1981

Body Heat (1981, Lawrence Kasdan)

Sumptuous is unfortunately not the right word to describe Body Heat. I wish it were because sumptuous just sounds hot, temperature-wise. And Body Heat is all about heat. It takes place in during a very hot Florida summer, its cast dripping with sweat, constantly in search of a cool breeze or a cool drink. Functioning air conditioning too.

The film opens with lead William Hurt watching a building burn in the distance. Lots of arson for insurance money going on in the small city. Hurt’s a lawyer, the type who defends arsonists and general fraudsters. He’s not good at his job, but he’s charming, good-looking, and likable enough. He’s maybe too objectively stupid to be particularly sympathetic, but the liability and charm goes a long way. Despite his questionable lawyering, he’s a local ladies man, regaling pals Ted Danson and J.A. Preston with his exploits. Danson’s the county prosecutor who regularly beats Hurt in court but there are no hard feelings, they’re good friends. Preston’s the town’s single detective; he looks on Hurt a little more paternally than fraternally, which gives the relationship some texture. Hurt’s relationships with Danson and Preston, which never have enough drama to even be C plots, are one of writer and director Kasdan’s great accomplishments in the film. There’s a history between the men, a warm one (not a Heat pun), and as it gets more and more strained, it’s affecting to watch. Hurt’s friends see the best in him, even when he doesn’t.

For texture Danson gets a whole Fred Astaire wannabe thing, dancing in and out of rooms, or just while he’s walking along. It’s a fun character trait.

Again, Kasdan’s got all sorts of wonderful details. Plus Danson—not a short man—is great at the dancing.

Things start getting complicated when Hurt sets his sights on married woman Kathleen Turner. She’s an ideal conquest—her husband’s out of town during the week—and she’s able to keep up with Hurt’s innuendo banter. Kasdan does a phenomenal job with the innuendo banter; you wish there was more of it but Hurt’s able to seduce her pretty quickly so things go quickly from banter to lovey-dovey talk. Hurt’s rather receptive to the lovey-dovey when it comes from Turner. The film establishes in the first scene he’s not from his regular paramours, but they’re also not stinking rich and have actual jobs; as long as its a week night, Turner and Hurt are able to just have sex marathons, breaking only when physically exhausted in her luxurious house.

Sumptuous is the right word to describe the house.

And things carry on pretty well, even after the film introduces Turner’s husband (an appropriately nebulously creepy Richard Crenna); Hurt and Turner even survive getting busted by her best friend (Kim Zimmer) and niece (Carola McGuinness). But then Hurt runs into Turner and Crenna at a restaurant, leading to an incredibly awkward dinner, and then they start talking about how much nicer life would be if Crenna weren’t around anymore. After all, Hurt knows plenty of lowlife criminals (Mickey Rourke, who’s awesome in a small part) and he’s tapped into the law and order side thanks to Danson and Preston.

Can Hurt and Turner go from a passionate affair to something more dangerous? Well, maybe the more appropriate phrasing is can they successfully go from their passionate affair to something more dangerous.

The film’s got a fantastic lead performance from Hurt, who’s so charming, good-looking, and likable it isn’t even initially obvious he might not be the sharpest knife in the drawer. And Turner’s always playing him for some reason, it’s just not clear what. Body Heat has no illusions about its leads’ affair. John Barry’s booming, sweeping, jazzy-ish score is never romantic. Tragic, sure. But never romantic. Even if Turner is capable of it, there’s never a sign Hurt could be.

She’s hot, sure, but rich and hot is twice as good.

Then there’s the lush Richard H. Kline photography—the film looks sharp but muggy, like through a heat haze—and Kasdan’s spectacular direction. Kasdan goes all out with composition, both for static shots and the swooping crane shots. All of them cut together sublimely, courtesy Carol Littleton. Body Heat is a technical marvel.

Then there’s the script. Outside the lovey-dovey talk, where Turner turns the tables (no pun) on Hurt, it’s all sharp, deliberate. Kasdan does a great job directing the actors. Big parts, small parts, everyone in Body Heat gives an outstanding performance. The way Hurt delivers the dialogue is something special. The filmmaking elevates Heat from its thriller and suspense tropes already—but Hurt’s performance (along with Turner’s, though in a different way) make it a singular picture.

It’s pulp but it’s not. It’s too humid to be pulp. The pulp gets waterlogged. Body Heat is exceptional.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan; director of photography, Richard H. Kline; edited by Carol Littleton; music by John Barry; production designer, Bill Kenney; produced by Fred T. Gallo; released by Warner Bros.

Starring William Hurt (Ned Racine), Kathleen Turner (Matty Walker), Ted Danson (Peter Lowenstein), J.A. Preston (Oscar Grace), Lanna Saunders (Roz Kraft), Carola McGuinness (Heather Kraft), Mickey Rourke (Teddy Lewis), Kim Zimmer (Mary Ann), Jane Hallaren (Stella), and Richard Crenna (Edmund Walker).


It’s Magic, Charlie Brown (1981, Phil Roman)

It’s Magic, Charlie Brown is the dramatically inert tale of Charlie Brown (Michael Mandy) turning invisible. It takes a while for him to turn invisible, with the first half or so of the special spent on a magic show. Magic opens with Charlie Brown demanding Snoopy go to the library to better himself. Because Charlie Brown is a bit of a jerk?

Snoopy gets a magic book and, mere moments later, is putting on his first show. He goes through a series of tricks, culminating in turning Charlie Brown invisible. The tricks are… eh. Charles M. Schulz’s script doesn’t have any decent laughs in it, but Snoopy dealing with a heckling kid is all right and the Peppermint Patty-related scene could be a lot worse. Everything in Magic is drawn out. Director Roman will just let a moment hang, with nothing going except the annoying Ed Bogas and Judy Munsen music. Even when things aren’t dragging, they’re not engaging. Snoopy’s got to learn how to make Charlie Brown visible again, leading to a scene in his doghouse lair where he’s learning alchemy. It could be a funny scene. Probably. It’s not though. No one’s invested enough in Magic to make it play well.

Maybe if the gags weren’t so tepid. Snoopy and Woodstock giggling together before the opening titles is the most charming the special ever gets and there’s not even a gag to it. They’re just giggling. They appear to be having a good time; no one else in Magic ever does.

The second half–after Charlie Brown scares sister Sally (Cindi Reilly)–is mostly Lucy motivating Snoopy to make Charlie Brown visible again. Sydney Penny plays Lucy. She’s got a lot of dialogue in the last third. She’s not good.

Magic is way too long and way too light. There are some neat animation ideas–Charlie Brown, invisible, in the rain–but also some rather wanting animation sequences. During the period where Charlie Brown’s invisible and the shots are just panning over backgrounds, it feels like they just didn’t want to be troubled with animating a full special.

Plus that exceptionally grating music just gets worse as Magic goes along.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Phil Roman; written by Charles M. Schulz; edited by Roger Donley and Chuck McCann; music by Ed Bogas and Judy Munsen; produced by Bill Melendez; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Michael Mandy (Charlie Brown), Sydney Penny (Lucy van Pelt), Cindi Reilly (Sally Brown), Casey Carlson & Shannon Cohn (Marcie), Rocky Reilly (Linus van Pelt), and Brent Hauer (Peppermint Patty).


Someday You’ll Find Her, Charlie Brown (1981, Phil Roman)

Someday You’ll Find Her, Charlie Brown is the cringe-inducing tale of Charlie Brown (Grant Wehr) and Linus (Rocky Reilly) stalking a girl Charlie Brown saw at a football game on TV. She was in a “honey shot,” which is already makes things cringe-y because these are eight year-old kids. Regardless of whether or not Charlie Brown ought to be scoping out strange girls on television, why is the cameraman doing it?

With Snoopy and Woodstock in tow, Linus and Charlie Brown go to the football stadium to look for clues. Charlie Brown’s too scared to talk to the ticket sellers, so he sends in Linus. Meanwhile–in one of the special’s few amusing moments–Snoopy and Woodstock get into trouble in the weight-lifting room. The ticket sellers don’t have the information so they send the boys to the downtown ticket office, where season ticket holder information is kept.

And because it’s a cartoon for kids, the downtown ticket office is more than happy to provide Linus (because Charlie Brown is too scared to talk to them) with the girl’s address. So then they go see the girl–ditching Snoopy and Woodstock–and it’s the wrong girl. She’s “comically” grotesque, not beautiful; why would Charlie Brown like her. He’s a pig at eight, after all.

So then they call their next suspect, who has a grating phone voice so Linus tells Charlie Brown he doesn’t want to meet her. But then they go anyway.

The quest continues, with the boys ending out at a farm–where Snoopy and Woodstock are also coincidentally headed (they’re not there to assist, just roaming). Snoopy gets into it with a cat, which is… almost amusing, but Someday has gotten so icky at this point it’d be hard for anything in it to amuse.

The finale skips the valuable life lesson Charlie Brown could’ve learned–not having Linus talk to everyone for him–and instead concentrates on his sad situation. It’s a really downbeat, perfunctory ending. If there were a morale, Someday might not be so bad. But there’s not. It’s just over. Thankfully.

Wehr’s exceptionally unlikable as Charlie Brown. He’s not active enough to be a creep, but he’s a little turd. Reilly’s performance is probably worse. He’s just nowhere near as unlikable. Bad writing from Charles M. Schulz throughout (so bad I was surprised to see he’d written Someday; the opening titles only credit him with creating “Peanuts,” not writing the special as well–which is his usual credit).

Unbearable music from Ed Bogas and Judy Munsen. Exceptionally lazy animation.

Someday is a weird waste of time, probably of interest only to people considering how popular children’s entertainment of the eighties contributed to male entitlement and toxic masculinity.

Nice backgrounds maybe? And, even poorly animated, Snoopy and Woodstock are funny. Or would be if their gags weren’t in this icky cartoon.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Phil Roman; written by Charles M. Schulz; edited by Roger Donley and Chuck McCann; music by Ed Bogas and Judy Munsen; produced by Bill Melendez; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Grant Wehr (Charlie Brown), Rocky Reilly (Linus van Pelt), Nicole Eggert (Loretta), Melissa Strawmyer (Teenager), and Jennifer Gaffin (Mary Jo).


Madame X (1981, Robert Ellis Miller)

Madame X never has good pacing. The movie starts with Tuesday Weld on trial, in old age makeup. She refuses to identify herself, hence the title, and won’t even assist her lawyer, Martina Deignan, in her own defense. Weld’s completely passive in the scene. Robert Hooks’s prosecuting attorney closing arguments dominate the scene, setting a problematic tone for the next hundred or so minutes.

Weld is the “star” of Madame X, and while she’s the subject of the movie, writer Edward Anhalt and director Miller never let her be its protagonist. Not for long anyway; not in the second half, when it matters. Instead, the supporting cast runs the movie. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. What’s worse is how good Weld is during most of the latter type. After a too long setup, Madame X turns into a series of vignettes with different guest stars. Weld doesn’t get much to do in these scenes, except be a little bit more of a fallen woman. Without material or even the movie’s attention, she’s great. While the script might not trying to build a character, Weld’s working on it.

And then in the narratively defective third act, when Anhalt’s script does give Weld some agency again, Madame X backtracks some of the work she’s done and gives her a shallow melodramatic finish. Madame X never wants to be anything but affecting melodrama; it’s one tragedy after another. And it’s not about them not adding up into anything, it’s about that anything not getting the time it needs.

The script has a real problem emphasizing the right character. Ellis’s direction doesn’t help. Some of the problems might just be the nature of TV movies, like defense attorney Deignan not getting enough time. When it seems like she might get some development, the third act surprise takes it away from her. That third act surprise disappoints too. There’s just no time for it–Madame X needed at least another ten minutes, maybe twenty.

So, while Weld’s the lead and she’s good at the beginning, problematic in the middle, great in the second half, persevering at the finish, Madame X is about the supporting cast. Weld might be in the foreground, but all the focus is on the background. Sometimes literally. Woody Omens’s photography is competent and effective; the content’s sometimes a mess but Omens shoots it fine. Madame X travels the world, but was probably all shot around L.A.; Omens hides it as well as he can.

Anyway. The supporting cast. Best is Jeremy Brett. He’s second-billed, which initially suggests he’s going to have a substantial presence. He doesn’t. But he’s great when he’s in the film. Then maybe Len Cariou. But the script fails him. So maybe Eleanor Parker. Script fails her too, but in different ways than Cariou. Parker’s one-note in her scenes with Weld. She’s a good mean matriarch but in her scenes with other people, she’s got a lot more texture. It’s the script. Anhalt’s script does no one any favors during dramatic sequences. Well, maybe Brett.

Then there’s Jerry Stiller. He’s not good, but he’s fine.

Granville Van Dusen is too slight. Even when he tries, he’s too slight. The script’s not good to him either. Robin Strand, billed like he’s going to have a real part, has a couple scenes. He’s not good. He’s likable, sort of, but he’s not good. The script even goes out of its way to make him sort of likable, which it rarely does for anyone.

Until the third act, Madame X seems like it’s going to be able to coast on Weld’s performance. It gets long once Weld gets demoted in agency–it’s long at the start because Van Dusen’s so boring and the script won’t get moving–but it gets real long once Weld stops leading it. Her performance develops to the point Madame X’s questionable attempts at soap opera melodrama don’t matter as much as what Weld’s going to do with them. Will it add up?

No. It won’t.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Ellis Miller; teleplay by Edward Anhalt, based on the play by Alexandre Bisson and the screenplay by Jean Holloway; director of photography, Woody Omens; edited by Skip Lusk; music by Angela Morley; produced by Paula Levenback and Wendy Riche; aired by the National Broadcasting Company.

Starring Tuesday Weld (Holly Richardson), Granville Van Dusen (Clay Richardson), Eleanor Parker (Katherine Richardson), Len Cariou (John Abbott), Jeremy Brett (Dr. Terrence Keith), Robin Strand (Willy Dwyer), Jerry Stiller (Burt Orland), Martina Deignan (Elizabeth Reeves), and Robert Hooks (Dist. Atty. Roerich).


Scanners (1981, David Cronenberg)

About a half hour into Scanners, the film starts to run out of its initial steam. Director Cronenberg (who also scripted) opens the film with some dynamic set pieces–lead Stephen Lack mind frying a mean woman, Lack on the run from goons, Patrick McGoohan chaining Lack down and torturing him (apparently), and Michael Ironside blowing up some guy’s head with his mind. Scanners is a lot right off. Oh, and then a car chase action sequence after the head explosion. Again, it’s a lot.

And then it’s time for the first exposition dump. McGoohan is trying to find “good” Scanners, who are telepaths, like Lack. Ironside is trying to find bad ones. Both want them as biological weapons, McGoohan just wants to sell them to humans. Ironside wants to subjugate the humans. Not all that information comes out at the first info dump, mostly just McGoohan bickering with security chief Lawrence Dane. Dane doesn’t trust McGoohan, but Cronenberg wants the viewer to side against Dane. It’s a confusing turn of events at the end, just because McGoohan’s not a sympathetic character and Dane seems square but level-headed.

Then Lack comes in and goes on a secret mission around Canada as a double agent to join Ironside’s group. Previous to this point in his life story, Lack’s character had been homeless. Now he’s a well-dressed Canadian, kind of a maple syrup James Bond. Only he’s not particularly good at the secret agent stuff. Eventually he meets a girl Scanner–Jennifer O’Neill–who he actually treats terribly and roughly, which is a little disconcerting at times because apparently Lack is supposed to be sympathetic and likable. He’s not, of course, because his performance has all the life of a once damp towel. Same for O’Neill. Same for McGoohan. Dane gives the film’s best performance almost by default.

Well, except for Ironside. I mean, Cronenberg front loads the film with action. He saves some effects work for the grand finale, but there’s no action to it. There’s exposition, there’s pointless contrivance. Cronenberg keeps throwing out big revelations to try to get some emotional connection to the characters, but they’re impervious–Ironside should be intellectually sympathetic but Cronenberg can’t swing it. He really does rely on Lack instead and Lack crumbles, time and again.

But until the late second act, Ironside’s a perfectly good thuggish villain. Sure, he’s also a millionaire war profiteer but it’s Canada, it’s just how Canadian millionaire war profiteering Scanners who operate out of desolate office parks operate.

Nice photography from Mark Irwin, some occasionally strong editing from Ronald Sanders. Once O’Neill and Lack have teamed up in their chemistry-free quest for… it’s unclear. Cronenberg has at least two jumbo red herrings in the script just to keep things moving, which might work at ninety minutes but at over a hundred it’s a slog.

Howard Shore’s music is competent, occasionally Hitchcockian, but most often too much. Cronenberg never really gets a sense of the locations in the film and Shore’s music defaults to filling in mood. But it’s not good at filling in mood.

Really, until O’Neill shows up and becomes Lack’s Eva Marie Saint, Scanners can almost get through. Cronenberg’s got Dane, he’s got Ironside. Sure, Lack’s vacant but maybe he’s supposed to be vacant in that poorly acted way. The strange part about the film is how the first act’s well-plotted. Shame the rest of it is either aimless or misguided.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by David Cronenberg; director of photography, Mark Irwin; edited by Ronald Sanders; music by Howard Shore; produced by Claude Hèroux; released by AVCO Embassy Pictures.

Starring Stephen Lack (Cameron Vale), Patrick McGoohan (Dr. Paul Ruth), Jennifer O’Neill (Kim Obrist), Michael Ironside (Darryl Revok), Lawrence Dane (Braedon Keller), and Robert A. Silverman (Benjamin Pierce).


The Great Muppet Caper (1981, Jim Henson)

The Great Muppet Caper is rather easy to describe. It’s joyous spectacle. The film has four screenwriters and not a lot of story. Instead, it’s got some fabulous musical numbers. Director Henson really goes for old Hollywood musical, complete with Miss Piggy doing an aquatic number. It also has a bunch of great one-liners and visual gags. The finale isn’t some masterful heist sequence, it’s the Muppets being really funny in their environment and to one another. It’s delightful. Henson is primarily concerned with creating delight. Not entertaining. Being entertaining, being diverting, these two things are very different from creating delight.

Muppet Caper is also technically excellent–Oswald Morris’s photography, Ralph Kemplen’s editing. Henson directs the film in a matter-of-fact, expository nature, then turns it around and makes the viewing of the film engage with the acknowledgement of that exposition. Down to Diana Rigg explaining to Miss Piggy her dialogue is expository. It’s got to be Henson’s way of making the film appeal to both children and adults. Maybe more to adults and their children than the reverse. The human actors relish their roles–and how awesome is it the film pairs John Cleese and Joan Sanderson as the doddering English couple–and their enthusiasm carries over regardless of if a kid is going to fully appreciate it.

Though the best cameo might be Peter Falk just because he’s got an impossible monologue to deliver and he sells it perfectly.

The Great Muppet Caper is about singing and dancing and making people happy. And Charles Grodin having the hots for Miss Piggy. Sure, you need to be a little familiar with Charles Grodin to fully appreciate having him have the hots for Miss Piggy, but only to fully appreciate it. Muppet Caper only gently relies on its pop culture references. The Muppet Performers are so exceptionally good at what they do, at creating these wonderful felt creatures, the artistry is always there. Henson knows how to make this film; his confidence is stunning from the start.

Because it’s a delight from the start. The delight even gets it through some of the rougher songs–Joe Raposo does have a few great numbers, but the rest are mostly mediocre. Muppet Caper is awesome. Of course it’s awesome. It’s called The Great Muppet Caper and it’s directed by Jim Henson. What else would it be.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jim Henson; written by Tom Patchett, Jay Tarses, Jerry Juhl and Jack Rose; director of photography, Oswald Morris; edited by Ralph Kemplen; music by Joe Raposo; production designer, Harry Lange; produced by Frank Oz and David Lazer; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Dave Goelz, Jerry Nelson and Dave Goelz as the Muppets and Caroll Spinney (Oscar The Grouch).

Starring Charles Grodin (Nicky Holiday), Diana Rigg (Lady Holiday), Jack Warden (Mike Tarkanian), Erica Creer (Marla), Kate Howard (Carla), Della Finch (Darla), John Cleese (Neville), Joan Sanderson (Dorcas), Robert Morley (A Gentleman), Peter Ustinov (A Lorry Driver) and Peter Falk (A Tramp).


Halloween II (1981, Rick Rosenthal)

Halloween II is not always a crappy sequel set in a closed setting without any sympathetic characters. It is a crappy sequel set in a closed setting without any sympathetic characters. But it wasn’t always.

Even though it gets off to a rocky start–the recap of the first movie is too abbreviated for unfamiliar viewers and superfluous for familiar ones, not to mention director Rosenthal clearly unable to reign in Donald Pleasence’s enthusiasm for histrionics–the first twenty-five minutes has potential.

There’s a lot to blame Rosenthal for with Halloween II. His inability to direct actors or even to compose shots of actors is a big one. He doesn’t have a sense for it; he additionally wastes Dean Cundey’s cinematography skills for the majority of the film, which is one of the film’s greater sins. But there are a handful of decent moments in Halloween II and even a couple good ones. And lots of bad ones with just too many problematic pieces, but not mishandled entirely.

But Rosenthal’s not entirely responsible. Writers and producers John Carpenter and Debra Hill, instead of embracing a bigger budget studio sequel to their indie horror sensation (hyperbolic enough?)–they try to undermine it at every step. That first half hour has potential because you can see Hill and Carpenter thinking about things, thinking about the implications of the first film. In the second two-thirds (at ninety minutes and change, the film almost perfectly splits into three sections), after creating a goofy subplot to give Jamie Lee Curtis something to do besides play unconscious, they stop. They’ve moved into their new story, that crappy one in the closed setting without sympathetic characters. Halloween II is shockingly inept at its characterization.

As such, it’s hard for the supporting cast to give good performances. Gloria Gifford is fantastic. Lance Guest isn’t. Hunter von Leer is simultaneously terrible, miscast and likable. Some of Leo Rossi’s performance is similar. And Pleasence is a complete ham. He’s got maybe one decent moment. Rosenthal just can’t direct him at all.

Carpenter and Alan Howarth’s score is too loud, too thoughtless. The same can be said for the editing.

It’s a bad film but has enough qualities to prove it shouldn’t have been.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Rick Rosenthal; written and produced by John Carpenter and Debra Hill; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Mark Goldblatt and Skip Schoolnik; music by Carpenter and Alan Howarth; production designer, J. Michael Riva; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Jamie Lee Curtis (Laurie Strode), Donald Pleasence (Dr. Sam Loomis), Charles Cyphers (Sheriff Leigh Brackett), Jeffrey Kramer (Graham), Lance Guest (Jimmy Lloyd), Pamela Susan Shoop (Karen Bailey), Hunter von Leer (Deputy Gary Hunt), Leo Rossi (Budd), Gloria Gifford (Mrs. Alves), Tawny Moyer (Nurse Jill Franco), Ana Alicia (Janet Marshall), Ford Rainey (Dr. Frederick Mixter), Cliff Emmich (Mr. Garrett) and Nancy Stephens (Marion Chambers).


Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981, Steve Miner)

When director Miner finally does a decent sequence in Friday the 13th Part 2, it comes as something of a surprise. Amy Steel is on the run from the masked killer and, even though it’s stupid, it’s somewhat effective. Steel probably gives the film’s best performance (she’s still not any good) and Ron Kurz’s script gives her the most to do. She’s about the only character in the film who thinks. It’s kind of amazing how inept Kurz and Miner are at giving actors character motivation.

But Miner’s sort of off-step throughout the entire film. For the majority of Part 2–Miner shows the killer by his or her legs. Except the viewer isn’t trying to ascertain the killer’s identity, so why be so coy. Because it’s manipulative. It’s also a waste of time.

Miner also doesn’t seem comfortable spending much time with the potential victims. The constant cutting to the killer on the prowl drags the viewer away from any empathic connection to the characters in danger. Many of the directors of other films who Miner rips off here have successfully employed such devices.

There are a couple likable enough actors, Bill Randolph and Marta Kober, and Stuart Charno tries so hard to be annoyingly lovable one has to appreciate the gusto. Unfortunately, in the most obnoxious role, John Furey also gives a rather bad performance.

Harry Manfredini seems confused on the music, which doesn’t help.

Part 2 is artistically bankrupt and incredibly pointless, but does move well.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Steve Miner; screenplay by Ron Kurz, based on characters created by Victor Miller; director of photography, Peter Stein; edited by Susan E. Cunningham; music by Harry Manfredini; production designer, Virginia Field; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Amy Steel (Ginny), John Furey (Paul), Stuart Charno (Ted), Lauren-Marie Taylor (Vickie), Marta Kober (Sandra), Bill Randolph (Jeff), Tom McBride (Mark), Kirsten Baker (Terry), Russell Todd (Scott), Jack Marks (The Cop), Walt Gorney (Crazy Ralph) and Adrienne King (Alice).


The Funhouse (1981, Tobe Hooper)

The Funhouse is terrifying. Director Hooper opens the film with a dual homage to Halloween and Psycho and then proceeds to do something entirely different in the end of this film. Like those two films, he takes a while to get to the violent acts. He does, however, announce he’s going to terrify the audience from the get go. And he does. The first forty-five minutes of the film is Hooper getting ready to terrify the audience. And then he does. The finale, which probably only runs fifteen minutes, is exhausting.

What’s so amazing about the first thirty or forty minutes is how the film doesn’t have to go anywhere else. It’s just a bunch of teenagers hanging out at a carnival, with Elizabeth Berridge’s protagonist on her first date with an older boy (Cooper Huckabee). She’s had a fight with her younger brother and he heads out to the carnival after she tells him she won’t be taking him. It could be a short movie about small town life.

Until almost halfway through, the carnival just seems dangerous. It’s never explicitly dangerous. Hooper and writer Lawrence Block spend more time on making Berridge give in to Huckabee’s affections than anything else. Well, anything else obvious. Hooper’s very subtly preparing the audience for the horror show.

Excellent performances help. Berridge is a great lead, Largo Woodruff is great as her friend. Kevin Conway is fantastic; his sincerity sells the danger.

The Funhouse is an awesome, frightening, exhilarating motion picture.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Tobe Hooper; written by Lawrence Block; director of photography, Andrew Laszlo; edited by Jack Hofstra; music by John Beal; production designer, Mort Rabinowitz; produced by Derek Power and Steven Bernhardt; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Elizabeth Berridge (Amy Harper), Cooper Huckabee (Buzz Dawson), Miles Chapin (Richie), Largo Woodruff (Liz), Sylvia Miles (Madame Zena), William Finley (Marco the Magnificent), Wayne Doba (Frankenstein’s Monster), Shawn Carson (Joey Harper) and Kevin Conway (The Barker).


Mad Max 2 (1981, George Miller)

Mad Max 2 might be the perfect example of pure action. Besides a couple extended dialogue moments–maybe the only times Mel Gibson’s protagonist gets to talk without Brian May’s music over him or just the fantastic sound effects drowning him out–it’s all action. It’s kind of incredible how far director Miller pushes the idea of not needing dialogue.

Sure, the film has some exposition, but the villains probably talk more than the good guys. Except Bruce Spence. He starts out as Gibson’s prisoner, then becomes his affable sidekick. He doesn’t hold any grudges for Gibson cuffing him to a tree in the middle of nowhere….

Miller gets away with so much in the film–there’s a bunch with these people Gibson’s helping and Miller just knows how to do a short scene then get out. The viewer’s memory of the scene makes more of an impact than the actual scene.

The film delivers amazing vehicular action. There’s time for humor–most of it coal black–there’s time for flirting, but there’s never any confusion. Max is about real cars doing amazing things. The practical effects are phenomenal.

Gibson’s great. Almost silent, his intense and still somehow muted expressions make the film work.

The supporting acting’s all good, but without standouts. Except maybe Emil Minty, who’s perfect as the Feral Kid. That character name says it all.

The film moves quickly, only slowing in the last act… when Miller briefly gets too cute.

Otherwise, Max’s wonderfully lean and mean.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by George Miller; written by Terry Hayes, Miller and Brian Hannant; director of photography, Dean Semler; edited by Michael Balson, David Stiven and Tim Wellburn; music by Brian May; produced by Byron Kennedy; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Mel Gibson (Max), Bruce Spence (The Gyro Captain), Michael Preston (Pappagallo), Max Phipps (The Toadie), Vernon Wells (Wez), Kjell Nilsson (The Humungus), Virginia Hey (Warrior Woman) and Emil Minty (The Feral Kid).


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