Category Archives: Movies from Canada

Spasms (1983)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Giant snake uses telepathy.

Years earlier millionaire philanthropist Jason Kincaid (Oliver Reed) got attacked by a giant serpent snake while on a trip in Micronesia. His brother, who went with him, died from the attack, but Jason survived and in the process began acquiring a telepathic connection to the snake. He pays some poachers to capture it and have it brought to his mansion. He also tries to use the services of Dr. Brasilian (Peter Fonda) who specializes in ESP research to help end the ongoing communication that the snake has with him.While Kincaid’s private lab is being constructed the snake is kept at the university lab run by Brasilian, but the reptile escapes and begins killing anyone it sees.

The film is based on the novel ‘Death Bite’ by Michael Marky and Brent Monahan, who wrote it in hopes of cashing in on the Jaws craze and having it made into a movie. The two were excited when a Canadian production company decided to produce it, but quickly became disillusioned with all the production delays and rewrites. When the original studio went bankrupt and the new one insisted on adding in a supernatural element the two writers to walk-off the set and disown the project.

Despite the film’s checkered history I found the production values to be quite impressive especially for a horror movie. The on-location shooting is varied and authentic, particularly the island setting and the main character played by Reed is less cardboard than in most other scary movies. Unfortunately the pacing is slow and not enough happens. I was expecting more scares and blood, but there really isn’t much of it.

The film’s biggest downfall is that you never get to see the snake. Initially during the attacks everything gets shown from the snake’s point-of-view by having a blue filter put over the camera lens, which doesn’t work because it’s done via a tracking shot making it look like the snake glides through the air instead of slithering like a real one would. Outside of a few seconds of seeing its head pop-up, which looks like a hand puppet, we’re never shown the beast in its entirety. Originally the idea was to use live snakes, which would’ve been great, and a 14-foot Indian Python was brought in, but this was found to be too costly and time-consuming, so it got scrapped. They then tried to use animatronics, but director William Fruet didn’t like the way it looked onscreen, so this was shelved too essentially making this a snake movie, but without any snake.

Despite being reportedly drunk most of the time during the production Reed adds a nice intensity though it made no sense at the end when he begins walking around without a cane even though he had being using one the whole time earlier. The special effects showing the victim’s arms and faces ballooning out after they’re bitten is pretty cool, but the ending is a letdown. It was supposed to feature a violent showdown between Reed and the snake, including having his arm swallowed by the beast, but director Fruet didn’t like the look of the special effects, so these scenes were cut and flashbacks showing things that had happened earlier got thrown-in simply to pad the runtime.

The big lesson here is that if you’re going to make a movie about a giant, monstrous snake then you need to at some point show it. Even if it means spending big on computer effects, or bringing in a real one, the effort has to be made. Trying to do one without actually showing the snake, as the snake here is probably seen a combined 10 seconds and never its full body, and expecting the audience to still go home satisfied afterwards is pretty absurd.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 28, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated R

Director: William Fruet

Studio: Pan-Canadian Film Distributors

Available: VHS

Incubus (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Demon being rapes women.

In a small Wisconsin town known as Galen the women are being sexually assaulted by a mysterious being with super human strength. When the victims are taken to the hospital they are seen by Dr. Sam Cordell (John Cassavetes) who notices an extraordinary amount of semen deposited that is reddish in color and doesn’t seem left by a human. Sam argues with the local sheriff Hank (John Ireland) about whether it’s a gang of men doing these crimes, or just one person. The two team-up with Laura (Kerrie Keane), a local reporter who has just moved into town and shares a striking resemblance to Sam’s former girlfriend who’s now deceased, to find the culprit. They begin to think it may be Tim (Duncan McIntosh) a young man who’s still living with his adopted mother (Helen Hughes) and has been dating Sam’s daughter Jenny (Erin Noble). Tim complains about having weird, vivid dreams and every time he wakes up a new crime has been reported, which makes Sam fear that Jenny may be the next victim.

This film approaches things differently from the conventional horror, especially those done in the 70’s, where there’s no character build-up and just jumps right into the attacks, but this doesn’t work because we have no idea who these people are nor care what happens to them making the viewer sit through the whole first half in a rather apathetic manner to what’s going on. The film also makes the mistake of not showing, with the exception of a brief second where we do see the creature’s hairy arm, of who this entity is until the very end though it should’ve been done sooner. Having some mystery is good, but a film has to keep upping the ante otherwise it will get tedious and seeing the attacks get done over and over in virtually the same manner without any new information or twists added soon becomes quite boring.

Listening to Sam and Hank perpetually argue who the culprit is for almost the entire film without much  clues being added in becomes tiresome too. The film though is helped immensely by John Hough’s direction who adds a lot of visual style including a cool tracking shot done from underneath a wheelchair.

I was unhappy though that it wasn’t actually filmed in Wisconsin, but instead Guelph, Ontario, which has homes and buildings that resemble more of a colonial style that you would find in the northeast versus the Midwest. Having movies filmed on-location that’s specific to the story can help give it an added ambiance and sometimes even work as a third character, but since this movie cheats on this we don’t get that here.

Casting Cassavetes, who is better known for directing groundbreaking, independent movies, in the lead was a novel move. His hawk-like facial features I always felt would’ve made him a good bad guy, but his unique acting approach does at least keep his scenes interesting though his relationship with his daughter does border on cringey. One shot has him viewing his naked daughter, who is 17, through a  mirror as she gets out of the shower, which seems to imply, though it never gets played-out, that he may have a perverse sexual interest in her. There’s another scene where he introduces her to Laura as simply being ‘a woman I live with’, which is a very weird way for a father to describe a daughter.

The supporting characters aren’t captivating at all. Laura, who’s supposed to be an aggressive journalist type, breaks down too easily after receiving minor blow back from the sheriff over her reporting, which made her seem too sensitive. If she’s truly the ‘fearless reporter’ as portrayed then she’d have to have a thicker skin and even expect some criticism when it comes. The Tim character is also a bore as we see him in only one emotional state, perplexed and confused, which makes him too one-dimensional.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending is where things get messed-up. For one thing it tries to squeeze an elaborate explanation for what’s going-on into the final three minutes, which is too short of a time period for the viewer to digest it all, or have it make sense. What really got me though is that we find out that the incubus was actually Laura, and the film ends with Sam seeing her kill his daughter, but we never see how Sam responds, or if he’s able to defeat her, which is frustrating. So much time gets spent on the boring investigation only to then abruptly end once we finally get a pay-off.

By having Laura be the ultimate villain also goes against the film’s title. According to mythology an incubus is a male demon that tries to have sex with a female human, but a succubus is a female demon, so hence the title of the movie, the way I see it, should’ve been, when given the way it turns out, Succubus.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 27, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Hough

Studio: Kings Road Entertainment

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Pluto TV, Plex, Tubi, YouTube

Blue Monkey (1987)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Giant insect invades hospital.

When an elderly man (Sandy Webster) gets his finger pricked by a foreign plant he’s immediately rushed to the hospital after he goes into shock. At the hospital he regurgitates an insect pupa, which is taken to the lab for observation. It is there that it gets fed a growth hormone by a group of children causing it to escape and take-over the hospital. Jim (Steve Railsback) is a police detective who was already in the hospital overseeing his partner who had gotten shot while on duty. Together with Rachel (Gwynyth Walsh), an on-call emergency room doctor, and Elliot (Don Lake), a entomologist, they go on the offence to trap the giant bug and kill it before it can reproduce.

I was initially not excited about watching this as it’s admittedly a rip-off of Alien and has many of the same shocks while being directed by Canadian horror maestro William Fruet whose other output I’ve found to be only so-so, but this one is surprisingly compelling. It also has some cool effects including seeing the characters running down a darkened hallway that’s lighted from one end with a bluish hue that gives it a surreal vibe. The shocks aren’t plentiful, but the few that they do have work.

This is also one movie where Railsback, who’s excellent playing psychos like Charles Manson and Ed Gein, is effective as a good guy. In other films where he was a protagonist like in Lifeforce he came-off as unintentionally creepy and it hurt his ability to get starring roles, but here his kindly interactions with a group of sickly children help subside that. I also enjoyed Susan Anspach, looking almost unrecognizable in her black-rimmed glasses, as one of the Dr.’s who takes matters into her own-hands without waiting for a male Dr. to tell her what to do. In fact there really aren’t too many men in white coats at the facility that seemed mainly run by females, which I found interesting.

What I didn’t like were the supporting comical characters. Helen Hughes and Joy Coghill as two drunken old ladies was not needed nor was SCTV alums Joe Flaherty and Robin Duke as a goofy couple having a baby. Sometimes in horror movies that are super intense a brief moment of levity is okay, but this movie wasn’t frightening enough for that and if anything needed to play-up the scares more instead of throwing in goofy scenes that makes it seem too much like a jokey-script instead of a scary one.

The actual bug, when seen in its giant proportion, isn’t the chilling sight you’d expect mainly because its made to look like a regular bug, but just bigger, which isn’t imaginative and more reminiscent of the tacky sci-fi ‘creature-features’ of the 50’s where insects suddenly become bigger and most people today find laughable. It also would’ve been nice during the lab scenes for the camera to have focused on the pupa under the glass instead of the scared faces of the people looking at it. We don’t need to see facial expressions to know if something is scary we just need to be shown the scary thing directly and when we don’t see it, it makes the film look cheap like it didn’t have enough money to create an elaborate effect, so it copped-out by doing it this way.

Even with some of these issues it’s still an entertaining ride. It won’t be for everyone’s tastes and it certainly isn’t going to win any awards nor was it intended to, but if you like giant bug movies this one should satisfy your appetite.  It was also filmed entirely in Canada though the setting is supposed to be the US.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Release: September 25, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated R

Director: William Fruet

Studio: International Spectrafilm

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Tulips (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Choosing love over suicide.

Leland (Gabe Kaplan) is a depressed man who has tried to kill himself several times, but been unsuccessful at it. He hires a hitman named Avocado (Henry Gibson) to shoot him, but Avocado isn’t so sure he wants to do it and advises him that once he decides he’ll leave an ad in the personals section of the newspaper with the word ‘tulips’ in it, which will be the code word for ‘yes’. While Leland awaits his fate he meets Rutanya (Bernadette Peters) who he saves from a burning car after she too tries to kill herself. Eventually they form a relationship, which blossoms into a romance and then marriage only to realize that Avocado has decided to go through with the hit forcing Leland and Rutanya to desperately try to stop him.

While I’ve never been a fan of Kaplan’s acting ability in the past I thought his performance here was alright although the combination of his thick beard and mustache makes him resemble a rabbi and a clean shaven look would’ve been preferred. It’s also a bit perplexing with his extremely bushy head of hair why he would require hair transplants as his character does here.

Peters is delightful, at least at the beginning, but when the two get together the whole thing bogs down into one long  talkfest with nothing much being said that’s funny. The way the two first meet gets botched as initially she bumps into him while roller skating down the road, while also grabbing onto her psychiatrist’s car, which knocks Leland over a bridge wall and he then clings desperately to it in order to avoid falling into the river, but the film then cuts away and we never see how he got out this predicament making it on par with a mindless Road Runner/Wiley E. Coyote cartoon where crazy antics occur without any after effect.

The hit man angle where the intended victim changes his mind had already been done in movies 6 times before this one and therefore wasn’t an original concept nor does it get played-out in a way that’s interesting. Gibson is a good character actor, but here his one-dimensional performance, due mainly to the poor writing, lacks amusement or charisma. There’s also never any action just endless talking, first with an extended bit where Leland contemplates whether he should or shouldn’t look in the newspaper to see if ‘tulips’ is in it, then more discussions about how they can try to stop him and eventually Rutanya sitting down with Acocado directly to try and talk him out of it, which cinematically is not entertaining especially with dialogue that lacks any bite.  The music score is bad too with a silly cartoon-like sound effects that you’d hear on a kiddie show.

Spoiler Alert!

However, it’s the twist ending that I found to be the most annoying as it features a bomb placed by Leland into a car with Avocado and Rutanya inside. First there’s no explanation for how Leland was able to build this bomb as it’s not something just anyone can do, so one has to wonder where he acquired the expertise, but no answer is given. The dumbest thing though is that Leland chases after the vehicle screaming at Rutanya to get out before it goes off and then watches as it explodes convinced she died only to have her reappear later telling him that both she and Avocado where able to get out ‘just in time’, but if that were the case then wouldn’t Leland have noticed since he was looking right at it when it blew up? Also, when the bomb goes off the car doors are shut though it’s hard to believe that Avocado and Rutanya, in their desperation to get out, would’ve made sure to close them when they jumped out.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: September 25, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Rex Bromfield, Al Waxman, Mark Warren

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Mahoney’s Last Stand (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Trying to find solitude.

Leroy Mahoney (Alexis Kanner) wants to be away from the rat race and out in the Canadian wilderness where he feels he can live in peaceful harmony with nature. He finds a rundown home in a vacant area and begins the process of renovating it only to meet a woman named Miriam (Maud Adams) who lives nearby and routinely comes over to visit. Felix (Sam Waterston) is his old friend from the city who hitches a ride to the country and moves-in. Later, so does Felix’s girlfriend Joy (Diana Leblanc) making Mahoney feel like he’ll never find the solitude he craves and will always be surrounded by people who annoy him.

The film was the inspiration of Kanner, who not only starred in it, but wrote the script, co-directed, and even produced. The quirky tone is what helps it stand out as it’s a mixture of the man-in-the-wilderness theme meets the counter culture and to a great degree it works. Some of my favorite moments are things that might seem off-putting, or even boring when put in any other film, but here it helps add to the offbeat quality like the scene featuring Mahoney sitting on his porch endlessly twiddling with his garden hoe, or the segment where he remains trapped in his outhouse as he’s too afraid to come out and meet with Miriam when she arrives unannounced.

The Mahoney character, if you can get past his odd accent and crusty exterior, is quite engaging. Initially he comes off as this rugged individualist only to end up getting scared late at night over the least little noise that hears outside. The scene where he tries to pretend he’s a seasoned horseback rider in an attempt to impress Miriam and his love-hate friendship with Felix and Joy are all amusing as well, but what I really liked is that he remains a true introvert all the way through. Most other films make the broad presumption that everyone secretly craves companionship and can only be truly happy with other around, but here Mahoney only finds his ultimate utopia when he’s finally all alone.

The film’s rustic landscape, which was shot in and around King City, Ontario, helps add to the ambiance. It was filmed between October and December of 1971 with the idea that filming would wrap before the snow and cold moved in as there was no heating in the cabin, but fortunately an early season snow hit the production in late November and gets incorporated into the story. Although it only blanketed the area with an inch or two it still at least gave a preview to what living in Canada year round would be like and if you’re going to do a pic about the rugged adventures of dealing with the northern climate then there better be some snow and cold in the mix or it’s just not fully authentic otherwise.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s ending really stands out as it recreates the feeling of solitude in a way I’ve never seen done before and will stick with you long after it’s over. It features Mahoney wondering around his property naked with only the faint sound of a water drip in the background, which gives the viewer a total sense of peace and freedom and has a soothing meditation-like quality.

Alternate Title: Mahoney’s Estate

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: Unreleased theatrically until 1976.

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Harvey Hart, Alexis Kanner

Studio: Topaz Productions

Available: None

Breaking All the Rules (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Shenanigans at amusement park.

It’s the last day of summer and Jack (Carl Marotte) plans to spend it a an amusement park with his friend David (Thor Bishopric). On the bus ride there they are spotted by Debbie (Carolyn Dunn) and Angie (Rachel Hayward) two best friends who immediately take a liking to the boys. The teen foursome then spend a romantic, even sexy time, at the park, but are unaware that three criminals (Michael Rudder, Pierre-Andre LaRoque, Papusha Demitro) have stolen a diamond and hidden it inside one of the stuffed animals inside the park. When Debbie inadvertently receives the stuffed animal as a prize the crooks stalk the four in order to get the diamond back.

The best thing about the film is Carolyn Dunn, who retired from acting in 2009 and now works as a holistic therapist, and who is drop dead gorgeous especially at the start when she has a normal hairstyle, but even after she gets the ill-advised punk look she’s still a super hottie, which if you’re a male at least, should be good enough to get you through the rest of the pic, which doesn’t have much else going for it. Of course it’s Dunn’s extreme beauty that in some ways actually hurts it since she immediately falls for the very average looking Jack at first glance, which made no sense. This is the type of chick that would have guys flocking all around her and the privilege of choosing the pick-of-the-litter, so why go ga-ga over a dweeb? If dweebs are her thing then fine, but that’s something that needs to be established right up front, but isn’t, so seeing the immediate sparks fly as they do is not believable.

Angie’s romance with David is equally problematic as Angie is almost as hot as Debbie, so why is she falling for a kid that looks like he hasn’t even reached puberty? Seeing them stand side-by-side makes their physical differences even more apparent as Angie looks like she could be 20 and more David’s babysitter than his girlfriend. Had the film cast average looking women that weren’t used to getting a lot of attention from guys and therefore accepting of any dope that came along then it would’ve been more realistic, or simply hired better looking male talent to match the looks of the females.

While I did find the Jack character to be initially amusing, which includes a fantasy segment that he has near the start that is probably the only real funny moment in the movie, he does become increasingly problematic as it goes along especially for modern audiences. Some of the comments he makes, while considered possibly innocuous at the time, will be perceived as controversial today including when he says ‘when a woman says no she really means yes’ or when he states that a women is ‘just dying to get laid’ simply based off of what she’s wearing. There is also a segment where he goes on a rollercoaster ride with Angie and takes advantage of her frightened state by putting his hands underneath her dress and groping her breasts without her permission.

Even if you can get past these issues the plot itself is dumb. The three crooks look like they’re almost the same age as the four teens and older actors should’ve been cast in the bad guy roles simply to give the film a better balance. The crooks also play-off of a mafia-like stereotype complete with affected accents, which is cliched and not funny.

The logic is flimsy too including having Jack become the prime suspect of the stolen diamond simply because his fingerprints were found on the glass case that housed it, but he had been employed part-time at the amusement park, so it would’ve been expected that his prints might’ve innocuously gotten on it when he worked there. The script also shows little understanding between the differences of love and lust. For instance Jack says he ‘fell in-love’ with Debbie the second he saw her, but in reality he just got highly aroused at seeing her half-exposed ass when the wind lifted up her skirt.

I didn’t understand how the film’s title worked into the storyline either. There’s no rule-breaking going on particularly from the four leads who are all boringly transparent and not rebellious at all.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: April 15, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Director: James Orr

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD

Gas (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Fuel shortage causes chaos.

It’s 1979 and the energy crisis is in full-swing. Long lines of cars are seen at every gas station as the shortage of oil makes filling up one’s vehicle difficult. Oil tycoon Duke Stuyvesant (Sterling Hayden) decides to up the price of petroleum even more by pretending that he doesn’t have the needed gas that he really does by secretly transporting it to organized crime syndicates through milk trucks. Jane Beardsley (Susan Anspach) is a news reporter who gets a tip about what’s going on and becomes determined to expose it.

It’s unfortunate that no one told screenwriter Dick Wolf, who has had better success as a producer including winning many awards for his work on the long-running TV-show ‘Law and Order’, that less is more, which is the film’s whole failing point. There’s just too much of everything. Too many lame gags, too many characters, and too much of an unfocused point-of-view.

For a gag-a-minute concept to work like in Airplane! it still needs some sort of point that it’s trying to make. For that film the humor revolved around poking fun of old airline disaster flicks, but here any dumb joke gets haphazardly thrown-in no matter how little it has to do with the plot. The result is a mind-numbing experience where the ‘zaniness’ goes recklessly overboard with nothing making much sense.

The story desperately needed some central character that was normal and could help offset the absurdity around them. For awhile it seemed like the Sara character, played by Sandee Currie, would be it, but then she falls off the radar by getting into a relationship with Howie Mandel, who has no charisma at all, and isn’t seen for long periods. Also, Peter Akroyd, who is Dan Aykroyd’s younger brother in real-life, and plays Sara’s overly possessive brother here, is incredibly annoying in what is already an annoying film and it’s a shame that his character, who has many near death mishaps, wasn’t just quickly killed off.

As bad as this Canadian production is it’s amazing how many well known faces there are here. For some it was understandable why they’d do it. Anspach’s career was clearly on the decline, so she was most likely desperate to take anything in order to remain busy. Helen Shaver’s career was just starting out, so she had to accept the crumbs that she was given. Hayden was going through tax evasion charges and needed to make money quick in order to pay his legal costs, but Donald Sutherland’s presence was a real shock as he was , and still is, a top name star. He stated in later interviews that he did this solely for the money, which is fine, but why was he cast in such an insignificant part as a DJ who flies overhead in a helicopter and seen only sporadically instead being given the lead role?

The film ends with a climactic car chase in which all the characters chase each other  through the streets of Montreal that is similar in spirit to the one done in What’s Up Doc?, but just not as funny. However, the stunt work is rather impressive with lots of vivid crashes more so than in other car chase flicks, which is probably the only positive thing one can say about this otherwise bad, bad, bad movie.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 minutes

Rated R

Director: Les Rose

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Available: VHS

Outrageous! (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Female impersonator befriends schizophrenic.

Robin (Craig Russell) works as a gay hairstylist during the day, but longs to be up on stage as a female impersonator.  Liza (Hollis McLaren) is a schizophrenic who leaves the hospital she was confine in and moves in with Robin her longtime friend. Both find ways to help each other with their problems, which allows Robin the confidence to finally get on stage in drag as Tallulah Bankhead, which makes him an instant hit and gets him a paid gig in New York City. However, when he moves away Liza’s condition worsens forcing Robin to decide what’s more important: his budding career, or his friendship.

The film is based on the shorty story ‘Making It’ by Margaret Gibson, which in turn was based on her experiences dealing with mental illness and her real-life friendship with Craig Russell whom she roomed with in 1971. The story nicely tackles the challenges of dealing with mental illness and how Robin’s support helps Liza overcome her demons that the other professional Dr’s and counselors that she sees don’t because they only view her as just another patient instead of a person.

The grainy, low budget quality works to the film’s advantage as it brings out the fringe, economically disadvantaged lifestyle that the two lived in while McLaren’s performance shies away from the cliches of mentally illness causing the viewer to see her as a regular everyday person, not just some ‘crazy’, valiantly fighting a nasty illness that she can’t always control.

The segments dealing with Russell’s onstage act are quite entertaining as well though when I first saw this film decades ago I found these moments to be off-putting as they turned it more into a documentary, or a comedy special that took the focus away from the actual essence of the story, which was the friendship. However, upon second viewing I liked the way it captures the gay club scene that was unique to that time period. Russell’s impersonations where he does Barbra Striesand, Judy Garland, Mae West and Bette Midler just to name a few are outstanding. I’ve seen some female impersonator acts before, but Russell’s far outshines any of the others I’ve ever watched as he gets the body language, voice, and facial expressions of the people he’s playing just right to the point that he completely disappears into the women characters until you can’t tell the difference.

While the film does have many touching moments I felt it should’ve shown how Robin and Liza first met instead of having it start with them already knowing each other when she moves in with him. Since they are such an odd pair capturing how and where this unique relationship all started and what element brought them together seemed crucial, but we never see it nor does it even get addressed in conversation. Having this backstory could’ve helped the film stay a little more centered on the relationship as well and prevented the over reliance on Russell’s stage routine, which while quite good, still takes up a bit more of the runtime than it should’ve.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 31, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Benner

Studio: Canadian Film Development Corporation

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

That Cold Day in the Park (1969)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Spinster takes in boy.

Frances (Sandy Dennis) is a rich, but lonely woman living a reclusive life inside her luxury Vancouver apartment with only her service staff to keep her company. One day she spots a teen boy (Michael Burns) sitting all alone on a park bench while it’s raining. She decides to invite him up to her apartment where she gives him food and a shower and becomes very attached to him despite the fact that he does not speak. Unbeknownst to her he has a whole other life with friends and family, but decides to exploit Frances’ generosity for his own gain only to learn that Frances has her own devious plans in mind.

The film’s only interesting aspect is Robert Altman’s direction, which is far different from the later movies that he did in the ’70’s, which emphasized conversations going on by secondary characters who weren’t always even in the scene, which here occurs only once when Frances goes to a doctor’s office, but is otherwise non-existent. Instead Altman successfully captures Frances’ isolated condition including the quiet apartment atmosphere where the viewer feels as trapped inside the four walls of the place as the character’s and the idea that there was an actual film crew on the set with the actors seems almost hard to believe. I also enjoyed the way the boy’s family life is shown by having the camera remaining outside and peering into the house’s windows to capture the action and dialogue going on inside.

The film fails though to be compelling as there is no reason given for why Frances feels so compelled to bring in this boy, or why this otherwise pretty, able-bodied woman should be so alone in the first place. One scene even has another middle-aged suitor propositioning her with a relationship, which she coldly refuses, but why? Is she more into teen boys and if so this needs to get explained and the reason given for it.

Dennis is an interesting actress, but isn’t up to playing characters with a sinister side and she’s a bit too young for the role. An older woman such as Ingrid Bergman would’ve been far better able to convey the age disparity between the two characters, but she unfortunately refused the part when offered. Burns is only adequate and the fact that he doesn’t initially speak makes the dynamics between the two interesting and the film should’ve delayed the fact that he could talk until the end, instead of revealing this in the middle part, which takes away any potential for mystery and intrigue.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending, which consists of Dennis trapping Burns inside her apartment makes no sense. The fact that she nails the windows shut is ridiculous as he would only need to pry the nails out of the wood, which he successfully does to a few of them anyways, in order to open the windows back up and get out. He is also physically stronger than her and the fact that she uses no weapon means he could overpower her if he wanted. Besides his family already knew where he was as his sister (Susanne Benton) came to visit him and would most likely come looking for him when he didn’t come home, so having it end by portraying him as a helpless hostage with no way of escaping is quite weak and unsatisfying.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: June 8, 1969

Runtime: 1 Hour 46 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Altman

Studio: Commonwealth United Entertainment

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

Sunday in the Country (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Farmer holds robbers hostage.

Adam Smith (Ernest Borgnine) is a Canadian farmer living in a rural home who becomes aware via the radio of reports of three bank robbers (Cec Linder, Louis Zorich, Michael J. Pollard) on the run in the area who’ve just killed a young man and his girlfriend who were his friends. He prepares for their arrival and when they come he shoots and kills one of them while taking the other two into his cellar where he hangs them on meat hooks. Smith’s granddaughter Lucy (Hollis McLaren) finds this treatment inhumane and wants to call the police, but Adam won’t let her and the two quarrel until he locks her in her room, but she escapes and runs for help, which enrages Adam even more.

The film almost gets ruined by an obnoxious musical score that is so heavily tinged with country twang that it seems almost like a parody of itself and makes the entire production come off as cheesy and amateurish. It would’ve been better without any music at all as it ends up taking you out of the action like having someone sitting beside you and rudely talking and not letting you concentrate on what’s happening on the screen.

As for the story it makes some good observations about just how thin the line can sometimes be between the good guy, or those that feel they’re morally justified to inflict whatever style justice they deem necessary, and the so-called bad guy. Unfortunately the character arch of the protagonist happens too quickly without much of a back story explaining why this otherwise law abiding farmer would deviate so quickly into an abuser. What makes him different from others who would’ve called the police? Just saying that he’s ‘old fashioned’ and ‘from a different era’ I didn’t feel was enough of an explanation.

With the exception of Pollard the robbers aren’t intimidating enough and it some ways came off as pathetic and not like professional crooks at all. This might’ve been intentional on the filmmaker’s part in an effort to make the viewer more sympathetic to their quandary once they are held hostage, but in the process it lessens the tension and makes them seem not as threatening.

Borgnine does a terrific job through his facial expressions of showing the character’s inner turmoil as well as constantly exposing his human side even as he forges ahead to doing some not-so-nice things. McLaren is also superb and her interactions with Borgnine are the most compelling aspect of the film.

Pollard is great here too and I was surprised as he’s not always able to find roles that match his unique talents and sometimes has been relegated to thankless and forgettable supporting parts, but here he’s viscous with a most creepy sounding laugh.

Unfortunately the eye-for-an-eye concept doesn’t get examined enough and the film could’ve gone a lot farther with it than it does. It still manages to bring out many interesting issues but the story should be remade and without the corny soundtrack.

Alternate Titles: Vengeance is Mine, Blood for Blood

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 22, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Trent

Studio: Impact Films

Available: Amazon Video