Tag Archives: Cristina Rains

Russian Roulette (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Trying to stop assassination.

When a Soviet leader decides to visit Vancouver the Russian Embassy puts the Canadian authorities on alert about Rudolf Henke (Val Avery) who moved to Canada many years back, but is reported to still hold grudges about the Soviet Union and could be a sniper threat. Timothy Shaver (George Segal) is then secretly hired to kidnap Henke while the Soviet leader is in town and then let him go once that leader has left. However, when Shaver gets to Henke’s apartment he finds out that he has already been abducted by somebody else, which leads him to believe that he is being made a pawn to an even bigger conspiracy and that he may become their next victim.

The story is based on the novel ‘Kosygin is Coming’ by Tom Ardies and the first 45 minutes of this are actually quite diverting. Director Lou Lombardo gave his actors the freedom to ad-lib and he instills some quirky humor, which made me believe this was going to be a new wave-like actioner that deftly mixes in the offbeat perspective with a story that had an intriguing mystery angle.

Unfortunately the second half devolves into cheesy action flick with all the usual formulaic trappings. The biggest problem is introducing the Russian bad guys who speak in inauthentic, corny accents that made them become like caricatures that lessens the tension instead of heightening it. The film would’ve been better served had it not shown the villains at all until the very end and kept things solely focused on Segal as he tries desperately to figure out what is going on while being chased by a mysterious group of people whose motives are unclear.

There are a couple of stupid moments as well.  One of them occurs when Segal and his girlfriend played by Cristina Rains return home. She immediately runs into the bathroom to take a pee, but then just as quickly comes back out wearing a strange expression. Segal then walks in to see a dead body of a murdered stranger sitting on the toilet. I know this may make me sound like a sexist to some, but the truth is women have a tendency to scream when they are startled and sometimes for a lot less than an unexpected sight of a corpse in their bathroom, so having her not instinctually scream here (hell even I would’ve probably let out a shrill yell at that point) is dumb.

Another part has Segal and Rains handcuffed and sitting in a backseat of a car that is being driven by one of the Russian bad guys. Segal, in an apparent attempt to escape, kicks the Russian guy in the back of his head, which sends the car reeling off the road and overturning into a ditch. However, this to me seemed dangerous because what guarantees that Segal and Rains wouldn’t be injured when that occurs. As it turns out the driver ends up conveniently dying in the crash, but miraculously the couple get out of the badly banged up car without even a single scratch, which is beating astronomical odds!

Segal wasn’t the best choice for the role. He spent the 70’s decade playing mostly in light comedies and romances, which he is more adept at, but presumably took the part to help stretch his acting resume and avoid being typecast. It doesn’t fully work and there were other actors who would’ve been better able to reflect the film’s gritty tone although watching Segal do mostly his own stunt work as he climbed out to the top of the roof of The Fairmont Hotel in downtown Vancouver does deserve kudos.

The supporting cast proves to be more interesting. I enjoyed seeing Louise Fletcher in her second movie after coming out of a 10-year hiatus. She has only a small role here, but she makes an impression nonetheless and it’s interesting seeing her play a person with such a sunny disposition when later that same year she portrayed the dour Nurse Ratched, which only proves what a talented actress she really is.

Val Avery is equally good in a part that has no lines of dialogue, by his own insistence, but still ends up being a scene stealer not only at the end when he stumbles into a scared crowd while wearing a bomb, but also in an earlier scene where he plays a cruel trick on a group of children playing roller blade hockey in the street.

Unfortunately the rest of the movie doesn’t have enough of a payoff. The action gets overplayed and the blaring music takes away the sophisticated feel and puts it more on the level of a bubblegum TV-show. Some good potential gets marred by an indecisive director who reportedly was suffering from drug addiction at the time and the effects show.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 20, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Lou Lombardo

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD

The Sentinel (1977)

the sentinel 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: The Gateway to Hell.

Alison (Cristina Raines) is a fashion model looking for a place of her own. She is dating Michael (Chris Sarandon) and living with him, but has decided she is not ready for marriage and wants her own apartment. She finds an old, but stylish place in the Brooklyn Heights area of New York City that is already furnished and decides to move in, but then strange things begin to occur convincing her that the place may be haunted and when she starts to have physical maladies she is sure that something within the building is trying to possess her and the other residents she sees are really evil demons.

From the very first scene still film reeks of being just another, tired rip-off of The Exorcist. The first hour features no real scares and it is only during the second part that it becomes a full-fledged horror movie giving the film an overall disjointed feel. The much hyped final, which features severely deformed people who are not wearing make-up isn’t that impressive and unable to equal any of today’s horror movies. If anything I wished they had played this part up even more as it is the only time this otherwise generic thing gets even slightly diverting.

Rains, who by her own admission has never ever actually watched the movie, makes for a weak lead. Sure she is beautiful, but the character is dull and ordinary and she gets easily upstaged by co-star Sarandon who clearly shows how to carry a scene and deserves top billing over her for that reason alone. Her characters motivations didn’t make much sense either. Why would such a young woman want to move into a place filled with antique furniture and inhabited by senior citizens that she has nothing in common with? Also, when creepy things start to occur she doesn’t just move out right away like a normal person would, but instead goes back to the place several more times. There is also a moment when she hears strange noises from the upstairs apartment and then gets out of her bed and locks her front door, which seemed crazy because she is living in New York City and should be locking her doors ALL the time to begin with.

The only real interesting thing about this film for me was seeing older stars at the end of their careers in bit parts. Ava Gardner is fun as the leasing agent and Arthur Kennedy is solid as a mysterious priest as well as John Carradine as an older blind priest who lives upstairs and wearing creepy contacts. There is also Sylvia Miles who appears topless and camps it up as a lesbian neighbor with a Russian accent at least I think it was Russian. Christopher Walken can be seen briefly as a detective giving his gum a workout and Beverly D’Angelo plays a nubile lesbian who doesn’t say a single word, but more than makes up for it with her masturbation scene.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: January 7, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Winner

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD

Nightmares (1983)


By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: These stories aren’t scary.

This film is made up of an anthology of horror tales that were originally made for the ‘Darkroom’ TV-show that ran from 1981 to ’82 on ABC and was hosted by James Coburn.  The network deemed these stories to be ‘too intense’ for television so Universal decided to make it into a feature film. Unlike the series there is no actor or host that ties the stories together, which is unfortunate as Coburn’s presence could have given it a little personality. The biggest reason I was interested to watch this was to see what was considered ‘too intense’ for television back in the early 80’s and after viewing it the answer is ‘not much’.

The first story is entitled “Terror in Topanga” and features a mental patient on the loose in a suburban town and a housewife named Lisa (Cristina Raines) who has run out of cigarettes and feels compelled to go out late at night to get some. The segment is predictable and pedestrian with a twist ending that is a big letdown. Christophe Crowe who wrote the story is married to Raines in real-life and the two teamed up a few years later for an episode entitled “Prisoners”, which aired on the 80’s version of ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’ and is much, much better than this one and well worth seeking out.

“Bishop of Battle” makes up the second story and features Emilio Estevez as a teen obsessed with beating a video arcade game. This segment features the best visuals. I found the graphics that were used for the game were actually kind of impressive and fun to watch. Estevez is enjoyable as the tightly wound character and this segment also features Moon Zappa in a small part as well as Billy Jacoby (Jayne) who is the younger brother of famous child actor Scott Jacoby and looks just like him.

Lance Henriksen stars in the third story “The Benediction” as a priest who is grappling with his faith and thus decides to leave the ministry. As he starts out in his car on his journey to get away he finds himself being menaced by a black pick-up truck whose driver he cannot see and the two start to play a game of cat-and-mouse with their vehicles on a lonely stretch of desert highway. The scene where the pick-up bursts through the ground is the only interesting moment in what is otherwise a weak, uninspired rip-off of Duel.

The fourth and final story “Night of the Rat” is by far the worst. It pertains to a suburban family whose house becomes invaded by a giant demon-like rat. The special effects used to create the giant sized rodent are awful and would be almost comical if it weren’t so thoroughly botched and ridiculous. Veronica Cartwright who plays the perpetually nervous, high-strung mother gets a bit one-dimensional and irritating, but it is nice to see Bridgette Anderson as the daughter who later went on to star in Savannah Smiles before dying of a drug overdose at age 23.

The stories are flatly photographed with dull looking sets that have no cinematic quality to them and no business being on the big screen. This thing was given an R rating even though there is no swearing, or nudity and just the minimal of violence. I realize that the PG-13 rating was still a year away at the time, but this still should have been given a PG.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: September 2, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joseph Sargent

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, YouTube