Tag Archives: Entertainment

Avalanche (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sliding snow destroys resort.

David Selby (Rock Hudson) is a driven businessman determined to build a ski resort in an area that’s vulnerable to avalanches and despite the many warnings is able to get the building constructed and even have it host a ski tournament to kick-off its grand opening, but as the festivities get under way the snowfall continues. Eventually the weight of the snow on the nearby mountaintop becomes too much causing a massive avalanche forcing the guests at the resort into a fight for survival.

The film starts out with a lot of boring, poorly written soap opera-like drama that will put most viewers to sleep before the avalanche ever even takes place. The storyline concerning Mia Farrow’s and Rock Hudson’s marriage and his desperate attempts to ‘rekindle the old magic’ between them is particularly contrived as the vast age difference between the two, a whole 18 years, makes it look like the type of union that would have no chance of it working right from the start, so why even bother making it a part of the plot? The first 40 minutes are so draggy that you start hoping for the avalanche to happen and wipe out all the cardboard characters simply to provide some excitement.

The glossy cast if filled with some well known faces, but their parts offer them little to work with and in the case of Robert Forster, who acts as this environmentalist warning of the avalanche danger, is completely wasted. Only Cathey Paine, a lesser known actress, offers some diversion as a possessive girlfriend who becomes unhinged when she catches her boyfriend (Rick Moses) in bed with another woman and watching her try to kill herself by swallowing a bottle of pills only to be crushed by the snow a few seconds later is darkly funny. I also got a kick out of Jeannette Nolan sporting white hair, which you can tell is a wig because you can see her brown hair underneath it along the edges, and I felt this should’ve been shown falling off her head when the avalanches occurs, but of course it doesn’t.

The special effects, which would be the only reason to watch this thing anyways, gets highly compromised mainly because producer Roger Corman, in his patented stingy way, cut the budget in half just before production began and it definitely shows. The avalanche looks like nothing more than having the actors shot on a screen and then having styrofoam made snow blown in front of it. I also found the howling wind noise, which permeates every outdoor scene, to be irritating and unnecessary especially when all the trees in the background are completely still.

The third act, which deals with rescue efforts, offers some minor tension and is an improvement from the rest of the movie, which made me think they should’ve started it with this and then shown scenes of the avalanche happening, and some of the background ‘drama’, intermittently via flashback. The setting, which was filmed on-location at the Lodge of Tamarron in Durango, Colorado, is quite scenic. I even liked the snowmobile race, which has a Death Race 2000 feel to it especially the ugly wipe-outs.

Spoiler Alert!

Unfortunately everything else falls predictably flat, which includes the dopey ending where Hudson humbly admits that he allowed his greed to get in the way  and that the resort should never have been built, but this isn’t satisfying enough. He should’ve been handcuffed and thrown into prison, which is not shown nor any confirmation if this ever ultimately happened.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 29, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Corey Allen

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Romantic Comedy (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Playwrights fall in love.

Just as Jason (Dudley Moore), a popular playwright, is getting ready to tie-the-knot with the beautiful Allison (Janet Eilber) he meets Phoebe (Mary Steenburgen). Phoebe is a school teacher aspiring to be a playwright and hoping to team up with Jason, who has had some success in the past, but looking for new inspiration. The two soon become a successful writing team, but begin to fall-in-love in the process, which creates a strain on Jason’s marriage.

The film is based on the play of the same name that was written by Bernard Slade, who also wrote the screenplay. Slade was at one time a television producer whose most noted creation was Th Partridge Family’, but by the late 70’s had moved into writing plays with his biggest hit being Same Tim Next Year about two married people who get together once a year to have an affair, which became a runaway international hit and inspired Slade to then write this one, which is basically just a minor reworking of the same theme. While his first play was hailed as being fresh and original this thing is much more mechanical and ultimately as generic as its title.

The story’s biggest failing is that we never get to see the relationship blossom and grow. Instead it starts out with their awkward meeting that exposes their contrasting personalities and temperaments and then jumps ahead several months later to where they’ve already become lovey-dovey to each other, but with no insight as to how that came about. Part of the fun of watching a romance is seeing how it flourishes between two very unlikely people, but here that gets glossed away making everything that comes after it seem very forced and contrived.

The film also offers no insight into the collaboration process and how two people can work together to create a play, which could’ve been both interesting and amusing. It also could’ve been revealing seeing what kind of plots their plays had and why some of them are flops while others are hits. Having a story within a story concept where the two write about the secret emotions that they have for the other into their characters could’ve added a unique angle, but like with a lot of other things here becomes another missed opportunity.

Moore and Steenburgen have no chemistry and there was a big 18 year age difference between them. Moore is too acerbic and having him go from being sarcastic and abrasive to suddenly loving and tender is unconvincing. Steenburgen’s young girl voice makes her seem empty-headed and not the sophisticated, witty type who would be able to write the type of plays that she supposedly does. Why Mia Farrow and Anthony Perkins, who played the parts in the original Broadway play, weren’t cast in the same parts here is a mystery, but they would’ve been far more effective choices.

The expected drama and conflicts involving the wife never culminates into anything making her presence virtually pointless. The laughs are non-existent as well. In fact the only time it ever gets even mildly amusing is when Moore and Steenburgen would argue and it would’ve been funnier had they been portrayed as hating each other, but teamed up anyways simply because they somehow managed to write hit plays when they worked together.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: October 7, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Arthur Hiller

Studio: MGM/UA

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Loving (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Commercial artist fools around.

Brooks (George Segal) is a commercial artist who spends most of his time chasing after clients, which he finds exhausting and takes away from the creative process. Although married to the beautiful Selma (Eva Marie Saint) he still sees  Grace (Janis Young) on the side, but she’s tired of being the other woman and wants him to divorce his wife and commit to her, which he resists. Despite all of these issues Brooks manages to keep his philandering hidden until one night when they attend a party at a friend’s house where his fooling around unexpectedly comes out into the open for all to see.

So many films have tried to capture that perfect day-in-the-life feel, but usually end up failing by either jazzing-up the drama, or becoming boring by  not having enough happening. Director Irvin Kerschner manages to find the right balance by having the characters continue to do things as they speak. For instance showing Brooks’ boss (Keenan Wynn) converse with him over the phone while folding up his hideaway bed. Why was he sleeping on the couch? Was he having marital problems of his own? Could be, but this visual approach allows the scenes to remain active while also conveying how everyone has issues and not just our protagonist. It also remains realistic as most people are usually doing other things while talking on the phone and never just sitting motionless like it gets portrayed in many other movies.

I enjoyed too how the film explores the job duties that Brooks has including the way he takes photos of models, sometimes he even using himself, and then traces their outlines from the picture to create a different artistic rendering, which I found fascinating. Much of the reason for these intricate details has much to do with the fact that the script is based on the novel ‘Brooks Wilson Ltd.’ by John McDermott under the pen name of J.M. Ryan, who was an illustrator in real-life, for Disney studios, and parlayed his experience of the craft to the main character. I also found it interesting how Brooks’ clients would sometimes have minor, subjective complaints about his work forcing him, for the sake of pleasing them and making money, to begrudgingly change what he had originally created and thus showing how the business side can squelch the artistic inspirations of creative people and take away the enjoyment they once had for their craft.

Even the children characters get handled much better than in most films. Granted their parts have very little to do with the plot, but still like in every parent’s life they’re always around causing disruptions and noise even when you have your mind occupied with other things. They’re also not portrayed as sickingly sweet or excessively bratty, but like with most kids an equal combination of both. The oldest girl, who looked to be about 8, also has one of the film’s funniest moments as she’s shown reading a book on the sofa while a nude model, who her father is sketching, stands right in front of her, which she finds to be no big deal.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s best moment though is still the ending where Brooks goes to a party and makes love to his best friend’s wife (Nancie Phillips) in a child’s empty playroom to the amusement of the the other guests who watch them in another room, unbeknownst to Brooks, on closed circuit TV. Not only is this scene hilarious, but dramatically powerful as Will (David Doyle), whose wife is caught fooling around with Brooks, physically attacks Brooks outside afterwards and the look of anger and betrayal on his face reveals, despite the funny set-up, how emotionally devastating philandering can be to the other spouse.

The film though fails to offer any conclusion. We sit through 90-minutes of seeing the marriage slowly disintegrate, but then are left watching the couple staring at each with no idea whether they were able to patch things up, or divorce. The viewer feels cheated that no clear answer is given and a brief denouncement showing where the main character ultimately ends up, whether it be with a new love, his same wife, or all alone, should’ve been added.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: March 4, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Irvin Kerschner

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Gotcha! (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Spy game turns real.

Jonathan (Anthony Edwards) enjoys playing the make-believe spy game of Gotcha on his college campus by shooting his fellow students with paint darts of which he is quite good at. For a vacation he goes to Paris, France and meets Sasha (Linda Fiorentino) who is a real-life spy transporting undercover documents from behind the iron curtain. She gets Jonathan to travel with her to East Berlin where he reluctantly finds himself caught-up in the spy action and having bad guys shoot at him with bullets instead of paint balls.

The film has its engaging moments, but the plot gets played-out in a haphazard way. The beginning comes off too much like just another banal coming-of-age comedy with guys using all sorts of corny lines to get women to go to bed with them and a lot inane dialogue and comedy bits are used to help string it along.

Things do improve once he meets up with Fiorentino who puts on an effective foreign accent and adds much needed chemistry. The vivid on-location shooting avoids the well known landmarks and instead focuses more on the hotels and restaurants, which makes the viewer feel like they’re traveling alongside the characters.  Jonathan’s transition from cocky college student to scared kid in way over-his-head is interesting too, but something that I wished had been played up more.

Edwards’ performance helps the viewer remain sympathetic to his quandary despite the fact that it was his own naivety that got him into his jam. I didn’t like his hairstyle though, which to me looked more like a wig and, since he’s shown to be openly bald in his later years, it probably was. He was also older than his character and looking very much like the 23 years of age that he was, which is what Fiorentino guesses when she first meets him and not like 18, which is what his character supposedly is making the opening conversation that the two have unintentionally ironic.

The third act in which Jonathan returns to the states, but the Russian spies continue to chase after him, is when this thing really goes south. It would’ve worked better, and been more believable, had the entire spy scenario remained in Europe instead culminating on the same college campus where it began making the intended irony too forced and too cute for its own good.

There were times when I did get caught-up in the intrigue, but film ruins the tension by always answering it with a comical twist that makes it come-off as too gimmicky. There’s also no explanation as to what was on the film role that Jonathan and Sasha were trying to smuggle out and the Russians were so eager to get back, which makes the plot transparent instead of exciting.

The one moment though that I really did like and even found quite memorable is when a caged tiger is brought into a classroom to show the veterinarian students how to shoot a sick animal with a sleep dart. The animal seems to be in very real pain and with genuine moans of discomfort and the part where he gets hit with the dart forces him to leap up in his cage in a very startled manner. I’m not sure how they were able to pull off getting a legitimately hurt tiger into the scene, but it’s the one segment where the movie isn’t silly and it’s too bad the rest of the script couldn’t have fallen in-line with that same type of approach.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 3, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Jeff Kanew

Studio: Universal Pictures

Available: DVD

Top Gun (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Student pilot proves himself.

Pete Mitchell (Tom Cruise), who goes by the nickname Maverick, gets accepted into an elite fighter school for Navy pilots known as ‘Top Gun’. It is here where his flying skills impress his instructors, but his daredevils ways also get him into trouble. He starts dating one of his instructors (Kelly McGillis) and everything seem to be going fine until during a flight training exercise that he is piloting his partner Goose (Anthony Edwards) tragically dies, which shatters his confidence and makes him believe that maybe he is not cut out to be a pilot after all.

This film was a giant hit at the box office, but mostly ravaged by the critics and with good reason. The story is shallow, but Cruise’s performance manages to hold it together. Some have criticized his acting ability by saying he can play only one type of character namely the cocky type, but here he mixes in a lot of hidden vulnerabilities with it making you feel for him during his dark times of self doubt and cheer when he finally overcomes them.

I also enjoyed the romantic angle at least initially. In a lot of movies the side romance can get in the way of the story, but here it helps keep the plot intriguing especially when you factor in their contrasting personalities and temperaments. I liked the fact that she was also one of his instructors and therefore had to keep a professional distance and how this caused tensions in their potential relationship, which I wanted explored much more and was disappointed when this plot point fizzles out already in the first act and they become instead a generic ‘happy couple’ the rest of the way.

The mysterious death of Maverick’s father years early was another subplot that gets poorly handled. I was expecting this to work into being a heightened mystery complete with a big reveal at the end, perhaps coupled with a flashback, but instead it gets treated almost like a throwaway bit where the Tom Skerrit character explains what occurred in passing and then by the time the ending finally comes it’s pretty much forgotten. The same goes for Val Kilmer who is excellent as Maverick’s rival, but his part is woefully underwritten and like with a lot of other things not pushed to its full dramatic potential.

Director Tony Scott hurts the realism by implementing too much of a music video approach with literally every scene smothered with a loud, booming rock tune, which cheapens the story by making it more about mood and image than a character study. There’s even issues with the sky color, which outside of the aerial footage, looks to have a bright golden color that does not replicate any sky I’ve ever seen on this planet.

The stunt work involving the flying jets is certainly impressive making this a movie you definitely need to see on the big screen in order to get its full effect, but eventually it gets redundant and for a layperson not familiar with piloting technique even a bit confusing. The ending in which Maverick and his fellow pilots are ordered to provide air support to a stricken ship that has drifted into hostile waters really jumps the shark when jet planes from a foreign country attacks theirs, which would be considered an act of war and a major international incident, but instead after the skirmish is over it all gets written off saying that the other country simply ‘denied that they did it’, which only in the movie world is good enough to make everyone else forgive and forget about it too.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 12, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Tony Scott

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Alligator (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Reptile in the sewer.

In 1968 a young girl (Leslie Brown) brings home a baby alligator, which she stores in her small aquarium, but her father decides to flush the thing down the toilet where in the sewer it feeds off the carcasses of dead animals which were given an experimental growth formula from a nearby clinic. 12 years later the alligator having ingested this formula for years has grown to massive lengths and escapes from the sewer where he now terrorizes the citizens of the city.

The screenplay was written by John Sayles and has a nice blend of comedy and scares. In most other horror films there are usually some long boring segments in between the shocks that get filled with awkward drama or banal dialogue, but here these same segments convey a playful sense of the absurd and are some of the best moments in the movie including showing all the street vendors who come out and try to cash in on the alligator scare by selling alligator related merchandise at the river where the police are searching for the beast. I also enjoyed the ad-libbed lines by the supporting characters mentioning Robert Forster’s receding hairline, which become the movie’s running joke.

The scares are still present and for the most part effective although the scenes inside the sewer work best. I liked the way the beams from the flashlights reflected off of the tunnel walls and created a surreal look as well as how quiet it would get when the police and S.W.A.T. went into the underground caverns, which helped accentuate the tension.

When the gator breaks out of the sewer is when the thing starts to go south especially when it attacks guests at a dinner party, which is too graphic and ghoulish and destroys the film’s otherwise playful tone. I also didn’t like when the alligator breaks through sidewalk having the camera shake, which is something directors would do in old movies to create an earthquake-like visual effect, but comes-off as quite tacky looking. Having the gator roam the city for as long as it does and not get caught seemed implausible as something that big would attract lots of attention no matter where it went and most likely would get cornered by the authorities a hell of a lot sooner than it does.

The film also suffers by not effectively conveying the size of the beast visually. We see a lot of quick shots involving its open mouth, but not much else. An animatronic one was built, but it malfunctioned and was little used and then later donated to the Florida Gators as their mascot. An actual gator got used in some shots, which they superimposed onto a miniature set to make it look bigger, but the final result of this looks awkward.

The truth is alligators are by nature very timid towards humans and will usually swim away if approached by one and only attack if they feel threatened. They prefer much smaller prey that they can eat with one gulp and thus avoid people altogether. It’s actually the crocodile that  is much more dangerous and in fact the saltwater and nile crocodile kills hundreds of people each year, which for the sake of accuracy should’ve been the species that got used.

I also thought it was a bit bizarre that someone could keep an alligator as a pet like the young girl does at the beginning. Now don’t get me wrong watching them flush the baby gator down a toilet is one of the best parts of the movie, but what would’ve happened had the gator been allowed to grow into an adult? How would they be able to house or control him, which only makes the father, who gets portrayed here as being obnoxious, look smart by getting rid of it when it was small and he still could.

The cast though still makes it worth watching. Forster is great in the lead as he plays against his stoic tough guy image by conveying vulnerabilities with his finest moment being the horrified expression on his face when his partner gets attacked and he’s unable to save him. I also liked Jack Carter as the corrupt Mayor and Dean Jagger, in his last film role, as the nefarious animal clinic owner. Angel Tompkins can be seen briefly as a news reporter as well as Sue Lyon in her last film appearance to date.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 14, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Lewis Teague

Studio: Group 1 International

Available: DVD

Razorback (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Giant boar terrorizes outback.

Jake (Bill Kerr), who lives in the Australian outback, gets attacked one night by a giant razorback who takes off with his infant grandson. Jake is later accused as having made up the story as no one can believe that there could be a razorback of such mammoth proportions and yet Jake spends the rest of his life hunting after it and determined to get his revenge for what it did to his grandson. During his quest he meets up with Carl (Gregory Harrison) whose wife Beth (Judy Morris) was also killed by the same wild boar.

The film was directed by Russell Mulcahy, who rose to fame by directing many influential music videos and his unique visual style is what sets this film apart. The way he captures the vast, flat outback is stylish and the dream sequence out in the desert is both creepy and surreal. I also really enjoyed the part where the razorback tears apart a man’s house forcing him to helplessly watch as the part of the home with the TV, which he was watching, goes literally gliding away in front of him, which  may not be realistic, but a very funny image nonetheless.

The story though, which is based on the novel by Peter Brennan, is too indicative of other better known movies. It starts out with Jake going to trial over the death of his grandson and no one believing his account, which is loosely based on the Azaria Chamberlin incident who was an infant that got taken away by a dingo in 1980, but the public didn’t believe the story and accused the parents of killing the child instead. However, in this instance the razorback creates a giant hole in Jake’s house, which should be enough for most people to think that there might be something to what Jake was saying and makes the opening court room bit seem both protracted and unnecessary especially since he quickly gets acquitted anyways.

The second act resembles the film Wake in Fright as Carl and two other men go on a nighttime kangaroo hunt. It also examines the poor way Carl adapts to the rough nature of the outback men, which again seems too similar to the plot of the other film and really wasn’t needed since it slows up the pace, which needed more scares and appearances of the giant razorback that are completely missing during the middle part.

The third act comes off too much like Jaws, with Jake channeling Quint, which might’ve been alright as I found Jake’s rugged individualistic ways to be both endearing and amusing to the point that he could’ve been made the main character. However, is untimely demise is both graphic and cruel and gives the film an unnecessarily mean tone.

Having Carl single-handidly take on the razorback at the end while inside an abandoned warehouse is boring as it rehashes the man vs beast theme that’s been done many times before. I was actually more interested in seeing the townspeople work together to hunt down the boar, which is an idea that the film teases, but then ultimately sells-out on.

My biggest grievance though is the way the beast gets photographed. Supposedly a  giant animatronic model of the razorback was built at a cost of $250,000, but you never really see it. Shots of the beast are edited so quickly that you only get brief glimpses of the animal and never its whole body and no true idea of how big it really is. There’s also no explanation offered for  how it grew so big.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 19, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Russell Mulcahy

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), Blu-ray (Region B/2, A/1), Amazon Video, YouTube

Massacre at Central High (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Destroy the social hierarchy.

David (Derrel Maury) is the new kid in school whose only friend is Mark (Andrew Stevens) because years earlier David helped protect Mark from a group of bullies. Now Mark has befriended a group of elitist friends who pick on the other students at the school and instructs David that he better do the same, but David resists, so the clique turns on him. This causes David to kill  the members of the clique off one-by-one in creative ways, but finds that the students who were once the meek victims of these bullies now become the new ones.

This film is a definite step above the usual horror flick and has managed to create, despite it’s limited availability, a strong cult following. Yet with that said it does have some major drawbacks. One is cinematic quality, which is quite grainy, faded, and dated with every shot reeking of a mid-70’s look. The music score is horrendous especially the opening song sung by Tommy Leonitti. In fact it’s so bad that director Rene Daalder, who had written a different score that better fit the mood of the film, but was rejected by the producer, refused to watch this movie for several decades because of it.

There’s also the issue, like in so many of these high school flicks, were the students look older than they should and in fact all of them were already in their early 20’s when this was filmed. Fortunately the setting was the senior high level, so the more mature body types aren’t quite as glaring as it could’ve been.

I felt though that despite being a bit too old for his part this was Andrew Stevens best performance to date. His career and the quality of the projects he’s been in have been quite erratic, but here he fits the role quite well and I enjoyed seeing his character’s arch go from passive middle-man to a reluctant hero although the scene where he confronts David begging him not to kill him even though David had no weapons at the time, was physically smaller and crippled by a bum leg, seemed a bit too wimpy. Stevens could’ve and should’ve beat up David at that point, or threatened to unless there was some reason why he never wanted to fight, which is never made clear.

I did like the killings particularly the hang glider death, which has a point-of-view shot where the viewer feels like they’re riding on the gliders alongside the characters. The transformation of the students from wimps to oppressors is what I enjoyed the most as it exposes the thin line between good guy and bad and how the circumstances of the situation dictate how people respond to either. It also reveals how behavior is greatly affected by one’s immediate environment and if that environment were to suddenly change different aspects of a person’s personality that have long been dormant, or repressed could suddenly come to the forefront. The fact that no adults are ever seen, at least not until the very end, was a cool touch too as it accentuates how in the adolescent world the adults are completely meaningless and it’s their peer group that’s the only thing that’s important, which makes this quite similar to Heathers of which this is considered a close cousin and even an inspiration to.

When the film was first released it got very little attention and was in and out of the theaters quite quickly and I believe a part of the reason for this is its title, which coneys too much of a mindless teen exploitation flick tone, which this really isn’t. While the film was being shot in went under the working title of ‘Incident at Foxdale High’, which to me was more subtle and intriguing. Whether this is also the reason why it has yet to get a well-deserved DVD/Blu-ray release I don’t know, but at some point one should be coming.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 10, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 27 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Rene Daalder

Studio: Brian Distributing

Available: VHS

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 Sitter (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Please check the children.

This small budget, short film, which was made for $12,000 much of it coming  from the donations of director Fred Walton’s and producer Steve Feke’s friends deals with the urban legend of a babysitter (Lucia Stralser) coming to the home of the Mandrakis (Bill Striglos, Karen Kondazian) to watch over their two children who are asleep upstairs while they go out. Soon after the couple leaves the sitter starts to receive harassing phone calls from a mysterious man asking if she’s ‘checked the children’. At first she dismisses them, but eventually when they continue she notifies the police who decide to trace where the calls are coming from.

The urban legend known as ‘The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs’ has been around since the early 60’s and the story was first filmed in 1971 in the 14-minute short entitled Foster’s Release, but this film was the one that caught the attention of mainstream audiences when it got screened at the Mann’s Theater in Westwood, California before a showing of Looking for Mr. Goodbar and the positive response it got convinced Walton that he should expand it into a feature length film, which he did two years later.

This film is alright, but gets hampered by having a weak actress in the role of the babysitter, who has an androgynous look about her and unable to convey emotions effectively.  Not only does she not check on the children, even though you’d think after repeated calls she would get the inkling to do so, but she then states to the police on the phone that she’s ‘all alone’, which isn’t true and makes you wonder if she completely forgot why she was at that home to begin with.

I did like the part where she raids the refrigerator and starts eating a piece of cake from it as I think a lot of babysitters do this. I also found the catty conversation that she has with one of her friends on the phone, before the harassing calls start, to be rather amusing and very teenage girl-like. I even liked the fact that she pours herself a glass of hard liquor and starts to drink it, but this also made me think that the alcohol should’ve had some effect on her, especially with such a thin body, causing her to slur her speech, or possibly emboldening her in her dealings with the caller, which never occurs.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending of course if you’re familiar with the legend has the police tracing the calls to a man who is upstairs in the same house that the sitter is, which forces the girl to run outside before the killer gets her, but the way it ends is not very satisfying. For one thing the girl’s welfare only gets eluded to by the cops even though she is the main character, so the viewer should see that she is alright and not just be told this. It also leaves open way too many questions like: Why did the killer choose this house? How did he know the phone number to the home? How did he get into the house without being detected? and if the children were already killed several hours earlier as the police stated then were they actually killed while the parents were still there and why didn’t anybody hear anything?

End of Spoiler Alert!

These questions get a little better answered in When a Stranger Calls, which was Walton’s follow-up film to this one that expands the story by analyzing the killer and giving him more of a backstory, which will be reviewed next.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 19, 1977

Runtime: 22 minutes

Not Rated

Director: Fred Walton