Category Archives: Thrillers/Suspense

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

Best Friends (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Road trip turns nightmarish.

Jesse (Richard Hatch) and Pat (Doug Chapin) have been best friends since childhood. Now both are ready to enter into young adulthood. To celebrate they decide to take a road trip via a camper across the American southwest along with their two girlfriends: Kathy (Susanne Benton) and Jo Ella (Ann Noland). As the trip progresses the differences between the two men become more pronounced. Jesse is ready to settle down and get married while Pat remains a free-spirit wanting to party with no limits. Pat also resents the presence of Kathy who he feels is getting in the way of his friendship with Jesse. He tries different tactics to get them to break-up and when that doesn’t work he resorts to a more drastic measures.

The film is interesting to a degree and goes against most other road pictures that usually show the bond between two people growing as the trip progresses while here it devolves. The low key approach allows for a certain diversion including a wonderfully majestic bird’s eye shot of the camper driving along the highway with a beautiful mountain range seen in the background. The pace is slow and the scenes could’ve been trimmed, but first-time director Noel Nosseck manages to at least have some drama flowing in each segment and thus enough to hold a modicum of interest.

Most will be intrigued to see Hatch in his film debut and while his performance is adequate it’s actually Chapin, who’s last film this was to date, that comes off better in a portrayal of a ticking time bomb ready to go off. Although I couldn’t help but notice his severely scarred right hand, which is not a part of the story and only seen briefly in one shot, that looks like the pinkie finger was severed off at some point in an accident and then surgically reattached.

The film’s downfall comes with Pat’s dissent into psychosis, which  needed more context. Friendships ebb and flow and a person could be best friends with a certain individual at one point in their life, but not in another one. When one friend gets married and the other one doesn’t then the single person finds other friends whose lifestyles remain more similar to his. Rarely if ever does it resort to the friend trying to kill the other’s girlfriend. To simply write this all off as being Pat’s inability to adapt to change or his jealousy is not enough. His behavior is too extreme and more of a background on his life and upbringing needed to be shown for us to make sense of it.

It would’ve worked better had it started with the two friends meeting in childhood and showing the good times they had throughout the years before even getting to the road trip, which should’ve been pushed back to the second act instead of right at the beginning. The two talk about their past, but in film it’s better for the viewer to see this for themselves instead of only being told about it. There should’ve also been some explanation for why Jesse didn’t see any red flags to Pat’s psychotic tendencies years earlier as they were so close you’d think he would’ve noticed the imbalanced much sooner instead of it all becoming a shock to him like everyone else at the end.

The ending is weak and offers no resolution. Jesse’s response to Pat’s behavior becomes almost as bizarre making it seem like he’s just as crazy as his friend, but since the characters are so poorly fleshed-out it’s hard to tell if that was the intention or not.

The film’s promotional poster seen above is quite misleading as it implies that’s it’s all about a confrontation between the 4 and a group of Native Americans. It is true there is a scene where a fight breaks-out between them at a bar, but it is brief and does not have anything to do with the main story.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 29, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 23 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Noel Nosseck

Studio: Crown International Pictures

Available: DVD (Savage Cinema 12-Movie Collection)

Jaws 3 (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer shark attacks Seaworld.

A new theme park has opened up in Orlando, Florida. This one has been designed by Calvin Bouchard (Louis Gossett Jr.) and will feature underwater tunnels and an aquatic pool with dolphins and whales. However, just before the grand opening a great white shark and its offspring sneak in through the park’s closing gates. It’s now up to Mike Brody (Dennis Quaid) the son of Chief Brody from the first two Jaws movies, and marine biologist Kathryn (Bess Armstrong) to stop the shark from attacking the people as they venture into the water and tunnels.

This sequel was originally conceived as being a spoof and the title of it was going to be Jaws 3, People 0. John Hughes was commissioned to write the screenplay and Joe Dante was slated to direct. It was even going to have the author of the ‘Jaws’ novel, Peter Benchley getting eaten by a shark right at the beginning in his very own backyard pool, but Steven Spielberg became aware of the idea and threatened to pull out of the deal he had with Universal if they went through with it, so it was nixed, which is a shame because even if the humor had been lame it would still have been better than anything you’ll see here.

Like with most sequels there aren’t enough new elements entered into the mix to make what we see interesting. It just replays on the same tired formula including the scene where Quaid frantically warns everyone to get out of the water much like Roy Scheider did in the first one, which comes off as derivative and uninspired. The idea of having the two male characters be the sons of Chief Brody, in an apparent desperate attempt to tie this one in with the first two, is really dumb. The odds that the Brody offspring would continue to get into situations that would involve killer sharks are quite low and the fact that they do makes the family seem like they’re affected by some sort of curse.

The storyline dealing with Brody’s younger brother Sean (John Putch) who comes to visit and his extreme fear of going into the water, due to is childhood trauma of the shark attack years earlier, is stupid too especially since he immediately goes into the water with the coaxing of bikini clad Lea Thompson. If his fear was that severe no woman, no matter how beautiful, would get him to go against it. Why even enter in this plot element if they’re just going to have him get over the problem right away? Why not put it to good use by creating a scene where Quaid is trapped in the water and relying on his younger brother to overcome his fear so he can jump in to save him and thus create tension with the viewer wondering whether he’ll be able to do it or not?

The shark attacks take too long to get going and then when they do they happen too quickly. The 3D effects, like having a severed arm floating towards the viewer, are cheesy and not scary at all. Although with that said, the brief sequence showing a man being eaten by the shark from inside the shark’s mouth is pretty cool and the only reason that I’m giving this film any points at all.

I also found the entire cast, and their benign side-story issues, to be completely boring. The viewer is supposed to have some concern for the welfare for these individuals, but I had none. Simon MacCorkindale is semi-colorful and gets thrown in to act as a potential jerk to the rest, but this doesn’t get played-up enough.

Spoiler Alert!

I had a lot of issues with the climactic sequence too. For one thing it features the cast standing inside an underwater control room watching the shark coming at them through the glass window causing them to simultaneously scream at the same time, but it’s shown in slow-motion making it come off as corny and unintentionally funny. My biggest beef though is that the shark is able to burst through the glass without any problem. I’ve been to underwater aquariums and the glass that is used is of a much thicker variety than ordinary windows in order to withstand the water pressure and yet here the shark shatters it away in seconds like it was the same type of glass used for your living room window.

End of Spoiler Alert!

While a small cult in recent years has taken to this film it was lambasted quite justifiably by the critics upon its initial release with one calling it: “a cheese soaked ocean thriller with no evident reason to exist.” The film’s opening weekend did quite well, but once the bad word-of-mouth got going the box office receipts dropped sharply. Don’t be fooled by seeing Richard Matheson’s name listed on the screenwriting credits either. All he did was supply an outline, which he insisted got heavily revised later on by script doctors. He also labeled the final product, once he finally saw it, as a “waste of time”.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: July 22, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 39 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Joe Alves

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

Two-Minute Warning (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sniper at football game.

Based on the novel of the same name by George LaFountaine the story centers on a lone gunman (Warren Miller) who for reasons that are not clear decides to massacre spectators at a football game with his high powered rifle by sneaking into the clock tower of the L.A. Coliseum during a championship game. Eventually he gets spotted by a TV crew and the police and S.W.A.T. team are brought in to stop him before he creates any carnage.

While it may sound like I’m going off on a tangent by complaining about the unimaginative uniforms used by the football teams since the game itself is only a minor subplot it still hits-home how every little aspect of a film is important and if one part of it is sub-par it drags down the rest. Since the NFL refused to give permission that would’ve allowed them to use logos of actual football teams they were forced to make-up their own, but what they come up with is quite bland including having fans in the stands waving flags for the Los Angeles team, which are colored black and yellow while the colors of the uniforms of the team on the field are maroon and gold. The fan atmosphere isn’t authentic either as the spectators come-off looking more like people going to church with none of them immersed in their team’s insignia, which would include body and face paint that you usually see at most ballgames. Even the name of the game is boring since they weren’t able to use the Superbowl title so it gets called a very uninspiring ‘Championship 10’ instead.

The cast is made up too many people looking well over 50, almost like this was a movie made by aging old farts for aging old farts, and at least one of the three leads should’ve been a young person in order to give it balance. While I liked John Cassavetes as the S.W.A.T. team captain as he gives the film a unique intensity, I felt Charlton Heston as the police chief, who always comes off as a stiff who conveys his lines like he’s orating a lecture, could’ve been replaced by Beau Bridges, one of the few cast member who was in his 20’s and who gets wasted as a dopey unemployed father who doesn’t have all that much to do with the plot.

The rest of the supporting players are made up of B-actors and include David Janssen and Gena Rowlands as a benign bickering couple and an aging Walter Pidgeon, in his second-to-last film, as a pickpocket. Jack Klugman is somewhat interesting as a desperate gambler, who doesn’t appear here wearing his usual wig and I kind of enjoyed seeing David Groh hitting on Marilyn Hassett, who at the time was married to the film’s director, while her jealous boyfriend (Jon Korkes) is unable to do anything about it.

Spoiler Alert!

The plot is mildly interesting, but it takes too long, a full hour, just to construct the basic set-up. The second half is spent watching how the authorities plot to stop the sniper without panicking everybody in the stands, which might’ve been more riveting had they not, despite all of their best efforts, failed at it. This also creates an unintentionally funny moment where one of the S.W.A.T. team members gets shot by the sniper and his body dangles by a rope from the stadium lights, but the crowd is so into the game they fail to notice the bloody, bullet-riddled body hanging just above their heads.

The most frustrating aspect though is the fact that we learn nothing about the killer or what motivated him. I don’t mind it being a mystery initially, but at some point the viewers deserves some answers. There’s just too many questions that demand explaining like how did the killer know where to go to get into the the stadium tower and how did he know to bring along raw meat in order to quiet the guard dogs? It almost seemed like he might’ve been a former employee of the stadium, which is a backstory that eventually needed telling.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The part of the film that actually does work are the scenes dealing with the panicked crowd that becomes an out-of-control mob once the shooting starts. Many films have tried to recreate the mob atmosphere and have failed, which isn’t surprising since you’re forced to work with a lot of extras who have no acting training, but here director Larry Peerce somehow manages to pull it off making these moments quite intense and memorable and helps to overshadow its other faults.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 12, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 56 Minutes (Theatrical Version)

Rated R

Director: Larry Peerce

Studio: Universal

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

Embryo (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Accelerating the growth cycle.

Late one night while driving home in raging thunderstorm Dr. Paul Holliston (Rock Hudson) accidentally hits a pregnant dog with his car. He takes the dog home to his lab and is able to save one of the embryos by placing it in an artificial uterus and then injecting it with an experimental hormone that speeds up its growth cycle. Paul is so excited about the results that he gets one of his colleagues (Jack Colvin) to agree to give him an unborn human baby from a mother who had committed suicide. Paul uses the drug on the fetus and finds that it grows at an even more accelerated rate, which leads to many unforeseen and horrifying scenarios.

For a grainy looking, low budget production (the DVD transfer is horrible) the plot isn’t too bad and had me guessing all the way up to the end at how it was going to turn out. The story has a lot of holes and most likely won’t be plausible to a science purist, but Ralph Nelson’s competent direction keeps the drama moving at a brisk pace, so you never dwell on the absurdities for too long and for the undemanding viewer it may come off as believable enough. The film also has a unintentionally funny moment that may not have floored audiences back in the 70’s as it did with me and features Barbra Carrera reading the Bible, which she finds ‘illogical’ only to have Hudson a supposed scientist tell her that it’s an ‘accurate account of how life began’, which blew me away as I’m sure there are few scientists who would say that today.

Carrera does surprisingly well in a difficult role, but her ability to retain knowledge and learn things happens a little too quickly and isn’t interesting. I realize she’s supposed to be super smart, which is fine, but even a smart person needs to be taught how to read and the meaning of words to communicate, which is something that the film just glosses right over.

I was glad that there was a big age difference between the two stars and that a romantic angle wasn’t forced into the proceedings that would’ve just bogged everything down, but having the two end up going to bed together was almost as bad. Hudson had taken a very paternal approach to Carrera almost like she were his daughter, so when she asks him to have sex with her, so she can feel what it’s like, I would’ve thought it would be too uncomfortable and too awkward a situation for him to go through with.

Roddy McDowall has a great cameo as an arrogant chauvinistic chess player. There’s also an interesting car chase, a neat twist ending, and some good aging make-up effects, but Carrera’s dilemma of suddenly going from being healthy and vibrant to on the brink of death is jarring. It’s almost like the writers wrote themselves into a hole and couldn’t think of any way out of it except to insert having the character die from some mysterious illness even though the dog, who went through the same treatment, is not affected, which is a shame as the premise is intriguing and works for most of the way.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 21, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ralph Nelson

Studio: Cine Artists Pictures

Available: DVD-R, Amazon Video

American Gigolo (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Male escort gets framed.

Julian (Richard Gere) works as a male escort in the Los Angeles area servicing affluent female clients, which allows him to drive expensive cars and live in a luxury apartment. He even gets into a relationship with Michelle (Lauren Hutton) a senator’s wife, but just as everything seems to be going his way it comes crashing down when he gets accused of murder, which he didn’t commit. His only alibi is Michelle who he was in bed with that night, but she is reluctant to come forward fearing it will tarnish both her reputation and that of her politically ambitious husband (Brian Davies).

The film’s chief asset is Gere’s performance who puts a gritty edge in a film that is otherwise quite shallow. His character though is blah as we learn little about him, which I found frustrating. Male prostitution is not a profession most men get into, so why does Julian? Having a backstory dealing with his upbringing and showing his relationship with his family could’ve helped us better understand his motivations, but none is ever shown leaving us with a character that may look sexy, but is otherwise an empty shell that is neither interesting nor memorable.

The film offers no insights into the sex profession either. I kept wondering how he was always able to ‘get-up for the occasion’ with all of his clients especially when a lot of them were older women who were not all that attractive. Many male actors working in the adult film business will admit to taking Viagra or some other drug to guarantee an erection on cue. They also have women working behind-the-scenes as ‘fluffers’ who will give male performers a hand-job/oral sex, so when it’s time for his scene he’s erect, but Julian doesn’t have any of these things, so what’s his secret? The film makes it look like he can get-it-up on demand, which in reality I don’t think would always be the case.

I was also disappointed when Julian is told by the husband (Tom Stewart) of one of his clients to get rough with her by slapping her and Julian turns around with a shocked expression, but then the scene immediately cuts away without seeing what happened. I felt this was a crucial moment that needed to be played-out and it would’ve helped us understand Julian better by seeing how he responds to demands that he’s uncomfortable with. The film most likely cutaway because seeing him slap a woman would’ve made him unlikable to the viewer, but if he’s the type of person who will compromise his ethics to make money then we need to know this, or if he returns the money and walks away we need to see this as well.

Julian’s relationship with Michelle is ridiculous and unbelievable. Why would a guy who’s been to bed with hundreds of different women suddenly decide to fall-in-love with this one and why would a woman, who’s otherwise living a comfortable lifestyle, allow herself to fall for a man whose profession won’t allow him to be faithful to her? It doesn’t help either that Hutton gives a horribly wooden performance and it would’ve been far better had Julie Christie, who was the original choice for the role, played the part

The mystery angle is somewhat intriguing, but the wrap-up gets botched by suddenly instituting long pauses between scenes in which the screen goes completely black and silent for several seconds, which is jarring since this was not done at any earlier time and only helps to cement how over-the-top Paul Schrader’s directing is. Had more effort been put into character development instead of flashy lighting/camera angles we would’ve had a more interesting movie.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: February 1, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 57 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Schrader

Studio: Paramount

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

Time After Time (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: From 1893 to 1979.

In 1893  writer H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) constructs a time machine and introduces it to his skeptical guests at a dinner party that he is hosting unaware that Dr. Stevenson (David Warner) who is also attending the party is the notorious Jack the Ripper. When the police surround the home looking for Ripper he jumps into the time machine and escapes to the year 1979. Wells then quickly follows him to modern day San Francisco and tries chasing him down, but along the way he meets Amy Robbins (Mary Steenburgen) who he fall in love with.

Initially I enjoyed seeing Wells’ confusion at dealing with modern society and the technology and had the film stayed at this level the whole way it could’ve been quite entertaining, but Wells ends up adapting too quickly. I was willing to accept that he was just a smart guy who could figure things out by being very observant, but Jack ends being the same way. Jack even attends a discotheque wearing a John Travolta-like white leisure suit, until it seemed like he was always a part of the modern world, and the original time traveling spin gets unfortunately phased out.

The romantic relationship that forms between Wells and Mary comes off as forced. Having her ask him out on a date while she’s working at her job and after only talking to him for a few minutes seemed too forward and unprofessional. Does she do this to all of her customers and if so how can she hold down a job if she’s coming on to all the men that she meets and if not then why would she ask out Wells so quickly after having just met him? Having the two end up going to bed together makes Wells seem too contemporary and not like a person from the Victorian era from which he came where sexual relations outside of marriage were much more taboo.

The script is full of a lot of loose ends too. For example: Wells goes to a jeweler to trade in his jewels for US currency, but the jeweler won’t accept them unless Wells shows a valid driver’s license, which he doesn’t have. The next day he goes to a different jeweler who gives him the money without asking for the ID, but why? In between Wells goes to a church where he speaks out loud in an awkward prayer, so are we then to presume that the second jeweler gave Wells the money without requesting the ID because of divine intervention?

There’s also a moment when Jack runs out into the street and gets struck by a car and is sent away to a nearby hospital, but then returns later showing no visible bruises or scratches. There’s also no explanation for how he was able to fool the nursing staff into thinking he had died as when Wells goes to the hospital that’s the explanation he’s given.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending is equally screwy. It has Wells and Mary going a few days into the future only to read a newspaper article reporting Mary getting killed inside her apartment by Jack, so they return to the present and then back to the apartment where Mary then takes a nap, which seemed hard to believe knowing that Jack was coming to kill her there and she’d be too tense and nervous to ever relax enough to go to sleep. Why even go anywhere near the apartment anyways and instead just find a room at a nearby hotel? There isn’t much tension to her potential death either since all Wells would need to do is go back a few days in his time machine and she’d be as good as new.

The explanation that Mary never got killed, but instead it was really her friend, who she had invited over to dinner is problematic too because even though there wasn’t DNA testing at that time they could still identify the victim through their dental records.

The story, which was based on a 55-page treatment written by Karl Alexander, who later expanded it to a novel, which was released at the same time as the movie, has a lot of potentially interesting ideas, but it ends up taking on too much. A decision should’ve been made to focus on either the romance or Wells’s pursuit of Jack, but not both. Trying to cram two plot-lines together results in a script that’s too rushed and poorly thought out.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 28, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 52 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Nicholas Meyer

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

Empire of the Ants (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Giant ants terrorize island.

A group of prospective home buyers are taken on a tour of a small island off the coast of Florida that supposedly has ‘prime beach front property’, but in reality it’s worthless. Marilyn (Joan Collins) is the realtor touring the others around, which quickly gets cut short when ants, who have feed off of toxic chemicals that were illegally dumped there and have now grown to giant size, begin attacking the people.

This film marks yet another tacky production by director Bert I. Gordon who enjoyed making movies filled with special effects dealing with giant animal life much like he did just two years earlier in Food of the Gods. The effects are predictably laughable where process shots showing close-ups of ants get combined with shots of the actors on the set, but you can tell that the quality of the film stock is different making the ants look completely out-of-place in the setting. When the actors get directly attacked by the ants large rubber mock-ups were used, but this gets combined with a shaking camera and quick edits making the action hard to follow.

It might’ve worked a bit better had it not given away right up front the cause for why the ants got so big and thus allowed for some mystery. Having the toxic waste be the cause just adds more questions than answers anyways. For instance: why were these chemicals being dumped to begin with and why did they choose this island? How were the ants able to get so big so fast? Did they just feed on the chemicals and then ‘poof’ they were big, or how fast or slow did the process work? Why were just the ants the ones that got big? Supposedly other insects, spiders and birds might’ve ingested the chemicals too, so why don’t they grow to a giant size as well?

The cast of characters are predictably stale and taking a full 30-minutes introducing them to the audience before the action even kicks-in just makes the movie even more boring. Having more eccentric characters would’ve helped like having the ants attack a clown convention that was meeting there, which would’ve given the film a humorous/offbeat edge that is otherwise lacking.

For the record I did enjoy Robert Pine who plays this coward who makes no attempt to save his wife when she’s attacked and then obsesses afterwards that everyone believe his story that he ‘couldn’t find her’ and there was ‘nothing he could do’. Collins is quite attractive, most will remember her for her appearance on the TV-show ‘Dynasty’, which was her career peak, but done when she was already well into her 50’s and no longer had a youthful appeal, but here she looks youngish and easy-on-the-eyes, which helps during the film’s slow moments.

The film states during the opening credits that it’s ‘inspired’ by the H.G.Wells story, but that short story, which was published in 1905, was way different. For one thing it didn’t involve ants growing to a giant size, so trying to connect the two as the producers here do, is outrageous. Had the filmmakers stuck more closely to that story, the film would’ve been much more interesting.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: July 29, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Bert I. Gordon

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video