Category Archives: Gay/Lesbian

Rafferty and the Gold Dust Twins (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lost souls go traveling.

Rafferty (Alan Arkin) works as a driving instructor and is also an alcoholic. One day while relaxing at a park he meets him up with a kooky lesbian pair known as Frisbee (Mackenzie Phillips) and Mac (Sally Kellerman) who have both been recently released from prison. Initially the pair kidnap Rafferty at gunpoint and force him to take them to New Orleans, but Rafferty soon develops a bond with them as they go jaunting around the west looking for excitement and diversion from their otherwise boring lives.

This film works differently from the usual road movie as there’s no real structure to it at all. In some ways this is more realistic as the romanticism is erased and we’re left with nothing more than random events that leads to no conclusion other than dispelling the myth that hitting-the-road will somehow lead to some new self-awareness as these character’s lives remain just as directionless upon their return as it was when they left. Watching the petty crimes that they commit in order to survive ends up being the film’s only entertaining value in what is otherwise a meandering and flat story.

Phillips gives a good performance as a tough, street smart juvenile delinquent who I felt was channeling her own precarious upbringing as the daughter of singer John Phillips in order to have been able to play the part with such a vivid authenticity. If anything she gives the film a much needed edge and is the only real good thing about it.

Kellerman is okay and even sings a country tune, but what impressed me most was how young they made her appear as she was nearing 40 at the time, but she looked more to be in her early 20’s. Arkin surprisingly manages to stay restrained and never once goes into one of his patented hyper rants, but in the process comes off as too mellow and allows his two female co-stars to act circles around him.

The film also features some good supporting work by a cast full of faces who you’ve seen before, but don’t quite know what their names are. Alex Rocco is particularly engaging as a shyster that Arkin meets in a casino who clings to the trio as a hanger-on before getting inadvertently dumped, which was a shame as I liked his energy. Charles Martin Smith has an engaging bit as a naive soldier on a 15-day army leave who gets robbed by Phillips and then tries to relentlessly track her down.

Director Dick Richards won many accolades for his first flick The Culpepper Cattle Company and the realism it gave to the old west and he seems to be taking the same approach here by connecting the modern-day road movie to the rugged individualism of the bygone cowboy, but it doesn’t come off as effectively as it could’ve. A stronger cinematic approach that captured the western landscape would’ve made it more visually appealing as well as having a soundtrack that wasn’t so generic.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending is a bit perverse by today’s standards as Kellerman leaves them so Arkin then poses as Phillips’ father in order to get her out of the orphanage and allow the two to travel to Uruguay. The intent at the time may have seemed innocuous as Arkin was simply filling the role as her surrogate father, but these days many viewers will consider it ‘creepy’ and presume that the middle-aged man was trying to take advantage of this 15-year-old’s desperate situation in order to have a sexual relationship with her.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: February 2, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Dick Richards

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS

The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out 10

4-Word Review: He fails at monogamy.

Tomas (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a successful surgeon living in Prague during the 1960’s who has a way with the ladies. He enjoys his robust sex life, but then falls for the awkward and plain Tereza (Juliette Binoche) and the two get married even as Tomas continues to see other women on the side. Tereza becomes upset by this and threatens to leave him only for the two to get swept up into the events of the Prague Spring where Soviet tanks invade their country. They escape to Switzerland but Tereza is unhappy there as well and moves back to Czechoslovakia with Tomas later following. Although their living conditions under communist rule are harsh they still find that their mutual love keeps them happy anyways.

Although masterfully directed by Philip Kaufman I still found the characters to be poorly etched. Tomas’ ability to get beautiful women to literally throw themselves at him never gets properly explained. Yes he is good-looking, but there are a lot of handsome guys who aren’t able to get women to shed their clothes for them at seemingly the snap-of-the-finger. Some clear social skill or persuasive ability had to be shown and clarified to make the women’s behavior more understandable, but this never effectively gets addressed. The scene where Tereza gets ‘overpowered’ by Tomas’ aura when all he is doing is sitting at a table in a café reading a book, but it’s enough to get her to run up to him and tell him she’s available is a big stretch and makes this supposedly profound movie look like it was built on a very superficial foundation.

There’s also the question as to why Tomas would want to marry Tereza to begin with. This is a guy who can literally get any beautiful woman he wants so why settle for the dowdy/shy Tereza? What is it about her, or about his inner mind that would want to make him commit to her and not the others?

His relationship with Sabina (Lena Olin), who is his independent- minded off-again-on-again lover is far more believable and kind of made me wonder why Tereza even needed to be in the mix at all. As much as I liked Sabina I did find the storyline dealing with her budding relationship with Franz (Derek de Lint) to be rather unengaging. However the friendship that blossoms between her and Tereza as well as the underlying lesbian subtext is interesting and yet the film introduces this in a very long, drawn-out segment inside Sabina’s apartment only to then drop it without ever exploring it to its satisfying and full conclusion.

On the technical side it’s a splendid production. I particularly liked the imagery of the tanks rolling into the city and how Tomas and Tereza’s presence gets cropped into actual footage of the real-life event and how seamlessly it goes between black-and-white and color. Sven Nykvist’s cinematography is a marvel. Initially I felt his talents were wasted as the camera only captures the bleak colorless surroundings of old-town Prague, but then when the couple returns to the city after their brief foray in Switzerland the decay and grayness becomes even more pronounced and helps convey visually the depressing feeling of the communist oppression.

The film, which is based on the novel of the same name by Milan Kundera, has an interesting message, but it failed to give me as a viewer any type emotional impact. I was never able to understand what made these characters tick. This might’ve gotten better addressed in the novel, which I didn’t read, but gets lost in translation here and ends up hurting the provocative imagery that to some degree gets a bit over-the-top anyways. This could also help explain why despite being on the set as an ‘advisor’ Kundera expressed displeasure with the film version and refused to help promote it.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 5, 1988

Runtime: 2Hours 53Minutes

Rated R

Director: Philip Kaufman

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Only When I Laugh (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Actress is an alcoholic.

Georgia Hines (Marsha Mason) has just been released from a 12-week alcohol rehab program and returns to her Manhattan apartment looking to readjust to civilian life with the help of her two friends; Jimmy (James Coco) a gay unemployed actor and Toby (Joan Hackett) a woman unhappy at turning middle-aged. To Georgia’s surprise Polly (Kristy McNichol) her 17 year-old-daughter shows up wanting to move in with her and ‘patch things up’ from their tumultuous past. Georgia isn’t sure she’s emotionally ready, but forges ahead and things start out okay, but then the demons from the past rear their ugly head forcing mother and daughter to face some harsh realities both about themselves and each other.

The film is based on Neil Simon’s Broadway play ‘The Gingerbread Lady’ that starred Maureen Stapleton and ran for 193 performances. It was not considered a success and when adapted to a film Simon made changes to the story, but to me it all seemed like every other Neil Simon dramedy that he’s done before. Both this film and The Goodbye Girl that also starred Mason featured male characters that were struggling to become professional actors. Both this film and Chapter Two, which again starred Mason, had characters who were playwrights going through writer’s block. His films always take place in New York and have characters who see analysts, and can apparently make enough to afford them. I realize there’s the old adage ‘write what you know’ and that’s exactly what Simon is doing, but it would be nice if he’d get a little bit out of his comfort zone as nothing that gets shown here seems fresh or original.

The first hour is way too serene and I would’ve expected much more of a frosty relationship between mother and daughter, but instead for the most part they get along great, at least initially. There are some passing references to previous drama, but I felt this should’ve been shown and not just talked about. The second half improves significantly with some strong scenes, but I’m afraid that with such a lifeless beginning most viewers will have fallen asleep before it even gets there.

McNichol is excellent and every bit Mason’s equal, but this exposes another of Simon’s weaknesses, which is that although he’s good at writing character parts for adults he seems unable to do so for anyone younger. In The Goodbye Girl the Quinn Cummings character seemed too infantile for a 10-year-old and here McNichol is more like a 20-something and the intended mother-daughter drama more like just two girlfriends rooming together.

Coco and Hackett are excellent and help hold things together and the movie does manage to deliver, at least in the second-half, but I couldn’t help but feel that Simon had gone to this well too often and was starting to lose his edge. You can also spot young Kevin Bacon as a college dude trying to pick and Mason and McNichol as they eat at a café.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 25, 1981

Runtime: 2Hours

Rated R

Director: Glenn Jordan

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available:  DVD-R, Amazon Video, YouTube

Hide and Go Shriek (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer in a warehouse.

Despite the film’s corny title this has rated well with users on IMDB, so I approached it with interest, but whatever it was that they were getting out of it I didn’t. The very basic premise deals with a group of teens who spend the night in a furniture warehouse to party. They play a game of hide-and-seek and soon one-by-one start disappearing only to later turn up dead. The elusive killer puts on the clothing of the last person that he’s killed and some start to believe that he may be Fred (Jeff Levine) the new security guard who is also an ex-con.

The approach is derivative and stays locked in the basic slasher film construct even though by the late ‘80s that formula was wearing thin and getting tweaked heavily by most other horror films that were being released at the same time making this one seem laughable contrived right from the get-go. The characters also reek of excessive ‘80’s fashions while having personalities that lack any distinction.

It was shot in an abandoned L.A. warehouse, but the filmmakers don’t take enough advantage of their setting and seem to only film things occurring in small areas of the place instead of trying to capture the entire inside of the building with long shots and bird’s eye views. The interiors are also quite shadowy and sometimes not easy to completely follow the action. One character, in an effort to look ‘cool’, wears dark glasses almost the whole time even though it takes place at night in an already darkened place making him seem crazier than the psycho killer.

The film has some unintentionally funny moments particularly the overreacting of the teens when they find their dead friend’s bodies especially their revulsion when one young woman (Annette Sinclair), who was tied up on top of a loft elevator, gets decapitated when the elevator goes up and her severed head comes crashing to the floor. I also got a kick at how they rip off the arms and legs from the mannequins to use as weapons, which seems absurd as they are made of plastic, don’t weigh much and would be very ineffective in any type of ‘battle’. I also liked the part where the teens, now locked inside the warehouse, madly pound on a storefront window to get someone’s attention, while a homeless guy, played by the film’s screenwriter Michael Elliot, merely waves back at them.

The ultimate identity of the killer is somewhat creative and actually even plausible, but his ability to wear the clothes of each of his victims makes no sense since all the teens have different body types so most of the outfits would not have fit. The film needed a killer with a distinct appearance and not just some shadowy figure lurking in the background like here, which is neither scary nor interesting.

If you enjoy original, quality cinema then this film is not for you. However, if you like cheesy, cardboard schlock with all sorts of clichés thrown in then this will be a perfect night of entertainment.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: November 1, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Skip Schoolnik

Studio: New Star Entertainment

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

Rituals (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Nightmare in the woods.

Five middle-aged doctors (Hal Holbrook, Lawrence Dane, Robin Gammell, Ken James, Gary Reineke) take a trip into the Canadian wilderness in what they hope will be a fun weekend retreat, but soon bizarre things begin to occur including having all of their hiking boots stolen from them in the middle-of-the-night. It eventually becomes clear that they are being stalked by an unforeseen adversary who’s intent on playing mind games with them while slowly picking them off one-by-one.

This was Canada’s answer to Deliverance and while great effort was made to lift it above the usual mindless slasher film level it still doesn’t work and remains flat and predictable all the way through. One of the things that I really liked about Deliverance was that it was filmed on-location in the Georgia backwoods and this film takes the same approach by being shot in the dense forests of northern Ontario, but the result isn’t as satisfying. In Deliverance the location becomes like a third character while here it amounts to being just a backdrop.

The film has too much of a creepy musical score that makes it clear that it wants to mold it into a horror film and only helps to give it a formulaic feel. Deliverance was never mechanical and instead came off more like a drama that suddenly turns ugly without warning, much like life sometimes, while this thing seems more staged and rehearsed.

The cast is top-notch and puts great effort into their roles and the rigorous requirements of doing all of their own stunts. Yet the result is shallow as there’s no distinction between the characters who come off as stereotypically jaded middle-aged businessmen. Watching their personalities unravel as the grueling journey proceeds isn’t riveting since they seemed broken from the beginning and the viewer doesn’t care if any of them survive it or not.

The tension is minimal and the nemesis never gets revealed until the very end. At points I felt that having a bad-guy wasn’t needed and the story could’ve been stronger had it focused around the men getting lost in the woods through no one’s fault but their own and then their ultimate struggle with the elements. The mountain man (Michael Zenon) is much too crafty anyways and pulls off things that no normal person could making the culprit seem like a mysterious enigma that transcends the bounds of reality and makes the film too unbelievable to take seriously.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: July 21, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Peter Carter

Studio: Canart Films

Available: None at this time.

Ode to Billy Joe (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Where is Billy Joe?

Based on the hit 1967 single sung by Bobbie Gentry this film attempts to reenact what occurred in the ballad as well as explain the song’s mystery elements with a screenplay co-written by Gentry herself. The story centers on Bobbie Lee (Glynnis O’Connor) a 15 year-old girl living on a farm and longing to satisfy her newfound sexual awakenings. She becomes attracted to a local boy named Billy Joe McAllister (Robby Benson) and he to her, but her conservative father (Sandy McPeak) won’t allow her to bring over ‘gentleman callers’ until she is 16, so she runs off into the woods with him only to learn that he harbors a dark secret that if it became known to the public could ruin his life.

While the film did quite well by grossing $27 million at the box office on only a $1.1 million budget I felt it was a mistake to turn the classic song into a movie. Sometimes things are more interesting when the mystery angle is left unanswered, and having it explained especially with the lame way that it gets down here, tarnishes the song’s mystique.

For years Gentry said that the point of the song was never about why Billy Joe jumped off the bridge or what he threw off of it, but instead the relationship of the song’s narrator with her family and how completely oblivious they were to her feelings, which the movie doesn’t recreate. In the song the father is portrayed as being ambivalent and distant towards his daughter and yet in the film for some ill-advised reason he is kindly and connected, which isn’t as interesting.

Hiring Herman Raucher to co-write the screenplay was a mistake as well. He had great success with Summer of ’42, but pretty much tries to turn this into the same glossy romance as that. He even brings along the same composer Michel Legrand whose orchestral score is completely out-of-place with the story’s country setting.

The script also adds some crazy side-stories that have nothing to do with the main plot or the song that it is based on. One of them includes having prostitutes shipped in from nearby Yazoo City to have sex with all men from the town, who line up one-by-one seemingly guilt free, to fuck the ladies while attending a small jamboree. Now, I was not alive during the ‘50s, but I know people who were including my parents, who insist that it was every bit as oppressive and conservative as its reputation states especially in the rural areas such as this film’s setting. I realize that prostitution is considered the ‘world’s oldest profession’ and I’m sure in some underground big city clubs of that period you could find some, but bringing them to some small town where everybody knows everybody else and having the men jumping in for quite literally ‘roll-in-the-hay’ with them (as this took place on a barnyard floor) with all of their friends watching and not worrying that this would get back to their wives or ruining their reputations, as rumors spread like wild fire in small  towns, is just too far-fetched and ridiculous to be believable.

Benson is great in the lead and James Best is strong too in a small, but crucial role, however O’Connor seems miscast. She’s attractive and has been good in other films, but she plays the part as being very outspoken and strong-willed where in the song that same character came off as more introverted and quiet. She also seemed too worldly-wise for a 15-year-old especially one that had never ventured out of her town although the bit where she sticks her head into a toilet bowl and shouts ‘hello’ may be worth a few points to some.

If you spent sleepless nights trying to figure what it was that Billy Joe threw off that Tallahatchie Bridge then you may find this film’s clichéd and corny answer to it as disappointing.  It also takes way too damn long to get there while forcing the viewer sit through many long, drawn-out scenes in-between.

In fact the only thing that the movie does get right is its on-location shooting that was done in LeFlore County, Mississippi that was the actual setting to the song. However, even this gets botched because the Tallahatchie Bridge that Gentry describes in her song, which was near the small town of Money, was destroyed in 1972 and the bridge used in the film was a different one located near the town of Sidon that also ended up getting demolished in 1987.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: June 4, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 46 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Max Baer Jr.

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Making Love (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Her husband is gay.

Claire (Kate Jackson) thinks she has the perfect marriage yet her husband Zach (Michael Ontkean) harbors dormant feelings for other men and one day he decides to act upon them when he meets Bart (Harry Hamlin). Bart is more into one night flings, which heightens Zach’s inner turmoil as he’s not sure if he should stay with Claire, or live life the way he wants.

This film was considered groundbreaking for its time and even controversial, but it has not stood the test of time well and comes off as quite benign by today’s standards. Part of the problem is with Zach who has supposedly harbored these dormant feelings for a long time, but it is not clear why he suddenly decides to act upon them. The shift between happy married couple to an unhappy one seems to occur overnight and is jarring.

He asks Bart out for lunch when he has only known him for a few minutes, but if he’s quarreling with desires that he has never acted upon then I would think he’d be more hesitant and only move forward with Bart after having known him longer. He also denies to Bart that he’s gay and then a half-minute later is kissing him on the lips. Then quickly after that he’s hopping into bed with him, but I would presume someone who has never had sex with another man before would react more awkwardly and self-consciously their first time.

Hamlin’s character is far more interesting simply because he’s edgier than Zach who is too annoyingly goody-goody. I also enjoyed that he watches movies on a laser disc machine, which you rarely see anymore, but he like all the other gay men in the film has too much of a pretty-boy face and the film should’ve balanced itself by showing that balding, overweight, middle-aged men can be gay too.

The segments where the characters talk directly to the screen is unnecessary and amounts to incessant babbling as they describe things that the viewer could easily pick-up on visually. Wendy Hiller’s old lady character adds nothing and the scene where Zach goes home to visit his folks (Arthur Hill, Nancy Olson) is equally pointless and should’ve also been excised as the film’s runtime is too long to begin with.

Gay viewers may take to this better and the film’s intent may have been noble, but that doesn’t forgive its poor execution as the whole thing comes off like a shallow soap opera with cardboard characters manufactured to fit into an already preconceived concept. In fact the movie’s only good moment comes during a throwaway bit involving Erica Hiller, who was the daughter of the film’s director Arthur Hiller, playing an overly deluded, but woefully under talented singer who is convinced that she will be a smash with the audience during an amateur contest only to be booed off stage the moment she starts singing, which acts as an interesting precursor to a bad audition from ‘American Idol’.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: February 12, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 51 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Arthur Hiller

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

The Ritz (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hiding out in bathhouse.

On the run from is homicidal brother-in-law (Jerry Stiller) heterosexual businessman Gaetano (Jack Weston) decides to hide out inside a Manhattan bathhouse unaware that it’s for gay men only until he’s already stuck inside. While there the overweight Gaetano gets harassed by an amorous chubby-chaser (Paul B. Price) as well as an aging starlet named Googie (Rita Moreno) who thinks Gaetano is a Broadway producer who can finally give her the long-waited break that she feels she deserves. Things get even worse when his brother-in-law finds out where Gaetano is hiding and proceeds to shoot up the place until he is finally able to weed him out.

For a farce, which is based on the hit Broadway play by Terence McNally and has much of the same cast recreating their roles for the movie, this thing is pretty much dead-on-arrival. The plot is thin and predictable and not enough happens to justify sitting through it. There are a few snappy lines here-and-there, but overall it’s effect is flat while filled with a lot of mindless running around that eventually grows quite tiring. Director Richard Lester has had success with this genre before, but the material here is unimaginative and second-rate and having everything confined to one setting gives it a claustrophobic feel.

The supporting cast gives the proceedings a boost and to some extent saves it from being a complete misfire. F. Murray Abraham nails it as a flaming queen and manages to elicit laughs with every scene he is in. Treat Williams is quite good as an undercover detective who’s a very well built man, but stuck with the voice of a 5-year-old. Jerry Stiller is surprisingly effective as the gun-toting bad guy and this also marks the film debut of John Ratzenberger.

Kudos must also go out to Moreno whose hilariously bad rendition of ‘Everything’s Coming up Roses’ is a film highlight. I also liked the precarious way that she puts on her eyelashes and the fact that her so-called dressing room is inside the building’s boiler room. The only performance that doesn’t work is Weston’s as his character is too naïve and his over-reactions to everything that occurs around him quickly becomes one-dimensional.

There may have been a time when this type of storyline would’ve been considered ‘fresh’ over even ‘daring’, but that time is long gone. In fact I couldn’t believe how tame and shallow it was. Whatever passed for farce back-in-the-day is no longer tangible, which makes this one relic that deserves its place on the back shelf of obscurity.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 12, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Lester

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Gay couple manage laundromat.

Genghis (Richard Graham) is a young Pakistani immigrant living in London and feeling frustrated by being trapped in his humble surroundings while living with his father (Roshan Seth) who due to his left leaning politics and alcoholism is unable to bring in any meaningful income. His Uncle Nasser (Saeed Jaffrey) is doing quite well even though some of his methods are unscrupulous. Nasser gets Genghis a job at his car washing facility, but Genghis has loftier goals. He wants to take over the rundown laundromat that Nasser owns and turn it into a thriving business with the help of his gay lover Johnny (Daniel Day-Lewis). Nasser agrees and is surprised to see what a success it becomes, but is unaware that Genghis and Johnny are funding it with the help of illegal drug money and Salim (Derrick Blanche) is onto their scheme and wants a part of the take.

The film’s screenplay was written by Hanif Kureishi who liked the title character came to Britain from Pakistan and has become a much celebrated playwright despite starting his career writing pornographic novels. The story brings out many complex issues that could prove fascinating to those unfamiliar with the political landscape of Great Britain during the Margaret Thatcher era. The problems and racism that those from Pakistan had to face in the U.K. are vividly brought to the forefront, but what is even more interesting is the pressures and loyalties that they were expected to follow amongst their own culture and families and how these could end up being just as conflicting and confining as those placed on them by the outside world.

I enjoyed many of the scenarios that the film brings out, but was frustrated that the story offers no conclusion to any of them. I was interested in seeing how Nasser would react to Genghis and Johnny’s relationship, but we never get to find out even though the film teases us with a scene where he begins to suspect it. There is also no conclusion as to what ultimately happens to their laundromat business, or whether they were successfully able to expand it, which again gets touched upon. We aren’t even able to find out if Salim was able to survive a vicious beating by some street punks or whether these same punks were ever brought to justice. Why bother bringing up all these story threads if they are just going to be left open and why should the viewer be sucked into the quandaries of these characters if it is all just leads to one big ambiguous ending?

Daniel Day-Lewis shot to stardom with his role here, but I didn’t really feel he had the body type to be considered a ‘tough guy’ or even a bouncer type. Sure he’s tall, but still pretty skinny and not exactly muscular. I also thought the trendy pseudo-hip getups and hairstyles that he and his gang have look tacky and I first saw this film back when it was released and I felt the same way about the outfits then that I do now.

The direction by an up-and-coming Stephen Frears is okay, but his use of a soundtrack that resembles the noise of a washing machine takes away from the gritty drama element that this story supposedly wants to be as does the onscreen opening and closing titles that spin around like clothes in a dryer.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 18, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated R

Director: Stephen Frears

Studio: Working Title Films

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Criterion Collection), Amazon Video

House on Straw Hill (1976)

house-on-straw-hill-1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10      

4-Word Review: Writer battles his secretary.

Paul (Udo Kier) is a writer who had success with his first novel and now working on his much anticipated second one. To help him get the manuscript done faster he hires a secretary (Linda Hayden) who comes to his isolated, countryside home to type it up, but the two don’t get along. Soon Paul becomes convinced that she is out to kill him and he just may be right.

This pseudo horror film has an enticing visual style.  I liked the close-up shots of the typewriter keys banging on the paper as well as the giant wheat field surrounding the home, which to a degree helps create an interesting atmosphere, but writer/director James Kenelm Clarke goes back to these things too often eventually making the film one-dimensional and monotonous.

The film is also loaded with a lot of explicit sex. If this were a porno then that would be great, but for an intended horror film it goes off the mark completely. We really don’t need to see Linda constantly masturbating. Having Paul find a dildo in her suitcase as he does would’ve been enough. Linda’s ultimate seduction of Paul’s girlfriend (Fiona Richmond) in a provocative lesbian sequence is completely pointless to the story and clearly just done to grab the crowd that’s into watching mindless sleaze.

The characters come off as weird, half-human caricatures whose motivations and actions are confusing. Both Paul and Linda needed to be better fleshed out for the viewer to have any compelling reason to care what happens to either one of them. The scene where Linda masturbates in the wheat field and is then attacked and raped by some locals only for her to turn-the-tables on them and kill them is particularly stupid because she is somehow able to immediately compose herself afterwards and come back to the house and act like it never happened when with anyone else it would’ve been an emotionally traumatic experience that would’ve taken months maybe even years to get over if even then.

The film’s twist ending is particularly weak and the film should’ve used flashbacks and other subtle clues to help the viewer figure it out for themselves the reasons for Linda’s motivations instead of having it all explained to them by her at the end. I also didn’t like the title as it is too reminiscent to Straw Dogs, which also took place in a remote home in the English countryside and dealt with a rape by some of the local thugs. This might’ve been intentional, but it was a big mistake because it just reminds the viewer of that movie, which was far better.

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My Rating: 3 out of 10

Alternate Titles: Trauma, Expose

Released: March 15, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 24Minutes

Rated X

Director: James Kenelm Clarke

Studio: Norfolk International Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray