Tag Archives: Brenda Vaccaro

Going Home (1971)

going-home

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Father and son reunite.

One night during a drunken rage Harry Graham (Robert Mitchum) kills his wife (Sally Kirkland), which gets witnessed by their 7-year-old son Jimmy (Jan-Michael Vincent). 13 years later Harry is paroled and Jimmy uses this opportunity to try and reconcile with his father and find out why he did it, but Harry has moved on. He has a new job and a girlfriend named Jenny (Brenda Vaccaro) and when Jimmy appears it creates an awkward tension that gets progressively worse.

One of the biggest problems with this film is that the characters and their motivations are not fleshed out enough and their actions make little sense. I’ve watched a lot of true-life crime shows and have found that in cases where this situation has occurred in real-life that the adult child will usually cease communication with their father and completely disown them, so it seemed strange why Jimmy would want to restart their relationship. If he was curious to know why Harry did it then he could’ve simply written him a letter with that question, which he never bothered to do while the man was incarcerated.

The film also fails to show what happened to Jimmy during the time Harry was in prison. He is shown arriving at an orphanage, but nothing about what does when he gets there or being put into a foster home and getting adoptive parents, or moving in with relatives, which is what usually occurs. He somehow has no friends or job and if this is because of his childhood trauma then it should get explained or more strongly implied, but it isn’t and it leaves a big void in the story.

Harry’s actions are equally confusing. The murder gets played out at the beginning and we see the stabbed mother crawl down the stairs and beg Jimmy for help and then Harry comes down and looks at the dead body before turning towards the boy with a guilty expression, but if  he feels so bad about what he has just done and the traumatic impact he’s put his son through then he should’ve thought of that beforehand. I would’ve expected to see a completely different set of emotions in the man’s eyes like anger, rage, insanity or even fear because now he knows he’ll will be going to prison, but guilt wouldn’t play into it, at least not that quickly if ever.

Mitchum’s character is straddled with conveying only one emotion throughout, which is guilt. We never tap into the other side of the man that propelled him to commit such a heinous act and his explanation, which is that he ‘just got drunk’ is insufficient. The character also pops up too conveniently at times. One moment is when Jimmy goes back to their former home, which has now been turned into a whorehouse and he hides in the basement. Harry comes looking for him and despite the fact that there are many people there and it’s a large place he immediately goes to the cellar, but how would he have known to look there? Another segment has him magically coming to Jimmy’s rescue when his son is accosted by a group of sailors underneath a boardwalk even though he was bowling in another building and would have no way of knowing what was occurring outside.

The film has solid production values and director Herbert B. Leonard shows flair with the location shooting, which was done in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania. There is also a good scene inside a chicken coop  and actor Josh Mostel (Zero’s son) has an interesting film debut playing Harry’s young, flippant parole officer who delights in demeaning his client as much as possible, but the story leaves open too many unanswered questions and isn’t impactful or relevant.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 1, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Herbert B. Leonard

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive)

Death Weekend (1976)

death weekend

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: She can defend herself.

This Canadian thriller, which is loosely based on actual events deals with a rich playboy named Harry (Chuck Shamata) who invites Diane (Brenda Vaccaro) who is also a model to spend the weekend with him at his isolated lakeside cabin that is miles from anywhere. On their way there they run into a biker gang whose leader (played by Don Stroud) takes an intense disliking to Harry. The gang tracks the two down at their cabin where they proceed to terrorize them before eventually killing Harry and forcing Diane to defend herself alone, which she does valiantly.

In a way this is a poor man’s version of I Spit on Your Grave or Straw Dogs, but not nearly as effective. For one the violent scenes aren’t very intense. This is due mainly to the fact that writer/director William Fruet keeps the camera too removed from the action and never once uses a hand held. There is also no gore as Fruet always cuts away just before anything happens and what little you do see looks tacky. Of course a film doesn’t have to be gory to be scary or intense, but if it is going to have this type of violent theme then it should at least equal it in style. The tension also ebbs and flows and the four hoodlums are too dumb and seem like cardboard cutout caricatures that possess no human qualities whatsoever.
The Harry character does allow for some added dimension, which helps and hurts. I liked the way he sees himself as this ‘refined’ gentlemen and yet views women in the same Neanderthal way as the thugs. He brags of having money and power, but when that gets stripped away from him he becomes amazingly spineless. This makes for a good commentary of the rich and successful, but unfortunately also turns him into being too much of a jerk and when the bad guys proceed to tear his place apart we are not ‘horrified’ at all, but instead enjoy seeing it.

There are actually a few good elements one of which is the music score, which effectively creates an ominous feeling. It was also filmed in Ontario Canada during the autumn and the desolate, bleak landscape helps match the bleakness of the situation and characters. I also loved the morning mist captured during the final chase sequence that gives things a very eerie look. There is also a well-staged car chase at the beginning that was done at high speeds and features some great stunt driving.

The film is saved somewhat by Vaccaro’s interesting performance as a victim. She is independent and self-sufficient and refuses to allow herself to be seen or used as a sex object. This goes along with the film’s overall theme which seems to run on the emergence of the woman in a man’s world and the basic redefining of the female role in society. Yet I felt it would have worked better had the character harbored the old female traits at the beginning and then had these new traits come out as the film progressed.

death weekend

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Alternate Title: House by the Lake

Released: September 17, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes

Rated R

Director: William Fruet

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: VHS