Killer’s Delight (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Detective tracks down killer.

Inspired by the Ted Bundy case the film centers around Danny (John Karlen) a middle-aged man with mommy issues who wears different disguises in order to entice young women into his rundown old van where he then promptly assaults and kills them. Vince (James Luisi) is the police detective who, despite having an affair with Carol (Susan Sullivan), is also a dedicated family man with a teen daughter himself and who spends his waking hours trying to track down this killer that the rest of the cops in his department seem almost ambivalent about.

The film tries to take a different approach from the exploitive nature of other 70’s thrillers by emphasizing more the police work than the actual killings although there’s still moments of nudity and violence. The main problem is that the detective work that gets shown and the clues that he finds isn’t all that interesting and comes along a little too easily. At one point Vince breaks into the suspect’s house without a warrant, but any good defense attorney would have any evidence seized during an illegal search thrown out and a competent cop would know this. I also found it hard to believe that Vince would be the only policeman pursuing the case as I’m sure with the media pressure there’d be a whole department working on it much like in the real Bundy case that even included a network of police departments in several states.

The killings are very routine and ultimately comes-off like the same scene get replayed over-and-over again with each new victim that comes along. It seemed hard to believe that any rational person would want to get into such a junky van driven by such a creepy-looking guy anyways. Bundy at least was handsome and in many cases feigned a disability like pretending he had sprained his arm and wearing a sling, which would then make his intended victims feel more at ease, but the guy here doesn’t do any of that. The ultimate explanation for what motivates him to do what he does is straight out of the Norman Bates book of psychology and is cliched as hell. With the real Bundy it was much more complicated and to some extent no convenient explanation at all other than he may have simply been ‘wired wrong’ from birth.

The film’s only bright spot is Susan Sullivan, who looks quite beautiful here, but even she ended up getting on my nerves when her character stupidly forgets to lock her front door allowing the killer to easily walk right into her apartment. What kind of idiot, knowing that she is a mark for the killer and fully aware that he knows where she lives, would forget to do this?

Overall this is just a sleazy excuse for entertainment that is no better than the myriad of other grade-B schlock out there and in some ways is even worse because it pretends to take a more elevated approach to the potentially exploitive material, but it really doesn’t and it’s also painfully predictable at every turn.

Alternate Titles: The Dark Ride, The Sports Killer

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: August 7, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jeremy Hoenack

Studio: Intercontinental Releasing Corporation

Available: DVD

Fair Game (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Woman harassed by poachers.

Jessica (Cassandra Delaney) runs an animal sanctuary deep in the heart of the Outback. Sunny (Peter Ford), Ringo (David Sandford), and Sparks (Gary Who) are three big-game hunters, who grow bored shooting at kangaroos and set their sights at taking on some of the animal’s inside her property. They decide that Jessica herself may fun to ‘toy’ with too and begin a campaign of harassment that starts with them trying to run her car off the road with their big truck and just proceeds to get more violent and confrontational. Jessica though is determined to turn-the-tables on them even as the stakes against her survival grow continually more dim.

This is the type of film that right from the start goes against the rules of conventional storytelling as there’s very little character development or backstory. The viewer is immediately thrust into the battle while barely even knowing who these people are. Normally, I’d say it should’ve slowed up a bit and let us get some grounding before getting smacked with the action, but honestly in this instance it really wasn’t needed. You get enough of the general idea to know who to root for and the more violence that happens the more enthralled you get with it.

This is how many real crime happen where the perpetrators attack their victim out of nowhere and without warning giving the person very little time to think and forcing them to immediately respond to the danger without being able to ponder their options and in that regard this film, which was intended to be, by admission of the director, nothing more than a ‘comic book’ adventure actually does quite well. Usually I’d like a chance to catch my breath, but here any minor slow-up makes you feel off-kilter as it’s the action that propels it and the whole thing becomes more like an ‘experience’ than a movie.

Many have labeled this as Australia’s version of I Spit On Your Grave, but this is actually better. The different ways that the men terrorize our protagonist is far more interesting than the gratuitous rape that took up so much of the other one. While the men are at times a bit stupid I did like their relentless quality. They don’t get killed off as easily as in a Hollywood film. There were many times when I thought they should’ve been doomed, but they manage to survive it, which made me start to believe they might actually win the battle and thus allowed the tension to grow even higher.

Cassandra, who gained fame by being a co-singer with her mother Lorraine in a rock ‘n’ roll band called The 50’s and then later ended-up marring singer/actor John Denver, is quite good though I initially felt there needed to be more of an arc to her character. Perhaps having her be more timid at the start only to eventually bring out her warrior nature at the end as she’s a little too self-assured right from the beginning, but overall I came to believe it wasn’t necessary. I did think though it was unrealistic that she ran this sanctuary in the middle of nowhere, but didn’t own a gun, but ultimately having her tote a big rifle might’ve looked cliched and it also forces her to come up with creative ways to get rid of the bad guys, which is ultimately more intriguing.

The Outback gets used perfectly as the viewer gets both charmed by it’s beauty and terrified by some of the creatures that live in it including the weird lizard-like things that congregate on Jessica’s front porch and that she’s forced to shoo-away each morning when she walks out. The desolate landscape is also a good metaphor to the men’s soulless nature and also helps heighten the odds to just how alone and desperate Jessica’s situation truly is.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 24, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 26 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mario Andreacchio

Studio: CEL Film Distribution

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region A/B/C)

The Emerald Forest (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Amazon tribe kidnaps boy.

Bill (Powers Booth) is a hydro-electric engineer who’s designed a dam that’s being built deep in the jungle of the Amazon. One day while he’s having a picnic outside with his wife Jean (Meg Foster) and daughter Heather (Yara Vaneau) he notices his son Tommy (William Rodriguez) wandering off. He tries to catch up with him, but not before the child gets snatched away by an Indian tribe known as the Invisible People. Bill spends the next 10 years searching for him, but to no avail. Meanwhile Tommy (now played by the director’s son Charley Boorman) has grown into a man and become a full-fledged member of the tribe, but before he can marry the beautiful Kachiri (Dira Paes) he must retrieve some sacred stones in a remote spot of the jungle. It is there that he comes into contact with his father, who is still searching for him. The two bond once again and work together to escape the clutches of The Fierce People another native tribe that is violent and cannibalistic.

The film is loosely based on two true stories. The first one is an article printed in October, 1972 in the Los Angeles Times, which was read by the film’s scriptwriter Rospo Pallenberg, having to do with a Peruvian boy who had been kidnapped by an Indian tribe and when found 16 years later he didn’t want to leave as he, by that time, had become fully assimilated in it. The second one deals with the autobiographical novel from 1971 in which the author, Manuel Cordova-Rios, details his account of being kidnapped by an Amazon tribe in the early 1900’s as a boy and how he eventually grew to become a member of that tribe.

On a technical level director John Boorman achieves the same type of success that he had with Deliverance where the vivid on-location shooting makes the viewer feel fully immersed in the setting to the extent that you think you’ve physically traveled to another part of the planet. The chase sequence in which the protagonists must battle their way through a dense underbrush to escape an enemy that hides behind the foliage and that they can’t see is also quite similar to the one in Deliverance, but in many ways more exciting. The film also has a very strong masculine theme where the women are seen very little and in the case of Meg Foster get completely wasted.

My main issue is that the kidnapping segment happens too quickly and the boy’s transition into the tribe is too unrealistically seamless. I would think a kid at that age, he seemed to be around 10, would’ve been horrified about being taken away from his parents, the only family he had ever known, and yet the film glosses completely over the adjustment angle and makes it seem like it was no big deal.  The parents devastation at losing a son gets handled in the same shallow way where after the kidnapping occurs the story immediately jumps to 10 years later without every showing any of the grieving process that the family most assuredly would’ve had and in some ways unintentionally makes it seem like they were able to move-on with their lives without much problem.

The story does have its share of riveting moments, if you’re patient, with the best parts coming when the two tribes go to battle with each other, but the film unwisely straddles the fence between reality and fantasy. I don’t mind a fantasy if it’s that way all the way through, but this one tries to sneak it in at ill-advised times. The scene that got me is when Tomme goes searching for his father in the big city and even though he doesn’t know where his father lives he’s able to connect with some sort of Indian spirit that shows him a vision of his father’s condo and he uses that to find it, but that vision never gives him a specific address, so I’d think he’d remained just as lost and confused.

Spoiler Warning!

I didn’t care for the double ending either. Having the film finish after the father helps Tommy fight off the Fierce People and save the tribal women from a life of prostitution was good enough, but then tacking on Tomme again praying to his Indian spirits to create massive rain storm that damages the damn was too much. It also becomes a bit preachy with its denouncement about environmentalism making it seem more like a political propaganda piece and less like a feature film. Casting Boorman’s son Charley in the lead was a mistake too as his constant wide-eyed, deer-in-headlights expression becomes monotonous. The part was originally intended for C. Thomas Howell and while he may not be the greatest of all actors he still would’ve been a better pick here.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 3, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 54 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Boorman

Studio: Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD

The Ugly Dachshund (1966)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Dog has identity crisis.

Fran (Suzanne Pleshette) and Mark (Dean Jones) are a married couple who are proud owners of a dachshund named Danke. When they take her to the pet hospital to give birth to her liter the veterinarian (Charlie Ruggles) mentions to Mark that he has a Great Dane on hand that has also given birth, but pushed away one of  her puppies due to having a lack of milk for him. Mark decides to take the pup home and pretend that he’s one of the liter, but it soon becomes apparent to Fran that he isn’t. The dog, who Mark names Brutus, starts to think that he’s a dachshund like the others and even tries to walk like them, but his large size causes many problems for the homeowners as he inadvertently destroys much of the home, which is usually at the instigation of the other dogs who never get blamed. Fran pressures Mark to get rid of the dog, but he continually refuses, which eventually puts a strain on their marriage.

For a Disney movie this one, which is based on the 1938 novel of the same name by Gladys Bronwyn Brown, isn’t too bad and has much better character development than many of the others that the studio produced. The distinction between their personalities is clear as is the dynamics of the marriage where each learns, like in any real union, to begrudgingly give-and-take in order to make the other partner happy. The film though comes off as quite dated in the fact that they sleep in separate beds, I guess seeing them in the same bed would’ve been considered by some in that era as ‘racy’, but what’s the use of getting married if you still end up having to sleep alone?

The comedy starts out a bit slow and young children may get bored with it at the beginning, but it does redeem itself once the dogs proceed to destroy everything in sight. It’s refreshing change to see animals causing the chaos instead of goofy people like in the other Disney flicks and they’re a lot funnier at it too, but the adult side of me had to cringe a bit knowing all the money it was costing the homeowners seeing their place and everything in it turned to shreds. It also hurts the humor that Brutus is always constantly getting blamed for the mess when it’s really the bratty dachshund’s that cause it, but are never adequately punished. Certain modern viewers may also be uncomfortable with the Japanese themed party that the couple hold at their home, which also gets destroyed by the dogs, as it features a lot of cultural appropriation, which in this era has become a big no-no.

The three acts serve as three distinctly different stories. The first one deals with the couple feuding over the dog, the second one has a cat burglar on the prowl, and the third centers on Mark training Brutus for a dog show. While the cat burglar thread does feature a funny scene where Brutus forces a policeman, played by Kelly Thordsen, up a tree and traps him there the entire night, we never get to see the actual burglar. The story would’ve been stronger had the dog caught the real bad guy instead of just scaring an innocent man due to mistaken identity. The third story is weak too as Brutus had very little training before he enters the contest, which seemed rushed and unrealistic.

The only real complaint that I had with the movie, which I overall found to be kind of cute,  was that the two main characters should’ve been children instead of adults. This is a kids movie and kids relate better to protagonists who are their same age. Having a sister into her dachshunds and a brother in love with a Great Dane would’ve entered in some interesting variables though Jones and Pleshette play their parts well and they reteamed 10 years later as another married couple in the The Shaggy D.A. 

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 4, 1966

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Norman Tokar

Studio: Buena Vista

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Storm Boy (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: A boy raises pelicans.

Mike (Greg Rowe) is a 10-year-old boy living in a ramshackle home near the ocean on Australia’s southern coast. He lives with his reclusive father Tom (Peter Cummins) who wants no connection with the outside world and won’t even allow his son to have a radio. One day Mike meets Fingerbone (David Gulpilil) an aborigine living alone on the beach due to a falling out with his tribe. Together they come upon a group of hunters shooting at birds. Fingerbone is able to scare them away, but not before they’re able to shoot and kill a mother pelican leaving her young to die of starvation. Mike decides to take the baby birds home with him and despite his father’s initial objections he’s allowed to keep them. The bird’s require a lot of food, but Mike is able to keep them fed and once they’ve grown he and his father set them free, but one of the bird’s, whose name is Mr. Perceval, comes back and Mike grows a strong bond with him.

The film is based on the children’s book of the same name written by Colin Theile, which won many awards. The film has acquired many legions of fans as well, but filming it proved to be quite complicated. Training the birds took 12-months and many times they’d fly off during the filming including one of them flying into a nearby private party that scared many of the party goers there. They also had the challenge of trying to get the Rowe to interact with the bird as he was initially quite scared of them.

Personally I’ve never found pelicans to be all that cute or lovable and their large beaks are an odd sight second only to that of the toucan’s. I did though enjoy seeing the baby pelicans who don’t even have any feathers on them and was hoping more time would be spent on to their feeding and caring, but the movie glosses over this part pretty quickly.

The bird storyline is in fact only one part of the movie as the script also focuses on several other threads including a local teacher (Judy Dick) trying to get the father to allow Mike to attend school with the rest of the children. There’s also a segment where a bunch of young men in dune buggies come out of nowhere late one night and proceed to tear up, with their vehicles, the home that Mike and his father live in. I suppose the reason this is put in is to show how the bird warns Mike of the impending danger, which gets him out of the house, but otherwise it has no connection to the rest of the plot and it’s left a mystery to what motivated these young men to do it nor are they ever seen or heard of again.

The performances are quite good, which is the one thing that holds it all together. Cummins as the father impressed me the most because he is so different here than any of the other parts he’s played. Gulpilil is entertaining too and has some of the most lines, which is the exact opposite from Walkabout where he had none. Rowe is excellent as well despite the fact that he wears the same clothes the whole way through. Only at the very end is he seen wearing something other than his drab green sweater, but I felt for the sake of body odor he should’ve had a variety of outfits to wear all the way through. I realize they were poor, but even poor people don’t usually wear the same clothes everyday for months on end.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending, in which the bird gets shot by a group of hunters, most likely the same ones that killed the bird’s mother, is very predictable, which is the film’s biggest drawback. No real surprises and the life lesson’s are pretty routine and something seen in a lot of children’s stories, so if you take the pelican out of it it’s not all that special. The constant gray, overcast sky gets a bit depressing to look at too, but the film has found a loyal following and was remade to a degree in 2019, where Geoffrey Rush plays a now grown Mike and relating back to his kids about his adventures when he was young. It also stars Gulpilil as the father of Fingerbone Bill.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 18, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Henri Safran

Studio: Roadshow Films

Available: DVD-R (Region Free), Blu-ray (Region 0)

Citizens Band (1977)

 

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: The CB radio craze.

Spider (Paul LeMat) makes a living repairing CB radios in the home he shares with his crochety father (Roberts Blossom). In his spare time he monitors channel 9 on his own CB, which is used as an emergency channel to report motorists who are in distress. When he comes into contact with a disabled plane that crashes right onto the highway and he’s not able to use his CB to call for help due to some kids clogging up the channel with idle chit-chat he goes on a crusade to destroy the radios of everyone in town who are misusing the frequency. While doing this he also dates a cheerleading coach Pam (Candy Clark) who he’s engaged to marry unaware that she has a thing for his brother Dean (Bruce McGill) the local high school gym teacher.

The film, which was written by Paul Brickman, who went onto greater success writing/directing Risky Businesshas its share of quirky characters/moments that paints small town life in a romanticized but humorous way. To a degree it succeeds, but the people are a bit too nice for their own good. There are many scenarios where just about anyone else put into the same situation would respond in an angry way and yet here everyone remains mild mannered no matter what hits them, which may be dryly funny at first, but after awhile gets one-dimensional.

Small town people are no different than anyone else and if one finds out that your fiancée is suddenly seeing some other guy, especially after you’ve given her a ring, most would become upset and the way Spider takes it in such a ho-hum way doesn’t seem natural. Later when the two brothers finally confront each other there’s no fight, or even shouting, they just end up hugging each other, which I guess is nice, but it would’ve been better had there been some action or confrontation, which this film sorely lacks. Maybe having them breakout into a fist fight that destroys the apartment in the process, but done in a slapstick way only to eventually, once they’ve exhausted themselves, forgive and forget.

The two women (Marcia Rodd, Ann Wedgeworth), who meet at random during a bus ride only to find that they’re married to the same man (Charles Napier), has the same issue. Once they confront the two-timer there’s no fireworks at all. They pretty much instantaneously forgive him and then proceed to have a genteel conversation about where everybody is going to live instead of watching the two give the guy the business, which would’ve been more entertaining. There is a scene where the two women let the cows escape from the guy’s truck, but even this gets botched because we never see the cows run through the town and all the destruction they would most likely create.

The rest of the film works on the same level. Too much emphasis on the subtle with nothing really standing-out. The characters respond to everything with the same laid-back manner until there’s no distinction between them. Eventually it just flatlines. Instead of being this offbeat look at small town life it becomes more a whimsical fairy tale where the people don’t resemble actual folks.

I believe this is the main reason why this film did so poorly at the box office where it recouped a paltry $850,000 back from its initial $5 million budget. The studio thought it was due to the title because of the word ‘band’ being in it and people mistakenly thinking it was a musical, so they reissued it as Handle With Care, but it did no better. This also became yet another film directed by Jonathan Demme that fared well with the critics, but not the public and this trend continued with his films all the way through the 80’s before he was finally able to hit-pay-dirt with Silence of the Lambs.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Alternate Title: Handle With Care

Released: May 18, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jonathan Demme

Studio: Paramount

Available: Amazon Video, YouTube

Three for the Road (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Transporting politician’s bratty daughter.

Paul (Charlie Sheen) aspires to have a career in politics and is an ardent believer in the political system and the politicians who work in it. He becomes an aide to Senator Kitteridge (Raymond J. Berry) where he gets assigned to transport the senator’s rebellious daughter Robin (Kerri Green) to an institution for troubled girls. Paul’s writer roommate T.S. (Alan Ruck) comes along with him, but they face many hurdles keeping Robin under control. Eventually Paul bonds with her when he realizes her father isn’t really the great guy he pretends to be, but instead an abuser.

This film is yet another victim of a script, which was written by Richard Martini, that was intended to be far different than what it turned out to be. Originally the idea was to center it on the political angle where the father was a conservative who wanted to put Robin into hiding simply because she was a liberal activist stirring up trouble. Yet after extensive rewrites by three other writers the story becomes just another shallow romance-on-the-road flick that shifts to extremes from slapstick comedy to hackney drama.

One of the things that’s most problematic is the father asking a young man who he really doesn’t know to transport his daughter to some far off location and even gives him handcuffs to use on her just in case she gets ‘out-of-line’, but what sort of parent would hand his teen daughter over to a virtual stranger and trust he won’t rape her? A far more plausible premise would’ve had him entrusting his daughter to a longtime friend, who he at least had better reason to trust. Instead of having her go with guys around her same age, where sexual urges are high, the escort could’ve been middle-aged. Yes, this would take away the teen romance element, which quite frankly comes-off as formuliac and forced anyways, but it could also have brought up generational issues, which would’ve been more interesting.

Sheen, who has described this film as being “a piece of shit that I wished didn’t exist and that I was terrible in”, is actually the best thing in it. I enjoyed seeing him play this straight-lace guy, which he is good at doing, that completely works against his real-life party-boy image. The only issue with him is that his character arc, where he starts out believing in the integrity of the senator father only to eventual grow disillusioned with him, is too predictable and obvious. Most people, even back in the 80’s, had a cynical take on politicians just like they do now. A far better arc would’ve had him cynical about politics, getting into it as an aide simply to boost his career, but not actually believing in the system, only to find much to his surprise that there actually was at least one politician that was honorable.

Green’s character plays too much into the ‘wild teen’ stereotype and her outrageous antics are more obnoxious than funny. She’s also too short and seemingly too young for Sheen, making the romance seem off-kilter. I also didn’t like that during the trip the main characters come into contact with the same people they’ve bumped into before. I’ve taken many long road trips and have never encountered this phenomenon and it really doesn’t add anything to the script especially since the person they keep crossing paths with is a brainless jock (Eric Bruskotter) that culminates into a silly car chase that just succeeds at making the whole thing even more inane than it already is.

There’s enough action and twists to keep it going, but it also becomes increasingly more strained as it goes along. The tacked-on drama along with the over-the-top prison break, which gets pulled-off in too easily a fashion, is particularly torturous and makes this one road trip you won’t mind missing.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: April 10, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: B.W.L. Norton

Studio: New Century Vista Film Company

Available: DVD

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

Fortress (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Australian schoolchildren get kidnapped.

Sally (Rachel Ward) is a school teacher working in rural Australia where she teaches in an old-fashioned one-room school house. The ten students are made up of different ages and an even mix of boys and girls. One morning while class is beginning a group of four masked men invade the building and take the children hostage. They throw them into an underground cave and then put a large boulder over the cave opening to lock them in. Sally and the students go searching through the underground caverns and manage to find another way out, but every time they think they’ve reached freedom the kidnappers always seem to be one-step ahead of them.

The film’s main selling point are the children, which at first I didn’t think would be a good idea. It can be hard to get kids, for many of them this was their first movie project, to show the necessary emotions in an effective way and while they don’t always respond to things quite the way I think a real kid would I still found their resiliency to be uplifting. I also enjoyed seeing how the older boys grew into men during the experience and watching Sally precariously balance her obligation of the being the mature, brave one while still hiding her inner emotions of fear and panic.

The location shooting takes advantage of many different Australian locales including the Buchan Caves where the action in the first act takes place. Later on we’re given exciting view of a them running through the forest late at night in an attempted escape as well as them returning to yet another cave for the climactic finish. The story manages to be reasonably tense throughout though the killers always managing to catch-up with their victims no matter where or how far they go does ultimately test the plausibility. The film’s tone is a bit off-kilter as well. Most of the time it seems to want to be a story of victim empowerment and resourcefulness, but then intermittently throws in some jarring violence, which wasn’t necessary.

Spoiler Alert!

While it’s great seeing these kids remain stoic it also seems hard to believe. After being put in the cave they find a way out where they then spot a farmhouse, which was several miles away only to ultimately realize that the kidnappers have been there waiting for them. They then great treated to a man getting gunned down before their very eyes, but manage to escape from their to yet another cave that is many miles away and again the kidnappers find them and continue their assault of terror. Normally after all this most people, especially young children, would feel overwhelmed and defeated and eventually fall into a traumatized state instead of the warrior mentality that they do. While the good guy fighting back approach may be more of an audience pleaser I wasn’t sure if this was a realistic response when given the daunting circumstances. Also, why would the bad guys not invade the cave the kids are in right away instead of staying back and giving the group ample time to create the makeshift weapons’, stuff that would take hours if not days to make,  in order to be ultimately used against the kidnappers like they are?

The Lord of the Flies – themed twist ending comes out of nowhere and seems too forced to be effective. Watching the group surround the last of the bad guys and viscously stabbing him with their weapons’ in slow motion made enough of a statement and that’s where it should’ve ended. Adding in the denouncement where the kids are back in school and have the heart of the killer placed inside a glass jar in the middle of the room was just too heavy-handed. With what they’ve been through most kids would never want to step foot in that school again and where are the parents during all of this as they’re never shown?  Having a human heart in a jar is pretty nasty and you’d think  one of the kids would’ve talked about it to others and word would ultimately get around.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The plot is loosely based on an actual event that occurred in the small town of  Faraday, Australia on October 6, 1972 when Edwin Eastwood and Robert Boland kidnapped a young teacher and her students from a remote one-room school house similar to the one depicted in the movie. However, there are many differences between the real event and what happens in the film. For one there were only 6 students and all of them were girls. They were never taken to a cave either, but instead held in the back of a van. When the kidnappers left the next morning to retrieve the ransom money the teacher, whose name was Mary Gibbs, managed to kick out the back door panel with her leather boots and escape with the children and eventually the two men were later caught.

The irony though is that’s not where the story ends as Eastwood was able to escape from jail in 1977 where he then kidnapped another group of children and their teacher, but was again caught. He then served a 16 year sentence, but was eventually paroled in 1993 and has been a free man working as a truck driver since.

Teacher Mary Gibbs and the six students who were kidnapped during the real-life incident.

The van in which Gibbs and the students were held captive.

The school house in which Mary Gibbs and her six students were taken hostage on October 6, 1972.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: November 24, 1985 (HBO Broadcast)

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated: TV-MA

Director: Arch Nicholson

Studio: HBO Premiere Films

Available: DVD

Fire Sale (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Burn down the store.

Benny Fikus (Vincent Gardenia) is the elderly owner of a struggling clothing store, who has decided the only way to recoup costs will be to have it burn down and then collecting money on the fire insurance policy. He has convinced his mentally ill brother Sherman (Sid Caeser), who still believes that WWII is happening, that the store is really a front for the Nazi Headquarters and thus motivating Sherman to destroy it. To make his alibi iron-clad Benny takes a trip with his wife Ruth (Kay Medford) to Florida when the arson is expected to occur. During the trip Benny has a heart attack causing his son Russell (Rob Reiner) to take over the business. When he realizes that the place is bankrupt he decides to cash-in the fire insurance policy and use those funds to help regenerate the place. When Benny recovers from his heart attack and realizes what Russell’s done the two, along with Russell’s older brother Ezra (Alan Arkin), go on a mad dash to stop Sherman from setting the fire before it’s too late.

It’s hard to imagine just how badly botched this thing is as I approached it with high expectations. Arkin had already directed the brilliant Little Murders, which is one of the best dark comedies ever made. Robert Klane, who wrote the screenplay and book of the same name that the movie is based on, had also 6 years earlier written the screenplay for Where’s Poppa?, another cult masterpiece. So, with those great films already under the filmmaker’s belts you’d expect good things from this and yet it’s pretty awful right from the beginning.

The main problem is that there’s no running theme. Little Murders centered around the isolating effects of urbanization and Where’s Poppa? dealt with the harsh realities of caring for elderly parents.  This film though has no point to it. Lots of sloppy, slapdash comedy as director Arkin and writer Klane seem more concerned with getting a cheap laugh than telling a story. The sets have no cinematic style making it look better suited for a low-grade sitcom. The score by Dave Grusin, is too generic with overtones more on-par with a cartoon. A good movie should have music that is distinct and matches the tone of the script, which this one doesn’t.

I’ve always considered Reiner the weakest link from the classic ‘All in the Family’ TV-show and while his talents have been much better served as a director this movie was made when producers were still trying to turn him into a star, but the attempt fails. That only thing that he does that could be considered ‘comical’ is the running joke of him going into wheezing fits from his asthma every times he gets stressed-out, which gets overdone. He shares no chemistry with Arkin and they’re too far apart in age to be a believable brotherly pair.

Anjanette Comer, who was married to Klane at the time this was filmed, gets wasted in a thankless bit as Arkin’s beleaguered wife and the scene where she tries to commit suicide by locking herself inside a refrigerator is pointless because it never shows how she got rescued. Caeser as the would-be arsonists relies too heavily on  zany slapstick that is inconsistent in tone with the rest of the film.

Medford, as Arkin’s and Reiner’s put-upon mother, is alright, but the person that impressed me most was Gardenia whose frantic, over-the-top delivery as the exasperated father/business owner is quite good and his energy, even though he is not the star, helps propel the film. He’s even good when he’s in a comatose state and doesn’t move at all. I was particularly amazed during a segment where Reiner and Arkin crawl over him during an altercation and Arkin accidently kicks him in the head, but Gardenia does not flinch and remains very much in character.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 9, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Alan Arkin

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD-R (Fox Cinema Archives)