Cinemax Friday: Die Watching (1993, directed by Charles Davis)

Mentally scarred by the night that his mother murdered his father, Michael Terrence (Christopher Atkins) is a video editor who makes his living filming naked models and who deals with his mental issues by then asphyxiating those same models.  Michael’s main kink is that he ties his victims up in front of a monitor and then films them as they die, basically forcing them to witness their own murders.  In other words, Michael is one sick puppy who has perhaps seen Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom a few too many times.

Despite the fact that dead actresses and models are turning up all over Los Angeles, Detectives Lewis (Tim Thomerson) and Barry (Carlos Palomino) have no idea that Michael is responsible.  In fact, no one suspects Michael.  His neighbor, an aspiring artist named Nola (Vali Ashton), even hires Michael to help her promote her artwork.  Despite the fact that Nola already has a boyfriend, she and Michael fall in love.  Falling in love causes Michael to lose his urge to kill but it may already be too late as a video of one of his murders has fallen into the wrong hands.

For some reason, Christopher Atkins was a direct-to-video and Cinemax mainstay in the 90s.  I’ve never understood why because he was a terrible actor with absolutely no screen presence.  Unlike C. Thomas Howell, who was bland in mainstream films but usually surprisingly good when he did direct-to-video work, Atkins was always forgettable regardless of whether he was appearing in a major studio production or something like Die Watching.  For a film like this to work, the film has to convince you that there’s at least a chance the murderer could have been a decent human being if not for his tragic past.  Atkins just comes across like a natural born weirdo.  Atkins gives a sweaty and nervous performance but he makes Michael so obviously disturbed that it’s impossible to buy that Nola would dump her boyfriend for him.  Judd Nelson or, again, C. Thomas Howell probably could have pulled off the role.  Christopher Atkins just feels wrong.

Of course, the target audience for this film doesn’t care about the acting or the plot or anything else.  They care about the women and those who watch a film like this solely for the nudity won’t be disappointed.  Vali Ashton is actually really likable as Nola, though the film is stolen by Erika Nann, who plays Nola’s sex-obsessed roommate and who gets the best lines.  (Of course, there’s a difference between getting the best lines in Die Watching and getting the best lines in something like Hamlet.)  It’s also good to see Tim Thomerson in practically anything, even when it’s something as dumb as Die Watching.  

Die Watching is pretty dire but it does predict the rise of a very specific type of internet culture.  When Michael accidentally sends one of his murder tapes to a producer instead of one of his sex tapes, the producer is not disturbed but instead, he’s intrigued by the commercial possibilities.  Even Michael knows that’s messed up!  If Die Watching were made today, of course, that producer would probably own an adult website and he would be talking about selling the murder videos on the dark web.  It just goes to show that the more things chance, the more they remain the same.


Death From Above: Beaks: The Movie (1987, directed by Rene Cardona, Jr.)

The birds are pissed off.  A hang glider gets pecked to death while flying through the sky.   A chicken farmer is devoured. A professional hunter loses an eye to a bird and then has to use the remaining one to watch as the birds savagely attack his granddaughter’s birthday party.  A family on vacation is forced to run for cover as their attacked by pigeons and doves.  From South America to Spain to Puerto Rico, the birds are organizing and they are attacking.  Can journalist Vanessa (Michelle Johnson) and her cameraman Peter (Christopher Atkins) figure out why the birds are attacking or are they destined to become the latest victims of the avian terror?

This may sound like the Hitchcock film but Beaks was directed by Mexico’s Rene Cardona, Jr. and that makes all the difference.  Following in the footsteps of his father, Cardona was the king of Mexican B-movies.  There was no idea strange enough or plot stupid enough that Rene Cardona, Jr. couldn’t take it and turn it into a really bad movie.  Even by his standards, Beaks is bad as pigeons and doves are tossed at screaming actors.  Why are the birds attacking?  Caronda shows us a polluted lake as if to say, “Any questions?”  In the end, the birds attack until they suddenly don’t anymore but don’t get too cocky because there are other animals out there that are looking mighty disgruntled.

For some reason, in the late 80s and early 90s, Christopher Atkins had a very busy career in bad movies.  Seeing the Atkins name in the cast was usually a good sign that it was time to change the channel.  In Beaks, he gets the best line when he says, “These birds know what they’re doing!”  The film’s second best line goes to another actor, Gabriele Tinti, who says, “Fucking bird, flapping everywhere.”

If Hitchcock made The Birds with less skill but more gore and gratuitous nudity, the end result would still be better than Beaks.