Category Archives: Thrillers/Suspense

Deadly Hero (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bad cop stalks witness.

Sally (Diahn Williams) is a beautiful cellist living alone in a New York apartment. One day while returning home she gets abducted by an assailant named Rabbit (James Earl Jones) who forces his way at knifepoint into her apartment. Mrs. Broderick (Lilia Skala), a concerned neighbor, calls the police  and soon officers Lacy (Don Murray) and Billings (Treat Williams) arrive at the scene. When Rabbit tries to leave with Sally Officer Lacy stops him at gunpoint. Rabbit holds a knife to Sally’s throat threatening to kill her, but Lacy persuades him drop it. When he does Lacy then shoots him in cold blood. During the subsequent investigation Lacy insists that Rabbit was coming after him with a knife and had no choice but to shoot. Sally though knows the truth and while she’s reluctant to come forward at first she eventually does causing Lacy to begin stalking her and threatening her life unless she agrees to recant.

The film, which was directed by Hungarian native Ivan Nagy, has a wonderful New York City vibe that brings out the ambience of its neighborhoods and street culture better than most other films that were directed by Americans. The Seamus Murphy Dance Troupe, which makes up the artists who perform the dance numbers in the play that Sally plays her cello in, helps add an eclectic moody vibe that I liked.

The acting isn’t too bad either. Murray comes-off as a bad cop caricature, but he does it so well it can almost be forgiven though I didn’t like the segment intercut into the first act showing him speaking at a campaign rally for a local politician (George S. Irving) as he had not met this man until after the shooting when he gets deemed a ‘hero’ and therefore this scene should not have been interjected into the film before the story actually got there.

Williams is alright as the victim in what should’ve capitulated her into more film work, but during filming she found herself at constant odds with director Nagy prompting her to leave the acting profession and pursue a law career instead where she’s known as Diahn McGrath. There’s an interesting supporting cast here too including Jones who gives a colorful performance as the thug and brief glimpses of Danny DeVito and Debbie Harry in bit parts.

The main issue with the film is that the characters are not fleshed-out enough for us to understand what motivates them, or why they do what they do. Why is Lacy so angry and why does he decide to shoot an unarmed man? We’re told that he’s  had violent tendencies in the past, but we’re never shown it, nor any explanation for a possible cause. He’s also seems to be in a happy marriage with a younger woman, but you’d think such a psychotic person would be unable to hide his ugly side from his wife and yet the film portrays the spouse as being completely clueless to his dark nature.

Sally’s need to come forward with the truth even when faced with strong pressure not to adds more questions than answers. Why does she feel so compelled to put Lacy away even if so doing could risk her career and life? Many people would get intimidated and back-off on their pursuit for justice when given all the drawbacks, so what is it about her character that decides to forge on when others wouldn’t? This needed insight unfortunately never comes.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending devolves into a standard psycho-on-the-loose formula in which Lacy tracks down Sally and takes her to a remote farm in Upstate New York where he plans to kill her, but his reasoning doesn’t make sense. If she disappears he’d become the prime suspect and it’s very unlikely, whether she testified or not, that his job would ever get reinstated, so why then even bother?

The film’s first two acts examined the inner politics of a city police department and did it in a vivid, realistic manner, which is where the focus should’ve stayed. A far creepier ending would’ve had the corrupt police brass refuse to believe Sally’s allegations, which would allow Lacy to remain on the force despite his many transgressions, so she’d not only have Lacy as her threat, but all of his police friends as well.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 14, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ivan Nagy

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Games (1967)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Playing tricks on others.

Paul (James Caan) and his wife Jennifer (Katharine Ross) are an affluent upper East Side couple who are into illusion/magic trick shows and entertain their friends at posh parties that they hold inside their spacious townhome. One day Lisa (Simone Signoret) arrives at their door selling cosmetics only to fall ill when she gets inside the home. A doctor (Ian Wolfe) comes over and finds her condition to be only temporary and says she’ll recover in a day if given plenty of rest, so they decide to let her stay the night, which then becomes an extended visit as Lisa and Jennifer begin to bond. The two then start playing tricks on Paul by pretending that Jennifer is having an affair with their delivery boy named Norman (Don Stroud). Eventually Paul realizes he’s been duped, but wants to get revenge by pretending to catch Norman coming onto Jennifer the next day. This time Paul accidently shoots and kills him forcing the couple to get rid of the body without Lisa becoming aware, which they’re able to do, until Jennifer begins seeing what she believes to be Norman’s ghostly presence.

The film has potential, but consistently misses-the-mark and ultimately becomes a misfire. The games the two play are amusing, but nothing special though it’s enough to hold interest particularly at the beginning during the party scenes with all of their pretentious friends. The townhouse the two live in is ritzy and I enjoyed the design, but if you’re going to have a story take place in Manhattan then you better film it there and not on a sound stage in Los Angeles as the ambience of the neighborhood is missing and having almost all of the action take place in one setting eventually becomes claustrophobic.

The real problem though is with the characters. Signoret is fantastic and her presence helps immensely, but the way she enters into the story is ridiculous. What kind of couple would let a strange woman stay overnight in their home? If she’s sick then let her spend it at a hospital. Turning her one night visit into an extended stay is equally farfetched and where exactly did she find this wardrobe to wear when she initially just came over to peddle perfumes?

Ross’s character is a big mess too and it’s no wonder that she has referred to this film as being ‘terrible’ and it’s not her fault either. She’s quite beautiful as always and if you need an actress to give off the perfect scared expression she’s tops, but I didn’t understand why her character allowed herself to be so taken in. This was a couple used to playing tricks not only on their friends, but on each other, so why didn’t she have a more jaded reaction and presume that her husband really didn’t kill Norman and it was all some elaborate game?

Spoiler Alert!

The twist ending is a complete letdown as it hinges on Paul meeting Lisa a year earlier by chance and then springing this idea on her of scaring Jennifer to death to the point that she inadvertently kills someone, so that he can get at her fortune and split it with Lisa, but how would he know that he could trust Lisa to keep this secret and not go to the authorities, or tell Jennifer? It might’ve worked better had the third person been a lifelong friend/family member to Paul, and not just someone he met at random, and therefore not likely to betray him.

A double-ending would’ve been more satisfying as Lisa poisons Paul and walks away with the money, but Paul should’ve been cunning enough to try and poison Lisa first, or through mutual mistrust they poison each other and no one gets the money. An even better idea would’ve had Jennifer only pretending to fall victim to the ruse, so when Lisa walks outside with the suitcase full of money, after having killed Paul, Jennifer and the police squad could’ve been there waiting for her.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: September 17, 1967

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Curtis Harrington

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD-R (Universal Vault Series), Blu-ray

Savage Harvest (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hungry lions attack family.

Similar to Roar, which will be reviewed later this week and was released the same year, the plot centers on a family headed by Maggie (Michelle Phillips) who live in Kenya. Due the drought and famine in the area the lions have begun to attack the people. When a pride surrounds their home it’s up to them and Casey (Tom Skerrit), a friend of the family, to fight off the beasts and find a way out of the house and to safety.

Many fans of the film, particularly reviewers on IMDb, will tell you that it’s the footage of the lion attacks that they found riveting and was so scary and realistic looking that it would keep them up at night as kids. Initially though I found some of these attacks not to be all that impressive. In the first one we don’t even see the lion at all just a close-up of one of the frightened villager’s eyes. In the second one, which occurs when actor Arthur Malet gets trapped inside his broken down van, has potential if it had gotten played-out more, but ends up feeling a bit like a cop-out when we again don’t see the lions actually attack him, but instead just a big dent on the roof of his van apparently caused by the lion when he jumps on it and then there’s a quick cutaway only to come back to the scene later after the victim is already dead.

There are other segments that don’t make much sense for instance having a lion somehow crawl through the chimney of the home and into the fireplace, but no explanation for how he was able to get on the roof of the house, nor how a chimney could be wide enough to fit his large body. Later there’s a lion who pops into the living room like it was magic and nothing shown for how he got in.

The film is for the most part a low budget cheapie focused solely on the lion storyline and nothing else. While I did enjoy the moment when the family sings Beatles songs as the lions hungrily try to break into the home I felt the characterizations were too thin. A sub plot might’ve given it a little more depth, but none ever comes and when the lions aren’t on the screen it’s quite sterile.

However, it does get effectively tense if you’re patient and wade through some of the footage of victims looking, even with the quick editing, like mannequins filled with raw meat. The climactic sequence though had me on edge especially as they manage to create a caged contraption out of various household items and then make an attempt to escape while inside it. It’s a truly hold-your-breath moment that more than makes up for any of  the film’s other blemishes.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

May 1, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 27 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert L. Collins

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS

The Dark Room (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: A father/son rivalry.

Mike (Svet Kovich) works as a photographer who has a thing for his attractive co-worker Nicky (Anna Maria Monticelli). He quietly follows her around and takes pictures of her from afar only to learn that she’s been seeing his father Ray (Alan Cassell) who is still married to his mother (Diana Davidson). Mike becomes enraged by this and begins dating Nicky as well. This puts a damper on Ray who was planning on leaving his wife for Nicky, but who now seems to becoming more distant with him. Once Ray realizes his son is the other man the two share a fiery confrontation at an old cottage in the country with Nicky stuck in the middle.

To some degree this is a unique storyline that’s rarely been tackled before. Most films dealing with father/son relationships take a much different approach by focusing very much on the generational divide where the father is out-of-touch with the son’s interests and vice-versa. This film acts like the two men are pretty much the same, with one having been on this planet a little bit longer than the other, but overall still have common wants and needs and desires particularly when it comes to the attraction of younger women, which I believe secretly stays innate in men no matter how old or how married they become.

I also liked the casting of Svet Kovich, which to date this is the only movie he’s been in, as his hawkish face and beady eyes make him look menacing, which is what the part requires and in many ways he reminded me of character actor Anthony James who played quite a few psychos in his day as well. Unfortunately this hurts the story because in the film Nicky falls for Kovich and begins a relationship with him even though in realty I’d think most women would fear him due to his looks and odd introverted behavior and thus making the whole romantic angle between them come off as false and phony. It was never clear either why she’d want to have relationships with both men (she was not aware initially that the two were related) at the same time as she seemed happy seeing Ray, so why add another man into the mix? Most women tend to be either/or when it come to older men or younger ones, so it didn’t make sense her interest in both, or what she saw or didn’t see in one that made her desire the other.

The film’s biggest issue is that it doesn’t delve into the father/son relationship enough. We needed a backstory between the two and flashbacks, none are shown, of when they were younger and how the son related to his dad as a child. At the very end the son does bring up issues that he had with his father, but they tended to be cliched problems and something the viewer needed to see play-out instead of just being told about them verbally. Without that context nothing else that we see means anything. The film is on a technical level adequate, but it’s never gripping or fully compelling and this is because the characters are not fleshed out enough for us to understand them or care.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: Never released to theaters.

Not Rated

Director: Paul Harmon

Studio: Filmco Limited

Available: None at this time.

Fight for Your Life (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Racist thugs terrorize family.

Three escaped convicts (William Sanderson, Daniel Faraldo, Peter Yoshida) find an isolated home in a woodsy are of upstate New York where they barge in on a black family headed by Reverend Turner (Robert Judd).  Jessie, the gang’s leader, is quite racist and uses the opportunity to spew out his hateful side forcing the home’s occupants, particularly the father, to do all sorts of humiliating things all to the amusement of the three men, but the family remains stoic determined to turn-the-tables on their captors the moment they get their chance.

The film could best be described as a variation on the Last House on the Left theme and in some ways does it much better. There’s none of the campy ‘comic relief’ humor here that almost ruined that one and the film is unrelentingly violent and grim. So many exploitation flicks from the 70’s would usually sell-out and never be half as provocative as advertised, but on that regard this movie delivers in ways that would still be considered jaw-dropping today and most likely not have any chance in this modern PC-era of getting filmed.

However, with that said, it’s still quite obnoxious and even repulsive to watch. There seems to be no other reason to have made this then to shock and appall and I’m genuinely surprised why anyone would’ve agreed to act in this particularly the black performers, who get forced to go through some truly tasteless and degrading acts.

The directing at times comes off as amateurish. It’s supposed to take place in the fall with leaves having turned color and almost fully off the trees, which is what we see when the thug’s car pulls up to a toll booth on a cloudy day and yet when the camera cuts to show the car leaving the toll booth the sky is now sunny and full green foliage on all of the trees. The music is also too loud, gets in the way of the action where natural ambience would’ve created more tension, and seems like a soundtrack better suited for a blaxploitation flick.

I wasn’t real happy with Sanderson’s presence either. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a gifted character actor, who’s best known for having played Larry in the ‘Newhart’ TV-show where he’d enter every scene by introducing himself as well as his two brothers named Darryl. In the comic realm as a backwoods hick his accent and talents are perfect, but here I could never take him seriously. His voice is too high pitched to be menacing and his wiry physique isn’t imposing. This might’ve been the intention at showing how without a gun he wasn’t much of man, but for the film to be truly scary there needed to be someone with a very intimidating look running the show.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending just about destroys what little potential this production had as it features an entire police force coming to the home, but instead of rescuing the occupants they choose to instead just stand outside and do nothing even as two of the women get raped. Supposedly this wasn’t for racist reasons, but more because they feared the victims might accidently get killed should they rush in to save them, but what’s the use fitting a police department with weapons and training if they’re going to be too timid to use it when they need to?

The idea that the black family would become aware that the police where outside, but stall them simply so they could enact their own revenge on the bad guys was too much of an overreach. The ending would’ve worked better, and been more believable, had the police not arrived at all and thus forcing the victims to use their own wits and ingenuity to overtake the brutes and then allowing their anger to spill over causing them to become far more vindictive than anyone could’ve imagined.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: October 1, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 26 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert A. Endelson

Studio: William Mishkin Motion Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Thunder Run (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Aging trucker hauls plutonium.

Charlie (Forrest Tucker) is a former trucker who spends his retirement working an old cobalt mine, but finds few prospects. He’s then given an offer by George (John Ireland) an old friend of his to haul some plutonium from Nevada to a top secret installation in Arizona. George warns Charlie that it could be dangerous as they’re terrorists after the cargo and willing to resort to violent means to steal it, but the $200,000 payout is too much for Charlie to refuse. With the help of his grandson Chris (John Shepherd) and his other teen friends the truck gets fitted with high tech gadgetry in order to fight off the bad guys when they attack.

The film starts out okay although it has all the signs of being a low budget direct-to-video 80’s venture complete with stock characters and generic music. The presence of Tucker, whose last movie this was, really helps. He’s the kind of actor who can give a performance that seems effortless and like he’s not acting at all just being himself and his persona is quite engaging allowing the viewer to become attached to him quite quickly and rooting him on in his challenge. There is some nifty stunt work too with my favorite moment being when a backhoe loader crushes a car that it literally runs right over and then also a trailer office. The scene has little to do with the main plot, but it’s still fun to see visually.

The film though starts to falter when it gets out onto the open-road. What should’ve been excited actually isn’t. There’s just too much high tech nonsense with rig equipped with stuff no other 18-wheeler has ever had. There’s very little intrigue at seeing the bad guys chase the truck when Tucker is able to just blow them all away with a press of a button. The truck seems almost indestructible as the villains aim a flame thrower right at the tires, which should’ve easily melted the rubber, but instead it doesn’t. The film is famous for a stunt that has the truck jumping over a train, but when it came back down onto the pavement it should’ve jostled the intricate parts of the rig in a way that would’ve most likely disabled it and the fact that the truck is able to continue on just fine starts to make the whole thing too ridiculous to be believed.

Having Tucker paired with Shepherd, who was 24 at the time, but looked more like he was only 18, is not interesting. Initially I thought this would allow the story to take advantage of the generation gap, but Shepherd is so squeaky clean and All-American that his presence allows for no nuance. I realize that in order to attract teen viewers a younger actor needed to be cast in a co-starring role, but the film would’ve been far better had Tucker been the sole driver, manning a rig that was just a regular truck without any of the techie jazz and forced to use his wits and cunning to fight off the terrorists instead of stuff dreamed up by a special effects wiz with an over active imagination.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 30, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Gary Hudson

Studio: Cannon Film Distributors

Available: DVD (Region 2), VHS

End Play (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Reviews: Feuding brothers hold secret.

Mark (John Waters) picks up a hitchhiker (Delvene Delaney) on a lonely road and then promptly kills her. He then travels to his brother Robert’s (George Mallaby) house for a visit. When Robert leaves to go target practicing Mark brings the dead hitchhiker’s body inside and dresses her up to make it appear that she is still alive. He then disguises himself while taking the corpse to the local movie theater and once there he sneaks leaving the dead body to be discovered by others. Once the news of the grisly discovery hits the airwaves Robert immediately suspects Mark, but decides not to go to the authorities since he is already a paraplegic and at risk, due to lesions on his neck, of losing the movement of his arms, which will ultimately render him under the care of Mark. He also dislikes the police due to a childhood issue that he had with them, so for these reasons he covers for Mark’s actions, but when he realizes that his girlfriend (Belinda Giblin) has cheated on him with Mark he decides to carry out a stern revenge of his own.

The film, which is based on the novel of the same name by Russell Braddon, takes a unique spin on the mystery angle. Instead of delving into the action we get treated to the psychological interplay of the two leads and the many twists and turns their relationship takes where one minute they seem like comrades and the next enemies. Mallaby, who ironically ended up wheelchair bound in real-life after suffering a series of strokes in 1994, gives an edgy performance where his personality is so strong and aggressive that you really don’t notice the handicap at all. I liked the soundtrack by Peter Best too as it has a nice subtle quality that accentuates the creepiness without ever calling attention to itself.

While the film manages to hold interest it is somewhat slow. With the exception of a violent confrontation between the two brothers that occurs near the end there’s no action to speak of, so unless the viewer is really into the psychological aspect they may find the pace to be a bit boring. The two leads aren’t likable either. Normally the tension is created because you care about the protagonist and don’t want to see them harmed or in trouble, but in this case that’s all missing.

Spoiler Alert!

The biggest letdown though comes with its twist ending in which we find that Mark wasn’t the killer after all, but instead it was Robbie. However, director Tim Burstall completely botches this by showing the back of Mark’s head during the opening scene when the hitchhiker enters the vehicle. The two have completely different hair color with Mark’s being brown and Robbie’s being blonde and I even went back to the scene to make sure and there’s no mistaking it, it’s Mark’s head. This could’ve been completely avoided by simply having the camera act as the killer’s point-of-view where we only see the face of the hitchhiker as she enters the vehicle and is then killed. The fact that this wasn’t done was a big mistake and nullifies the intended surprise.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 1, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Director: Tim Burstall

Studio: Hexagon Productions

Available: None at this time.

Fright (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Psycho torments a babysitter.

Amanda (Susan George) is a college student who earns money part-time by working as a babysitter. One night she takes a job with the Lloyds (Honor Blackman, George Cole) who assign her to watch after their sleeping toddler (Tara Collinson) at their isolated wooded estate while they go off to a dinner party. Once the couple leaves Amanda begins hearing strange noises and becomes convinced that someone outside is watching her unaware that Mrs. Lloyd’s ex-husband (Ian Bannen) has escaped from the nearby insane asylum and now looking to attack anyone inside.

While the babysitter-terrorized-by-a-psycho theme may now be considered a cliché with such popular films as Halloween and When a Stranger Calls having successfully done it it’s important to realize that this film did it first and to some extent does pretty well although it does veer off from the formula. I did like the creepy set-up where an extended amount of time is given to building up the atmosphere. Some of the best moments are seeing the shadowy images on the other side of the window and not knowing who it is. The film is most effective when it’s seen from Amanda’s point-of-view making the viewer feel trapped inside the home alongside her, but weakens when it cuts away to the outside, which lessens the tension.

Having Amanda’s boyfriend Chris (Dennis Waterman) arrive doesn’t help. The fear hinges on Amanda feeling that she is all alone in this big strange house in the middle-of-nowhere and entering more people into the mix takes that element away.

The film is unusual in that unlike the other thrillers with a similar plotline the parents here figure heavily into the story. Instead of just focusing exclusively on the babysitter the films consistently cuts between her scenes and the scenes of the couple at the party. In many ways its the mother that becomes the real star, which is fine to an extent, but the part is played by Honor Blackman, a very gifted actress, but at age 46 was looking way too old to be the mother of such a young child.

The film is also unusual in that when the police arrive it doesn’t just end in fact that’s when it starts to get going with the entire third act filled with this long protracted stand-off. To some degree I felt this made it more realistic as real-life hostage situations can happen with long ‘negotiating’ session between the police and the person inside. Police aren’t always able to immediately take control of a situation either and can sometimes be just as helpless as the victim, but in the process this approach takes away the confrontational element between Amanda and the psycho, which would’ve been more interesting at seeing how she could use her wits to outsmart the bad guy that never really gels.

Susan George really doesn’t figuring in as much of the action as you’d initially expect spends most of the time just crying and looking scared. The 3-year-old child, which was played by the daughter of the film’s director Peter Collinson, doesn’t help matters either. I found it very hard to believe that any child could remain asleep such as this one when Amanda and the psycho stood over her crib talking and at certain points even shouting. The child never screams or cries either even when a sharp piece of a broken-off mirror is put to her throat.

Bannen can be amazingly creepy, I enjoyed his work in The Offence where he played a suspected child killer being interrogated by Sean Connery, but here he’s given a bit too much latitude and becomes a caricature. Having him seesaw between being child-like to behaving aggressively comes off as manufactured and more strained than frightening.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending, in which Amanda shoots and kills the psycho, does not work. For one thing Bannen had already handed over the child to the mother and at that point was completed surrounded by the police with nowhere to run, so killing him wasn’t needed. It’s questionable how and where Amanda got the gun, supposedly it was the one that an officer had put down earlier, but how she was able to sneak up and get it from him is never explained. Also, she had most likely never shot a gun before, in Great Britain most people don’t own guns, so she’d probably not have been able to hit him, especially in her shaky emotional state, at a long distance, which makes this scene dumb and unnecessary.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: September 18, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 27 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Collinson

Studio: British Lion Film Corporation

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Road Games (1981)

road games 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Truck driver pursues killer.

Quid (Stacy Keach) is an American working as a trucker in Australia and hauling a frozen shipment of pigs through the outback and into Perth. Along the way he becomes menaced by a strange man (Grant Page) driving a black van who has a penchant for picking-up prostitutes who then end up dying. Quid is convinced that the man is the serial killer that is being reported about on the news, but before he can go to the police he gets tabbed as the killer himself forcing him, with the help of Pamela (Jamie Lee Curtis) a hitch-hiker he picks up along the way, to find the real killer before he gets arrested for crimes that he did not do.

One of the coolest aspects of this film is its voyeuristic quality where visual clues are a requirement for the viewer to pick up on to figure out what’s going on.  Too many other movies don’t take enough advantage of this idea and usually sell-out by having everything explained through dialogue, but here director Richard Franklin, a major devotee of Alfred Hitchcock, who tried to model the story after Rear Window, keeps the viewer feeling like they’re an active participant.

The film’s drawback, and most likely one of the main reasons it didn’t do well at the box office, is that the tension  ebbs and flows. Too much labor gets put into dressing up the plot with a lot of quirky side stories. This includes having Quid  coming into contact with the same motorists through his travels, which I didn’t think was realistic that these same drivers would be taking the exact same route as him while maintaining the same speeds as he over a several day period, so that no matter where he went they were never far away. I have traveled extensively by car on long road trips similar to this one and have never kept passing the same motorists like Quid does here.

The film also lacks, with the exception of a surprise double ending that comes at the very end,  any type of actual scares. There is a running build-up making you believe that a shock is just around-the-corner, but ultimately it’s a letdown. People watch these things with the anticipation they’ll be jumping-out-of-their-seats at some point, but this is too tame and at certain points it’s almost more like a comedy.

The killer, who was played by a stuntmen and not a professional actor, lacks any type of presence to distinction. For things to get really intense, which it never does, the bad guy has to stand out and make the viewer feel on edge every time they see him, which this transparent guy is unable to do. It would have also been more interesting had his face not been shown until the very end instead of Quid seeing what he looks like early on when he spots him through his binoculars.

I was surprised why the two lead characters were played by Americans since the setting is the down-under and the story better served by performers who were native born. That’s not to say that Keach or Curtis don’t give engaging performances because they do, but I don’t believe there’s too many American truck drivers working in Australia, so there needed to be some explanation for why Keach was there and why, being that he was not from the region, he was so educated about the history of the area, as evidenced when the two camp-out overnight and he tells her the back story of an abandoned telegraph station that sits nearby.

The romantic undertones that are lightly introduced does nothing but sap away the tension. I also found it curious why Curtis would be trusting of Quid upfront as she’d have no idea whether the serial killer could’ve been him and therefore she should’ve been more guarded, which she isn’t.

The climactic sequence features a unique car chase where three vehicles follow each other around the back alleys of Perth late at night, but at very slow speeds, which surprisingly is effective. However, the script should’ve been tighter and the editing quicker. The film’s leisurely pace and colorful supporting characters works against it. There needed to be more shocks, more of a confrontation between Quid and the killer, and basically just more of a conventional thriller-like approach.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 26, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Franklin

Studio: Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Jaws: The Revenge (1987)

 

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Shark holds a grudge.

It’s been 9 years since the last shark attack in Amity. Since that time Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) has died from a heart-attack, but the rest of his family continue to live in the area and carry on his legacy. His son Sean (Mitchell Anderson) like his father, works in the police department and one chilly night gets assigned to repair a disabled buoy out in the harbor. It’s there that he’s attacked and killed by a great white shark, making his mother Ellen (Lorraine Gary) believe that the shark is intentionally hunting down the members of her family, she even has nightmares about it. She warns her other son Mike (Lance Guest) to stay out of the water, but since he’s an underwater research scientist this is not possible, which starts to create friction between the two.

Just when the public thought it was safe to go back to the theaters again another formuliac shark movie got propped-up. This one was the brainchild of Universal CEO Sidney Sheinberg, (who was also the husband of the film’s star Lorraine Gary) who wanted to promote the new Jaws ride at Universal Studios theme park. In order to keep the story ‘fresh’ they decided to add-in a mystical element to it, but it’s not thought out enough to make any sense. I would think a shark would view people the same way people view sharks in that they would all look alike. How would a shark know when a Brody family member was in the water? Better yet how would the shark know when the Brodys move from New York all the way down to the Caribbean?

In the early versions of the screenplay, as well as the novel version of the film, the mystical factor gets explained as having been caused by a witch doctor named Papa Jacques who has an ongoing feud with the Brody’s and uses voodoo to compel the shark to kill them, but this idea got nixed in the final draft as it veered too much away from the actual shark. In some ways this was probably a good thing because in the novel there are several chapters done from the shark’s point-of-view where he becomes confused about why he’s killing the Brodys, which would’ve been too ludicrous had that been put into the movie.

The film sorely misses Roy Scheider, who’s only seen in brief flashbacks, and Richard Dreyfuss, who both refused to do the sequel. Had they been the elements of the shark’s revenge and having the nightmares only to decide to go out together on a boat ride to conquer those fears, this might’ve been worth catching.

Lorraie Gary’s presence is not interesting as she had been only a minor supporting player in the first two. She’s not the only one to reprise her role as Lee Fiero, who played Mrs. Kinter the mother of the young boy who gets killed by the shark in the first film, can be seen very briefly. Fritzi Jane Courtney, who played Mrs. Taft in the first two movies, is also on hand reprising the same character, but by this time her hair had turned all white and I didn’t immediately recognize her.

The presence of Michael Caine has to be the biggest head-scratchier. Granted he was notorious for doing what became known as ‘paycheck movies’ where no matter what the quality of the script he’d take the offer if the money was good, but his part here is quite minor and there’s long stretches where he isn’t seen at all. He later admitted that he has never seen the film and is well aware that it’s a flop, but the house it helped build with the money he made is ‘really nice’.

In fact the only performance that I was really impressed with was that of Judith Barsi, who plays the daughter of the Mike character. She’s perky and precocious when it’s required, but also believably frightened when it’s necessary making her untimely death, at the hands of her own father just a year after this film was released, all the more tragic.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s most controversial moment has to do with the ending in which too variations were filmed. One has Gary ramming the shark with her boat and killing it while the other one has the beast exploding. Both versions show the cast jumping into the water as the boat they’re on breaks apart, but no explanation for how they ended up finding their way back to land, which is a big cop-out.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Probably the most amusing thing about this mess is the interview director Joseph Sargent gives on American Archives in which he mockingly laughs at his own film. He goes on to muse about Caine taking the part and shocked that he would think it was a ‘good script’. He then ponders about how ‘grown, intelligent men’ could ever work on a project that is so  stupid and admits that it was the money and power, as he acted as the film’s producer, that lead him to make the fatal mistake of doing it, which he knew was a really bad idea from the very beginning.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: July 17, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Joseph Sargent

Studio: Universal

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