Category Archives: Adolescence/High School

Ode to Billy Joe (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Where is Billy Joe?

Based on the hit 1967 single sung by Bobbie Gentry this film attempts to reenact what occurred in the ballad as well as explain the song’s mystery elements with a screenplay co-written by Gentry herself. The story centers on Bobbie Lee (Glynnis O’Connor) a 15 year-old girl living on a farm and longing to satisfy her newfound sexual awakenings. She becomes attracted to a local boy named Billy Joe McAllister (Robby Benson) and he to her, but her conservative father (Sandy McPeak) won’t allow her to bring over ‘gentleman callers’ until she is 16, so she runs off into the woods with him only to learn that he harbors a dark secret that if it became known to the public could ruin his life.

While the film did quite well by grossing $27 million at the box office on only a $1.1 million budget I felt it was a mistake to turn the classic song into a movie. Sometimes things are more interesting when the mystery angle is left unanswered, and having it explained especially with the lame way that it gets down here, tarnishes the song’s mystique.

For years Gentry said that the point of the song was never about why Billy Joe jumped off the bridge or what he threw off of it, but instead the relationship of the song’s narrator with her family and how completely oblivious they were to her feelings, which the movie doesn’t recreate. In the song the father is portrayed as being ambivalent and distant towards his daughter and yet in the film for some ill-advised reason he is kindly and connected, which isn’t as interesting.

Hiring Herman Raucher to co-write the screenplay was a mistake as well. He had great success with Summer of ’42, but pretty much tries to turn this into the same glossy romance as that. He even brings along the same composer Michel Legrand whose orchestral score is completely out-of-place with the story’s country setting.

The script also adds some crazy side-stories that have nothing to do with the main plot or the song that it is based on. One of them includes having prostitutes shipped in from nearby Yazoo City to have sex with all men from the town, who line up one-by-one seemingly guilt free, to fuck the ladies while attending a small jamboree. Now, I was not alive during the ‘50s, but I know people who were including my parents, who insist that it was every bit as oppressive and conservative as its reputation states especially in the rural areas such as this film’s setting. I realize that prostitution is considered the ‘world’s oldest profession’ and I’m sure in some underground big city clubs of that period you could find some, but bringing them to some small town where everybody knows everybody else and having the men jumping in for quite literally ‘roll-in-the-hay’ with them (as this took place on a barnyard floor) with all of their friends watching and not worrying that this would get back to their wives or ruining their reputations, as rumors spread like wild fire in small  towns, is just too far-fetched and ridiculous to be believable.

Benson is great in the lead and James Best is strong too in a small, but crucial role, however O’Connor seems miscast. She’s attractive and has been good in other films, but she plays the part as being very outspoken and strong-willed where in the song that same character came off as more introverted and quiet. She also seemed too worldly-wise for a 15-year-old especially one that had never ventured out of her town although the bit where she sticks her head into a toilet bowl and shouts ‘hello’ may be worth a few points to some.

If you spent sleepless nights trying to figure what it was that Billy Joe threw off that Tallahatchie Bridge then you may find this film’s clichéd and corny answer to it as disappointing.  It also takes way too damn long to get there while forcing the viewer sit through many long, drawn-out scenes in-between.

In fact the only thing that the movie does get right is its on-location shooting that was done in LeFlore County, Mississippi that was the actual setting to the song. However, even this gets botched because the Tallahatchie Bridge that Gentry describes in her song, which was near the small town of Money, was destroyed in 1972 and the bridge used in the film was a different one located near the town of Sidon that also ended up getting demolished in 1987.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: June 4, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 46 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Max Baer Jr.

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Teen Wolf (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Werewolves can be cool.

Scott (Michael J. Fox) is a frustrated teen who plays for a losing high school basketball team and longs for a hot girl (Lorie Griffin) that barely knows he even exists. He is tired of being ‘average’ and wishes he could somehow stand-out. Then one day he finds out that he can turn into werewolf, which was something that he inherited from his father (Paul Hampton). Now suddenly Scott finds himself standing out from the crowd and receiving lots of attention, but sometimes getting what you want isn’t always the answer.

Fox has noted in subsequent interviews that he thinks very little of this movie and seems embarrassed by it. He even refused to appear in its sequel, but the truth is he is the one reason that keeps it watchable and I consider it his most engaging performance and the make-up effects aren’t bad either.

The problems that I had are more with the character that he plays as he comes off at times as being quite selfish and shallow. He hangs out with an attractive girl named Boof (Susan Ursitti)(how a young lady could ever acquire such a strange and horrible name like that is a mystery and should’ve been elaborated on, but that’s a whole other issue.) Anyways she is clearly in to him and the two get along well, but instead he chases after Pamela who doesn’t like him. Having him talk about his longings for Pamela in front of Boof, which upsets her and Scott doesn’t notice this even though anyone else would, makes Scott seem aloof and self-centered let alone stupid for going after someone he has no chance of winning over. In films if the viewer doesn’t like the protagonist then it is hard to get into the rest of the movie and if it weren’t for Fox’s great performance this guy would be a real dud.

He also gets involved in a reckless activity of driving a van down a street while his friend (Jerry Levine) stands on top of it and pretends to be surfing, which is insane because all it would take is one sudden stop and that friend flies off the vehicle and gets a broken neck. Protagonists in films aimed at impressionable audiences like this should not be doing stunts that young viewers might go home and try to emulate. Fortunately as far as I know none of them did, but it’s still not a good precedent to set.

I was also confused about what the rules were in regards to the whole werewolf thing. I thought the folklore was that people could only turn into werewolves during a full moon and not just whenever they wanted to like here. Why does it take so long, like not until Scott turns 17, before he finds out that he has inherited this condition? Also, it seems hard to believe that his father would be able to hide his werewolf ability from his family for so long. You’d think that by living with his father all of his life that Scott might’ve had a hint of his Dad’s werewolf trait long before the old man finally decided to come out with it.

On top of all that, where exactly does all this hair go when Scott transforms back into a human. The film shows a strand here and there, but there would be more like mounds and mounds of it. How does Scott go back and forth from a human to a werewolf? Does he just say to himself ‘I want to be a werewolf’ and then he is and what does he say or do to turn back into a regular teen?

Besides those issues there is also the fact that Scott becomes very open to everyone about his werewolf side, so why do only people in his high school know about it? If somebody divulges such an amazing ability they would be on the cover of every magazine and newspaper. Scientists would want to examine him and talk shows would be clamoring for interviews, so why doesn’t that happen?

Despite all of this I was actually liking the movie most of the way as it has a nice engaging sense of humor. Unfortunately it doesn’t go far enough with the idea. Eventually it gets compressed into the formula of being just another feel-good, teen-life-lesson flick, which is a dispiriting sell-out that ruins its offbeat potential and tarnishes an otherwise interesting concept.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 23, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Rod Daniel

Studio: Atlantic Releasing Corporation

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

Harper Valley PTA (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: She gets her revenge.

Based on the hit 1968 song the story centers on Stella Johnson (Barbara Eden) whose liberated single life style and provocative way of dressing is considered ‘scandalous’ by the prudish members of her local school board. They give a letter  to her daughter Dee (Susan Swift) to be send home for Stella to read, which informs her that if she doesn’t ‘clean up her act’ they’ll have her daughter expelled. Stella then goes to the school board meeting and exposes all of their dirty secrets and then continues the harassment by playing dirty pranks on them one-by-one.

The song, which was written by Tom T. Hall and sung by Jeannie C. Riley, was a cute novelty ditty that encompassed the social rebellion of the late ‘60s through the scope of small town southern life. The film though ruins the song’s appeal by overplaying its theme and losing touch with its core issue.

The song had a very heavy country tinge to it making it seem that the setting should’ve been the Deep South, but for some reason the film takes place in Ohio instead. It also has the time period as being the present day, late ‘70s, which makes some of the lines in the song, which Stella reiterates pretty much word-for-word when she tells the board members off, seem dated and out-of-touch. Stuff like sock-it-to and ‘Peyton Place’ referred to hit TV-shows that by the late ‘70s had already been off the air for years, so the film should’ve either updated the script to make it more topical to the times, or had the time period be in the ‘60s, which like with the southern locale would’ve given the film a far stronger atmosphere.

Having Stella tell off the board members like in the song seemed sufficient, but having her continue her efforts by pulling elaborate pranks on them made it come off like overkill and in some cases borderline cruel and even criminal. The fact that other people in attendance at the board meeting clap and cheer when Stella humiliates the PTA board makes it seem that these people are on their way out and don’t have much of a hold over anything, so watching Stella continue to humiliate them further is not emotionally satisfying. They’re also so easily taken advantage of that the pranks cease to be either entertaining or funny.

The only segment that is genuinely fun is the one where a sex ed. film gets shown to the high school students. The film seems to be an actual product from the early ‘60s and features rather graphic animated illustrations. We unfortunately only get treated to a couple of minutes of it even though it was the funniest thing in the movie without ever actually trying to be.

Eden looks gorgeous and probably even hotter than she did in ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ minus the harem outfit. If you watch this for basic eye candy then you’ll be satisfied, but she speaks initially with a southern accent that she ends up losing by the second half.

John Fiedler gives good support by appearing fully nude in one segment despite not having the physique for it, so I commend his bravery. Audrey Christie shows equal regard by exposing herself with her head completely shaved, but overall the only character that I really liked was Susan Swift’s who seems the most relatable and like with the song her character should’ve been the central one and not Eden’s.

The threadbare premise gets stretched out far longer than it should. The story and the many pranks have a very redundant and mechanical quality to them that quickly becomes old. I’m not sure whose idea it was to try to turn the song into a movie, but it was one that should’ve been shot down quickly and never seen the light-of-day.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 2, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard C. Bennett

Studio: April Fools Productions

Available: DVD

Halls of Anger (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: High school student integration.

Quincy Davis (Calvin Lockhart) is a respected educator who’s asked to transfer to a predominantly black school where it will be his duty to welcome in white students into the mix. Things do not go smoothly and Davis finds himself at the center of many heated confrontations as the black students resent the new white kids and try to make life miserable for them hoping that they will eventually give up and leave.

The film starts out interestingly enough and I found myself caught up in the plight of these students, both black and white, and wondering how they were eventually going to learn to get along. So many films from that period dealt with the opposite angle by examining the difficulties of black kids integrating into a white school making this reverse perspective a refreshing change of pace by showing how racism and hate can come from both ends.

Unfortunately not a lot happens. The film’s poster conveys the idea of rioting in the halls and physical altercations, but those things prove to be quite mild. There is one brief segment where a group of black girls gang up on a white woman (Patricia Stich) inside a locker room and strip off her clothes in an effort to see if she is ‘blonde all over’, but that is about it.

In fact the only interesting aspect to the film was the behind-the-scenes discord and how the filmmakers didn’t really practice what they preached onscreen. According to an August 1970 Life magazine article the black extras where paid only $13.20 a day while the whites got $29.15. The dressing rooms were segregated and director Paul Bogart proved indifferent towards the black performer’s concerns by refusing to hear out any of their complaints with regards to the script.

The only point to watching the movie is to see young stars-to-be in some early roles. I especially got a kick out of Rob Reiner with a full head of hair and no mustache and seeing Ed Asner as a Phy Ed. teacher who tries very ineffectually to break up a fight. Jeff Bridges is also on tap as one of the white students and he should’ve been made the star as his performance is quite effective and it would’ve been a stronger film had he been given the most screen time.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: April 29, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 36 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Paul Bogart

Studio: Columbia Pictures

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

Willy Milly (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Girl turns into boy.

Milly (Pamela Adlon) is a teen who dreams of one day becoming a boy. One day she purchases a magical potion from a kid named Malcolm (Seth Green), which promises to make her wish come true as long as she takes it during the next solar eclipse, which she does. Now as a boy she changes her name to Willy, but finds mixed reactions from those around her. Her father (John Glover) likes the change, as he always wanted a son, but her mother (Patty Duke) doesn’t. He/she starts going to a different school, but finds that both genders have their equal share of problems.

Although the storyline may sound novel it really isn’t and this thing suffers from being just another generic ‘80s teen movie. The humor of having Milly suddenly waking up with a penis and the shocked reactions of her family and friends is not played-up enough while the myriad of issues that this sort of change would produce gets woefully underexplored. Instead it devolves into the typical teen dramas that we’ve seen done before and no need in seeing again.

The most annoying aspect deals with the proverbial bully storyline. I realize every school has got one, but it would be refreshing to have a high school movie that didn’t feel the need to always have to take this redundant route. This one, which gets played by an actor named Jeb Ellis-Brown, is particularly dull and what’s worse is that he looks scrawny and could be easily be beat-up by the kids he is supposedly intimidating.

Adlon’s performance, who gets billed under the last name of Segall, is irritating and a major detriment. For one thing she looks a bit androgynous from the start and then when she does turn into a boy all she does his cut hair short and that’s it even though her voice stays high pitched and her mannerisms remain girly making it seem more like just another female with short hair. There are a few good moments with Glover as the father as he tries to ‘train’ her to be more like a ‘man’, but Duke is horribly wasted in a small and forgettable supporting part.

The material is dated and these days this same storyline could be used minus the magical potion and instead tackled as a storyline dealing with a transgender teen. I also had problems with the Eric Gurry character who plays a teen friend to Willy that is stricken to a wheel chair. Initially I thought it was great that they introduced a character who had a handicap, but then it gets treated as being nothing more than a psychosomatic condition, which demeans all those victims of spinal cord injuries who are permanently paralyzed and unable to walk ever even if they wanted to.

There’s a film called Just One of the Guys that came out around the same time as this one and had a similar theme, but in that one the teen character only pretended to be a guy and it was much funnier and more perceptive.

Alternate Title: Something Special

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: November 14, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 23Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Paul Schneider

Studio: Concorde Pictures

Available: VHS

Permanent Record (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Coping with friend’s suicide.

David Sinclair (Alan Boyce) is a popular high school student who seems well on his way to a successful and happy life, but then unexpectedly he commits suicide by jumping off a cliff. Now his friends ponder about why they didn’t notice the signs and the news hits his best friend Chris (Keanu Reeves) particularly hard.

There were many movies dealing with the teen suicide issue that came out during the ‘80s and I remember watching one, a TV-movie called ‘Silence of the Heart’ starring Chad Lowe, in a social studies class at school. This film takes a slightly different approach from those in that it doesn’t concentrate on the motives of the victim, but instead analyzes how their actions affect the people that knew him.

It’s interesting to a degree, but the film glosses over too much and takes too long to get going. Quite a bit of time is spent watching David mopping around looking despondent and stressed, which is frustrating because the film doesn’t clue you in as to why he is feeling this way, so eventually his scenes start to have a redundant feel to them. It also gets annoying because if it is obvious to the viewer that David is struggling with inner turmoil, then why can’t his friends, who supposedly know him best, not pick up on these same signs as well?

The most irritating thing about the movie though is the presence of Reeves. Most of the teen characters in the film are believable, but Reeves unfortunately comes off too much like a caricature of his more famous airhead role in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Instead of being a young adult in-the-making like the others Reeves’ character is more the stereotypically grungy, metal head, stoner still stuck in juvenile purgatory and possessing every annoying teen cliché out there. Having him go from being a vapid adolescent to an introspective one was too much of a dramatic arch and I almost wished that his character had been the one that jumped since Boyce was the better actor. The scene involving the actual jump gets badly botched too and it’s Reeves’ presence that ruins it as he follows Boyce to the cliff unaware of what he is going to do and then overacts when he does, which makes what should be the film’s saddest moment unintentionally funny instead.

The ending is quite powerful, but everything else is sterile. Some intriguing issues are certainly brought up, but then never fully addressed. This is particularly true in regards to David’s family who seem to adjust from the shock much more quickly than any of his friends when in reality I would think they would be the ones to take it the hardest and should’ve been the focal point of the film while Reeves could’ve been pushed to the very back and seen only briefly.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 22, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Marisa Silver

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Foxes (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Growing up too fast.

Four teenagers living in the San Fernando Valley face life in the fast lane. Madge (Marilyn Kagan) is the nerd who’s having a fling with a 30-year-old man (Randy Quaid). Deidre (Kandice Stroh) shifts from boyfriend to boyfriend while Annie (Cherrie Currie) is tormented by an abusive father and runs away from home only to get caught up in the drug scene. Jeanie (Jodie Foster) is the mature one of the bunch who tries to keep them from getting into too much trouble as well as getting them out of a jam when needed, but she has struggles of her own particularly dealing with her mother (Sally Kellerman) who brings home men who are virtual strangers to spend the night with and seems as lost and confused as Jeanie’s teen friends.

This marked Adrian Lyne’s feature film debut and from a purely cinematic perspective it’s intriguing. I liked the cinema vertite feel and in many ways this is an early forerunner to Larry Clarke’s groundbreaking Kids that came out 15 years later as the camera follows the teens around on their excursions without having any connected storyline nor does it try to make any moral judgement on what occurs. Instead it plays more like docudrama showing how things are without overdoing the shock value, but what I liked best was the fact that it portrays the adults as being just as screwed up and in certain ways even more lost while society at large is captured as being equally jaded to the point that the teens are simply reflecting the behaviors of the environment around them.

Probably the most surprising aspect is the part dealing with Madge, who is still in high school, having an ongoing relationship with a 30-year-old man, which the film treats as being no big deal. It’s not completely clear if Madge is 17 or 18, but many of today’s viewers will find the casual way the film approaches this topic, which includes an eventual wedding between the two that is happily attended by her friends, as being  ‘creepy’ and most likely a taboo storyline for any film made today.

The irony is that Madge ends up causing the most destruction in the relationship as Quaid’s character unwisely goes away on a business trip and allows her complete use of his place where she then decides to hold a party that gets expectedly out-of-control. It even includes a graphic fight breaking out that is portrayed quite brutally including having a girl hit and knocked down by another guy. This scene also features Laura Dern, in her first credited film role and wearing braces and glasses, as an awkward teen that crashes the place.

The casting of Foster and Scott Baio as her guy friend is interesting as the two had starred in quirky gangster comedy Bugsy Malone just 4 years earlier and the scene where the two have an ongoing conversation while walking around in a large, open junkyard is one of the best parts of the movie. Baio is initially fun as this geeky teen with limited social skills, but later on becomes this mini-hero with on a skateboard that gets too cute and Hollywood-like. Foster on the other hand is solid and it’s interesting seeing her playing a more emotionally vulnerable character and even at one point breaking down and crying.

The film manages to have a few interesting scenes here and there, but it takes too long to build any momentum and it’s never as compelling as it would like to be. There are also a few too many moments where it defaults to the contrived clichés, which hurts its efforts at gritty realism.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 29, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 46Minutes

Rated R

Director: Adrian Lyne

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Summer of ’42 (1971)

summer-of-42

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Boy loses his virginity.

During the summer of 1942 Hermie (Gary Grimes) vacations on Nantucket Island with his two friends (Jerry Houser, Oliver Conant) along with their parents. He soon becomes smitten by a neighboring lady named Dorothy (Jennifer O’ Neill) whose husband has just gone off to fight in the war. One day he offers to carry her groceries as well as help her out with other chores around her home. When her husband gets killed Hermie finds that he can be of service to her in other ways too.

The script was written by Herman Raucher and based on his real-life experiences while growing up as a teen on Nantucket Island. He had originally written the script in the 1950’s, but at that time no one was interested. It wasn’t until he met with director Robert Mulligan that the project got off the ground and even then the studio was reluctant to pay him anything up front and promised only to give him a percentage of whatever the film grossed. The film though ended up becoming a huge hit and made Michel Legrand’s melodic score almost synonymous with romances everywhere.

I enjoyed the film immensely when I first saw it back when I was in college, but now many years later I have certain issues with it and much of it is due to the Dorothy character. I felt she was was too naïve as she brings this 15-year-old boy in the form of Hermie into her home, but apparently no clue that boys at that age can have raging hormones and that he could quite possibly be viewing her in a sexual way. I felt that Dorothy should’ve shown a little more awareness to the situation and created boundaries from the start and been just a little more defensive than she was. Some may argue that she may have been attracted to the teen despite his age and secretly open to him coming on to her, but if that was the case it should’ve been made clear. In either event the character is too much of an enigma and playing off more like a fantasy figure than a real person.

These same issues continue during their eventual consummation, which ends up being the film’s most well-known scene. On a purely cinematic level I loved the moment because it nicely recreates a dream-like quality of a teen boy’s fantasy particularly by having no dialogue and only the background noise of the crashing ocean waves. However, the woman has just committed an intimate act with a minor that could get her into a lot trouble if it was ever found out. The next morning as the two are lying next to each other in bed she looks over at him and I would’ve expected some expression of guilt, confusion, or even fear, but none of that is conveyed. Also, the idea that getting news that her husband has just been killed would be enough to ‘disorient’ her and get her to submit herself to a teen boy who just randomly walks in is a bit far-fetched.

In the real-life incident Raucher describes it as occurring much differently. There Dorothy was highly intoxicated and yelled out her dead husband’s name several times. He also caught up with the real Dorothy many years later and she told him that she had been ‘wracked with guilt’ over what she had done long after it had happened. All of this makes much more sense and although it would’ve ruined some of the romantic elements it still should’ve been added in as it would’ve helped both the characters and movie become more multi-dimensional and believable.

The setting is another liability. Due to budget constraints it was not filmed on Nantucket, but instead Mendocino, California and the differences are glaring. The landscape is very dry and brown, which is something that would not occur on the east coast, which routinely gets more rain than the west. The voice-over narration states that they had “9 days of rain” that summer, so the foliage should’ve been green and lush.

On a completely superficial level the film still works. The performances are excellent and there are a few really funny scenes including Hermie’s visit to a drug store where he reluctantly tries to buy some condoms as well as his subsequent visit later that night to the beach.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: April 18, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 44Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Mulligan

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

976-Evil (1989)

976-evil-1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Nerd becomes demon possessed.

Hoax (Stephen Geoffreys) is a socially challenged high school loser living at home with his religious fanatic mother (Sandy Dennis) and longing to one day become as cool as his neighbor Spike (Patrick O’Bryan) who gets all the hot chicks. Then one day Hoax calls a phone number that promises to supply him with his daily horoscope but instead gives him demonic powers that allow him to get revenge on all of his bullies.

This is the first of only two theatrical features that actor Robert Englund has directed and the visual results are impressive. I enjoyed the set pieces that have a garish over-the-top quality to them and helps give the film a comic book-like look. Although the gore is limited I did find some of the other special effects to be cool including the final sequence where Hoax’s home turns into the gateway to hell.

The script has a lot of in-jokes, which keeps the proceedings on an amusing level, but it takes too long for the actual plot to get going.  The nerd-on-revenge theme has been done a million times before and ultimately makes this film come off as clichéd and derivative.

Having Hoax’s looks change into resembling a demon backfires as it reminded me too much of the Freddy Kreuger character particularly with the long fingernails on one of his hands and his deep voice, which even  starts to crack  Freddy-like one-liners. Whether this was intentional is open to debate, but it does drive home how uninspired this film ends up despite an opening that showed promise.

The best thing it is the presence of Dennis who plays an extension of the wacky, eccentric character that she did in a classic episode of the 80’s version of ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’. The only difference is that there her character owned even more cats and spoke in a more bizarre way, but the variety of wigs that she wears here makes up for it. Also what happens to her corpse after she is killed is the film’s most shocking moment.

976-evil-2

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 24, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Englund

Studio: New Line Cinema

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Pin (1988)

pin-1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: He befriends a dummy.

Leon (David Hewlett) and Ursula (Cynthia Preston) are brother and sister growing up in a large home run by their stern father (Terry O’ Quinn) who works as a doctor and has an anatomically correct dummy named Pin in his office. Sometimes to entertain the children he gets the dummy to talk, by throwing his voice to make it seem like it’s the dummies. As the children get older Leon remains convinced that the dummy can speak and begins to have an unhealthy fixation with him that concerns his sister. When the parents end up dying in a tragic car accident the sister and brother get the house all to themselves and Leon becomes even more possessive about Pin and anyone who dares make fun of him or Pin pays the ultimate price.

This intriguing film manages to be captivating throughout thanks mainly to an intelligent script and some excellent performances by its two leads. The casting is top-notch including the fact that the different actors who represent Leon and Ursula as they grow from children to young adults look very similar, which is a major achievement since many other movies aren’t as adept with this and cast child performers that do not effectively resemble their adult counterparts.

It’s also refreshing that Leon’s character is not a complete derelict, but instead quite cultured and educated, which makes his weird child-like fixation with the dummy all the more creepy. I also enjoyed O’Quinn as the father and the scene where he performs an abortion on his own daughter and tries to force his son to watch it is really twisted.

The scares though are lacking and there are only a couple of murders, which aren’t all that dramatic or impressive. Pin is also not frightening to look at and in fact becomes downright boring. Most horror films would’ve exaggerated some characteristic of the dummy to give him more of a creepy effect, which is what this one should’ve done. It also would’ve helped had there been a surreal moment where we saw things from Leon’s point-of-view and witnessed the doll actually speaking or even just moving.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s ending though is the script’s weakest point. It involves Ursula attacking Leon with an ax after she realizes that he has just killed her boyfriend (John Pyper-Ferguson), but then the film cuts away making it confusing as to what happens. It then cuts to show Leon sitting in a wheelchair and having taken on the personality of Pin as apparently that’s who she cut up, but the film would’ve been more interesting had it shown the doll getting destroyed and even doing some of it in slow-motion especially since its devoid of much action otherwise.

The idea of a person taking the personality of an inanimate object that they earlier thought was real is nothing new. The same fate occurred to the Anthony Hopkins’ character in Magic where he played a ventriloquist who thought his dummy could talk as well as to another ventriloquist character in a classic episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’, which makes the twist here less interesting and almost predictable. A more surprising element would’ve been to have the dummy suddenly come to life when Ursula attacks it and then killing her.

It also seemed ridiculous that Leon would remain living in his large, stately home in a sort of vegetative state after being caught attempting to murder the boyfriend while apparently being cared for by a round-the-clock nurse is not believable as the cost of his medical care would dry up any funds that he had in his inheritance and making his continued stay at the home completely impractical. In reality the court appointed doctors would’ve deemed him mentally ill and a menace to society while also advising that he be sent away to a secure and monitored mental facility.

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 25, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sandor Stern

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD