Category Archives: Cold Climate/Wintertime Movies

A Small Circle of Friends (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Three friends sleep together.

Leonardo (Brad Davis), Jessica (Karen Allen), and Nick (Jameson Parker) are students attending Harvard University during the late ‘60s. As they become intertwined with the events of that turbulent era they also form a strong bond that lasts through their school years and on into young adulthood. Leonardo has a relationship with Jessica at first, but it doesn’t work out, so Nick steals her away. Initially Leonardo is angered, but he eventually adjusts and the three later form a ménage a trois.

This was the first film directed by noted producer Rob Cohen and overall I liked the feel. The narrative is fragmented and dreamlike, but it also has a nice nostalgic quality. The script is broadly written, but still gives one a good sense of what life was like on a college campus during that period. The final scene where Leonardo visits an underground student revolution movement where they resort to violent, unlawful means to achieve social change I found to be the most compelling.

Davis gives another great performance and I’m always amazed at the way he can play an effective gay character such as he did in the homoerotic Querelle, but still manage to pull off being a flaming heterosexual too. Allen says little, but her piercing emerald eyes had me hooked on her regardless. Parker is stiff and boring, but still successfully works as an anchor to the other two who are aggressively idealistic.

It’s also fun to see Shelley Long in her film debut. Her character has little to do with the main plot, but watching her portray a man during a stage production while wearing a mustache and male body hair glued to her chest is a hoot.

Usually with these types of films the viewer gets treated to a plethora of overplayed period rock hits, but not here. Instead it’s a loud, booming orchestral score that gets both obnoxious and pretentious as it makes it seem like this is an epic of some kind when in reality it’s just a simple story of young people learning to cope in the real world and the music should’ve reflected that with a quiet folk rock sound.

The film also doesn’t take advantage of the unorthodox sexual activity of its main characters. Three friends, even in these more liberal times, rarely end up becoming a sexual trio. Having this story element introduced late and then quickly dropped is frustrating and should’ve been more explored as it is the one unique thing in an otherwise derivative film that is good enough to get a passing grade, but not much else.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 12, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 53 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Rob Cohen

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD

Four Friends (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Living through the ‘60s.

Four male friends from Indiana go from high school to college and then on into young adulthood while remaining close and supportive. All of them have a passion for Georgia (Jodi Thelen) a very independent woman who enjoys playing-the-field when it comes to men and at various points has jumped into relationships with the four of them individually and at different times. Yet it is Danilo (Craig Wasson) who seems to be the most infatuated with her and he spends his life chasing after her, but finds that when they are together all they do is fight.

The story is apparently very loosely based on the experiences of screenwriter Steve Tesich who immigrated to this country from Yugoslavia at a very young age. The film starts out realistically enough, but quickly devolves into a whimsical tale that introduces interesting plotlines only to resolve them in cutesy ways that ends up making this sprawling tale quite shallow.

One of the biggest detriments is the casting of Craig Wasson who is a horrible actor as he can convey only one type of emotion, which is that of anxiousness and only one type of facial expression, which is that of nervousness. If he dares to try to expand his limited acting abilities away from these two things it comes off as unconvincing. Hs character like all the rest have no appeal as they never grow or evolve and seem put in simply as props to help carry the transparent tale.

I did like Thelen who plays the part of a spacey, free-spirited woman quite well, but even here it ends up getting clichéd. The other male characters have no distinguishable qualities and she sleeps around with them like they are toys on her own personal roulette wheel. Wasson’s character was her exact opposite and the two share no real chemistry making their eventual romance come off as being quite forced.

The film also contains some campy over-the-top dramatic elements that are unintentionally laughable and ridiculous. One takes place during a wedding party where while in front of hundreds of guests the bride’s father goes inexplicably crazy and shoots his daughter, then groom and eventually himself. Later on during a performance art show one of Thelen’s friends, in an apparent drugged stupor, accidently puts her foot on the accelerator while sitting in a car that’s parked inside a building, which sends it crashing through the wall and spiraling several stories to the ground.

The one aspect that I did like is that it didn’t resort to the Forrest Gump formula where the main characters get involved directly into all the famous historical events of the era, but instead view them from afar, which is more realistic. However, the film doesn’t show enough ‘60s nostalgia and half the time you forget the setting is even in that time period.

I admire the ambitious concept, but it takes on too much and would’ve been better had the script been more focused and less sprawling. Nothing here is compelling or memorable and the viewer is left with a genuinely flat feeling when it is over.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 11, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 54 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Arthur Penn

Studio: Filmways Pictures

Available: DVD

Three Days of the Condor (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating:  4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Who can he trust?

Joe Turner (Robert Redford) works at a New York City CIA office, which fronts itself as a literary agency for historical books. One day Joe decides to sneak out the back way in order to grab some food at a local deli. While he is away a team of assassins headed by Joubert (Max Von Sydow) enter the place and kills everyone inside. Turner, who goes under the code name Condor, returns to find his co-workers dead and no idea who did it, or why. He contacts the CIA headquarters, which is run by Higgins (Cliff Robertson), but soon decides he can’t really trust them and attempts to somehow find a way to survive on his own without returning to his apartment, as he is afraid the killers may be there. Through sheer desperation he kidnaps a woman (Faye Dunaway) at gunpoint and forces his way into her apartment where he hopes he will be able to buy himself enough time until he can figure out what is going on.

The film, which is based on the novel ‘Six Days of the Condor’ by James Grady, has an intriguing set-up, but ultimately gets ruined by having a protagonist become too skillful and shrewd at everything until he ceases to be just a regular guy on the run. For instance he is able to get into a telephone switchboard center much too easily and then uses the skills he had apparently learned as an Army Signals Corps technician to trace a call and find the whereabouts of the bad guy, but this is something a regular person couldn’t do and thus the tension is lost because it’s no longer just an everyman trying to survive, but instead a super-smart individual with convenient knowledge for every situation.

The script has too many situations where the bad guys make unbelievable dumb decisions as well making it seem that the odds really aren’t as stacked against our hero as it initially seems. For instance there is a scene where Redford invades the home of the CIA Deputy Director (Addison Powell) who is supposedly the man behind-the-scenes who had ordered the hit. Redford sits in a downstairs office of the home and plays music very loudly from a stereo until it awakens the CIA Director and he comes down to investigate, but wouldn’t you think someone who works in a secret organization would know enough not to walk into a trap as he does here, but instead call the police if he heard a noise downstairs, or if he does come down at least do it while also holding a gun? Also, as a CIA director living in a mansion he should certainly have his home rigged with a security system, but Redford is to be able to get inside without a sweat even though we are never shown how. Also, why does Sydow the hit man not shoot Redford when he is alone with him in an elevator, which would be a perfect opportunity instead of waiting and trying to do it later at long distance when the two are outside and Redford is in a middle of a crowd and much harder to target?

The film’s lowest point though comes with Redford’s relationship with Dunaway. Only a woman with severe mental problems would magically ‘fall-in-love’ with a stranger in less than 24-hours after he accosts her with a gun and forces his way into her apartment. Even if one would argue that it’s the Stockholm syndrome it’s highly unlikely it would occur so quickly.  There’s even a stylized love making scene that seems too similar to the sex scene in another Dunaway film The Thomas Crown Affair. Besides with all the stress that Redford’s character was going through I’d think he’d be unable to perform in bed, or concerned that she was simply leading him on in order to put him in a vulnerable position, so she could take advantage of it and escape.

Von Sydow’s character, who’s willing to switch allegiances almost instantaneously depending on who’s paying him, is the only truly unique thing about this otherwise shallow thriller. Director Sydney Pollack, who appears briefly as a passerby on a sidewalk, does give the material the slick treatment and captures New York City nicely. There is also a well-choreographed fight scene inside Dunaway’s apartment, but the unsatisfying, limp ending leaves open too many unresolved issues.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: September 24, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 57 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sydney Pollack

Studio: Paramount

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

Punchline (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: The perils of standup.

Lilah (Sally Field) is a New York housewife who enjoys making people laugh and takes a stab at stand-up, but finds the experience challenging and ends up paying someone $500 for jokes, but they don’t go over well. Then she meets Steven (Tom Hanks) a struggling med student who moonlights at the same comedy club that she does. Steven is genuinely funny, but so highly insecure that he ends up self-destructing at the most crucial times. He tries to help Lilah hone in her comedic skills while she gives him confidence.

The film, which is written and directed by David Seltzer, nicely analyzes the very unfunny side of the comedy business particularly its emphasis on how one must toil away at seedy clubs, hecklers, low pay, drunken audiences and a permeating sense of insecurity. Hanks abrasive character is spot-on and a good composite of those still stuck in the trenches and bitter about not yet being discovered. In fact I had wanted the surliness of his character to be played up even more as I had come into contact with struggling comedians during my time when I dabbled in improv and found a lot of them to be basket cases of insecurity and when not onstage were quite unpleasant to be around.

In fact it was because the Hanks character was so unlikable and even more so in some of the earlier versions that the script sat on the studio shelf for so long before it finally got the green light. To help compensate certain overreaching attempts were put in to soften his persona, which only ends up hurting the film’s authenticity. One scene has him inside a hospital doing one of his comedy acts for the patients and as he is leaving he suddenly shows this extreme concern for a sick child that he doesn’t even know and he immediately runs over to him, which seemed forced.

Another bit has him onstage and suffering from an extreme emotional breakdown when he sees his father sitting in the audience. Many people harbor demons from the past and frosty relationships with their parents, but they don’t have such over-the-top reactions especially when in front of an audience, which only helps to make this scene reek of hackneyed melodrama.

His friendship with Field, which I initially found cute as the two are complete opposites, gets ruined when a romantic angle unwisely gets thrown in. These two had very little in common, the Field character was married with three kids, ten years old than him and not particularly stunning, so I didn’t see the chemistry or reason for the sudden attraction on Hanks’ part. Having him gush all over her after only knowing her for a brief time is unrealistic. His personal struggles including the fact that he had been evicted from his apartment and had no money would be occupying his mind so much that a potential relationship wouldn’t even enter into it.

Fortunately the film recovers with a strong ending and Field is excellent, but I wished that we had seen more of a backstory to her character and were able to witness the very first time that she ever ventured out onto the stage. The supporting cast offers great performances as well including John Goodman as Field’s husband who initially isn’t supportive of her stand-up ambitions, but eventually warms up to it. Mark Rydell is solid as the club owner and Mac Robbins has a touching moment as an aging comedian who has seen it all before in a film that offers a revealing look at the comedy business.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 7, 1988

Runtime: 2Hours 2Minutes

Rated R

Director: David Seltzer

Studio: Columbia Pictures

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

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: They all did it.

The time is December, 1935 and world-renown detective Hercule Poirot (Albert Finney) boards the Orient Express as an unexpected guest who’s able to find a spare compartment due to his friendship with the train’s owner (Martin Balsam). During the night one of the other passengers (Richard Widmark) is found dead and it is up to Poirot to solve the crime while the train remains stalled by a large snow bank.

This production is considered by many to be the best film version of any of Agatha Christie’s novel-to-screen attempts and in fact the author herself said as much when she attended a showing of the movie on the night of its premiere. Director Sidney Lumet’s ingenious touch is on-target the whole way as he creates a nice blend of kitsch and camp until the over-the-top costumes, playfully sharp dialogue, and glossy camerawork become more of the fun than the mystery itself.

In fact it’s Lumet’s ability to capitalize on the little things and control every minute detail that makes it so captivating even on repeat viewings. Their ability to turn an abandoned warehouse into a bustling train station is just one example. I also enjoyed the moment when the train leaves the station that gets done to the sound of a waltz composed specifically for the film by Richard Rodney Bennett. Originally they were going to have train sounds edited in and had hired a sound engineer who had spent his whole life recording these noises for specifically this purpose only to get the disappointment of his life when he was told that they had decided to go with the music alone, which crushed him so much that his eyes welled up with tears and he never returned.

Finney’s performance is outstanding. He was not someone you’d have in mind initially for this type of part, but through his brilliant acting and effective make-up he disappears into the role and immerses the viewer in the presence of this highly eccentric character and his unusual habits including the way he puts both his hair and moustache into a hair net before going to bed and reads a newspaper while wearing gloves.

The star studded supporting players are perfectly cast for their parts too. Anthony Perkins nicely plays-up his nervous man routine while Wendy Hiller is enjoyable as the caustic aging Princess who wears a constant frown because her doctor advised her that smiling ‘was not good for her health’. Widmark has an amusing conversation with Poirot particularly with his inability to correctly pronounce the detective’s last name and Ingrid Bergman shines in a small bit as a poor, but devoutly religious woman, which was enough to net her the Oscar for best supporting actress.

Spoiler Alert!

The murder scene in which all the passengers file into Widmark’s cabin and systematically take turns stabbing him is, like with everything else, astutely captured particularly with the way it’s shot by using only a blue tinged light as its sole light source. Lumet craftily uses a two-camera set-up here in which one camera captures the characters and the other focuses on Lauren Bacall’s character’s reactions to it as she stands at the doorway as a lookout. Bacall was never known as an actress to show much vulnerable emotion, but here, at least through her facial expressions, she does quite well. However, this segment also reveals a fatal flaw as Poriot’s cabin was right next to Widmarks’s and earlier in the film he was able to hear the conversations going on in the cabin next him almost perfectly, but then as each participant takes turns stabbing Widmark they say something out loud and yet for whatever reason Poirot never hears this, which makes you wonder why.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The script, by Paul Dehn, gets talky but is saved by its amusing verbal exchanges and Lumet’s use of different lenses to capture it, so I didn’t find it a problem in a movie that deserves its classic status both a mystery and cinematic achievement. The remake directed by Kenneth Branagh is set to be released in November.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: November 24, 1974

Runtime: 2 Hours 8 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Sidney Lumet

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2, A/1)

Author! Author! (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Playwright has family issues.

Ivan (Al Pacino) is a playwright struggling to get his next creation ‘English with Tears’ financed and produced. While he has managed to attain the necessary funding he still has a second act that everyone feels ‘needs work’, but before he can tackle that his wife Gloria (Tuesday Weld) leaves him for another man (Frederic Kimball). Now he must contend with raising the five kids alone with four of them being hers from a previous relationship.

The screenplay was written by Israel Horovitz and loosely based on his own experiences as a single parent. Horovitz has written many plays, over 70 of them, several have been considered at least in their day as groundbreaking, so this thing seems incredibly contrived by comparison. The scenes dealing with Ivan’s struggles in regards to his play and the politics that ensue in order to get it made are the most interesting aspects of the movie and the story should’ve solely focused on this angle while the home-life stuff proves sterile and better suited for a sitcom.

The kids seem too connected to the adult world around them. Children can certainly be astute at times, but they still dwell in their own little bubbles and this film shows no awareness of that and instead has them saying lines that more likely would’ve been uttered by an adult. Benjamin H. Carlin has a few cute moments as the young Geraldo, but Ari Meyers, who would later go on to star in the TV-show ‘Kate and Allie’ gives the best performance when she breaks down into tears as she describes the hardships of being booted around from one household to the next.

It’s nice seeing Pacino doing light comedy, which is a real change of pace for him, but he’s too intense and does not play off of Weld, who is more emotionally restrained, well at all. The scene where he tries to physically drag her into a taxi cab isn’t funny, but scary instead and most likely would’ve had those who were standing around witnessing it trying to intervene, or calling the cops.

Dyan Cannon is not effective as the kooky actress who stars in his play and then later moves in with him. Had her character’s eccentricities been played up more she might’ve at least been amusing, but the script doesn’t go far enough with this and having her call him up out-of-the-blue and ask to go to bed with him seemed too outrageously forward. There was some dramatic potential when, after she moves in with him and his kids, she is then asked to move out when Weld’s character comes back into the picture. This could’ve opened the door to a lot of dramatic fireworks and given the film a real lift, but instead she just leaves quietly and is essentially forgotten, which then begs the question why even bother introducing her character at all?

The scenes where Ivan frets about his play and the audience reactions to it are the best parts of the film because it shows the inner anxieties of just about any playwright or screenwriter out there, which is why this should’ve been the central point of the movie as it is the only thing that helps the story stand out. By comparison the family life stuff is generic and filled with too much manufactured cutesiness. It also wastes the talents of Alan King who is mildly amusing, at least at the beginning, as the play’s producer as well as the legendary comedy team of Bob Elliot and Ray Goulding who play the part of the play’s financiers.

The film’s title song ‘Coming Home to You’, which plays over the opening credits as well as the closing ones is so overly sugary that it is enough to make you want to turn the movie off before it’s even begun. It got nominated for a Razzie award for worst original song and it should’ve won as there could not be anything that would be worse, but what is even more amusing is that no one gets credited for singing it, which should’ve been a signal to director Arthur Hiller not to feature it in the film because if the song’s own singer is embarrassed by it then who else would like it.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: June 18, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Arthur Hiller

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

The Main Event (1979)

main-event

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Babs promotes a boxer.

Hillary Kramer (Barbra Streisand) is an owner of a successful perfume company who suddenly finds that all of her financial assets have been stolen by an unscrupulous business manager. The only thing she has left is a contract with a down-and-out boxer named Eddie ‘Kid Natural’ Scanlon (Ryan O’Neal). She decides to become his manager and promote him even though he is through with boxing and much more content at working as a driving instructor.

Barbra is quite enjoyable and the one thing that manages to hold it all together even though I couldn’t stand her frizzy hair look and wished she had just kept it straight, but as a comic character she is good. I was amazed at how much she makes fun of herself including an open bit that takes potshots at her world famous nose. There are other segments that reverse her feminist stance as well where the man, or in this case the O’Neal character, feels like he’s being ‘objectified’ by her and after they sleep together feeling ‘used’ when she isn’t quite ready to get into a relationship. Amazingly she even allows herself to be clad in very tight fitting shorts and in one rather explicit moment bends down in them, which again being the famous feminist that we know she is in real-life seemed surprising, but I liked the fact that she can show a playful side and that she doesn’t take herself too seriously.

Unfortunately O’Neal is the wrong man as her co-star as he is too weak of an actor and cannot keep up with her strong personality. Trying to play these two off as equals doesn’t work as he has no ability to counter her comic punch and his attempts at seeming exacerbated are forced and not funny. Sure they had success earlier with What’s Up Doc? but that was because he played a character that got run over and dominated by hers, which is the only way their contrasting styles would succeed on celluloid.

The film though still manages to be funny and I was ready to give this a 7 until it peters out like air coming out of a tire during the second half. Having the group cooped up in a winter cabin stifles the action as this is the type of story that should’ve stayed permanently on the road. The contrived love angle that gets thrown in is formulaic and not believable. These two could never get along even if they wanted to. They may at some point gain a begrudging respect for the other, but to think they could cohabitate in a lasting relationship is ridiculous and besides it was the bickering between them that was entertaining and once that goes so does the movie.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 22, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Howard Zieff

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Gremlins (1984)

gremlins-2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Don’t get them wet.

During his travels through China gadget salesmen Randall (Hoyt Axton) spots a furry little creature called a mogwai at a Chinese antique shop run by Mr. Wing (Keye Luke) and decides to purchase it as a Christmas present for his teenage son Billy (Zach Galligan). The mogwai, which they name Gizmo, comes with three simple rules that must never be broken. The first is that the creature must never be exposed to sunlight or bright lights of any kind, he must never get wet or be given water and most importantly he should never be fed after midnight. Unfortunately all three of these rules end up getting broken and the result is the creation of ugly little monsters called gremlins that create havoc and destruction on a peaceful town during Christmas Eve.

The concept is great with a nice mix of horror and dark comedy and I loved the idea of having this Norman Rockwell small town besieged with an ugly underbelly. The creatures look amazingly real and Gizmo is especially cute with special effects that are both creative and effective.

However, in the filmmaker’s effort to be humorous and ‘clever’ the film goes off-the-beam a bit by adding in stuff that isn’t logical and hurts the plot’s overall integrity. I didn’t get where these monstrous gremlins were finding all these hats and clothes that they are seen wearing nor how they were able to read signs, or know how to drive vehicles. Their tiny arms would be too small to be able to hold a chainsaw let alone run it and if you look closely during the bar scene you can see that the beer mugs that they are holding have been miniaturized in order to conform to the dimensions of the puppet. Also, the part where Gizmo gets into a remote controlled toy car and ‘drives’ it makes no sense since they are solely powered by a remote run by someone else that is not present.

Since water is the basic fluid for the survival of most living organisms it was peculiar that this one couldn’t be given any. What liquid was he supposed to drink instead? If he can’t eat after midnight then when exactly can he eat  since theoretically any time is after midnight whether its 3 AM or 3 PM. To me though the dumbest part is when Gizmo’s original owner Mr. Wing reappears at Billy’s and Randall’s home looking to take the creature back, but how would he know where to locate Randall as he left him no address and the film makes it seem that somehow he walked all the way from orient to get there, which is really dumb.

The film was also in its day considered quite controversial since it features a scene where Billy’s mother (Frances Lee McCain) traps one of the gremlins in a microwave and then heats it up until it explodes, which many people considered ‘too violent’ for a PG film and it helped to usher in the PG-13 rating. To me I felt this scene was actually the best moment in the movie as it’s the one part where it actually becomes like a horror film and has some genuine tension.

Dick Miller is fun as a maintenance man who despises foreign made products and Polly Holliday is equally amusing as a scrooge-like landlord whose over-the-top death is a highlight. I also liked Hoyt Axton as the father, but the running joke dealing with all of his inventions and gadgets that constantly breakdown gets old real fast and I was confused how he was able to afford such a nice big house when he made such a menial living trying to sell things that nobody wanted and didn’t work.

This also marks the last acting appearance of two great character actors, which include Scott Brady who is amusing as the alcoholic sheriff who refuses to believe that a bunch of gremlins are on the loose until it’s too late. Many consider this to be Edward Andrews, whose role here as the bank manager was greatly reduced when the runtime was trimmed by over 50 minutes for the final cut, last onscreen appearance as well even though Sixteen Candles, where he had a much more prominent role, was filmed later, but released to theaters earlier.

gremlins-3

gremlins-1

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 8, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 46Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Joe Dante

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

A Fan’s Notes (1972)

fan-notes

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: He writes about himself.

Exley (Jerry Orbach) is a loner residing in and out of mental institutions. He imagines having conversations with beautiful women, but is rarely able to approach them in real-life. He also obsesses over New York Giants running back Frank Gifford and wishes one day to achieve that same type of success, but fears that he’ll be a spectator in life just like he is in sports. He decides to begin writing about his nomadic existence in hopes that it will be a cathartic effort only to find that too harbors its own share of frustrations.

The film is based on the Frederick Exley novel of the same name, but despite the filmmaker’s best efforts it’s not able to achieve the book’s cult potential and in fact Exley himself stated that the movie “bore no relation to anything that I had written”. The idea of trying to somehow visualize a story that was never meant for the big screen is the film’s biggest issue and one that it cannot overcome no matter how hard it tries. The pacing is poor and tries awkwardly to make profound statements while at other points being zany and absurd, which is off-putting.

Orbach does well in the lead and helps hold it together. This also marks the official film debut of Julia Anne Robinson who appeared in only one other movie King of the Marvin Gardens before she tragically died in a house fire at the young age of 24. Like in that movie her acting is poor, but here it works in the positive because it makes her character seem transparent and accentuates the dream-like theme. The segment where she dresses up like a nun and then later as a street hooker, as part of Exley’s sexual fantasy, is fun as is his visit with her quirky parents (Conrad Bain, Rosemary Murphy).

Burgess Meredith appears only briefly, but practically steals it with his outrageousness. Watching him lie down on the floor in an effort to look up a blind woman’s skirt is a real hoot as is his ability to walk on his hands across the edge of a sofa.

Had the film stuck solely with the goofy comedy it might’ve worked and there are indeed a few memorable bits. The part where Exley punches an obnoxious woman (Elsa Raven) in slow motion is arresting and the segment where he imagines himself inside a scene of a his favorite soap opera where he directs the cast to strip off their clothes and have sex right in front of the camera is pretty funny too, but the best moment is the telephone conversation he has with a couple where he pretends to be a lawyer pleading with them to take-in the husband’s mentally unstable brother.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: July 21, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated R

Director: Eric Till

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: YouTube

Don’t Go in the House (1980)

dont-go-in-the-house

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: He burns his victims.

Donny (Dan Grimaldi) is a grown son living at home with his mother (Ruth Dardick) and suffering from the nightmares of his childhood where she would routinely burn his arms on an open flame every time he misbehaved. When she dies he decides to use his new found freedom to pick-up women at random, bring them back to his place and then burn them to death with his blow torch. Afterwards he dresses the corpses up, puts them into a bedroom where he routinely visits them and has ‘conversations’.

The film uses its low budget to great effect by becoming a grainy, starkly realized journey into a madman’s mind. The large, rundown 21-bedroom home that Donny lives in and has now become the Strauss Mansion Museum in Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey offers a terrific backdrop. The decayed, rundown interior becomes a motif to Donny’s deteriorating mind. The faded color matches the grim subject matter and even the sound, which has a constant popping noise like it was taken from a corrupted tape, gives off an eerie feeling like listening to muffled dialogue from a secret, underground source. The cold, gray, wintery landscape adds even more to the bleak ambience.

Director Joseph Ellison seems intent on forcing the viewer to get inside the killer’s head and understanding things from his point-of-view. Instead of having a robotic, evil killing machine we get an overgrown man-child, so tormented from his upbringing that he is unable to know right-from-wrong and burns his victims under a misguided notion that it is somehow ‘cleansing’ them from their sins. The surreal dream done along a lonely beach in which Donny sees his victims come back to life and who drag him down a hole is well captured with just the right amount of atmosphere that easily makes it the best moment in the movie.

Some viewers have found the scene where Donny burns a woman alive inside a metal room while she dangles from a rope to be ‘repugnant’ and ‘going too far’ and has helped the movie achieve a notorious reputation. The scene though is really not all that graphic. We never see the victim actually burned just the lighted blow torch coming towards the screen and then it cuts away. The masks worn by the burn victims isn’t any different from those worn by dead decomposed bodies in other films, so it’s really more what’s implied that upsets some people than what is actually shown.

The film’s only real drawback is that it is much too similar to William Lustig’s Maniac that starred Joe Spinell and came out at around the same time. Both film’s deal with killer’s that have a severe mother complex, hear voices inside their heads, dress the bodies of their victims up, store them in their homes, have ‘conversations’ with them and even harbors visions of them coming back to life to seek revenge. The similarities between the two movies are so striking that they come off like a carbon copy to the other, which seriously hurts the tension because you feel like you’ve seen it all before.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 28, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joseph Ellison

Studio: Film Ventures International

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video