By Richard Winters
My Rating: 3 out of 10
4-Word Review: The townspeople act crazy.
Jennifer (Meg Tilly) and her boyfriend Stuart (Tim Matheson) return to the small town she grew up in to help care for her mother (Lorinne Vozoff) who suddenly and quite impulsively shot herself in the head while talking to Jennifer over the phone. When they arrive they find the people behaving in strange ways by acting on their inner impulses without any social restraint. Stuart, who is a chemist, believes it may have something to do with what’s in the water, but when he tests it he finds nothing unusual. The people though continue to behave in a more aggressive manner where even the kindly old doctor (Hume Cronyn) who was looking after Jennifer’s mother in the hospital begins showing homicidal tendencies. The couple fear they might not be able to get out of there alive and begin to suspect that the ultimate cause has some connection to the earthquake that shook the town just days before they arrived.
The premise is certainly intriguing and there are a share of weird moments, but director Graham Baker approaches the material in the wrong way. The original screenplay by Nicholas Kazan, which was entitled ‘Animals’, was intended as a horror film and closely inspired by George Romero’s similarly themed The Crazies, which came out 11 years earlier. For whatever reason Baker didn’t pursue it with a horror bent and that in my opinion is where it all goes wrong. It’s hard to actually know what genre to place it in. At times it seems a little bit like sci-fi and other moments like a drama, but either way the tension is lacking. You see the townspeople doing crazy stuff, which initially piques your interest, but then it goes nowhere with it. The weird acts just continue to go on and on until it becomes redundant and ultimately boring until you really don’t care what the explanation is behind it.
It’s not until 45-minutes in before even gets slightly suspenseful when Jennifer finds herself trapped in a burning garage, but even this goes by too quickly. There was one moment where Jennifer’s former boyfriend, apparently jealous at seeing her with Stuart, decides to bend his own fingers back, as a sort-of self mutilation, until they break, which I found genuinely shocking and cringy. However, there are other moments, which I found to be unintentionally funny making me believe it might’ve worked better as a quirky comedy.
The ending though is the most annoying. The explanation for why this all occurred is that chemicals from a nearby toxic waste dump got into the facility that produced the milk that the townspeople drank. The leak apparently caused by the earthquake that jostled one of the overhead pipes that then leaked the toxins into the milk vat. Since Jennifer didn’t like the milk she wasn’t affected, but I felt it was a stretch that all 900 of the other people in the town did drink it, as there are many folks who aren’t into milk, so there should’ve been others like Jennifer, who didn’t behave nutty instead of her remaining the only normal one.
What I found really stupid though is that the movie acts like 900 people suddenly dying in a town is apparently ‘no big deal’ and the rest of the country just ‘moves-on’, which I found preposterous. There is simply no way the media would let something like this go unchecked and the rest of the nation would be demanding answers and a federal investigation. It would become the news story of the year if not the decade and something that would be heavily talked about.
Somebody would have to be held accountable at some point, which then brings up the final issue of who the hell was the organization that dropped the crop dusting poisons onto the town via airplanes that ultimately is what killed everybody? The movie doesn’t bother to answer this, which is really frustrating making the whole thing a big build-up to nothing and not worth anyone’s time.
End of Spoiler Alert!
On a lighter note I couldn’t end this review without mentioning Tim Matheson. As an actor I found his performance here to be incredibly dull. Granted the character he played was benign to begin with, but he certainly didn’t do anything to make him interesting. However, with that said, his bare ass steals it. Many ass aficionados have felt, and even debated, that Dabney Coleman’s bare behind seen in Modern Problems wins the prize for best ass put onscreen in a Hollywood movie, but Matheson’s exposed tush, seen at the 17:49 mark, definitely deserves honorable consideration.
My Rating: 3 out of 10
Released: September 28, 1984
Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes
Director: Graham Baker
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Available: DVD-R, Blu-ray