Category Archives: Thrillers/Suspense

52 Pick-up (1986)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Blackmailed over sex tape.

Harry (Roy Scheider) runs a successful construction company and is married to Barbara (Ann-Margret) who’s running for city council. One day Harry gets abducted by three men in hoods (John Glover, Clarence Williams III, Robert Trebor). They bring him to an abandoned building and show him a video tape that they’ve recorded featuring Harry’s steamy affair with a 20-something stripper named Cini (Kelly Preston). They demand $105,000 per year to stay quiet and if not they’ll release the tape to the press. Harry decides not to go to the police for fear it would jeopardize his wife’s political ambitions and instead does the investigating himself to find the tape and the men who made it and then turn-the-tables on them.

In 1984 The Cannon Group bought the rights to Elmore Leonard’s novel of the same name with the intent of turning it into a spy thriller with the setting changed from Detroit to Tel Aviv. Leonard was commissioned to write the script, but the drafts he submitted were deemed unacceptable and eventually someone else was hired as the screenwriter and the movie became known as The Ambassador2 years later John Frankenheimer, after having read the novel, decided he’d like to turn it into a movie in a more faithful version to the book. Since The Cannon Group still owned the rights they agreed to produce though several changes were made including having the setting in Los Angeles, which was mainly done for budgetary reasons.

While I’ve complained about other movies produced by The Cannon Group this one looks much more polished and could’ve easily been released by a major studio. I enjoyed the constantly moving camera that turns every scene into one unending tracking shot, which gives it a visual energy and allows the viewer to feel like they’re right there in the setting with the camera acting as their point-of-view as they move around amongst the action.

Many movies from the 80’s touched on the tawdry, underground lifestyles of Los Angeles, but would always pull-back before it became too distasteful and yet this one dives completely in and never leaves. By immersing the viewer into the seamy environment it helps them to better understand the sick nature of the bad guys and the elements that made them believe they could get away with it. It also features adult film stars from the era including Amber Lynn, Jamie Gillis, Tom Byron, and Barbara Dare. Porn legend Seka was also set to be in it, but the aging and apparently still quite horny Frankenheimer pestered her behind-the-scenes in an effort to have sex and even asked her out on a date, which was enough to get her to walk off the set.

The three antagonists are the most entertaining aspect. Glover gives a poetic quality to his character’s sliminess and is mesmerizing in his vileness. Clarence Williams III, best known for his work in the TV-show ‘Mod Squad’ has a creepy intensity that makes his scene riveting. Trebor, as the extremely anxious strip bar owner, makes breaking down in a panic an art form.

The problem is with the two leads who get upstaged by the baddies. In fact during the second-half the three villains receive more screen time than the heroes making it seem like the movie is more about them. Scheider’s insistence on trying to track down the culprits on his own with only an inkling of clues is intriguing to an extent, but he ends up finding their whereabouts too easily. Otherwise Scheider and Ann-Margret do nothing but react to the situation they’re in instead of propelling the action. It’s not because of bad acting either, but more due to the script that doesn’t flesh-out their characters enough to make them interesting, or for the viewer to care what happens to them.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: April 16, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 50 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Frankenheimer

Studio: The Cannon Group

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Tubi

Class of 1984 (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teacher battles teen gang.

Andrew Norris (Perry King) is the new teacher at Lincoln High, which is an inner-city school prone to a lot of violence and drugs. He’s been hired to teach a music class while replacing another teacher who left suddenly. Almost immediately he’s at odds with Peter Stegman (Timothy Van Patten) the leader of a school gang that constantly disrupts his class. He eventually is able to kick him out, but Peter continues to harass Norris in the off-hours where they vandalize his car and attack his wife (Merrie Lynn Ross). Norris eventually decides he’s had enough especially after the principal (David Gardner) and even the police detective (Al Waxman) show him little support, so he takes matter into his own hands by violently confronting Peter and refusing to back down.

The film, which was directed by Mark L. Lester, who as a B-movie director has done some compact, quality stuff, has definite shades to Teacherswhich came out 2 years later, but with the same type of theme. This one though is harder edged, which makes it a bit better though it’s still weaker than Unman, Wittering, and Zigowhich it also has some similarities to, but without the intriguing mystery element. Lester has stated that he wanted to make an updated version of Blackboard Jungle, but with a grittier feel and while it may have succeeded in that respect it still comes-off as needing an updating. The school gangs dress in an over-the-top way and at times it’s hard to tell whether this wants to be taken seriously, or intended as camp. As violent as it sometimes gets it still doesn’t touch on school shootings, which was unheard of at the time, but would make a modern day high school movie that would deal with that subject more violent and scarier and making this stuff, as edgy as it tries to be, seem tame by comparison.

The ratio of black and white students doesn’t mesh. This was supposed to be an inner city school, so you’d think there would be more students of color than white, but instead it’s 98% white with only 1 or 2 black kids per class.  Norris’ roomy home in the plush suburbs seemed too nice for someone working off of a teacher’s salary, so unless his wife had a high income job, which is never confirmed, then the home he lives in wouldn’t be realistic. The reason for Stegman becoming a gang leader doesn’t make sense either. Normally kids get involved in gangs due to being stuck in poverty, but Stegman lives in the suburbs where gang life is quite rare. If he was from an abusive family then it might justify, but his mother (Linda Sorensen) takes his side on everything, so again his motivation for joining a gang isn’t believable and in a lot of ways quite absurd.

I did enjoy King n the lead. He’s played some creepy parts quite effectively in the past, so I wasn’t sure if he could pull-off a good-guy role, but he does it quite admirably. Roddy McDowall is great too in the last film he appeared in with brown hair as after this he began sporting an all gray look. The scene where he teaches a class while holding all the students at gunpoint is by far the best moment. It’s fun too seeing Michael J. Fox (billed without the ‘J’) as a high school student even though he was already 21 at the time of filming. He looks more pudgy and has a bowl haircut though ultimately other than getting stabbed doesn’t have much to do. The weakest link is Van Patten who’s not scuzzy enough to give the role the nastiness that it needed.

The table saw death deserves kudos and the gas fire one isn’t bad either. Having he teachers turn-the-tables on the students and violently fight back gives the movie a novel edge though I wished that King and McDowall had teamed-up together to take on the kids instead of doing it individually. The story though doesn’t get interesting until the violent third act. The theme has also been tackled many times before and this one doesn’t add anything unique to the mix and for the most part is painfully predictable.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 20, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mark L. Lester

Studio: United Film Distribution Company

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

Blackout (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Criminals invade apartment complex.

Inspired by the actual power blackout that occurred in New York City on July 13-14, 1977 the story centers on a group of felons lead by Christie (Robert Carradine) who are being transported to another prison. Along the way their police van crashes and the van drivers are killed instantly, but the felons survive. When they climb out they find that the city is without power. Using the police uniforms of the two dead drivers as well as their weapons they’re able to sneak their way into a nearby apartment complex under the pretext that they’re policemen and therefore the security guard allows them in only to be immediately killed once he does. The crooks then terrorize the residents by conning their way into each of the apartments the same way they did to get into the complex. Once they’re inside they rob the tenants and at certain points even kill them. Dan (James Mitchum) is an off-duty police officer who breaks into the complex to help save Annie (Belinda Montgomery) who’s being attacked and screaming for help from her balcony. He then single-handily goes about trying to track down the armed group despite being outnumbered.

This was yet another example where the entry in Leonard Maltin’s book does not accurately describe what occurs as whoever wrote the review states that it’s ‘balanced with black comedy’ though there’s really no comedy in it except for a brief exchange between a husband and wife attending a Greek wedding, which occurs at the beginning, but after that it’s all gritty drama.

The production was directed by Eddy Matalon who started his career doing music videos for Bridgette Bardot during the 60’s before graduating to soft-core porn in the 70’s under the pseudonym Jack Angel. He eventually, in 1977, tried his hand at horror with the universally derided Cathy’s Curse before following-up with this one, which fares better and as a grim thriller even succeeds though it’s not perfect.

My biggest complaint is that it cuts out too many pivotal moments. It shows how they enter into one apartment and even choose another because it has triple locks cluing them in that a rich person with a lot of expensive stuff must live there, but there’s other times when it does not show why they break into the apartments that they do. There’s hundreds of dwellings inside the complex and they weren’t going to be able to bust into all of them, so the reason for why they choose the ones that they do needed to be shown each time. There’s also a segment where Mitchum shoots and kills one of the perpetrators in the hallway, but it’s never documented where they take the body, or if they just leave it there for all to see.

Some of the stuff gets a bit over-the-top like when they kill the guard and then stage it to look like a suicide, but why would these desperate crooks care to take the time to do that? They’re in a rush to rob as many residents as they can before the power comes back on, who why not just put the dead guard’s body into a back room and be done with it? Tying Mitchum up into a contraption that would electrocute him once the power came back-on seemed too similar to the campy predicaments that would be the cliffhanger for each episode of the ‘Batman’ TV-show. These two-bit thieves wouldn’t have the care, or sophistication to do that. Either kill the guy, or tie him up the conventional way, but getting excessively overboard with it seemed too theatrical and predictably gives him just enough time to escape.

Mitchum is enjoyable. I liked how at the beginning he tries to chase down a purse snatcher, but fails, which shows that he’s not perfect and relatable, which makes you want to root for him even more to stop the bad guys. I did though have misgivings with Montgomery’s character who gets raped, but immediately after that she saves two people trapped in an elevator and even delivers a baby, which is too quick a recovery from such a traumatic event.

Aging stars from Hollywood’s gold era appear as the residents, but are given little to do especially June Allyson who’s seen for less than 5-minutes. Ray Milland’s segment had potential as he plays this rich, stuffy guy who refuses to give the intruders the combination to his safe even as they torture his wife. Eventually he gives in, but it would’ve been fun had he remained stubborn. They’d burn-up his place, which they do anyways, and kill his wife, but he’d still refuse to give it out. Then when the cops finally do arrive he could say in his last dying breath amidst the burned cinders “At least they never got the combination.”

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 25, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Eddy Matalon

Studio: Cinepix Film Properties

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Enemy Territory (1987)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He can’t get out.

Barry (Gary Frank) is an insurance salesmen whose fallen on hard times. His boss, Mr. Beckhorne (Charles Randall), gives him an offer he can’t refuse. Sign-up an old lady named Elva (Frances Foster), who has expressed an interest, to a policy and he can make a big commission. The problem is that she’s located in the Lincoln Towers apartment building, which is in a dangerous area of the city. Barry hesitates at first, but then takes it convinced that as long as he can be out of there before sundown he’ll be alright. Once he arrives he can’t find the apartment, so he taps a young kid named Deacon (Theo Caesar) on the shoulder to get his attention, so he can ask for directions, but the kid is a member of the notorious street gang named the Vampires and touching any of their members is considered a major offense. Once the gang leader, known as The Count (Tony Todd), becomes aware of this he calls the rest of his followers to go on the attack. While Barry is able to get the policy signed and his commission paid in rolls of dollar bills he finds that he’s unable to leave the building and must plead for help after the security guard (Tiger Haynes), who was trying to escort him out, gets shot and killed by the gang. Will (Ray Parker Jr.), who resides in the complex, comes to Barry’s aid and between them and Toni (Stacey Dash), who also lives there, they try to help Barry find a way out by using the knowledge of a 10-year-old kid named Chet (Deon Richmond) who’s aware of a secret exit deep inside the basement of the place that no one else knows about.

This was yet another 80’s actioner produced by Charles Band who got a reputation for funding cheesy, low budget flicks, but this one is actually decent. The film has great tension from start to finish and the inside of the building, complete with graffiti all over the hallway walls gives it a surreal quality and looks like it was filmed in an actual place that was smack dab in the ghetto. The main character, unlike in so many Hollywood flicks, isn’t always cool and calm under pressure and at one point, after a dramatic incident, has a mental breakdown where he can’t remember his own name, which seemed more realistic as most regular people mentally would be ill-prepared for the dangers that heroes in action flicks go through and respond in post traumatic ways when faced with them.

I also liked that Barry gets shot at and bullet actually hits him. My biggest pet peeve with Hollywood action flicks is that the good guys may get shot at, and in some cases hundreds of times, but never hit, so it’s great that one does here. I enjoyed too that when Will tries to help him when he’s injured, which then slows him up from outrunning the gang members, and Barry says “If you think I’m going to say to go on without me you’ve seen too many movies.”.

Frank, whose career started with high acclaim for his work on the 70’s TV-show ‘Family’, but by the 80’s had crested. His part here was supposed to get things back on track, but that doesn’t happen because he gets completely overshadowed by Parker who dominates the proceedings to the point that Frank does nothing but respond to whatever Parker does. To have made the film really interesting the Parker character, although very well played, should never have existed, and instead the salesmen should’ve been some middle-aged, out-of-shape dude who must use his wits alone and maybe the help of the two young kids, to get out, which would’ve been beating the odds even more astronomically and therefore more unique.

I was disappointed too with the Jan-Michael Vincent character, who’s a feisty, handicapped Vietnam Vet that even the gang members are afraid of, but unfortunately gets woefully underplayed. Vincent, who was struggling with alcoholism at the time, just doesn’t have the energy needed and then having him get killed off so quickly just ruins what could’ve been fun, eccentric addition to the team.

Another negative is Stacey Dash, making her film debut, and not looking anything like she does now. I realize people’s appearances change as they grow older, but everything about her looked different and I started to wonder if it was the same person. A lot of it I guess was that she weighed more here and this kind of changed her facial features. Now when you see here her blue eyes are very pronounced as well as her over-sized mouth, but that along with a different hairstyle, wasn’t her dominate feature here. I felt her acting was subpar too. She doesn’t convey her lines with much urgency and the way she tries to outrun a group of would-be attackers, looked too strident like she was going out for an afternoon jog.

The one quibble I had plot wise was when Barry and Will are trapped inside Elva’s apartment and unable to exit because the gang members are outside her apartment door and blocking them from leaving. Since her apartment was 20 floors up they decided to tie together some bed sheets and then hang it out the window and use that to climb down to an apartment a couple of floors below. However, it appeared to be too many bed sheets tied together. This is a poor, single woman leaving alone, so I’d think she’d have only one or two that she’d need, but this appears more like she had 6 or 7 on-hand. They also don’t show what they tied the bed sheets to help anchor it when the person crawled out and since these sheets are not made of rope having them rip or unravel was most likely going to happen and it’s questionable that they don’t. Again, I enjoyed the movie overall, but this was one area, along with maybe a couple of others, where it kind of cheats things.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: May 22, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Peter Manoogian

Studio: Empire Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD-R

Rivals (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Child dislikes mom’s boyfriend.

Jamie (Scott Jacoby) is the 10-year-old son of Christine (Joan Hackett) who’s still grieving over the death of his father 2-years earlier and very possessive over who his mother sees. Whenever she tries to get into a relationship he gets in the way to end it. When she starts seeing Peter (Robert Klein) a would-be comedian who gives bus tours of New York City, he immediately takes a disliking to him, but Christine marries him anyways though the home life remains rocky. Just when things seem to be getting better Jamie devises a scheme, which he hopes will kill-off Peter, but things don’t go quite as planned.

One of the lasting impressions of this so-so production are scenes of stuff you’d never see in a movie today. One is the child nudity of a very young boy sitting on the toilet looking like he’s about to fall in and a close-up of his penis. Another is an awkward scene featuring Jacoby, only 13 at the time as it was filmed in 1970, but looking more like he was 10, forcing his babysitter, played by Jeanne Tanzy Williams, who was 17, to undress in front of him and then make-out. Tanzy, who later became the manager for the Backstreet Boys, talked about the filming of the scene at length on her blog and how difficult it was to do.

Klein, who has lambasted the movie for years, is the biggest problem and it would’ve had more potential if it had cast somebody else. The character is meant to be a ‘lovable joker’, but his practical joke behavior becomes a turn-off when he locks some tourists inside his hot, cramped bus for hours just so he can go out on a date with Christine. His playful goofiness is obnoxious and his attempts at humor incredibly lame. I didn’t believe his character was originally from Los Angeles as someone this brash and aggressive could only be from New York and hope to get away with it. I was dumbfounded too how he knows he’s a poor lay and yet still pressures Christine to go to bed with him. I would think if he knew he was going to disappoint the other person he would just masturbate to porn in order to avoid the embarrassment, or if the character was to be consistent he’d think he was great in the sack, since he thinks he’s funny when he really isn’t, and the scene could have him proudly smoking a cigarette in bed after sex while Christine, turning away from him, could have an unhappy expression, which would’ve been funny. In either case he’s annoying as hell and you actually unintentionally side with Jamie in his efforts to off him.

Hackett, whose done some great dramatic work, looks lost here and not given much to do outside of having a perpetually pained look on her face. Jacoby is the one thing that keeps it intriguing. The scene where he yells at one of his mother’s potential boyfriends to “get out” after he catches them talking is quite creepy, but director Krishna Shah ruins it by immediately cutting to a scene with Hackett in a psychiatrist office where the doctor, played by James Karen, explains the underlying motives for Jamie’s outburst, which wasn’t needed and hurts the effect of the moment.

The musical score, which sounded like something better suited for ‘Sesame Street’ is atrocious and drags the whole thing down. It also takes too long to get to where it’s obviously going and a lot of the scenes could’ve been trimmed, or cut-out completely. The ending is a bit of a surprise and effectively grisly, but the film suffers from extreme shifts in tone, which hampers the suspense and doesn’t allow the story to achieve its full potential.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 23, 1972 (Filmed in 1970)

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Krishna Shah

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD-R, Tubi

Honeymoon (1985)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Married to a stranger.

Cecile (Nathalie Baye) is a French woman living in New York City who’s at risk of having her Visa revoked due to being in a relationship with a recently arrested drug offender (Richard Berry). In order to help her remain in the country she gets involved with a shady, underground firm run by Novak (Peter Donat) who can marry her off to a stranger. Cecile is reluctant at first, but desperate enough to play along especially after she’s assured she’ll never actually see the man she is marrying and both parties are simply doing it for their own personal benefit. However, after she agrees to it and then returns home the man that is her fake husband, Zack Freestamp (John Shea), shows up at her doorstep and demands to be let in. He then takes over her apartment and acting like he’s her real husband and she’s obligated to play the role of the dutiful wife. She resists, but becomes increasingly hounded. Where ever she goes he follows and she can’t seem to ever shake-him. Due to being involved in an illegal activity she’s unable to go to the police and therefore must use her wits to outsmart him, which won’t be easy as Zack’s killed before and is used to getting what he wants.

This is one of those obscure movies, which was filmed on-location in New York, but by a French production company and thus making it a foreign film, where you wonder how it could’ve fallen through the cracks. It’s possible, as evidenced by the film’s promotional poster as seen above, that it was marketed to the wrong audience as you’d get the impression from looking at it that this was a horror/slasher film, which it’s not, and those coming to the theater expecting that were disappointed and thus gave it bad word-of-mouth. In either case it’s deserving of another look though not by those looking for a conventional thriller.

What impressed me had nothing really to do with the stalking element, but more the excellent performance by Baye, an award-winning performer in her native country though not too well known here. Her portrayal of a person lost in a cold, lonely environment really hits-home and you get a genuine feel for her desperation and how others in her same situation would react and think. If anything this movie should’ve been promoted as a drama that gives viewers insight to how foreigners that live in this country, but aren’t yet citizens, see our world and deal with the alienation, which I believe would’ve made this a critically acclaimed film instead of a forgotten one.

Shea’s casting is interesting as he’s cursed with having a boyishly cute face like he was snatched directly from a modeling agency and only given onscreen work due to his appearance over any actual talent. He had just been in Windy City where he played a sickingly sweet nice guy, so I’m sure he was determined to prove his acting range, and possibly even advised to do so by his agent, by taking a part completely different from that one. Does he succeed? Well, for the most part he’s competent, but the character would’ve been even more frightening had he been ugly instead of a pretty-boy.

Spoiler Alert!

The story fortunately doesn’t have too many loopholes and manages enough twists to keep it interesting though it does wear itself out by the end. My main complaint is the part where Cecile is taken by a blind date in his car to a darkened alley where he plans to assault her and yet she’s rescued by Zach who appears out of nowhere. I thought it was because he had again been following her, but no car that he was in is seen making it seem like he had just been in that alley by himself when they got there, but what would be the chances that out of the thousands of alleys in New York City they’d conveniently park at random at the one he was in?

There’s another scene where Zach’s being chased by the cops who are in a squad car while he’s on foot. He turns and shoots at them from behind and manages to hit the driver squarely in the head, but the prospect of him having such great aim while running is extremely low. Later a nervous and shaking Cecile shoots at someone and manages to nail-him right in the heart, but since she was clearly not confident in using a gum her great aim seemed implausible. I also didn’t care the chase through a house of mirrors at an abandoned carnival side show, which came-off as a rip-off of a similar one done in the classic Lady of Shanghai. Overall though it still has its solid moments and in need of more attention than its unfortunately gotten.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: November 20, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Patrick Jamain

Studio: Malofilm

Available: VHS

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: His doppelganger takes over.

Pelham (Roger Moore) is a conservative, staid businessman who is married with two kids and for all practical purposes leads a predictable life. One day he goes out driving and begins to pretend he’s a race driver in a sports car. He removes his seat belt and accelerates the vehicle before getting into an awful crash. The doctors at the hospital are able to save him, but as he returns to his normal way of doing things he keeps hearing about another man who looks just like him appearing all over town. The man associates with many of his same friends and eventually moves into his home and has relations with his wife while he’s not there. Pelham tries putting at stop to it only to find that his friends and family prefer the new Pelham over the old one.

While the concept has intriguing elements the way it gets handled is a letdown. Supposedly his doppelganger represents his more reckless side that he keeps oppressed, but then having him immediately give into his wild impulses through his driving doesn’t seem like dual personalities, but more like it’s all-in-one. His recovery, especially after such a life threatening accident, happens too quickly and the idea that he can just go back to normal and continue to drive the same car that he totaled (he buys a new one, but the same model) seemed dubious as I’d think in reality his license would’ve been suspended for causing a crash that put both him and others at extreme risk.

The movie makes clear through flashback that there really is a double versus keeping this aspect a mystery and allowing in the idea that it might be a person disguising himself as Pelham. There’s very little difference between the two, so having them both walking around adds nothing. If the twin is supposed to represent his wild side then this needs to be shown through his attire, hairstyle, and speech pattern. The only real difference is that one drives a flashy sports car, but that’s it. You’d also think that those around him, especially his family, would sense something was off instead of having the real one become the odd man.

Moore has stated in interviews that his was his favorite role, but I don’t know why because outside of having a perpetual confused look on his face his character has little else to do. The production values, for what it’s worth, are excellent, but the story is too thin for feature length. The second act gets especially boring as Pelham is constantly hearing from others about his double over and over again until it becomes redundant. It takes too long for the protagonist to become aware of something that the viewer catches onto early on. The ending is vague and offers no suitable conclusion or answers. Normally I’d say this is the type of story, which was based on the novel ‘The Case of Mr. Pelham’ by Anthony Armstrong, that would’ve been better as an episode for an anthology series, but in this instance that’s actually what occurred as 15 years earlier it was a first season episode of ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’. with Tom Ewell playing the part of Pelham and the compact 25-minute runtime did a far superior job with the concept than the 94-minutes does here.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: July 18, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Basil Dearden

Studio: EMI Films

Available: DVD

Freeway (1988)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer in a car.

Sunny (Darlanne Fluegel) is an emergency room nurse still grieving over the senseless death of her fiancee at the hands of a highway killer (Billy Drago) who drove-up beside them one late night and shot him through their car window. Sunny is constantly hassling the police for updates on the case, but the police sergeant Lt. Boyle (Michael Callan) is aloof and put-off. Frank (James Russo) is an ex-cop who left the force when a drug gang he was investigating annihilated his whole family. He senses Sunny’s despair and the two team-up to find the killer along with radio talk show host David Lazuras (Richard Belzer) whose show gets calls from an unhinged man, who quotes Bible verses and claims to be the one they’re looking for.

The story has some intriguing elements and I liked how initially we don’t know the identity of the assailant, but the concept, which is based on the novel of the same name by Deanne Barkley, is poorly thought-out. This freeway shooter makes headlines for having killed many people, so Sunny wouldn’t be the only one getting on the police about finding the culprit as the entire city, which would be gripped with panic, would also be and if the city’s force wasn’t doing enough then federal agents would be brought-in.

The car that the killer drives, which is an older model with a broken front grill, is similar to the haunted vehicle used in the cult-classic The Carbut because it has a distinct appearance the guy wouldn’t be able to get away with his crimes for too long as surely other people on the very busy L.A. freeways would’ve spotted him and had his license plate, or general whereabouts, called-in. Some drivers would likely have tailed him and even cornered his car with theirs until the police got there. The car also smashes into several other vehicles, and since it was an old clunker, it would need body work, and thus pique the suspicions of the auto repairman who would likely alert authorities. In either event having the killer get away with as much as he does and with only one person emotionally vested into finding him doesn’t gel.

While the leads are bland the supporting cast is interesting. Callan, who was a semi-star during the 60’s before his career cratered, does well as the non-nonchalant police chief and still looking good despite some weight gain around the face. Clint Howard has a fun bit as a porn obsessed mechanic, who agrees to let Sunny drive his prized sports car while he gets her’s fixed. While allowing some random chick to take his car, which no auto mechanic in the history of the world would do, or feel obligated to do, I was willing to accept it using the rationale that he was hoping it might help him score with her later, but the fact that she keeps this ‘loaner’ for days, even weeks, without returning it gets ridiculous.

Country music legend Roy Clark is listed in the part of a CHP officer, but I didn’t spot him. I had a feeling it was played by someone with the same name, I know when I lived in Indy there were 7 other men in the phone book with my name, and since Roy and Clark are both quite common, it seems reasonable that it was somebody else, so listing it in Roy’s filmography on IMDb is a mistake.

The tension isn’t strong and weakens quite a bit by the third act, which is when it should’ve been the strongest. Director Francis Delia, who before this worked on music videos, tries hard to give the proceeding a stylistic touch, which might’ve fared better had the story and characters been thoroughly fleshed-out.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: September 2, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Francis Delia

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

ffolkes (1980)

ffolks2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Loves cats, hates women.

Rufus Excalibur ffolkes (Roger Moore) is a cat loving misogynist who dislikes women because he grew up the youngest of five sisters and forced to wear their hand-me-downs until he was age 10. As an adult he is a counter-terrorism expert and trains a team of men to go onto ships at sea that have been hijacked. When a North Sea oil production platform nicknamed Jennifer gets taken over by a group of men posing as reporters their leader (Anthony Perkins) demands an enormous ransom and it’s up to ffolkes and his team to board the platformed and kill the terrorists without allowing the ship, which has been booby-trapped with bombs by the criminals, to blow-up.

The film, which was based on the novel ‘Esther, Ruth & Jennifer’ by Jack Davies, who also wrote the screenplay, starts out well and has all the ingredients to being a compelling thriller. The on-location shooting done on an actual ship makes the viewer feel like they’re out at sea themselves and I found the foot chase done on the vessel during a raging rainstorm to be riveting. Perkins makes for a particularly slimy villain and Micheal Parks, as the mastermind who constructs and implements the bombs, was also impressive wearing glasses that make his eyes look like they’re bulging and it’s just a shame these two men had to co-star together as they’d be able to eat-up the scenes had they been allowed to do it alone without any henchmen.

The ffolkes character works against type playing a good-guy that tests the viewer’s assumption of what’s acceptable behavior for a protagonist. Too many movies create a hero-like caricature of someone who is overly noble, brave, and virtuous until it becomes boring and contrived. At least here the guy we’re supposed to cheering for is interestingly flawed therefore more human-like than super-heroes in most other films, especially those made today, who are just too-good-to-be-true.

ffolkes though does spend too much time sitting in the background working on a crochet of a cat while giving-off glib remarks and not being as active as he should. He’s also constantly drinking scotch at all hours of the day, straight out of the bottle, which should’ve made him inebriated and this most likely would’ve come into play at some later point where he wasn’t able to pull-off an intricate task because he was too drunk, but after introducing his drinking problem during the first half, it gets completely forgotten by the second.

While the character acts extraordinarily arrogant and cocky he’s not able to pull-off the assignment quite as easily as you’d think for someone with his amount of confidence. One scene has him stupidly walking right into a gunmen and it takes the sheer luck of someone hiding in a lifeboat to save him. Another scene has him almost killed by one of his own men making him seem like he’s not as good of an instructor as his reputation suggests and all leads to him unintentionally coming-off more like a deluded idiot than the crafty mastermind with a few personality quirks that he’s supposed to be.

The story, while having a solid set-up, ultimately becomes the biggest letdown. For one thing it never shows us how they’re able to pull-off the fake explosion of Ruth, another oil platform. They talk about rigging it to seem like it exploded to fool the bad guys, and we do see something exploding, but no explanation of what it was since the real Ruth secretly remains standing. Also, most ships have a radar system, which should’ve shown that the real Ruth never went away and that they had been duped, but for whatever reason they never catch-on.

The ending surprisingly lacks very little action, which is what was blamed for the film’s poor reception at the box office. People are expecting a movie that stars Moore to have a lot of stunt work and special effects and for the most part it never happens. The villains go down too easily making it not very satisfying to see them go. There needed to be more wrinkles to the scenario and more unexpected twists as the pay-off and climactic finish is weak making one feel, despite the excellent performances, like it wasn’t worth sitting through.

Alternate Title: North Sea Hijack

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 3, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Andrew V. McLaglen

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

A Reflection of Fear (1972)

reflection

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: His daughter is disturbed.

Marguerite (Sondra Locke) is a lonely teen girl living with her mother Katherine (Mary Ure) and grandmother Julia (Signe Hasso). Through her alienation she creates an imaginary world with her dolls including one named Aron who she routinely has conversations with, but who also argues with her from time-to-time. Marguerite’s estranged father (Robert Shaw) comes to visit in order to ask Katherine for a divorce, so that he may marry Ann (Sally Kellerman). He also starts to rekindle things with Marguerite though Ann feels the two are getting much too close and fears they may be forming an incestuous relationship. Soon after both Katherine and Julia turn-up dead having been bludgeoned to death by a mysterious intruder, but who did the dirty deed? Was it an angry Marguerite, or her father, or was it the doll named Aron, who Marguerite insisted spoke to her even though no one else believed her.

The only reason to catch this obscurity is for the performance of Locke who’s absolutely brilliant. Despite being 27 at the time, she still looked like a teen and her attempt at speaking in an English accent is effective and I almost thought it had been dubbed, but it wasn’t. Her presence completely dominates the film making the supporting players seem almost non-existent and it convinced me that her relationship with Clint Eastwood, in which he according to her autobiography wouldn’t allow her to do any other projects that he wasn’t involved in, was a big mistake as she was clearly, as evidenced here, a highly gifted actress that never got her full due.

With that said I was kind of surprised to see Shaw in a film that didn’t allow him to shine and forced him to take a backseat. I can only imagine the reason that he did it was so he could work with his wife Ure, whose alcoholism had relegated her to only supporting parts toward the end of her career and in fact this was her last film before she was discovered dead in her dressing room at the young age of 42 from an accidental drug overdose. The two, for what it’s worth, do work well together. The hateful looks that she gives Shaw here seem authentic and you’d never know the two were a couple in real-life.

The story, with a screenplay co-written by Lewis John Carlino and based on the book ‘Go to Thy Deathbed’ by Stanton Forbes, has potential, but never gels. The scenario seems like it would’ve been better for a half-hour episode of the ‘The Twilight Zone’ and stretching it to a 90-minute length offered in too many slow spots where nothing much seemed to happen. The only time there’s any action is during the murder sequences, which could’ve been played-up more, otherwise it’s a lot of talk that fails to build-up the suspense or mystery in any interesting way.

Spoiler Alert!

The main problem that I had was that it was obvious to me that the doll was just a projection of Marguerite’s repressed anger, so the big reveal where she’s found to be the killer was not a surprise at all and in a lot of ways just a letdown. Had the filmmaker’s made an attempt to show the doll actually speaking instead of only been glimpsed in a shadowy way, which made it clear that he was just a figment of her imagination, then maybe there would’ve been more suspense because the viewer might actually have been made to believe that he was real, but the way it gets done here is not intriguing.

Having Shaw find out at the end that his daughter was actually a boy just made things even more confusing. Some have lauded this has being the first film with a transgender theme and a precursor to Sleepaway Camp, which is great, but what’s it all supposed to mean? Was Marguerite’s transgender issues the reason for her anger and why she lashed out into murder? Was this also the reason why her mother and grandmother kept her locked away and cut-off from potential friends, or was this instead Marguerite’s choice? None of this gets answered, which ultimately makes the film a pointless excursion.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 15, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: William A. Fraker

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD-R, Blu-ray