Tag Archives: Thrillers

Windows (1980)

windows 3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: She’s obsessed with her.

Emily (Talia Shire) is attacked in her apartment by a rapist (Rick Petrucelli) and when the police come to investigate the crime she starts to fall in love with Bob (Joe Cortese) the handsome police captain. Little does Emily know that her friend Andrea (Elizabeth Ashley) was behind the attack. She is a closet lesbian with a secret psychotic obsession for Emily who hired the man to rape her and record it, so Andrea could get-off on listening to the sounds of Emily moaning during the struggle. Now that Emily is going out with Bob it makes Andrea angry and her behavior becomes more dangerous and erratic.

For a thriller this film is extraordinarily low-key to the point that it also comes off like a drama, but fails on both ends. There is no mounting tension and little if any scares. The only one that they do have is when Andrea sticks Emily’s cat into a freezer and later it drops out of it like it was a Popsicle, which is actually unintentionally funny. There is also hardly any music. Ennio Morricone was hired to be the composer, but they don’t use him as much as they should. An amazing amount of the movie deals with the natural street sounds and ambience from life in New York, which is interesting for a while, but does nothing to elevate the tension, or create any excitement. Famed cinematographer Gordon Willis in his directorial debut seems more interested in capturing the New York skyline and creating shadowy interiors than actually making a movie with an original story, or interesting characters.

Shire is so quiet and awkward that she seems to be in a mental stupor. Her screen presence here is transparent and lifeless and it is easy to see why her leading lady status was brief. Cortese is no better as the male lead and the romantic side-story has no energy or chemistry and only helps to bog down an already boring story. Intercutting this with Andrea’s visits to her psychiatrist (Michael Lipton) successfully creates the first thriller to have no suspense whatsoever.

Ashley seems like the perfect choice for a homicidal lesbian, but the part is written in a way that doesn’t allow her to go over-the-top with it, which she should have although you do get to see her wearing quite possibly the biggest pair of sunglasses that I have ever seen. It might have worked better had the viewer not been aware from the start about Andrea’s psychosis and instead only revealed it at the end as a twist.

The climatic sequence between Emily and Andrea would be laughable if it weren’t so mind numbingly stilted and prolonged. The scene goes on for almost twenty minutes and features the two women standing in front of a window with Emily weeping incessantly while Andrea rambles incoherently. How anyone who was involved in the making of this movie would think anyone would flock to see this dull and contrived thing should have their brains checked. Has an air of pretense to it like it is trying to be a ‘sophisticated’ thriller, but it is pointless. If ‘Mystery Science Theater’ were still around this would be a great candidate for it.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: January 18, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Rated R

Director: Gordon Willis

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Wolf Lake (1978)

wolf lake 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: He doesn’t like deserters.

Charlie (Rod Steiger) is a hard-bitten conservative man who lost his 23-year-old son in the Vietnam War. He likes to vacation with a couple of his middle-aged buddies Wilbur (Jerry Hardin) and George (Richard Herd) at a remote Canadian hunting lodge. However, this time when they arrive they find that the regular lodge owner is not there and instead it is being run by a young man named David (David Huffman) and his pretty girlfriend Linda (Robin Mattson). Charlie and David almost immediately are at odds as they both share a wide variance in age and political leanings. What is worse is the fact that David is a war deserter and once Charlie finds out about this he flies into a rage of psychotic proportions, which culminates in a violent night of terror for both David and his girlfriend.

The film was written and directed by the normally reliable Burt Kennedy who is better known for doing westerns. After watching this I think he should have stayed in that genre as this film is too formulaic and one-dimensional. There seems to be too much emphasis to conform to the horror movie/slasher style formula of that era with a plot set-up that is too brief and character development that is almost non-existent. The story shows its cards too quickly and then proceeds to just plod on and on until it climaxes with a predictable and boring finish.

Charlie and David’s arguments and confrontations fail to elicit any type of tension. Their shouting matches are rhetorical and redundant and their points-of-view are handled at a superficial level that allows for no new insight, or intellectual debate. Charlie is so limited in his stubbornness that he becomes annoying instead of threatening, or scary.

The final 25 minutes when the two sides wage a proverbial war between their two cabins is the only time that there is any action. However, by then I was completely bored with the proceedings and so emotionally detached from the third rate material that it was a strain just getting through it. The film’s ultimate message is heavy-handed and done so much better in other films on the same subject that it renders this excursion as pointless.

Steiger is wasted. The character he plays is poorly defined and doesn’t allow him to take full advantage of his acting abilities. He gets stuck with another one of his many wigs this one looking like the same type of gray haired rug that actor Ray Milland used to wear in his later years. The producers should have just allowed him to appear bald as it would have fit this type of part better and even made him look creepier and more menacing.

Huffman is the best thing about this movie and it is a shame that his life and career were cut short when he was murdered in 1985 while trying to chase down a suspected purse snatcher. His performance here is nicely understated, which helps carry the picture as he is the only character that is multi-faceted.

Although the story takes place in Canada and the landscape certainly looks Canadian I was surprised to learn that it was actually filmed near the city of Creel in Chihuahua, Mexico, which due to its high elevation has a climate that is more similar to the North’s.


There are actually two different versions of this film. There is this one and another one entitled The Honor Guard. In that one there are no flashback scenes like there are here and in the end Charlie ends up killing David and his girlfriend while in this version Linda shoots Charlie before falling over dead herself. I actually liked the flashbacks that are used as it gives the film what little suspense it has and also shows a bit of cinematic flair. However, the scene where Linda miraculously comes up with a gun and killing Charlie before keeling over looked cheesy and clichéd and I might actually have voted for the alternate ending.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 3, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 25Minutes

Rated R

Director: Burt Kennedy

Studio: Melvin Simon Productions

Available: VHS

Single White Female (1992)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: A roommate from hell.

Allison (Bridget Fonda) is a young entrepreneurial business woman who breaks up with her boyfriend and decides she doesn’t want to be in her apartment alone. She finds Hedra (Jennifer Jason Leigh) for a roommate and things go well until the relationship with her boyfriend is rekindled. Hendra then starts to become possessive until it eventually culminates into full blown psychosis.

This thriller really never gets going until the final thirty minutes when it climaxes with a real rock ’em, sock ’em, duke it out showdown, which is full of clever twists and good action. The first third though stagnates. In some ways this is good because it avoids being a formulated thriller that feels the need to always telegraph its punches. The viewer is as in the dark as to Hedra’s psychosis as Allison is. Things work so slowly that at times it almost seems like a drama. In some ways it might have been better had it stayed that way. There are some good ingredients here for an insightful look of two young women from different backgrounds trying to forge a friendship. Having it turn into your general psycho/thriller seems almost like a cheap gimmick that prevents it from being a deeper and more original piece.

Another thing that separates this from the other psycho/thrillers is the fact that the two are on equal footing. Unlike most thrillers the bad guy doesn’t have any unfair advantage over the other or the good guy isn’t impeded with any type of handicap. It all just comes down to smarts, inner strength and determination, which makes it interesting. It’s almost like giving them both a pair of gloves and then putting them into the ring.

Fonda is likable enough. She is normal, but not in a boring way and has vulnerabilities that she must face. Leigh has always had an interesting ‘clenched jaw’ like delivery. Usually this has a sexy appeal yet when she becomes psychotic it makes her more frightening. Leigh is also portrayed as the ‘frumpy’ one, but with her long hair and young girl look she actually is more enticing. Fonda of course is also attractive, but not with the hairstyle that she has here. Both have some good nude scenes.

There are some loopholes. One involves the murder by the heel of a shoe which gets lodged in the victim’s eye socket. This has an almost one in a million chance of happening especially at the angle it is done in. The assailant (Leigh) is a woman who is already shorter than the victim who is male. Added was the fact that she was sitting down while the victim was standing. Logistically she would not have been able to reach his eye and even if she had it would have taken so much effort to reach up there that she wouldn’t have had enough strength to drive it in the way she did especially in the split second that this movie has it happen in. Also, when one is wrestling with a perpetrator who has a gun that they drop it is a good idea to grab the gun before making a run for the door especially when it is in easy reach.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: August 14, 1992

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Rated R

Director: Barbet Schroeder

Studio: Columbia

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Not a good nanny.

Claire (Annabella Sciorra) is a young mother who feels that her doctor (John de Lancie) molested her during her exam. She goes to the authorities, which brings out more complaints from other patients. This leads the doctor into killing himself and causing his widowed wife (Rebecca De Mornay) to miscarry. In revenge the widow decides to destroy the life of the woman who brought up the charges and does so by posing as the family’s nanny named Peyton Flanders.

Just when you think that the old psycho formula has gone stale this film comes along that injects a whole new life into it. That is not to say that there is anything new here because there isn’t yet it is a pure thriller that captures the formula well and hits it on all cylinders. It builds the suspense slowly but consistently without throwing in any cheap teasers. You really ARE on the edge of your seat as the tension grows. The climatic sequence is well mounted, but the best part is that it creates a villain that is not only a threat, but also someone you hate, really hate! You look forward to the inevitable showdown and become emotionally involved in its outcome.

De Mornay makes a terrific bad lady. Usually villainess females work of their sensuality, but not here. Yes it is intimated, but it is incased in a very cold and calculating exterior. The character is deliberate and spins an elaborate web while coming up with some clever deaths for her victims with the best one being the death by greenhouse. Her icy stares reminded me of the legendary Bette Davis.

The good guys aren’t quite as interesting and in many ways are a bit boring. The husband/father (Matt McCoy) is especially bland and almost transparent. Sciorra’s beautiful and very angelic face helps, but she seems to get rattled too easily. Julianne Moore, as Marlene a family friend, is the only one who offers anything in the way of tenacity to her personality.

The Ernie Hudson character, who is mentally handicapped, is a nice addition. It shows sensitivity to those with disabilities and doesn’t exploit it simply for entertainment. His final showdown with De Mornay is another one you just can’t wait to see. The kids are adorable and it’s nice to see that they too can be resourceful when they need to be and can’t be so easily brainwashed either.

In all fairness there are some logic loopholes that should be mentioned. One is the obvious fact that this woman makes up her past in order to get the job as the nanny. When she applies for the position you would think that a careful and responsible family such as this one would check her references carefully and find her discrepancies. Also there is the fact that the De Mornay character was at one time a prominent doctor’s wife. This would give me the impression that she would have had a large circle of friends and they would have all wondered what happened to her or at the very least spotted her in her new identity since she apparently only moved to the other side of town.

Still, this is a solid thriller that is perfectly made for fans of the genre and deserves to be on the list with the best.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: January 10, 1992

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated R

Director: Curtis Hanson

Studio: Buena Vista Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray