Category Archives: Movies from Canada

Ticket to Heaven (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He joins a cult.

Despondent over his recent break-up with his girlfriend, David (Nick Mancuso) visits a religious revival group attended by many young adults his age. He finds their incessant, ritualistic games of singing and dancing to be annoying at first as well as their lack of sleep and skimpy diet, but eventually he succumbs to their control. His friend Larry (Saul Rubinek) tracks him down and tries to free him, but realizes they have brainwashed him to such a severe extent that he is forced to concoct an elaborate kidnapping plan in order to bring him to an undisclosed place where he can then be deprogrammed.

Although religious cults aren’t quite as prevalent now back in the 70’s there were many incidents of parents losing their teens or young adult children to the icy grip of these brainwashing organizations and the struggles to bring them back to the real world proved grueling and sometimes futile. This film, based on the nonfiction novel ‘Moonwebs’ by Josh Freed, manages to hit home the finer points of the phenomenon giving the viewer a vivid understanding of the situation not only for those that became members, but their family and friends who had to helplessly watch loved ones devolve into a mindless, robotic shell of what they once were.

One of the drawbacks though is that the protagonist is portrayed too broadly. The film makes it seem as if anyone could get brainwashed by these groups, which I don’t agree with. I realize everyone can at times be vulnerable, but certain people fall more into these mind traps than others and there’s nothing clear as to why David fell prey so badly and just saying he was upset about his recent breakup is not enough of an explanation for a such a severe downward spiral.

Rubinek as his friend is really annoying and turning him into the essential hero of the film makes it even worse. On the petty side I couldn’t stand his overly bushy eyebrows or that he goes on stage dressed as a giant carrot and later a tomato just for cheap laughs, which is the type of guy you want to see fade away not ultimately root for. What really got on my nerves though was how he comes up with such an elaborate kidnapping plan and pulls it off confidently despite having no experience and the fact that he gets so many others to help him do it including his own boss really pushes the film’s credibility badly.

The direction though deserves accolades particularly the first 25 minutes, which detail the different manipulative tactics these groups do in order to wear down the newbies. The shots showing David trying to leave the group and constantly being hounded by other members refusing to ever let him be alone are memorable. I also liked the bird’s eye shots of all the people taking part, which is almost jaw dropping at just how many there were.

The performance by Kim Cattrall as one of the group’s main members nicely illustrates how a young smiling, pretty face could allure a young man to let down his guard only for her to ultimately convey her controlling claws later. The scenes dealing with the deprogramming are good, but could’ve been extended and there’s never any mention of the time frame as the movie makes it seems like it takes only a few days when in reality it could sometimes be weeks or even months. Overall it’s a compelling look at a difficult subject that is quite similar to Split Image starring Micheal O’Keefe, which came out around the same time and will be reviewed tomorrow.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 9, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ralph L. Thomas

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD

The Brood (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Wife creates dwarf murderers.

After suffering a mental breakdown Nola (Samantha Eggar) is sent away to a secluded clinic run by Dr. Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed) who uses unorthodox methods to heal his patients. Once she gets sent there strange murderers resembling dwarfs begin to terrorize her family members including her daughter Candice (Cindy Hinds) who they kidnap. Her husband Frank (Art Hindle) is convinced there’s some connection between these strange killers and the institute so he goes there to confront the Dr., but is ill prepared to the secret that awaits him.

Through the years this film has become a staple to director David Cronenberg’s work and is well filmed with shadowy lighting and fluid camerawork that help create an ongoing creepy feel as well as Howard Shore’s pounding score. The film’s ultimate moment though remains Eggar’s bizarre ‘birthing’ scene where she takes a blood drenched embryo and licks it, which apparently was something she improvised on-the-spot. It remains perversely disturbing even by today’s standards, but was cut from the release at the time and only now is intact with the Criterion Blu-ray in all its glory or gruesomeness depending on your point-of-view.

The story though isn’t as clever as the filmmakers think as I was able to figure it out almost immediately and having to watch a protagonist take 90-minutes to come to the same conclusion that took me only 10-minutes makes for a rather annoying and dull plotline. There’s also no explanation for why Nola is able to have the ability that she does. If it’s connect it to the experimental therapy she’s going through then fine, but others in that group should , or at least some of them, be able to do the same thing, but they’re not, so why is that?

There’s also a murder scene that comes in the middle of the movie that to me didn’t seem logical. It entails the dwarf murderers coming into the kindergarten class that Candice is attending and using toy hammers that they pick-up from a nearby table to bludgeon her teacher to death. Normally toy hammers are lightweight,  so no matter how hard or how long a person may swing it at their victim it’s highly unlikely that it would be able to crush their skull. I also thought all of the children who witnessed the crime would’ve run out of the room screaming instead of just one and having them then stand around the body quietly whimpering afterwards sounded forced and fake.

Reed’s dark and commanding presence always helps every movie that he is in although it’s a bit weird that he becomes the ultimate hero especially after the opening scene in which he is emotionally abusive. Eggar, whose eyes look strangely wider and more rounder here, has her acting meddle put to the test by portraying a person that I didn’t think she had the ability to do, but she proves quite qualified.

The young Hinds is surprisingly effective despite her extremely young age, but Hindle is transparent as the protagonist. I realize that he acts as a sort of buffer to the craziness, but he lacks an edge and unable to match the energy of his flamboyant co-stars.

Horror fans should find this thing adequate, but for me the story is too basic and predictable they’re needed to be some sort of secondary angle or side-story. Supposedly Cronenberg was inspired to write this after dealing with the custody battle he had with his own ex-wife, Margaret Hindson, who had worked with him on many of his earlier projects. According to him Eggar’s character reflected many of her same traits.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 25, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated R

Director: David Cronenberg

Studio: Canadian Film Development Corporation

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

Deadline (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Screenwriter alienates his family.

Steven (Stephen Young) is a successful screenwriter of horror movies who’s becoming tired of churning out the same old formulaic schlock. He wants his next screenplay to transcend the genre by delving more deeply into the psychological realm, or as he puts it ‘the ultimate horror’, but his producer Burt (Marvin Goldhar) is more interested in what sells and doesn’t want Steven to deviate from what has already proven to be popular. Steven then takes his frustrations out on his family by ignoring their needs and becoming more indulgent to his own, which eventually leads to tragedy.

I applaud any movie that wants to tweak the horror formula and on that level this movie succeeds and is genuinely fascinating. Too many horror films act like there has to be a madman with an ax, or some ghost or vampire to make it frightening when really some of the darker aspects of life run far deeper and although this one isn’t a complete success it still ends up making a few keen observations along the way.

What I didn’t like is the way it overstates the importance of a screenwriter, which just doesn’t ring completely true. I admit a good script is always a vital element, but the movie world is still a director’s/producer’s medium and if the scriptwriter gets a smug attitude like he does here then he’d be quickly dropped as there are no shortage of other writers around. With the exception of Charlie Kaufman most films do not hinge on the marketability of the screenwriter’s name to sell it, a big name director or star sure, but never the writer, so the fact that the movie here plays like the main character’s presence is instrumental to getting the movie made seemed to me quite dubious and only when it’s examining Steven’s frustrations with the business and his feelings that his talents are being stifled does it then become on-target.

However, the more it goes on the less like a horror film it seems. One could almost categorize this as simply being a drama looking at the personal pressures of the movie world, the challenges of being a working screenwriter and trying to attain the work/life balance, which in that area it’s insightful.  The theme though is too existential and ultimately plays like an experimental film that lacks any scares.

Spoiler Alert!

That’s not to say there aren’t some good moments that the average horror fan could still enjoy. The scene where a woman drowns inside a tub of blood is good as is the twisted sequence where a grandmother gets set on fire by her own grandkids. The segment dealing with a group of old nuns who tie a man up, cut out his heart and then pass it around while taking turns biting into it is memorable too, but the climactic finish where all the writer’s dark creations come to life to attack him gets disappointingly  underplayed, which ultimately hurts the film.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 12, 1984 (Filmed in 1979)

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mario Azzopardi

Studio: Pan-Canadian Film Distributors

Available: VHS

Prom Night (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Accidental death spawns revenge.

In 1974 five children go playing inside an abandoned building, but when one of them falls tragically to her death the other kids agree not to tell in order to avoid getting into trouble. Six years later these same four children are now teenagers and ready to attend the prom, but become terrified by strange phone calls from someone insisting he saw what happened and threatening to kill them to avenge the accidental death of the other one.

As modern day horror movies go this one starts out well especially the abandoned building footage with the rundown interiors helping to give the film a creepy look. The lighting and camerawork are more polished than the typical slasher production and it doesn’t reek of low budget, amateurish values that pervaded just about every other horror flick from that era.

Unfortunately after a decent beginning the pacing then slows to a crawl and except for a few creepy phone calls hardly anything goes on for the whole first hour. At one point it becomes like a sequel to Saturday Night Fever with a prolonged dance segment between Jamie Lee Curtis and her partner that does not propel either the plot or tension and was out-of-place.

The side-story dealing with the police searching for an escaped killer who they mistakenly believe killed the child is pointless and apparently added in at the last minute. I would think a coroner’s autopsy would’ve shown that the child died from the trauma of the fall and not by someone’s knife, which makes the crazy-killer-on-the-loose angle ridiculous and an obvious red-herring put in to ‘fool’ the viewer, which most seasoned horror movie fans would never be dumb enough to fall for anyways, so why insult their intelligence by even trying?

The actual killings don’t get going until 1Hour and 2Minutes in and by then it’s almost too late. The killer also conveys seemingly boundless energy as he busily wrestles a driver for control of a van, which he eventually forces off a cliff while miraculously jumping out of it just before it goes over and then manages just a short time later to chase another victim all around the school where no matter which hallway the young lady chooses to run down the killer always magically is at the end of it ready to jump out at her. The decapitation scene depicting a victim’s head rolling down the stage runway at the high school prom has to be one of the unintentionally funniest moments put on film and had me laughing uproariously.

PROM NIGHT, David Mucci, 1980, (c)AVCO Embassy Pictures

Spoiler Alert!

Normally guessing the killer’s identity is the one fun thing to do while watching these types of flicks, but here that gets ruined by implementing a character at the scene, which was Alex (Michael Tough) the younger brother of the victim who died, even though the viewer didn’t even know he was present when it happened. It’s also hard to believe that any young child could keep a secret for that long as most can’t. I understand why the other 4 kids didn’t tell, but why the younger brother who had nothing to do with the accident and only witnessed what happened? Why would he not immediately run back home to his parents, as most would and tell them about it so they could call the police?

In retrospect having the flashback at the beginning was a mistake as there would’ve been more intrigue had we not known why these four were being targeted. Only revealing the flashback at the very end would’ve then heightened the mystery, which is pretty flimsy otherwise.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: July 18, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Lynch

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Rabid (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Graft patient craves blood.

Rose (Marilyn Chambers) becomes the victim of a horrible accident when the motorcycle she goes riding on with her boyfriend (Frank Moore) crashes and she gets pinned underneath the burning wreckage. Fortunately for her the accident occurs near a clinic that specializes in plastic surgery. The head surgeon (Howard Ryshpan) is able to perform an experimental procedure on her that helps graft her burned skin back to normal, but in the process creates a strange orifice in her armpit that sucks blood from everyone she attacks. Her victims then become possessed by a rare form of rabies that sends the city of Montreal into a panic as the authorities try to control the outbreak while also trying to figure out the cause.

This marked director David Cronenberg’s third feature film and from a low budget standpoint the results are impressive. I was especially amazed by some of the car stunts including having an out-of-control vehicle jump a guard rail and crash onto a highway below where a large semi then rams into it. His ability to somehow hire an entire fleet of squad cars is admirable too as most budget-challenged films will make do with just one police car when having authorities investigate the scene of a crime/accident even though in reality there are usually many especially if the crime or accident is severe like here.

I also loved the way he captures the gray/bleak Canadian landscape, which helps supplement the film’s dark and moody tone as well as the bits of dark humor that gets implemented into the story that made me wish the whole thing had been approached as a black comedy from the start.

The horror though isn’t all that much and genuine scares are light including the scenes showing rabid people attacking others, which becomes both clichéd and redundant. The orifice itself looks like an asshole and similar to the giant one that Cronenberg created many years later for his equally provocative film Naked Lunch.

Unfortunately porn star Chambers doesn’t have the presence or talent for mainstream film work. She broke into the business years earlier with a bit part in the Barbra Streisand movie The Owl and the Pussycat, but to her surprise other film offers didn’t follow, which eventually forced her into the X-rated business, which included starring in the cult classic Behind the Green Door, but she always held out hope to one day breaking back into mainstream movies and finally got it here, but it never propelled her further.

Part of the issue is her voice which is abnormally high-pitched and at times sounds like that of a very young child’s. In certain scenes it’s worse than others, but I found listening to her speak to be disconcerting and distracting although she does still look great naked.

The somber, downbeat ending is unusual for a horror film and it might’ve had more impact had the main character been given more depth. The viewer though learns little about her and she fails to have a distinctive personality, which limits the film’s ability to be anything more than just a curio.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 8, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated R

Director: David Cronenberg

Studio: Cinepix Film Properties

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

City on Fire (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Title says it all.

When Herman Stover (Jonathan Welsh) gets fired from his job at an oil refinery he decides to get his revenge by opening the valves on the storage vats, which sends gasoline spewing out into the water system that soon sets the entire city on fire. Dr. Frank Whitman (Barry Newman) realizes that his hospital is in line of the approaching blaze and tries desperately to get the place evacuated.

Despite the American cast the film was financed by a Canadian production company and filmed on-location in Montreal with a few shots done in Toronto. While the movie bombed at the box office and later got mocked in an episode of ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’ it’s actually decent on the special effects end.

In fact I found the effects to be quite impressive particularly at the beginning where two firefighters find themselves trapped in an apartment building in an actual blaze where the flames literally leap towards the camera and make the viewer feel like they are being engulfed by it. Most movies will show people set on fire, but only while wearing a protective body suit, but this one has them set ablaze while wearing regular clothes and with flames not only shooting out from their clothing, but their hair as well, which looked dangerous to film. It also graphically captures the charred burned skin of the victims.

The eclectic cast of old Hollywood veterans is fun for the most part with Ava Gardner hamming it up as an alcoholic newswoman trying to cover the disaster. It’s also nice seeing Shelley Winters playing a ‘normal’ person for once instead of a kooky, eccentric and she does it so well that she ends up not standing out at all, which never happens in any of her other movies.

Watching Susan Clark play a wealthy socialite who suddenly becomes a Florence Nightingale incarnate after the victims start piling up is too much of a dramatic arch and the film should’ve just had her as a regular nurse from the start. The part though where she helps with a delivery at least has the baby coming out of the womb with an umbilical cord as too many other movie births never show this.

Outside of the effects there’s little else to recommend. The scenes dealing with the culprit, played by Welsh, are dumb. For one thing he doesn’t seem unhinged enough to do what he does and in fact comes off as quite bland and even tries helping the victims later on. Also, when an employee gets fired they are usually escorted out of the building by security especially in a refinery and not allowed to just run around the facility freely and unmonitored like here.

It would’ve worked better had the number of characters been cut down to just a few and the story focused solely on their efforts to survive instead of coming off more like a news report trying to capture the chaos as a whole.  The idea of mixing pyrotechnic special effects with a lame storyline and hallow characters doesn’t work and becomes just a poor excuse for a movie.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 29, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 46 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Alvin Rakoff

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The Pyx (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Religious cult wants prostitute.

A woman is seen falling from a high-rise tenant building to her death and Police Sergeant Jim Henderson (Christopher Plummer) is assigned to the case. When he inspects the body he finds that in her right hand she is holding a crucifix and in her left one is a small metal container known as a pyx. The victim is later identified as being Elizabeth Lucy (Karen Black) a heroin addict who works as a prostitute. The film then cuts back and forth between showing Elizabeth when she was still alive and the circumstances that lead to her death as well as Jim’s dogged search to find her killer, which may be connected to an underground religious cult.

The film, which is based on the novel of the same title by John Buell and shot entirely on-location in Montreal, has a nice eerie atmosphere.  The cutting back and forth between the two linear stories is interesting and this is the type of mystery that is complex, but not too much. There are just enough clues given to keep it intriguing without so much thrown in that it becomes convoluted. The slow pacing is okay because it keeps things on a realistic level and everything remains plausible and gritty.

Unfortunately the story has no payoff. The slow reveal of the religious cult offers nothing new or exciting and seems to be borrowing elements from other horror flicks that have dealt with the same theme. Except for a few brief moments the film is devoid of any action and the shootout on a yacht is edited in such a quick way that it’s hard to follow what happened. The overuse of nighttime shots gives the film a grainy appearance that looks more like it was a victim of a low budget and poor lighting.

The two leads give good performances and Plummer looks almost unrecognizable with a bowl haircut and appearing almost 20 years younger than he already was. The music was composed by Harry Freedman and star Black does the vocals, which is distinctive and gets the viewer into a spiritual mood, but there aren’t any frights and it’s hard to put this thing into any type of category as it’s really not a horror film at all.

Even as a standard mystery it’s only average and just enough to hold your interest. Ultimately it goes down a familiar path that we’ve seen too many times before and is devoid of any true shock or surprises.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: September 13, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 47 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Harvey Hart

Studio: Cinerama Releasing Corporation

Available: DVD-R, Amazon Video

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.

Curtains (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review A very deadly audition.

Well-known movie director Jonathan Stryker (John Vernon) is producing a new film and aging actress Samantha Sherwood (Samantha Eggar) presumes she’ll get the starring role like with all of his other productions, but this time Stryker has a catch. He tells her that to prepare for the part she must commit herself to a mental institution to better understand the character she is to play. The desperate Samantha agrees, but then realizes Jonathan has no intention of getting her out once she is inside, so she escapes and seeks revenge at Jonathan’s secluded wintertime mansion where he is auditioning six younger actresses for the role. Now suddenly everyone starts dying off at the bloody hands of a masked assailant. Is the killer Samantha in disguise, or could it be one of the other actresses willing to kill in order to get the part?

The film starts out okay. I liked that we are shown a brief background to these actresses before they get to the mansion, which helps make them seem more like real people and less like caricatures. The mansion where the action takes place has an interesting exterior/interior and I loved the pristine winter time landscape, but that is pretty much where the good points end.

The narrative is horribly disjointed and most likely a result of a lot of rewrites and reshoots that had the production shelved for up to three years before it was finally released. The opening sequence done inside the asylum is clichéd to the extreme and makes the film come off as a complete campfeast. The idea that someone would intentional try to get themselves committed simply to get a movie role is stupid and overall there are no scares or frights at all.

The killings are mechanical and unimaginative. I couldn’t understand how this killer was able to sneak up on people and literally magically appear at the most in opportune times. For instance a victim, played by Lesleh Donaldson, manages to escape the clutches of the bad guy and proceeds to make more distance between her and him by running through a snow capped forest. She briefly stops to catch her breath by a random tree and wouldn’t you know that’s the one tree that the killer is hiding behind.  Another segment has a victim (Anne Ditchburn) dancing by herself in a big empty room where the killer somehow sneaks up right behind her, which I would argue couldn’t happen. Everyone has a sense when someone else starts getting too close to them, especially in a room devoid of anyone else, and she would’ve detected the killer’s presence long before he got right behind her.

The ending in which the killer chases the final victim through an array of old stage props inside the mansion’s basement gets overly prolonged. The young women end up looking too much alike, so it was hard to have any empathy for them because they weren’t distinctive enough and the story would’ve worked better had it taken the concept of Dead of Winter where just one woman goes to the isolated place for the audition and thus allow the viewer to create more of a connection to the protagonist.

The only bright spot is Eggar. Her starring movie roles from the ‘60s and early ‘70s were now long gone and much like the actress she portrays was forced to take cheap low budget horror offers to remain busy, but she still gives it a 110% effort. What impressed me was how different her character was from any of her others. In those earlier films she was mainly a young, sensitive and idealistic woman, but here she is cold, conniving and bitter proving that she must be a great actress if she is able to play such opposite personalities in the same convincing way. It’s just unfortunate that the filmmakers didn’t share that same type of professionalism as the sloppy execution destroys any potential that it may have had.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: March 4, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Guza Jr.

Studio: Norstar Releasing

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Russian Roulette (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Trying to stop assassination.

When a Soviet leader decides to visit Vancouver the Russian Embassy puts the Canadian authorities on alert about Rudolf Henke (Val Avery) who moved to Canada many years back, but is reported to still hold grudges about the Soviet Union and could be a sniper threat. Timothy Shaver (George Segal) is then secretly hired to kidnap Henke while the Soviet leader is in town and then let him go once that leader has left. However, when Shaver gets to Henke’s apartment he finds out that he has already been abducted by somebody else, which leads him to believe that he is being made a pawn to an even bigger conspiracy and that he may become their next victim.

The story is based on the novel ‘Kosygin is Coming’ by Tom Ardies and the first 45 minutes of this are actually quite diverting. Director Lou Lombardo gave his actors the freedom to ad-lib and he instills some quirky humor, which made me believe this was going to be a new wave-like actioner that deftly mixes in the offbeat perspective with a story that had an intriguing mystery angle.

Unfortunately the second half devolves into cheesy action flick with all the usual formulaic trappings. The biggest problem is introducing the Russian bad guys who speak in inauthentic, corny accents that made them become like caricatures that lessens the tension instead of heightening it. The film would’ve been better served had it not shown the villains at all until the very end and kept things solely focused on Segal as he tries desperately to figure out what is going on while being chased by a mysterious group of people whose motives are unclear.

There are a couple of stupid moments as well.  One of them occurs when Segal and his girlfriend played by Cristina Rains return home. She immediately runs into the bathroom to take a pee, but then just as quickly comes back out wearing a strange expression. Segal then walks in to see a dead body of a murdered stranger sitting on the toilet. I know this may make me sound like a sexist to some, but the truth is women have a tendency to scream when they are startled and sometimes for a lot less than an unexpected sight of a corpse in their bathroom, so having her not instinctually scream here (hell even I would’ve probably let out a shrill yell at that point) is dumb.

Another part has Segal and Rains handcuffed and sitting in a backseat of a car that is being driven by one of the Russian bad guys. Segal, in an apparent attempt to escape, kicks the Russian guy in the back of his head, which sends the car reeling off the road and overturning into a ditch. However, this to me seemed dangerous because what guarantees that Segal and Rains wouldn’t be injured when that occurs. As it turns out the driver ends up conveniently dying in the crash, but miraculously the couple get out of the badly banged up car without even a single scratch, which is beating astronomical odds!

Segal wasn’t the best choice for the role. He spent the 70’s decade playing mostly in light comedies and romances, which he is more adept at, but presumably took the part to help stretch his acting resume and avoid being typecast. It doesn’t fully work and there were other actors who would’ve been better able to reflect the film’s gritty tone although watching Segal do mostly his own stunt work as he climbed out to the top of the roof of The Fairmont Hotel in downtown Vancouver does deserve kudos.

The supporting cast proves to be more interesting. I enjoyed seeing Louise Fletcher in her second movie after coming out of a 10-year hiatus. She has only a small role here, but she makes an impression nonetheless and it’s interesting seeing her play a person with such a sunny disposition when later that same year she portrayed the dour Nurse Ratched, which only proves what a talented actress she really is.

Val Avery is equally good in a part that has no lines of dialogue, by his own insistence, but still ends up being a scene stealer not only at the end when he stumbles into a scared crowd while wearing a bomb, but also in an earlier scene where he plays a cruel trick on a group of children playing roller blade hockey in the street.

Unfortunately the rest of the movie doesn’t have enough of a payoff. The action gets overplayed and the blaring music takes away the sophisticated feel and puts it more on the level of a bubblegum TV-show. Some good potential gets marred by an indecisive director who reportedly was suffering from drug addiction at the time and the effects show.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 20, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Lou Lombardo

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD