Tag Archives: Thrillers/Drama

Open Season (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Humans are their prey.

This is the type of film that has a really great concept, but ends up being ruined with its poor execution. It is based on the novel ‘The All-Americans’ by David D. Osborn, who also co-wrote the screenplay. The story involves three ‘All-American’ suburban family men (Peter Fonda, Richard Lynch, and John Phillip Law) who once year go on a ‘hunting trip’ except here they hunt people. They typically pick their victims up at random and then drive them to their isolated hunting lodge in the woods. They feed and entertain them for a week and then give them a few supplies as well as a compass and tell them that the highway is twenty-five miles north.  If they are able to make it to the highway they are free and if not the three men will hunt them down like animals. The victims are always given a thirty minute head start, but none of them ever make it. The movie focuses on a man and woman (Alberto de Mendoza, Cornelia Sharpe) that are having an affair and are kidnapped by the three outside of a truck stop.

The beginning is well-done and quite easily the best part of the whole film. It goes back in time to when the three men where in college and accused of gang raping a young lady.  To the shock of the girl’s mother the prosecuting attorney tells them they have no case because these boys are great athletes with stellar reputations and nobody would believe they would do something like that. I liked this part for two reasons. One is the fact that at least we are given some sort of history to these culprits. A lot of movies never do this and you always wonder how these psychos where able to get away with it for so long. At least here we are given a backstory and somewhat plausible one at that.  Many sociopaths have been able to fool people for years simply because they smart enough to play the respectable role in society and bring out their deviance only when it is completely safe to do so. Also, athletes, especially in the past, where given much more leeway and many of their transgressions would get over-looked. So to me this made a lot sense and helped get me into the movie right away. I also liked the imagery used over the opening credits as well as the very haunting music score.

I also liked how the film then cuts to the present day showing the men at a neighborhood block party and interacting with their wives and kids. The three actors are perfect for their parts.  They were all B-actors who’ve made a career playing sleazy characters and fall into the roles easily. Richard Lynch is especially good. In real life he once set himself on fire in 1967 while taking LSD and his scarred, pale, and rough looking face always makes a creepy impression. Director Peter Collinson does some good camera work with detailed bird’s-eye view shots that show how sprawling the forest is and indeed gives the viewer a very remote feeling.

Unfortunately the rest of the film goes downhill. Part of the problem is that there is just too much talking.  In fact the whole middle section is spent with a lot of drawn out conversations that aren’t interesting, or well-written. It saps the tension out of the film until there isn’t any left.  It isn’t until the very end that they finally get around to letting the victims go out into the woods and then tracking them down. However, this too is poorly handled. The action is limited and not well choreographed. The whole sequence goes by too quickly and comes off like it was nothing more than an after-thought that fails to take advantage of its immense forest setting.  In fact for a film with such a sadistic and exploitive theme there is actually very little violence to speak of and no gore at all. The three bad guys also end up becoming quite banal and one-dimensional. They show no distinctive personalities whatsoever as they agree with each other on everything and seem to do nothing more than laugh and guffaw and each other’s juvenile jokes and antics.

If you are interested in watching this film then please don’t read any further as it may be considered a spoiler:

The film’s twist ending is weak as well. It features actor William Holden (a very accomplished actor and why he took this role, which amounts to nothing more than a cameo, I will never know) playing the father of the girl that the three men raped in college. He secretly followed the men on their hunting trip and decides to have his revenge by gunning them down just like they had done to all their victims. Again, the action here is handled in an unexciting and unimaginative way. I couldn’t buy into the fact that these men, who supposedly fought in Vietnam, would panic so quickly and act like a bunch of scared children the minute they found out that they were being shot at. They show no savvy or survival skills and allow themselves to be easily picked-off in an uninspired fashion.

I have always enjoyed Deliverance and I liked how this film used a variation of that theme where instead of the civilized man going out and coming to terms with the savage of the wilderness they instead go into the wilderness to come to terms with their own, inner savage. More action, better tweaking of the characters, and a faster pace and this film could’ve been a cult classic as the ingredients are all there. As it is now though I think it is much too bland to interest or intrigue anybody.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: November 1, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 44Minutes

Rated R

Director: Peter Collinson

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: VHS

Apartment Zero (1988)

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: This friendship gets weird.

Adrian LeDuc (Colin Firth) is living in Buenos Aires, Argentina and owner of a cinema that specializes in showing classics from Hollywood’s golden era. Unfortunately it is not making enough money and he is having trouble paying for his apartment after his mother has a mental breakdown and forced into an institution.  He decides to rent out the empty bedroom to help defer costs. After going through several would-be candidates he decides to take-in a handsome and mysterious man by the name of Jack Carter (Hart Bochner). Despite Adrian’s anti-social tendencies and extreme fixation on movies and movie trivia he takes an immediate liking to Jack even though Jack has a totally opposite personality. As their relationship progresses different sides to their personalities come out and the two create a very odd co-dependency to the other. Things grow troubling as a serial killer is on the loose and Adrian begins to suspect that it might be Jack.

The film shares some strong elements to two very brilliant films that also happen to be personal favorites: Joseph Loosey’s The Servant and The Tenant. Like with those movies this film delves into the dark human psyche and how the passive-aggressive nature of relationships can bring out sides to a person that had never before been seen. Despite the slow, deliberate pace I found myself almost hypnotically wrapped up in the story and characters from the get go. The leads are full of interesting idiosyncrasies and watching how it all evolves becomes infinitely fascinating.

Firth is splendid as usual in the difficult role. I found it interesting how he is so cold and unforgiving with most everyone, but weak and emotionally needy with both his mother and Jack. His thorough knowledge of movie trivia makes a lot of his conversations that he has with Jack are both fun and unique. The part where tells Jack that he refused to befriend someone simply because he did not know who actress Geraldine Page was is a great line and the only one that I remember from when I first saw it over 20 years ago. I also got a kick out of the game that they play where they name three stars and then the other person must guess what film all of them were in. I appreciated the way director Martin Donovan helps accentuate the characters personality by decorating his apartment with portraits of classic film stars. However, for all of Adrian’s vast cinema knowledge he does get one thing wrong. He states that the film Compulsion was released in 1958 when it really was 1959.

Hart Bochner is alright as Jack, but I did not feel that his performance equaled that of Firth’s. He seemed too much of a male hunk for my tastes. He was also way too normal for too long of a time and I would have liked to have seen a little more hints to his supposed dark side come out earlier. There is also a scene where Jack obtains a fake passport, which he tries to use to board a flight in order to leave the country. He hands the document to a ticket agent for inspection while looking visibly nervous and sweating profusely, which didn’t seem consistent. In every other scenario he had been shown to be cool and confident, so I didn’t understand why he would suddenly lose his composure so badly especially when you take into account he has lived his whole life on the run and most expectedly been through these same situations hundreds of times before. The way he takes off his shirt is also weird and I felt needed explanation even though none is given as he strips it off his body, then rubs it underneath both of his armpits before he then smells it.

The elderly tenants that make up the rest of the building population are amusing, but not really needed. Dora Bryan and Liz Smith are goofy as two elderly sisters who spend their time being snoopy and gossipy, but unfortunately their mannerisms ended up reminding me too much of the Pigeon sisters from The Odd Couple movie. These comical scenes are passable, but tend to take away from the suspense and overall dark theme and seem to be remnants from writer/director Donavan’s career as a TV-sitcom writer, which he did for over three decades before he was finally able to break into film. I also couldn’t buy the one scene showing every one of the tenants watching the same news show at the same exact time as I am sure even in 1980’s Argentina there would have to be a variety of channels and programs to choose from and everyone wouldn’t just be sitting and watching the same thing.

The final hour is when this thing really seems to get going. The last fifteen minutes becomes a barrage of one macabre image, situation, and comment after another and my only complaint was that it took too long to get there, yet it is worth it. The twist at the end is memorably shocking and I wished that the camera had focused in on the grotesqueness of it more and not just shown it for a brief few seconds before cutting away as it would have been more effective. Still if you like intelligent psychological thrillers this one hits the mark and the Buenos Aires setting helps give it an added flavor.

My Rating 8 out of 10

Released: September 30, 1988

Runtime: 2Hours 4Minutes

Rated R

Director: Martin Donovan

Studio: The Summit Company

Available: VHS, DVD