Tag Archives: Carol Kane

When a Stranger Calls (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Babysitter receives harassing calls.

Jill Johnson (Carol Kane) gets asked by the Mandrakis (Rutayna Alda, Carmen Argenziano) to babysit their two children, who are already asleep, while they go out for the evening. While Jill is there she starts receiving harassing calls from an anonymous man asking about the children. Jill eventually calls the police who find out that the call is coming from inside the house, but fortunately the police arrive in time before the killer (Tony Beckley) can get to her. She recovers from the incident and moves on with her life by getting married and having two kids of her own only to find that the man has escaped from the mental hospital and coming after her again.

This is an extension to director Fred Walton’s 1977 short film The Sitter with the first 22-minutes almost the same as that one, but not quite. The opening bit is much better handled here with close-ups of a pendulum on a clock swinging back and forth and Jill hearing noises in the house only to find that it’s the ice dispenser in the refrigerator, which are all the scenes that were not in the first film. Kane is also a better actress and her ability to convey fear elicits more tension from the viewer, but I still found it annoying that she reiterates the same line that the babysitter in the first film did where she states to the police that she’s ‘all alone in the house’ when technically there’s supposedly two sleeping kids upstairs.

The second act is where this thing goes off on a wild tangent by focusing almost exclusively on the killer, whose name is Curt Duncan, as he attempts to survive on the streets in the most seedy part of the city while a police investigator named John Clifford (Charles Durning), who worked on the earlier case and is now a private investigator, is determined to kill Duncan for what he did to the two children. To some degree this is a refreshing change of pace as most horror films like to demonize the killer making him seem like a soulless monster who kills people robotically while here the psychopath is portrayed as a vulnerable and confused human tormented by inner demons that he cannot control.

Watching him try to form a bond with a woman (Colleen Dewhurst) that he meets at a bar simply for human contact is interesting because most psychos don’t just murder everyone they meet even though in a conventional horror flicks you’d get the impression that they do. In reality many of them can be married, hold down regular jobs and have what appears to be a normal life only to do their killings on the side and the film scores definite points by examining this aspect that we’re not used to seeing, but it also makes him less scary, which ultimately hurts the tension.

The biggest problem is that Jill the main character completely disappears for a whole hour only to reappear again at the very end, which is too long. If this is a person that the viewer is supposed to care about then she needs to be in the film a lot more possibly cutting back and forth between her recovering from the incident and meeting someone that she will marry while also going back to Duncan and what he’s doing instead of just exclusively concentrating on Duncan as it does.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending in which Duncan tracks Jill down and tries to kill her makes no sense at all. How did the killer, who has no money and is basically homeless, find out where she lived? She has gotten married and most likely a new last name, so just saying he found her address listed in a phone book doesn’t work. How did he know the phone number to the place where she was attending a dinner party and for that matter how was he able to break into her house undetected while squad cars were patrolling it? Better yet how was Charles Durning, who ends up shooting the guy, able to get into the house as just a few minutes earlier he was shown inside a hotel room? Why was the killer so obsessed with tormenting Jill anyways, which are all good questions that never get answered and leaves open too many plot holes to be fully effective.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 26, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Fred Walton

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The Mafu Cage (1978)

Capture 66

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Her sister is psycho.

Ellen and Cissy (Lee Grant, Carol Kane) are two sisters living together in a dilapidated mansion, where they keep a pet ape named Mafu locked in a cage that sits in their living room. One day Ellen finds that Mafu has died so at the insistence of Cissy, who says she will kill herself unless they get another one, she goes to a local zoologist (Will Geer) and buys another. Things go well at first, but Cissy’s behavior becomes increasingly more erratic and she takes her frustrations and anger out on the new ape in abusive ways.

The film was directed by actress-turned-director Karen Arthur by a script written by Don Chastian who was another actor and based on a play by Eric Wesphal. I really wasn’t sure what these characters or this bizarre story was supposed to mean. I thought being the ‘70s and a female director that it would have symbolic connections to feminism or even lesbianism, which does get alluded to briefly, but overall the message is confusing and unfocused. The pacing is poor and about 10 minutes in I was already quite bored with it.

The only real saving grace is Kane’s presence who gives a startling performance as a psychotic woman. I had always admired her talent, but became even more impressed with her after seeing this. Her most amazing/bizarre moment is when she dresses up as an African warrior complete with red body paint and then later soaks in a tub filled with blood red water while carrying on an impromptu phone conversion with herself.

I had mixed feelings in regards to Grant whose age difference between Kane is 25 years making her look more like a mother figure than a sister. It was also hard to sympathize with her character as she refuses to have Cissy institutionalized or even examined by a mental health professional even though her behavior is dangerously erratic and only a completely irrational person would choose to ignore it or think that it will somehow ‘magically’ improve, which of course it doesn’t

The ape was the one performer that I enjoyed the most and fortunately a real one was used. The way the chimp responds to things and interacts with Kane are genuinely fascinating to watch and makes him a natural scene stealer without even trying. However, the part where she beats him with a metal chain is quite disturbing supposedly he was never actually hit and the credits do list an animal agency was present during filming and monitored it, but it’s difficult to watch nonetheless.

Patient viewers may find certain segments and imagery to be interesting and the film does improve a bit as it progresses, but overall it’s a weird curio that will leave most people indifferent and confused.

Alternate Title: Don’t Ring the Doorbell

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 1, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated R

Director: Karen Arthur

Studio: Clouds

Available: VHS, DVD

 

 

License to Drive (1988)

license to drive

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Driving without a license.

Les Anderson (Corey Haim) is in a jam. He has flunked the written portion of his driving exam and therefore has his license denied, but a really hot girl by the name of Mercedes Lane (Heather Graham) wants to go out with him and he needs some wheels to get there. So, after his parents (Richard Masur, Carol Kane) have fallen asleep he decides to ‘borrow’ his grandfather’s car and chaos results, which forces him to return home with the vehicle in less than pristine condition.

This film was quite controversial when it was first released as it contains a scene involving an intoxicated man (Henry Allan Miller) getting behind the wheel of Les’s car and driving it, which critics felt was ‘promoting’ drunk driving, or at the very least making light of it. To me the biggest problem with the segment is the fact that the driver gets into the car with the keys somehow in the ignition even though Les and his friends are in the back of the car using those very same keys to open up the trunk, so unless they had two sets of keys, which is never stated, it then flunks the logic test. I also thought the scene where Les tries to jump from one speeding car to another while out on the freeway was just as dangerous and more hair raising than funny.

Haim in my opinion is the best thing about the film. I know he got the reputation of being a Hollywood ‘bad boy’, but the kid does have a certain appeal. This was his second pairing with Corey Feldman, who I didn’t like as much as he came off more as a crude ‘80s teen caricature. This also marks Heather Graham’s official film debut since her uncredited appearance in Mrs. Soffel four years earlier did not have any speaking lines and here she is terrific. I also found Masur and Kane to be quite appealing as the parents who resemble real human beings and not like the grown-ups in some ‘80’s teen movies where they are portrayed as being oppressive, overbearing, out-of-touch jerks.

The humor though is only mildly amusing and how the Les character could’ve missed the answers on the test is hard to imagine as they relied on basic common sense that just about anyone could’ve answered. The film also fails to have the same whimsical quality as Adventures in Babysitting which came out around the same time and had the same adventurous night-on-the-town concept.

If you’re looking for an amiable time filler for a slow evening than this may do the trick, but overall it’s just an innocuous ‘80’s teen programmer at best.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: July 6, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 29Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Greg Beeman

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Wedding in White (1972)

wedding in white 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Ending is a kicker.

Jeannie (Carol Kane) is a shy 16-year-old girl living in a small, bleak Canadian town just after the war who is raped by her older brother’s army buddy. Her parents (Donald Pleasance, Doris Petrie) respond as if it is her fault and resort to some extreme even shocking measures in order to ‘save the family honor’.

This is a solid little drama with good scene construction. The pacing is deliberate and an ending that really packs a wallop. The sets and location look authentic for the period and the characters are believable. Jeannie’s friend Sara (Christine Thomas) seems like a very typical teenager no matter what time period and her interactions with Jeannie show the realities of teenage friendships and makes for an interesting sidelight from the main story.

Kane is impressive acting in a style I’ve never seen from her before. Pleasance is solid as usual and his Canadian accent sounds almost authentic, but it is a bit overdone. Petrie is also quite good as the mother. She really brings to surface a character that is so cloistered she is unable to make any clear decision for herself.

The story itself is the real strong point. It is convincing, insightful, and well-crafted and brings out a sort of darkness and ‘evil’ that can come from ‘wholesome small towns’ and ‘God fearing people’. It shows how having a rigid morality can sometimes create a sort of immorality and also brings to light the lies people wish to live by and how at times it can cloud their better judgment, but most of all it’s a study at  how easily sensitive, fragile people can get sucked away and how sadly common it is.

This is a film designed to leave you feeling shocked, angered, saddened, and maybe even a little repulsed. This is quality viewing that deserves more attention.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: October 20, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Rated R

Director: William Fruet

Studio: Cinepix

Available: DVD