Category Archives: Mystery

The Long Goodbye (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: His cat is hungry.

One night detective Phillip Marlowe (Elliot Gould) is visited in his home by his long time pal Terry Lennox (Jim Boulton), who informs Marlowe that he’s had a fight with his wife and asks him if he can have a ride to the Mexican border, which he obliges. When he returns home he is met by two cops (Jerry Jones, John S. Davies) who bring him into the station with questions about the whereabouts of Lennox whom they insist has just killed his wife. When Marlowe refuses to divulge anything he gets put into jail only to released 3-days later when it’s reported that Lennox has killed himself. Marlowe becomes suspicious about the suicide and determined to do his own investigation while also getting involved with Eileen Wade (Nina van Pallandt) and her alcoholic, writer husband Roger (Sterling Hayden) both of whom may hold the secret to Lennox and what really happened.

By the early 70’s only two of Raymond Chandler’s novels had yet to be filmed, this one and ‘Playback’. United Artists agreed to finance the film and commissioned Leigh Brackett, who had been the screenwriter for another Chandler novel turned into a movie 1946’s The Big Sleep, to write the screenplay for this one. Robert Altman was later approached to direct it and while he was not a fan of the Phillip Marlowe character, whom he labeled as being a ‘loser’, he agreed to take on the project due to the unexpected ending, which had not been in the novel, but that Brackett had added into the screenplay.

While Altman may have seemed an odd choice, he never even read the source novel of which the film is based, the eccentric little sidelights that he adds into the proceedings make it worth it. Some of the movies that he did towards the late 70’s became a bit too undisciplined where his films would go off on tangents with stuff that had very little to do with the main plot, but here the story is strong, so the little detours that Altman adds in helped to playfully accentuate the plot instead of drowning it out.

Some of my favorite Altmanisms included  Marlowe looking for food to feed his hungry cat, who I might add for an animal gives a spectacular performance, and how a stocker that he meets at the grocery store while searching for cat food he ends up meeting again at random at the police station. The next door female nudists, who are also into yoga and attract the attention of both the police and the bad guys who come to Marlowe’s place, are fun too.

There’s some marvelous framing by cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond including capturing Roger and Eileen having an argument inside their home, which was filmed at Altman’s Malibu residence, through a glass patio door while at the same time in the reflection you see Gould walking along the beech. Later while Eileen and Marlowe are having a conversation by an open window you can see in a distance, which the other two are unaware of, Roger walking into the ocean in an attempt to kill himself.

Spoiler Alert!

The film also features what I feel is one of the most shocking and disturbing scenes that I’ve ever seen put into a movie and that’s a statement that I don’t use lightly. I’ve seen hundreds of gory horror films, but what happens here I’ve found far more unsettling. I think the reason is because it’s completely unexpected as it features the character played by film director Mark Rydell smashing a glass coke bottle onto the face of his girlfriend who just seconds earlier he had stated that he was deeply in-love with. Hearing her scream out in unending pain while cupping her hands over her face as blood spews out makes it come-off as very real. Even more amazing is that the part of the girlfriend was played by an amateur named Jo Ann Brody who never appeared in any other film and was a waitress that Altman and Brackett met when they went out to dinner while working on the script and who they asked on-the-spot if she’d like to be in their movie.

Altman admitted that he knew this violent scene, which had not been in the book, would upset some fans, but he felt it was important to bring the viewer back to the reality that these were violent characters at heart. This could also be seen as a foreshadowing to the surprise ending when Marlowe finds Lennox still alive in Mexico and then unexpectedly shoots him. In the novel Marlowe allows Lennox to walk away unharmed, but Altman liked the violent twist.

Personally I was ambivalent with the ending here and might actually have preferred the way it was done in the book. My main issue though with it is that Eileen spots Marlowe leaving the place where Lennox was just shot and since she was in a relationship with Lennox and also had strong criminal connections I’d think she’d end up, one way or another, going after Marlowe once she realized he had killed her lover causing the ending to leave open too many potentially interesting tangents that should’ve been followed through on.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 7, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 52 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Altman

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

The Mirror Crack’d (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Poison in her drink.

A Hollywood production company arrives in a small English village, where Miss Jane Marple (Angela Lansbury) resides, to film a costume drama. The film will star two actresses, Marina Rudd (Elizabeth Taylor) and Lola Brewster (Kim Novak), who are also bitter rivals. A reception is held to allow the villagers to meet the celebrities. During the reception Marina speaks with Heather Babcock (Maureen Bennett) a devoted fan who tells Marina about having met her years earlier backstage.  While she bores Marina with the details she also drinks a daiquiri cocktail that was laced with poison causing her to die and propelling Miss Marple, who is bedridden with an injured foot, and Inspector Craddock (Edward Fox) to investigate the case.

If there is one reason to checkout this otherwise so-so film it’s to see Taylor and Novak go at it as rival actresses. This was Taylor’s first feature film appearance in 4-years and, if you don’t count her cameo appearance in The Flintstones as well as 1987’s The Young Toscanini, which was never released in the US, the last one of her career. Her standout performance, which amounts to being a mixture of camp and poignant drama, more than makes it worth it and Novak is in top form as well playing-up the comic wickedness to a delicious level. Even Rock Hudson, who was reunited with Taylor 25 years after having done Giant together, does quite well as Marina’s exasperated husband.

Unfortunately Lansbury gets miscast as she was only in her mid-50’s while Marple was considered an elderly woman in her 70’s or 80’s. They dye her hair white in an attempt to make her appear older, but it still doesn’t quite work. It’s also a letdown not to have her in the majority of scenes like you’d expect. While I never read this Agatha Christie novel I have read some others as well as the movies that have been made from her works and all of them had the head detective taking an integral part in the investigation and not shackled up in her home doing nothing to propel the potentially engaging banter that she could have had with the suspects as she interviewed them. Ultimately the supporting cast gets more screen time than she, which was a waste.

The glossy cinematic element that was so apparent in other Agatha Christie movies like Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile is totally lacking here. Some of the on-location shooting does take place in what would be considered large mansions, but the interiors resemble rooms seen in any old building and convey no flair or distinction. Director Guy Hamilton admitted to not liking Agatha Christie’s books nor thinking much of the script, which he openly stated to the producers during the interview and yet they decided to hire him anyways,  but the result, with the exception of the kitschy film-noir opening bit, is mechanical while relying solely on the veteran cast to keep it interesting.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 19, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 45 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Guy Hamilton

Studio: Associated Film Distribution (AFD)

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

Die Laughing (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cabbie accused of murder.

Pinsky (Robby Benson) works as a San Francisco cab driver during the day, but aspires to being a professional singer and attends numerous auditions, but to no avail. One day he picks up a passenger who gets shot and killed while in his cab and Pinsky is mistakenly tabbed as being the killer. Feeling he has no other options he takes the briefcase that the victim was carrying and hides out at his girlfriend Amy’s (Linda Grovenor) apartment. Inside the box they find a live monkey who has apparently memorized the secret formula for turning atomic waste into the plutonium bomb and it’s now their job to keep him away from Mueller (Bud Cort) and his cohorts who want to kidnap the monkey and use what he knows for nefarious purposes.

The film starts out with some potential as it uses Benson’s wide-eyed, deer-in-headlights persona to good comical use, at least initially. Unfortunately by the second half it pivots too much the other way and the minor laughs at the beginning get completely lost when he suddenly becomes this seasoned spy who can quickly think on his feet and outsmart the bad guys at every turn.

Again, this is just an ordinary Joe whose main drive is to make it into the music business, so why get so emotionally invested in a spy case that does nothing but get him deeper and deeper into a dangerous situation? Why not just give the bad guys what they want, hope it appeases them enough that they’ll set you free and then go to the authorities, who are much better positioned to handle this situation, and let them do the rest?

I also thought it was ridiculous that when the couple are tied up and thrown into some dark backroom that they do not respond to the predicament, like any normal person would, with fear and panic, but instead use the moment to become romantic! The fact that they manage to untie each other by biting down on the thick ropes that bind them is absurd as the only thing that would accomplish is a lot of broken-off teeth.

Benson’s musical interludes are a bore and he ends up singing the same damn song three different times. He also performs at a concert when just a little while earlier he was being surrounded by spies ready to push him off of a ship, which would be such a traumatic experience for most people that it’s doubtful he’d be able to emotional calm down enough to focus on singing, or do anything for a long time afterwards.

The story also suffers from having too many villains, Cort is the main one, but he’s seen only intermittently while a bunch of others busily chase Benson around until it becomes dizzying trying to keep track of them all. The plot itself is overblown, relies heavily on worn-out spy genre cliches making it come off like a cheesy parody of James Bond that will cause many viewers to be rolling-their-eyes almost immediately at the campy, strained gags.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: May 23, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jeff Werner

Studio: Orion Pictures

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

American Gigolo (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Male escort gets framed.

Julian (Richard Gere) works as a male escort in the Los Angeles area servicing affluent female clients, which allows him to drive expensive cars and live in a luxury apartment. He even gets into a relationship with Michelle (Lauren Hutton) a senator’s wife, but just as everything seems to be going his way it comes crashing down when he gets accused of murder, which he didn’t commit. His only alibi is Michelle who he was in bed with that night, but she is reluctant to come forward fearing it will tarnish both her reputation and that of her politically ambitious husband (Brian Davies).

The film’s chief asset is Gere’s performance who puts a gritty edge in a film that is otherwise quite shallow. His character though is blah as we learn little about him, which I found frustrating. Male prostitution is not a profession most men get into, so why does Julian? Having a backstory dealing with his upbringing and showing his relationship with his family could’ve helped us better understand his motivations, but none is ever shown leaving us with a character that may look sexy, but is otherwise an empty shell that is neither interesting nor memorable.

The film offers no insights into the sex profession either. I kept wondering how he was always able to ‘get-up for the occasion’ with all of his clients especially when a lot of them were older women who were not all that attractive. Many male actors working in the adult film business will admit to taking Viagra or some other drug to guarantee an erection on cue. They also have women working behind-the-scenes as ‘fluffers’ who will give male performers a hand-job/oral sex, so when it’s time for his scene he’s erect, but Julian doesn’t have any of these things, so what’s his secret? The film makes it look like he can get-it-up on demand, which in reality I don’t think would always be the case.

I was also disappointed when Julian is told by the husband (Tom Stewart) of one of his clients to get rough with her by slapping her and Julian turns around with a shocked expression, but then the scene immediately cuts away without seeing what happened. I felt this was a crucial moment that needed to be played-out and it would’ve helped us understand Julian better by seeing how he responds to demands that he’s uncomfortable with. The film most likely cutaway because seeing him slap a woman would’ve made him unlikable to the viewer, but if he’s the type of person who will compromise his ethics to make money then we need to know this, or if he returns the money and walks away we need to see this as well.

Julian’s relationship with Michelle is ridiculous and unbelievable. Why would a guy who’s been to bed with hundreds of different women suddenly decide to fall-in-love with this one and why would a woman, who’s otherwise living a comfortable lifestyle, allow herself to fall for a man whose profession won’t allow him to be faithful to her? It doesn’t help either that Hutton gives a horribly wooden performance and it would’ve been far better had Julie Christie, who was the original choice for the role, played the part

The mystery angle is somewhat intriguing, but the wrap-up gets botched by suddenly instituting long pauses between scenes in which the screen goes completely black and silent for several seconds, which is jarring since this was not done at any earlier time and only helps to cement how over-the-top Paul Schrader’s directing is. Had more effort been put into character development instead of flashy lighting/camera angles we would’ve had a more interesting movie.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: February 1, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 57 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Schrader

Studio: Paramount

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

Phase IV (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: The ants take over.

Ants in a small isolated community in Arizona begin to behave strangely by building large towers and geometric designs in the crops. Dr. Hubbs (Nigel Davenport) and James Lesko (Michael Murphy) are two scientists hired to come-in and find out why the ants are behaving the way they are and try to put a stop to it. They construct a computerized lab in the middle of the desert and begin they’re research only to find that they’ve walked into the ant’s trap.

This was the first feature length movie directed by Saul Bass who was an award winning graphic designer who did title sequences and film posters for many famous movies from the 1950’s through the 1980’s. His great attention to detail pays off here in a film that is full of many intricate and stunning imagery including incredible micro photography of the insect life, but unfortunately the movie bombed badly at the box office, which never allowed him to direct another film again.

On the surface it’s easy to see why it didn’t go over well as a large amount of the runtime focuses on the ants and while this photography is impressive it also makes it seem more like a nature film, but without any voice-over narration explaining what the ants are doing. It’s not like you can’t figure it out, but it does require close attention and could still be confusing to some and not something mainstream audiences are used to, or expected to sit through.

When the humans are onscreen the acting isn’t bad and surprisingly there is some character development, which a lot of other high concept Sci-fi flicks sometimes don’t have. I enjoyed Davenport and his very matter-of-fact approach to the situation in which nothing ever gets to him emotionally no matter how grisly and his never ending obsession to usurp the ants no matter how ultimately bleak it gets.

Lynne Frederick is good too as a teen-aged girl who gets taken in by the scientists when the rest of her family are killed. Initially I didn’t like her presence as I was afraid it was going to lead to some annoying, manufactured side romance, but fortunately that didn’t occur and instead becomes more of the emotional, human side of the trio especially with the way her eyes gaze at the evil ants. I also really liked the segment that shows in close-up of an ant climbing on her foot and then up through her body, even going in and out of her bellybutton until finally arriving at her head all while she sleeps.

The ending though is a disappointment as it never explains the reason for the ant’s behavior. I actually did find the story intriguing for awhile and even kind of scary, but you can’t expect a viewer to sit through a near 90-minute film and not supply them with some answers. No conclusion is given either as to who ultimately wins the battle, man or ant, which was something better explained in the original director’s cut, which had a surreal, image-laden montage showing what life on the ‘new earth’ was like, but this got cut by Paramount and never shown in the film released to theaters. In 2012 a faded print of the original ending was found and after being digitally scanned was added to a new 35mm print that was played at several select art house theaters, but this version has never been released onto DVD/Blu-ray, which is a shame as the movie comes off as incomplete without it.

For those who are interested here is a faded print of the original ending:

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 6, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 24 Minutes (Studio version)

Rated PG

Director: Saul Bass

Studio: Paramount

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

Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Asian detective solves case.

Police Chief Baxter (Brian Kieth) summons the retired Charlie Chan (Peter Ustinov) back to duty in order to help him solve a series of bizarre murders. Chan is also reluctantly assisted by his inept grandson Lee Chan Jr. (Richard Hatch) who shows no ability at solving anything and only causes chaos where ever he goes. As the case unfold Chan is at first convinced that his old nemesis Dragon Lady (Angie Dickinson) is the culprit, but he slowly turns his suspicions onto someone else who no one else suspects.

This is a perfect example of a movie that could never be made today as it features a white actor playing the part of an Asian American although the film did meet with strong resistance even back then. Many Chinese Americans protested by picketing locations were it was being shot and then later demonstrated at theaters that played it. Their complaints hinged around the Chan character being a racist stereotype particularly his ‘Chop-Suey pidgin English and fortune cookie-like proverbs’ all of which were very valid points.

What’s even worse is that the Chan character is not funny at all and the film would’ve been better had he not been in it. Ustinov acts like he’s just walking through the role with no energy or pizzazz and his singing over the opening credits, which I guess is meant to be intentionally bad in an effort to be ‘funny’, comes off as pathetically lame instead and could be enough to make most people want to turn off the film before it’s barely begun. Keith as the exasperated chief is far funnier and enlivens every scene he is in to the point that he should’ve been made the star.

Hatch as the doofus grandson is almost as bad as Ustinov, but even more annoying as he creates all sorts of disasters were ever he goes, but is completely oblivious to the pain and destruction that he causes others, which makes him come-off to being too stupid to be even remotely believable. On the rare occasions when he does realize that his blundering has caused issues to others like when he inadvertently knocks a bunch of TV reporters into a lake, he makes no attempt to help them out of the water, or even apologize for what he did, making him seem deserving of a big punch in his otherwise blank-eyed face. I was also confused as to why, if he’s Chan’s grandson, he wasn’t Asian.

The female actors perform better here. I enjoyed Lee Grant’s rare foray into comedy. Her acting skills are more tuned to drama, but the scenes where she talks to her dead husband’s ashes inside an urn are pretty good. Rachel Roberts, in her last theatrical film before her untimely and tragic death, is diverting as a super paranoid maid. Michelle Pfeiffer is quite engaging too as Hatch’s fiance. Her character is just as doopey as his, but she has enough acting skill to make it interesting and far outshines him, despite having less screen time.

The comedy is flat and has no focus to it as it alternates between slapstick and parody while haphazardly throwing in all sorts of uninspired gags that have little or nothing to do with the main plot and that includes a drawn out car chase in the middle that isn’t funny at all. It also features an ending similar to the one in Blazing Saddles where it becomes a-movie-within-a-movie as the characters run into a theater where a Charlie Chan movie is playing. However, this scene isn’t too well thought-out as it features Ustinov playing Chan on the black-and-white film that the theatergoers are watching, which makes no sense. For one thing the film being shown is an older one, so Chan should look younger on it, but he doesn’t. Also, why would Chan be playing himself in a movie? Isn’t he supposed to be just a detective, or are we to assume he’s also an actor starring in films when he’s not out solving cases? It would’ve been more amusing had Chan walked into the theater and saw another actor playing him on the screen and then started bitching about how he wasn’t doing it right.

Spoiler Alert!

There is one really inspired moment that is so cute it almost makes sitting through the rest of it worth it. I features Pfeiffer and Hatch tied up and being held hostage by a vicious dog who is tied to a rope with a candle flame burning throw it, which will then release the hound to attack the couple. In an effort to stop the flame from burning through they sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to the dog, which then gets the dog to blow-out the flame like a person would blow out candles on a birthday cake.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Release: February 4, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Clive Donner

Studio: American Cinema Releasing

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The Sitter (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Please check the children.

This small budget, short film, which was made for $12,000 much of it coming  from the donations of director Fred Walton’s and producer Steve Feke’s friends deals with the urban legend of a babysitter (Lucia Stralser) coming to the home of the Mandrakis (Bill Striglos, Karen Kondazian) to watch over their two children who are asleep upstairs while they go out. Soon after the couple leaves the sitter starts to receive harassing phone calls from a mysterious man asking if she’s ‘checked the children’. At first she dismisses them, but eventually when they continue she notifies the police who decide to trace where the calls are coming from.

The urban legend known as ‘The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs’ has been around since the early 60’s and the story was first filmed in 1971 in the 14-minute short entitled Foster’s Release, but this film was the one that caught the attention of mainstream audiences when it got screened at the Mann’s Theater in Westwood, California before a showing of Looking for Mr. Goodbar and the positive response it got convinced Walton that he should expand it into a feature length film, which he did two years later.

This film is alright, but gets hampered by having a weak actress in the role of the babysitter, who has an androgynous look about her and unable to convey emotions effectively.  Not only does she not check on the children, even though you’d think after repeated calls she would get the inkling to do so, but she then states to the police on the phone that she’s ‘all alone’, which isn’t true and makes you wonder if she completely forgot why she was at that home to begin with.

I did like the part where she raids the refrigerator and starts eating a piece of cake from it as I think a lot of babysitters do this. I also found the catty conversation that she has with one of her friends on the phone, before the harassing calls start, to be rather amusing and very teenage girl-like. I even liked the fact that she pours herself a glass of hard liquor and starts to drink it, but this also made me think that the alcohol should’ve had some effect on her, especially with such a thin body, causing her to slur her speech, or possibly emboldening her in her dealings with the caller, which never occurs.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending of course if you’re familiar with the legend has the police tracing the calls to a man who is upstairs in the same house that the sitter is, which forces the girl to run outside before the killer gets her, but the way it ends is not very satisfying. For one thing the girl’s welfare only gets eluded to by the cops even though she is the main character, so the viewer should see that she is alright and not just be told this. It also leaves open way too many questions like: Why did the killer choose this house? How did he know the phone number to the home? How did he get into the house without being detected? and if the children were already killed several hours earlier as the police stated then were they actually killed while the parents were still there and why didn’t anybody hear anything?

End of Spoiler Alert!

These questions get a little better answered in When a Stranger Calls, which was Walton’s follow-up film to this one that expands the story by analyzing the killer and giving him more of a backstory, which will be reviewed next.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 19, 1977

Runtime: 22 minutes

Not Rated

Director: Fred Walton

Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Photographer sees killer’s perspective.

Laura Mars (Faye Dunaway) is a successful fashion photographer who enjoys putting a level of stylized violence into her photos, which makes her work controversial to some, but evocatively edgy to others. One day she starts seeing visions of people that she knows being murdered from the killer’s perspective. Later, when she finds out that her friends are being killed she goes to the police where the lead investigator John Neville (Tommy Lee Jones) tries to work with her in unmasking the killer’s identity.

Despite having John Carpenter’s name in the credits he never actually wrote the screenplay, but instead did an 11-page treatment that got rewritten by the studio with a completely different ending, which helps to explain why it gets so stupid from the very beginning. What annoyed me most were the segments showing the killings, which aren’t fully the killer’s perspective since they have cutaways showing a hand in the air with a knife in it, which is technically the point-of-view of the victim.

I also thought it was goofy that she sees these visions of the killings as they occur with one happening to her friend Elaine (Rose Gregorio) when Laura is just a few blocks away. When Laura arrives at the scene of the crime, which takes her less than a minute to do, the police are already there investigating, which has to be the fastest response time by any police force in the history of the universe.

Dunaway’s presence unfortunately just makes it worse. I’ve been a big fan of hers for years and in a good dramatic role with competent direction she can be fabulous, but here she overacts making her performance come-off as affected and even laughable. Many believe it was her starring role in Mommie Dearest, which came out three years after this one, that ushered in the downfall of her career, but I actually believe it started with this one.

Critic Leonard Maltin, in his review of the film, complained about Dunaway’s ‘kinky colleagues and their lifestyles’, which he deemed as being ‘ a real turn-off’, but I failed to see anything that was all that shocking or outrageous unless he was referring to the lesbian relationship between the two sexy models (Lisa Taylor, Darlanne Fluegel) that I quite frankly wouldn’t have minded seeing more of. As for the provocative artwork it is by today’s standards quite tame and certainly not something that I or most other people would pay good money to see, which made it hard to believe how Ms. Mars was able to afford such a snazzy luxury apartment, which looks like a place more suitable for a corporate businesswoman than a pad for an artist anyways.

The relationship between Dunaway and Jones is equally ridiculous especially since he gets into a relationship with her while the investigation is still ongoing, which breaks all professional and ethical boundaries. A more intelligent script would’ve had the police dismiss Ms. Mars’s claims upfront and consider her to be total loon, or investigate her as the prime suspect. The film also fails to answer the most pressing question, which is what great cosmic force caused her to have these visions in the first place?

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: August 2, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Irvin Kershner

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Frenchman’s Farm (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Witnessing a past murder.

Jackie (Tracey Tainsh) goes traveling in her car throughout the Australian countryside while bush fires rage all around her. When her car breaks down she visits the nearest farmstead for help. It is there that she finds herself suddenly swept back to the year 1944 where she witnesses a murder and then just as quickly she comes back to the present day. When she tries to tell others what happened nobody believes her, but eventually her boyfriend Barry (David Reyne) takes up her cause and with the benefit of old news articles help find the real killer and the secret behind what motivated it.

Although marketed as a horror flick, it seems more like iffy sci-fi and could’ve easily have been targeted to a pre-teen audience since it’s not all that tense, or scary, especially with the majority of it filmed in the bright sunny daytime. When it does finally take place in the darkness of night a cliched thunderstorm gets conveniently put in while the killer is made out to being a ghost who pops in and out like it’s The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.

Initially I kind of liked that that she didn’t stay stuck in the past and was able to be her own detective, which kept me intrigued for awhile yet it started to make me wonder why the time traveling event occurred to begin with, which the movie has no suitable explanation for except to say that the bush fires created some sort of ‘atmospheric disturbance’, but if that was the case why was she the only one affected? The film also does a poor job of recreating a past era, as Jackie and her boyfriend go back to the farm where the murder occurred, but do it in the present day and yet the trees in the backyard where she witnessed the killing 40 years earlier all look the same even though they should’ve either died or grown bigger.

I found it annoying too that the boyfriend, who has a generic ‘surfer dude’ presence, starts to take over the investigation even though it really wasn’t his personal battle to solve. In order for him to take such an interest he should’ve been transported back in time with Jackie, or for a more original touch, it could’ve been Jackie and a female friend who witnessed the killing and then proceeded to becoming amateur sleuths together.

A few veteran Aussie character actors, such as an aging John Meillon, help give it some stature, but the production overall is quite bland and how it ever got considered as being a part of the Ozploitation genre, which stands for Australian exploitation cinema, is beyond me since outside of a brief skinny-dipping minute there’s nothing titillating or shocking about it.

The ‘surprise ending’ is also really dumb and doesn’t even involve the main character who gets phased out of the storyline before the ending even comes about, which is not satisfying for the viewer to follow a character around  for the whole movie only to have her ultimate fate left open to a murky explanation.

 

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 9, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ron Way

Studio: CEL Film Distribution

Available: DVD

Happy Mother’s Day, Love George (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Searching for his father.

Johnny (Ron Howard) is a young man who arrives in a small seaside town searching for the identity of his parents. After speaking with the various eccentric personalities that live there he come to the determination that a waitress at a local cafe named Ronda (Cloris Leachman) is his mother, but she refuses to divulge who the father is and he begins to suspect that the secret may lie in the strained relationship that she has with her sister Cara (Patricia Neal).

It’s hard to tell what motivates people to take on certain projects. Darren McGavin had a great career in front of the camera, but this remains outside of a few TV episodes that he did, his only foray as a director. Yet it means little as the story is quite pedestrian and moves at a slow pace making it seem more like a drama and it takes until the third act before there are any chills at all.

The on-location shooting, which was done in the seaside towns of Mahone Bay and Lunenburg that are both situated in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, is quite scenic and it almost seemed like McGavin and his crew had access to the entire town as the camera follows Howard walking up and down the residential streets while homeowners stare out their windows at him at each house that he passes. If this was a film specializing in the New England vibe it would be a success, but as a horror film the plot progresses too slowly and by the time the mystery finally gets answered you really don’t care  anymore.

The eclectic cast is interesting and really the only reason to watch it. Bobby Darin, in his last film, shows great potential as a feisty short-order cook, but his screen time is painfully limited. Neal gets in a few snarky remarks, but not much else and Leachman essentially channels the same character that she played in The Last Picture Show.

The one that gets the showiest part is Tessa Dahl who was Neal’s daughter in real-life and looks almost exactly like her to the point that I initially thought she was Neal at first. Her British accent helps add some flair as does her knife-wielding finish. Even more ironic is the fact that she has grown in recent years to suffer serious mental health issues much like her character.

As a novelty this film, which was reissued as Run Stranger Run, might be worth checking out just to see Opie with dark brown hair instead of his trademark red, but as a horror flick it lacks punch and has very little scares.

Alternate Title: Run Stranger Run

Released: August 17, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Darren McGavin

Studio: Cinema 5 Distributing

Available: VHS