Category Archives: Mystery

The Lady Vanishes (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Where’s the old lady?

In 1939 while traveling by train from Bavaria to Switzerland American Heiress Amanda (Cybill Shepherd) befriends an English nanny named Miss Froy (Angela Lansbury). The two sit across from each other inside a train compartment. When Amanda awakens from a nap she notices that Miss Froy has disappeared and when she asks others where she went to everybody denies having even seen her. Amanda starts to question her own sanity and tries to use the assistance of American photographer Robert Condon (Elliot Gould) to help her figure out what is going on.

This film is a remake of the classic 1938 movie of the same name, which was directed by Alfred Hitchcock and based on the novel ‘The Wheel Spins’ by Ethel Lina White. I last saw the original over 30 years ago while attending college, so my memories of it are fuzzy and I’ll be unable to compare the two. However, I do remember enjoying it and feeling that this thing doesn’t quite reach the same level.

The biggest issue is the casting of Shepherd. I think she’s a gorgeous lady, I loved seeing her in the low cut white dress and at one point she even appears to bravely do her stunts by jumping off a moving train, but her acting is not up to par. She can be great as a bitchy, sarcastic woman or even as a kooky eccentric, but as someone we want to root for or sympathize with, no way. Some of her former co-stars including Bruce Willis and Christine Baranski have described her as being cold and competitive to deal with and that’s the exactly same vibe I get every time I see her. Her efforts to cover that up in an attempt to play a more likable character doesn’t work, so instead producers should cast her in parts that mesh with her personality while getting someone else more affable for this role.

Gould has the same problem. He looks bored and out-of-place and I don’t know why the nationalities of the two lead characters, which had been British in the original, were changed to American here, but it doesn’t help. Besides there is absolutely no chemistry between he and Shepherd, which makes the romantic angle come off as quite forced. He was also considerably older than her and they should’ve at the very least cast two people more in the same age range.

Even the great Angela Lansbury is all wrong here. She still gives the role a stellar performance with her best moment coming when her eyes well up with tears as the other passengers openly contemplate throwing her off the train and into the clutches of an SS officer standing outside, which proves that the truly great stars don’t need any speaking lines to convey just the right emotion.  However, she was only in her 50’s at the time and didn’t come off looking elderly. Dame May Whitty played the part in the original and was in her 70’s, which is what the age of the actress playing the part here should’ve been.

The basic premise is still entertaining enough to keep things passable, but I would’ve liked the mystery angle played up more by showing things only from Amanda’s perspective until the viewer started to question her sanity as well. The scene where Amanda sees the name Miss Froy written in the dust of a train window by the Lansbury character earlier and then having that name strangely disappear off the window after they go through a tunnel makes no sense. This was supposed to be a ‘realistic’ thriller and therefore surreal elements should not have been thrown in.

The climactic sequence is entertaining, Arthur Lowe is enjoyable in a supporting part, and the Austrian scenery is luscious, but the movie is marginal and only helps to make the viewer appreciate the original more than anything.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 8, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Anthony Page

Studio: Rank Film Distributors

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

The Carey Treatment (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: A Pathologist solves mystery.

Based on an early Michael Crichton novel, the story centers around Dr. Peter Carey (James Coburn), who starts a new job as a pathologist at a local Boston hospital and soon finds himself embroiled in a mystery when his good friend Dr. David Tao (James Hong) gets accused of performing an illegal abortion on the daughter of the hospital’s chief surgeon (Dan O’Herlihy), which later kills her. Carey is not convinced that his friend performed the procedure and sets out to prove his innocence when the police are of no help.

This film was noted for its behind-the-scenes turmoil including accusations from director Blake Edwards that he was belittled by the film’s producer William Belasco in front of the crew and told that he would never work in Hollywood again and afterwards having the film edited without his permission. Edwards later sued and his experiences working on this project became the basis for his 1980’s film S.O.B., which savagely satirized the movie making business and the people who ran it.

The plot isn’t bad and attempts are made to give the viewer an authentic feel of the medical profession. One of the better moments is when the doctors perform an autopsy on the victim although I wished they would’ve shown more of the actual corpse on the examining table instead of cutting away from it in an attempt to be ‘tasteful’ as I felt the procedure and what the men discussed during it to be genuinely educational.

Having a hip doctor suddenly turn into an amateur sleuth is the film’s biggest drawback. Coburn plays the part well, but a guy who’s never investigated a case before wouldn’t be so seasoned with the way he handles suspects and tackles clues. He comes off too much like a professional detective who’s spent years in the business and not just a regular person who stumbles into the situation without knowing what he’s doing. The slick way that he solves the case and gets the necessary information is impressive, but not believable. Most people would’ve simply hired a private detective to investigate it and not spent hours away from their job trying to do it themselves, or if they take on the task they would most assuredly have make some mistakes, which this guy never does.

The mystery has enough intriguing elements to remain engaging, but the ultimate reveal is dull and makes one feel like they sat through a big buildup to nothing.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 29, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Blake Edwards

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Video, Youtube

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: They all did it.

The time is December, 1935 and world-renown detective Hercule Poirot (Albert Finney) boards the Orient Express as an unexpected guest who’s able to find a spare compartment due to his friendship with the train’s owner (Martin Balsam). During the night one of the other passengers (Richard Widmark) is found dead and it is up to Poirot to solve the crime while the train remains stalled by a large snow bank.

This production is considered by many to be the best film version of any of Agatha Christie’s novel-to-screen attempts and in fact the author herself said as much when she attended a showing of the movie on the night of its premiere. Director Sidney Lumet’s ingenious touch is on-target the whole way as he creates a nice blend of kitsch and camp until the over-the-top costumes, playfully sharp dialogue, and glossy camerawork become more of the fun than the mystery itself.

In fact it’s Lumet’s ability to capitalize on the little things and control every minute detail that makes it so captivating even on repeat viewings. Their ability to turn an abandoned warehouse into a bustling train station is just one example. I also enjoyed the moment when the train leaves the station that gets done to the sound of a waltz composed specifically for the film by Richard Rodney Bennett. Originally they were going to have train sounds edited in and had hired a sound engineer who had spent his whole life recording these noises for specifically this purpose only to get the disappointment of his life when he was told that they had decided to go with the music alone, which crushed him so much that his eyes welled up with tears and he never returned.

Finney’s performance is outstanding. He was not someone you’d have in mind initially for this type of part, but through his brilliant acting and effective make-up he disappears into the role and immerses the viewer in the presence of this highly eccentric character and his unusual habits including the way he puts both his hair and moustache into a hair net before going to bed and reads a newspaper while wearing gloves.

The star studded supporting players are perfectly cast for their parts too. Anthony Perkins nicely plays-up his nervous man routine while Wendy Hiller is enjoyable as the caustic aging Princess who wears a constant frown because her doctor advised her that smiling ‘was not good for her health’. Widmark has an amusing conversation with Poirot particularly with his inability to correctly pronounce the detective’s last name and Ingrid Bergman shines in a small bit as a poor, but devoutly religious woman, which was enough to net her the Oscar for best supporting actress.

Spoiler Alert!

The murder scene in which all the passengers file into Widmark’s cabin and systematically take turns stabbing him is, like with everything else, astutely captured particularly with the way it’s shot by using only a blue tinged light as its sole light source. Lumet craftily uses a two-camera set-up here in which one camera captures the characters and the other focuses on Lauren Bacall’s character’s reactions to it as she stands at the doorway as a lookout. Bacall was never known as an actress to show much vulnerable emotion, but here, at least through her facial expressions, she does quite well. However, this segment also reveals a fatal flaw as Poriot’s cabin was right next to Widmarks’s and earlier in the film he was able to hear the conversations going on in the cabin next him almost perfectly, but then as each participant takes turns stabbing Widmark they say something out loud and yet for whatever reason Poirot never hears this, which makes you wonder why.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The script, by Paul Dehn, gets talky but is saved by its amusing verbal exchanges and Lumet’s use of different lenses to capture it, so I didn’t find it a problem in a movie that deserves its classic status both a mystery and cinematic achievement. The remake directed by Kenneth Branagh is set to be released in November.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: November 24, 1974

Runtime: 2 Hours 8 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Sidney Lumet

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2, A/1)

The Entity (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Invisible mass attacks mother.

Carla Moran (Barbara Hershey) is a single mother living with her three children who finds herself attacked one night in her home by an invisible being who proceeds to viciously rape her. When she tells this to her psychiatrist (Ron Silver) he initially doesn’t believe her, so she employs the help of two parapsychologists (Raymond Singer, Richard Brestoff) who come to her home and record the paranormal activity. With the help of Dr. Cooley (Jacqueline Brookes) who heads their department, they build a life-sized replica of Carla’s home in a gymnasium complete with liquid helium, which they hope to use on the mysterious entity in order to trap it.

The ghostly attacks aren’t impressive and consist mainly of seeing close-ups of Hershey’s face being rammed against the wall, or bedsheets, flying glass, shaking furniture and a musical sound effect reminiscent of a hammer rhythmically pounding against a sheet of metal. The attack scenes quickly become redundant and the ghostly presence is never seen, which eventually makes them yawn inducing whenever they occur. There are also many long dramatic interludes between the attempted scares that try to put a psychological spin on the proceedings, but come off more like pop psychology instead.

The whole thing is inspired by an actual incident which occurred on August 22, 1974, but incorrectly stated as happening in October, 1976 during the film’s denouncement. In the real-life case a woman by the name of Doris Bither (1942-1999) met two parapsychologists named Barry Taff and Kerry Gaynor while visiting a local library and told them of her repeated rapes inside her home by three ghosts who she considered to be of an Asian descent. She invited the men to her small Culver City, California home, which they found to be extremely cramped and dirty. During the event the men felt some unusual sensations and saw colorful orbs fly through the air, which was enough to inspire Frank De Felitta to write a novel about it, which later lead to this movie.

The film though would’ve worked better had the initial setting been Carla’s visit to her psychiatrist and then everything else played out in small segments as a flashback while she described her encounter. There was much speculation that these things were all just inside Bither’s head since she had suffered from substance abuse and a traumatic upbringing, but none of that gets touched upon in the movie. Instead we are left to believe that these strange occurrences are actually happening, but the film would’ve been more multi-dimensional had the viewer been allowed to question whether it was real, or simply an effect of mental illness.

Hershey gives a fine performance and shows what a great actress she is by playing a character that was completely opposite from the carefree/hippie-like ones that she played during her film appearances of the ‘70s. Silver though is annoying as the psychiatrist as his character unwisely gets too involved with his patient even though most other doctors in his position would be convinced that the woman was bat-shit crazy and keep themselves at an emotional distance from her. His attempts at trying to talk her out of going through with the experiment done at the gymnasium is irritating as it does nothing but hold up the story while failing to add an interesting dramatic tension.

The film’s freakiest aspect are the moments where Hershey’s bare breasts, in an attempt to show them being molested by the invisible hand of the ghost, start to ripple and show indentations seemingly on their own. How they were able to pull this off since this was well before visual computerized effects I’m not sure, but it is impressive and some may find it even strangely erotic.

On the whole though the film is frustrating as never explains why any of this occurs. The cause of the actual incident remains murky even though most would say that the woman was just looney, but since this film has already taken liberties with the real-life event why not at least throw in some sort of halfway plausible theory as nothing is worse than sitting through an overlong film that puts out many intriguing questions, but fails to supply them with any tangible answers.

(The Culver City, California home where the events that inspired this movie purportedly took place.)

(An actual photograph taken during the August 22, 1974 encounter.)

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 4, 1983

Runtime: 2Hours 5Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sidney J. Furie

Studio: American Cinema Productions

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Death on the Nile (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Murder on the river.

Based on the 1937 Agatha Christie novel of the same name the story centers around everyone’s favorite Belgium sleuth Hercule Poirot (Peter Ustinov) as he tries solve a murder that occurs while he is traveling on a steamer going down the famous Nile River.

The on-location shooting in Egypt is the film’s chief asset. The scene where actors Simon MacCorkindale and Lois Chiles climb to the outer top of a pyramid is impressive as in the extended scene inside the Karnak Temple Complex. However, outside of this the visuals are blah and this entry fails to show the same cinematic flair done 4 years earlier of another Christie novel that was brought to the big screen Murder on the Orient Express.

I was also not too impressed with the steamer that was used to cart the characters down the river as it appeared to be too small and not at all luxurious. The fact that the production crew took a real steamer that they had found and then painstakingly recreated it to a minute detail inside the Pinewood studios in London is certainly commendable, but I felt the insides of the cabins were too big and too fancy and not in proportion to the actual boat that we see from the exterior, which looked like nothing more than a cheap, mid-sized thing that could be rented by a small family at a modest price for an afternoon on the lake.

The story itself takes too long to get going and in fact the murder and actual mystery doesn’t occur until 1 hour and 10 minutes in. Mia Farrow gives a provocative performance and it’s interesting seeing how things were before there were anti-stalking laws and people could simply follow around those that they hated, which is what the Farrow character does here, and harass the hell out of them without any fear of breaking any penalty, but the set-up gets too played out. The supporting cardboard characters are dull and put in simply to heighten the mystery with their own motives for wanting to kill the victim, which comes off as formulaic.

The ultimate denouncement isn’t too great either. I never read the book, so I don’t know how closely this follows it, but the explanation for how the killing is done hinged too much on careful split-second timing that I don’t think anyone would’ve been able to actually accomplish nor even want to risk trying. Also, the evidence that Poirot uses to solve the crime is threadbare and circumstantial to the extreme and if the killer’s hadn’t ultimately cracked under pressure I’m not so sure they would’ve been convicted.

The cast of big name stars is wasted and only Angela Lansbury is entertaining as the alcoholic erotic novelist, but even here her drunken condition gets overplayed as we never ever see her sober making it seem almost like she suffers from a degenerative disease like cerebral palsy. Ustinov is no fun as Poirot and Albert Finney was far better as he played the same character in a more lovable and amusingly eccentric way. He was asked to reprise the role, which he played in Murder on the Orient Express, but due to the unpleasant grind of having to wear a lot of makeup for the part he ended up declining.

If you’re a fan of Agatha Christie or enjoy mysteries then you may take to this a bit more. It’s still watchable and even marginally engrossing; however despite the excellent cast and splashy production values the ultimate effect is flat.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: September 29, 1978

Runtime: 2Hours 20Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Guillermin

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD

Man on a Swing (1974)

man-on-a-swing

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Psychic knows too much.

On one sunny afternoon Maggie Dawson (Dianne Hull) goes out shopping and never returns. 24-hours later her strangled body is found on the floor of her car. Police detective Lee Tucker (Cliff Robertson) heads the case, but finds few clues. After all leads dry up they turn to Franklin Wills (Joel Grey) who purports to be a psychic who can help them find the culprit. Initially the police are quite impressed with his abilities, but Franklin begins to show too much knowledge about the crime and the victim making them believe that he may be the actual killer.

The film is based on the novel ‘The Girl on the Volkswagen Floor’ by William A. Clark, which itself is based on an actual incident that occurred on June 12, 1968 in Kettering, Ohio. In the real-life event a young 23-year-old school teacher by the name of Barbara Ann Butler went shopping at a discount store one day only to end up being found murdered later. Police were, like in the movie, baffled and eventually ended up using the services of a psychic named Bill Bosheers, who goes under the pseudonym of Norman Dodd in the book. Like in the film Bosheers seemed to know an extraordinarily high amount of unauthorized info about the case including the fact that the victim used prescription glasses for just one eye. Bosheers also predicted another similar crime would occur in the near future, which it did and police have long suspected that the two were done by the same person.

What makes this film interesting is the way it meticulously follows the police investigation and keeps everything at a real level including having them pursue what turns out to be a lot of false leads, which other Hollywood movies rarely tackle. Nothing gets overblown and in fact the film’s strength comes from keeping everything on a nice creepy, low-key level with the focus on Robertson’s interaction with Grey. I also liked that there is very little music and the only time that there is some is when Grey is onscreen and even then it’s quiet and nonobtrusive accentuating the creepiness without over doing it.

Although he gets stuck with a non-flamboyant part I felt Robertson does quite well and I enjoyed how his down-to-earth sensibilities continually clash with Grey’s more flighty ones although the scene where the Robertson’s character discusses the case with his wife (Dorothy Tristan) at home didn’t really mesh. The character is also seen drinking constantly to the point of being a full-fledged alcoholic and this should’ve been touched on, but isn’t.

Grey, who ironically starred in a TV-movie called Man on a String just before doing this one, is outstanding and the whole reason to watch the film as he commands every scene that he is in. The way he goes into his psychic ‘trances’ is riveting and the part where he makes his entire face turn dark red, without the use of any makeup, is genuinely startling as is his drooling after he passes out. The film is also littered with many familiar faces of up-and-coming stars too numerous to mention here, but worth spotting at seeing what they were doing before they were famous.

I enjoyed the on-location shooting done in Milford, Connecticut which takes full advantage of the small town locale and helps make the story seem even more vivid. There are several uniquely memorable moments including an exercise that Grey is forced to take to measure his psychic ability as well as his visit to a pair of psychiatrists, which is wonderfully played by Elizabeth Wilson. However, even with all these good elements the ending is a letdown as it leaves to many questions unanswered and plays like an intriguing mystery that ultimately goes nowhere.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 27, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Frank Perry

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

The ‘Burbs (1989)

burbs-2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: New neighbors cause suspicion.

Ray (Tom Hanks) spends his vacation milling about his suburban home while keeping a close eye on his new neighbors that are rarely ever seen, but at night their basement emits strange noises and lights. Mark (Bruce Dern) and Art (Rick Ducommun) are two other men living in the cul-de-sac who notice the same things. Together they decide to form a strategy by finagling their way inside the rundown place and seeing what exactly is going on in there especially after another neighbor, the elderly Walter (Gale Gordon) mysteriously disappears.

Director Joe Dante has had a lot of success at doing films that mixes elements of horror with dark comedy, but this exercise fails almost immediately because there is nothing scary about it. In fact the humor and threadbare story are so innocuous that it becomes downright boring after about the first 10 minutes. The film fails to have much of a second or third act and the light doses of humor and action sprinkled about barely make up for it. The whole thing comes off like something written by an unimaginative novice that was more suited for an episode of an anthology series than a feature film.

Hanks manages to be marginally funny and Carrie Fisher makes for a good anchor as his no-nonsense wife, but Dern gets wasted as what starts out to be an over-the-top caricature of a right-wing gun-toting radical that soon gets as watered down as the rest of the script. He does manage to get in a few of his ‘Dernisms’, which was mainly due to the fact that the actors were allowed to ad-lib their own lines due to the fact that it was shot during a writer’s strike, but the part isn’t half as funny as it could’ve been. Also, in real-life a person like him wouldn’t be married to such a hot-looking younger woman and it would’ve been more impactful had the actress cast as his wife been his physical equal. I also wondered why they had so much free time to spend milling about the neighborhood. Hanks’ character was on vacation, but what was their excuse?

Spoiler Alert!

The ultimate revelation as to who the neighbors are or what they were doing is quite stale and almost like a non-event. If you are actually considering thinking of sitting through this thing just to find out that answer I would suggest that you don’t bother as it’s not in any way worth the effort. Also, there is never any explanation for what the neighbors were really doing, why they have a trunk full of human skulls, or why they would summon the police when they think their house has been broken into.  There is incriminating evidence at their residence, so why bother risking having the police come over to find it? Since they clearly didn’t have any problem killing people why didn’t they just attack the would-be intruders like they had done to their other victims?

End of Spoiler Alert!

burbs-4

burbs-1

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 17, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Joe Dante

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

What’s the Matter with Helen? (1971)

whats-the-matter-1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Religious lady goes crazy.

Adelle (Debbie Reynolds) and Helen (Shelley Winters) are two mothers whose sons commit a gruesome murder. Once the two men are convicted the women decide to move across the country, change their names and open up a dance studio. Adelle meets a handsome bachelor (Dennis Weaver) who is full of money, but Helen’s fortunes don’t improve. Instead she wallows in depression while receiving threatening phone calls, which gets her paranoid that someone is out to get them. She tries to seek solace through her religion, but eventually the stress becomes too much and her psychic begins to crack.

The screenplay was written by Henry Farrell famous for penning the novel What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, which later became a big screen success. Unlike that one this was written directly for the screen and misses the textured richness of a backstory specifically how the two women first met or how their friendship blossomed.

On the visual level it starts out well and I enjoyed the use of old news reel footage to help introduce the story, but after that it goes into a lull with long, talky takes that fail to generate much excitement. The recreation of the 1930’s setting looks cheap and stagy and the film lacks a cinematic flair to help compliment it’s campy storyline. Originally director Curtis Harrington had implemented visual effects to be used in the transitions between the scenes, which would’ve helped immensely, but the producer hated them and forced them to be taken out.

On the acting end I felt Reynolds was rather boring and stuck playing a character that isn’t very interesting, which made me surprised that she put up $800,000 of her own money just to get it produced. The showy role is clearly Helen’s and Winters plays the part quite well and becomes the film’s main attraction. Usually she would take-on flamboyant-type characters, but this one required her to be more subdued and repressed and she is able to do it magnificently, which only proves what a gifted and versatile performer she was.

There are a few edgy but brief bits including the shot of a dead body that has been run over by a farm plow, which has some pretty good bloody effects. However, the shot showing a close-up of the women’s body who was the victim of the two sons isn’t effective because it supposedly gets posted in a newspaper as a lead in to the article about the crime, but no mainstream publication either then or now would print such a gruesome picture of a victim.

There were also several provocative scenes that got excised in an effort to the attain the GP rating, which included a shot of Winters kissing Reynolds on the lips as well as a murder scene that was originally intended to be much more drawn out than what it ends up being. The film’s final shot though is still well done and probably the only thing that makes sitting through this worth it.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 30, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Curtis Harrington

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD

Peeper (1976)

peeper-4

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Searching for client’s daughter.

Leslie C. Tucker (Michael Caine) is a British private eye working in L.A. who gets hired on by an eccentric client named Anglich (Michael Constantine) to find his long lost daughter that was born 24 years ago and now resides he believes somewhere in Hollywood. Tucker tries following the skimpy clues and this leads him to a beautiful woman named Ellen (Natalie Wood) who he believes just may be that daughter and not even know it, but the closer he gets to some answers the more questions he has to tackle as well as being chased by a pair of hoods (Timothy Carey, Don Calfa) who are out to stop him.

This film is based on a novel by Keith Laumer with a screenplay written by W.D. Richter and directed by Peter Hyams. With such talented people involved you’d think this would’ve been a winner, but it bombed at the box office and I’m not completely sure why. The ingredients are there, but the oversaturation of private eye parodies during the ‘70s could’ve gotten this one lost in the shuffle.

The film though is filled with snappy dialogue and some highly amusing voice-over narration by the Tucker character. There are also unique scenes including a car chase that takes place amidst a major traffic jam and a cool foot chase sequence down a long, winding spiral staircase. I also loved the scene where Tucker is trapped in a car with an angry dog outside only for him to miraculously turn-the-tables on the animal where he gets outside while the dog ends up stuck in the vehicle. The best moment though is at the beginning when actor Guy Marks does his impersonation of Humphrey Bogart while standing in a dark alley and reciting the opening credits instead of having them shown on screen.

As much as I love Michael Caine I found him to be wrong for this role. If you’re going to do a light parody of old school private eye films then you have to cast someone in the lead that would reflect to some degree Bogart. It certainly doesn’t have to be an impersonator, but someone that is from Brooklyn and has a New York mentality as opposed to a transplanted Englishman with a British accent.

Wood is equally miscast. This was her first theatrical feature in 7 years and she turned down a role in The Towering Inferno to do this one and I’m not sure why. The part is rather small and offers little range in either acting or character development and with everything else that goes on in the story she ends up getting forgotten though it does have a foreboding quality in that the final segment involves her on a boat and near water.

The mystery itself ends up being the worst thing. It’s too intricate and filled with so many rapidly paced twists that it becomes almost impossible to follow. The action is enough to keep it interesting, but as a compelling plot it fails. I also wasn’t too crazy about the title. The working title was ‘Fat Chance’, which I didn’t like either, but peeper is slang for a private eye who takes a lot of photographs, which this detective doesn’t do at all.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 6, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Hyams

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Blood Beach (1981)

blood-beach-1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Beachgoers get sucked away.

Something is lurking beneath a Southern California beach and it’s not human. People and even animals are being sucked underneath the sand and disappearing, never to be found again. Lifeguard Harry (David Huffman) tries to do some investigating while starting up a relationship with the daughter (Marianna Hill) of one of the victims, but his efforts prove futile, so the police are called in, but do no better.

One of the nice things about this movie is that unlike most other horror films from that era it actually has a pretty decent budget and distinctive music score. The beach location, which was filmed at Santa Monica, makes for a pleasant diversion from the usual horror settings and the one thing I came away liking most about the movie.

Huffman, who ended up becoming a homicide victim himself in real-life only a few years after this was filmed, is bland to the point of being completely forgettable. However, the much more talented supporting cast gives the film some life. John Saxon is great as a brash and gruff police captain. Burt Young and Otis Young are amusing as police detectives with completely contrasting styles with Otis playing an amusing extension to the character that he did in The Last Detail where he tries earnestly to reel in his more undisciplined partner.

The film’s weak point is the second act that stalls without enough new twists being brought in. Seeing people constantly being swallowed up by the sand becomes monotonous and it takes way too long before we finally get an understanding to what is causing it. The film also has some quick cutaways showing what happens to the people once they are underneath the sand, which looks like it was spliced in from a cheaper film stock with tacky special effects that may simply be a product of the ‘Complete and Uncut’ version that I saw, but should’ve been avoided.

The attempt at doing a Jaws formula storyline on land instead of the water doesn’t work and only helps make the original seem all that much better. Had this been done as a parody might’ve helped it.

Spoiler Alert!

The biggest letdown is the ending that never fully explains what this creature is and only gives the viewer a brief glimpse of it during the film’s last few minutes, which is disappointing. The story then goes full circle by showing the sand ready to swallow up more unsuspecting beachgoers while making the viewer feel like they’ve wasted 90 minutes of their time watching a film that doesn’t progress anywhere.

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: January 28, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 25Minutes (‘Complete’ cut)

Rated R

Director: Jeffrey Bloom

Studio: Compass International Pictures

Available: DVD