Category Archives: Thrillers/Suspense

L’Immoralita (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Child falls for killer.

Simona (Karin Trentephol) is a lonely 12-year-old who lives with her mother (Lisa Gastoni) and her wheel chair bound step father (Mel Ferrer) in a secluded home on the Italian countryside. One day while walking through the forest that’s near her place she comes upon an injured man named Federico (Howard Ross), who has been shot in the arm by the police for being a dangerous child killer at-large. While he was able to escape the ambush the authorities continue their search, so Simona offers him sanctuary in a small coach house behind her home. It is here that she grows fond of him,but Simona’s mother finds out who she’s been hiding and tries to entice him to kill her invalid husband. Simona,who’s relationship with her mother is already strained, becomes upset that she can’t have Federico all to herself and plots a revenge on both of them.

This film is notorious for its depiction of child nudity and simulated sex. Back in the 70’s Italian filmmakers were on the front lines of shock cinema in their effort to push-the-envelope and attract curiosity seekers looking to see how far the next controversial film would go. This one, while dull and generic story-wise, definitely goes to the extreme at the one hour mark, when a naked Simona jumps out of the tub and then lies on the floor begging for Federico, who’s in the bathroom with her, to ‘make a baby’. While an adult stand-in was then used for the simulated sex it’s still an explicit moment that will disturb most viewers and likely will never get a DVD/Blu-ray release here though in Italy it has.

If you take out the controversial moment, which wasn’t needed and could’ve been implied, the film is otherwise quite sterile. There were a few things I did like including the subtle yet haunting score by the incomparable Ennio Morricone and the film’s faded color. I’m not sure if this was intentional, or just the print of the DVD, but the off-color nicely reflects the immoral characters who seem normal initially, but quickly reveal their twisted natures underneath. Trentephol, whose only film appearance this is, is outstanding. I don’t know where the producers found her, or quite frankly how they got her paent’s permission to play such a difficult role, but she lends an amazing presence particularly her piercing blue eyes that clearly conveys her character’s inner disdain for those around her.

Gastoni, who was quite prolific in Italian films during the 50’s and 70’s, but then went on a sabbatical after doing this one and didn’t appear in another movie until 2005, is good too as an aging, jaded woman where nothing it seems is too vile to upset her. The conversations she has with her daughter are truly warped, but still something you might hear in a family that was as dysfunctional as this one. Even the aging Ferrer, who at one time was a budding star, but relegated to finding work in overseas productions when Hollywood quit calling, gets an intense moment where he angrily points a rifle to his chest and then challenges his wife, who he knows wants him dead, to pull the trigger.

The story’s weakest element is Federico. While we see him dig the grave of one of his victims at the start, we never witness him killing anyone, which hurts the tension as he’s not volatile and threatening enough. Instead he’s overly passive while being lead around by both Simona and her mother. Maybe that was the point, to show how women ultimately control men even the dangerous ones, but it’s not handled in a way that’s interesting. Everything gets played-out in a heavy-handed fashion including a climax that offers little punch.

Alternate Title: Cock Crows at Eleven

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 20, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Massimo Pirri

Studio: Una Cinecooperativa

Available: DVD (Import Region 2)

What the Peeper Saw (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Child could be killer.

Elise (Britt Ekland) marries wealthy author Paul (Hardy Kruger) and then after the nuptials comes into contact with his 12-year-old son Marcus (Mark Lester) still grieving over the death of his mother 6 months earlier. Elise had the understanding that the mother, who died from drowning in her bathtub, was accidental, but as she gets to know Marcus she suspects that he may have had something to do with it. She then speaks to his school’s headmaster (Harry Andrews) and learns that Marcus has been having disciplinary issues including that of torturing and killing animals. When Elise tells Paul of her suspicions he refuses to believe it, which pits her against both the father and boy.

While the story may have intriguing elements, though it does sound too much like The Bad Seed, the execution is poor. It starts out right away with Elise meeting Marcus, no backstory scenes showing how Elise met Paul are shown, and right away he acts weird and creepy. There’s no nuance or layers to the story, just one long ‘is he a killer, or not’ scenario that ends up being highly talky with no real thrills. The producers, apparently realizing the proceedings needed some spicing up, hired Andrea Bianchi to come in and add some sexually tinged moments including a scene where a nude Lester, sitting in a bath tub, begins fondling Britt’s breasts, who is sitting outside the tub fully clothed. If that wasn’t shocking enough there’s another scene later where she strips fully naked in front of him, but neither of these moments, as sleazy as they are, makes this otherwise tired and placid plot any more intriguing.

The film’s only real selling point is to see child star Lester playing against type. He shot to fame in the starring role in Oliver!, but all of his roles after that couldn’t capitalize on his talents and like with this one were weak and pedestrian that didn’t give him much to do. Watching him play an evil kid, instead of the angelic lad like we’re used to seeing, is interesting to some extent and he does it surprisingly well, but he’s not in it enough.

As for Britt she’s quite beautiful and the camera focuses on her lovingly, and the male viewers certainly won’t mind her nude scenes of which there are plenty, but her character is poorly fleshed-out. It’s hard to understand why she married Paul as he treats her in a callous way and clearly favors the kid over her, so why stay in a relationship if she’s just going to be the spare tire especially with a psycho kid that’s just going to put her life more and more in danger? Any sensible person would pack-up and leave and the fact that she chooses to stay in such a bad and uncomfortable situation makes her seem as nutty as the rest.

Things pick-up during the final 10-minutes which gets filled with a lot of wild imagery though some of this should’ve been sprinkled though out the film, which is too cardboard otherwise. The final twist is a bit of a surprise, but the whole thing could’ve been better paced. Everything hinges too much on the provocative overtones while the characters are one-dimensional and fail to resonate and thus causing the viewer to remain pretty much detached emotionally from everything that goes on and the twists that do occur fail to deliver any punch.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: October 14, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated R

Directors: James Kelley, Andrea Bianchi

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Crash! (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Wife has occult powers.

Kim (Sue Lyon) and Marc (Jose Ferrer) are a married couple with a 30-year age difference between them. Initially they were a happy twosome, but then Marc got into a car accident that left him bound to a wheelchair and the passion between them lessened. Now Marc resents the fact that Kim no longer seems to love him and worries that his attractive and much younger wife will go off and find another suitor. He plots to have her killed by having his trained doberman jump into her car as she’s driving and attack her. While the dog does injure her it’s not enough to kill her. As she lies in her hospital bed Marc sneaks in and disconnects her from her intravenous tube, which he hopes will be enough to end her life, but he fails to notice that she’s clutching in her hand an artifact that she had bought earlier at a flea market, which gives her special psychic abilities. These powers allow her to terrorize Marc even when she’s not there by making inanimate objects, including both her car and his wheelchair, come to life and begin attacking him. 

This was the first feature length film directed by Charles Band, who has gone on to have a long career both producing and directing B-horror films some of which have been successful. This one reveals his producer mentality by keeping the flimsy plot moving by adding in a lot of action, in this case tons of car stunt footage, to the mask the fact that the story itself doesn’t have much going for it. To a degree the car crashes are well choreographed, but there’s too many shots of police cars getting destroyed, which is reminiscent of the car chase action comedies making this seem more like a silly comedy than a would-be horror film.

The most impressive thing is the driver-less car. This is similar to the concept used in cult flick The Car, but that automobile had a roof over it and darkened windows, so you presumed that a stunt driver was inside controlling it, but here this vehicle is a convertible and there’s no one sitting in it even as it careens down the road. How they were able to pull this off I don’t know, but this fact alone makes it far more interesting to see than the other one even though that one, for whatever reason, received more attention and fanfare despite both coming-out at around the same time.

I was willing to give this 6-points, but then Band makes the misguided mistake of repeating near the end the car crash explosions we’ve seen before making it seem like a ‘highlight reel’. I’m not sure for the reason other than alluding to the mysterious occult power communicating to  Kim about what has gone on while she was in the hospital bed, but it was unnecessary and comes-off like amateurish film-making to the extreme.

The eclectic cast of familiar faces who were once A-list stars, but now forced to accept B-grade material in order to stay busy, is interesting and helps save it a little. I was particularly impressed with Ferrer who gives a convincing performance and doesn’t just ‘phone-it-in’ despite the otherwise subpar quality of the script.

Lyon’s appearance here is intriguing as well as she shot to fame back in 1964 as the beautiful teen Lolita in the Stanley Kubrick film of the same name and was considered one of the most stunning stars of the decade, but here she plays a part that ends-up making her look quite ugly. Not only is her face bandaged up through most of it, but when they do finally come-off she is shown to be full of garish scars. There’s also scenes where her eyes are blazing red and resembling that of a demon. I’m not sure if she took this role to play against her beauty stereotype, which she reportedly was not a fan of anyways, or she just accepted the offer because she needed the work, but the things she does here is about as far removed from Lolita as one could possibly get, so watching this simply for that reason may make it worth it to some.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 24, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Charles Band

Studio: Group 1 International Distribution

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

Diary of the Dead (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two dead old ladies.

Stan (Hector Elizondo) is married to Vera (Salome Jens) while living in a house that’s owned by Vera’s mother Maud (Geraldine Fitzgerald). Maud and Stan do not get along and she uses the fact that Stan can’t find regular employment as a means to belittle him.  She also tries to convince Vera to leave him. Stan is aware of this, but can’t seem to do much about it. Then one day Maud’s friend Ethel (Kate Wilkinson) comes for a visit. She arrives while Maud is upstairs taking a nap, and is greeted by Stan, but since she had to walk all the way from the bus station to the house and suffers from high blood pressure, she promptly collapses once she gets inside. Stand decides to use this as an opportunity to get rid of Maud by claiming to the attending physician (Austin Pendleton) that the dead body is his mother-in-law, so when Ethel is taken away for cremation everyone thinks it’s Maud instead. Stan then buries Maud’s body, who he has killed on his own, in his backyard, but this catches the eye of his nosy neighbor Walter (Joseph Maher) who had always gotten along well with Maud and feels Stan’s explanation of what happened doesn’t add-up.

The story is based on the 1971 novel ‘One Across, Two Down’ by Ruth Rendell and while the plot has a sufficient amount of twists the direction, by first timer Arvin Brown, is lacking. It’s not liked it’s bad direction, but it has no finesse and seems meant of TV.  It’s no surprise that Brown ended up doing projects exclusively for TV after this one as nothing here is cinematic and approached in such a sterile way visually that it actually detracts from the proceedings.

Elizondo gives a feisty performance that perfectly captures a bitter man going through life with a chip-on-his-shoulder. His arguments and confrontations with Maud lend for some colorful dialogue, but a meddling, cantankerous mother-in-law is nothing new and if anything seems cliched making the material come-off as second-rate and formulaic.

The crime itself isn’t elaborate. In the ‘Columbo’ TV mysteries we’d see the bad-guy pull-off the murder in a way that was carefully thought-out, so the viewer becomes intrigued trying to figure out what flaw the killer overlooked that Columbo will jump on, but here it works in reverse. The crime is spur-of-the moment with a bunch of things that could easily go wrong that will instantly get Stan caught, which isn’t as interesting. Stan is also not a pleasant person, so the viewer is not emotionally invested in him escaping the clutches of the authorities,  If anything you remain ambivalent to what happens, which are ingredients that don’t make the movie interesting.

The film does feature a twist ending, but it’s not something one couldn’t have seen coming as it goes overboard telegraphing it. As an episode of ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’ it would’ve worked better, but it gets stretched too thin for feature length. The should also not be confused with the George A. Romero film of the same name that came out 30 yeas later.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: July 20, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Arvin Brown

Studio: B.S. Moss Enterprises

Available: None

Coma (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Who’s killing the patients?

Susan Wheeler (Genevieve Bujold) is a Dr. working as a surgeon at Boston Memorial Hospital, who learns that her best friend Nancy (Lois Chiles) fell into a coma at the hospital while having routine surgery. Susan is convinced that there must be an answer to what went wrong as Nancy was young and had no underlying health conditions. While reviewing the hospital records she finds that a high number of other patients at the hospital ended up having the same fate and all were of a similar age and body type as Nancy. Susan also notices that the patients had surgery in the same operating room and once they became comatose their bodies where shipped off to a remote facility known as The Jefferson Institute.  Susan’s boyfriend Mark (Michael Douglas), who also works at the hospital, tries to convince her it’s all a coincidence, but the more Susan investigates the more determined she is to uncover the truth even if it means putting her job and even her life on the line.

The film is based on the novel of the same name written by Robin Cook. Cook, a physician, decided to dabble in writing on his off-hours and in 1973 got his first novel, ‘The Year of the Intern’, published but it was a financial failure. While that book had been more of a drama he came to realize that thrillers was the genre that had the most commercial success. He studied how, in his words, ‘the reader was manipulated by the writer’, in the thriller novels that he had enjoyed and then listed these techniques on index cards and made sure to use them in ‘Coma’, which lead to that book being a best-seller. Michael Crichton, who had met Cook while he was working on a post doctorate at La Jolla’s Salk Institute, agreed to sign on as the director where he hoped to create a film that would delve into people’s fear of hospitals the way Jaws had connected to people’s phobias about sharks and swimming.

The result is a nice compact thriller that moves along at a brisk pace and takes advantage of both the director’s and author’s medical background to help keep the scenario both realistic and enlightening to the inner-workings of a hospital. There’s a couple of cool foot chase scenes with one occurring between Bujold and actor Lance LeGault inside the hospital while another happens at the ominous looking Jefferson Institute with both being quite intense.

Bujold, despite being different than the protagonist in the novel, who was described as blonde and 23 while Bujold is brunette and 35 at the time of filming, was still a perfect casting choice. I loved her French Canadian accent, which gives her character distinction, but she does appear at times to have reddish nose and cheeks making her seem like she had a rash or cold. What I didn’t like was that the feminist angle of the character, which had been so prominent in the novel, gets played-down here. In the book Susan did not know Nancy and simply took on the case through her own personal initiative to prove herself in an otherwise ‘man’s world’, which was more compelling than the pedestrian way here where she investigates the case simply because she’s heartbroken over the loss of a friend.

It also didn’t make sense to me why she was the only one upset over the deaths of these patients. The patients most likely had family and friends, so why weren’t any of them demanding answers to what happened? We live in a sue-happy culture and medical malpractices are the most prevalent lawsuits out there making me believe this racket wouldn’t have been able to survive too long as lawyers and private investigators, who would’ve been hired by the grieved family members, would’ve been on the case demanding answers from the hospital long before Susan ever even got involved.

The Susan character has the same issues as James Coburn’s did in The Carey Treatment where we have a medical professional with no background in investigating suddenly showing amazing instinct on-the-spot that you’d only expect from a seasoned detective. Having a group of people, like the grieved relatives, working together to solve the case would’ve had more interesting banter and camaraderie, which is missing here. While seeing an individual take down a mighty criminal system is emotionally gratifying it usually takes a strong team of people working in tandem to accomplish that.

Spoiler Alert!

I did find the film’s climax where Susan goes under the knife and risks being another comatose victim, to be quite suspenseful, but I found it strange why this woman, who had done all the legwork to uncover the crime, would then just hand-it-over to the creepy hospital administrator, played by Richard Widmark, to finish the job instead of her going to the police with her findings. The Widmark character displayed a lot of red flags from the start, which is obvious to the viewer, so why is Susan, who had been so super savvy the rest of the time, so dumb at the end and trust a creep like him to do the right thing?

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: January 6, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 53 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Crichton

Studio: MGM

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

The Domino Principle (1977)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hired for secret mission.

Roy Tucker (Gene Hackman) is in prison for the murder of his wife’s first husband, but gets approached by Tagge (Richard Widmark), who works for a secret organization and who offers to get both Roy and his cellmate Spiventa (Mickey Rooney) out of jail where they can have their freedom again, but with one hitch; he must carry out a mysterious mission that they themselves don’t yet know the details to yet. Roy is suspicious of the group’s intent, but longs to see his wife Ellie (Candace Bergen), so he agrees to go along with it. After getting out of prison through an elaborate escape plan that the secret group hatches Roy is then able to travel to Costa Rica using a passport that the group made for him. It is there that he spends a relaxing week with Ellie, but then Tagge and his men (Eli Wallach, Edward Albert) return and remind him of his commitment, which turns out to being the assassination of an important political figure. Once Roy realizes this he tries to back out, but soon realizes that he jeopardizes the life of his wife, who the group insists they will kidnap an kill, if he does.

The film is based on the novel of the same name written by Adam Kennedy, who also wrote the screenplay and at one time was an actor before eventually turning to writing. While the novel got great reviews the movie didn’t with many critics panning it including Leonard Maltin, who described it as a ‘muddled thriller’. Both Hackman and Bergen, in later interviews, have called it ‘terrible’ and even director Stanley Kramer wrote in his memoirs that he’d like to disown it. Much of the problem could be blamed on the different runtimes with a heavily edited 88-minute cut being completely confusing, but this version that I saw, which ran a full 101 minutes, I found to be captivating, at least through the first 90-minutes.

The real problem I had stemmed around Hackman, who gives a one-dimensional performance. There is one moment where he assaults the Edward Albert character after he refuses to let him see his wife, which I felt was justified and entertaining to watch, but he remains surly too much of the time and it would’ve been nice to have seen some other emotions seep through, if even for a few random moments. Bergin is totally miscast as the middle-aged wife and even wears a brunette wig in an effort to make herself seem older. She stated in interviews that she took the part so she could play an ‘ordinary person for once’ instead of a beautiful, glamourous person like she usually did, but I didn’t understand why she was even offered the role as there were plenty of actresses more Hackman’s age that would’ve been a better fit.

Spoiler Alert!

While I did enjoy the movie for the most part especially its scenic location shooting including one scene that takes place directly underneath the Golden Gate Bridge I did find the twist ending to be extremely dumb. This includes having Roy deciding not to shoot the intended victim by intentionally aiming his shots short in order to miss his human target only to find that his former cellmate Spiventa was also hired for the same mission, but without Roy knowing, and he kills the person while shooting at him from a different angle. The problem is that the viewer thinks Spiventa is already dead as we see him get shot by the mysterious group while underneath the bridge. Why Spiventa would fake his own death, or not tell Roy that he was in on the plan since the two had been quite close, is ever explained. It also doesn’t make sense why Roy would decide at the last second to pull back his shots and not kill the person he was assigned to assassinate. Sure, for moral reasons he probably felt bad about it, but he knew that his wife would be killed if he didn’t follow through, so how he was expecting to save the life of his target while also somehow keeping his wife alive after the group finds out Roy didn’t do what he was supposed to?

The final shot shows Roy, with gun in hand, walking along a beach, apparently intent on hunting down whoever was the behind-the-scenes man from the group who was giving out all the orders, which we the viewer never see. Keeping some elements of the organization a mystery is fine, but what annoyed me is that we see a rifle pointed right at Roy as he walks the beach, but then the film ends without us ever knowing if Roy got shot first, or if he survived to kill the head of the group. Some sort of resolution in this area should’ve been shown and leaving it so wide-open is not intriguing and instead quite frustrating.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 23, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Stanley Kramer

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, Shout Factory TV, Tubi, YouTube

The Chain Reaction (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Nuclear leak contaminates water.

A nuclear waste site in rural Australia becomes affected by an earthquake, which causes a leak that could contaminate the ground water for hundreds of miles. Heinrich (Ross Thompson), an engineer at the facility who was contaminated by the accident and has only 3-days to live, feels it’s his duty to warn others about what happened, but the company wants the matter to kept a secret. Heinrich manages to escape from the lab, but gets into an accident during a rainstorm on a lonely country road. It is here that he’s rescued by Larry (Steve Bisley) and his wife Carmel (Arna Maria Winchester) who live nearby and take him to their isolated home. Since Carmel has a nursing background she tries to take care of Heinrich at their house even though he now suffers from amnesia and cannot remember anything past 1957. The company though has already sent out a search party looking for him and proceed to terrorize all three once they find them.

The film is a slickly shot sci-fi epic that in many ways seems similar to Mad Maxand in fact both films shared many of the same crew members and this even has a cameo by Mel Gibson who appears briefly as a bearded auto mechanic. The camera captures things in a vivid way and the sharp editing keeps the story moving at a fast pace.

While the plot gets smartly handled and I did find the two main characters to be a bit out-of-place particularly Larry whose outfits and hairstyle look almost campy. The two also don’t have an every day quality about them. Thrillers like these are more exciting when the hero is just a regular person with no special skills and yet still forced to beat insurmountable odds, which is unlike Larry who has expert driving skills and owns a trendy sports car with a souped-up engine.

The way the couple rescue the victim, who they don’t know, by taking him back to their place instead of to a hospital was odd too. Carmel has nursing experience, but not the medicines or equipment that you’d find in a medical facility. They also seem unusually trusting by allowing the man to sleep in one of their bedrooms while they sleep in an adjacent one, but don’t bother to lock their door with the wife lying openly nude for the stranger to just walk-in and attack, or gawk at since there’s a window in the hallway to the room, without any restraint.

The film is noted for its car chases, but they only make up a small fraction of the runtime. One occurs for a few minutes during the second act and then there’s another one at the very end. Both are quite exciting and had me sitting on the edge of my seat with the camera showing things from the driver’s point-of-view and many times through the cracked glass of the windshield making you feel like you’re in the car as it happens. However, I was disappointed that they’re weren’t more of them and both chases take place on the same road and essentially go through the same stunts both times.

Spoiler Alert!

The wrap-up is a bit too quick. For such a nifty, well designed and well crafter set-up I was expecting things to get played-out further. There is though the irony of having a helicopter appear with a news crew that captures the chase when it’s over with the idea that now that the news media is on top of it the truth will get out and everything will be resolved. This though is a far cry from the way things are here in this day-and-age where the media is not trusted by many and having them report on something, even a big story such as this, could only make things worse instead of better.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 25, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Ian Barry

Studio: Palm Beach Pictures

Available: DVD (Region 0)

White Dog (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Dog attacks black people.

Late one night while driving home aspiring actress Julie (Kristy McNichol) hits a stray dog, which she takes immediately to an emergency vet. They find that his injuries were minimal and she’s allowed to take him home until his owner can be found. She soon starts to bond with the White Shepherd dog, who at one point saves her from a would-be rapist. She also becomes aware that he attacks black people when he goes after one of her African American friends unprovoked. She takes him to an elderly dog trainer named Carruthers (Burl Ives) who advised that the dog should be put to sleep, but another trainer named Keyes (Paul Winfield), who is black, wants to rehabilitate the animal, but finds this undertaking far more challenging than he initially expected.

The story is based on a real-life incident of novelist Romain Gary and his actress wife Jean Seberg, who during the early 60’s took in a stray dog that had previously been an Alabama Police dog, who they later learned, was trained to attack black people. Gary wrote about this experience in a short story that was published in Life Magazine in 1970 and this was eventually turned into a novel. The novel though incorporated many things that had not occurred in real-life, nor in the movie, including having the dog trainer being an angry black Muslim who gets the dog to start attacking white people including Gary himself.

The story rights were purchased by Paramount in 1975 with Roman Polanski set to direct, but when he was forced to flee the country due to statutory rape chargers the projects was put on hold. Then after the success of Jaws producers decided to turn it into a ‘jaws with paws’ storyline with the racism angle taken out, but when director Samuel Fuller was signed on he returned the plot to its original theme, which caused controversy when the NAACP, without ever having seen the film, accused it of being ‘racist’, which frightened Paramount executives enough that they gave the movie a very limited engagement with no promotion, which led to it recouping only $46, 509 out of its original $7 million budget. Despite eventually getting released on VHS and shown sporadically on cable outlets such as Lifetime, it languished in obscurity until finally getting a DVD/Blu-ray issue in 2008 where it’s now seen in a totally different light.

For me the biggest problem is the hackneyed drama starting with the dopey way the dog gets hit by a car and yet miraculously healed enough to go home that very same night and never showing any lingering injuries. The potential rape scene is too manufactured as well as it has the rapist magically appearing in the apartment without showing how he broke-in and later having one of the cops state that he had just arrested the same guy earlier that year for another rape attempt, so if that’s the case then why wasn’t he still in jail? It also has the dog sleeping as the bad guy sneaks in, but I’ve found dogs have a keen sense of awareness and would’ve heard the guy trying to bust in and growling or barking long before he actually made it into the apartment. Having Kristy go on a late night jog with the dog and then being chased by a masked assailant, which the dog would scare away, would’ve been a better way to have done it.

I also didn’t like the part where Kristy meets the dog’s owner and he openly admits to training him to attack black people, which to me didn’t seem believable. I liked the idea of having the owner being this seemingly kindly old man, played by Parley Baer best known for voicing the Keebler Elf, that you’d never expect as being someone who’d train an animal to do such a thing. However, freely admitting this to a stranger is like a murderer admitting to their crime. Most won’t fess up because they know it would get them into a lot of trouble if they did. Movies should also not be obligated to explain everything and like in real-life should leave a few things open-ended. When Kristy accuses him of this he could reveal a funny look on his face, giving the viewer insight that he most likely was guilty, but then have him verbally deny it like most people would.

While I could’ve done without the slow motion and booming music I did find the dog’s retraining sessions with Keys to be the film’s best moments and Winfield’s strong presence is excellent. However, trying to use a dog as a metaphor to racism doesn’t really work, nor hold-up to logic. Winfield explains that the dog was most likely beaten by a black person hired by a white man to get the dog to become the way he does, but I don’t think this could be achieved as the dog would just hate that one individual and not connect it to the man’s skin color unless he was abused by a whole group of black people. We’re also told that the dog does not hate black people he just fears them, but if that’s the case then why does he go out of his way to attack and kill them. Animals will only go on the attack if they feel threatened, but if the perceived threat keeps their distance then the dog shouldn’t feel the need to be aggressive making the blood splattering attacks that the dog does come off as quite over-the-top.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 12, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Samuel Fuller

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD/Blu-ray (Criterion Collection)

Patrick (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Comatose patient has telekinesis.

Patrick (Robert Thomspon) lies in a coma inside a hospital three years after murdering his parents. Kathie (Susan Penhaligon) is the new nurse hired to look after him. She notices early on strange things occurring whenever she’s in Patrick’s room and begins to believe that he may have special powers. Her relationships with both her ex-husband (Rod Mullinar) and her new love interest (Bruce Barry) also become affected by bizarre, unexplained happenings that she feels Patrick is causing, but can’t prove. Dr. Roget (Robert Helpmann), who runs the hospital, and Matron Cassidy (Julia Blake), the head nurse, refuse to believe any of this and proceed to end Patrick’s life, by cutting the power to the machine that keeps him alive only to find this to be much more of a challenge than they expected.

This was the first thriller directed by Richard Franklin, a disciple of Alfred Hitchcock, after having shot two soft core porn films before this one. While on the technical end it’s quite polished the pace is slow and takes too long to get to any type of genuine scares. For the first 40 minutes the only impressive stunts that Patrick does is open a window, via telekinesis, and slightly move a statue that’s sitting on a desk, which for some viewers won’t be enough to keep them engaged. In fact the full range of his powers never gets put on display until the very end and instead should’ve been seen much sooner, versus the subtle little tricks that he does, which aren’t as impressive or interesting.

How Patrick got into a coma is never fully explained. The opening flashback scene shows him electrocuting his parents as they sit in a bathtub by throwing a heat lamp into the water, but nothing shown for what he does after this. In the original screenplay, written by Everett De Roche, Patrick jumps off a ledge after witnessing his wife being unfaithful but Franklin wanted a darker side to Patrick, so the parricide motive was used, which is fine, but you still got to also show what causes his coma, which this film never does. There’s also no explanation for his psychic powers. Did he get these abilities after becoming comatose, or did he already have them before and if so how did he acquire them?

The supporting cast, particularly Helpmann and Blake, who play the autocratic, terse talking, authoritative figures to the hilt, is the most entertaining thing about the movie.  Penhaligon is okay, but her character is hard to understand particularly when she reaches under the bed sheets to fondle Patrick’s penis, happens twice, or kiss him on the lips, which probably no one else, especially as creepy as he looks and is, would dream of doing. When Patrick begins typing out messages on a nearby typewriter, via psychic powers, Penhaligon doesn’t run out of the room in shock and fear like anyone else would, but instead acts like she’s cool with it. Also, when Patrick uses his abilities to trash her apartment, which she initially thinks was done by her ex, she doesn’t call the police and even invites the ex back to her place later on, when most other people would’ve cut-off all communications with him.

For extremely patient viewers it might be worth it, but a 112-minute runtime, which was originally 140 minutes on the first cut, is too long to sit through for such little that actually happens. More special effects and more of backstory to Patrick and how he became the way he is, both physically and psychologically, was needed. Remade in 2013.

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My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 1, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 52 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Franklin

Studio: Filmways Australasian Distributors

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, Fandor, YouTube

The Seduction (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Anchorwoman stalked by photographer.

Jamie Douglas (Morgan Fairchild) is a successful Los Angeles news anchor in a long-term relationship with her boyfriend Brandon (Michael Sarrazin). Living close-by is Derek (Andrew Stevens) a photographer who has become obsessed with her after viewing her from afar through his binoculars. He begins giving her unwanted phone calls that soon turn into menacing fan letters. He follows her where ever she goes and even breaks into her home, but nothing seems to scare him away and the police are unable to do anything about it. When his behavior becomes even more threatening Brandon buys Jamie a rifle and advises her to use it, but Jamie is initially not thrilled with the idea.

This is writer/director David Schmoeller’s second feature film after doing the highly overrated Tourist Trapwith this thing, despite a much bigger budget, being not much better than that one. Casting Fairchild in the lead is one of the bigger problems as she has too much of a cold, bitchy persona about her, even when she’s not trying to, that just doesn’t make her the type of person a viewer can warm-up to, or want to root for.

Derek, as the psycho, is a poorly fleshed-out character where it’s never clear why he’s propelled to stalk Jamie in the first place. Why is this good-looking guy, who seems to be making good money, and owns a nice house, so obsessed with a blonde news lady when there’s already a good-looking blonde named Julie (Wendy Smith Howard) whose shown an interest in him? Some may argue, as it gets alluded to near the end, that Derek is impotent, but if he can’t get it up for other women then why would he be able to do it with Jamie? If the answer is that he can only achieve erection through violence and control then there needs to be an explanation for what traumatic experiences in his life, or personality quirk, have brought him to become that way.

It’s also really annoying how Derek is able to constantly break-in to Jamie’s house and into her place of work without ever being impeded, or caught. You’d think with the amount of harassment he’s given her she’d make sure to bolt every door and lock every window and yet he’s able to somehow continually pop-in all the time without any hassle. It’s like he’s Barbra Eden from ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ and can just blink his way in as that’s pretty much what it comes-off looking like.

Schmoeller’s inept direction ruins any suspense. Case-in-point is when Jamie is inside her home reading a letter and the camera zooms into a broken trinket sitting on her beauty stand that had been clearly placed there by Derek earlier. Instead of allowing the tension to simmer, by leaving the viewer in the dark as to whether Derek was still in the house or not, Schmoeller instead cuts right away to show Derek hiding in the closet, so when he does finally jump out and frighten Jamie the viewer is not startled at all because we’re already expecting it. Same thing happens when Jamie is live on-the-air and reads a creepy message written by Derek on her teleprompter. It would’ve been far more of a shock to the viewer had we not seen Derek sneak in to write the message earlier and instead shared Jamie’s point-of-view and seeing it for the first time as she reads it.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending is where it jump-the-shark when Derek somehow stabs Brandon, who is in a hot tub, in the back with a kitchen knife used to cut apples. Hard to believe that type of knife would be sharp enough to stab someone with and even harder to imagine that Derek was able to do it by standing on the edge of the tub and throwing it through the air towards Brandon with such perfect aim and impact that it penetrated his back and kills him instantly.

He then allows Jamie to get out of the tub, she was in it when Brandon got knifed, and get dressed while Derek goes off to bury Brandon’s body, but why does he feel the need to bury the body and why isn’t he afraid that while he’s away she’ll use this time to either call the police, or escape to a neighbor’s house? Having Jamie finally use the rifle and attempt to shoot Derek with it leaves open a few plot holes as well as she made clear earlier that she didn’t like the idea of the gun making it seem that she had never used one, so when she finally does you’d think she’d be unable to correctly work-it.

The original ending had the police chief, played by Vince Edwards, coming in at the last second and blowing Derek away, but the studio didn’t like this version so it got changed to where Julie kills Derek instead, but I didn’t like this either. Derek is Jamie’s problem, so it’s up to her to finish him off. My version would’ve had Jamie immediately run into the house and grab the rifle after Derek kills Brandon and then while still nude chase Derek, with rifle in hand, back to his house where she would finally riddle him with bullets. The final shot would’ve had her sitting nude on Derek’s sofa smoking a cigarette while Derek’s dead body lay at her feet. A voice-over of her reading the news story as an anchorwoman of what had occurred would then be heard.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: January 22, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated R

Director: David Schmoeller

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

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