Category Archives: Black Comedy

The Running Man (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: A deadly game show.

The year is 2019 and the United States has turned into a militarized police state. In an effort to keep people’s minds off of their bleak existence the government broadcasts game shows in which the contestants are convicted felons who fight for their lives against well-trained and well-equipped assassins called ‘stalkers’. When Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger) gets convicted of a crime he didn’t commit he is put onto one of these shows called ‘The Running Man’ as a contestant, which is hosted by Damion Killian (Richard Dawson). They then try everything they can to kill Ben, but to their surprise Ben proves to be far more resilient than they ever expected.

The film is based on a novel of the same name written by Stephen King under the pseudonym of Richard Bachman. However, the novel is far different than the movie, which had the main character traveling to different towns in the northeast while here the game show action gets confined to a dark, dingy studio. The main character was also thin and meek-looking, which would’ve been more interesting had he been that way in the movie as it would’ve made him seem even more like an underdog.

The film’s comic book look is fun for a while and the shots showing the audiences stunned reactions as Ben continually takes down these supposedly unbeatable stalkers is funny. It also makes some good points regarding media manipulation and the hypnotic power of television although it’s too generalized and could’ve gone further with it.

The casting though is particularly good including Ricard Dawson as the egotistical game show host. He did some acting during the ‘60s, but was mainly known for his work as a panelist on ‘Match Game’ and hosting ‘Family Feud’ and yet here he falls into his role with complete ease and easily steals the film. It’s also fun seeing Jesse Ventura, who later became the governor of Minnesota wearing a tacky looking wig. Former football player Jim Brown gets one of the best roles of his film career as a stalker whose punk hairdo resembles that of a skunks and Barbara Lux is amusing as an old lady who swears liberally.

While the dark humor is engaging the story does get quite derivative. Watching Ben defeat the stalkers one-by-one becomes mechanical and redundant. The film also fails to display any type of futuristic vision as the characters use phones that are still connected by a cord, have computers with big, clunky keyboards, and watch TVs that are still of the boxy variety.

Spoiler Alert!

The most disappointing element though is the ending, which differs greatly from the one in the book and is far too neat and tidy. The idea that one determined individual can single-handedly take down a deeply corrupt system is the stuff of romanticized fiction. Having the brain-washed masses suddenly become ‘de-converted’ by showing them actual news coverage wouldn’t really work. If people have been feed a lie for so long they’re not necessarily going to know what the truth is when it hits them and may actually just consider it to be a ‘lie’. Throwing in a ‘feel-good’ ending diminishes the dystopian theme and dark humor that came before it making the film nothing more than a marketing gimmick with no real bite.

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 13, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Michael Glaser

Studio: Tri-Star Pictures

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

Pretty Maids All in a Row (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Coach kills pretty students.

Ponce (John David Carson) is an awkward teen in his senior year of high school that still hasn’t been out on a date. He suffers from having erections at the most inopportune times and too shy to ask out one of the many beautiful female students that populate his school. He also finds himself dealing with a series of murders of pretty coeds who turn up dead with funny little notes attached to them and he starts to suspect that the killer may be the school’s beloved football coach (Rock Hudson).

The film, which is based on a novel by Francis Pollini with a screenplay written by Gene Roddenberry starts out well with sharp, satirical dialogue and funny situations dealing with the police investigation, but then deteriorates into smarmy sex jokes and becomes nothing more than a teasing T&A flick. The script makes it obvious early on that the coach is the killer and had it not revealed this so quickly it could’ve made the film more of a mystery and given the ending an impactful twist.

My main beef though is that it takes place in a high school instead of a college even though all the students look to be well into their 20’s. The fact that the coach has sex with the female students makes the thing seem off-kilter as does Angie Dickinson who plays a teacher who brings Ponce into her home to help him with his erection problem. If the setting was a college with the student characters over 18 than all this tawdriness would at least be legal and less outrageous.

The female students come off as being too free-spirited and reflect the counter-culture movement that occurred mainly on the college campuses of that era and not the high schools. They also all look too much like models. A realistic portrait of a high school class will have a variety of body types not just those of women ready to become cover-girls. I enjoy beautiful women as much as anybody, but the film should’ve had at least one average or overweight female in the cast simply to give it balance and avoid it from seeming too much like a tacky male fantasy, which is all this thing ends up being anyways.

Hudson, with his monotone delivery, is a weak actor and gave only one good performance in his career, which was in the film Giant. Yet here his discombobulated acting skills successfully reflect his character’s confused personality. Carson is a bland protagonist and his presence doesn’t have much to do with how the plot progresses. His character is put in solely for a dull side-story dealing with his attempts to get-it-on with his teacher in her home, which amounts to being just a dumb comic variation of Tea and Sympathy that is neither funny nor sexy.

The supporting cast is far better. Telly Savalas owns the screen as a relentless investigator. Keenan Wynn is hilarious as a dim-witted policeman in one of the funniest roles of his prolific career and he’s the best thing in the movie.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 26, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated R

Director: Roger Vadim

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, YouTube

Rita, Sue and Bob Too (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Dad fucks the babysitters.

Rita (Siobhan Finneran) and Sue (Michelle Holmes) are two friends from high school who babysit for Bob (George Costigan) and his wife Michelle (Lesley Sharp). One night while Bob is taking the two babysitters home in his car he decides to make a sexual overture to them and they both enthusiastically reciprocate, which ends up turning into a mini sex orgy. Soon the three are routinely getting together for sexual trysts until Michelle eventually catches on and leaves Bob while taking the kids with her. Sue’s parents find out too, which causes a great deal of stress and infighting amongst the three.

This offbeat comedy unexpectedly became a big worldwide cult hit that made stars of the three leads particularly the two women whose first film this was. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the film’s director Alan Clarke or its writer Andrea Dunbar who both tragically died just 3 years after the film’s release. Clarke from cancer while Dunbar, who was living on welfare and an alcoholic, passed away at her local pub at only 29 years of age.

The film comes off as an odd mix of lighthearted comedy and gritty drama that doesn’t completely work. The story jumps from the upscale middle class neighborhood of Bob’s house to the abject poverty of Sue and Rita’s family life with their apartments so vividly rundown that it’s almost horrifying to imagine anyone could live in such squalor. Part of the reason for this shift is that the film was based on two of Dunbar’s plays, the first being ‘The Arbor’, which was an autobiographical story of her growing up in the slums and at the hands of an abusive father, which she wrote at the age of 15 as a class project, and the other on a later play that she wrote with the same title as the film.

Why director Clarke choose to mix the two plays together into one film I’m not sure. Maybe he thought it would give the story more substance, but it really doesn’t. The antics that go on here could’ve happened in any neighborhood and income bracket making the stark, dramatic scenes of the girl’s sad home life seem inconsequential and meandering.

I didn’t like the film’s abrupt start either as it jumps almost immediately to the three getting-it-on inside the car without any backstory. I kept wondering when did Bob get the idea to make a pass at the two girls and why are the girls so unsurprised when he does? I would think most young women would be shocked when an older man that they babysit for would suddenly make an aggressive sexual come-on and yet here these two aren’t, but why? What sort of signals were the two sending out to Bob to make him feel that he could behave the way he does? Was he already getting ideas when they first came to babysit for him, or did it evolve later? These questions and scenarios never get shown or answered, but should’ve.

We also never see Rita and Sue interacting with the children. The scenes involving their babysitting shows them either sitting watching TV or stuffing their faces with snacks after raiding Bob’s refrigerator while the two children remain complete afterthoughts that are only shown briefly for a few seconds at the 54 minute mark and that’s it, which then brings me to another crucial question. Why is it necessary to hire two babysitters to watch over two kids? When I was younger and babysat I could easily watch my neighbor’s two kids without any help. When I was a child only one babysitter was hired to look after me and my two siblings. Hiring two teen girls to look after two kids is highly impractical and quite unusual to the point that it makes no sense.

The ending leaves open a lot of questions making the film seem almost like an incomplete treatment to a wider story. For instance the three end up moving in together without showing whether this unusual living arrangement would be able to sustain itself long term. I was also curious to see how Bob would explain this arrangement to his children when they came to visit. There is also a side-story dealing with Sue’s relationship with a Pakistani boyfriend (Kulvinder Ghir) that seemed better suited for another movie altogether.

The scenes involving the three inside the car are the funniest, but otherwise I’m not sure why this movie became the hit that it did.  There’s also too many tracking shots almost like director Clarke found himself a new toy that he couldn’t help playing with. Initially the constantly moving camera comes off as innovative and gives the film added energy, but it ends up getting overdone.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 12, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Alan Clarke

Studio: Film Four International

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Polyester (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Suburban housewife has problems.

Francine Fishpaw’s (Divine) world is crumbling. Not only must she endure constant protests in front of her suburban Baltimore home dealing with people upset with her husband (David Samson) running an adult theater, but she must also deal with his affair with his sexy secretary (Mink Stole) as well. Her teenage son (Ken King) is terrorizing the city by intentionally stomping on the feet of every woman he sees and her daughter Lu-Lu (Mary Garlington) wants an abortion. She then meets the dashing Todd Tomorrow (Tab Hunter) and the two immediately fall-in-love only to find that he too has a dark-side.

This was John Waters’ first studio backed film and the first to garner an R-rating while the others had been X. While the budget is an improvement and its technicallys more polished the edginess is lost. The humor and satirical potshots don’t have the same zing and are lacking in originality and outrageousness. The gimmick of passing out a scratch-and-sniff cards where audiences could sniff the scents being smelled by the film’s main character seems excessively juvenile and the film begins with a campy scientist (Rick Breitenfeld) talking about it, which sets the tone too much on a silly/cartoonish level.

Divine’s presence helps, but she isn’t as made-up or as flashy as she was in her past films and looking much more like just some fat guy wearing a lady’s wig. I liked that her character was consistently normal for the most part as in the other films she behaved more erratically although what she goes through here is so unrelentingly traumatic that it borders on being almost cruel to laugh at. It’s also not completely easy to sympathize with her quandary as her kid’s behavior is so outrageous you have to question her parenting skills and whether she’s partially to blame for the bad things that they do.

Edith Massey is funny as a poor woman who wins the lottery and now acts a bit nouveau riche about it. It’s also fun seeing the two teens go through a Jekyll and Hyde transformation, but Tab’s appearance adds little although he does sing a decent opening title tune.

The broad humor for the most part is dumb, but I still found myself laughing-out-loud at some of it, which I suppose is a part of Waters’ ‘charm’ at getting you to laugh at things you otherwise wouldn’t. Some of the moments that had me chuckling were: a ‘nice’ picnic that gets ruined by ants and a skunk. Pregnant young women forced to go on a ‘happy hayride’ in the cold rain by two fascist nuns and the pet dog who commits suicide by hanging himself along with leaving a note saying ‘Goodbye cruel world’.  The part where overweight Jean Hill hijacks a bus and chases down a group of teens who assaulted her on the street and then bites into their car tires to disable their vehicle is pretty wacked-out too.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 29, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 26 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Waters

Studio: New Line Cinema

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Incredible Shrinking Woman (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Suburban housewife gets smaller.

Pat Kramer (Lily Tomlin) is a housewife/mother raising two rambunctious kids (Shelby Balik, Justin Dana) while married to Vance (Charles Grodin) who works in advertising. After being exposed to some products from her husband’s company she begins to shrink until she becomes so small that she is forced to move into a dollhouse and drink out of thimble since a regular glass would be too big for her to hold.

The film is a modern remake of Richard Matheson’s The Incredible Shrinking Man and as much as I loved the original this version takes the storyline in a completely different direction, which for a while proves interesting. Director Joel Schumacher comes up with some wild color schemes and the knowing satire makes great points in its observations on modern suburbia as well as American consumerism. Screenwriter Jane Wagner manages to employ some well thought out scenarios and the special effects aren’t bad either.

Unfortunately by the second-half becomes muddled with scenarios that are no longer funny, but genuinely horrifying and sad instead. The satirical edge gets lost and replaced with an over-the-top mad-scientist-trying-to-conquer-the world angle that becomes cheesy.  I was also confused with how Pat was able to continue to find clothes to fit her especially after she gets smaller than even a toy doll. The film seemed to touch on every other possible problem, so they should’ve had at the very least had a throwaway scene analyzing this one.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending gets too cute for its own good as Pat shrinks to nothing and then has what’s left of the small outfit she was wearing fall into a puddle of spilled chemicals, which somehow makes her big again. This however ruins the poignancy that had been created from showing clips of bells being rung around the world from different countries in remembrance of Pat, which had a certain profound message that no matter how small you are you can still have an impact. Instead of giving the film some substance it goes for a last-second gimmick that cements it as being an empty-headed comedy and nothing more.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Tomlin’s performance is excellent as she creates empathy for her character, which helps make the story more engrossing as you genuinely build concern and sympathy for Pat’s welfare. Noted make-up specialist Rick Baker garnered a cult following for his convincing performance of an ape, although the shot of the animal giving some people in an elevator the finger is pushing it. The movie though as a whole works only in spurts with a message and tone that is too unfocused and inconsistent to be completely effective.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: January 30, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Joel Schumacher

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD-R (Universal Vault Series), Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He eats too much.

Max (Robert Morley) is a famous food critic who writes an article for the food magazine The Epicurist titled ‘The World’s Most Fabulous Meal’, which described four dishes cooked by four of the world’s top chefs. The problem is those chefs are now turning up dead. Natasha (Jacqueline Bisset) was the chef famous for creating the dessert called the bombe, which was also written about in that same article. Since the other chefs have already been murdered Natasha fears she may be next, so she works with the police to find the killer while also being a suspect since she was with each victim just before they died.

The film is based on the novel ‘Someone is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe’ by husband and wife writers Nan and Ivan Lyons, which came out two years earlier and had more erotic overtones while also detailing the specific recipes of each gourmet dish described in the story. Ted Kotchef’s excellent direction focuses strongly on the food element and each exotic meal is nicely captured and crafted by an actual cuisine chef named Paul Bocuse. Not only do you see the cast eating the stuff, especially Morley’s character, but preparing it as well including a detailed, drawn out segment showing Natasha creating her world famous desert.

The on-location shooting, done in three different European countries, is vivid and the dialogue is quite amusing. The denouncement is interesting because you think for sure it’s one person only to genuinely get surprised when it turns out to be someone completely unexpected. The plot though is too leisurely paced and the side-story dealing with Natasha’s ex-husband (George Segal) trying to rekindle their relationship is unnecessary and could’ve been cut, which would’ve helped shorten the runtime, which is overlong for such otherwise trite material.

Morley is a scene-stealer with everything he utters being hilarious. Bisset is great too and should’ve received top-billing as she’s seen the most while Segal’s presence comes off as downright intrusive. It was nice having a beautiful woman in a lead that was not sexualized and it would’ve made the film a bit ahead-of-its-time had she carried it alone, which she easily could’ve without Segal as a sort of male sidekick.

For light entertainment it’s enjoyable, but I was surprised at seeing how things have changed as there are several throwaway bits that at the time I’m sure were considered innocuous but would be deemed quite controversial by today’s standards. One scene has Bisset speaking with an Italian chef (Stefano Satta Flores) who openly pinches her twice on the rear without her permission. She protests it the first time, but he boldly does it again later and she lets it go, continues to casually talk to him and even agrees to meet him later for dinner. The film seems to play the whole thing off as a ‘boy-will-be-boys’ scenario coupled with the Italian male stereotype that this is simply ‘a part of their nature’.

In another part she refers to a French chef (Jean-Pierre Cassel) as a ‘fag’ and she visits a processing plant where thousands of chickens are housed in tight little cages and barely able to even move which doesn’t seem to bother her at all. I’m sure these scenes back in 1978 went completely over-the-heads of the viewers and most likely were quickly forgotten even though now these same moments would most likely elicit outrage, protest and headlines.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 5, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 52 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ted Kotcheff

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD (Warner Archive)

Just Tell Me What You Want (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rich tycoon gets dumped.

Max Herschel (Alan King) is a rich and successful businessman who’s used to getting what he wants. He’s rude and crude and doesn’t mind displaying his anger or contempt for others at a moment’s notice. After 14 years Bones (Ali MacGraw), his mistress, has decided she’s had enough. She leaves him for a much younger man (Peter Weller). This enrages Max who does whatever he can to win her back, or at the very least ‘punish’ her for leaving him.

The film, which is based on a novel by Jay Presson Allen has a delicious New York flavor with the majority of the action taking place at the Old Westbury Gardens estate that fronts as Max’s home. The interiors of the stately mansion are at times more interesting than the conversations and the exteriors coincidently were also used in Love Story, which was another MacGraw vehicle. Director Sidney Lumet gives the dark comedy a classy air with a rousing, distinctively jazzy score by Charles Strouse, which I wanted to hear more of and wouldn’t have minded if it had been played all the way through the movie.

The story has sharp dialogue and a deliciously acerbic edge, but becomes preoccupied with Max’s business dealings, which most viewers may find too complex to follow and aren’t that integral to the story. The first hour is spent focused on Max, whose obnoxious ways quickly become off-putting and tiring. The catalyst is his love-hate relationship with Bones and more scenes should’ve been shown with them together while having her break-up with him come much sooner.

King was a comedian known for angry monologues and that emotion gets channeled into his character. I’ll give them props for creating an unlikable lead and not holding anything back as too many times films create abrasive people only to soften them too soon or not go all-the-way with it. Here it gets pushed to the limit, but I was still hoping for Max to have more of an arch and was disappointed that he remains for the most part a callous jerk to the very end.

MacGraw’s restrained approach works well off of King’s flamboyance and the highlight is when she corners him at a luxury department store, which was filmed on-location at the Bergdorf Goodman, and tackles him while destroying everything in sight. However the character’s nickname of ‘Bones’ I did not care for especially with no explanation for why she was given it. Was she called this because she was thin, or was it for some other reason? An attractive female should be given a pleasant name not something that sounds demeaning.

Legendary actress Myrna Loy, who had been around since the silent film era, plays Max’s long suffering secretary and earns her pay here. Loved the scene where King cries right into her bosom while she holds his head and acts like his mother, but also the part where he shouts directly into her face even throws out the C-word and she doesn’t flinch. Keenan Wynn is likable and speaks with an accent in a sympathetic role as a Russian businessman and Dina Merrill’s emotional breakdowns as Max’s mentally fragile wife are impressive and could’ve been extended.

Spoiler Alert!

Overall though it fizzles and it’s not because it’s filled with a lot of extraneous dialogue and scenes that should’ve been cut, but more because it plays itself as this sort-of anti-romance only to sell-out at the end. There is simply no way anyone could truly fall-in-love with Max because there was nothing about him to love. Having him do one nice thing shouldn’t erase all the other bad things he did before. Bones had already spent 14 years with him which should be more than enough time to realize things won’t be any different moving forward. Having them reconcile by working together as business partners maybe, but a marriage is simply a disaster waiting to happen. Just because audiences long for the ‘happy ending’ doesn’t mean that’s what you give especially by having two people magically find love for each when none had ever existed before.

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 18, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 53 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sidney Lumet

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

The Thing with Two Heads (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Black man and bigot.

Dr. Maxwell Kirshner (Ray Milland) is a racist surgeon experimenting on transplanting the head of a dying animal onto one who is still living. The animal will then have two heads for a period of 35 days while the new one adapts to the body and eventually takes over at which time the original head is removed. The elderly Kirshner is suffering from a degenerative illness and needs his assistants to find someone willing to sacrifice their body, so that his head can be put on it. They eventually acquire the services of Jack Moss (Roosevelt Grier) a prisoner who was slated for the electric chair until he agrees to be part of the procedure, but when he awakens from the surgery to find the head of Kirshner next to his he escapes and goes on a desperate run to find some Dr. who will remove it from his body.

As tacky and ludicrous as the plot is it is actually an improvement from the first installment The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant as it at least defines the reason why the surgery is being done and creates some tension by having the one head grapple for control of the body from the other one. The film also has a nice pace and good tongue-in-cheek humor that is fully aware of its absurd storyline and in certain spots even plays-it-up. Unfortunately it gets too wacky for its own good, which culminates in a long drawn out car chase that would be far more appropriate for a yahoo action flick than a would-be horror film.

The performances of the two leads are the most interesting aspect. Former professional football player Grier is highly likable in the lead and seeing Milland, who won the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1945, playing in something so preposterously beneath his acting level is engaging although I found his character annoying I was hoping he’d have some sort of arch, or a softer side to his personality exposed at some point instead of being a total one-dimensional prick all the way through like he is.

To me the only good part is when Grier escapes from the authorities and comes home to his wife (Chelsea Brown) who sees his two-headed condition for the first time and the humorous exchange that they have:

Wife: You get into more shit.

(She attempts to kiss him and then moves back)

Wife: I know you don’t like answering a lot of questions, but how did that happened?

Grier: I’ll answer that later.

(She then peers down towards his crotch.)

Wife: Did they give you two of anything else?

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: July 19, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Lee Frost

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: DVD

Motel Hell (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Farmer Vincent’s tasty fritters.

Vincent (Rory Calhoun) and his sister Ida (Nancy Parsons) run a motel out in the sticks, but their main income comes from Vincent’s delicious meat fritters that he sells to the community. No one knows that the meat is made from humans who he gets by setting traps on a nearby road that sends the vehicles of unsuspecting motorists careening out of control. Once the cars have crashed Vincent removes their bodies from the wreckage and plants them in his hidden garden while also severing their vocal chords, so they cannot yell for help. Then once they are ‘ripe’ he slices up their bodies and uses them for his product.

This is yet another rendition of Ed Gein, the Plainfield Wisconsin farmer who dug up dead bodies from a nearby graveyard and used them for all sorts of sick purposes. While there have been many other films on the topic this one nicely steps back from the shock angle and instead injects dark humor that manages to make the story both funny and involving.

The original script, which was co-written by two brothers, was darker and intended for Tobe Hooper to direct, but when he pulled out of the project and Kevin Connor was hired he insisted that all of the ‘crudeness’ be excised. The result is an agreeably quirky take on the Gein legend that lacks scares, but makes up for with style and atmosphere. I particularly enjoyed the bird’s eye view of Vincent’s and Ida’s backyard lake as well as the surreal-like hum of the sunlamps that Vincent shines on his human victims at night.

Aging cowboy star Calhoun does quite well and out of all the actors who’ve attempted to play Gein it’s Calhoun that actually comes closest to the way he really looked and spoke. The only problem was that he was clearly much older than both Parsons and Paul Linke who play his siblings and no explanation for why the parents would have kids so far apart, or even if that would be possible as in reality Calhoun was 20 years older than Parsons and 26 years older than Linke.

The climatic chainsaw duel, which was thought up at the last minute and took 5 12-hour days to film, is fun. The kinky couple (Elaine Joyce, Dick Curtis) who visit the motel under the mistaken impression it’s a hotbed for swingers and allow themselves to get tied-up thinking it’s all a part of a sex game are funny too in a film that manages to be quirky without ever getting too campy.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 24, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Kevin Connor

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Family Plot (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Alfred Hitchcock’s last movie.

Blanche Tyler (Barbara Harris) is a phony psychic whose client, the rich heiress Julia Rainbird (Cathleen Nesbitt) offers her a reward of $10,000 if she can use her ‘psychic abilities’ to find Julia’s long-lost nephew who was given up for adoption years earlier. Blanche employs her boyfriend George (Bruce Dern) who works as a cabbie in-between acting gigs, to find the man. George ends up stumbling upon someone who he thinks may be him, Arthur Adamnson (William Devane), but ends up getting in-over-his-head when Arthur proves to have ulterior motives.

The film’s claim-to-fame is that it was the last one directed by Alfred Hitchcock, which is probably the only good thing to say about it. Technically it’s not bad, but it’s not terribly interesting either. Everything that gets done here has been done before in other films with more interesting results. This includes a sequence where Blanche and George’s car goes careening down a mountain highway with no breaks, which isn’t exciting at all and looks clearly shot in front of a green screen.

After completing the far edgier Frenzy I was expecting Hitch to try and push the envelope even more, but instead he draws back with a pedestrian story that’s full-of-holes.  It was based on the novel ‘The Rainbird Pattern’ written by Victor Canning, which had a darker tone. Screenwriter Ernest Lehman wanted to capture that same tone here, but Hitch pushed him instead for a lighter quality that borders on camp, but ultimately comes off as gimmicky. The ending is particularly limp and for someone once dubbed the ‘Master of Suspense’ there is very little of it here.

The only moment that stuck out for me is where Blanche and George sit down to eat hamburgers. Normally actors in films rarely eat the food that they’re served and will usually either take small nibbles, or simply leave it on the plate without taking a single bite, but here both Dern and Harris take big bites from their burgers while continuing to talk. At one point a piece of burger spits out of Dern’s mouth as he speaks and he instinctually holds up his hand in front of his mouth in an embarrassment, which was strangely left in. Most directors would’ve quickly stopped the scene and reshot it, but instead Hitch decided to let it continue, which adds an odd realism probably not seen anywhere else.

The casting is the only real bright spot especially Devane, who normally played good guys, but takes a turn as a villain here and does quite well. In fact it’s the best performance of his career. Unfortunately the two women (Harris and Karen Black who plays Devane’s girlfriend) are wasted and for the most part have very little to do. Black’s role could’ve been cut out completely in a film that especially when compared to the director’s earlier works is a huge disappointment.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: April 9, 1976

Runtime: 2 Hours 1 Minute

Rated PG

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Studio: Universal

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