride there they are spotted by Debbie (Carolyn Dunn) and Angie (Rachel Hayward) two best friends who immediately take a liking to the boys. The teen foursome then spend a romantic, even sexy time, at the park, but are unaware that three criminals (Michael Rudder, Pierre-Andre LaRoque, Papusha Demitro) have stolen a diamond and hidden it inside one of the stuffed animals inside the park. When Debbie inadvertently receives the stuffed animal as a prize the crooks stalk the four in order to get the diamond back.

The best thing about the film is Carolyn Dunn, who retired from acting in 2009 and now works as a holistic therapist, and who is drop dead gorgeous especially at the start when she has a normal hairstyle, but even after she gets the ill-advised punk look she’s still a super hottie, which if you’re a male at least, should be good enough to get you through the rest of the pic, which doesn’t have much else going for it. Of course it’s Dunn’s extreme beauty that in some ways actually hurts it since she immediately falls for the very average looking Jack at first glance, which made no sense. This is the type of chick that would have guys flocking all around her and the privilege of choosing the pick-of-the-litter, so why go ga-ga over a dweeb? If dweebs are her thing then fine, but that’s something that needs to be established right up front, but isn’t, so seeing the immediate sparks fly as they do is not believable.

Angie’s romance with David is equally problematic as Angie is almost as hot as Debbie, so why is she falling for a kid that looks like he hasn’t even reached puberty? Seeing them stand side-by-side makes their physical differences even more apparent as Angie looks like she could be 20 and more David’s babysitter than his girlfriend. Had the film cast average looking women that weren’t used to getting a lot of attention from guys and therefore accepting of any dope that came along then it would’ve been more realistic, or simply hired better looking male talent to match the looks of the females.

While I did find the Jack character to be initially amusing, which includes a fantasy segment that he has near the start that is probably the only real funny moment in the movie, he does become increasingly problematic as it goes along especially for modern audiences. Some of the comments he makes, while considered possibly innocuous at the time, will be perceived as controversial today including when he says ‘when a woman says no she really means yes’ or when he states that a women is ‘just dying to get laid’ simply based off of what she’s wearing. There is also a segment where he goes on a rollercoaster ride with Angie and takes advantage of her frightened state by putting his hands underneath her dress and groping her breasts without her permission.

Even if you can get past these issues the plot itself is dumb. The three crooks look like they’re almost the same age as the four teens and older actors should’ve been cast in the bad guy roles simply to give the film a better balance. The crooks also play-off of a mafia-like stereotype complete with affected accents, which is cliched and not funny.

The logic is flimsy too including having Jack become the prime suspect of the stolen diamond simply because his fingerprints were found on the glass case that housed it, but he had been employed part-time at the amusement park, so it would’ve been expected that his prints might’ve innocuously gotten on it when he worked there. The script also shows little understanding between the differences of love and lust. For instance Jack says he ‘fell in-love’ with Debbie the second he saw her, but in reality he just got highly aroused at seeing her half-exposed ass when the wind lifted up her skirt.

I didn’t understand how the film’s title worked into the storyline either. There’s no rule-breaking going on particularly from the four leads who are all boringly transparent and not rebellious at all.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: April 15, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Director: James Orr

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD

Thunder Run (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Aging trucker hauls plutonium.

Charlie (Forrest Tucker) is a former trucker who spends his retirement working an old cobalt mine, but finds few prospects. He’s then given an offer by George (John Ireland) an old friend of his to haul some plutonium from Nevada to a top secret installation in Arizona. George warns Charlie that it could be dangerous as they’re terrorists after the cargo and willing to resort to violent means to steal it, but the $200,000 payout is too much for Charlie to refuse. With the help of his grandson Chris (John Shepherd) and his other teen friends the truck gets fitted with high tech gadgetry in order to fight off the bad guys when they attack.

The film starts out okay although it has all the signs of being a low budget direct-to-video 80’s venture complete with stock characters and generic music. The presence of Tucker, whose last movie this was, really helps. He’s the kind of actor who can give a performance that seems effortless and like he’s not acting at all just being himself and his persona is quite engaging allowing the viewer to become attached to him quite quickly and rooting him on in his challenge. There is some nifty stunt work too with my favorite moment being when a backhoe loader crushes a car that it literally runs right over and then also a trailer office. The scene has little to do with the main plot, but it’s still fun to see visually.

The film though starts to falter when it gets out onto the open-road. What should’ve been excited actually isn’t. There’s just too much high tech nonsense with rig equipped with stuff no other 18-wheeler has ever had. There’s very little intrigue at seeing the bad guys chase the truck when Tucker is able to just blow them all away with a press of a button. The truck seems almost indestructible as the villains aim a flame thrower right at the tires, which should’ve easily melted the rubber, but instead it doesn’t. The film is famous for a stunt that has the truck jumping over a train, but when it came back down onto the pavement it should’ve jostled the intricate parts of the rig in a way that would’ve most likely disabled it and the fact that the truck is able to continue on just fine starts to make the whole thing too ridiculous to be believed.

Having Tucker paired with Shepherd, who was 24 at the time, but looked more like he was only 18, is not interesting. Initially I thought this would allow the story to take advantage of the generation gap, but Shepherd is so squeaky clean and All-American that his presence allows for no nuance. I realize that in order to attract teen viewers a younger actor needed to be cast in a co-starring role, but the film would’ve been far better had Tucker been the sole driver, manning a rig that was just a regular truck without any of the techie jazz and forced to use his wits and cunning to fight off the terrorists instead of stuff dreamed up by a special effects wiz with an over active imagination.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 30, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Gary Hudson

Studio: Cannon Film Distributors

Available: DVD (Region 2), VHS

High Tide (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mother meets estranged daughter.

Lillie (Judy Davis) is living on the very edge of show business life working as a backup singer to an Elvis impersonator (Frankie J. Holden). Her lackluster behavior gets her fired and she finds herself without money or shelter. She moves to a trailer home park and begins drinking heavily and it is here while in a drunken state in the public bathroom that she meets Ally (Claudia Karvan). Ally is a 13-year-old girl living with Bet (Jan Adele) who is the mother of Ally’s father who died when she was just an infant. At first Lillie doesn’t know that Ally is actually her daughter, which she gave up at birth. When Bet realizes that Lillie is in the area she warns her not to go near Ally, but Ally and Lillie manage to find ways to get together anyways and form a rapport, but without Ally knowing the deep, dark secret between them. Once she does find out the two must learn to fight through the awkward and emotional state that the tumultuous new awareness creates.

Originally the script called for Lille’s character to be a man meeting up with his lost teen daughter that he had abandoned years earlier, but director Gillian Armstrong felt this had been done before and at her husband’s suggestion changed the lead into a female. In many ways this was a better idea as women are better able to reveal their emotions creating some very strong, heartfelt scenes between them that ultimately makes for a very powerful film.

Many reviewers have expounded on Davis’ performance and she does give a strong one particularly the way her character is put through some very demeaning situations, but still managing to come through them holding her head high and keeping the viewer empathetic to her. Karvan though is quite good too with a beautiful photogenic face that can display an array of emotions with very little effort and who’s likable enough that you’re able to bond with her immediately.

The story progresses casually and at first you have no idea what links these three women as the film intercuts between them in separate situations with no idea where the connecting point is, which to some extent doesn’t grab the viewer in. I did though like the way it captured the nightclub atmosphere showing how for many it temporarily opened the door for their lost and fleeting dreams by having Bet get onstage and sing to a captive audience at a talent contest during the evening only to cutaway showing her back on her drudgery job of driving an ice cream truck the following day.

Once the secret becomes clear the story gets more interesting with the dialogue between the mother and daughter quite compelling. There is however, a long lull during the second act where Lilly intentionally stays away from Ally, which I found frustrating. The main interest of the film is seeing the two working things out together and getting through the guilt and bitterness of the past and at times there’s not enough of that.

Spoiler Alert!

The third act features Ally deciding to go out on the road with Lillie, but to me this thing seemed too precipitous since the two had only begun to get to know each other, why would a young teen, even if she was unhappy in her current situation, want to start living with someone she really didn’t know if she could get along with? This situation also opens up a whole variety of new tangents: like how are the two going to survive with Lillie’s limited job skills and where would they live? I felt this situation should’ve been introduced in the second act and explored much more. Personally I don’t think things would’ve worked out and at the very least brought on, despite their best intentions, a lot of stress and disagreement before it might’ve gotten better. This is something the viewer needed to see though there’s still plenty of nice rewards nonetheless.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: July 30, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Gillian Armstrong

Studio: Filmpac Distribution

Available: VHS

Unhinged (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Girls trapped in mansion.

Terry, Nancy, and Gloria (Laurel Munson, Sara Ansley, Barbara Lusch) take a trip to rural Washington in order to attend a musical festival. Along the way they run into a freak rain storm, which causes their car to crash into a ravine. They are rescued by Norman (John Morrison) who works as a groundskeeper for the Penroses who live in an isolated mansion. He takes them to the mansion where the girls meet Marion (Janet Penner) who lives there with her elderly mother (Virginia Settle). However, the girls start to sense that there’s someone else on the grounds that also lives there that the daughter and mother aren’t telling them about. Terry hears the heavy-breathing of this person late at night and sees him going into a nearby shed. She tries to investigate only to unearth the family’s deep dark secret the puts all three girls in terrible danger.

The film’s main claim to fame, something it even advertises on its DVD cover, is that it was on one of the 72 films to appear on the U.K.’s video nasties list during the early 80’s. However, if you’ve watched some of the other movies that appeared on that list you’ll realize most are rather tame, especially by today’s standards, so getting put on that list isn’t as notorious as it used to be. The film is also known for having been filmed at the Pittock Mansion, an impressive 46-room estate that sits in Portland, Oregon.

Unfortunately the majority of the movie gets plagued by a low budget/amateur feel and look. The scenes are transitioned by cutting to black and then staying that way for several seconds until you start to worry that picture has gone out, or you’ve gotten stuck with a bad DVD. The dialogue is also too descriptive, or as some critics would say too ‘on-the-nose’. The characters speak in long, full sentences when in reality people don’t talk that way. Instead of having a conversational quality it comes off more as explanatory and in many cases too much so. There also isn’t any need for five minutes of footage showing the girls car driving along a road for us to get the idea that they’re on a trip.

The logic is quite loopy. The girls wake-up to find themselves inside this big home, but are told there are no phones even though these people own this gigantic place that is filled with expensive wines and just about every other luxury. One of the girls is forced to hike through the forest to find help making it seem like this big, beautiful place is not connected to any type of road even though the most rural of homes will still have at the very least a dirt road that will lead to the residence and then be connected at some point to a main road.

I found it odd too that Terry goes to investigate the strange sounds that she is hearing in the attic, but does not bring anything with her for protection. Grabbing a small lamp, or some other heavy, sharp object that she could find, that she could whack over the head of someone should they jump out to attack her would seem to be a no-brainer for anyone else in a similar situation. Yet she chooses to walk into this dark, strange place and go snooping around virtually defenseless.

During the first 75 minutes there are only 2 killings and they’re spread way apart and in between you get stuck with a lot of stilted drama. The only other chills come from seeing a close-up of a guy’s eyeball as he observes the girl’s through a hole in the wall. There’s also a couple of moments where the old lady sits at the dinner table and looks at two glass cups in front of her in a sort-of spooky way that I guess is supposed to be scary, but I could never quite figure out why she was doing that, or what it was supposed to mean.

Fans of this film will tell you that the ending makes sitting through the rest of it worth it. The finale is quite grisly and violent and even has an unexpected surprise, so for some that may be enough. It does have a certain tinge to the more popular Sleepaway Camp even though this one came out a full year before that one.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: October 15, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 19 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Don Gronquist

Studio: Megastar Films

Available: DVD

Mountaintop Motel Massacre (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Crazy lady kills guests.

Evelyn (Anna Chappell) has just been released from a mental institution and gone back to running a rural motel. One day she finds her daughter Lori (Jill King) practicing witchcraft in their basement. Evelyn becomes so enraged by this that she ends up killing her daughter with a garden sickle. The police believe her story that it was simply an accident that happened outside in their garden and do not arrest her, but the voices inside Evelyn’s head convince her that everyone else is out to get her. This madness sends her on a killing spree at her hotel in which she is able to enter each person’s room through a trap door in their bathrooms that is connected to an underground tunnel.

The film did only moderately well when it was released to regional theaters and then ultimately nationally in 1986 and a lot of the problem could reside around its promotional poster seen above, which seems to imply that this is a campy horror comedy, which it is not. It also features a completely different woman posing as Evelyn that is not the same one who plays her in the film.

As for the film itself it starts out okay. I liked how it comes up with this very offbeat premise about an old lady killer, but then approaches in a realistic way. Nothing gets jazzed-up for the sake of horror and everything gets handled with a slow deliberate pace including a drawn out scene showing an ambulance crew trying to resuscitate her daughter. The on-location shooting, which was filmed in an around Oil City, Louisiana in March of 1983 gives the viewer an authentic view of the winter landscape in the south and the hotel itself, which was shot at an abandoned fishing camp that sat on Cross Lake in Shreveport, helps add a rustic flair.

The cast of victims are much more diverse than in most slasher movies and fortunately doesn’t just feature teenagers or college kids. I was especially impressed with Major Brock, who plays Crenshaw, who had worked for 31 years as a baggage handler at Delta Airlines, but was convinced by the film’s director to take on the role despite having no acting experience, but he does really well, he even sleeps convincingly, and I enjoyed the character’s no-nonsense attitude and wished he had remained in it the whole way.  I was actually disappointed to see any of them die and instead wanted to see how they could get past their contrasting personalities to work as a team to overcome the crazy lady, but that doesn’t happen.

The killings though are quite boring and the idea that a sickle would be able to kill people so easily with just one swipe after spending most likely years being used in the garden, which would’ve dulled its blade, is just not believable. The victims are also too passive and just stand there when the lady attacks them instead of fighting back. The killer is after all an elderly woman, so you’d think these younger people could’ve overpowered her by even just kicking at her, which would’ve slowed her advance.

The climactic battle inside the underground tunnel offers some tension, but it seemed weird that when the people would open up the trap door that lead to the tunnel there would be this bright ray of light that would spew out making it seem like the tunnel was well lit, but then when they’d get down there the only source of light would be their lanterns, so if that’s the case were was the initial ray of light coming from?

The film would’ve worked better had it not given it all away right at the start. The identity of the killer should’ve been kept a secret until the very end and Evelyn should’ve initially been portrayed as this sweet old lady who you’d never suspect. The tunnel should not have been made known until later either and thus made it more intriguing for the viewer in trying to figure out how the dead bodies of the victims were disappearing out of their rooms.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: July 15, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jim McCullough Sr.

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Savage Weekend (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: The first slasher movie.

Maria (Marilyn Hamlin), who has a very contentious relationship with her ex-husband Greg (Jeff Pomerantz), but who is now in a relationship with Robert (Jim Doerr) a successful businessman, decides to take a weekend trip with some friends to upstate New York. Robert is having a large boat built there and wants to see its progress. The quiet country atmosphere seems like the perfect spot to getaway until a masked killer shows up killing each of them one-by-one.

While Halloween typically gets credited as being the forerunner to the modern day slasher film it’s actually this one that was the first and don’t let the release date fool you. This was filmed in the summer of 1976, a full two years before Halloween came out, but was shelved by its distributors as they thought the concept of a mysterious masked killer was ‘too weird’ and wouldn’t catch on only to eventually release it to theaters once they saw the success of Halloween.

The concept for this came about completely by accident. Writer/director David Paulson was originally hired to write a screenplay for a completely different type of movie, but the investor then retracted the majority of the money he promised leaving Paulson with a mere $20,000 to work with. He decided with such little funds he’d be forced create a story that required a single setting and then came up a scenario that would make the characters stay there and thus the killer-on-the-loose idea was born.

The critics were originally not kind: TV Guide subscribed this as a ‘reprehensible exploitation film’ and ‘the gore effects are extremely gruesome’, which just isn’t true. At best the blood is quite minimal especially when compared to today’s slashers. In fact you’ll find more explicit gore in modern dark comedy films like Shaun of the Dead than you will here.

Critic Joe Baltake criticized the Nicky (Christopher Allport) the gay character stating that he ‘set gay rights activism back several decades’, which I totally disagree with. I actually liked Nicky and was impressed at the way he walked into a backwoods bar and when the rednecks tried to hassle him he single-handedly kicked their asses, which to me worked completely against the gay stereotype.

Through the years critics have become much kinder to this film and its attained a strong cult following and deservedly so. Despite being made 4 decades ago it actually comes off as fresh and inventive because it’s not stifled by the conventional ‘rules’ of the formula, which we’ve become so accustomed to now. I liked how the film opens with a point-of-view shots of our heroine running madly through the forest making the viewer feel they’re the ones being chased.

The fact that the majority of it takes place during the daytime actually makes it scarier especially with it’s weird yellowish tint that permeates every shot. I’m not sure if this was intentional or just a poor film transfer, but it helps to create a surreal look. I also really loved seeing the skeleton of the large boat that was being built inside an abandoned shed. I presume with the low budget this was not made for the story and instead simply worked into the script when the producers came upon it while scouting for locations, but the effect is cool especially when the cast walks around inside it.

The soundtrack is way different from the conventional horror film as well with a country tinged sound and at one point even a classical dance piece, but after watching soooo many scary movies with the same old Friday the 13th-like sound I was more than happy to hear something different. The characters are also multi-dimensional with distinctive personalities. Usually I more than happy to see a cardboard slasher film cast get hacked-up, but here I kind of wanted them to stay around as they were interesting. The murders also don’t work in a mechanical way, but instead start occurring suddenly to the shock of everyone else, which gives it more of a real-time feel.

The only real negative is that despite having a strong beginning and ending the middle part is slow. There’s still enough interactions between the characters to hold mild interest, but there’s no running tension. A good horror movie should be creepy to some degree from beginning to end, but the second act veers off too much making it at times seem more like a soft core porn flick, but overall for the horror connoisseur I’d still recommend this.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 14, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated R

Director: David Paulsen

Studio: Cannon Group

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region 1), Amazon Video

Island of Blood (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer stalks film crew.

The cast for an upcoming horror film travel to an island where the film is to be made. Since the film’s producer and director won’t arrive until the next day they get ready for their parts, but find that each of them is getting offed one-by-one by a mysterious killer that they cannot see, but who leaves a portable tape player hanging near the body of his latest victim that plays a rock song with violent lyrics.

This low budget attempt had potential, but goes about it in all of the wrong ways. One of the things that really stood out to me since I’ve worked as a crew member on several low budget films myself is that the characters here act in a completely opposite way from how a cast and crew would normally behave on a real set. I have found most people when thrown together onto a crew of people that they do not know would make attempts to form friendships and potential contacts with their fellow crew/cast members. Here though the cast members, who are made up of young adults, act like they’re still in high school and more concerned with putting up pretentious facades to prove how ‘cool’ they are while putting down everyone else around them.

I also couldn’t believe the amount of open apathy these same characters show the screenwriter when he hands out the script and describes to them what the plot is about. Someone should’ve advised these ‘up-and-coming’ young starlets that when you’re starting out in the business it might be a good idea to at least fake enthusiasm for what you’re going to be working in, or it just might be the last film you’ll ever be asked to be in. Word-of-mouth travels fast in this business and if you get a reputation of being someone who really doesn’t care to be there then you’ll never get hired again as there’s plenty of other people out there willing to take your place.

As for the killings they’re not very impressive although the shot of a dead woman with nails going through her forehead, via a nail gun, would’ve been creepier had her eyes remained open instead of closed. The fact that we never see the killer does actually make it a little bit scarier simply because it’s completely left up to the viewer’s imaginations about who this person is. The chase sequences though don’t work as they all take place in these darkened buildings, the result of a power outage, so you really can’t see exactly what’s going on. I also thought that having the arriving producer die by having his boat explode, which was apparently caused by the killer, was a bit ridiculous because how could the killer go from being on an island one minute to on a boat at sea the next in order to plant the bomb?

The film does have a twist ending, which reviewers over at IMDb seemed to like and while it is a surprise to some extent it really doesn’t completely work. Way too many unanswered questions and loopholes get thrown in that never get explained.

The concept would’ve worked better, and been ahead-of-its-time, had it taken the BLAIR WITCH PROJECT  approach where a centralized cast member would film the behind-the-scenes action of this upcoming production and interview the other cast members as they got ready for it. She could then use her camera later on to do detective work to try and catch the killer.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: July 9, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 22 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: William T. Naud

Studio: Action International Pictures

Available: Amazon Video

Road Games (1981)

road games 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Truck driver pursues killer.

Quid (Stacy Keach) is an American working as a trucker in Australia and hauling a frozen shipment of pigs through the outback and into Perth. Along the way he becomes menaced by a strange man (Grant Page) driving a black van who has a penchant for picking-up prostitutes who then end up dying. Quid is convinced that the man is the serial killer that is being reported about on the news, but before he can go to the police he gets tabbed as the killer himself forcing him, with the help of Pamela (Jamie Lee Curtis) a hitch-hiker he picks up along the way, to find the real killer before he gets arrested for crimes that he did not do.

One of the coolest aspects of this film is its voyeuristic quality where visual clues are a requirement for the viewer to pick up on to figure out what’s going on.  Too many other movies don’t take enough advantage of this idea and usually sell-out by having everything explained through dialogue, but here director Richard Franklin, a major devotee of Alfred Hitchcock, who tried to model the story after Rear Window, keeps the viewer feeling like they’re an active participant.

The film’s drawback, and most likely one of the main reasons it didn’t do well at the box office, is that the tension  ebbs and flows. Too much labor gets put into dressing up the plot with a lot of quirky side stories. This includes having Quid  coming into contact with the same motorists through his travels, which I didn’t think was realistic that these same drivers would be taking the exact same route as him while maintaining the same speeds as he over a several day period, so that no matter where he went they were never far away. I have traveled extensively by car on long road trips similar to this one and have never kept passing the same motorists like Quid does here.

The film also lacks, with the exception of a surprise double ending that comes at the very end,  any type of actual scares. There is a running build-up making you believe that a shock is just around-the-corner, but ultimately it’s a letdown. People watch these things with the anticipation they’ll be jumping-out-of-their-seats at some point, but this is too tame and at certain points it’s almost more like a comedy.

The killer, who was played by a stuntmen and not a professional actor, lacks any type of presence to distinction. For things to get really intense, which it never does, the bad guy has to stand out and make the viewer feel on edge every time they see him, which this transparent guy is unable to do. It would have also been more interesting had his face not been shown until the very end instead of Quid seeing what he looks like early on when he spots him through his binoculars.

I was surprised why the two lead characters were played by Americans since the setting is the down-under and the story better served by performers who were native born. That’s not to say that Keach or Curtis don’t give engaging performances because they do, but I don’t believe there’s too many American truck drivers working in Australia, so there needed to be some explanation for why Keach was there and why, being that he was not from the region, he was so educated about the history of the area, as evidenced when the two camp-out overnight and he tells her the back story of an abandoned telegraph station that sits nearby.

The romantic undertones that are lightly introduced does nothing but sap away the tension. I also found it curious why Curtis would be trusting of Quid upfront as she’d have no idea whether the serial killer could’ve been him and therefore she should’ve been more guarded, which she isn’t.

The climactic sequence features a unique car chase where three vehicles follow each other around the back alleys of Perth late at night, but at very slow speeds, which surprisingly is effective. However, the script should’ve been tighter and the editing quicker. The film’s leisurely pace and colorful supporting characters works against it. There needed to be more shocks, more of a confrontation between Quid and the killer, and basically just more of a conventional thriller-like approach.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 26, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Franklin

Studio: Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

The Toy (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Becoming a child’s pawn.

Jack Brown (Richard Pryor) is unable to find stable employment and at risk of being evicted from his home. In desperation he takes a job as a night janitor at a local toy store. It is there that he gets spotted by Eric (Scott Schwartz) the young son of business mogul Ulysses (Jackie Gleason). Eric is used to getting what he wants so when Jack inadvertently makes him laugh he decides to ‘buy’ him and turn him into his own personal ‘toy’. Jack is initially reluctant to agree to this, but when he’s offered a lot of money he eventually goes along with it. Initially the relationship between the two is quite awkward, but eventually they form a bond and Jack manages to teach Eric many important life lessons while also getting Eric’s father to realize that money can’t buy a son’s love.

When compared to the original French version this thing is painful to watch. Much of the problem stems around the fact that the satirical point-of-view from the first one gets watered down here. The French film took a lot of calculated potshots at capitalism and corporate hierarchy, but apparently Hollywood was afraid they’d be considered ‘unamerican’ if they took that route, so instead of sharp humorous insights we get tired formula dealing with a rich kid trying desperately to get his father’s attention whose selfish personality needs fixing.

Because the message is so muddled it becomes confusing what point it wants to take, so to make up for it,  they throw in all sorts of cringey life lessons crap like Pryor teaching Eric about the importance of friendship and even a a bit about ‘the-bird’s-and-the-bees’. After awhile it doesn’t seem like a comedy at all, but more like a tacky after school special your parents made you watch when you were in the third grade.

The humor that does get thrown-in gets equally botched. In the French version every comic bit that occurred fit into the film’s main them. Here though any gag that has the potential of getting a cheap laugh gets used whether it actually works with the main story or not. Many of which are tired, overused gags where you already know what the payoff will be before the set-up barely gets going.

Pryor’s casting was a bit controversial at the time due to him being black and then used as a ‘servant’ to a white kid, but the truth is Pryor is the only thing that saves it. He’s not exactly hilarious here, but his onscreen charisma is enough to at least keep it engaging. Gleason on the other hand, who was already in his mid-60’s at the time, seemed too old for the part although with the use of a wig he manages to camouflage it pretty well.

Schwartz, who is better known as the kid who gets his tongue frozen to a flagpole in A Christmas Story, and for his later career in adult movies, is annoying. In the French film I liked the kid, but the child character here is poorly fleshed-out having him go back-and-forth in irritating fashion from spoiled brat to emotionally needy tyke.

Ned Beatty makes the most of his small role, keeping his scenes funny when they could’ve easily been overlooked. Elderly character actor Wilford Hyde-White is amusing too and so is Teresa Ganzel as Gleason’s busty girlfriend, but virtually everything else falls flat. This includes an unnecessary side-story involving the Klu Klux Klan, which was not in the original film, and just extends this already excessive mess far longer than it needed to be.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: December 10, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Donner

Studio: Columbia Pictures

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