Category Archives: Adolescence/High School

Over the Edge (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Out of control teens.

The teenagers in the planned community of New Granada, Colorado find themselves bored and constantly getting into trouble. The town was designed for adults with no consideration given for them. The recreation center is their only outlet, but that closes at 6 PM allowing for too much idle time in the evenings. Vandalism and other petty crimes soon commence, but when one of the teens (Matt Dillon) gets shot and killed by a cop (Harry Northup) his friends rebel by locking all the parents inside the local Junior High School while they’re having a meeting and not allowing them to leave.

The story, which was co-scripted by Tim Hunter who went on to even greater success by directing River’s Edge, which had a similar theme, is based on true events that occurred in the early 70’s in a planned community of Foster City, California. Like in the film no consideration was given to the teens during the planning phase causing them to become bored and resort to crime and rebellion, which lead to an article being written about in the San Francisco Examiner that attracted the attention of Hunter and Charles S. Haas who thought it could make good material for a movie. They traveled to the town and interviewed many of the teens first-hand to get a good idea about their feelings and thoughts.

There are elements about the movie that I enjoyed, which is mainly the way it captures the community, which was filmed on-location in the Colorado towns of Aurora and Greeley. I especially liked how the cinematography focuses on the barren desert landscape and the cookie-cutter homes built in the middle of it without showing any downtown, which helps to accentuate how unimaginative and soulless a lot of these suburban places really are.

The presence of Matt Dillon, in his film debut, helps as well. He was 14 at the time and only attended the audition simply as an excuse to get out of going to school without any intention of actually getting a part, but onscreen he shows a strong acting flair and outshines his other co-stars to the extent that he should’ve been made the lead and it’s a shame when his character exits so quickly.

The idea by director Jonathan Kaplan was to try and make this seem like a documentary, which works to some extent. I liked how the cast was made up of  little known actors that most viewers will not recognize makes it seem like ordinary people and not actors at all. The use of the music though is what I had a problem with. The songs that get heard in the background by such bands as Cheap Trick, The Ramones and The Cars are perfect and convey a punk attitude that the kids were feeling, but the instrumentals that are played during some of the action sequences was not needed. Again, if this is supposed to seem like a documentary then very little music should be used as real-life doesn’t have an ongoing soundtrack and by implementing one in, even if it was composed by the director’s father Sol Kaplan, was a mistake.

I also had a problem with the film’s climactic sequence in which the teens lock the adults in the school and then go about vandalizing their cars outside. This is the film’s only unique moment and should’ve been played-up much more, but the tension from this doesn’t get stretched out as much as it should. I would’ve liked this scene to take up more of the movies and played out almost like a thriller by trapping the adults in the place for several days until you start to fear they might never get out and even turning-the-tables on them by having the kids order them around and forcing them to do humiliating things just for their own amusement.

Although the movie received very little reception when it was first released, which was only a limited engagement, it has managed to find a cult following and critical acclaim since. There are some keen moments particularly the way it portrays the out-of-touch adults who are always convinced that their kids are ‘angels’ while it’s someone else’s that is the troublemaker, but the script makes its point early and then just proceeds to repeat it over and over again until it gets redundant.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: July 7, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated PG

Director Jonathan Kaplan

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Summer School (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: No vacation this summer.

Freddy Shoop (Mark Harmon) is not happy about having to teach remedial English to nine students during the summer break. He was about to fly off to Hawaii with his girlfriend, but then got picked at the last minute to teach the class when Mr. Dearadorian (Carl Reiner) who normally teaches it wins the lottery and decides to quit his job. At first Freddy lets the kids goof around and even takes them on a few field trips, but when his tenure gets threatened unless all the kids pass the test he decides he better take it seriously and make deals with the kids to do the same.

The biggest surprise here was finding that Mark Harmon could actually be funny. He was the son of a former Heisman Trophy winner and a quarterback himself at UCLA during the 70’s who I always felt had the doors open for him in the acting biz simply because of his chiseled good looks and nothing more. I remember first watching him in the 80’s TV-show ‘St. Elsewhere’ and finding him to be quite boring there and yet here he shows a whole new side of himself and in a lot of ways is the most engaging thing about the movie.

The film also manages to avoid the pitfalls of other 80’s comedies by not aiming for the gross out, sophomoric humor that permeated so many other teen films from that decade. Everything here is surprisingly restrained and in a lot ways this helps to make it funnier because it keeps things at a more realistic level. It’s also great to see a teen film that doesn’t deal with the generation gap or portray the adults as being overly stuffy, or out-of-it as Harmon comes off as being just as cool as the students.

While the film does have its share of amusing moment, with the driving lesson that Harmon gives to one of his students (Kelly Jo Minter) being the funniest, there are a lot of potential comic ideas that it never follows through on, which limits it from being as funny as it could’ve been. It also never bothers to explain where Harmon’s car keys were as one of the students took them on the first day forcing Harmon to go looking for them, but never shows how he found them, or where they were hidden.

The character of Chainsaw (Dean Cameron) I felt was a bit on the lame side. For one thing he looks too old for a high school student and was in fact already 24 when he played the part, but what annoyed me more was his obsession with the movie The Texas Chainsaw MassacreNow don’t get me wrong it’s a great movie, but it’s also very well known and obvious. It’s not all that gory either and it was the gore factor that supposedly his character like the most. If the kid was a true horror fan then he’d be aware of the obscure horror movies that the others wouldn’t be and if gore was truly his thing then the Italian giallo films would be more likely something that he’d obsess over.

The film’s feel-good ending in which Harmon is able to reach and inspire each student in some way hurts the film by not portraying the teaching profession in a realistic way. There will always be those students that a teacher will not be able to reach no matter how hard they try, which is one of the more frustrating aspects about the job, but the film never bothers to tackle this issue. Some may argue that this would’ve hurt the otherwise lighthearted tone, but good movies are able to sneak in serious side-issues and still make it work and the fact that this one doesn’t makes it glossy and forgettable.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: July 22, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Carl Reiner

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Liar’s Moon (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Couple harbors dark secret.

During the summer of 1949 in a small Texas town Jack (Matt Dillon), who has just turned 18, falls for Ginny (Cindy Fisher) who is 17. Jack is from the poor side of town and helps out his father (Hoyt Axton) on a family run farm while Ginny lives a more privileged life as the daughter of the town’s banker (Christopher Connelly) As Jack and Ginny’s relationship progresses they find stiff resistance to it from their mutual parents particularly Ginny’s father, but they don’t know why. In order to get married they go to Louisiana to elope, but Ginny’s father hires a detective (Richard Moll) to track them down and bring his daughter back no matter what the cost.

The one aspect about the movie that I did like is that it paints its small town characters in a generally positive light. Too many times movies that deal with stories that took place in a bygone era always seem to portray the characters as being more dopey than people of today, or more racist and meaner especially if it takes place in the south, but fortunately that doesn’t occur here. Instead we get shown regular, everyday people that you could easily meet today that just so happen to have lived a long time ago.

The film also has a nice leisurely pace to it and the romantic angle doesn’t seem quite as rushed, which is good, but the film also lacks finesse. The only part of the movie that has any atmosphere or cinematic flair is the opening flashback sequence, which gets done in black and white, while the rest of it pretty much flat lines. The scene where three men get royally drunk on some strong whiskey and another one where the town’s young men try to tackle a baby hog at the fair are the only times when there’s spontaneity or verve.

The story itself is too obvious and too many clues are given away, so by the time the ‘shocking’ secret get revealed you pretty much had guessed it way earlier. A few extra twists are thrown in during the final 15 minutes, but overall it becomes soap opera laden and too similar to the tragedy tinged teen romances of the 70’s that gives the whole thing a formulaic feel.

The eclectic cast is really the only interesting aspect about the film with Dillon giving a solid performance and Fisher looking quite beautiful even when she is constantly crying, which is pretty much all she does during the final third. Academy Award winning actor Broderick Crawford, whose last film this was, gets completed wasted in a pointless role that has very little screen time and the same goes for Yvonne De Carlo who speaks here in what sounds to be an Irish accent. Susan Tyrrell though is strong playing another one of her fringe characters, this time in the form of a prostitute, who comes off as cold and snarky at first, but eventually becomes surprisingly sympathetic.

Spoiler Alert!

Two different endings were filmed and distributed and which ending you saw depended on which theater you attended. One has the main character dying while the other one doesn’t, but both come-off as rather cheesy and make you feel like sitting through this thing really wasn’t worth it.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 2, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 46 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: David Fisher

Studio: Crown International Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video.

River’s Edge (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teens ambivalent to murder.

A high school clique must deal with conflicting issues when one of their members (Daniel Roebuck) murders his girlfriend (Danyi Deats) and leaves her nude corpse along the riverbed where he then proudly shows it off to anyone who wants to see it. Some of them consider going to the police while others like Layne (Crispin Glover) thinks they should simply bury the body and cover-up for John’s deeds since he’s their friend.

While I liked the film’s atmosphere and the strong drama I didn’t care for the preachy tone. This is most evident in the scenes with Jim Metzler playing a teacher who’s a baby boomer and brags about how great his generation is compared to today’s teens and even at one point wags his finger at them over their apathy, but never once answers why they’ve become that way. Every generation likes to feel that they’re superior to the one that comes after it and the film seems to want to align itself with that point-of-view; that the kids today just don’t seem to ‘get-it’, but what’s caused that? Is it just some ‘bad DNA’ or instead a crumbling societal structure and if so then the adults are partially to blame for it, which is a complex area that the film seems reluctant to go to.

The fact that there isn’t any real insight to the cause and it doesn’t even analyze the family life of all its characters is a bit frustrating. It does show the chaotic, broken home life to one of them, which could be construed as part of the problem, but then later this gets negated when the teen from that household is the one who ultimately goes to the police.

Keanu Reeves character is a further detraction as he becomes too much of the conventional hero. Watching him literally shake from guilt while sitting in a classroom gives away all the tension as it makes it clear he will eventually go to the police and it would’ve been more intriguing had this instead been kept a mystery. Initially we’re supposed to be ‘shocked’ that the teens don’t immediately run to the police upon discovering the body, but then having him later get accused of the crime once he does go only helps to make those that didn’t seem the wiser.

Dennis Hopper’s character is a problem too. He’s great actor who plays the part brilliantly even though it seems too similar, at least initially, to the one he played in Blue Velvet almost to the point of it being typecasting. Having the guy start out as this weird, overly eccentric, mentally unstable loner who goes around in public with his sex doll only to then turn around and become a moral authority to ‘the crazy kids of today’ is just too much of a weird clash.

Crispin Glover, with his androgenic looks and wild, hybrid VW that he drives around in, is the film’s true star and many might even say that he IS the movie. His warped idea of friendship, loyalty, and ‘honor’ is amusing and even engaging and in a offbeat way brings a sense of innocence to an otherwise jaded climate. The plot would’ve worked better had it made him the centerpiece by turning it into a black comedy where he becomes the anti-hero by trying to save his friend from getting into trouble, which ultimately would’ve hit home the same message that the drama does anyways.

Despite having its plot start from the middle and work into a nebulous finish, it’s still a gripping and groundbreaking film and something I found myself quite caught up in. I just wished it hadn’t felt the need to envelope it with a social message, but instead allowed the situation play out naturally with an ambiguous tone, which would’ve then forced the viewer to ponder the ramifications of it by themselves instead of trying to do it for them.

Although the film never mentions it this it is actually based, or at least inspired by a true incident that occurred in Milpitas, California when 14 year-old Marcy Renee Conrad was murdered by 16 year-old Anthony Broussard on November 3, 1981. After dumping the dead body into a ravine Broussard then showed it off to 10 of his friends who didn’t do anything about it until finally 2 of them decided to go to the police. However, there are some major differences from the real case to the one portrayed here. In the actual incident Marcy was also raped and Broussard was African American and his ultimate fate was much different than what happens to the killer in the movie.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: August 7, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 39 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Tim Hunter

Studio: Island Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Promises in the Dark (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Caring for cancer patient.

Elizabeth ‘Buffy’ (Kathleen Beller) is a 17-year-old high school senior who breaks her leg while kicking a soccer ball. Alexandra (Marsha Mason) is the attending physician who feels that a beak of that magnitude should not have occurred simply by kicking a ball, so after doing more x-rays they find a cancerous tumor, which necessitates having the leg amputated. While Buffy recovers from that further tests reveal that the cancer has spread and this causes Alexandra to lose her cold, defensive exterior as she tries to comfort Buffy through the remaining time that she has.

This film nicely keeps everything at an earnest level and avoids jazzing things up for dramatic purposes, which is refreshing. The acting from Ned Beatty as Buffy’s father and Susan Clark as the mother is outstanding with Clark’s character being particularly interesting especially when she doesn’t run to her sick daughter’s aid when she hears her cry for help, but instead remains frozen at the bottom of the stairs, which was something I wanted to have explored more.

Mason’s excellent dramatic talents seemed ripe for this type of material, but strangely she doesn’t come-off as well as I would’ve expected. I liked that she is portrayed as being strong and in control and the fact that she just happens to be female, in a time when doctors was still a male dominated profession,  and it’s never used against her is great, but the character’s arch, in which she learns to open-up more after her divorce, is not half as compelling as Buffy’s struggles, which should’ve made her the main character while the Dr. role thrown in as a minor secondary one.

Alexandra’s romantic relationship with another Dr., played by Michael Brandon, wasn’t necessary either. To some degree I liked how the film keeps this at a realistic level, by having the relationship full of a lot of ups-and-downs as opposed to having their eyes magically lock on each other and then in the next shot showing them in bed together like a lot of other movies do, but supposedly the element of this story was Alexandra’s friendship with Buffy and that in many ways becomes secondary to the romance.

Beller is the best thing as her sensitive portrayal connects strongly with the viewer making what she goes through quite upsetting. Having to watch a likable person learn to adjust to life with only one leg, which she does quite commendably, is one thing, but having her then go through more cancer treatments until she is left a virtual vegetable is just too much to bear and it makes the second hour downright tortuous to have to sit through.

Spoiler Alert!

Some may argue that having Buffy die was just keeping things real, but then why throw in a whole secondary story-line that doesn’t get introduced until the third act, which has a Karen Ann Quinlan-like quality to it as it deals with Buffy being kept alive long after her brain activity has ceased and Alexandra’s fight with Buffy’s parents to have the machine shut off. The fact that Alexandra eventually succeeds in turning it off only brings up more questions like did this get her into trouble with her job/reputation, or sued in court by Buffy’s parents? None of this gets answered or even touched on, but should’ve and in essence seems like a plot for a whole other movie.

Films from the 70’s were notorious for having sad endings, which in many ways made them more sincere. Yet this movie is so unrelentingly with it that I failed to see how anyone could enjoy it. Certainly it’s not something you’d ever want to watch more than once, or one that you’d ever want to invite a friend or date to as it would put a damper to any evening. This may be too maudlin for even fans of tearjerkers, which are the only people that could possibly like it.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: November 2, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 58 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jerome Hellman

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Video

Skaterdater (1965)

A still photo from the 1965 Academy Award-nominated short film “Skaterdater.” The 18-minute film was shot on location in the South Bay without dialog and starring a bunch of skateboarding kids.

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: From skateboards to girls.

Director Noel Black, who had just graduated from USC film school, wanted to put together a production reel that he could show to potential producers and studios and  after securing $17,000 for financial backing decided to make a short movie examining the then new craze of skateboarding. The story centers on some neighborhood skateboarders in Torrance, California who enjoy spending their summer afternoons skating around town. One day one of the boys (Michael Mel) spots a pretty girl (Melissa Mallory) and decides she’s more interesting than his friends, so he starts spending all of his time with her, which makes his other friends jealous and one of them (Gregg Carroll) challenges him to a skateboarding ‘duel’ along a steep, hillside street.

Despite the limited production values this still comes off as fresh and original and it’s officially the very first film ever made about skateboarding. In many ways not much has changed. The only real difference is that businesses back them did not have the sway to put up signs banning skaters from using their parking lots or sidewalks and one amusing segment shows the disgruntled look of local business owners having to put up with the distracting skateboarding noise outside although unfortunately director Black over-accentuates the noise for effect making the sound and ultimately the segment annoying to the viewer as well.

Some of the stuntwork though is impressive and the fact that there is no dialogue or names given to the characters is a benefit as it gives the thing a universal appeal knowing that this same type of scenario gets repeated all over the country from one generation to the next. The film was met with strong critical praise and has led to it getting preserved into the Academy Film Archive in 2010 as well as helping to boost director Black’s filmmaking career, which directly  led to him getting a chance to direct Pretty Poison, starring Anthony Perkins and Tuesday Weld, which has since garnered a strong cult following.

As for the cast none of them became famous or found a career in front of the camera, but they’re all still alive and recently got together for a reunion with pics showing them as they were back then and how they look today :

L-R back row Bill McKig, Gary Jennings, Marshal Backlar, producer. L-R front row Michael Mel, Melissa Mosley and Bart Jahn all reunited 50 years after making the 1965 Academy Award-nominated short film “Skaterdater.” The 18-minute film was shot on location in the South Bay without dialog and starring a bunch of skateboarding kids.
Redondo Beach June 27, 2015.
(Photo by Brittany Murray / Daily Breeze)

 

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 11, 1965

Runtime: 17 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Noel Black

Studio: United Artists

Available: YouTube

Teachers (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teaching can be difficult.

Alex (Nick Nolte) is a burned-out teacher who feels that the system is working against him as he tries to do his job in an inner-city school despite having no support from administrators. Things come to an ugly light when Lisa (JoBeth Williams) a former student of his who’s now an attorney takes part in a lawsuit suing the school for graduating a student who could not read.

Producer Irwin Russo drew on his 10-years as a teacher at an inner-city New York high school as the basis for the story and the film has some good trenchant points, but trying to put a satirical spin to it was a mistake. To make a good satire you gotta go all-in and this film timidly goes half-way with humor that at times, especially at the beginning, is off-putting. It’s not until the second-half when it gets more serious does it ever start catching its stride and the production would’ve been better had it remained a drama from the very beginning.

Nolte comes off like he’s suffering from one long hang-over, which may have been the intention, but the way he basically sleepwalks through the role gives the film no energy and makes the viewer feel as drowsy as he is. His relationship with Lisa, his former student, is forced and uninteresting and even a bit unbelievable since they look to be basically the same age. Judd Hirsh who plays the vice principal should’ve been the lead adult character as he does a great job of balancing the comedy with the drama by playing it straight and simply responding in sometimes glib and humorous ways to the insanity around him.

Ultimately it would’ve worked better had Ralph Macchio been made the star as he’s excellent despite the irony that he was already 23 at the time, but looking more like he was still in the eight grade. Crispin Glover as his goofball friend doesn’t work as well. Sometimes his pseudo-psycho characters are interesting, but here it is poorly defined and distracting. Laura Dern’s character is annoying as she plays another one of those perennial teen girls who gets pregnant and then wants an abortion, which has been so overused in so many other high school films that by now it seems like a cliche.

I did like the on-location shooting done at the former Central High School in Columbus, Ohio and the student body looks to be made up of actual teens and not just young adults trying to play one, but they did seem at times to be a bit unrealistically too well behaved. The scene where a teacher Mr. Stiles (Royal Dano) would fall asleep behind his desk and the students would still quietly do their homework made no sense as I would think they’d take advantage of the situation and goof-off instead.  Richard Mulligan’s role as an escaped mental patient pretending to be a substitute teacher is equally implausible as I thought the authorities would’ve caught up to him much sooner than they do although it is fun seeing him wearing a General Custer outfit as it looks quite similar to the one he wore in Little Big Man when he played the actual Custer.

There are a few good moments here and there, but it’s badly undermined by the misguided humor and corny ending. The eclectic supporting cast though is a treat to watch. I enjoyed William Schallert as a principal who seemingly wants to avoid confrontation at all costs as well as Lee Grant as a lawyer, which is the type of profession her acting style seems born to play. Originally the part was written for a man, but she plays it better than any guy ever could and I also enjoyed seeing her with a brunette hairdo instead of her usual red one, which makes her appear younger than she did in the 70’s.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 5, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 47 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Arthur Hiller

Studio: MGM/UA

Available: DVD

Hell High (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teens regret pranking teacher.

When she is 6 years old little Brooke (Amy Beth Erenrich) accidently kills a couple by causing the motorbike they’re riding on to spin out-of-control. Now, 18 years later Brooke (Maureen Mooney) teaches at a high school where she has a confrontation with one of the students named Dickens (Christopher Stryker). Dickens decides to get his revenge by having him and three of his friends (Christopher Cousins, Millie Prezioso, Jason Brill) terrorize her by going out to her home wearing masks. Things though unravel when the demons of Brooke’s past come back to haunt her, which turns her into a psychotic killing machine right before their eyes.

To a certain degree this film is slightly above the usual cheesy horror flick level. Although the dress that the child wears during the flashback segment looks ridiculously campy I still felt this scene was the best moment in the film particularly the shot of the couple impaled by the fence. The on-location shooting is decent too as I visually got an authentic high school feel both on the campus and during the football game. The kids look like genuine teenagers too and they even manage to have distinct personalities. The spacious, remote home that Brooke lives in helps exude a Straw Dogs tone, but it was weird that she resided in the same place that she grew up in and I presume the only good reason for this was budgetary. The approach is offbeat and initially intriguing even though the tension gets destroyed by going off on a long tangent involving a high school football game that was not needed.

The biggest problem though comes when it tries to connect Brooke’s traumatic childhood experience with what she’s going through now, which is just too much of a stretch. If she is as mentally fragile as the film insists then her inevitable meltdown would’ve occurred far sooner like when she was 8 or 10 instead of having her supposedly lead a normal life and then flip-out like a light switch without warning. It’s also confusing why she doesn’t just call the police right away when the kids first started to scare her.

Once the killings happen it gets boring and mechanical and the plot would’ve worked better had it not been known until the end who the killer actually was. The animosity between Brooke and Dickens, which is well-played by Stryker who unfortunately died before the film was released, needed a better final confrontation that was more drawn-out as Brooke overpowers him too quickly making his transition from bully to scared victim not as ironic as it could’ve been.

For me though the scariest part in the film had nothing to do with the intended ‘horror’, but more with the incredibly disrespectful way Brooke gets treated by her students when she tries conducting her biology class. Teachers don’t get paid enough to be expected to tolerate the snide behavior that she does nor should teens think that is acceptable while in the classroom, which is sad and even a bit disturbing.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 12, 1989 (Filmed in 1985)

Runtime: 1Hour 24Minutes

Rated R

Director: Douglas Grossman

Studio: JGM Enterprises

Available: DVD

Prom Night (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Accidental death spawns revenge.

In 1974 five children go playing inside an abandoned building, but when one of them falls tragically to her death the other kids agree not to tell in order to avoid getting into trouble. Six years later these same four children are now teenagers and ready to attend the prom, but become terrified by strange phone calls from someone insisting he saw what happened and threatening to kill them to avenge the accidental death of the other one.

As modern day horror movies go this one starts out well especially the abandoned building footage with the rundown interiors helping to give the film a creepy look. The lighting and camerawork are more polished than the typical slasher production and it doesn’t reek of low budget, amateurish values that pervaded just about every other horror flick from that era.

Unfortunately after a decent beginning the pacing then slows to a crawl and except for a few creepy phone calls hardly anything goes on for the whole first hour. At one point it becomes like a sequel to Saturday Night Fever with a prolonged dance segment between Jamie Lee Curtis and her partner that does not propel either the plot or tension and was out-of-place.

The side-story dealing with the police searching for an escaped killer who they mistakenly believe killed the child is pointless and apparently added in at the last minute. I would think a coroner’s autopsy would’ve shown that the child died from the trauma of the fall and not by someone’s knife, which makes the crazy-killer-on-the-loose angle ridiculous and an obvious red-herring put in to ‘fool’ the viewer, which most seasoned horror movie fans would never be dumb enough to fall for anyways, so why insult their intelligence by even trying?

The actual killings don’t get going until 1Hour and 2Minutes in and by then it’s almost too late. The killer also conveys seemingly boundless energy as he busily wrestles a driver for control of a van, which he eventually forces off a cliff while miraculously jumping out of it just before it goes over and then manages just a short time later to chase another victim all around the school where no matter which hallway the young lady chooses to run down the killer always magically is at the end of it ready to jump out at her. The decapitation scene depicting a victim’s head rolling down the stage runway at the high school prom has to be one of the unintentionally funniest moments put on film and had me laughing uproariously.

PROM NIGHT, David Mucci, 1980, (c)AVCO Embassy Pictures

Spoiler Alert!

Normally guessing the killer’s identity is the one fun thing to do while watching these types of flicks, but here that gets ruined by implementing a character at the scene, which was Alex (Michael Tough) the younger brother of the victim who died, even though the viewer didn’t even know he was present when it happened. It’s also hard to believe that any young child could keep a secret for that long as most can’t. I understand why the other 4 kids didn’t tell, but why the younger brother who had nothing to do with the accident and only witnessed what happened? Why would he not immediately run back home to his parents, as most would and tell them about it so they could call the police?

In retrospect having the flashback at the beginning was a mistake as there would’ve been more intrigue had we not known why these four were being targeted. Only revealing the flashback at the very end would’ve then heightened the mystery, which is pretty flimsy otherwise.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: July 18, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Lynch

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Night Warning (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: His aunt is crazy.

Billy (Jimmy McNichol) has been orphaned since age 3 ever since his parents died in a tragic car accident. For the past 14 years he’s been living with his neurotic aunt Cheryl (Susan Tyrrell), but now that he’s turning 17 he’s ready to move-out. Cheryl though doesn’t want Billy to leave her as she harbors dark incestuous feelings for him and will do anything, even kill in order to keep him with her.

The film was directed by William Asher, who mainly worked on family oriented material like the TV-show ‘Bewitched’ and the beach party movies from the 60’s, so doing this was a stretch for him, but results aren’t bad. Although there’s little gore the well-shot opening sequence in which the father gets decapitated by driving into a truck hauling wooden logs is impressive and more than makes up for it and it even gets shown twice.

The big payoff though is Susan Tyrrell’s performance, which gets completely off-the-charts. She had a love-hate relationship with her real-life mother and the two spent many years not talking to each other and I think this as well as some of the treatment that she received in Hollywood particularly with her working relationship with director John Huston while doing Fat City she used to channel the anger and rejection of her character and it really works. Watching her become more and more unhinged as the film progresses and her increasingly odd facial expressions and voice tones is a treat onto itself and makes catching this otherwise hard-to-find flick worth it.

McNichol’s acting unfortunately cannot match hers and I was shocked to see that he got top billing over her as his talent level, pedigree isn’t even close. His character though is even more annoying as I found it hard to believe that he wouldn’t have seen red flags to his aunt’s mental illness far sooner. The film makes it seem that he had no concerns about his aunt until he turned 17, but I would think living with her for 14 years there would be signs of it earlier. It’s also hard to feel for someone who is so painfully naïve and walks into his aunt’s devious traps when anyone else would’ve know better. It’s dubious too that the aunt would wait until the kid was 17 before making sexual overtures, but I suppose that’s a whole other issue.

Bo Svenson’s as a brash, unethical cop who is profoundly racist and homophobic becomes a strain too. I’m sure at the time this was considered simply ‘soft satire’ that lightly pokes fun at the bad cop stigma, but now it comes off as dated and unpleasant and probably the whole reason why the film hasn’t received a DVD/Blu-ray release.

Julia Duffy, best known for playing Stephanie on the TV-show ‘Newhart’ is on hand in support and although she was already 30 at the time plays Billy’s teen girlfriend and even appears topless, which may interest the voyeurs. However, any story that hinges on one of the characters being put on trial and then found not guilty by a jury due to temporary insanity I just can’t buy into and I don’t think has ever happened at least not in this country. There’s also too much ‘scary music’ that gets played particularly during scenes inside the house that just isn’t needed and almost becomes a distraction and I wish directors and producers would realize that the quiet/natural ambience can be far creepier than any soundtrack.

 

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Alternate Title: Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker

Released: January 1, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Rated R

Director: William Asher

Studio: Royal American Pictures

Available: VHS