Tag Archives: Louise Lasser

Slither (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Searching for embezzled money.

Dick Kanipsia (James Caan) is a former car thief who has just been released from jail and is now trying to go straight. While in prison he started up a friendship with Harry Moss (Richard B. Shull) and decides to go to his rural home for a visit. It is there that Harry suddenly gets shot by a mysterious gunmen, but just before he dies he informs Dick about a secret stash of stolen money that can only be retrieved by contacting his former partners in crime: Barry Faneka (Peter Boyle) and Vincent Palmer (Allen Garfield). Dick then goes on a road trip trying to find these two men while also coming into contact with a lot of oddball characters and situations along the way.

When I first saw this film over 20 years ago I really loved it and was impressed with W.D. Richter’s offbeat script that relies heavily on quirky scenarios and dryly humorous non sequiturs to help propel it. A theme he later polished to perfection in his most famous film the cult hit The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension While I still enjoy the engaging set-up I’ve found that during subsequent viewings the unsatisfying ending ruins everything else that comes before it and ultimately hurts the movie as a whole, but first lets go over what I did like.

The chase element that gets incorporated into the story is cool and has a strong connection to the one in Duel. The idea of having these large black vans driven by a person we cannot see constantly chasing after our protagonist no matter where he goes is intriguing and helps create an interesting mystery angle. The unique design of the vans, which was a 1973 Dodge Rectrans Discover 25R,  featured no front doors, which coupled with its all-black exterior gives them a very threatening presence that is almost creepier than the truck used in Duel.

Caan’s detached persona helps separate him from all the nuttiness around him and makes him likable in the process. Boyle is amusing as his eventual cohort and Louise Lasser is surprisingly restrained as Boyle’s wife. You also get to see  film director Paul Thomas Anderson’s real-life mother, Edwina Gough, in a small role during a scene at a bingo tournament.

The only character though that I didn’t care for was Sally Kellerman’s who plays this semi-crazy lady that proceeds to just slow-up the pace of the film with every scene that she’s in. I admit the part where she robs a diner at gunpoint is kind of fun, but I’ve never been a fan of her breathless delivery and didn’t feel there was any need for her reappearing after her character was pretty much dropped from the story and forgotten and there’s never any explanation for how she was able to successfully track Caan down after he abandoned her.

Laszlo Kovac’s cinematography is good although it would’ve been nice had this been a genuine road movie where our main character would’ve been required to travel to highly varied settings/landscapes  in his quest to find the hidden money. I realize this would’ve upped the budget, but having to constantly stare at the dry, brown landscape of Stockton, California, where the majority of the shooting took place, is kind of depressing.

As I stated earlier it’s the ending that hurts the film more than anything. To sit through what is otherwise a creative plot only to find that it all just leads to nothing is a big letdown. I know that during the 70’s it was trendy to have anti-climactic movie finishes, but here there needed to be more of a payoff . Movies should also have the main character change in some way from what they were at the beginning, which doesn’t occur. Caan just quietly walks away from the chaos around him like everything he’s just went through was nothing more than a blip on his life’s radar and ultimately that’s the way the movie becomes with the viewer as well. Goofy enough to hold your attention, but never memorable enough to stay with you.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 7, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Howard Zieff

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), YouTube

Blood Rage (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Homicidal twin frames brother.

In the summer of 1974 while his mother (Louise Lasser) watches a movie with her new date at a drive-in 10-year-old Terry (Mark Soper) kills a young couple with a hatchet and then pins the murders on his brother Todd. Todd is sent away to an asylum while Terry goes on living with his mother. 10 years later Todd escapes from the mental hospital and Terry uses this as an excuse to murder people at the apartment complex that he and his mother live at while again trying to make it look as though Todd is the culprit.

The film was directed by John Grissmer who in the early 70’s produced The House that Cried Murder an interesting horror flick and a clip from that one gets shown here. He also later directed Scalpel and although that was not perfect it’s still better than this, which outside of some very gory special effects is about as routine and boring as a slasher film can get.

The identical twin/murder storyline, which has been done many times before, is a the biggest problem because even in the most extreme cases you can usually tell one twin from the other and therefore having a plot where people can easily mix the two up is just not realistic. What makes things worse is that one of the twins has curly hair while the other one’s hair is straight and combed back, so the fact that people can still somehow get the two confused is ridiculous.

The film also has too many unexplained plot holes like why is Terry so homicidal in the first place? Does mental illness run in his family, or is there something else that triggers it? And why does Todd so passively allow himself to put into an institution without protest and only after 10 years does he finally begin to profess his innocence?

The film was shot in Jacksonville, Florida, but the places used for the setting are deadly dull visually especially what was then known as the La Miranda apartment complex. This might’ve been done for budgetary reasons, but apartments are cramped places with unimaginative architecture so filming the majority of a movie inside one gives the film a flat, one-dimensional look and the exteriors, which were shot at the University of Northern Florida, were too limited and the action goes back several times to the same spots already used before like a nature bridge, which gives the film a redundant feel.

The acting is poor with the worst coming from Julie Gordon who plays Karen. I’ll admit the dialogue that she is given is pretty stupid anyways, but still watching her pathetic attempts at running or even screaming is so bad that you just wish the bad guy would kill her to put us the viewer out of our misery of having to watch her and the more she stays on the more unbearable the film gets.

The film’s only saving grace is Louise Lasser who helps bring some quirky depth into it. She’s unquestionably a unique talent that can sometimes give a brilliant performance if given the right material. Her neurotic persona and ad-libs add a terrific edge and just seeing her reactions is more fascinating than anything else in the movie. The film might’ve had a chance had she been in every scene and the stupid teen cast scrapped, but unfortunately she appears only sporadically, which just isn’t enough to mask the otherwise threadbare material.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Alternate Title: Nightmare at Shadow Woods

Released: March 29, 1987 (Filmed in 1983)

Runtime: 1Hour 22Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Grissmer

Studio: Film Limited Partnership

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

In God We Tru$t (1980)

IN GOD WE TRUST, Marty Feldman, 1980, (c) Universal

IN GOD WE TRUST, Marty Feldman, 1980, (c) Universal

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Monk travels to L.A.

With his monastery in desperate need of money Brother Ambrose (Marty Feldman) is sent out into the secular world for the first time in order to find donations to help keep the place solvent. Unfortunately he travels to southern California where the wild and jaded lifestyles of the people come as a shock to him. He meets Mary (Louise Lasser) a hooker who takes him into her home and the two eventually fall in love, but he also comes into contact with the nefarious Armageddon T. Thunderbird (Andy Kaufman) a televangelist who wants to exploit the naïve Ambrose for his own gain.

Feldman with his famous buggy eyes is a delight and the fact that he did all of his own stunts, some of which were dangerous including having him dragged down a busy city behind a truck while clutching a rope and standing on a skateboard does indeed deserve credit for bravery, but his character is too annoyingly naïve. A full grown man is going to know about sex regardless if he is a monk or not and he is certainly going to know what female breast are. By having the character so incredibly out-of-touch with the jaded world makes him seem inhuman and like an alien from another planet, which isn’t funny even on a farcical level and an insult to anyone who has chosen a spiritual or more isolated lifestyle.

This pretty much explains the problem with the whole film as the satire is too broad. Poking fun at corrupt street preachers and televangelists is nothing new and thus this thing becomes derivative and one-dimensional from the very beginning. The movie also shifts awkwardly from silly slapstick to parody with running gags that become tiring and certain other bits that seem better suited for a kiddie flick.

There is very little that is genuinely funny although seeing two street preachers ram their vehicles into each other in a sort-of pissing match is amusing as is Peter Boyle’s ventriloquist act using a dummy made to look like Moses. The final scene with Richard Pryor as a computerized version of God and Feldman’s attempts to convert him to Christianity isn’t bad either.

The real scene stealer though is Kaufman who with a bouffant blonde wig plays the perfect caricature of a greedy preacher and I loved his meltdown during one of his religious broadcasts. I also got a kick out of his sink, which has one faucet for cold another for hot and then a third for holy water.

The casting of Lasser as a prostitute was great because she doesn’t fit the caricature of an 80’s Hollywood hooker and has more of the realistic and less flattering looks of an actual streetwalker. However, the film is a grab bag of hit-or-miss jokes many of which fall flat and with a runtime that is much too long for such slight material.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 26, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Marty Feldman

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS