Category Archives: Cold Climate/Wintertime Movies

Girlfriends (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: She misses her friend.

Susan (Melanie Mayron) and Anne (Anita Skinner) are best friends and roommates, but when Anne decides to get married to Martin (Bob Balaban) and move out Susan can’t handle the solitude. She picks-up a hitch-hiker named Ceil (Amy Wright) who moves in for a bit, but it doesn’t work out. She then gets into a relationship with Eric (Christopher Guest) and even a 60-year-old married rabbi (Eli Wallach), but both of these end in heartache. The more Susan tries to ‘move-on’ the more she longs for the old days with Anne and Anne starts to feel the same way.

This was Claudia Weill’s feature film debut that met with high accolades including director Stanley Kubrick who considered it his favorite film of 1978. There’s a nice understated quality here that not only brings out a vivid late ‘70s feel, but also the very real day-to-day struggles of a young adult trying to swim through the quagmire of relationship and career obstacles. Melanie Mayron is certainly not a beauty by the conventional standard, but her plain appearance helps accentuate the challenges of the regular person trying to break-out and get noticed.

Susan’s struggles at trying to become a full-time photographer had me hooked the most as it portrays the universal challenges anyone can have in trying to get ‘their foot-in-the-door’ no matter what the profession, but I was a bit stunned when she forgets about the exhibition of her work at an art show. If someone is truly excited about getting their first big break then there is simply no way that would happen. It’s also hard for the viewer to completely empathize with someone’s career struggles if they themselves aren’t doing all they can to achieve it.

Another misguided wrinkle to the story was Susan’s relationship with a married rabbi who was almost 40 years older than her. These types of relationships suffer from extraordinarily long odds  and just about anyone would realize that from the get-go, which makes Susan’s ‘shocked’ reaction when the rabbi is unable to get together for a date due to family obligations seem almost  irrational. How a relationship like this could even begin to blossom is a whole other issue that never even gets addressed.

The film suffers from a few awkward scenes too. One has Wallach sitting down to play a game of chess with Melanie only for him to get up a minute later and leave for no reason. Why does he bother to show up for a chess game if he isn’t even going to make a single move on the board? Later Viveca Lindfors appears wearing a neck brace and yet no explanation is ever given for why she has it on. Later she’s shown without it, so why did she have it in one scene and not the other? Maybe it was for a minor accident, which can happen, but film is a visual medium and when something slightly askew gets shown it needs to get addressed even if it’s just in passing otherwise the viewer will key in on that and not the story.

Even more amazingly, and I can’t believe I’m saying this as I’ve never seen it in any other movie that I’ve ever watched before, but there’s an actual scratch on the camera lens that can be spotted in just about every scene. It appears on the top right hand side as a small white mark. If the sun is shining through a window it will reflect the light and be more pronounced. If a character walks in front of the window it fades a bit, but you can still see it and this continues throughout the entire run of the film. I can only presume that cinematographer Fred Murphy was aware of this, but due to the budget constraints they didn’t have enough money to replace the lens and decided to simply chug along with the scratch in place and hope no else would notice.

Ultimately though I found the story, in its simple way, to be touching and poignant this is particularly evident at the end where the viewer can see firsthand how friendships help add insight and support to a person’s life and are an important dimension to the human experience.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 4, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 26 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Claudia Weill

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), YouTube

The Story of Adele H. (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: She obsesses over soldier.

Based on actual events the story centers around Adele Hugo (Isabelle Adjani), the second daughter of famous French writer Victor Hugo, who in 1863 travels across the Atlantic to Halifax, Nova Scotia where she tries to rekindle her relations with Albert Pinson (Bruce Robinson). Pinson is now an officer in the British army and no longer has any interest in Adele. Adele though refuses to accept his rejection and makes numerous attempts to get him to marry her. The more indifferent he becomes the harder she tries, which eventually drives her into a complete madness.

Director Francois Truffaut took the accounts from Adele’s actual handwritten diary to help recreate the story. Unlike most films nothing was altered from the documented facts and although the stalker /jilted lover theme may seem like an overused storyline by today’s standards it was still a fresh topic back in the ‘70s and one of the first documented cases in human history of what has now become known as erotomania where a person becomes convinced that the object of their desires is in love with them even when they really aren’t.

What helps this film to stand out is that the audience isn’t made to fear the woman and her actions are not portrayed as being menacing. Instead the viewer feels genuinely sorry for her as we witness firsthand how debilitating mental illness can truly be as it destroys this otherwise beautiful woman’s personality and leaves her only a shell of a person in the process.

Adjani is excellent and although the film remains compelling it still comes off as feeling incomplete. Part of the problem is that we only see the character at one stage of her life. Reportedly in real-life Adele only started to show signs of mental illness when she reached her mid-20’s, so it would’ve been interesting to have seen scenes from when she was younger and behaving more normally. Flashbacks of when Adele first met Pinson, who was initially interested in Adele and even proposed marriage to her, would’ve been intriguing to see as well.

We’re never shown Adele’s relationship to her father either, which could’ve been quite revealing. We hear voice-overs from when he sends her letters, but seeing the two interrelate in-person was needed. This may have been the result of Truffaut given the rights to film the story by Jean Hugo, but only if Victor Hugo did not appear onscreen, but in either event the film is lacking in budget and scope where a wider biopic of the woman’s life would’ve been more satisfying including showing her later years while inside a mental institution, which gets only glossed over here.

As in most cases what occurred behind-the-scenes while the film was being made is sometimes more interesting that what happened in front of the camera and this production proved to be no exception as the cast and crew went through many of the same scenarios as the characters. Truffaut tried to start up a relationship with Adjani, but was rebuffed and then she turned around and had an affair with the actor who plays the character that rebuffs her character in the movie. This caused Truffaut great jealousy as he was forced to deal with the two’s affair from afar much like Adele had to do in the story when Pinson eventually marries someone else. Truffaut later described making this movie and dealing with his unrequited love for Adjani as a ‘daily suffering’.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 8, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 50 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Francois Truffaut

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Reds (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He fights for socialism.

The film centers on the life of John Reed (Warren Beatty) who was a socialist activist that covered the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and later published his account in ‘The Ten Days That Shook the World’.  He became instrumental in forming the Communist Labor Party of America and marrying noted feminist Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton) before returning to Russia and eventually dying there becoming only one of three Americans buried at the Kremlin Wall Necropolis.

The project was a labor of love for writer/star/director/producer Warren Beatty who first became inspired by Reed’s story in the mid-‘60s and spent over15 years battling to get it produced. Unlike most actors-turned-directors Beatty was notoriously disliked by his cast and crew for demanding many different takes for even the simplest of scenes forcing his friend Gene Hackman, who agreed to appear in the film for free, to do 100 takes to convey only a few brief lines. Beatty also strangely decided to keep the camera running continuously even between takes resulting in three million feet of footage that weighed five tons to ship and if played continuously on the screen would’ve resulted in taking two and a half weeks to complete.

The story is okay and moderately compelling, but I felt too much emphasis was placed on Reed’s and Bryant’s relationship. Supposedly this was a biography on a famous historical figure, but the story gets lodged more on the rocky, unconventional marriage aspect and seemed at times to be more focused on Keaton’s character than Beatty’s.

I was also confused as to what exactly had Reed done that was so special, or elicit us to sit through such a long movie about him. In a normal epic the main character is instrumental in causing the events that we see, but here the protagonist is nothing more than a sideline observer with no direct control on what goes on. Technically he doesn’t change anything and the film is just one long look at how whatever he strived either fizzled or got corrupted before he eventually dies in virtual obscurity, which hardly seems inspiring or worth the time to watch.

The supporting cast helps significantly particularly Jack Nicholson as Eugene O’Neill who has an affair with Bryant. It’s always interesting to seeing Nicholson play a subdued character since he’s usually so flamboyant and Jack makes the most of it, which helps give the story a little extra edge. Maureen Stapleton won the Academy Award for supporting actress even though her character is only seen sporadically, but she probably deserved the Award either way since she became a victim of Beatty’s overzealous need for multiple takes, which so infuriated her that she apparently screamed ‘Are you out of your fucking mind?” when Beatty demanded that she redo her scene for the 80th  time which got the rest of the crew to cheer their approval.

It’s also fun to see Jerzy Kosinski as the communist politician Grigory Zinoviev. Kosinski was best known for having written the novel ‘Being There’, which inspired the film of the same name, but later he was accused of having plagiarized the story from an earlier Polish novel and it was revealed that many of his other stories were ghost written by assistant editors, which is ironic since his character in the film gets accused by Beatty of having tampered and re-written his speeches and writings.

As a whole it’s adequately done, but the pace ebbs and flows. The interviews with people who actually knew Reed, or were connected to his life in some way are a highlight as is the scene where Reed tries to escape Russia by riding on a hand cart along a train track in the dead of winter, but everything else gets overblown.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 3, 1981

Runtime: 3 Hours 15 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Warren Beatty

Studio: Paramount

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

Nighthawks (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Street cop versus terrorist.

Deke DaSilva (Sylvester Stallone) and Matthew Fox (Billy Dee Williams) work as New York Street cops only to be suddenly pulled off of their beat and put into an elite anti-terrorism division. At first DaSilva resists the tactics taught during the training, which puts him at odds with the instructor (Nigel Davenport). However, once he gets past his initial reluctance he begins to use the methods that were taught to him by getting inside the mind of the international terrorist (Rutger Hauer) that they are after, which eventually helps him beat the man at his own game.

The film’s biggest achievement is that it was shot on-location in three major cities across two continents. Normally it’s nice when a film can just get out of a studio backlot and into a vibrant setting, but this film manages to get in three simultaneously and creates an almost head-spinning, globe-trotting visual show, which helps heighten the international intrigue. My favorite spot was where DaSilva and Fox go into the ghetto to do a drug bust. Normally film crews avoid the bad areas and try to compensate by dressing up a soundstage to look like one, but it always fails while this scene comes off as the real deal with the garbage strewn decrepit buildings being more prominent than the action.

The story succeeds to a degree as it nicely details the psychological aspect of police work as well as showing the many dead-ends investigators must go through before they are finally able to catch a break, but then the gritty reality unfortunately gets erased.

The main issue occurs when Stallone thinks he has spotted Hauer at a nightclub and wants to get nearer to him to get a ‘closer look’ only to proceed to just stand and stare at him in the most obvious way imaginable until it becomes achingly clear to Hauer that the guy is a cop, which causes him to panic and taking out a gun and running while killing a club patron in the process. It made me wonder if the Stallone character was a seasoned cop at all because why bother being undercover if you’re going to just stupidly give your identity away at the most inopportune moment?

Later Stallone gets blamed by Dee Williams for not shooting Hauer when he ‘had the chance’, but the truth is that Hauer had draped himself with a woman hostage and giving Stallone no clear view of him. Aren’t police trained not to shoot unless they do have a clear view? If anything Stallone’s character should’ve been commended for showing restraint. Being goaded into taking a risky shot would not have been ‘macho’ or ‘brave’ but seriously reckless and in no way was a sign of weakness despite the film portraying it like it was.

The film also fails to make much use of the buddy formula and in fact Dee Williams gets boxed out and becomes almost transparent. Stallone is excellent and Hauer is the epitome of a creepy villain, but the film could’ve been stronger had it not devolved into the formulaic tormented-cop-struggling-with-his-inner-demons thing and instead kept the two leads on equal footing as there are a few moments at the beginning where they share some engaging banter.

Lindsay Wagner is equally wasted with only two scenes and less than 10 minutes of total screen time. Davenport though is strong as the aging British instructor and quite engaging in his own right while Persis Khambatta, best known for playing the bald women in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, is effective as Hauer’s partner in crime.

The scene where a group of people are held hostage inside a cable car is intense and well shot. There is also an exciting foot chase inside the New York subway, which has traces to the one done in The French Connection, but the story itself doesn’t amount to much and seems more clichéd than original.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 10, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 39 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bruce Malmuth

Studio: Universal

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

If Ever I See You Again (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rekindling an old romance.

Bob Morrison (Joe Brooks) is a successful composer of commercial jingles, but despises the many compromises he is forced to make in order to please his clients. He wants to write a film score and his agent Mario (Jimmy Breslin) gets him a meeting with some movie producers in Hollywood and while there he decides to look up Jennifer (Shelley Hack) his former girlfriend while in college. He finds that she still has feelings for him and they begin dating again only to have her, like in college, back off when the relationship starts to get too serious.

Brooks was coming off great success with the box office hit You Light Up My Life that won him the Grammy for song of the year (1977) the Academy Award for best original song as well as the Golden Globe and the ASCAP award. His over-confidence though exceeded his talents as he followed it up with this trifling mess that reeks of self-indulgence and is so unrelentingly schmaltzy that it will make even the most die-hard of romantics feel like gagging.

The film starts out okay as it analyzes the rigors of the music business and its overly demanding clients. You even get to listen to some cheesy jingles that he is forced to write, which are kind of funny. Had it stayed as a behind-the-scenes look at the commercial jingle world it might’ve been passable

The romantic storyline though kills it. The idea that this beautiful woman would have no other male suitors and simply jump back into the arms of a dopey guy that she had dumped years before is ridiculous.  At least having her married or in some other relationship would’ve made it realistic and allowed for added drama, which is lacking and the love songs that are played during this segment sound worse than the goofy jingles.

Brooks had no acting experience, but casts himself in the lead anyways, which was a terrible mistake as he mumbles his lines and shows no emotion or inflection. His hair looks disheveled and with his glasses off like a beady-eyed, would-be stalker. The character is portrayed too ideally turning the production into a narcisstic foray instead of a story.

The supporting cast is filled with non-actors as well including newspaper columnist Jimmy Breslin and author George Plimpton who are just as blah and my guess is that Brooks did this to make his own bad acting seem not quite so glaring by comparison. Hack for her part is okay and at least has a beautiful face although I wished she hadn’t covered it up with her big, bulky glasses.

The most interesting aspect to the film is what occurred behind the camera as Brooks was nothing like the sentimental songs he wrote or lovable guy that he tried to play. Instead his friends labeled him an egomaniac and his daughter, actress Amanda Brooks, accused him of abusing her as a child while his son Nicholas was convicted of murder in 2013. Brooks himself was accused of raping over 13 women whom he had lured to his apartment through Craiglist ads under the disguise of being a film producer looking for fresh young talent. In 2011 while awaiting trial he killed himself, but not before becoming one of the creepiest looking guys you’ll ever see (pictured below).

Capture 282

However, the biggest irony is that in 2005 he wrote and produced a play about a woman with OCD who is brought together with a man who suffers from Tourette’s by a jingle singling God, which Playbill descried as being ‘one of the strangest shows to ever grace the Broadway stage.’ and even though it clearly sounds absurd I’d still take it over this crappy film any day.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: May 24, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 45 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Joe Brooks

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: VHS

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

Amityville II: The Possession (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Their son becomes possessed.

A family moves into the infamous home at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, New York only to immediately start encountering paranormal events. Their eldest kid Sonny (Jack Magner) begins to display anti-social tendencies that eventually drive him to kill the entire family late one night. The family’s Priest Father Adamsky (James Olson) is convinced that Sonny did it because he was possessed from evil spirits that inhabit the home due to it being built on an ancient Indian burial ground and he takes it upon himself to perform an exorcism on the young man in order to free him of the demon.

The film is loosely based on the events of the DeFeo family, who lived at the residence, and was murdered by their eldest son on the night of November 13, 1974. However, the film deviates from what actually occurred including having the family just recently moved in when in reality the DeFeo’s had lived there for 9 years before they were killed. The film also portrays the family members as being awake and aware of what was going on when evidence had shown that most of them had been asleep when shot. There’s also a side-story dealing with a sexual relationship that Sonny had with his sister Patricia (Diane Franklin) that was only speculated never confirmed to have occurred with the real family.

This movie is only a slight improvement from the first one. Director Damiano Damiani manages to instill more of an atmosphere and uses fast moving tracking shots to create a point-of-view perspective of the demons. Also, James Olson plays the Priest role better than Steiger did in the first one by being less hammy and more understated, which is good.

Yet I still found the whole thing to be quite boring. The first half-hour is just a rehashing of many of the same scares that were done in the first one and we all know from the beginning how it’s all going to turn out, that the son will inevitably kill the family, so there’s no intrigue at all. The final half hour deals solely with the exorcism, which despite some decent special effects, is nothing more than a Grade B rip-off of The Exorcist.

There’s a lot of overacting too just like in the first one. Rutanya Alda, who plays the mother, is the biggest culprit in this area, which includes her death scene that deserves to be in the annals of all-time cheesiest death sequences ever put onto film. I was also confused why such an otherwise normal, well-adjust woman would want to marry a lout like Burt Young and having her show affection to him not more than a couple minutes after he had abused both her and the kids with a belt is misguided.

On the technical end the film seems to be done on a higher budget than the first, but the script is empty-headed and relies heavily on broad generalizations involving religion and ‘evil’. I also found it amusing that, like in the first installment, there’s a scene were the Priest tries to convince his church elders about the home being haunted and they scoff and insist that isn’t ‘rational’ when these same men have dedicated their lives to a profession steeped in supernatural, faith based claims.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: September 24, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Damiano Damiani

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2), Amazon Video

Devil Times Five (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Children terrorize the adults.

Two couples (Sorrell Booke, Shelley Morrison, Taylor Lacher, Joan McCall) visit the winter retreat ranch run by rich businessman Papa Doc (Gene Evans). They are expecting a pleasant wintry getaway, but instead find terror when a group of five children arrive (Leif Garrett, Gail Smale, Dawn Lyn, Tierre Turner, Tia Thompson). The children state that they were lost in the cold wilderness and simply there to seek refuge, but in reality they are psychotic and have escaped from a nearby asylum after the van they were riding in overturned on the icy roads. Now the adults find themselves getting mysteriously bumped off one-by-one. At first they think it’s only an accident and then realize it’s by some ‘unforeseen predator’, but fail to realize it’s actually the ‘innocent-looking-kids’ until it’s too late.

This cheaply made production has problems right away starting with the van accident. To a degree I thought it was cool seeing it overturn several times in slow-motion after it slides off the road, but I found it preposterous that none of the kids were injured and escape from the wreckage without a single scratch despite the adult driver getting badly banged up. In retrospect it would’ve worked better had this scene not been shown at all and left the viewer in the dark about what the true intentions of these kids were only to slowly unfold the truth to the audience just like it does to the adult characters.

The killings are pretty tacky as well. The scene where one of the victims gets set on fire is disturbing, but the rest doesn’t add up including when one child manages to somehow hold their adult victim underwater by using only one hand. There are also several instances where the victim dies right away when in reality they would’ve most likely only been injured including a fall through a window and another one dealing with a stabbing by a small ax. In both cases I think the person could’ve survived the initial blow and simply be writhing in extreme pain, but I presume the filmmakers felt that watching someone squirming around on the ground screaming in endless agony would be considered ‘too horrifying’ for most audiences so they went with the ‘clean-kill’ option, but unfortunately the one-blow-and-then-they’re- immediately-dead concept looks fake.

The pacing is also poor and the tension badly botched. One bit has the kids killing a man in slow motion and done through a black-and-white filter, which despite going on a bit too long is effective. Yet whatever tension gets achieved by watching that is immediately sapped when the next scene shows a drawn out session of one of the adult couples making love, which looks better suited for soft corn porn flick. The music is equally screwed-up as it sometimes sounds creepy while at other points like something heard in an elevator.

I found it interesting that it was directed by Sean MacGregor, or at least for the first three weeks of production before he got fired, as he had previously written the screenplay for Brotherhood of Satan, which had the same ‘creepy kids’-like theme. There’s also the novelty of seeing Dawn Lyn, who was 10-years-old at the time, taking part in her own mother’s murder, who plays one of the adults. Although overall it’s pretty spotty with majority of it being rather flat and forgettable.

Spoiler Alert!

I was also confused at how during the final credits it says ‘The Beginning’ instead of the usual ‘The End’. I presume this was the filmmakers attempt at being ‘clever’ by intimating that these young kids would now go on to murder many more people throughout the countryside, but since they had already killed quite a few it would’ve been more apt to say ‘The Middle’.

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Alternate Titles: Peopletoys, The Horrible House on the Hill

Released: May 31, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sean MacGregor, David Sheldon (Uncredited)

Studio: Cinemation Industries

Available: DVD-R, Amazon Video

Curtains (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review A very deadly audition.

Well-known movie director Jonathan Stryker (John Vernon) is producing a new film and aging actress Samantha Sherwood (Samantha Eggar) presumes she’ll get the starring role like with all of his other productions, but this time Stryker has a catch. He tells her that to prepare for the part she must commit herself to a mental institution to better understand the character she is to play. The desperate Samantha agrees, but then realizes Jonathan has no intention of getting her out once she is inside, so she escapes and seeks revenge at Jonathan’s secluded wintertime mansion where he is auditioning six younger actresses for the role. Now suddenly everyone starts dying off at the bloody hands of a masked assailant. Is the killer Samantha in disguise, or could it be one of the other actresses willing to kill in order to get the part?

The film starts out okay. I liked that we are shown a brief background to these actresses before they get to the mansion, which helps make them seem more like real people and less like caricatures. The mansion where the action takes place has an interesting exterior/interior and I loved the pristine winter time landscape, but that is pretty much where the good points end.

The narrative is horribly disjointed and most likely a result of a lot of rewrites and reshoots that had the production shelved for up to three years before it was finally released. The opening sequence done inside the asylum is clichéd to the extreme and makes the film come off as a complete campfeast. The idea that someone would intentional try to get themselves committed simply to get a movie role is stupid and overall there are no scares or frights at all.

The killings are mechanical and unimaginative. I couldn’t understand how this killer was able to sneak up on people and literally magically appear at the most in opportune times. For instance a victim, played by Lesleh Donaldson, manages to escape the clutches of the bad guy and proceeds to make more distance between her and him by running through a snow capped forest. She briefly stops to catch her breath by a random tree and wouldn’t you know that’s the one tree that the killer is hiding behind.  Another segment has a victim (Anne Ditchburn) dancing by herself in a big empty room where the killer somehow sneaks up right behind her, which I would argue couldn’t happen. Everyone has a sense when someone else starts getting too close to them, especially in a room devoid of anyone else, and she would’ve detected the killer’s presence long before he got right behind her.

The ending in which the killer chases the final victim through an array of old stage props inside the mansion’s basement gets overly prolonged. The young women end up looking too much alike, so it was hard to have any empathy for them because they weren’t distinctive enough and the story would’ve worked better had it taken the concept of Dead of Winter where just one woman goes to the isolated place for the audition and thus allow the viewer to create more of a connection to the protagonist.

The only bright spot is Eggar. Her starring movie roles from the ‘60s and early ‘70s were now long gone and much like the actress she portrays was forced to take cheap low budget horror offers to remain busy, but she still gives it a 110% effort. What impressed me was how different her character was from any of her others. In those earlier films she was mainly a young, sensitive and idealistic woman, but here she is cold, conniving and bitter proving that she must be a great actress if she is able to play such opposite personalities in the same convincing way. It’s just unfortunate that the filmmakers didn’t share that same type of professionalism as the sloppy execution destroys any potential that it may have had.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: March 4, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Guza Jr.

Studio: Norstar Releasing

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Winter Kills (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Who assassinated his brother?

19 years after United States President Timothy Kegan is assassinated and an independent investigation concluded that it was the act of a lone gunman, his younger brother Nick (Jeff Bridges) gets a deathbed confession from a man (Joe Spinell) insisting he was the real killer hired by a secret underground organization. Nick goes to his rich father (John Huston) with the news and then decides to do an investigation of his own, but becomes entangled inside a web of lies and deceit that drives him further away from the truth instead of closer.

The film is based on the novel by Richard Condon and in many ways is a stunning filmmaking debut for director William Richert. The cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond is richly textured with a colorful variety of backdrops, sets and atmosphere making it visually soar while the surreal tone helps give it an added edge.

Unfortunately the film suffered from many behind-the-scenes issues including running out of funding and forcing the cast and crew to put the production on hold while they went overseas to shoot The American Success Company in Germany and then used the proceeds from that one to finish this one. The final result is a fragmented narrative that at times gets too rushed. The story was significantly paired down from the novel, which leaves open a lot of loose ends and it should probably be remade as a miniseries.

The story is also permeated with a lot of dark humor which only makes the viewer even more confused. Some of it is genuinely funny, but it’s unclear what it’s trying to satirize. Certain absurd situations and oddball characters get thrown in for seemingly no reason and takes away from the otherwise compelling storyline while leaving the viewer baffled as to what the point of it was supposed to be and could easily explain why it bombed so badly at the box office during its initial run.

The casting is interesting. Jeff Bridges usually gets stuck in bland, transparent roles and that’s no different here, but he’s surrounded by so many eccentrics that his otherwise vanilla delivery seems refreshing and distinct. Huston is the real star in a bravura performance that steals the film and makes it memorable. There’s also a lot of recognizable supporting players that are on only briefly and if you blink you’ll miss them. This includes an uncredited appearance by Elizabeth Taylor who comes on near the end and has no lines of dialogue, but does clearly mouth the words ‘son-of-a-bitch’.

If you are looking for something that is offbeat, but still intriguing then this is well worth the effort. If it weren’t for its misguided humor this thing could’ve really had an impact although it does reveal its cards too soon and I was able to guess the twist ending long before it actually happened, but as a whole it has its moments and a potential cult following or sure.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 11, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 26 Minutes

Rated R

Director: William Richert

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video