By Richard Winters
My Rating: 4 out of 10
4-Word Review: Chased by crooked sheriff.
Poke (Timothy Bottoms) returns to his hometown in Texas after serving a 5-year sentence for marijuana procession. He finds that his girlfriend Mary Lee (Susan George), during the time he was away, has gotten into a relationship with the sheriff Duke (Bo Hopkins) who was also the man who convicted Poke that got him sent away. Poke begins harassing Duke for messing around with Mary Lee and follows him to a political event where Duke is in charge of guarding Jesus Mendez (Santos Reyes) who’s running for congress. It is here that he witnesses an assassin shooting Mendez and then watches Duke kill the shooter and take an envelope out of the killer’s pocket and put it in the trash. Poke retrieves the envelope and finds $25,000 inside. When Duke comes back to get the envelope and sees it’s gone he puts out an APB to have Poke arrested, which leads to an all-out car chase.
I couldn’t help but wonder if this was one of the career outputs that screenwriter William Norton considered ‘stupid’ as he was noted to having told his nurse on his deathbed that she ‘wasn’t dumb enough’ to have known any of the movies he had written. It’s not like it’s bad, but it isn’t particularly exciting either and takes 50-minutes before the first car chase gets going. Laying the ground work for the story is too leisurely. Instead of having Poke and Duke discuss how he had convicted him years earlier the drug bust should’ve been played-out right at the start to at least have given it a little more action.
The chases are impressive once they get going and at one point I literally winced as a car crashed into another and made me feel like I was actually in the vehicle and feeling the impact. Another has a police vehicle bursting into flames and a cop getting out screaming while flames shoot out his back, which was surprising since they must’ve blocked off the entire town center (filmed in Lockhart, Texas) to do it and most likely took an entire day to do, so there clearly was no compromising on the quality of the stunt work just because it was shot on-location versus in a closed studio lot. You also get to see a car crash through a giant block of ice, which marked a cinema first.
Bottoms though is weak creating a transparent character with no interesting arch, or personality and doesn’t even seem to be from Texas as unlike the others he has no Texan accent. Susan George at least conveyed an authentic sounding accent while masking her British one, so her presence gets strong points. Hopkins lends some interesting nuance as the bad guy and the sheriff wasn’t played-up as being an aging authoritarian, small-minded hick like in other films from this genre. Sure he was later found to be corrupt, but more like a cog in a bigger game instead of the center of it.
Story-wise there’s a lot of unanswered questions like why was Mendoza shot, which is later revealed to have been orchestrated by C.J. Barry (Morgan Woodward) a rich rancher who initially seemed very much behind Mendoza’s campaign, so why the double-cross? Why also would they think it would be a good idea to openly kill one of the men working for them? Who’s going to want to do a hit for them in the future if word gets out that the organization will use you as cover? Since this was a candidate for a major political party it was hard to believe that the investigation would be left solely to the small town sheriff to pursue as I’d be pretty sure federal agents would get called in.
My Rating: 4 out of 10
Released: June 2, 1976
Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes
Director: Jack Starrett
Studio: American International Pictures
Available: DVD-R (MGM Limited Edition Collection)
By Richard Winters
My Rating: 3 out of 10
4-Word Review: Institutionalized against her will.
Kelly (Dianne Hull) is a young adult just starting out by working at a local disco bar while trying to save up enough money to go to college. While at the disco she sips a drink that was meant for somebody else and in the process ends up going into seizures. After she gets rushed to the hospital it is found that the drink had been laced with strychnine, but the doctors feel she took the drink knowing it was poisoned in an attempt to kill herself, so she is directed to spend 72 hours at the hospital’s psyche ward, which is on the fifth floor. It is there that she can be monitored by the trained staff to make sure she will not try to kill herself again. Unfortunately one of the orderly’s who works there, Carl (Bo Hopkins), takes a sexual interest in Kelly and uses his authority to try and force her into compromising situations.
The film starts out okay, which is mainly due to Hull’s performance, who is able to create enough of a three-dimensional character that you see her as a real person and care about her fate. Although she has not been in anything since 1991 and has since then spent her time working as an acting coach, she did do a lot of good performances in other films during the 70’s including her work in Aloha Bobby and Rose, so it’s no surprise that her presence here would help lift up the material. I was particularly impressed with the seizures she goes through on the disco floor, which looked quite genuine, and the way she allowed herself to be put in some very vulnerable scenes that would be hard for other performers to do including where she is naked while her captor isn’t and who then proceeds to carry her around.
Unfortunately once things pivot over to the psych ward it goes downhill completely. Instead of raising the tensions it just gets boring. Sharon Farrell gives a strong performance as one of the other patients, in fact it is her image on the film’s promotional poster seen above and not Hull’s even though Hull was technically the star, but the rest of the people stuck there seem too normal and too nice. It becomes almost like Hull finding a new clique of friends. She actually comes off more frazzled when she’s on the outside then when she’s actually at the hospital where for the most part she bonds well with the other patients. I also thought it was ridiculous that these patients were allowed to go to a zoo and able to mingle with the public with only light supervision. If these people are deemed so ‘dangerous’ that they must be institutionalized then I would think they shouldn’t be allowed out into the public at all.
The film’s biggest failing though is that it acts like what we see here is provocative and shocking when it really isn’t. Too many other films have been done involving the same dark side of insane asylums that what happens here adds nothing new to the discussion. In fact it ends being quite predictable and cliched instead.
The only redeeming aspect is Hopkins who is quite effective. Every time you seem him you cringe, but not so much because he overplays it, but instead by doing the exact opposite. He’s more just your rural hayseed looking too take advantage of the situation to satisfy his basic carnal instincts behaving more like a typical thug you could bump into anywhere than an over-the-top psycho, which is why it works. You feel like there’s probably a lot more just like him out there, some even working in ‘respectable’ positions, who are just waiting to exploit the situation the minute nobody is looking, which in the end is the one true horror you get from the film that actually succeeds.
My Rating: 3 out of 10
Released: November 15, 1978
Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes
Director: Howard Avedis
Studio: Film Ventures International