Category Archives: Offbeat

What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? (1969)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Old lady kills housekeepers.

After the death of her husband, Claire (Geraldine Page) is shocked to learn that there is no money in his will. Fearing a life of destitution she plots to hire old lady housekeepers who she’ll manipulate to give her their life savings in which she’ll invest into stocks through her broker (Peter Brandon). Once these stocks start making money she’ll murder the housekeeper and keep all the profits for herself. After killing off her fourth housekeeper, Miss Tinsley (Mildred Dunnock) and burying her dead body in her backyard, she hires Alice (Ruth Gordon). Alice though has a secret, she was at one time the former employer for Miss Tinsley, who wants to investigate what happened to her and is suspicious that Claire may hold the secret. Claire though becomes aware of Alice’s scheme and decides to try and make Alice her fifth victim.

This marked the third of Robert Altman’s trilogy featuring old lady killers with the first two being What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte. This was the first one to be filmed in color and the harsh dry desert landscape setting works as a great metaphor to Claire’s barren, evil soul. I also enjoyed the winding plot, which is based on the 1961 novel ‘The Forbidden Garden’ by Ursula Curtiss that has many offbeat twists including a memorable scene featuring the two old ladies rolling around on the floor during a furious fight that you’ll most likely never see in any other movie.

Page’s performance is the main reason why the film is so entertaining. Watching all the various characteristics that she gives to her haughty character is fascinating and she helps make Claire, as nasty as she is, quite memorable. I especially liked the part where after she kills one of her victims she displays for a split second a shocked expression like even she can’t believe what she has just done and this helps to make her character multi-dimensional, like there’s still some semblance of a tortured conscious somewhere within her and she isn’t just a robotic, evil person.

Gordon is okay in support, but I felt her character should’ve had some backup plan that she would use in defense when things got ugly. She keeps assuring her nephew (Robert Fuller) that she can handle things, but when Claire turns on her she becomes almost like a deer-in-headlights. I also didn’t like the wig that she wears and have to agree with one critic who said it makes her look like a giant, walking-talking peanut. I realize that the wig does eventually come into play as part of the plot, but I felt in the brief segments where she’s shown not wearing it she could’ve been seen with her real hair and not just in another wig, which looked just as dumb.

Honorable mention should also go to Spike who plays a stray dog named Chloe. Spike was a well trained animal who was in many films and TV-shows between 1956 and 1971 and the parts where he bares his teeth and growls at Claire every time he sees her, as she attempts to harm him, are amusing.

Spoiler Alert!

The script by Theodore Apstein, fortunately avoids a lot of loopholes, but I did feel at the end they should’ve shown or explained how the characters played by Rosemary Forsythe and Micheal Barbera were able to escape from their burning house. I also found it hard to fathom why Robert Fuller’s character, upon learning that his Aunt had been killed in a suspicious car accident didn’t immediately accuse Claire of doing it. He had pretended not to have any connection to Alice during the majority of the story as that was part of their scheme, but once she was dead I didn’t see why he still needed to pretend. I would think he’d be so emotionally distraught at that point that he would let out his true emotions without even thinking and possibly even tried to attack Claire while having to be restrained by the others.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The film’s promotional poster, as seen above, is a bit problematic as it features a young model looking like she’s been buried, but in the movie it was only old ladies that were killed and buried. Showing a beautiful lady may have been more visually appealing, but it’s not authentic to the film that it’s trying to promote.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: July 23, 1969

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated M

Director: Lee H. Katzin (Bernard Girard for the first 4-weeks of filming)

Studio: Cinerama Releasing Corporation

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

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

Posse (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Everyone has their price.

Howard Nightingale (Kirk Douglas) is an ambitious Marshall looking to run for U.S. Senate and realizes his best bet of winning the seat is by bringing in the notorious train robbing gang led by Jack Strawhorn (Bruce Dern). Howard manages to kill off the gang by having his posse set fire to the hideout that they were in, but Jack escapes only to be captured later and brought to jail. While on the train ride to Austin where he’ll be hanged Jack comes up with an elaborate escape and turns-the-tables by handcuffing Howard and returning him to the town where they came from and holding him prisoner inside the local hotel. When the posse returns to the town everyone is convinced they’ll free Howard, or will they?

In an era where revisionist westerns were all the rage it’s confusing, at least initially, not to understand why this one, which story-wise goes completely against-the-grain of the conventional western, isn’t propped up there with the best of them and a lot of the blame could possibly be put on the direction. There’s nothing really wrong with the way it’s presented and there are some exciting moments including a realistic shootout as well as a running train being set on fire while also exploding from dynamite, but the rest of it does have a certain static feel. There’s too much reliance on music and not enough on mood or atmosphere as well as actors looking more like modern day people in period costume.

The script though, which is based on a 1971 short story called ‘The Train’ by Larry Cohen is full of many offbeat twists that keeps the viewer intrigued. Of course in an attempt to stretch out the short story into feature length there are some slow spots, particularly in the middle and the emphasis is more on concept than character development, but Jack’s crafty way at escaping is quite entertaining and the surprise ending is one of the best not because it’s a gimmick, which it isn’t, but more because it’s quite believable and yet something that’s never been done in any other western.

Douglas gives his conniving character just the right amount of pompous camp to make him enjoyable and it’s great to see James Stacy in his first movie role after his tragic motorcycle accident where he lost both his left arm and leg. In any other film this handicap would have to become a major issue, but here it doesn’t even get mentioned. The character doesn’t use it to feel sorry for himself nor is he treated any differently than anyone else, which I found to be quite refreshing.

A minor drawback though it that it’s supposed to take place in Texas and my hometown of Austin even gets mentioned a few times, which is kind of cool, but it was actually filmed in the state of Arizona. To some this might not be a big deal, but Arizona’s landscape is much sandier and has more mountains. Their cacti is of the upright kind while in Texas the cactus is of the bushy variety known as the prickly pear. All of which helps to ruin the film’s authenticity. If they didn’t have the funding to film it in Texas then have the story’s setting take place in California or Arizona, but trying to compromise it and hoping that astute viewers won’t know the difference doesn’t work.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 4, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Kirk Douglas

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Andy Warhol’s Bad (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Paying women to kill.

Hazel (Carroll Baker) runs a beauty parlor out of her home that specializes in unwanted hair removal, but secretly on the side she hires beautiful women to carry out contract killings of which she gets a part of the take. L.T. (Perry King) is a vagabond in desperate need of money who’s looking to get into the business, but Hazel prefers her killers to be women and is reluctant to take him, but eventually decides to hire him on a trial basis, but then everything starts to go wrong.

One of the best things about this movie is how truly dark it gets. Too many movies that proclaim to be dark comedies always pull back and never get as deliriously twisted as they initially convince you they will, but this film proudly takes things to the darkest extremes becoming a measurement to what true underground filmmaking once was where pushing the envelope was the only goal.

For the most part, depending on one’s sense of humor, it’s outrageously funny. Some of the more wicked moments feature twin sisters (Geraldine and Maria Smith) setting a movie theater on fire and then going home to watch the coverage of it on the TV. There’s also Warhol alum Brigid Berlin as an overweight woman with flatulence issues who’s obsessed at getting brutal revenge on anyone that she perceives as making fun of her weight.

The film also takes satirical jabs at the American obsession of making money and how one’s social standing hinges on how much they have without any concern with what exactly they had to do to get it. This come to a perfect hilt when Hazel throws L.T. out of the house when he refuses to go through with a hit but still somehow feels she’s the morally superior one by taunting him with “At least I pay my own way”.

Due to this being the biggest budgeted film that Andy Warhol produced they  were able to hire some well-known faces into the roles. Baker though was not their first choice as they originally wanted Vivian Vance, whose presence would’ve made this even more of a gem than it already is, but she turned it down fearing it would ruin her reputation with her fans. Shelley Winters, who was their second choice, also rejected the offer, which was rare as she usually accepted anything that came along and she would’ve been brilliant, but I’ll give props to Baker, who took the role simply in an attempt to resuscitate her career, for not holding anything back here and giving it her all.

King is also superb and I enjoyed seeing his character arch as he’s the only in the film that has one, but was disappointed that there was never a final, fiery confrontation between him and Hazel as the film spends the whole time priming you into believing that there will be. Tyrrell is also memorable in a rare sympathetic part where she becomes the only one with a conscious although I have no idea where they got the baby that she is seen constantly carrying around as he’s one of the stranger looking tykes I’ve ever seen.

The cinematic quality though is lacking with almost all of the action taking place inside the drab house. The basic concept isn’t completely well thought out either. While I appreciated the bad cop character, played by Charles McGregor, who gets paid to look the other way, which helps to explain how Hazel is able to get away with these killings for as long as she does, I was still confused with how she was able to bully people. Everyone adheres to her authority, which is never challenged, but you’d think someone running a dicey operation would have some sort of backup plan and weapon on hand should someone get out-of-line, which she doesn’t and for me this seemed questionable.

The film is notorious as well for a scene showing a young mother throwing her baby out of a high story building and watching it go splat on the ground. Supposedly Baker, King, and Tyrrell refused to do the film unless they were promised that this scene be taken out of the script and director Jed Johnson complied only to end up filming it once the rest of the production had wrapped. Years ago when  I first saw this I thought it was pretty funny especially as another mother walks by and says to her young child “that’s what’s going to happen to you if you don’t behave”. It’s clearly a doll anyways and no real baby was harmed, but when I viewed it this time around I found it unsettling, so like with a lot of things in this movie, it’s up to a person’s age and perspective on how much of it they may or may not enjoy.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Release: May 4, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 45 Minutes

Rated X

Director: Jed Johnson

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD

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