Category Archives: Psychological

Victims (1982)

victims1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Reviews: Haunted by childhood memories.

Paul (Tony Vorno) is plagued by inner-demons including voices and repressed childhood memories that cause him to go through life having violent outbursts, which he mainly takes out on various women both prostitutes and those he meets at random. He goes to Dr. Russo (Jerome Guardino) who specializes in hyno therapy in hopes that if put under hypnosis his rages can be controlled. As the Dr. analyzes Paul’s case, both he and his assistant Marian (Lenore Stevens), find that Paul’s difficult childhood where he was raised by a prostitute mother (Lois Adams) and witnessed the abuse she took from her violent pimp may be what’s causing Paul’s psychological torment now.

This film, which was written and directed by the lead actor who made a career of either directing, producing, or acting in exploitative films all through the 60’s and 70’s, was made in 1976, but languished in obscurity for years only to finally be given a video release 6 years later. Recently the film has acquired a cult following mainly because of the similarities with that of Maniacwhich starred Joe Spinell. That movie was structured as a conventional slasher/horror while this one is more of a drama where the rapist is portrayed as someone to sympathize with due his psychological scars that he can’t seem to overcome.

The movie though lacks the violence and gore one has come to expect with these types of films. The sexual assaults happen too quickly, many times last only a few seconds, or sometimes are created to be false flags that done’t lead anywhere including the time Paul stalks a young child, which you think is because he wants to attack her, but instead it’s to save her from a speeding car. While the film turns out to be much less exploitative then it originally sounds, it’s also frustrating as very little happens and the set-ups don’t manifest into any type of shocks, or scares. You start to wonder if there is going to be any pay-off to it especially with the grainy looking production that is quite cheap and amateurish otherwise.

The scenes dealing with Paul’s childhood memories don’t work because we never see the child, only his point-of-view, and includes Vorno speaking in a child’s voice off-camera, which isn’t convincing and kind of pathetic. To get the full intended impact  a child’s innocent face gazing at the horrors around him needed to be seen. Even if it meant splicing in shots of  a child’s face later, so the young performer wouldn’t have to have been on the set to witness the adult dialogue and action, would’ve worked, but either way the visual is the thing that propels movies and needs to be implemented and not compromised as much as possible.

The film’s final few minutes are disturbing and almost makes sitting through the rest of it worth it, but this could still be tough going for viewers expecting a conventional horror flick, which this isn’t. The flashbacks seen at the beginning, which gives away what happens at the end, weren’t needed and hurts the climactic effect though it still remains a dark and ugly journey nonetheless.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: July, 1982 (Video Release Only)

Runtime: 1 Hour 22 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Tony Vorno

Studio: Paulie Productions

Available: None

The Blockhouse (1973)

blockhouse2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: There’s no way out.

On D-Day a group of war prisoners on an island that’s run by German soldiers seek shelter from an allied air attack by finding refuge in an underground German bunker, but once inside, they realize to their horror that the shelling outside has blocked-off both the entrance and exit, which essentially traps them in permanently. They are fortunate enough to find a supply room full of enough food and wine to keep them fed for a long time, but as the days wear into weeks and then months and even years they grow tired and despondent about their situation. They try to find ways to break through the cement walls, but their attempts prove futile, which leads all of them into a mental and emotional breakdown.

The film is best known as being one of Peter Seller’s rare dramatic turns where he plays a character that is not funny or colorful. Normally his performances are quite flamboyant and over-the-top and he tends to dominate the spotlight, but here he blends in with the rest of the performers with a rare low-key portrayal that is quite impressive when given how he normally acts. This was yet another project he got involved in during the early 70’s when his career was on the down side and he was desperately taking just about any offer that came along, no matter what the quality, in an effort to bring in money. While some of those movies that he starred in during that period were truly awful (i.e. Where Does it Hurt?) this one, despite its grim theme, is unique and worth checking out particularly for those who enjoy experimental cinema.

The film was directed by Clive Rees, whose only other cinematic directorial effort was When the Wales Came, which had a similar theme about an eccentric man living an isolated existence on an island. While Rees is not as well known as Stanley Kubrick, Sellers insisted in interviews, that he was ‘every bit as good’.  While this statement may seem like an exaggeration I was quite taken aback by the gritty realism and the way the viewer feels just as trapped as the victims. The actors give all-around great performances and you see their character’s ultimate mental decline happen right before your eyes, which is both vivid and gut-wrenching. The story also looks at all aspects of their deterioration where they start to do things they had never done before including conveying certain homo-erotic elements. While none of this gets shown I was still impressed that it at least got lightly touched-on as I feared due to the period and heavy UK censorship, where this film was made, that would be one facet that couldn’t get introduced, but ultimately in a soft way it does.

If you’re looking for an entertaining crowd pleaser than this movie won’t be it. As Sellers rightly stated in his interview it’s meant for serious ‘connoisseur’s of cinema’ only. TV Guide complained that the film in their review ‘goes nowhere’ and it doesn’t reveal a ‘metaphysical reason’ for the character’s predicament, but I really didn’t think one was needed. Sometimes shit just happens and people must learn to adapt to their new harsh reality, or fall apart and in that vein I felt the movie does an excellent job and goes much further into this dark, murky psychological realm than most others would dare.

Spoiler Alert!

The story is based on the 1955 novel of the same name by Jean-Paul Clebert, who also coincidentally lived an isolated existence for many years in an abandoned village. The novel is loosely based on the actual incident that occurred on June 25, 1951 when two German soldiers in Poland were rescued from an underground shelter that they had been trapped in for 6 years. The difference is that in the movie we never see the rescue as it ends with the remaining two survivors stuck in total darkness when the last of their candles goes out. I felt it would’ve worked better had the rescue been shown as well as a better build-up where we would’ve gotten to the know the men better in the prison camp before they were forced underground, which would’ve made their mental declines even more interesting.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 1, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Clive Rees

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, Tubi

The Ninth Configuration (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Insane man runs asylum.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alternate Title: Twinkle, Twinkle, “Killer” Kane

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 29, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 58 Minutes

Rated R

Director: William Peter Blatty

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

The Lightship (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hostages on a boat.

Captain Miller (Klaus Maria Brandauer) manages a stationary lightship with a small crew in the Atlantic and allows his teenage son Alex (Michal Skolimowski, but billed as Michael Lyndon) to come on board for a visit. While his son is there they take on board three men (Robert Duvall, William Forsythe, Arliss Howard) who were stranded at sea on a small boat. Once they board the vessel they quickly take over and hold the rest of the crew hostage. Alex wants to fight back immediately, but his father cautions him to take a more measured approach, which he finds to be cowardly and doesn’t hesitate to let his dad know it.

The film is a real mixed-bag with some good elements and some not so good ones to the point that it seems almost surprising that it was directed by such a legendary talent as Jerzy Skolimowski. The isolation aspects are good as you feel this boat is completely by itself out in the middle of the gray cold sea, which helps elevate the atmosphere particularly when Skolimoski forces the actors to perform outside even as a storm rages. However, the cinematography looks like it was filmed on videotape  and then transferred to film later, which gives the thing a cheap, low budget feel.

The most disconcerting aspect though is the action, or the lack thereof. The criminals overtake the ship too easily and quickly without enough of a buildup or explanation as to why they are doing it. There’s also way too many situations where the bad guys could’ve easily been overtaken particularly when all three put down their guns and go dancing/partying in one of the vessel’s downstairs cabins. Why couldn’t the rest of the crew simply used this opportunity to lock them inside?

There’s also just too much standing around and talking making it one of the most civilized hostage taking scenarios ever recorded. The bad guys are also too dense particularly the Forsythe character who speaks and acts so dimwitted that he seemed better suited for a comedy. Instead of the film building-up the tension for the viewer you start to wonder why any of what we’re seeing is even happening.

Duvall’s performance is a bright spot as he plays against type by speaking in a wispy voice and wearing a pencil thin mustache until he looks almost exactly like film director John Waters. Brandauer is excellent as well and his stoic, measured presence helps to keep it compelling, but what surprised me the most was that apparently during rehearsals Duvall and Brandauer played the opposite part and then decided to switch-up once shooting began, which would’ve made seeing the behind-the-scenes footage all the more fascinating. Lyndon though as the son is quite weak and outside of his pretty boy face has very little to offer and was most likely only got the part because he was the son of the director while his voice-over narration, which was apparently thrown in at the last minute, is completely unnecessary and only helps to take the viewer out of the story every time it gets used.

The climax is genuinely exciting as it’s not clear until the very end whether the captain will come through and save the ship, or just cowardly slink away. As I said at the top of this review it’s a real mixed-bag with a couple of choice dramatic moments that makes it worth it, but only if you’re patient.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 1, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Jerzy Skolimowski

Studio: CBS Theatrical Films

Available: DVD

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: She suffers from schizophrenia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 14, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Anthony Page

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Rabbit, Run (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s maladjusted to adulthood.

Harry (James Caan) was a basketball star in high school and nicknamed Rabbit because of his speed. Now he’s a middle-aged man working a thankless job and stuck in a loveless marriage with an alcoholic wife (Carrie Snodgress). One day he decides to just jump into his car and drive away from all of it. He meets his former coach (Jack Albertson) who hooks him up with a prostitute (Anjanette Comer) and the two begin a makeshift relationship, but that doesn’t work out either. Rabbit then decides to return to his wife just as she’s ready to deliver their second child only to ultimately have tragedy strike.

Although the film was not as well received by the critics as the John Updike novel that it’s based upon was I still cam away liking it. There are indeed some lulls but director Jack Smight nicely incorporates the on-location shooting of Reading, Pennsylvania where Updike was born into the story, which gives it a distinctive visual flair. The scene where Rabbit walks into his gray, dingy old apartment only to see his wife slouched on the sofa with a liquor bottle would make anyone want to get up and run out of there and visually you get a sense of what Rabbit is feeling and therefore you don’t totally blame him for doing what he does even as irresponsible as it is.

Caan gives a great performance in a part he was born to play and I was impressed with his long distance running that occurs both at the beginning of the film and the end. However, if would have been nice to have had some flashbacks showing the character in better times. It’s one thing to talk about the character’s success on the basketball court and it’s another to actually see it. It would’ve also helped explain his weird rendezvous with his coach as the old man tells him, much to Rabbit’s shock, that the most important thing in life is ‘tits and pussy’. I think the reason for this, without having actually read the book, is that as a teen the coach acted as a role model and put up a moral facade for his players, but now as both are adults he sees the more jaded side of the guy, but without the benefit of a flashback this point gets lost.

The characters are nicely multi-dimensional, which makes watching them interact fascinating. I enjoyed Arthur Hill as a minister who tries to redeem Rabbit only to admit that he has fantasized about doing the exact same thing that Rabbit did although his wife, played by Melodie Johnson, is too young and dresses too provocatively to ever be taken seriously as being an actual pastor’s wife.

Spoiler Alert!

Smight captures the book’s shocking elements nicely including the baby drowning scene in the bathtub where the viewer sees it from the infant’s underwater point-of-view. However, the moment where Comer gets pressured to ‘go down’ on Caan in an effort to perform fellatio with him, which she apparently did with some of her other customers, has clearly lost its edge since it’s a more mainstream sexual practice between couples now than it was back then although the pounding music that gets played over this sequence as they ‘debate’ whether to do it or not is good.

The ending though I found disappointing as it’s too similar to the one in Adam at 6 AM, which came out around the same time and had the film’s star Michael Douglas driving away from his obligations in a car while here Caan does the same, but only on his feet yet one can’t run away from things their whole lives. I was hoping to see how he changed during the different stages of his life, which this film doesn’t show. Updike wrote three follow-up novels to this story ‘Rabbit Redux’, ‘Rabbit is Rich’, and ‘Rabbit at Rest’, and I hope that they can remake this film while adding elements of those stories into it, which will create a fuller composite to the Rabbit character and his life, which this film lacks.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 10, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jack Smight

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), YouTube

Split Image (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Their son becomes brainwashed.

Danny (Micheal O’Keefe) is a struggling athlete who’s feeling overwhelmed by the demands and pressures of college life. He meets-up with Rebecca (Karen Allen) who invites him to a weekend stay at what turns out to be a religious cult run by Kirklander (Peter Fonda). It is there that Danny becomes brainwashed into the organization and cuts off all ties with his parents (Brian Dennehy, Elizabeth Ashley) who decide they have no option but to kidnap him and then have him deprogrammed by a brash, caustic deprogrammer (James Woods) who they find to be rude but helpful

This film is very similar to Ticket to Heaven that was produced in Canada and has the same story and structure. The Canadian production though is a bit better especially with the way it examines the protagonist getting acclimated into the cult. Both films have the young man becoming brainwashed in a matter of one weekend which to me is too quick. The Canadian film though at least examines the different activities that they go through to wear him down and it gets in your face with it, so the viewer feels as exhausted as the young man when t’s over while this film glosses over that part making the transition seem too extreme. The Canadian film also detailed the character’s constant inner turmoil even after he’d been indoctrinated while here Danny behaves like a light switch that completely changes from his old self in a snap and then never looks back, which is less realistic

The B-story dealing with a romance that he has with Rebecca while in the group degrades the the story to a sappy opera level and should’ve been left out. Allen certainly is perfect for her role as her bright, beaming blue eyes gives her character that brainwashed appearance, but the extended conversations she has with Danny are strained making me believe that the scenes inside the cult should’ve been cut as they’re corny instead of compelling and focused instead  solely on the parents point-of-view at trying to get him out.

The film though does score with the deprogramming segment, which gets much more extended here. Director Ted Kotcheff uses elaborate visual effects to convey Danny’s point-of-view and unlike in Ticket to Heaven the deprogrammer doesn’t allow the family and friends to sit-in on his sessions as he feared they won’t understand his methods, which is more believable.

Ashley as the mother is great especially her meltdown near the end with Danny when he tries to physically attack her.  I had some problems though with Dennehy’s character as he seemed much too calm and laid back and even starts singing as they drive to the cult location even though most people would be nervous and then later showing him breaking down and crying as he watched an old video of Danny is too overwrought.

Woods though perfectly captures the anti-hero with his intended brashness being more amusing than offensive. The part where he plays-out a scene to the movie Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde starring Spencer Tracy was I’m convinced ad-libbed and a great example of  how his acting genius gives this movie a needed edge and whose presence keeps it watchable.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 3, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 50 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ted Kotcheff

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: VHS, Amazon Video

Ticket to Heaven (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He joins a cult.

Despondent over his recent break-up with his girlfriend, David (Nick Mancuso) visits a religious revival group attended by many young adults his age. He finds their incessant, ritualistic games of singing and dancing to be annoying at first as well as their lack of sleep and skimpy diet, but eventually he succumbs to their control. His friend Larry (Saul Rubinek) tracks him down and tries to free him, but realizes they have brainwashed him to such a severe extent that he is forced to concoct an elaborate kidnapping plan in order to bring him to an undisclosed place where he can then be deprogrammed.

Although religious cults aren’t quite as prevalent now back in the 70’s there were many incidents of parents losing their teens or young adult children to the icy grip of these brainwashing organizations and the struggles to bring them back to the real world proved grueling and sometimes futile. This film, based on the nonfiction novel ‘Moonwebs’ by Josh Freed, manages to hit home the finer points of the phenomenon giving the viewer a vivid understanding of the situation not only for those that became members, but their family and friends who had to helplessly watch loved ones devolve into a mindless, robotic shell of what they once were.

One of the drawbacks though is that the protagonist is portrayed too broadly. The film makes it seem as if anyone could get brainwashed by these groups, which I don’t agree with. I realize everyone can at times be vulnerable, but certain people fall more into these mind traps than others and there’s nothing clear as to why David fell prey so badly and just saying he was upset about his recent breakup is not enough of an explanation for a such a severe downward spiral.

Rubinek as his friend is really annoying and turning him into the essential hero of the film makes it even worse. On the petty side I couldn’t stand his overly bushy eyebrows or that he goes on stage dressed as a giant carrot and later a tomato just for cheap laughs, which is the type of guy you want to see fade away not ultimately root for. What really got on my nerves though was how he comes up with such an elaborate kidnapping plan and pulls it off confidently despite having no experience and the fact that he gets so many others to help him do it including his own boss really pushes the film’s credibility badly.

The direction though deserves accolades particularly the first 25 minutes, which detail the different manipulative tactics these groups do in order to wear down the newbies. The shots showing David trying to leave the group and constantly being hounded by other members refusing to ever let him be alone are memorable. I also liked the bird’s eye shots of all the people taking part, which is almost jaw dropping at just how many there were.

The performance by Kim Cattrall as one of the group’s main members nicely illustrates how a young smiling, pretty face could allure a young man to let down his guard only for her to ultimately convey her controlling claws later. The scenes dealing with the deprogramming are good, but could’ve been extended and there’s never any mention of the time frame as the movie makes it seems like it takes only a few days when in reality it could sometimes be weeks or even months. Overall it’s a compelling look at a difficult subject that is quite similar to Split Image starring Micheal O’Keefe, which came out around the same time and will be reviewed tomorrow.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 9, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ralph L. Thomas

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD

The Driller Killer (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Electric drill relieves stress.

Reno (Abel Ferrara) is a New York apartment dweller who frets over his inability to pay his bills and the constant noise coming from a punk band next door who perform at all hours of the day and night and to which his landlord (Alan Wynroth) refuses to do anything about. The pressures to finish his latest painting, which he hopes to sell, become too much, so to alleviate the tension he takes a power drill out onto the streets and kills random homeless people with it late at night. For awhile this is enough but he eventually decides to use it on other people in his life who he feels have wronged him, which includes not only his girlfriend,but an art gallery owner (Harry Schultz) who refused to purchase his painting.

This is a definite step above the usual horror fare and seems in many ways like an arthouse film. It’s ability to capture New York’s dark urban underbelly gives the viewer a strong taste of what the main character is going through until you almost feel like you’re trapped there alongside him. The talky segments that come in-between the killings, which are usually the boring parts in most other horror films, are surprisingly captivating as they vividly convey all the reasons why Reno is so angry and give the viewer much the same feeling.

When the killings finally do start to happen it’s not so much the graphic violence that’s disturbing, but the fact that we relate to the man who’s doing it. We’ve understood his pent up rage by seeing how the unrelenting, impersonal urban system continually works against him making the murders act like a stress reliever not only to the killer, but the viewer as well as it breaks both us and him away from the never ending challenges of everyday life, which the film essentially portrays as being the real horror. Instead of being repelled by the bad guy we connect to him sending this movie into a far darker psychological realm than most.

While Ferrara shows a gifted ability as a director the film almost defeats it’s unique edge by dwelling too much on the urban hell hole theme as it makes its point and then drags it out by hitting-it-home again and again. The footage of the punk band becomes excessive too until it almost becomes more like a musical docu-drama. The killings aren’t very imaginative either as one quickly becomes like the other eventually making them seem like throwaway scenes that quickly lose their impact.

The film’s ending is particularly disappointing as it fades out before we know what happens to either the main character or his girlfriend (Carol Slaughter). A good horror film needs a strong finish and this one cops-out like it didn’t know how to end it, so it just leaves it up to the viewer to guess. While I commend its effort to take the genre into a more complex and unusual area I still felt it could’ve gone even further with its warped premise than it does.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 15, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Abel Ferrara

Studio: Navaron Films

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

Angst (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Madman attacks peaceful family.

A serial killer (Erwin Leder) gets released from prison despite still having the urge to kill. He initially tries to strangle a female cab driver (Renate Kastelik), but she throws him out of her car before he can do it. He then goes running through the woods until he comes upon an isolated home. He breaks into it and kills each of the three family members living there one-by-one before eventually taking their lifeless bodies with him in the trunk of his car while he drives aimlessly around Austria.

This film is based on the real-life Austrian case of Werner Kniesek who murdered a family of three in their home on January 16, 1980 shortly after being released from prison. In that case Werner had known one of the victims previously while the movie its portrayed as if the killer has no connection to the occupants at all. In the actual crime Werner also killed the family’s cat where in the movie the pet is a dog, which the killer not only allows to live, but eventually befriends.

I’ve spent years complaining how most horror films aren’t very realistic, so I suppose I really can’t complain when one finally does decide to go all-in with graphic realism and not spare anything. The film certainly succeeds in being like a grisly true-life crime, but in the process it’s not very scary either. You know right from the start where it’s going, which makes the eventual violence come off as agonizingly drawn out and pointless. It’s like footage caught on a closed-circuit camera where you have no emotional bond with the people or action and when it’s over you’re left feeling drained and ambivalent.

Many people have praised the innovative camera work, which is provocative and some have even compared this to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, but that film was more compelling in the way the main character was able to entice regular people to help him with his crimes while here there is virtually no dialogue or character arcs. There’s basically no story either just a graphic dramatization of a random crime that gets excessively drawn-out.

Leder is excellent and I liked how he portrays his character as being nervous, anxious and perpetually frightened as opposed to the stereotypical way of showing psychos who are robotically cold and relentlessly evil.  His voice-over narration allows for moments of insight too particularly when, as he is killing his victims, his thoughts are instead focused on past wrongs that were inflicted onto him from years ago by others, which made me believe this could very well be the thought pattern of most killers who selfishly remain fixated on their own personal injustices even as they callously destroy others.

The acting by the supporting cast is impressive too not so much from what they emote since they’re given very little to say or do, but more with the way they sacrificed  their bodies for the project particularly when the killer drags their lifeless corpses over broken glass (no mannequins or dummies were used) and down several flights of stairs. I also loved the dog and in fact he’s the highlight that allows for moments of levity and even comic relief in an otherwise unrelentingly grim film that will appeal only to a select group of people.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 2, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes, 1Hour 15Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Not Rated

Director: Gerald Kargl

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