Category Archives: 80’s Movies

The Little Drummer Girl (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Actress infiltrates terrorist organization.

Charlie (Diane Keaton) is a stage actress with pro-Palestinian leanings who’s living in Israel. After a Palestinian bomber kills a Israeli diplomat and his family she gets recruited by a pro-Israeli spy organization to pretend to be the bomber’s brother’s girlfriend. At first she resists, but eventually she puts her acting skills to work until she gets deeper and deeper into the quagmire and begins to question what she really stands for.

The story, which is based on the novel of the same name by John Le Carre, who appears briefly in the film as a police chief, has a lot of exciting moments and a few unexpected ones. For the most part I found the plot intriguing and the twists and turns to be interesting although if the viewer doesn’t pay close attention they could easily become lost.

Klaus Kinski’s performance makes it worth seeing. He suffered from mental illness in his personal life and due to that as well as his unique facial features usually stymied him in roles of madmen, or troubled individuals, but here he plays someone who is actually normal and does a convincing job of it. His presence definitely enlivens the proceedings to the point that he should’ve been the sole face of the Israeli organization and not crowded out by a throng of assistant players who are not interesting and become clutter to both the story and visuals.

Keaton is great here too and one of the main reasons that the film remains as interesting as it does. Her emotional confusion comes off as sincere and the fish-out-of-water concept where she gets thrown into a world that she is not used to and must use her wits and acting talent to get by is at first riveting.

Unfortunately the second half goes too far to the extreme where Charlie no longer resembles the same person that we met at the beginning. Some may argue that this is her character arch, but she still needs to have a consistent foundation and not morph into something completely different with no roots to what she was before. She starts out as someone only going along with the charade because she’s forced into it. She’s very clumsy at first, but then by the second half is able to put a gun together while blindfolded and seamlessly detonate a bomb without a sweat like a seasoned spy with years of experience.

She’s given an opportunity to get out and yet she decides to proceed even as things get more dangerous, which makes little sense since she didn’t conform at all with the political sentiments of the organization that recruited her. Any regular person would have a mental/emotional breakdown at seeing someone killed before they’re very eyes, or required to go to bed with a stranger that she barely knew and the fact that she doesn’t reveals how the filmmakers had a very poor grasp on the character.

All of this could’ve been avoided had they modeled her after the one in the book. For the film the producers decided to portray Charlie as being similar to Vanessa Redgrave, but in the book the character was inspired after Janet Lee Stevens who was an American journalist, human rights activist, and Arabic literature scholar who traveled to the Middle East as an interpreter and had no connection to acting. Having the film focus on a young activist whose extreme idealism ends up getting her in-over-her-head would’ve been more compelling and believable. Throwing in the acting angle just doesn’t work and ends up becoming its biggest liability.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 19, 1984

Runtime: 2 Hours 10 Minutes

Rated R

Director: George Roy Hill

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Video, YouTube

Best Friends (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Writing partners get married.

Richard (Burt Reynolds) and Paula (Goldie Hawn) have been working together as a screenwriting team for many years and have fallen in love in the process. Richard would like to take the next step and get married, but Paula resists afraid that this will ruin their friendship, but eventually she caves to his pressure and they tie-the-knot. Things though get rocky when they visit both of their relatives and when they return to L.A. seem destined for a break-up only to be forced to acclimate when they’re locked in a room and not allowed out until they revise the ending of their latest screenplay.

This film is similar to Romantic Comedy as both dealt with two people of the opposite sex working together as a writing team while romance blossomed in the process. Yet both films missed the mark by not focusing enough on the writing craft and the teamwork needed to get a script written. Only at the very end do we see the two working together, but because it waits so long to get to this point it’s not really worth it. In between we get immersed with drawn out segments dealing with each partner learning to deal with their kooky in-laws, which has been done in many other romances before and is neither fresh nor insightful.

I also didn’t like that it begins right away with them already in-love, which deprives the viewer the chance of seeing how the relationship began, which is usually half the fun. The couple are a bit too lovey-dovey and there’s never any fiery argument between them, which could’ve offered some tension in what is otherwise a flat story with very little that actually happens.

The script was written by Valerie Curtain and Barry Levinson, who based their own real-life experiences of working together and then ultimately marrying on the two characters and it would’ve been nice had they simply been cast as themselves. Hawn and Reynolds are okay but there’s a big age difference between the two and their presence also gives it too much of the glossy, big-star Hollywood treatment where as with Curtain and Levinson playing the roles would’ve made it seem more genuine and original.

My favorite part though is when they travel to Buffalo, New York in the dead-of-winter where they must deal with actual snow and cold and not the fake studio kind. However, Goldie’s parents, played by Barnard Hughes and Jessica Tandy, come-off too much like caricatures playing off the stereotype that everyone that gets old automatically become senile and eccentric. The things that they say and do are more cringe worthy than amusing and nothing that a real senior citizen would ever do.

Their visit with Burt’s parents, played by Keenan Wynn and Audra Lindley, improves a little as they act more normal, but it’s just as unfunny. The film also misses out on a prime comic opportunity as the two are informed that they need to revise their latest screenplay in a hurry and I thought it would’ve been quite amusing seeing them trying to work on it while cooped up in the home of Burt’s parents and trying to block out all the noise and chaos around them, but the film only teases with this idea, but eventually whiffs on it.

The story is unfocused and throws in all sorts of dumb things like Goldie’s sudden addiction to Valium pills that have nothing to do with the main plot. Having the film begin where it ends with the two locked in a room for days and forced to reassess their relationship while going back through certain highlights that the two had through flashback including showing how they first met would’ve given it more of a fragmented narrative and made it seem less drawn-out and mechanical.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 17, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 56 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Norman Jewison

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Believers (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cult requires child sacrifice.

After the death of his wife (Janet-Laine Green) Cal (Martin Sheen) decides to move with his young son Chris (Harley Cross) from Minneapolis to New York City where he gets a job as a police psychologist. It is there that her councils officer Tom Lopez (Jimmy Smits) who worked undercover to infiltrate a cult that performed child sacrifices and is now paranoid that these same cult members are after him when it’s really Cal’s son that they want.

On the directing end I found this to be mildly engrossing and I enjoyed the way John Schlesinger vividly captured both surburbia as well as the inner city. Working into the false sense of security that the suburbanites have making them believe that they’re ‘immune’ to what goes on in the poorer areas, but here it shows how evil can seep into even the most affluent of areas and revealing just how vulnerable everyone is.

However, if you focus solely on the script, which is based on the Nicholas Conde novel ‘The Religion’, then there are a myriad amount of problems. The biggest one being the opening sequence that features the mother getting electrocuted in a freakish accident, which doesn’t really have all that much to do with the rest of the story. Some may argue that this was the catalyst to get Cal and Chris to move from Minneapolis to New York where the real meat of the plot begins, but why not just have them already in New York to begin with?

Having Helen Shaver enter in as Cal’s love interest is equally pointless. Their relationship happens too quickly and comes off as forced while Chris’ dismay at having a new mother figure in his life seems like an issue for an entirely different type of movie. I admit having a tumor grow on her face that eventually spawns spiders is my favorite part of the movie, but why not just have this occur to the mother instead of killing her off so quickly at the beginning?

Richard Masur’ character, who appears during the first act only to then disappear until the end is problematic as well. A good script has important characters appear throughout the story and not just vanishing until you’ve completely forgotten about them, which I did, and then conveniently reappearing and suddenly becoming an integral part of the plot.

Cal’s character arc is too extreme too. He’s portrayed as being a rationalist who does not believe in superstition, but then later on is shown taking part in a ritual requiring him to squeeze out blood of a decapitated chicken, which is too Jekyll and Hyde-like. Sure people can sometimes change their opinions on things, but not so quickly or so severely. Portraying him as initially being superstitious, instead of so adamantly against it, might’ve made this scene a little less jarring.

There are only an estimated 22,000 people who practice the Santeria religion in the United States, which has a population of 327 million, so the odds that a person such as Cal would come into contact with not only a police officer that dealt with the religion, but also relatives is astronomically low and hurts the plausibility. It’s equally hard to believe that a large group of educated, upwardly mobile yuppies would get caught up into a cult that required child sacrifice and that they would all be able to keep it a secret without any of them getting a guilty conscience and going to the police. This is a religion that’s prevalent in the Spanish-speaking parts of the Caribbean, so why a large group of white people would suddenly get so into it is never explained.

Spoiler Alert!

The twist at the end in which Helen Shaver’s character creates a shrine to the spirits composed of dead animals inside her barn makes no sense as there is never any hint earlier that she had a propensity for the ritual, so why all of sudden did she start embracing it? I’m not an animal expert either, but I don’t think a dog would behave so aggressively as he’s shown doing by jumping up and down and barking loudly at the barn door where the shrine of the dead animal is. I would think for him to act that way it would have to be the smell of a live creature and he’d know the difference, but again that’s just speculation.

End of Spoiler Alert!

A lot of these problems could’ve been avoided had the producers went with their original idea of portraying it as a satanic religion feeding off the hysteria of the satanic ritual abuse that was a prevalent headline catching conspiracy theory during the 80’s. Having some outcast teens and desperate poor people immersing themselves in a fringe ritual because they had nowhere else to turn would’ve made a heck of a lot more sense than a bunch of yuppies gleefully standing around and watching the killing of someone else’s child simply because they felt it would give them ‘good luck’ in their quest up the corporate ladder.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 10, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 54 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Schlesinger

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Romantic Comedy (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Playwrights fall in love.

Just as Jason (Dudley Moore), a popular playwright, is getting ready to tie-the-knot with the beautiful Allison (Janet Eilber) he meets Phoebe (Mary Steenburgen). Phoebe is a school teacher aspiring to be a playwright and hoping to team up with Jason, who has had some success in the past, but looking for new inspiration. The two soon become a successful writing team, but begin to fall-in-love in the process, which creates a strain on Jason’s marriage.

The film is based on the play of the same name that was written by Bernard Slade, who also wrote the screenplay. Slade was at one time a television producer whose most noted creation was Th Partridge Family’, but by the late 70’s had moved into writing plays with his biggest hit being Same Tim Next Year about two married people who get together once a year to have an affair, which became a runaway international hit and inspired Slade to then write this one, which is basically just a minor reworking of the same theme. While his first play was hailed as being fresh and original this thing is much more mechanical and ultimately as generic as its title.

The story’s biggest failing is that we never get to see the relationship blossom and grow. Instead it starts out with their awkward meeting that exposes their contrasting personalities and temperaments and then jumps ahead several months later to where they’ve already become lovey-dovey to each other, but with no insight as to how that came about. Part of the fun of watching a romance is seeing how it flourishes between two very unlikely people, but here that gets glossed away making everything that comes after it seem very forced and contrived.

The film also offers no insight into the collaboration process and how two people can work together to create a play, which could’ve been both interesting and amusing. It also could’ve been revealing seeing what kind of plots their plays had and why some of them are flops while others are hits. Having a story within a story concept where the two write about the secret emotions that they have for the other into their characters could’ve added a unique angle, but like with a lot of other things here becomes another missed opportunity.

Moore and Steenburgen have no chemistry and there was a big 18 year age difference between them. Moore is too acerbic and having him go from being sarcastic and abrasive to suddenly loving and tender is unconvincing. Steenburgen’s young girl voice makes her seem empty-headed and not the sophisticated, witty type who would be able to write the type of plays that she supposedly does. Why Mia Farrow and Anthony Perkins, who played the parts in the original Broadway play, weren’t cast in the same parts here is a mystery, but they would’ve been far more effective choices.

The expected drama and conflicts involving the wife never culminates into anything making her presence virtually pointless. The laughs are non-existent as well. In fact the only time it ever gets even mildly amusing is when Moore and Steenburgen would argue and it would’ve been funnier had they been portrayed as hating each other, but teamed up anyways simply because they somehow managed to write hit plays when they worked together.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: October 7, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Arthur Hiller

Studio: MGM/UA

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Gotcha! (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Spy game turns real.

Jonathan (Anthony Edwards) enjoys playing the make-believe spy game of Gotcha on his college campus by shooting his fellow students with paint darts of which he is quite good at. For a vacation he goes to Paris, France and meets Sasha (Linda Fiorentino) who is a real-life spy transporting undercover documents from behind the iron curtain. She gets Jonathan to travel with her to East Berlin where he reluctantly finds himself caught-up in the spy action and having bad guys shoot at him with bullets instead of paint balls.

The film has its engaging moments, but the plot gets played-out in a haphazard way. The beginning comes off too much like just another banal coming-of-age comedy with guys using all sorts of corny lines to get women to go to bed with them and a lot inane dialogue and comedy bits are used to help string it along.

Things do improve once he meets up with Fiorentino who puts on an effective foreign accent and adds much needed chemistry. The vivid on-location shooting avoids the well known landmarks and instead focuses more on the hotels and restaurants, which makes the viewer feel like they’re traveling alongside the characters.  Jonathan’s transition from cocky college student to scared kid in way over-his-head is interesting too, but something that I wished had been played up more.

Edwards’ performance helps the viewer remain sympathetic to his quandary despite the fact that it was his own naivety that got him into his jam. I didn’t like his hairstyle though, which to me looked more like a wig and, since he’s shown to be openly bald in his later years, it probably was. He was also older than his character and looking very much like the 23 years of age that he was, which is what Fiorentino guesses when she first meets him and not like 18, which is what his character supposedly is making the opening conversation that the two have unintentionally ironic.

The third act in which Jonathan returns to the states, but the Russian spies continue to chase after him, is when this thing really goes south. It would’ve worked better, and been more believable, had the entire spy scenario remained in Europe instead culminating on the same college campus where it began making the intended irony too forced and too cute for its own good.

There were times when I did get caught-up in the intrigue, but film ruins the tension by always answering it with a comical twist that makes it come-off as too gimmicky. There’s also no explanation as to what was on the film role that Jonathan and Sasha were trying to smuggle out and the Russians were so eager to get back, which makes the plot transparent instead of exciting.

The one moment though that I really did like and even found quite memorable is when a caged tiger is brought into a classroom to show the veterinarian students how to shoot a sick animal with a sleep dart. The animal seems to be in very real pain and with genuine moans of discomfort and the part where he gets hit with the dart forces him to leap up in his cage in a very startled manner. I’m not sure how they were able to pull off getting a legitimately hurt tiger into the scene, but it’s the one segment where the movie isn’t silly and it’s too bad the rest of the script couldn’t have fallen in-line with that same type of approach.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 3, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Jeff Kanew

Studio: Universal Pictures

Available: DVD

Top Gun (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Student pilot proves himself.

Pete Mitchell (Tom Cruise), who goes by the nickname Maverick, gets accepted into an elite fighter school for Navy pilots known as ‘Top Gun’. It is here where his flying skills impress his instructors, but his daredevils ways also get him into trouble. He starts dating one of his instructors (Kelly McGillis) and everything seem to be going fine until during a flight training exercise that he is piloting his partner Goose (Anthony Edwards) tragically dies, which shatters his confidence and makes him believe that maybe he is not cut out to be a pilot after all.

This film was a giant hit at the box office, but mostly ravaged by the critics and with good reason. The story is shallow, but Cruise’s performance manages to hold it together. Some have criticized his acting ability by saying he can play only one type of character namely the cocky type, but here he mixes in a lot of hidden vulnerabilities with it making you feel for him during his dark times of self doubt and cheer when he finally overcomes them.

I also enjoyed the romantic angle at least initially. In a lot of movies the side romance can get in the way of the story, but here it helps keep the plot intriguing especially when you factor in their contrasting personalities and temperaments. I liked the fact that she was also one of his instructors and therefore had to keep a professional distance and how this caused tensions in their potential relationship, which I wanted explored much more and was disappointed when this plot point fizzles out already in the first act and they become instead a generic ‘happy couple’ the rest of the way.

The mysterious death of Maverick’s father years early was another subplot that gets poorly handled. I was expecting this to work into being a heightened mystery complete with a big reveal at the end, perhaps coupled with a flashback, but instead it gets treated almost like a throwaway bit where the Tom Skerrit character explains what occurred in passing and then by the time the ending finally comes it’s pretty much forgotten. The same goes for Val Kilmer who is excellent as Maverick’s rival, but his part is woefully underwritten and like with a lot of other things not pushed to its full dramatic potential.

Director Tony Scott hurts the realism by implementing too much of a music video approach with literally every scene smothered with a loud, booming rock tune, which cheapens the story by making it more about mood and image than a character study. There’s even issues with the sky color, which outside of the aerial footage, looks to have a bright golden color that does not replicate any sky I’ve ever seen on this planet.

The stunt work involving the flying jets is certainly impressive making this a movie you definitely need to see on the big screen in order to get its full effect, but eventually it gets redundant and for a layperson not familiar with piloting technique even a bit confusing. The ending in which Maverick and his fellow pilots are ordered to provide air support to a stricken ship that has drifted into hostile waters really jumps the shark when jet planes from a foreign country attacks theirs, which would be considered an act of war and a major international incident, but instead after the skirmish is over it all gets written off saying that the other country simply ‘denied that they did it’, which only in the movie world is good enough to make everyone else forgive and forget about it too.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 12, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Tony Scott

Studio: Paramount

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

Alligator (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Reptile in the sewer.

In 1968 a young girl (Leslie Brown) brings home a baby alligator, which she stores in her small aquarium, but her father decides to flush the thing down the toilet where in the sewer it feeds off the carcasses of dead animals which were given an experimental growth formula from a nearby clinic. 12 years later the alligator having ingested this formula for years has grown to massive lengths and escapes from the sewer where he now terrorizes the citizens of the city.

The screenplay was written by John Sayles and has a nice blend of comedy and scares. In most other horror films there are usually some long boring segments in between the shocks that get filled with awkward drama or banal dialogue, but here these same segments convey a playful sense of the absurd and are some of the best moments in the movie including showing all the street vendors who come out and try to cash in on the alligator scare by selling alligator related merchandise at the river where the police are searching for the beast. I also enjoyed the ad-libbed lines by the supporting characters mentioning Robert Forster’s receding hairline, which become the movie’s running joke.

The scares are still present and for the most part effective although the scenes inside the sewer work best. I liked the way the beams from the flashlights reflected off of the tunnel walls and created a surreal look as well as how quiet it would get when the police and S.W.A.T. went into the underground caverns, which helped accentuate the tension.

When the gator breaks out of the sewer is when the thing starts to go south especially when it attacks guests at a dinner party, which is too graphic and ghoulish and destroys the film’s otherwise playful tone. I also didn’t like when the alligator breaks through sidewalk having the camera shake, which is something directors would do in old movies to create an earthquake-like visual effect, but comes-off as quite tacky looking. Having the gator roam the city for as long as it does and not get caught seemed implausible as something that big would attract lots of attention no matter where it went and most likely would get cornered by the authorities a hell of a lot sooner than it does.

The film also suffers by not effectively conveying the size of the beast visually. We see a lot of quick shots involving its open mouth, but not much else. An animatronic one was built, but it malfunctioned and was little used and then later donated to the Florida Gators as their mascot. An actual gator got used in some shots, which they superimposed onto a miniature set to make it look bigger, but the final result of this looks awkward.

The truth is alligators are by nature very timid towards humans and will usually swim away if approached by one and only attack if they feel threatened. They prefer much smaller prey that they can eat with one gulp and thus avoid people altogether. It’s actually the crocodile that  is much more dangerous and in fact the saltwater and nile crocodile kills hundreds of people each year, which for the sake of accuracy should’ve been the species that got used.

I also thought it was a bit bizarre that someone could keep an alligator as a pet like the young girl does at the beginning. Now don’t get me wrong watching them flush the baby gator down a toilet is one of the best parts of the movie, but what would’ve happened had the gator been allowed to grow into an adult? How would they be able to house or control him, which only makes the father, who gets portrayed here as being obnoxious, look smart by getting rid of it when it was small and he still could.

The cast though still makes it worth watching. Forster is great in the lead as he plays against his stoic tough guy image by conveying vulnerabilities with his finest moment being the horrified expression on his face when his partner gets attacked and he’s unable to save him. I also liked Jack Carter as the corrupt Mayor and Dean Jagger, in his last film role, as the nefarious animal clinic owner. Angel Tompkins can be seen briefly as a news reporter as well as Sue Lyon in her last film appearance to date.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 14, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Lewis Teague

Studio: Group 1 International

Available: DVD

Razorback (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Giant boar terrorizes outback.

Jake (Bill Kerr), who lives in the Australian outback, gets attacked one night by a giant razorback who takes off with his infant grandson. Jake is later accused as having made up the story as no one can believe that there could be a razorback of such mammoth proportions and yet Jake spends the rest of his life hunting after it and determined to get his revenge for what it did to his grandson. During his quest he meets up with Carl (Gregory Harrison) whose wife Beth (Judy Morris) was also killed by the same wild boar.

The film was directed by Russell Mulcahy, who rose to fame by directing many influential music videos and his unique visual style is what sets this film apart. The way he captures the vast, flat outback is stylish and the dream sequence out in the desert is both creepy and surreal. I also really enjoyed the part where the razorback tears apart a man’s house forcing him to helplessly watch as the part of the home with the TV, which he was watching, goes literally gliding away in front of him, which  may not be realistic, but a very funny image nonetheless.

The story though, which is based on the novel by Peter Brennan, is too indicative of other better known movies. It starts out with Jake going to trial over the death of his grandson and no one believing his account, which is loosely based on the Azaria Chamberlin incident who was an infant that got taken away by a dingo in 1980, but the public didn’t believe the story and accused the parents of killing the child instead. However, in this instance the razorback creates a giant hole in Jake’s house, which should be enough for most people to think that there might be something to what Jake was saying and makes the opening court room bit seem both protracted and unnecessary especially since he quickly gets acquitted anyways.

The second act resembles the film Wake in Fright as Carl and two other men go on a nighttime kangaroo hunt. It also examines the poor way Carl adapts to the rough nature of the outback men, which again seems too similar to the plot of the other film and really wasn’t needed since it slows up the pace, which needed more scares and appearances of the giant razorback that are completely missing during the middle part.

The third act comes off too much like Jaws, with Jake channeling Quint, which might’ve been alright as I found Jake’s rugged individualistic ways to be both endearing and amusing to the point that he could’ve been made the main character. However, is untimely demise is both graphic and cruel and gives the film an unnecessarily mean tone.

Having Carl single-handidly take on the razorback at the end while inside an abandoned warehouse is boring as it rehashes the man vs beast theme that’s been done many times before. I was actually more interested in seeing the townspeople work together to hunt down the boar, which is an idea that the film teases, but then ultimately sells-out on.

My biggest grievance though is the way the beast gets photographed. Supposedly a  giant animatronic model of the razorback was built at a cost of $250,000, but you never really see it. Shots of the beast are edited so quickly that you only get brief glimpses of the animal and never its whole body and no true idea of how big it really is. There’s also no explanation offered for  how it grew so big.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 19, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Russell Mulcahy

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), Blu-ray (Region B/2, A/1), Amazon Video, YouTube

Mother’s Day (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rednecks murder for mama.

Trina (Tiana Pierce), Abbey (Nancy Hendrickson), and Jackie (Deborah Luce) are three friends from college, who are now in the adult world but still enjoy getting together one weekend of the year for a ‘mystery trip’ where they go to some place they’ve never been before. This year they decide to take a camping trip into the dense woods of New Jersey. It is there that they come into contact with a redneck family consisting of two grown sons: Ike (Frederick Coffin, but billed as Holden McGuire) and Addley (Michael McCleery, but billed as Billy Ray McQuade) who kidnap the girls and bring them back to their secluded home where they torture and rape them all for the amusement of their twisted mother (Beatrice Pons, but billed as Rose Ross in order to avoid losing her actor’s union membership for starring in a non-union film.)

The film is loosely inspired by the true story of Gertrude Baniszewski, a single woman with 7 children living in Indianapolis in 1965 who got her kids to torture and murder a 14-year-old girl who was boarding at their home while her parents went off to work in a carnival. This same story was done in two other films: An American Crime starring Ellen Page, and The Girl Next Door with Blanche Baker. While both of those movies took a more serious approach this film tries to spin in goofy satire which kind of works and kind of doesn’t.

I enjoyed the graffiti sprayed painted on the walls inside the mother’s home and the silly TV references as well as the two sons arguing over the merits of  whether ‘Punk sucks’ or ‘disco’s stupid’, but the opening bit where the mother attends a weekend encounter group, which was a parody of The Erhard Seminars Training, which was popular during the 70’s, should’ve been cut. For one thing there’s no logical reason why this reclusive old woman would be motivated to attend this group. It also telegraphs too much of the plot by having her car break down and her two sons then jump out of the forest to kill two of the people that she had met at the seminar. Not having the mother and her boys introduced right away but waited until after the girls were kidnapped would’ve created more tension and mystery.

Spoiler Alert! 

The women characters are better fleshed-out than in most other slasher films and a great deal of time is spent showing their backstories. They’re also not made to seem like bimbo party girls, but portrayed more like everyday women who are smart and more average looking, which was a refreshing change of pace.

However, the ending, which consists of them turning-the-tables on their captors and savagely killing them doesn’t work. Had they still been held hostage and forced to kill in order to escape then it might’ve been more believable, but instead they successfully escape and then decide to come back and murder the family for ‘street justice’  after one of them dies. This though was too wide of arch as nothing is shown before hinting at this violent streak that harbors within them. Screenwriter Warren Leight tries to justify it by having the redneck mother remind Abbey of her obnoxious mother back home and thus letting out all of her pent-up frustrations that she with her own mother onto the old woman, but it’s all still too extreme and heavy-handed.

End of Spoiler

Despite all of these issues I still felt this was a step above most other slasher flicks. There’s enough interesting elements to it that I was convinced that director Charles Kaufman, who is the brother of Troma President Lloyd Kaufman and not to be confused with the famous screenwriter with the same name, had the potential of being a good cult film director, but since 1988 he is no longer in the filmmaking business and instead runs the successful bakery Bread & Cie in the Hillcrest neighborhood of San Diego.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: September 19, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Charles Kaufman

Studio: United Film Distribution Company

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

 

Creepshow (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Five stories of horror.

This film was the collaboration of Stephen King, making his screenwriting debut, and George Romero, who filmed the entire thing in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with many of the scenes done in an abandoned boy’s school. The production was a homage to the horror comics like ‘Tales of the Crypt’ and ‘The Vault of Horror’, which were published between 1950 and 1955 before being shutdown because they were considered ‘dangerous’ to the well being of children and contributing to juvenile delinquency.

The script consists of five stories with the emphasis more on camp than terror and outside of the cool comic book effects fall pretty much flat.  The first story entitled ‘Father’s Day’  comes off more like a one-joke skit and deals with an adult daughter (Viveca Lindfors) who kills her obnoxious father (Jon Lormer) on his birthday with an ashtray and then years later visits him at his grave site where his corpse comes back to life.

The second story entitled ‘The Lonesome Death of Jody Verrill’ should’ve been extended out more as it has some intriguing possibilities to it. It consists of a redneck (played with campy glee by Stephen King) who finds a meteor that’s landed in his backyard, but realizes to his horror that everything it touches grows a greenish foliage including on himself.

‘Something to Tide You Over’ is the third entry and it’s about a man (Ted Danson) being buried alive in the sand and then drowning as the tide rolls in. It’s shot in a way where the viewer sees the water rushing in from the victim’s point of view, which gives it a frightening quality, but suffers from having the victim  too easily lead into the trap and a twist ending that involves a metaphysical phenomenon, but with no suitable explanation for how it could’ve occurred.

‘The Crate’ involves an arctic monster being found inside a crate that was underneath a college stairwell. One of the professors (Hal Holbrook) uses this monster as a way to kill his obnoxious wife (Adrienne Barbeau), but the logic on this one is loopy. First how was the monster able to survive four decades inside a box without any food or water? Having him encased in a block of ice and then unfrozen would’ve been a little more plausible, but the story is further hampered by the casting of Barbeau, who’s too young for the part, which would’ve been better suited for a fat old bitty that was more Holbrook’s age. The biggest question though is why would Holbrook bank on the idea that the monster would kill his wife and not attack him first and why would the wife, or anyone with half a brain, be dumb enough to get tricked into driving all the over to the college campus and then crawling under the stairwell to begin with as the reason he gives her to do it is pretty dumb.

‘They’re Creeping Up on You’ has the most potential and a fun performance by Marshall, but ultimately gets botched. It’s about a rich Howard Hughes-like billionaire (E.G.Marshall) who lives alone in this fancy, hermetically sealed penthouse that gets overrun with cockroaches. Watching the roaches crawl around is creepy and apparently over 20,000 of them were used. Yet having them pile onto each other until they create a roach-like mountain loses the effect, many of them weren’t even roaches by this point but instead nuts and raisins. This segment would’ve been better had it been a fancy penthouse with all the elaborate furniture trappings as King intended instead of a white room with barely nothing in it. This story also features a dead body, which clearly looks like a wax dummy that ultimately ruins the intended effect.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 12, 1982

Runtime: 2 Hours

Rated R

Director: George A. Romero

Studio: Warner Brothers

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