Category Archives: Cult

Thriller: A Cruel Picture (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: One-eyed mute’s revenge.

Frigga (Christine Lindberg) is a young woman in her early twenties still living at home with her father and unable to speak due to being raped by an old man at a young age, which has left her psychologically scarred. She attends therapy each week, but on one occasion she misses the bus and takes a ride from a stranger named Tony (Heinz Hopf). Tony takes her back to his place where he drugs her and then forces her to work for him as a prostitute. When she initially resists he gouges out one of her eyes with a knife. Feeling that she has no choice she eventually submits to his demands, but saves up the money she makes, so that one day she can escape from his clutches and use her funds to seek a very violent and ugly revenge on both him and all the others who were cruel to her.

In 1969 Borne Arne Vibenius, who had worked with Ingmar Bergman as an assistant director on Persona, tried his hand at directing his own film by doing the cute family comedy How Marie Hit Fredrik about a 10-year-old girl who runs away from home. The film unfortunately lost a lot of money and so Vibenius decided in an effort to recoup some of the lost funds that he would take the exact opposite route for his next project by going to the most exploitive extreme that he could, or in his words a ‘commercial-as-hell-crap-film’ which was the inspiration for this movie. However, for fear that it might ruin his reputation and stymie any future chances of making a more mainstream film he did it under a different name, Alex Fridolinski, and the actors had a clause in their contracts ensuring that they would never reveal who the real director was.

The film does successfully go to some of the most extremes imaginable which includes showing explicit hard core sex during the scenes where Frigga is shown getting it on with her customers. Apparently Vibenius used a married couple for this who went around Sweden doing live sex shows for money. Whether having the graphic sex was necessary is debatable, but it does, like with the turtle scene in Cannibal Holocaust gives the idea that there is ‘no limits’ here and if the director is willing to show this extreme what else might come next, which then gives the viewer an uneasy feeling, which I suppose if you’re doing a horror film that is the feeling to give out.

There is also a lot of extreme violence including a graphic, close-up shot of a knife cutting directly into a human eyeball, which was apparently done inside a hospital on a corpse of a teen girl who had committed suicide, which sounds ethically questionable. Yet it most assuredly will startle the viewer and some may vomit out their lunch as well.

On the cool side I loved seeing Frigga’s victims getting shot in slow-motion. Watching the blood smear all over their shirts and streams of the red stuff pouring out of their mouths has an almost poetic feel to it and clearly the film’s best moments.

There’s also a good gritty feel not usually seen in most other horror flicks. I liked the way Frigga is shown spending time learning how to shoot a gun, drive a car at high speeds and take self-defense training, so that she’ll be able to take on her enemies when the time comes instead of just showing her magically becoming this gun-toting, macho woman overnight.

The electronic music score is intense and the moody/atmospheric climactic showdown on a lonely road between Frigga and Tony is well crafted. Having Frigga not speak a single word actually gives her character a more entrenched image. Overall, the film is artsy and on the exploitative level it could be considered a trailblazer, but like its title states it’s a cruel picture that gets so excessive it leaves you cold and emotionally drained when it’s over.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 7, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 47 Minutes (Complete, uncut version)

Not Rated

Director: Bo Arne Vibenius

Studio: BAV Film

Available: DVD

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

The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: One body two heads.

Roger Girard (Bruce Dern) is a crazed doctor who secretly experiments on planting two heads on animals and has a lab full of these creatures, which he keeps hidden from his beautiful wife Linda (Pat Priest). Only his faithful assistant Max (Berry Kroeger) knows about the research and he makes sure no one else finds out about it. One day Dr. Girard decides to test out the procedure on a human by planting the head of a homicidal maniac (Albert Cole) onto the body of a mentally challenged adult (John Bloom) whose super strength makes him hard to control and things quickly get out-of-hand when the patient escapes and goes on a murderous spree.

What inspired screenwriter James Gordon White to write this story is a mystery, but it’s rather idiotic with no specific reason why Dr. Girard feels planting another head on an animal, or human, is a good idea. The music by John Barber is the worst part as there’s too much of it and the tone changes drastically like fiddling through a radio dial with most of the melodies sounding better suited for cartoons.

The bright, sunny southern California scenery, which was shot in Santa Clarita, is nice, but I didn’t know why it was all done in the daytime. Most horror movies are shot at night in order to have the darkness elevate the fear. The nighttime scene here was clearly done in the daylight with a darkened lens put over the camera to make it appear darker than it really is. Most films do this when they have children in the cast since there are laws preventing minors from working in films past a certain time, but this had an all adult cast and therefore no reason for it not to have night scenes done when the sun has actually set.

Bruce Dern’s presence is a surprise since he was already an established actor by this time and didn’t have to accept offers to be in this dreck simply to make a living. He was apparently given a check for $1,700 as his compensation, but when he went to the bank to cash it, it bounced. Even more surprising is in a recent interview when was asked what movie he regretted doing the most he mentioned Won Ton Ton the Dog Who Saved Hollywood instead of this one.

Casey Kasem’s wild ‘70s outfits and hairstyle make his appearance almost worth it and Pat Priest, best known as the second Marilyn from ‘The Munsters’ is an attractive asset. Berry Kroeger with his goofy facial expressions makes things fun as Dern’s assistant.

The sight of the 2-headed creature is odd to say the least and there were certain shots where I wasn’t quite sure how they pulled it off, which I suppose allows for some minor intrigue. Their contrasting personalities tough should’ve been played up more and had a ‘battle’ over which side controlled the body. This element gets improved a year later when the same screenwriter came out with The Thing with Two Heads that had the head of a white racist is put onto a black man’s body. The review for that film will be posted in…TWO days.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: April 28, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Anthony M. Lanza

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

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

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

Impulse (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: William Shatner kills people.

As a boy Matt Stone (William Shatner) witnesses a man trying to rape his mother (Vivian Lester) and that sight scars him psychologically. As an adult, when ‘triggered’, he goes into murderous rages. Young Tina (Kim Nicholas) watches him off a business associate of his named Karate Pete (Harold Sakata) and tries to warn her mother (Jennifer Bishop) about his dark tendencies, but she refuses to listen and begins forming a relationship with Matt. When Matt realizes that Tina is on to him he tries to kill her before she can tell anyone else.

Although this film has a reputation of dealing with child molestation, and had an original title of Want a Ride Little Girl?, there is no evidence of it. Matt only kills women who are above the age-of-consent and his dealings with Tina have no sexual overtures. The script is actually quite pedestrian and loaded with nothing but cardboard characters and contrived situations that fail to be either distinctive or memorable.

William Shatner’s acting is the only horrifying thing about it. His facial expressions are better suited for cheap camp and his loud, plaid leisure suits are enough to hurt your eyes along with a wig made for a storefront mannequin. You can also spot his real-life wife at the time, Marcy Lafferty, playing a hotel desk clerk.

Sakata’s appearance is another detriment. I could see why he wasn’t given any speaking lines in Goldfinger because every time he does open up his mouth he comes off like someone who has no business being in front of the camera. Ruth Roman, who was a star during the ‘40s, but took on token supporting roles during the ‘70s gives the middling material some effort, but only if you can get past her raspy, smoker’s voice.

The only good thing is Kim Nicholas, a young blonde child performer who acted in only 5 movies, but who outperforms her adult counterparts by a mile. She conveys her lines with solid conviction and has just the right facial reactions. You could almost say that she carries the movie, but there is one scene where she stands in the middle of the road so she can force any car that comes by to stop and then uses this chance to bum a ride of off them, but no child or adult in their right mind would do something so dangerous, which only proves how stupid and poorly conceived this pathetic thing is.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Alternate Title: Want a Ride Little Girl?

Released: January 31, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 26 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: William Grefe

Studio: Camelot Films

Available: DVD

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

Cracking Up (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Jerry needs a psychiatrist.

Jerry Lewis films were long considered light on plot and long on pratfalls with the minimum of character development, but this film, which was his attempt at sketch comedy, makes those others look sophisticated by comparison. The story if you can call it that deals with a man named Warren Nefron (Lewis) whose attempts at suicide do not succeed so he goes to a psychiatrist (Herb Edelman) who he hopes will convince him to live despite feeling like a failure at everything that he does.

The humor has no focus to it at all. Had the comedy bits dealt with the same interconnected theme then I could at least give it some credit, but instead everything gets thrown in with almost no coherence. One minute it’s poking fun at airlines, then 16th century France, hospitals and even art museums. The shtick is excessively broad and Lewis, who also directed, tries milking it too much by staying on jokes long after they’ve played out making what is already lame even more irritating.

What surprised me is how Lewis never tried to evolve his brand. The film was made in the early ‘80s, but could’ve easily been done in the 60’s. No attempt is made to update his comedy with the times, to make it seem trendier, or connect him with a rising star from the decade to help bring in younger viewers. Instead he casts in supporting roles the stars from yesteryear like Milton Berle and Sammy Davis Jr. while continuing on with the exact same pratfalls that he did in the ‘50s that may have seemed somewhat funny back then, but now comes off as predictable and redundant. This movie will only appeal to his aging and already established fans while teens and young adults will most assuredly consider it dated and stupid.

For me the funniest thing about it is what occurred behind the scenes when the studio tried playing it in front of a test audience.  Showing films to a test audience is a standard practice and helps studio heads ‘tweak’ certain parts of a film that aren’t working, or even re-film entire new scenes if it’s found that audiences didn’t take well to the one that was shown to them initially. Studios want to try to save what they have as they’ve put a lot of money into the product and don’t want to just discard the whole thing if they don’t have, but the response to this one was so universally bad in every way that they decided it had literally no chance and no amount of changes could save it, so it was shelved permanently and never released theatrically in the United States.

There are only two moments in this mess that I found even mildly diverting. One comes when Edelman asks Lewis if his parents were related…like maybe being cousins, which is something that every character in every Lewis movie should ask him when he goes into one of those annoying, man-child routines of his. Another comes at the very end during the closing credits where they show behind-the-scenes outtakes. One has Lewis lifting Davis, who was a very small man, into the air  and pretending like he was some sort of trophy that he had won while Davis yells at him to ‘Put me down! Put me down!’

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Alternate Title: Smorgasbord

Released: April 13, 1983 (France)

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Director: Jerry Lewis

Rated PG

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Teen Wolf (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Werewolves can be cool.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 23, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Rod Daniel

Studio: Atlantic Releasing Corporation

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

The Swimmer (1968)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Swimming his way home.

On a hot summer afternoon Ned Merrill (Burt Lancaster) decides to something out of the ordinary. He notices that all of his neighbors have backyard pools and he could essentially ‘swim’ his way home by jogging from house to house and diving into each pool before moving onto the next one. At first it seems like a great idea and the people he meets along the way are happy to see him, but things grow increasingly darker the more pools he goes to as some of the home owners do not welcome his presence while exposing uncomfortable elements from his past. His seemingly successful, happy persona takes a beating and slowly reveals instead a lonely man who’s badly out-of-touch with those around him.

The film is based on a short story written by John Cheever and first published in The New Yorker magazine on July 18, 1964. The story amounted to only 12 pages, but screenwriter Eleanor Perry manages to expand on the idea to create a film full of nuance and interesting dialogue that reveals just enough of the characters to make it insightful without becoming heavy-handed.

Director Frank Perry does a fine job in creating atmosphere by having each residence Ned enters into completely different from each other. Some have jubilant outdoor parties going on while others have just one person there and one pool doesn’t have any water in it at all. The best scenes include a slow-motion segment where Ned and a young lady named Julie (Janet Landgard) jump over hurdles like they are at a track meet as well as the scene where Ned and a young boy named Kevin (Michael Kearney) go to the bottom of an empty pool and pretend like to swim across it like it were still filled with water.

Lancaster gives an excellent performance and it initially comes off almost like a vanity project as the viewer gets to see him practically nude the entire time and in one brief segment his buttocks gets fully exposed. What’s so impressive is the fact that he was in his mid-50s at the time, but has a muscular physique like that of an athletic 20-year-old. His deep blue eyes give a lasting impression especially when they reveal the character’s shocked realization that the bubble he had been living in has now burst.

This also marks the film debut of Joan Rivers who appears as a party goer who has a brief conversation with Ned. The scene lasts for only a few minutes, but apparently took 7-days to film because of repeated arguments between director Perry and Lancaster over how they wanted to convey her character. Perry pushed for a ‘happy girl’ who Ned rejects, while Lancaster wanted a jaded woman who ends up rejecting Ned, which is how it ultimately plays out and which I preferred.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending where Ned gets to his home only to find it empty and abandoned and he’s unable to get inside is excellent because it helps bring together everything else that came before it. My interpretation is that the pools represented memories of his life and his attempts to somehow reconcile his selfish nature with those that he had abandoned or forgotten from his past. The house symbolizes his empty soul created through years of striving for material gain while callously ignoring, or exploiting others along the way. His inability to get back inside corresponds to his failure to reconcile with himself about his behavior and the empty feeling one ultimately gets when material success ends up not being fulfilling.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The film went through a difficult production that saw many conflicts between Lancaster and Perry that ultimately got Perry fired and replaced by Sydney Pollack who reshot several scenes including the one with Janice Rule who replaced Barbara Loden whose scenes were scrapped entirely. Despite these behind-the-scenes complications the film still comes together as a fluid whole and has a nice visual style that makes it well deserving of its strong cult following.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: May 15, 1968

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Frank Perry, Sydney Pollack (Uncredited)

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube