Category Archives: Offbeat

Massacre at Central High (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Destroy the social hierarchy.

David (Derrel Maury) is the new kid in school whose only friend is Mark (Andrew Stevens) because years earlier David helped protect Mark from a group of bullies. Now Mark has befriended a group of elitist friends who pick on the other students at the school and instructs David that he better do the same, but David resists, so the clique turns on him. This causes David to kill  the members of the clique off one-by-one in creative ways, but finds that the students who were once the meek victims of these bullies now become the new ones.

This film is a definite step above the usual horror flick and has managed to create, despite it’s limited availability, a strong cult following. Yet with that said it does have some major drawbacks. One is cinematic quality, which is quite grainy, faded, and dated with every shot reeking of a mid-70’s look. The music score is horrendous especially the opening song sung by Tommy Leonitti. In fact it’s so bad that director Rene Daalder, who had written a different score that better fit the mood of the film, but was rejected by the producer, refused to watch this movie for several decades because of it.

There’s also the issue, like in so many of these high school flicks, were the students look older than they should and in fact all of them were already in their early 20’s when this was filmed. Fortunately the setting was the senior high level, so the more mature body types aren’t quite as glaring as it could’ve been.

I felt though that despite being a bit too old for his part this was Andrew Stevens best performance to date. His career and the quality of the projects he’s been in have been quite erratic, but here he fits the role quite well and I enjoyed seeing his character’s arch go from passive middle-man to a reluctant hero although the scene where he confronts David begging him not to kill him even though David had no weapons at the time, was physically smaller and crippled by a bum leg, seemed a bit too wimpy. Stevens could’ve and should’ve beat up David at that point, or threatened to unless there was some reason why he never wanted to fight, which is never made clear.

I did like the killings particularly the hang glider death, which has a point-of-view shot where the viewer feels like they’re riding on the gliders alongside the characters. The transformation of the students from wimps to oppressors is what I enjoyed the most as it exposes the thin line between good guy and bad and how the circumstances of the situation dictate how people respond to either. It also reveals how behavior is greatly affected by one’s immediate environment and if that environment were to suddenly change different aspects of a person’s personality that have long been dormant, or repressed could suddenly come to the forefront. The fact that no adults are ever seen, at least not until the very end, was a cool touch too as it accentuates how in the adolescent world the adults are completely meaningless and it’s their peer group that’s the only thing that’s important, which makes this quite similar to Heathers of which this is considered a close cousin and even an inspiration to.

When the film was first released it got very little attention and was in and out of the theaters quite quickly and I believe a part of the reason for this is its title, which coneys too much of a mindless teen exploitation flick tone, which this really isn’t. While the film was being shot in went under the working title of ‘Incident at Foxdale High’, which to me was more subtle and intriguing. Whether this is also the reason why it has yet to get a well-deserved DVD/Blu-ray release I don’t know, but at some point one should be coming.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 10, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 27 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Rene Daalder

Studio: Brian Distributing

Available: VHS

April Fool’s Day (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: It’s all a prank.

A group of college students get together at an excluded island home of one of their friends Muffy (Deborah Foreman) to celebrate their last year in school together. Then as the weekend progresses they find that a killer is knocking them off one-by-one. Will the remaining survivors be able to escape, or is there something more to these murders that no one realizes?

The film was an attempt to revive what at the time was a lost interest in the slasher genre by creating a irreverent tone to the staid formula and in that regard it does an okay job. The main issue though is that it gets too jokey making it seem more like a misguided comedy that losses sight of its intended horror fan audience completely.

I didn’t mind a few of the pranks, but too much time gets spent on them and 40 minutes seemed to be a ridiculous wait (if you don’t count the injury that occurs on the initial boat ride in, which seemed more like an accident) before we even get to the first killing. The pranks bordered on being too elaborate and something a regular person wouldn’t be able to pull off. For instance one deals with Rob (Ken Olandt) turning off one light in a room only to have another one turn on, all to the amusement of his girlfriend (Amy Steel) who apparently (I guess?) rigged the lights to do this, but where did she  get the electrical background or time to wire the room in this manner?

If the pranks are supposed to revolve around the fact that it’s April Fool’s Day then all the action should  take place within a 24-hour period instead of over several days. The scenery doesn’t have a spring-like look either as there should be blossoms and buds on the trees, but instead, since it was filmed in August, it looks more like late summer.

The cast comes-off too much like crude and obnoxious junior high kids whose only topic of conversation is sex instead of young adults ready to enter the working world and their dialogue doesn’t seem genuine.  One dumb bit has Harvey (Jay Baker) trying to make amends with Nikki (Deborah Goodrich) by trying to prove to her he really isn’t as much of a ‘dick’ as she thinks, but then proceeds to tell that he’d like to ‘plow her field’, which would only convince her otherwise.

Spoiler Alert!

The killings are brief and feature virtually no gore at all, which will disappoint those expecting to see at least a little. The ending, which reveals the killings to being just another gag, was novel, but there still needed to be a secondary twist. In the film’s original cut Skip (Griffin O’ Neal) kills Muffy after everyone else has left the island, but the studio execs nixed this opting for an ‘upbeat’ ending instead. Upbeat endings are fine if it’s a comedy, but a horror film should have a dark undertone and the fact that this one doesn’t have one at all makes it woefully undernourished.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 28, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Fred Walton

Studio: Paramount

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

Raising Arizona (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Childless couple kidnap baby.

Hi McDunnough (Nicholas Cage) is a repeat offender who goes in and out of the state penitentiary. It is there that he meets Edwina (Holly Hunter) an officer in charge of taking his mugshot each time he gets rearrested for holding up convenience stores. Eventually the two form a bond and when he finally gets released they marry, but find that she’s unable to bear children. They then hatch a plan to kidnap one of the quintuplets of furniture store owner Nathan Arizona (Trey Wilson), but find this leads to more complications than they were prepared for.

While the Coen’s directing is sharp and on-target there were still those that criticized it as being overly stylistic and, as critic Vincent Canby stated, outside of the technical expertise the story has no life of it’s own, which is kind of true. The editing does give the film a personality, but there were times where slowing it down and allowing the scenes to breathe could’ve heightened the humor. For instance having Cage break into the Arizona residence to kidnap the baby happens much too quickly and there should’ve been a scene showing Cage trying to figure out which window to break into to get to the baby’s nursery as it was a big house, so how exactly would he have known where to go?

With that said there are still plenty of times where the distinct directorial touches spark the comedy and make it years ahead-of-its-time. I particularly liked the Coen’s patented camera tracking during Cage’s dream sequence where he views things from the bounty hunter’s (Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb) perspective as he rides his motorbike over obstacles on the front lawn and then supposedly straight into a bedroom. A chase sequence that starts out on the street and then winds up going through a person’s private residence is quite ingenious and the running-joke dealing Dr. Spock’s child rearing book is very funny too.

The script offers only caricatures, which would normally be a detriment, but here it just adds to the zaniness. I really enjoyed Wilson as the stereotypical aggressive, brash salesman and the scene where he talks to the police after the kidnapping has occurred I found to be the funniest moment of the movie. John Goodman and William Forsythe are also great as a pair of inept bank robbers and Sam McMurray and Frances McDormand are hilarious as the in-laws from hell.

Spoiler Alert!

My only real grievance, and it’s on a minor level, was the kidnap scenario, which could’ve been played-out more. I also thought it was weird that this rich couple would have all these kids and not hire a nanny to help them care for the babies. It’s a head-scratcher too that when Cage and Hunter decide to return the baby that they were able to break-into the same window that they did before. Wouldn’t you think that after a kidnapping this rich couple would’ve implemented crime alarms and cameras in ever room? Also, Nathan Arizona, catches the couple in the bedroom returning the kid to his crib and then after talking to them a bit he leaves the room with Cage and Hunter still with the baby, but you would think that after they took the kid once that the father would be too paranoid to ever leave the baby alone with them again.

The ending in typical Coen fashion doesn’t equal the same energy and imagination as the rest of the story and is a bit of a letdown. It deals with a dream that Cage has where he imagines having a really big family, but I thought it would’ve been funnier had the dream started out pleasant where he thinks about all the good things about family life only to have it slowly deteriorate into a nightmare where the harsh realities of raising kids come into play making him wake-up in a cold sweat and feeling lucky that they couldn’t have children after all.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: April 17, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Joel and Ethan Coen

Studio: 20th Century Fox

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

Simon (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: College professor becomes brainwashed.

An underground group of scientists who enjoy playing elaborate pranks decide to brainwash a college professor named Simon Mendelssohn (Alan Arkin) into believing that he is an alien from another planet. After he is successfully brainwashed he then escapes from the institution and gets in with a religious cult who have a transmitter that can block the TV airwaves and allow him the ability to be seen by the entire nation where he tries to reform American culture while also becoming a celebrity sensation.

This extremely odd comical satire  seems out of place for a studio backed film and more in tune with a independent project as it’s unclear what specific type of audience the filmmakers were hoping to attract as mainstream viewers will most likely find the humor off-putting. One could describe it as being ahead-of-its-time, but the banal potshots at such overused targets as TV and American consumerism makes it seem more dated instead.

The movie would’ve worked better had it remained focused on one intended target and then ravaged the hell out of it instead of soft jabs at various safe targets, which makes its overall message muddled and unclear. There are some funny bits including watching Austin Pendleton, who is the head of the research group, making love to a giant telephone receiver, whose voice is supplied by Louise Lasser. It’s also funny having a brainwashed person such as Simon trying to brainwash others via the airwaves, which could’ve been really hilarious had they gone farther with this idea.

There’s signs that writer/director Marshall Brickman hadn’t fully thought through the quirky story idea to begin with. For instance why would this underground group of scientists allow a video crew in to film what they are doing as the members are seen at the beginning talking directly to the camera and answering questions by some unseen interviewer. Wouldn’t this allow their secret to get out and get them into trouble? The army that takes over the institute is too incompetent as Simon and his girlfriend Lisa (Judy Graubart) are able to escape from it too easily and their inability to locate Simon’s rogue TV transmitter even after days of searching is rather pathetic. I realize this is meant to be ‘funny’, but even a comedy should have some tension to it to make it more interesting and the army’s extreme buffoonery isn’t humorous at all, but just plain dumb instead.

Arkin is the one thing that saves it. His unusual acting style makes him hard to cast, but here he really delivers especially during the segment where he plays out the evolution of man, but without using any dialogue although it might’ve been funnier and more of an interesting contrast had his character not been so kooky to begin with, but instead some stuffy intellectual only to become zany once he was brainwashed.

Judy Graubart makes for a good anchor as the one normal person in the whole movie. She was best known for her work on the children’s TV-show ‘The Electric Company’ and this was her live-action film debut, which should’ve lead to a long line of film appearances, but instead she only had brief bits in two other movies and that was it.

There are signs of a great movie trying to break out and the overall concept has brilliant potential, but this is the type of film where you’ve got to go full-throttle and Brickman seems either unable or too timid to do that making what could’ve been sharp satire into a transparent, benign mess that offers only a few chuckles, but not much else.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 1, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Marshall Brickman

Studio: Orion Pictures

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

After Hours (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Don’t stay out late.

Paul (Griffin Dunne) is a single man living in New York, who’s bored with his job and looking to spend his Friday night on the town in hopes that he might hook-up with an attractive woman. While at a late night cafe he meets Marcy (Rosanna Arquette) who tells him that she lives with a sculptress who makes and sells paperweights. Paul decides to use the excuse that he wants to buy one as his ruse to go over to her apartment in hopes of ‘getting lucky’. Yet when he arrives things quickly become surreal where everybody he meets behave in strange ways making his night-on-the-town a nightmarish event.

The film is based on a screenplay by Joseph Minion, who has written two other produced screenplays 1999’s On the Run and 1991’s Motorama that play off the exact same theme, and was done for the screenwriting class that he was taking at Columbia University, which got the attention of Dunne who optioned it as a project he felt would be a perfect fit for his acting style. Unbeknownst to him though was that the first part of it was based on a 30 minute-monologue piece called ‘Lies’ written by Joe Frank and broadcast on NPR radio in 1982 and when the film came out the studio was forced to pay Frank an out of court settlement because of it.

Many have felt the film’s theme is Paul’s emasculation by all the women that he meets, and to an extent that’s probably true, but for me I found it more interesting to see how despite the film’s surreal quality it’s still not that far off from truth. It’s like going out on a first date with a really attractive person who your’e excited about only to find as you get to know them that they’re really screwed-up, or meeting a new group of people who you initially think you have something in common with only to learn as you talk to them that you really don’t. It also nicely satirizes the hip/happening patrons of the club scene who walk around with a perpetual arrogant attitude of coolness, but in reality are quite hollow.

The production was filmed at night, which forced the crew to work for 10-straight weeks from sundown to sun up and then catch-up with their sleep during the day, but the effort was worth it as it helps create this underworld feel with no connection to the ‘proper’ daytime one. I also loved how it tries to explore New York’s club scene and the artsy SoHo district with all the eccentric personalities that make up that subculture, which helps to make New York the unique place that it is and which gets criminally ignored in most other movies that take place there.

The acting is excellent with everyone perfectly cast although the scenes I enjoyed the most involved Dunne’s exchanges with some lesser known performers like Murray Moston as a subway attendant and Clarence Felder as a nightclub bouncer. Credit must also go to Dunne himself who plays the normal guy role perfectly. Had he been too over-the-edge with it, or too nerdy it wouldn’t have worked as the character had to be someone the viewer could relate to while behaving/reacting to things in plausible ways in order to feed off the paradox that the more rational he was the more irrational everything else around him  became.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending proved to be the toughest part for director Martin Scorsese to implement. Originally Dunne’s character was driven away in the van still trapped in a the plaster sculpture that Gail (Verna Bloom) had put him in, but this got a negative response from the test audience, so they then considered having Dunne crawl into Bloom’s womb to hide and then getting ‘reborn’ out on the highway, but that was too bizarre.

The one that they finally came up with, which was suggested by director Michael Powell who came on as a consultant, has Dunne ending up at the office where he worked, which has added irony since most offices are boring places that people usually can’t wait to get out of.  However, it never shows how these experiences changed him and a scene should’ve been added showing Dunne afraid to ever leave and continuing to work late in the night after everyone else had gone before finally getting dragged out by the security guards.

The film also fails to explain how Dunne ever got back into his apartment since the bartender (John Heard) had taken his keys to his place earlier. A good alternative ending would’ve had Dunne falling out of the van not at the office, but at his apartment instead where he would’ve then be let in by his landlord. He would fall asleep in his bed feeling safe only to awaken with everyone that had been chasing him earlier now standing around his bedside having been let in by the bartender with the keys.

Overall this is the type of film that you wished had gone on longer as it gets funnier the more it goes on. My only quibble is that Dunne should’ve been forced to get the Mohawk when he was at the club as seeing him with one would’ve accentuated his beaten down mindset and made his appearance when he returned to work even more absurd.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: September 11, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Martin Scorsese

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, YouTube

Nekromantik (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: They like dead bodies.

Rob and Betty (Robert Schmadtke, Beatrice Manowski) are a couple into necrophilia. Rob’s job as a street sweeper allows him to steal human body parts, which he brings home and stores in jars. One day he is able to sneak home a decomposed body and his wife makes love to it, which makes him jealous. Then he loses his job causing his wife to leave him and forcing him into an even darker mental spiral.

Director Jorg Buttgereit has stated that he never intended to be a serious filmmaker and made this simply as a means to rebel at the German film rating system, which would routinely edit out violent scenes from their films and ‘to shock as many people as possible.’ In that category it does succeed, but what I got most out of it was how funny it is with the ‘romantic’ sequence where a couple throws a severed head back and forth between each other in  a sort of playful, loving way while soft, romantic music plays in the background being the funniest.

There’s also an interesting film-within-a-film concept here where it makes pointed observations on the effects of horror movies on the general public while using its characters to inadvertently convey that message. The best scene here involves Robert going to a horror movie inside a theater, which shows  a woman onscreen getting ambushed by her attacker and then cut up by his knife, but the camera then cuts back to the movie audience and observes their detached and ambivalent  expressions even as the screams of the woman continue on the screen, which to me was the film’s most frightening and revealing moment.

The gore factor is of course quite high uses the technique first done in Cannibal Holocaust  where it cuts back and forth between an actual animal killing to that of a human getting cut open until you can no longer differentiate the real from the fake. The special effects are quite authentic looking despite the minuscule budget and even features a cat death although thankfully I think that one was improvised.

The acting by Manowski is excellent as she shows no hesitation or restraint with her role in a demanding part most other actresses would’ve refused. Her onscreen presence adds erotic energy and it’s too bad she didn’t remain in it for the whole duration as it’s only when the two leads interact that it gets  the most interesting. In fact a backstory showing how they first met and what started them off into their sick habit would’ve been nice.

If you’re into trashy gore this flick is for you although it’s more sickening than scary and in fact I don’t consider it a horror movie at all, but more a dark comedy, a very dark one. This was followed 4 years later by a sequel, which continues the story right where this one leaves off,  has the same director and star, and I’m told is even more graphic.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 19, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 15Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Jorg Buttgereit

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, YouTube

It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer babies shipped away.

Stephen Jarvis (Michael Moriarty) is the father to one of the mutant babies who agrees to have his child shipped away under a court order to a deserted island where it can live freely among the other mutant babies while no longer being a threat to the rest of society. 5 years later Stephen is then asked to join in on an expedition by a group of doctors who want to go to the island to monitor the growth of the children, but when they arrive the children overpower them and force Stephen to return to the mainland in order to meet-up with Stephen’s wife Ellen (Karen Black) who gave birth to one of them years earlier.

Larry Cohen has stated that he wanted to take the theme to its logical conclusion and see what the babies would become like when they grew older, but it was the killer baby plot-line that is what made it so unique and by his point it no longer represents what it initially did. Now they look like overweight versions of the aliens from Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the setting like a whacked-out revision of The Island of Dr. Moreau and instead of being a horror film it’s more like a sci-fi flick and not a particularly good one at that.

It’s only mildly interesting when it’s on island anyways, but surprisingly the story doesn’t remain there and the  ill-advised humor that gets thrown in does nothing but make this already silly idea seem even sillier. We do however get to see more of the babies than in the first two installments, but this doesn’t help because they end up resembling second-rate clay animation figures, which looks tacky as hell.

Moriarty elevates it with a much needed edge and the fact that he’s staunchly pro-life in real-life gives the part an added layer of genuineness.  The only problem is that the character has the same arch as the father’s in the first two films had, which makes it redundant.

Black isn’t in it much, but manages to come on strong at the finish. I was perplexed however as to why in all three films it was the father who went on a crusading mission to save the babies and never the mother. Why couldn’t the wives/mothers have worked with their husbands as a team on this endeavor and the fact that they don’t seems sexist.

Per Leonard Maltin’s review there’s some ‘serious comments’ here on many modern-day social issues, but when it’s as cheaply made as this you really don’t care. There’s also too many tangents including a poorly staged street gang fight that is unconvincing. The first film was a novelty with a few redeeming qualities, but the  sequels do nothing but drive that original idea into the ground and turn the entire concept into a laughable, forgettable grade-Z farce.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 15, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Larry Cohen

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

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

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels (1975)

 

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: She performs daily chores.

This is a highly unusual film which analyzes in minute detail the monotonous tasks that a single mother performs throughout her day and was apparently inspired by writer/director Chantal Ackerman growing up with a mother who suffered from obsessive/compulsive disorder. The story centers on Jeanne (Delphine Seyrig) a woman raising a teenage son while living in a tiny one-bedroom apartment in Belgium. During the day she entertains various men with sexual services and uses the money that she receives for this to help maintain things for both herself and her teenage son Sylvain (Jan Decorte). When she is not working as a prostitute she is busily cooking and cleaning, but as each day passes her routine becomes sloppier, which is a subconscious signal that something is bothering her and only at the very end does the viewer find out what it is.

Some have hailed this as a masterpiece including being listed among the ‘1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die’ by Steven Schneider. Normally I enjoy films that buck the conventional narrative and trying to learn about a character through the way she performs her daily routine as opposed to doing it the standard way through dialogue and action is commendable, but the cinematic flair is missing making this seem more like ‘monotonous task porn’ than a movie.

For instance when we watch Jeanne wash her dishes the camera does it in a very static way from behind her instead of doing something flashy like a close-up of the water glistening of the dish, or from some other provocative angle. Akerman has stated that she took this approach in order to show respect to her character’s ‘personal space’, but this only ends up giving it a closed-circuit TV feel.

Nonetheless I still remained strangely intrigued, but I’m not sure if this was because of some reviews I read beforehand where I was told that about the ‘surprise/shocking ending’ that would somehow make what I was watching all seem worth it, or because of what I was actually going on. I’ll agree that seeing the way she prepares and cooks her various meals is fascinating, but it’s for all the wrong reasons as you become more caught up in the task itself than the character and to say that one’s mind doesn’t eventually begin to wander after 3 hours and 20 minutes of this would be an understatement.

The 3-day arch that she goes through from where she performs her tasks proficiently on the first day only to screw them up more and more by the third one needed to be much more apparent as her ‘screw-ups’, like dropping a newly washed spoon on the floor, are too subtle and not enough of a payoff. Cinema is still a visual and dramatic art form and yet this film runs away from that at every conceivable turn making it seem more like an assault on one’s stamina instead.

Spoiler Alert!

The only true cinematic moment comes at the very end when Jeanne kills one of her male clients, but there’s no reason given for why she does this or what the aftermath will be. To have to sit through all that comes before it just to walk away with unanswered questions is frustrating and almost like being told a joke where the punchline is not an equal payoff to the long, tangent-filled set-up that it took to get there. I like the concept, which is intriguing, but it could’ve been accomplished in half the runtime making this an interesting experiment that can be appreciated as an oddity, but nothing more than that.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 14, 1975

Runtime: 3Hours 21Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Chantal Ackerman

Studio: Olympic Films

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

The Witches of Eastwick (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Devil comes to town.

Based on the John Updike novel of the same name, the story centers on three single women (Cher, Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer) living in the town of Eastwick, Rhode Island who are also witches, but don’t yet realize it. All three want to meet up with the man of their dreams, which ushers in Daryl Van Horne (Jack Nicholson). He is a rich playboy that buys the town’s landmark home the stately Lennox Mansion. The three women are initially seduced by his powers only to realize later that he is actually the devil incarnate and spend the rest of the time conjuring up a spell that will send him back to where he came from.

After achieving so much success with The Road Warrior franchise Australian director George Miller decided to take a stab at something completely different, but had to deal with studio politics during the production, which made the final product disjointed. However, despite an array of confusing plot points the offbeat elements are enough to hold your attention and keep things interesting.

The creative special effects add an imaginative flair, but tend to get overdone. I enjoyed the scene where Veronica Cartwright vomits out cherry seeds all over her house, which leaves an indelible impression, but then Nicholson does the same thing later inside a church where it becomes redundant and gross. Watching a floating tennis ball defying gravity is amusing, but not needed. This scene, where all four get together to play a game of tennis, should’ve instead focused on the underlying tensions between the characters, which would’ve given the movie some needed nuance.

I enjoyed Sarandon, who goes from being a repressed nerdette to sexual vamp, but overall the efforts of the game cast are wasted as there’s not enough distinction between the women’s personalities making them seem almost like the same person. The only female that is distinct and memorable is Cartwright who’s campy, over-the-top portrayal of a paranoid religious woman hits-the-mark and should’ve been enough to give her more screen time and at least one scene where she confronts Nicholson directly.

I would’ve preferred also that the women been aware right from the start that they were witches, which would’ve made them immediate adversaries to Nicholson instead of these dopey pawns that passively allow him to seduce them one-by-one in long drawn-out segments that become quite strained. In contrast Nicholson could’ve preyed on the other women in town while these same witches spent their time coming up with ways to stop him and thus creating more of a theatrical battle.

Nicholson is great, but his character like with the others is poorly etched. At the beginning he’s a conniving player who possesses the ability to manipulate these women almost seamlessly, but then during the second half this all changes, but with no clear explanation as to why. His speech though inside a church expounding on man’s ever daunting task to tap into the female’s psychic is priceless:

“Do you think God knew what he was doing when he created women, or do you think it was just another one of his minor mistakes like tidal waves?…If it was a mistake maybe we can do something about it; find a cure, then a vaccine, build-up our immune systems.”

The biggest issue though is that the film needed to be genre specific and played more like a horror movie with dark comical undertones instead of a serene/hybrid comedy. The New England setting is picturesque, but not right for this type of story. A better location would’ve been a town that was mostly cloudy and gloomy while containing buildings that were old and gothic, which would’ve helped to create an eerie atmosphere that is otherwise sorely lacking.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 12, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 58Minutes

Rated R

Director: George Miller

Studio: Warner Brothers

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