Category Archives: Thrillers/Suspense

Obsession (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: She resembles his wife.

Michael Courtland (Cliff Robertson) is a wealthy land developer living in New Orleans whose wife Elizabeth (Genevieve Bujold) and daughter (Wanda Blackman) become victims of a kidnapping and die during the police shoot-out. Michael becomes tortured with guilt feeling he should’ve done more to save them. 16 years after the crime was committed he meets a woman (also played by Bujold) who looks strikingly like his former wife. He becomes infatuated with her and the two eventually marry only for him to find that she holds a deep, dark secret.

This film marks yet another attempt by director Brian De Palma to emulate his idol Alfred Hitchcock with a film loaded with fancy camera work, but not much else. For the most part, at least visually, it’s tolerable and not quite as overdone as De Palma’s other Hitchcock imitations. To some degree the camera work and soft focus lens is the most entertaining thing about it although having the camera go back and forth from one talking head to another during a scene where Robertson and co-start John Lithgow have a conversation at a restaurant becomes unnecessarily dizzying.

The casting of Robertson is a problem as he’s unable to convey the demands of the part effectively as his constant staring at Bujold becomes creepy and unnatural and he’s obviously way older than any of his costars. They should’ve at least hired an actor his same age as his business partner as Lithgow was 26 years younger than him and it shows. For the most part Lithgow isn’t too good here either as he wears a wig and speaks in an over-the-top bayou accent, which borders on being annoying and it makes him come off as slimy and creepy right from the start.

Bujold on the other hand gives an excellent performance that rises far above the trite material, but she looks too young as a wife to Robertson during the flashback scenes. Turning around and having her also play a 10-year-old girl during some brief sequences comes off as awkward.

The story, which was based on a script by Paul Schrader, but highly truncated by De Palma is full of loopholes. I thought it was unbelievable that the crooks didn’t spot this green police van with a very odd looking antenna on top of it, which was needed to track the honing device that was put into the briefcase with the supposed ransom money that the crooks retrieved, that was following them around at a much too close distance. I thought it was equally unbelievable that the crooks would not have immediately opened the briefcase the minute they retrieved it and made sure there really was money inside it instead of driving all the way back to their hideout before opening it while naively trusting that there was no chance that they might’ve been duped.

There’s also not enough of a visual transition during the 16 year time period that the story takes place in. Except for a few extra white hairs Robertson’s appearance remains virtually the same while the commercial boat that he rides on to deliver the ransom remains exactly the same as does the deserted dock that he throws the briefcase onto even though after such an extended period of time both things most likely would’ve changed or evolved in some way.

Spoiler Alert!

The twist ending where we learn that Michael’s new wife is really just his grown daughter who he had thought had died during the kidnapping does nothing but produce even more loopholes. Supposedly she died with her mother when the car they were in burst into flames and went into the river and supposedly the police tried to recover the vehicle, but found it to be too difficult, so they gave up, but in reality I don’t think this would’ve occurred. After some setbacks they would’ve kept trying until they were able to retrieve it as they knew the approximate spot where the vehicle went in and a river is not an ocean, so it shouldn’t have been that hard anyways.

In order to avoid the controversy of promoting a film with an incest story line the producers decided to reedit the marriage sequence to make it look like it had been a dream, but this ends up just bringing up even more questions. Like how is Bujold able to get into Robertson’s dreams and continue her scheme by telling him he must prove himself all over again by putting a briefcase of $500,000 of his money back onto the same dock he had done 16 years earlier?

The final shot, which is done in slow motion and features Robertson and Bujold reuniting at an airport, is by far one of the corniest things ever put on celluloid and will surely cause most viewers to either roll their eyes or breakout into laughter.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The funniest thing though about this so-so film is probably just Rex Reed’s overly fawning review of it, which gets printed on the promotional poster seen above. In it he calls this movie ‘an immensely important cinematic piece of work’, but how is that as it’s just a tacky Hitchcock rip-off with no message to it at all? He also calls it ‘better than anything Hitchcock has ever done’, which just isn’t true. I know Reed has gotten criticized in recent years for many valid reasons including his fat shaming of Melissa McCarthy, but his career should’ve ended after writing this over-the-top glowing take of a film, which ultimately is nothing more than a third-rate mystery with fancy camera work, as it makes him look like he was a hack paid by the studio to write a puff piece about the movie simply to help promote it.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 1, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Brian De Palma

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, YouTube

Sunday in the Country (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Farmer holds robbers hostage.

Adam Smith (Ernest Borgnine) is a Canadian farmer living in a rural home who becomes aware via the radio of reports of three bank robbers (Cec Linder, Louis Zorich, Michael J. Pollard) on the run in the area who’ve just killed a young man and his girlfriend who were his friends. He prepares for their arrival and when they come he shoots and kills one of them while taking the other two into his cellar where he hangs them on meat hooks. Smith’s granddaughter Lucy (Hollis McLaren) finds this treatment inhumane and wants to call the police, but Adam won’t let her and the two quarrel until he locks her in her room, but she escapes and runs for help, which enrages Adam even more.

The film almost gets ruined by an obnoxious musical score that is so heavily tinged with country twang that it seems almost like a parody of itself and makes the entire production come off as cheesy and amateurish. It would’ve been better without any music at all as it ends up taking you out of the action like having someone sitting beside you and rudely talking and not letting you concentrate on what’s happening on the screen.

As for the story it makes some good observations about just how thin the line can sometimes be between the good guy, or those that feel they’re morally justified to inflict whatever style justice they deem necessary, and the so-called bad guy. Unfortunately the character arch of the protagonist happens too quickly without much of a back story explaining why this otherwise law abiding farmer would deviate so quickly into an abuser. What makes him different from others who would’ve called the police? Just saying that he’s ‘old fashioned’ and ‘from a different era’ I didn’t feel was enough of an explanation.

With the exception of Pollard the robbers aren’t intimidating enough and it some ways came off as pathetic and not like professional crooks at all. This might’ve been intentional on the filmmaker’s part in an effort to make the viewer more sympathetic to their quandary once they are held hostage, but in the process it lessens the tension and makes them seem not as threatening.

Borgnine does a terrific job through his facial expressions of showing the character’s inner turmoil as well as constantly exposing his human side even as he forges ahead to doing some not-so-nice things. McLaren is also superb and her interactions with Borgnine are the most compelling aspect of the film.

Pollard is great here too and I was surprised as he’s not always able to find roles that match his unique talents and sometimes has been relegated to thankless and forgettable supporting parts, but here he’s viscous with a most creepy sounding laugh.

Unfortunately the eye-for-an-eye concept doesn’t get examined enough and the film could’ve gone a lot farther with it than it does. It still manages to bring out many interesting issues but the story should be remade and without the corny soundtrack.

Alternate Titles: Vengeance is Mine, Blood for Blood

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 22, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Trent

Studio: Impact Films

Available: Amazon Video

To Kill a Clown (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Couple harassed by veteran.

Timothy (Heath Lamberts) and Lily (Blythe Danner) are a couple suffering through a rocky marriage. In an attempt to try and save it they decide to rent a beach house for a summer where they hope the quiet seaside scenery can help mend the friction. Their landlord is Evelyn (Alan Alda) a crippled war veteran with two dobermans who resides in a large house next to theirs. Evelyn considers Timothy to be effeminate and ‘unfocused’ and decides to challenge him to a psychological game where he will put Timothy through the rigors of army training. Initially Timothy finds this challenge amusing, but the game becomes much harsher than he expected and when he tries to get out of it Evelyn won’t let him, which eventually leads to Timothy and Lily becoming hostages inside their own home where Evelyn’s two ferocious dogs guard them.

The film is based on the short story ‘The Master of the Hounds’ by Algis Budrys that appeared in the August 1966 edition of the Saturday Evening Post. The plot certainly has some intriguing qualities, but the pace is too laid-back and I spent much of the time rather bored with it. The tension comes in spurts and when it does get going it cuts away just as it gets interesting. The Timothy character is overly smug and to some extent I actually enjoyed some of the harassment that Evelyn gives him, which ultimately minimizes the ‘horror’ that the viewer is supposed to be feeling.

In the story the setting was supposed to be the Jersey shore and in the film it’s somewhere off the New England coast, but in actuality it was filmed in the Bahamas and in an attempt to mask the tropical surroundings they found one of the blandest looking beaches to film it on. The lack of scenery gives the film no visual flair and it ultimately comes off like something done on the cheap end by a director lacking talent of vision.

The only interesting aspect is seeing Alda, who was known throughout the 70’s and 80’s as being a very liberal, ‘sensitive’ male, playing someone who is the exact opposite and to a degree he does it well, but it could’ve and should’ve been played-up much more. Lamberts is good too, but it would’ve been better had the character been an actual army deserter, which would’ve then made the men’s contrasting personalities even more vivid.

Danner though, in her film debut,  comes off best by acting as a buffer between the two men. The dobermans though are the real stars and I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of them. In fact the film’s best moment involves one of them standing guard as it holds the frightened couple hostage in their living room and growling threateningly if one of them even moves their head in he slightest.

Unfortunately the action takes too long to get going and the whole thing gets misguidedly underplayed. I found the freeze-frame shots, which the film uses to transition from one scene to the next, distracting and overly artsy especially for a movie that is supposedly trying to be reality based.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 23, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes (Reissued at 1 Hour 26 Minutes)

Rated R

Director: George Bloomfield

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS

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

Rolling Thunder (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: No hand no problem.

Major Charles Rane (William Devane) returns home to a hero’s welcome after spending 7 years a prisoner of war. As part of the ceremony he’s given 2,555 silver dollars to commemorate each day that he was held in captivity. A few days later a group of thugs invade his home looking for the silver dollars and when Rane refuses to tell them where they are they stick in his hand into his garbage disposal before shooting both his son and wife dead. Now with a hook for a right hand he goes on an unrelenting search for the killers determined to kill each and every one of them while using his hooked hand as a weapon.

What might’ve been considered violent and groundbreaking back in 1977 seems awfully trite and formulaic now. Paul Schrader’s original screenplay portrayed Rane as a racist and the story culminated with him indiscriminately shooting a group of Mexican’s as a metaphor to America’s involvement in Vietnam, but of course studio execs considered this ‘too edgy’ so everything got watered down and all that gets left is a benign and predictable revenge western updated to the modern-day.

The much ballyhooed violence isn’t all that gripping either. Originally there was a graphic shot that showed a prosthetic hand being sliced up in the disposal, but test audiences became repulsed by it causing the studio execs to take the shot out of the film even though by today’s standards that might not be considered as disturbing as it was back then and might even have given the film some distinction, which it is otherwise lacking.

The scene where the son and mother are killed is poorly handled too because we never see them actually shot as it’s done off camera. This then negates the horror of it and makes it less emotionally compelling with even a quick shot of their bloodied bodies needed for the necessary strong impact. I also thought it was weird that when Rane comes back to the scene of the crime we’re shown the sofa where the two were killed on, but there are no blood stains on it even though most likely there should’ve been.

Devane’s performance is a detriment as well as he is unable to effectively convey the character’s intense, brooding nature. The film would’ve worked better had Tommy Lee Jones, who appears here briefly, been given the lead as he, even in the few scenes that he is in, gives off the required intensity perfectly while Devane is seemingly overwhelmed by the part’s demands making it easy to see why he never became the big screen star that the producers were hoping for.

Linda Hayne’s role was not needed and despite her beauty pretty much just gets in the way. She plays Rane’s girlfriend who begins to date him after his family’s slaughter and tags along with him in tracking the killers, but she tends to be a bit annoying with too many conversations centering around Rane’s need to ‘get over’ his family’s death and seemingly treating his loss like it should be a minor inconvenience that he should simply ‘move on’ from. There is a moment where he seems ready to throw her out of the car and leave her stranded in a field, which would’ve nicely illustrated the character’s obsessed and loner nature, but like with everything else in the film it gets softened by having him dump her later on in a more civil way, which again becomes like a cop-out to the story’s otherwise rough theme.

The shoot-out inside a chapel is pretty good and I really liked James Best as the bad guy with all the sweat pouring down his face, which was apparently accomplished by having him wear ice cubes underneath his hat. Having Devane use his hook to grab, quite literally, Luke Askew by the balls I suppose deserves some kudos too, but overall it’s a bland viewing experience that fails live up to its hype with the whole hooked hand as a weapon concept needing to be played up much more. The movie’s poster makes it seem like it will be a lot cooler flick than it actually is.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: October 14, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Flynn

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: DVD

Jaws 2 (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Another shark terrorizes Amity.

Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) fears that another shark is stalking the beaches of Amity when two divers disappear and then later a water skier and her speedboat driver are also killed. When Body goes to Mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) with his concerns the mayor and the rest of the council dismiss it and eventually fire Brody from his position when he continues to argue. His concerns are worsened when he finds that his two sons (Mark Gruner, Marc Gilpin) and their teen friends have snuck off onto a sailboat right were the shark attacks have been occurring.

Only four cast members return from the first one which includes the aforementioned Scheider and Hamilton as well as Lorraine Gary as Brody’s wife and Fritzi Jane Courtney as one of the council members. For me the biggest surprise was the return of Hamilton’s character as most likely he would’ve been voted out after making such egregious error in the first film and leaving the beaches open to further shark attacks after being told not to. I was also surprised that anyone would still want to come to the beach to swim anyways as the stigma of the area would most likely be quite strong.

Director John D. Hancock and his wife Dorothy Tristan who were first hired to direct the sequel had a much better, more believable plot idea. In their script Amity had become a ghost town and the economy in ruins. Mayor Vaughn and developer Len Peterson (Joseph Mascolo) build a resort on the island hoping to boost the tourism, but they use mob money to do it, which is why they end up resisting Brody’s dire warnings. Unfortunately the studio felt this concept was ‘too dark’ so Hancock and his wife were fired and replaced with a script by Howard Sackler and Carl Gottlieb that is basically just a bland rehashing of the storyline from the first one.

The first film was beautifully paced with each scene adding to the tension, but here there are a lot of lulls and the shark, which wasn’t seen much in the first one, doesn’t get shown enough here. The majority of time I kept feeling frustrated waiting for another shark attack to occur as any time the story is on land the film dies.

A good sequel should also always up-the-ante and having the plot built around just one shark doing all of the attacking just like in the first film doesn’t help to take the tension to the next level. Having a group of sharks attack at the same time would’ve helped add more shock appeal as people would now be battling sharks from multiple fronts and making the chances for survival all that more precarious.

Although it’s great seeing Keith Gordon and Donna Wilkes in their film debuts the rest of the teen cast is unlikable and the type of smart ass kids you wouldn’t mind seeing get eaten. There are also too damn many of them and the film would’ve been better served had it stuck to just Brody’s two sons on the boat and none of the others.

The way the shark ultimately dies is cool, but everything else falls flat. If you’ve seen the first one then there’s no reason to watch the sequel as it adds nothing to the theme and if you haven’t seen the first one then please skip this installment altogether and grab that one as it is far superior.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 16, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 57Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jeannot Szwarc

Studio: Universal

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

Jaws (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 10 out of 10

4-Word Review: Shark in the water.

A young woman (Susan Backlinie) goes out for a swim late one night only to have her severed hand wash up on shore the next day, which causes the Amity Police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) to fear that her death may have been caused by a shark. Amity mayor Larry Vaughan (Murray Hamilton) doesn’t want his town to risk losing business, so he has his coroner deny that a shark was responsible and hence the beach remains open, but then more attacks occur. Eventually an eccentric shark hunter named Quint (Robert Shaw), Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) from the Oceanographic Institute and Brody head out on a small fishing vessel called Orca to locate the shark and then kill it, but they find the underwater beast to be far bigger and more cunning than they had ever imagined.

With its exceptional ability to slowly build tension and keep the viewer riveted from the first frame to the last easily makes this the quintessential thriller. John Williams’s legendary score adds to the murky ambience and in many ways is more memorable than the shark itself. Director Steven Spielberg wisely adds a secondary layer to the narrative by creating colorful and distinctive characters, most notably Quint, who gives the proceedings a flavorful nuance and makes the conversations and interactions that occur between the three inside the boat more interesting than what happens in the water.

The most amazing thing though is how little the shark is actually seen and in fact you don’t even get a glimpse of him until about an hour in. Part of this was due to the difficulty of getting the mechanical creation to perform properly in salt water, but in the end this became a blessing in disguise as it’s the mystery and allusion to its large size that makes it so riveting. The viewer feels as helpless and confused as the men on the boat, which makes the climactic sequence when the shark suddenly does jump onto the boat all that more impactful.

Spoiler Alert!

The film though does deviate heavily from the Peter Benchley source novel and a legitimate argument can be made as to which one presents the story better. In the book the tone is darker and the characters less likable. For me this makes it more intriguing from a psychological bent as it conveys the idea that humans are like the shark that they hunt as they both selfishly devour everything around them. Spielberg though didn’t care for this interpretation so the novel’s darker subtext gets erased, but it still made me intrigued, as much of a classic as this movie is, to see a reboot where the narrative stayed more faithful.

Some of the book’s subplots got too involved particularly the one dealing with the mayor’s connections to the criminal underworld, so I’m glad that one got toned down.  However I felt the one though dealing with Hooper’s affair with Brody’s wife (Lorraine Gary) should’ve been left in as it would’ve added extra tensions between the two while on the boat while also seeing how people can learn to work together even when they hate each other.

In the book Hooper dies when the shark attacks the cage that he is in while in the movie he is able to escape and somehow hide from the shark. This though seemed unrealistic as sharks have special sensing organs known as electroreceptors that allow them to detect the electromagnetic field emitted from a moving animal or at close range even the heartbeat of an immobile one, which means the shark most likely would’ve figured out where Hooper was hiding and gotten him.

In the book the shark dies from its many wounds just as it gets a few feet from Brody while in the movie it’s killed when the scuba tank that it has in its mouth explodes when hit by a bullet, but a 2003 episode of Mythbusters proves that in reality this wouldn’t have happened. My main beef though is that by having the shark literally blow-up into little pieces it denies the viewer the chance at seeing what the beast looked like as a whole. Supposedly this was one giant of a shark, so viewing it strung up at the end would’ve been a cool thing to have seen.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Despite these many differences the film still works splendidly and I don’t mean to imply that it doesn’t, but I would still suggest reading the book afterwards as it gives the story and characters an added dimension.

My Rating: 10 out of 10

Released: June 20, 1975

Runtime: 2Hours 4Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Steven Spielberg

Studio: Universal

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

A Stranger is Watching (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Her mother’s killer returns.

At the age of 6 young Julie (Shawn Von Schreiber) witnesses her mother’s rape and murder at the hands of Ronald Thompson (James Russo) at least she thinks that’s who it was when instead it was really Artie Taggart (Rip Torn). Now Ronald is slated to go to the electric chair and news reporter Sharon Martin (Kate Mulgrew) covers the controversy, but just before his execution Julie and Sharon are kidnapped by Artie. He takes them deep into the bowels of Grand Central Station where he holds them hostage while demanding a ransom of $182,000 from Julie’s Father (James Naughton).

The story is based on the Mary Higgins Clark novel of the same name and due to his success with Friday the 13th director Sean S. Cunningham is given a bigger budget to work with, which gives the production more of a visual style from the usual low budget horror flick. However, I was never convinced that Cunningham was all that great of a director and it was only through dumb luck that the Jason franchise became the big hit that it did and if anything this movie proves it. Even with more money put in and an interesting backdrop it still comes off as lackluster and uninspired.

The characters are boring particularly Torn’s psycho role where no backstory is given as to why he decides to come back to terrorize the same family when he was able to get away with the murder the first time and should feel lucky by allowing the other schmuck to take the fall and simply move on. Julie’s behavior is all wrong too. This is a child who witnessed her mother’s rape and murder, which would psychologically damage anyone else for life and yet she recovers from it like it was no big deal and acts overly angelic and gracious about everything.

The underground of Grand Central Station are the film’s best element as it captures the dank, dingy dankness quite well to the point that it almost becomes like a third character. However, when Torn kidnaps the two women he puts the girl into a sleeping bag and then carries her through the station in order to get to the spot where he hides her, but I kept wondering why she didn’t yell for help as they pass by many people in the process. He didn’t drug her, so she was free to yell out, so why doesn’t she?

I’ve read other novels written by Clark although not this one, but I was always impressed with the amount of twists that she had in them and was surprised how little that there are here. The film does feature one small surprise, but then treats it as a throwaway scene that soon gets forgotten. In the end the viewer gets treated to nothing more than a placid blueprint of the novel in a plot that gets more formulaic and pedestrian as it goes on.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: January 22, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sean S. Cunningham

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Midnight Lace (1960)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Somebody is stalking her.

Kit Preston (Doris Day) is an American who has just recently married Anthony (Rex Harrison) and moved with him to London. Shortly after her move she begins receiving phone calls from a man who speaks in a strange sounding voice and who threatens her bodily harm. When she goes to the police about it they’re not helpful and soon both her husband and friends begin to question her sanity and whether she is simply making the whole thing up.

The film is based on the stage play ‘Mathilda Shouted Fire’ by Janet Green and for the most part is well-done. I enjoyed the glossiness of it particularly the sumptuous interior design of the large home they lived in. So many times movies with this type of theme are given the low budget treatment, so it’s nice to have one done more on the highbrow level.

The pace is slow and there’s way more talking than action, but I still found myself intrigued. The voice of the stalker though could’ve been done better. I guess it’s nice not having it conform to the stereotype of a madman by having his voice deep and menacing, but this guy sounds like a cartoon character and it’s unintentionally funny. The set-up could’ve also been improved as it starts out right away with her being threatened by him in a park that seems a bit surreal and confusing since we know nothing about this character and a previous backstory would’ve helped.

The villain’s ultimate identity may surprise some, but the film tries so hard to throw in these red herrings to make you think it’s all these other people that a truly savvy viewer will start to consider the one that seems to be the least likely. The plot logistics aren’t particularly well thought out either, but this is clearly not something you’re expected to think about too hard anyways.

The film’s main selling point is Day who’s tremendous. This was a big stretch for her, but she comes away in impressive fashion. She vowed afterwards that she would never do another thriller because it was too emotionally draining and I felt emotional drained just watching her. What I liked is that instead of screaming when she panics she breaks out into a teary-eyed wail that makes her seem quite helpless, but still endearing. She stated that during the filming of these scenes she would think back to the real-life abuse that she suffered from her first husband, which makes her emotions genuine and raw and manages to strongly connect with the audience.

My only quibble and this was probably more the fault of the screenwriter than hers, is when her husband is struggling to fight off the bad guy and all she does is stand there and whimper. This was most likely a product of the era where women were expected to be more ‘dainty’ and not get involved in physical altercations, but when a guy is trying all he can to save his life and hers he might appreciate her offering him some assistance.

There’s another scene where she gets stuck in an elevator that is a bit botched too because in her attempt to sound like a hysterical women she comes off more like a gal having a weird orgasm, but overall she’s great. It might even be her best performance as she far outshines Harrison who looks too old to be her husband and wasn’t a good fit at all.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 13, 1960

Runtime: 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: David Miller

Studio: Universal Pictures

Available: DVD

Capricorn One (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mars landing is fake.

Due to finding out about having a faulty life support system James Kelloway (Hal Holbrook), who heads the NASA mars mission, decides to have the three astronauts (James Brolin, Sam Waterston, O. J. Simpson) removed from inside the rocket just before it is ready to blast off. He then allows the rocket to take off leaving everyone on the ground with the mistaken impression that the astronauts are still inside. The astronauts later walk onto a soundstage that is made to replicate the mars surface where they pretend to be walking on the planet live on television. As the rocket stays on mars the three astronauts remain trapped inside the NASA space center unable to let even their families in on their secret, but when the rocket returns to earth it gets accidently destroyed. Since the three men are still thought to be inside and since the government wouldn’t want to whole world to know it was a hoax the men are forced to make a daring escape across the hot desert in order to avoid being killed.

The script was originally written in 1969 and was an attempt by director Peter Hyams to take advantage of the moon landing conspiracy that was going on at the time, but no studio was willing to take it on, so it took 9 years and a change of planets before it finally got the green light. I’m not a big fan of conspiracy theories as I think a lot of them are too dependent on a great many people working together and being able to keep a secret in order for them to be pulled off. Since it’s hard for just two people to pull off a crime such as a murder without one eventually turning on the other, or breaking down under pressure, then it’s even harder to believe hundreds could keep quiet it in order to successfully pull off the so-called moon landing hoax, or that at some later time one of them wouldn’t have divulged the secret to a family member, friend, or even anonymously to the press.

In either case it’s an entertaining movie for the most part although the first hour is spotty and it only really gets gripping during second-half. To some degree I thought it would’ve been more interesting had the focus been on the people setting up the ruse and working to make the soundstage look like mars than on the astronauts. It also might’ve been more impactful to the viewer had they been given the idea that the landing was real and only when the men are seen walking on the mars surface does the camera pull back to show that it was all fake instead of revealing the conspiracy right from the start.

The problem that I had though was with Elliot Gould’s character. Don’t get me wrong I liked the way he plays the part as a sort-of disheveled, loser hero who strikes out with the ladies, but the fact that the government is on him so quickly and trying to kill him before he has even written one single report about the mars landing makes little sense. Later on he gets bailed out of jail by his boss, played by David Doyle, who openly admits to hating Gould and immediately fires him the second he pays his bail, but why spend company money on someone you don’t like and don’t want working for you?

Spoiler Alert!

The ending features a well photographed aerial chase through the skies that is very exciting, but the wrap-up in which James Brolin, who is the last surviving astronaut that manages to escape the deadly clutches of the government and appears to shock of everyone at his own funeral seems to ruin the premise. For conspiracy theories to hold their mystique there needs to be the idea that the bad guys were able to get away with it and that it is actually possible to successfully kill off all the possible leaks and manage to hold the rest to strict secrecy. By having someone survive only proves the point that I made earlier and thus makes all those other conspiracy theories that permeate modern culture seem dubious as well because mostly likely the same result would’ve ultimately happened with those that happened with this one.

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 2, 1978

Runtime: 2 Hours 3 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Hyams

Studio: Warner Brothers

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