Category Archives: Kidnapping Movies

Big Jake (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Grandfather tracks grandson’s kidnappers.

In 1909 a group of outlaws led by John Fain (Richard Boone) raid the McCandles homestead and kidnap their grandson (Ethan Wayne). Martha (Maureen O’Hara) is the home’s matriarch who decides that the help of the army and Texas Rangers just won’t do and the family’s estranged grandfather, Big Jake McCandles (John Wayne) will. Big Jake, who was once a legendary gunfighter in his day has been roaming the west alone for many years, but once he gets word that his grandson has been kidnapped he snaps into action using the help of an old Apache associate named Sam (Bruce Cabot) to help track where the kidnappers are.

This another film where in Leonard Maltin’s review book he gives two different takes of the film depending on which version, older vs. newer, that you have. I realize Maltin does not review all of the movies that are in his book, but whoever reviewed this movie in the older versions gave it only 2-stars and describes it as an ‘uneasy combination of a traditional Wayne western and a Butch Cassidy-type spoof’. In the newer versions Maltin or whoever did the review now suddenly likes it and gives it 3-stars calling it ‘an underrated western that’s well paced and handsomely shot’. The only consistency between the two is that both consider Boone’s performance as being ‘especially good’.

For me the original review is far more accurate. Although the film does start out with a rather offbeat, Avant-garde opening everything that comes after is formulaic and mechanical. The plot is too basic and not all that exciting or gripping you never see or learn much about the boy who has been kidnapped and therefore one’s concern for his safety wanes. It starts out right away with the violent kidnapping without any backstory and then deviates into a lot of side-story adventures until you almost forget about the kidnapping plot completely only to finally come back to it with a so-so shootout finale. In a lot of ways the kidnapping theme could’ve been excised completely as the only time it gets amusing is during Wayne’s bantering with his co-stars as they ride around looking for the bad guys, so everything should’ve centered on that while possibly changing the plot around to them looking for gold or lost treasure instead.

Wayne’s presence is the biggest detriment as he has played this domineering, stubborn old codger for far too long and there needed to be a fresh new spin put on it, but none is supplied. I was hoping for one brief moment that the arrogant, brash Wayne character might be proven wrong at something, or forced to swallow his immense pride just to keep things balanced, but of course its only everyone else that has do that while the mystical Wayne proudly plods on like he can do no wrong.

I thought the introduction of the automobile into the plot, where some of the men decide to ride in those while Wayne stubbornly sticks with his horse, might offer this by having the old-fashioned character eventually forced to modify his thinking and embrace change and modernization. In reality everyone must eventually have to do this at some point in their lives, so The Duke should too, but instead here the reverse occurs, where those that adapt to change are made to look foolish while the hard-headed Wayne rides off unblemished, which to me made it too agonizingly predictable.

Having Wayne’s real-life son Patrick playing Big Jake’s feisty and rebellious son is fun, but I wanted their confrontations to be played up more. Christopher Mitchum is okay too as Big Jake’s other kid who rides a motorbike and this was the last movie that Mitchum did with Wayne because afterwards he quit speaking to him due to Wayne’s right-wing leaning politics, which I found ironic since 25 years later he ran for a California congressional seat as a conservative republican.

O’Hara is sadly wasted and seen only during the film’s first 15 minutes and then that’s it. Singer Bobby Vinton also appears at the beginning, but his acting is terrible and fortunately for the viewer his time on the screen is brief.

The only thing that I liked about the movie is the gorgeous view seen outside the ranch home in the opening scenes and I wished that the entire story had taken place in the home so we could keep enjoying its breathtaking surroundings, which was filmed on-location in the Mexican state of Durango. Otherwise everything else is a bore.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 26, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated G

Director: George Sherman

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

“Crocodile” Dundee II (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Now that’s a knife.

Mick (Paul Hogan) and Sue (Linda Kozlowski) having been living together in her New York apartment for a year since their last adventures from the first film. Sue’s ex-husband Bob (Dennis Boutsikaris) is working for drug enforcement in South America. He witnesses and photographs the murder of a rival drug cartel leader at the hands of Luis Rico (Hechter Ubarry) and his men. Once Bob realizes that he’s been spotted he runs for cover to his hotel, but the men chase after him and kill him, but not before he sends the film negatives of the killing to Sue. The drug gang then kidnaps Sue in order to get their hands on the negative and it’s up to Mick to find a way to free her while also single-handedly fighting off the gang.

This sequel manages to avoid the missteps of so many others by wisely not trying to replay what we saw in the first installment, but instead taking it into a new direction and therefore allowing the theme and characters to progress. To some degree the plot does come off like an episode of ‘Miami Vice’ and the villains are also incredibly dull and generic. Do we really need bad guy Luis explaining to Sue why he got into the drug dealing business, because of the ‘money’ and ‘power’, as if there would be any other reason?

Having her ex-husband, someone who was never seen at all in the first film, act as a catalyst is problematic too. It seems like one’s ex-spouse; especially someone he hasn’t spoken to in years would be the last person to send crucial photographs to. He works for the DEA, so why not send it to them?

However, even with these issues I still kind of liked seeing Mick forced into action. The first film consisted mainly of him bragging about his exploits, but here we get to see first-hand some of his actual survival skills. It also puts to test his easygoing personality and we see if he can remain amazingly low-key and likable in situations that most other people couldn’t.

Unfortunately unlike in the first flick the comedy does not come from Hogan’s character, but instead from others around him that witness his exploits. Outside of an amusing segment that comes early on in the film where Mick tries to talk a man out of jumping off a ledge his character is portrayed in a darker more intense way although not enough to erase his ever going charm.

Kozlowski, who ended up marrying Hogan in real-life 2 years after this film was released, is stuck in a thankless supporting role where she doesn’t have much to do. The film poster portrays the idea that the two fight the bad guys side-by-side, but in reality Hogan does most of it while Linda simply tags along and observes. The real scene stealer is John Meillon whose last theatrical film this was. He was in the first one, but his presence there didn’t amount to much, but here his character, working in tandem with Mick, is an integral part of sending the drug gang on a wild goose chase.

The scenes shot in Australia are gorgeous and in fact the spot where the drug gang campout is the same place where Picnic at Hanging Rock was filmed. Charles S. Dutton who plays a man by name of Leroy Brown and pretends to be a drug dealer even though he really isn’t is quite amusing too and overall the film is a mildly entertaining way to spend two hours.

Spoiler Alert!

My only problem is in regards to Leonard Maltin’s review of it where he states that he felt the film was too leisurely paced and wished they’d “get on with it especially when all suspense about the outcome is eliminated”, but after watching it this makes no sense. The bad guys are not fully defeated until the very, very end in fact it quickly cuts to the credits once they are. There’s even some concern that Mick may have accidently been killed, which also occurs at the very end, so it seems that Maltin, who I generally like as a critic, either didn’t really watch the movie, or the whole thing, and therefore has no idea what he’s actually talking about.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 20, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 52Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Cornell

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Brannigan (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: The Duke in London

Jim Brannigan (John Wayne) is a gruff Chicago cop hired to extradite mob boss Ben Larkin (John Vernon) from London back to the states, but Brannigan finds that England’s more restrained form of policing doesn’t conform to his and is at immediate odds with British police commander Charles Swann (Richard Attenborough) from the beginning. Things become even more problematic when Larkin gets kidnapped forcing the police to engage in a ransom drop in order to get him back. Brannigan must also avoid a very aggressive hit-man named Gorman (Daniel Pilon) who was hired by Larkin to kill him.

This was Wayne’s second attempt at playing a modern day tough guy policeman, which was mainly in response to being snubbed from the starring role in Dirty Harry. His first flick as a cop was McQ, which was quite derivative and made The Duke look like an old, sickly walking corpse ready to keel over at any second. Here though Wayne is strangely reinvigorated and seems much spryer on his feet. He also doesn’t take himself quite as seriously and spends most of the time eliciting humorous quips and comebacks, but by the end the London scenery and array of supporting characters start to overshadow the big guy until he becomes almost like a co-star in his own movie.

The story is a bit different from a typical Wayne vehicle in that the first half has virtually no action and consists mainly of the police surveillance of the kidnappers and trying to figure out what they’ll do next. One drawn out scene even deals with Wayne and lady cop friend Jennifer (Judy Geeson) following a mail truck around London in order to see where the ransom money, which they think is in the truck, will be taken.

While this subdued approach may annoy the more action addicted Wayne fans I found it to be a refreshing change of pace and I liked how the film analyzed the boring aspects of police work instead of just glamorizing the sexy shootouts. Unfortunately the second-half devolves back into the familiar formula, which includes not only an uninspired car chase, but a big barroom brawl as well. The brawl, which was filmed at the exclusive Garrick Club, is the most off-putting because it’s done in a comically slapstick way that drains all the grittiness and realism that the film tried so hard to create in the first-half right out of the movie altogether.

The sleek looking, dark glasses wearing hit-man, who drives a ritzy looking sports car seems like a character straight out of a James Bond movie. The segment done in slow motion as well as the running joke of having every hotel room that Brannigan stays in get destroyed by those who is after him only helps to cement this as being just another whimsical, uninspired cop outing that despite a first half that showed some promise has nothing edgy or original about it.

The idea of having Brannigan essentially trying to ‘save’ a mobster’s life just so he can bring him back here to go to trial isn’t a very riveting plot point to begin with. The Larkin character is completely unlikable, so the viewer could care less whether he can escape the clutches of his kidnappers or not and the story would’ve been far more compelling had Brannigan been out to save a kidnapped child instead, which along with the other misguided ideas described above probably explains why this thing ended up tanking badly at the box office.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 26, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 51Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Douglas Hickox

Studio: United Artists

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

Ruthless People (1986)

Ruthless People Movie Poster (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: His wife gets kidnapped.

Sam (Danny DeVito) wants to kill his shrewish wife Barbara (Bette Midler) so he can get her inheritance, but is unable to when she is kidnapped by a young couple (Judge Reinhold, Helen Slater) who demand ransom. Sam decides not to pay it, but mistakenly tells his lover (Anita Morris) about his plans and she with the help of her secret boyfriend Earl (Bill Pullman) scheme to use this information to extort him, but then a neighborhood psycho known as The Bedroom Killer (J.E. Freeman) throws everything into chaos by threatening to kill all of them.

The script was written by Dale Launer who at the time was a struggling salesman at a sound appliance store much like Judge Reinhold’s character in the movie, but like with many scripts written by first-timers there’s too many characters and a plot-heavy scenario that throws in one irony after another until it gets convoluted. Too much emphasis is placed on the concept and not enough on the characters with an end result that has no point to it other than just being very crass and over-the-top.

Everyone onscreen is simply a flimsy caricature used to propel the elaborate plot along and nothing more. The only one that is likable is Helen Slater whose nervous wide-eyed gaze makes her presence memorable. The film though would’ve worked better had it focused solely on the contrasting couples as well as having Reinhold and Slater shown working together more instead of Reinhold taking over and pushing Slater off to the side until she becomes almost forgotten.

DeVito is enjoyable, but Midler is annoying especially with her exaggerated facial expressions.  I also didn’t buy into the idea that this woman who is otherwise quite cynical and sarcastic would be naïve enough to believe that her husband still loved her and supposedly ‘worshipped the ground’ that she walked on even when he really didn’t. After living with somebody for 15 years, which is how long their marriage apparently was, you get a pretty clear view of your partner’s flaws no matter how hard they try to camouflage it. Even the most wide-eyed of people would’ve been at the very least suspicious that he might have ulterior motives as there’s always red flags and the fact that this lady was completely oblivious to them only proves how poorly fleshed-out the characters here are.

Spoiler Alert!

The story is overloaded with loopholes too. For instance Anita Morris and her lover Bill Pullman decide to play the tape of what they think is Sam murdering his wife on a VCR inside a TV-equipment store where all the other customers can see it, but why play something publicly that could potentially get them into a lot of trouble? If Pullman was able to afford a video camera, as he was the one who recorded the incident to begin with, then why couldn’t he also afford his own VCR?

It also takes too long for the police to suspect that Sam may have something to do with his wife’s disappearance even though in reality the spouse is always the prime suspect from the get-go. Having 8 police cars openly tailing Reinhold in hopes that he will lead them to his hideout is pretty stupid too. The idea is to not allow the suspect to be aware that you’re following him because otherwise he will just lead the police on a wild-goose-chase, which is exactly what he does here and any savvy veteran cop would’ve predicted that. I realize the filmmakers thought it would be ‘funny’ visually seeing all these police cars chasing the suspect, but it’s instead nonsensical. Every movie needs to have at least one person who is grounded and sensible even if everyone else is kooky. Having everyone behaving foolishly makes the story inane and unbelievable.

Reinhold’s ability to escape from his submerged vehicle after he drives it into a lake is equally questionable. Putting on a breathing apparatus underwater as he apparently does would be quite difficult if not impossible and how exactly was he able to make it seem like it was the Bedroom Killer (who was killed earlier in the film) as the driver of the getaway vehicle instead of himself? For that to happen the killer would’ve had to have been sitting in the driver’s seat where Reinhold was previously. Are we to believe that Reinhold had the dead killer’s body in the trunk of his car and while underwater somehow able to get the corpse from the trunk into the driver’s seat before the police got to it? The logistics of this is dubious, which is why having a scene done underwater showing him going through all of this should’ve been inserted in, but unfortunately isn’t.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Overall despite a few chuckles it’s a superficial mess and nowhere near the acerbic, dark satire that it likes to think it is. I disliked the gaudy Memphis style furniture used in DeVito’s home as well, which gives the production too much of a campy look.  Billy Joel’s ‘Modern Woman’, which gets played over the closing credits, seems to have nothing to do with the main theme and completely out of place. I also couldn’t stand the dresses that Helen Slater’s character designs. The movie acts like she has ‘talent’ and Midler really likes wearing them even though it looks like something you’d put on a clown and nothing I’d ever want to be seen in and I’d feel sorry for anyone who did wear them.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: June 27, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R

Directors: Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker

Studio: Touchstone Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Eagle Has Landed (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Plotting to kidnap Churchill.

During World War II Nazi Colonel Radl (Robert Duvall) is hired to study the feasibility of kidnapping British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and bringing him back to Germany. At first he considers it an impossible task, but then learns that Churchill is set to visit an airfield in an English village where one of their German sleeper agents resides. He then hires paratrooper Kurt Steiner (Michael Caine) to lead the mission inside the village, but the plan quickly unravels forcing the soldiers to make a daring escape before the allied troops arrive.

This marks the final film directed by John Sturges who was noted for helming his share of action flicks and westerns. The film’s handsome production offers plush scenery, on-location shooting and some wonderful bird’s-eye-views. One could enjoy the movie on this level alone as well as its ability to focus more the actual planning of the mission than the fighting. It has a sort of behind-the-scenes approach to all of the thought and effort that goes into the strategy of war as opposed to the physical on the ground aspect. The film also takes a surprisingly humanistic approach to the Nazis portraying them more as regular human beings who just so happen to be fighting on the wrong side as opposed to the robotic, demonic persona that they’re given in most other war films.

The film’s faults lies in that it’s too leisurely paced. The planning stage allows for some interesting insight, but could’ve been trimmed while the action is sudden and jarring and only popping up near the end when it should’ve been introduced earlier. There is never any real danger to Churhill as the plan goes awry long before he arrives. Since the whole thing was fictional anyways then why not have the soldiers surround whatever building Churchill was in and thus making it seem at least that he might really get captured before having their plan unravel. The way it gets done here the viewer’s energy is strangely geared at seeing the bad guys escape capture, which is off-putting as is the gimmicky ending that makes everything that is shown previously seem insignificant.

The cast is impressive, but mostly underused. Duvall, who speaks with a dubious German accent, takes up most of the screen-time during the first half and then pretty much disappears altogether during the second part. Caine, who doesn’t speak with a German accent, or at least any that is detectable, seems stiff and uncomfortable in an uninteresting role that does not take advantage of his talents. Apparently he was originally offered the role of Liam Devlin who was a member of the IRA, but Caine refused it due to his personal political beliefs and was thus given the Steiner role on the rebound.

Larry Hagman, mostly known for his TV work, gets an amusingly showy bit as the inept Colonel Potts who tries to lead the US Army Rangers on a mission to rescue the village’s town folk who are held hostage by the soldiers. While the part takes full advantage of Hagman’s comic ability to play a hyper, emotionally frazzled character it seems out of place in this type of movie and almost turns the film dangerously close to becoming an ill-advised comedy.

Donald Sutherland ends up becoming the scene stealer as Liam Devlin who with his hair dyed red really looks Irish and speaks with an authentic sounding Irish accent. The character also has an unusual ability to whistle and then move his finger in a way that subdues an aggressive dog by seemingly putting it under a sort-of hypnotic spell. Whether anyone could really do this, or is there is some truth in what the character does here I don’t know, but it would be interesting to find out.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Release: December 25, 1976

Runtime: 2Hours 3Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Sturges

Studio: Columbia Pictures

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

The Incredible Shrinking Woman (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Suburban housewife gets smaller.

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

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

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

Spoiler Alert!

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

End of Spoiler Alert!

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

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: January 30, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Joel Schumacher

Studio: Universal

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

The Little Dragons (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Karate kids save girl.

Zack and Woody (Chris and Pat Petersen) are two young brothers taking a class in karate. While on a weekend camping trip with their Grandfather (Charles Lane) they meet and befriend a cute young girl named Carol (Sally Boyden) as well as her parents (Rick Lenz, Sharon Weber). Unfortunately Carol also catches the eye of two backwoods hillbilly brothers (Joe Spinell, John Davis Chandler) who along with their hick mother (Ann Sothern) concoct a scheme to kidnap her and hold her for ransom. Zack and Woody then use their newfound karate skills to save their new friend when the local law enforcement proves to be inept.

For a film directed by Curtis Hanson, who gained a cult following for the many horror films that he directed, I was really hoping for something a bit more than just the bland family entertainment stuff, but this couldn’t even come up to that humble level. This stale, B-level movie is devoid of much action and as an adult I was quite bored and could only imagine that children of today would be even more so. Despite the title not much karate action is seen and it’s questionable, with the little that does get shown, whether kids could really pull of the stunts that they do with me feeling that in real-life they probably couldn’t.

Films aimed for kids should then have kids as the main attraction and yet we mainly see the boring adults who are clueless while uttering a corny (supposedly funny) lines here and there. The Petersen brothers have photogenic faces, but not enough acting talent to propel it. The bad guys are just broad caricatures from Deliverance that are neither scary nor humorous. Even in a family film there still needs to be a villain that conveys menace and tension, which goes completely missing here.

To some extent it was fun seeing veteran character actor Charles Lane as a kindly old man as he was usually of the crotchety variety in most of his other roles. Spinell hams it up as a backwoods yokel and earns his acting medal by playing a part outside of his normal realm, but the otherwise limp story and technical approach is a waste of talent and time.

Alternate Title: Karate Kids USA

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: July 18, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Curtis Hanson

Studio: Eastwind

Available: DVD-R, Amazon Video

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

A Stranger is Watching (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Her mother’s killer returns.

At the age of 6 young Julie (Shawn Von Schreiber) witnesses her mother’s rape and murder at the hands of Ronald Thompson (James Russo) at least she thinks that’s who it was when instead it was really Artie Taggart (Rip Torn). Now Ronald is slated to go to the electric chair and news reporter Sharon Martin (Kate Mulgrew) covers the controversy, but just before his execution Julie and Sharon are kidnapped by Artie. He takes them deep into the bowels of Grand Central Station where he holds them hostage while demanding a ransom of $182,000 from Julie’s Father (James Naughton).

The story is based on the Mary Higgins Clark novel of the same name and due to his success with Friday the 13th director Sean S. Cunningham is given a bigger budget to work with, which gives the production more of a visual style from the usual low budget horror flick. However, I was never convinced that Cunningham was all that great of a director and it was only through dumb luck that the Jason franchise became the big hit that it did and if anything this movie proves it. Even with more money put in and an interesting backdrop it still comes off as lackluster and uninspired.

The characters are boring particularly Torn’s psycho role where no backstory is given as to why he decides to come back to terrorize the same family when he was able to get away with the murder the first time and should feel lucky by allowing the other schmuck to take the fall and simply move on. Julie’s behavior is all wrong too. This is a child who witnessed her mother’s rape and murder, which would psychologically damage anyone else for life and yet she recovers from it like it was no big deal and acts overly angelic and gracious about everything.

The underground of Grand Central Station are the film’s best element as it captures the dank, dingy dankness quite well to the point that it almost becomes like a third character. However, when Torn kidnaps the two women he puts the girl into a sleeping bag and then carries her through the station in order to get to the spot where he hides her, but I kept wondering why she didn’t yell for help as they pass by many people in the process. He didn’t drug her, so she was free to yell out, so why doesn’t she?

I’ve read other novels written by Clark although not this one, but I was always impressed with the amount of twists that she had in them and was surprised how little that there are here. The film does feature one small surprise, but then treats it as a throwaway scene that soon gets forgotten. In the end the viewer gets treated to nothing more than a placid blueprint of the novel in a plot that gets more formulaic and pedestrian as it goes on.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: January 22, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sean S. Cunningham

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Family Plot (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: April 9, 1976

Runtime: 2 Hours 1 Minute

Rated PG

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Studio: Universal

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