Category Archives: Movies with a Hospital setting

The Ninth Configuration (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Insane man runs asylum.

Col. Vincent Kane (Stacy Keach), a former marine who is suffering from demons of his own, is selected to head a psychiatric institution built inside a converted castle that specializes in military personal who fought in the Vietnam war and now feign insanity. The challenge is to find if these men are truly mentally ill, or just faking it and Kane’s technique, which allows the patients to openly act out their darkest fantasies, is considered unorthodox. He begins to have an unusual friendship with one of them, Billy Cutshaw (Scott Wilson) a former astronaut who bailed out of an important mission with a nervous breakdown just before lift-off. The two begin to debate the existence of God and the correlation between faith and sacrifice.

The film has a rocky tone in which part of it delves into campy humor while the other half is more serious. The reason for this is that when William Peter Blatty first wrote the novel of which this movie is based in 1966 it was called ‘Twinkle, Twinkle “Killer” Kane!’ and told in a darkly humorous vein. In 1978 he rewrote the story with a more serious tone and that version was published with the same title as this film.

For me I found the humor off-putting and not funny at all. The whole first hour becomes a complete waste with comical bits that rely too much on mental hospital stereotypes and overall campiness from the performers. There’s also long drawn-out segments dealing with the patients barging into Kane’s office and going on long circular rants that are quite boring.

The second half improves when the tone becomes dramatic, which is what I wished it had been all the way through. It also features a wild barroom fight, which is a bit over-the-top with the way the biker gang dress and behave, but also features some great choreographed violence and a creepy performance by muscleman Steve Sandor as the head of the gang that torments both Keach and Wilson. The second act also features a few surreal, dreamlike sequences, which are the best moments of the film.

The eclectic cast is interesting, but many of them, including Robert Loggia and Moses Gunn, gets wasted in small roles and little screen time. Wilson and Jason Miller are good as two of the patients, but Neville Brand is the best as a drill sergeant that at times seems to be channeling R. Lee Emery and at other moments a confused, overwhelmed man with a deer-in-headlights expression. Blatty, who casts himself as one of the patients is good too, not so much for anything that he says or does, but for his unique facial features, especially his eyes making him look like a guy possessed and the fact that he wrote The Exorcist is even more ironic.

Keach is also excellent, in  a role that was originally meant for Nicol Williamson, but who got fired from the production early-on. Keach manages to be both creepy and hypnotic at the same time. A guy you fear one minute and feel sympathetic for by the end and he does it here without his usual mustache allowing the cleft lip that he was born with to be on full display.

The setting, which was filmed at Castle Eltz in Germany and done there because Pepsi financed the film under the condition that it had to be shot in Europe, is an impressive site. Yet it’s hard to believe that such a Gothic styled fortress, which began being built before 1157, could ever exist inside the USA, which is were the setting is supposed to take place.

The discussions that Keach and Wilson have in regards to the existence of a supernatural being are fascinating and help push the film forward, but the ending, which features a mystical twist, was not needed. The tone, even with the humor, was quite dark, so having it suddenly finish with an ‘uplifting’ moment doesn’t click with everything else that came before it and comes off like it’s selling out on itself.

Alternate Title: Twinkle, Twinkle, “Killer” Kane

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 29, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 58 Minutes

Rated R

Director: William Peter Blatty

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Fort Apache, The Bronx (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cops on the beat.

Murphy (Paul Newman) is a middle-aged cop working a beat in a tough Bronx neighborhood while partnered with Corelli (Ken Wahl) who is much younger. Murphy has become jaded to the corruption around him, but still feels a sense of purpose about coming forward when he witnesses a fellow cop killing an innocent bystander. Corelli, who also witnessed it, feels they should keep quiet about it, fearing the backlash they will inevitable get if they don’t, but Murphy quarrels with his conscious and considers risking his own safety and career in order to do the right thing.

While the film opened to mainly positive reviews and did quite well at the box office it was not without controversy as author Tom Walker, who had written the novel ‘Fort Apache’ which had a similar theme and storyline as this one, sued the production company claiming they had stolen many ideas from his book. However, the courts decided in the film’s favor arguing that the movie was filled with a lot of generalized stereotypes that is present in just about every cop film and therefore could not be signaled out as copyright infringement, which seemed more like a backhanded victory as it admits that a lot of what  you’ll see here is just one giant cliche.

From my perspective though I still enjoyed it especially the street scenes where the two protagonists find themselves dealing with petty crimes that makes up a lot of what real-life policemen have to deal with, as opposed to the sexy murder mysteries that cops in other police dramas get to investigate. The scene where Newman chases a suspect, but then runs out of breath and is unable to catch him nicely examines the exhausting physical nature of the job as well.

My biggest gripe has to do with a scene that comes right away, which involves a prostitute, wonderfully played by Pam Grier, who shoots and kills two unsuspecting cops sitting inside a squad car. The excuse is that these two were rookies and therefore not seasoned enough to catch the warning signs of what was going on, but I felt right away that something was off by the way the prostitute was fishing around her purse making me sense even before it happened that she was going for a gun and if I the viewer could’ve caught on to this then the two cops, whether they were new on the job or not, should’ve too.

Spoiler Alert!

I was disappointed that this storyline involving the psycho prostitute does not get fully played-out as she ends up getting killed in the middle of the film in a very random and uninteresting way, which ruins the anticipation/suspense of seeing her and Newman ultimately confront each other, which is what the viewer is primed into believing will happen.

The storyline dealing with the cop killing a defenseless man gets botched too as it occurs during the middle, but with no satisfying conclusion. We never get to see how Newman’s decision to come forward ultimately effected his life and safety.

I had problems with the sequence of events concerning Newman’s girlfriend, played by Rachel Ticotin, as well as we see her die from a lethal drug overdose, but this occurs before some gunmen take over the hospital where she worked as a nurse and held everyone hostage. It would’ve been far more suspenseful had the viewer at least thought that the girlfriend was one of the hostages instead of knowing upfront that she wasn’t, which ultimately makes this sequence less emotionally compelling.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Newman as usual gives a great performance and this marked the last role he played where his age was not a factor as his roles after this all dealt in some way with him becoming elderly. However with that said he still looks very much to be in his 50’s and he states at one point that he’s divorced with two daughters making me believe that they were most likely young adults, but instead we see a brief scene where he picks them up from school showing that they’re still young children, which given his very middle-aged appearance looked ridiculous.

Wahl is good as his young partner, but I felt his character should’ve been the one that was idealistic and wanted to go to the authorities while Newman, being older and more desensitized the one who tries to talk him out of it. Ed Asner, as the cantankerous new police chief gets wasted as does Pam Grier who’s real creepy and should’ve had both her character and motives explored much more.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 6, 1981

Runtime: 2 Hours 5 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Daniel Petrie

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

Birdy (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Fly like a bird.

Al (Nicholas Cage) becomes friends with an introverted neighborhood boy (Mathew Modine) nicknamed Birdy due to his fascination with birds. Al begins to follow Birdy around as he collects pigeons and stores them inside an aviary that he has built in his backyard. The two share a strong bond, which is broken when they both get drafted and have to go off to war. Al returns from battle with facial injuries, but Birdy is sent to a mental hospital because after missing in action for a month, he refuses to speak. Al spends time with Birdy trying to get him to talk again, but finds it futile and fears that if he can’t get him to talk the Dr’s will confine Birdy permanently.

The film is based on the William Wharton novel of the same name that was initially rejected by director Alan Parker as a possible movie because he considered the story to be ‘uncinematic’, but after the screenplay was commissioned to writers Sandy Kroopf and Jack Behr who were able to restructure the thoughts of the main character from the novel into dialogue and action Parker was then willing to sign on. The result is a interesting drama that manages to have some touching, quirky moments, but it’s also quite reminiscent of Brewster McCloud and comes complete with the same winged flying contraption which Birdy uses to fly briefly over a junkyard that Bud Cort also used to fly around the Astrdome in that film.

While both Cage and Modine give excellent performances I found the friendship between the two to be confusing. They had very little in common and why Cage would want to follow Modine around all the time as he collected pigeons, which he himself thought to be kind of ‘weird’, did not make much sense. Had they both had an interest in birds then it would’ve worked, but they don’t, so what’s the bond that keeps them together? Having them portrayed as being gay would’ve been the solution and at times it seems that is what Birdy is since he shows no interest in women at all and in one amusing scene watches in boredom while Cage has sex with another women on a beach. Cage could’ve been portrayed as being bi-sexual, or not fully aware of his secret attraction to Birdy, but could later eventually come out and that could help explain why he’d stick with someone that he otherwise found ‘kooky’.

Despite the film’s length  and having some definite slow parts including Cage’s ‘conversations’ with Birdy when he’s inside the mental hospital, which are quite static and should’ve been trimmed, there’s still some memorable moments including a scene showing baby canaries hatching out of their eggs. I also like the tracking shot where Birdy imagines himself flying and done from the point-of-view of a bird, which gives one a very authentic feeling/experience of what it would be like and it was shot with a Skycam, at least partially, which is the first time that had ever been used in a movie.

I also enjoyed how the film examines the different dynamics of both Cage’s and Birdy’s family life and the contrasting personalities of the parents where in Cage’s family the father, played by Sandy Baron, was the dominant force while with Birdy it was his mother (Dolores Sage). My only complaint in this area is that there’s a running subplot dealing with the fact that Birdy’s mother would take all the baseballs that the neighborhood kids would accidentally hit into her backyard and keep them, but no one knew where she hid them. Cage then, years later, asks the Dr’s at the hospital to convince the mother to send the hidden balls to Birdy in an effort to get him to talk again and the mother complies, but the scene showing her retrieving the balls is never shown. So much time is spent talking about where she hid the balls that the film should’ve revealed the hiding place while also showing a tender side to the mother who otherwise came off as being quite cold, so not having this scene at all really hurts the film.

Spoiler Alert!

There’s also complaints by some viewers and critics about the ending, which some, like critic Leonard Maltin, refer to as a ‘gag’ ending. For me this wasn’t an issue as it offered some much needed levity in what is otherwise a very dramatically heavy film, but I was frustrated that there’s no conclusion given to what ultimately happens to the two characters. They’re shown trying to escape from the hospital, but never whether they were able to break-free permanently. After spending two hours following these two around the viewer deserves more concrete answers as to their ultimate fate and keeping it so wide-open is a bit of a cop-out/letdown.

 

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 21, 1984

Runtime: 2 Hours

Rated R

Director: Alan Parker

Studio: TriStar Pictures

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

Dad (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Son cares for father.

John (Ted Danson) is a busy executive who learns during one of his business meetings that his mother (Olympia Dukakis) has had a heart attack and rushes back home to care for his father (Jack Lemmon) who isn’t use to doing things on his own. John teaches his father how to do the every day chores while also learning to bond with his own son Billy (Ethan Hawke) who comes to visit. Just as things seem to be getting better and his mother gets out of the hospital it is the father who then gets sick with cancer leading to even further complications.

The film is based on the 1981 novel of the same name by William Wharton, which I’ve never read, but if it’s anything like this script then it’s not too good. One the main problems is the extreme shifts in tone that starts out with elements of Rain Man and then at the halfway mark becomes like a dark satire of incompetent medical delivery in the vein of Hospital and then in the third act turns almost fable-like.

My biggest beef is the pseudo-science that gets thrown in after the father goes to the hospital with his cancer. This is when the old man suddenly without warning starts going delusional and then ultimately into coma only to one day miraculous snap out of it. We’re told that the explanation for this is that the father was so fearful of cancer that the brain produced some sort of enzyme that acted as a defense mechanism that shut off the mind so it wouldn’t have to deal with it and it was the love shown by the son that ultimately allowed the dad to come back to consciousness, but what reputable medical journal has ever discussed this phenomenon?  Things get even more ludicrous when the old guy starts thinking he’s on a farm in a different time period and we’re told this is a schizophrenic condition caused by the cancer and everyone needs to play along with it, or he’ll go back into a coma.

Danson, for what it’s worth, gives a strong performance here, probably the best in his otherwise lukewarm film career. I found it frustrating though that his character doesn’t have all that much of an arch. Supposedly he’s self-centered at the start and needs to learn to be caring, but this only gets explained by the character during a long soliloquy during the middle part, when the viewer should’ve instead seen the transition play out. I also thought it was wacky that he’d be allowed to bring in a cot and stay with his father inside his hospital room as I’m pretty sure most doctors would not allow this.

Lemmon’s performance is good too, but I didn’t like how a tuft of white hair was kept on his otherwise balding head as I found it distracting. While it was nice that his character wasn’t a crotchety old man, which has become a bit of a cliche, I found his extreme dependency on his wife, to the point where he allowed her to dress him and even butter his toast despite the fact that he was physically able to do it himself, as pathetic. His later transition to laid-back hippie who wears colorfully garish outfits as he takes on a whole new perspective on life is too jarring and extreme.

The film never comes together as a whole and if anything could’ve been shortened with the first half dealing with the mother’s heart attack taken out and just started with the father’s cancer diagnosis as that’s when the main plot gets going. In either case it tries too hard to be cute while compromising too much on the believability.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: November 10, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 57 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Gary David Goldberg

Studio: Universal Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Nothing in Common (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Father needs his son.

David Basner (Tom Hanks) is leading a happy life as a successful advertising executive yet he’s forced to put it all on hold when his parents (Jackie Gleason, Eva Marie Saint) of 36 years announce that they’re getting a divorce. His father also loses his job as well as being diagnosed with diabetes forcing David to give him round-the-clock care despite the fact that they don’t get along.

The best thing about the film are the performances of its two stars. For Hanks this marked his transition from comedy to more serious roles, but for the most part his charm still comes from his comic edge especially with the way he greets each of his co-workers when he returns to the office after a vacation. It’s really Gleason though, who was dying from cancer as he performed in this, that is the most compelling and he should’ve been in the movie more and better yet made the star as he literally owns every scene that he’s in and despite his cantankerous personality manages to elicit a lot of sympathy from the viewer.

Unfortunately the script doesn’t focus enough on the father/son relationship and instead goes off on many tangents like David’s struggles to come up with a creative ad for one of his clients, which isn’t as compelling or interesting. There’s also several running jokes that digresses the whole thing down to almost a sitcom level especially with Hector Elizondo’s, who plays David’s boss, desperate attempts to come up with a suitable hairpiece. The bits involving David’s pranks on an office receptionist in order to try and get her to laugh makes him seem more annoying than funny and she would’ve been justified to have him reported for harassment.

Dwelling into David’s love-life dilutes the story even further. Initially I thought his courting of Sela Ward had some spark as she played-hard-to-get and part of what makes potential relationships so interesting is the chase itself, but after putting up a cold front for a few minutes she then jumps into bed with him, which just takes the air out of everything. Bess Armstrong, who plays his former girlfriend, seemed more his type. However, the scene where he barrages into her apartment drunk late at night and hassles her and the new guy she’s sleeping with made him seem extremely obnoxious to the point that I was hoping he’d get punched in the face.

Saint’s character does nothing but add to the dramatic clutter in a bland role that  offers little to the story. It would’ve been more effective had she died instead of divorcing the husband, which would’ve offered more of a catalyst for Hanks and his father to get together.

The film ends where it should’ve began with Hanks deciding to move in with his father in order to help him with his health problems. Watching these two with very diametrically opposed personalities trying to get along inside this very cramped apartment could’ve been quite revealing and insightful and yet we see none of it. Instead we’re treated to a rambling narrative that offers generic drama and little else.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: July 30, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 58 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Gary Marshall

Studio: TriStar Pictures

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

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: She suffers from schizophrenia.

Based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Joanne Greenberg, which was written under the pen name of Hannah Green, the story focuses on Deborah (Kathleen Quinlan) a 16 year-old who is put into a mental institution during the 1950’s by her parents (Ben Piazza, Lorraine Gary). A pretend secret kingdom that used to be a childhood fantasy has now completely taken over her life and she is unable to deal with reality. At the institution she works with a sympathetic therapist named Dr. Fried (Bibi Andersson) who tries to get Deborah out of her fantasy world an back into the real one.

The film was produced by Roger Corman better known for his cheap, sleazy drive-in fare, so seeing him try to take the helm by producing a serious picture is a concern since exploitation always seemed to be his foray, but with the then recent success of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest he felt stories with a mental institution theme was a potential money-maker. The production values though right from the start look pretty cheap especially when compared to the Milos Foreman film making this a very weak cousin to the 1975 classic.

The producers made many changes from its source novel much to the consternation of the book’s author who was never consulted during the making of it and who ended up disliking this film version immensely. One of the biggest difference is that the film completely omits the antisemitism, which the filmmakers felt was too much of a ‘hot button topic’, that the main character in the book had to deal with and instead blames her mental health problems solely on her bout with cancer.

For me though the biggest issue centers more on the recreation of Deborah’s make-believe, mystical world which she calls The Kingdom of Yr. In the book the kingdom starts out as a beautiful magical place that slowly turns ugly and threatening while in the movie it’s portrayed as scary from the very beginning, which is confusing as there’s no explanation for how the whole thing started. The sound of the whispering voices going on inside Deborah’s head is creepy, but sight of the characters inside the kingdom, which was played by members of Oingo Boingo looks cheesy and like the singers from the Village People, which gives the film an unintended camp feeling. Instead the characters should’ve been captured from a distance where they were seen as ominous shadowy figures whose faces were never shown.

Despite these drawbacks I still found myself caught-up in much of the drama especially the cruelty that Deborah and her fellow patients received at the hands of an abusive orderly played by Reni Santoni. Unfortunately some of the scenes showing Deborah interacting with the other mentally-ill people in the hospital gets watered-down by having a lighthearted melody played during it, which gives off the idea that this is ‘lightly comical’ instead of the gritty no-holds-barred drama that it should be.

Quinlan gives a great performance, possibly the best of her career and I particularly enjoyed the way she uses her expressive blue eyes to convey her inner madness and turmoil. You also see her as a relatable human being who you want to see get well as opposed to being some sort of ‘freak’. Susan Tyrrell is great in support as one of the patients as well as Martine Bartlett who plays another troubled patient and who starred just a year earlier as the cruel mother in Sybil, which was a TV-movie with a similar theme. Casting Bibi Andersson though as the psychiatrist was for me a distraction since she also played one in Persona, which was her signature role and therefore I couldn’t separate her from that one.

In 2004 the novel was turned into a play under the full cooperation of Greenberg who acted as a consultant. The antisemitism from the book was incorporated into the play as well as several other things that had been omitted making me believe that a remake based on the play should be given a much needed green-light as this film unfortunately is adequate, but not great.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 14, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Anthony Page

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Promises in the Dark (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Caring for cancer patient.

Elizabeth ‘Buffy’ (Kathleen Beller) is a 17-year-old high school senior who breaks her leg while kicking a soccer ball. Alexandra (Marsha Mason) is the attending physician who feels that a beak of that magnitude should not have occurred simply by kicking a ball, so after doing more x-rays they find a cancerous tumor, which necessitates having the leg amputated. While Buffy recovers from that further tests reveal that the cancer has spread and this causes Alexandra to lose her cold, defensive exterior as she tries to comfort Buffy through the remaining time that she has.

This film nicely keeps everything at an earnest level and avoids jazzing things up for dramatic purposes, which is refreshing. The acting from Ned Beatty as Buffy’s father and Susan Clark as the mother is outstanding with Clark’s character being particularly interesting especially when she doesn’t run to her sick daughter’s aid when she hears her cry for help, but instead remains frozen at the bottom of the stairs, which was something I wanted to have explored more.

Mason’s excellent dramatic talents seemed ripe for this type of material, but strangely she doesn’t come-off as well as I would’ve expected. I liked that she is portrayed as being strong and in control and the fact that she just happens to be female, in a time when doctors was still a male dominated profession,  and it’s never used against her is great, but the character’s arch, in which she learns to open-up more after her divorce, is not half as compelling as Buffy’s struggles, which should’ve made her the main character while the Dr. role thrown in as a minor secondary one.

Alexandra’s romantic relationship with another Dr., played by Michael Brandon, wasn’t necessary either. To some degree I liked how the film keeps this at a realistic level, by having the relationship full of a lot of ups-and-downs as opposed to having their eyes magically lock on each other and then in the next shot showing them in bed together like a lot of other movies do, but supposedly the element of this story was Alexandra’s friendship with Buffy and that in many ways becomes secondary to the romance.

Beller is the best thing as her sensitive portrayal connects strongly with the viewer making what she goes through quite upsetting. Having to watch a likable person learn to adjust to life with only one leg, which she does quite commendably, is one thing, but having her then go through more cancer treatments until she is left a virtual vegetable is just too much to bear and it makes the second hour downright tortuous to have to sit through.

Spoiler Alert!

Some may argue that having Buffy die was just keeping things real, but then why throw in a whole secondary story-line that doesn’t get introduced until the third act, which has a Karen Ann Quinlan-like quality to it as it deals with Buffy being kept alive long after her brain activity has ceased and Alexandra’s fight with Buffy’s parents to have the machine shut off. The fact that Alexandra eventually succeeds in turning it off only brings up more questions like did this get her into trouble with her job/reputation, or sued in court by Buffy’s parents? None of this gets answered or even touched on, but should’ve and in essence seems like a plot for a whole other movie.

Films from the 70’s were notorious for having sad endings, which in many ways made them more sincere. Yet this movie is so unrelentingly with it that I failed to see how anyone could enjoy it. Certainly it’s not something you’d ever want to watch more than once, or one that you’d ever want to invite a friend or date to as it would put a damper to any evening. This may be too maudlin for even fans of tearjerkers, which are the only people that could possibly like it.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: November 2, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 58 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jerome Hellman

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Video

It’s Alive (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Newborn is a monster.

Frank (John Ryan) and Lenore (Sharon Farrell) are excited about the birth of their second child, but during the delivery they find to their horror that the newborn is a freakish monster who kills all the doctors in the delivery room and then escapes out onto the streets. The police try to track it down while Frank initially avows to kill it himself, but when his paternal instincts eventually set in he has second thoughts.

This is for the most part a fascinating, offbeat look at the abortion issue that seems to be a continuing theme with writer/director Larry Cohen who also co-scripted Daddy’s Gone-a-Hunting. In many ways it’s less of a horror film and more of a character study as the main focus is on Frank and the way his feelings on the baby change during the course of the story. In fact it’s Ryan’s intense performance that’s the film’s mainstay and what really propels it.

The baby itself offers intrigue and I liked how his appearance is kept mostly a mystery throughout, which helps build even more fear, but then we never end up getting to see it up close, which is a big letdown. Instead it’s just fleeting long distance shots and even then that doesn’t happen until the very end. The only reason to see a movie like this is to get a genuine look at the thing and when that only gets teased it’s a rip-off.

The baby’s super intelligence had me confused too. Supposedly it’s deformed due to the mother taking some contraceptive pills, but how does this make the child super smart to the point that he is able to find the school that Frank and Lenore’s child goes to, in crowded L.A. of all places and then eventually Frank and Lenore’s house? This thing is just a few days old, so how is it able to read street signs and find places and be ‘pre-programmed’ as it were to know which school/house to go to?

I was also confused at how the baby was able to attack people by biting into their necks. If it’s a crawling baby shouldn’t the feet and ankles of the victim be the place that suffers injury? And how was the baby able to kill all the doctors and nurses in the delivery room? If he was attacking one of them couldn’t the others have ganged up on the little guy and overpowered him or even just ran out of the room and yelled for help or did they all just stupidly stand there as if frozen while the baby jumped onto each Dr. and bit into them one-by-one?

Never getting a clear consistent view of the baby, nor properly explaining what the ‘logic rules’ were was a big turn-off for me when I first saw this decades ago and I came away considering it a Grade-B schlockfeast with little redeeming value. Upon second viewing I’ve softened on it a bit and appreciated Cohen’s efforts especially on such a limited budget, but the screwy loopholes and flimsy effects ultimately hurts it either way.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 26, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Larry Cohen

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Silent Madness (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mental patient stalks sorority.

Due to the similarities in their names a mute mental patient named Howard Johns (Solly Marx) gets accidently released from a psychiatric hospital and returns to the scene of his crime, a college sorority, whose members he slaughtered years before. Dr. Joan Gillmore (Belinda Montgomery) tries to track him down, but finds no help from the staff at the hospital who are more concerned in covering up the error to the extent that they secretly send out two thugs (Dennis Helfend, Philip Levy) to kill Joan so she won’t be able to tell anyone else about it.

It’s hard to tell if this movie wants to be a conventional slasher flick or a parody and the cartoon like opening theme music makes it sound like it’s going for the latter. Either way it’s a one-dimensional, low grade, monotonous excuse of a film that essentially has nothing going for it even when compared to other entries from the genre. Supposedly it was made to cash in on the 3-D craze, but there’s not enough action to justify it. There’s a killing at the start, but the middle drags on with Joan’s plodding investigation as to the whereabouts of the killer that the viewer already knows the answer to and watching these cardboard characters spend 80 minutes coming to the same conclusion that we know from the start is extremely boring to say the least.

This is the type of cheap crap that needs to be approached with tongue firmly in cheek, but Montgomery plays it too earnestly acting like she’s in a serious drama, which just helps to make it more intolerable. The killer is equally dull and for that matter really isn’t scary. I felt that the only reason the character was made to be a mute was because the actor who played him was a stunt coordinator with limited acting experience and therefore the less he had to say the better.

The only bright spot is the presence of Viveca Lindfors a talented and aging star whose career peak was in the 40’s, but who still manages to give this second-rate material here an admirable effort. Unfortunately she appears for only about 5 minutes as the sorority house mother, but then later becomes an integral part to the film’s twist ending, which was enough to earn this thing a measly point.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: October 26, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes

Rated R

Director: Simon Nuchtern

Studio: Almi Pictures

Available: DVD

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