Film Blitz

The Borrower (John McNaughton) – Anyone expecting ‘Henry II’ (“After Henry”?) is in for a shock. This is totally different in style and tone, resembling ‘The Hidden’ more than anything, with bits of ‘Re-Animator’ as well. An alien, exiled to Earth in human form, wanders round taking people’s heads (hence the title) and using them for it’s own, to the perplexment of policewoman Rae Dawn Chong. She has another problem too, a rapist she caught has escaped and is out for revenge. There’s the crux: the film is almost two different ones joined at the hip, and the strands always seem disparate. Although only normal length, it also feels about 20 minutes too long as the alien wanders rounds without doing much. Still, Antonio “Huggy Bear” Fargas makes a delightful wino! 6/10.

Cyrano de Bergerac (Jean-Paul Rappeneau) – Curious how both Gerard Depardieu’s best known roles have been deformed, tragic heroes at the mercy of other people. If anything, Depardieu’s even better here than he was in ‘Jean de Florette’, and the first half of CdB is sheer magic, almost a one-man show as the character is established as a cross between Robin Williams and Indiana Jones, helping his cousin to woo a girl, whom he desperately loves himself. However, squint beyond Depardieu’s dazzling performance and the rest of the cast look distinctly average, and the film grinds gently to a near-halt by the end. Definite contender for performance of the year to date though. 8/10.

Deathstalker: Match of Titans (Howard Cohen) – Don’t confuse this with ‘Deathstalker’, or ‘Deathstalker II: Clash of the Titans’, as according to the end credits this is ‘Deathstalker 4: The Darkest Hour’. Now we’ve got that out of the way, I can tell you that the movie itself is astonishingly naff. Whatever happened to real sword and sorcery, with blood and bosoms? Rick Hall, the hero from the first movie, has returned to the role, and he brings a similar self-effacing humour to it as John Terlesky did in number 2. This helps a bit, as do the warrior women also competing in a tournament at a castle where the plot unfolds (the usual: evil princess and magic). And while it might be hard to dislike a film with an exchange like “A toast!”. “No, just some coffee…”, this movie almost manages to make you do it. 5/10.

Edward Scissorhands (Tim Burton) – The modified version of the 20th Century Fox logo which opens this film promises a magical, weird experience and Burton finally delivers in spades what’s been visible in flashes through the rest of his career, It’s one of the most beautiful films I’ve seen, right up there with ‘Legend’, and quite restores my faith in Hollywood. Johnny Depp, to my surprise. is very good in the title role, a Quasimodo/Frankenstein type with shears instead of hands, rescued by an Avon lady from his castle home. He then takes up topiary and hairdressing, although things go wrong when he’s led astray by the girl he loves (Winona Ryder, finally hitting puberty at 18 and filling out nicely!). The first half is generally comic, with most attempts at subtlety sharply cut off by amusing but annoying humour. Complemented by Danny Elfman’s score, the second part cuts the comedy and is superb, containing perfect moments such as Edward’s sculpting of an ice angel which sent a shiver down my spine. The story-telling isn’t faultless – important elements are thrown in almost casually – but everything else, right down to the set design, is nearly without flaw. 9/10.

Film Gore (various) – A vaguely interesting but largely pointless collection of film clips, hosted by the cultish but rather boring Elvira. The films are variously gory but yawn inducingly dull (Blood Feast), ungory but nasty and even scary (Texas Chainsaw), gory and effective (Driller Killer), totally ungory and totally boring (Dr.Jekyll’s Dungeon of Doom) and a bit gory but barely interesting (Astrozombies). Put together by Ken Dixon, who later followed this with ‘Zombiethon’ (containing the same Astrozombies footage and music), this was one of the first compilation tapes in America, soon to be followed by ‘Best of Sex and Violence’ and other cut ‘n’ paste videos. Elvira is far from being a highlight – she constantly interrupts the clips offering offensively unfunny jokes, remarks and puns. Load in, press play and keep your finger ready for fast forwards. (AM)

Hamlet (Franco Zeffirelli) – I must be one of the few people who’d have gone to see this even without Mad Mel, Helena Bonham-Carter (Britain’s answer to Winona Ryder?) being sufficient justification. Having said that, Mel’s not a bad Lethal Hamlet, especially when he goes into Shakespearean Psycho mode. the first twenty minutes or so are almost incomprehensible as you struggle to find the verbs in iambic pentameter verse but as you get used to it, it becomes a tense thriller. Mel’s backed up well by a good cast, notably Ian Holm and (naturally) HB-C, who looks about 12, sounds about 25 and goes insane, singing to herself. It all builds to an effective climax before everyone dies (damn, I’ve given away the plot – I was slightly worried the studio execs might have insisted on a happy ending!), While it’s no classic interpretation, half the play vanishing in a struggle to get a realistic running-time, it’s a lot better than it could have been. 7/10.

In Broad Daylight (James Sadwith) – Supposedly based on fact, this film neatly reverses the “one vigilante against a million scum” theme, by having an entire town take on one redneck after his assault on a shopkeeper seems to be going unpunished by the law, thanks to legal legerdemain. This provides 80 or so minutes of highly effective menace, courtesy of Brian Dennehy as the villain, definitely not the sort of guy you’d want to meet down any alley, dark or otherwise. That’s really about it; a long, slow-burning fuse, with more a whimper than a bang at the end. Such is the price of docudrama, since the same can probably be said for most of real life itself (even when transformed into cinema). Still, Dennehy delivers enough frisson to carry the film as a whole, even if it all feels not unlike a TV movie, albeit a grimy, well-done one. 8/10.

The Hard Way (John Badham) – Yet another buddy-buddy cop movie, except this time, one cop is really an actor, Nick Lang, pretending to be a cop to prepare for a part. This spoilt brat is played by Michael J.Fox – you will not be surprised to hear he is quite good at this. However, the REAL cop is James Woods and you will not be surprised to hear he is VERY good, combining manic tension, hyperactivity and self-doubt as he searches for the Party Crasher, a serial killer who calls the cops before each murder. He’s taken off the case to babysit Lang – does this stop him? You will not be surprised, etc, etc. This predictability runs through the movie but the joy to be had watching Woods struggling to call Fox “Susan” more than makes up for this. Keep an eye out for one glaring continuity error – the finale takes place on an enormous billboard head, whose eyes move when seen in close-up but in long-shot they’re embarrassingly static… 7/10.

A Hazard of Hearts (John Hough) – Avoiding the usual TC film accompaniment of a can of Guinness, a box of choccies was considered more appropriate for this Babs Cartland inspired melodrama. Taken in the right spirit, it’s fun – a thoroughly evil villain (James Fox) menacing poor orphaned heiress (and part-time gambling stake) Helena Bonham-Carter, Gareth Hunt as a highwayman for very little reason and Diana Rigg spitting poison and chewing scenery, some time before “Mother Love”. Though not quite Gothic enough (it needed a “Gone, and never called me Mother!” scene) and with some stultifyingly inept performances – we won’t mention names – it wasn’t as sugary as I expected given the author and any sick feeling can be blamed on an overdose of Milk Tray. Pass the soft centres. 8/10.

Mermaids (Richard Benjamin) – Every so often a film appears that confounds all expectations. On the other hand, this is exactly how I expected it to be, ruined by the plastic surgery disaster called Cher. Too much rhinoplasty means she has no alternative but to look down her nose as if the rest of the characters smelt funny. A shame, as you CAN empathise with them, whether it’s Bob Hoskins as a Jewish shoe-salesman or Winona as the daughter who wants to be a nun, but whose hormones aren’t listening (another shower scene & on-screen loss of virginity for her). She wanders round with eyes like saucers (this, I can cope with!) and gets pleasantly more screen time than her billing would suggest. The soundtrack is hideous 60’s crap, the only redeeming feature being that Cher’s “Shoop Shoop Song” is played over the end credits so you can avoid it. Two off for Cher, 6/10.

The Most Dangerous Woman Alive (Christian Marnham) – Such a title promises a fair amount of sleaze, and certainly this isn’t short on female flesh. It’s also more subversive than you might expect: a female Army cadet is raped by her C.O. and, after he’s acquitted by a court-martial, she recruits other women-with-grudges, and starts extracting her revenge on those she regards as responsible. Marete van Kamp plays her with the right degree of insanity, and Robert Lipton gets bonus points for cool as the covert operations man sent to investigate the disappearances. While there’s the usual cliches such as the bad girl who isn’t really, and the last half an hour is totally predictable, overall, it’s a pleasant surprise. 7/10.

Night of the Living Dead (Tom Savini) – If you liked the original, you’ll probably hate this remake but I’m not really a fan of Romero’s first zombie pic – a milestone film that looks badly dated and cheap now – so found this fun. Savini drags NotLD into the 80’s: not quite the 90’s, but significantly further on. The original plot needs no description, and is almost exactly reproduced, though tweaked (especially towards the end) to keep your interest going. ‘Barbara’ is beefed up to almost Sigourney Weaver standard and the gore is too, though it’s well short of ‘Dawn’ or ‘Day’. About the only change that I felt didn’t help was the removal of 95% of the TV scenes, which for me were one of the original’s strong points. 7/10.

Vigilante (William Lustig) – Surprisingly decent movie from the man behind the ultra-sleazy ‘Maniac’, here Lustig restrains himself well to good effect, avoiding both excessive sadism and glorification of the vigilante squad, led by Fred Williamson, who are the main characters. They gain a recruit in the husband of a woman attacked by a gang, after the leader gets a minimal sentence, but he discovers that violence has two sides. Good, believable acting from the cast (including the late Joe Spinelli) and Lustig, much like Abel Ferrara, has an eye for the grimier side of urban life. 8/10.