Criminal Law (1988, directed by Matin Campbell)


Gary Oldman is Ben Chase, a hotshot defense attorney who graduated from Harvard and now practices law in Boston.  That means that he gets to have a Boston accent and you know how much Gary Oldman loves playing a role with an accent.  Ben also has a pompadour because Gary Oldman always has something weird going on with his hair in almost every film he appears in.

Ben’s latest client is Martin Thiel (Kevin Bacon), a sociopathic rich kid who has been accused of murder.  Even though Ben thinks that Martin is probably guilty, he still gets Martin off the hook.  As soon as Martin get his acquittal, he starts murdering again.  Ben feels responsible so he decides that what he needs to do is trick Martin into implicating himself.  However, Martin knows what Ben is planning so, instead, he decides to frame Ben for the murders.  Somehow, it all links back to Martin’s feelings about abortion.  I guess Martin is against abortion or maybe he’s for it.  It was hard to keep track.  I watched the movie and I’m still not sure I followed everything that I saw.  It’s not that the plot is diabolically clever.  It’s just that it’s so incoherent that not a single plot point logically follows from another.

The film experiments with suggesting that there’s some sort of deeper connection between Martin and Ben.  Martin is obsessed with Ben and when Ben is in bed with his girlfriend, he briefly imagines that she’s turned into Martin and has a good old-fashioned freak out as a result.  It doesn’t make any sense.  First off, you have to believe that Ben can’t tell the difference between Kevin Bacon and his girlfriend.  Secondly, you have to then accept that Ben — a HARVARD GRADUATE — is so stupid that he would actually believe that his girlfriend had suddenly transformed into Kevin Bacon and must now be strangled.

Criminal Law is a film that you may be tempted to watch because of the pairing of Kevin Bacon and Gary Oldman but you’d be better off just watching JFK again.  They’re both great actors and and it’s always interesting to see them cast against type but neither one of them is particularly good in Criminal Law.  They’re let down by a script that doesn’t allow either one to create a consistent character.  Sometimes, Martin is a soulless attorney and other times, he’s a panicky social justice crusader.  Sometimes, Kevin Bacon is a clever sociopath and, other times, he’s just your typical mindless movie slasher.

On the plus side, Joe Don Baker is in this mess, playing a cop.  Joe Don Baker has played so many cops in so many bad movies that I wonder if he’s ever been tempted to try to arrest someone in real life.  In Criminal Law, he’s not given much to do but it doesn’t matter.  He’s Joe Don Baker!

Monster Chiller Horror Theatre: Deadly Companion (1980, directed by George Bloomfield)


Deadly Companion starts with John Candy sitting in a mental institution and snorting cocaine while happily talking to his roommate, Michael Taylor (Michael Sarrazin).  Michael has been in the institution ever since the night that he walked in on his estranged wife being murdered.  Because of the shock, he can’t remember anything that he saw that night.  When his girlfriend Paula (Susan Clark) comes to pick Michael up, Michael leaves the institution determined to get to the truth about his wife’s murder.  Once Michael leaves, John Candy disappears from the movie.

Michael suspects that his wife was killed by her lover, Lawrence Miles (Anthony Perkins) but there is more to that night than Michael is remembering.  Deadly Companion is a typical low-budget shot-in-Toronto thriller from the early 80s, with familiar Canadian character actors like Michael Ironside, Al Waxman, Kenneth Welsh, and Maury Chaykin all playing small roles.  Michael Sarrazin is a dull lead but Anthony Perkins gets to do what he did best at the end of his career and plays a thoroughly sarcastic bastard who gets the only good lines in the film.

What’s interesting about Deadly Companion isn’t the predictable plot and it’s certainly not Michael Sarrazin.  Instead, what’s strange is that several cast members of SCTV show up in tiny supporting roles, though none of them get as much of a chance to make as big an impression as John Candy.  Deadly Companion is a serious thriller that just happens to feature Candy, Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, and Dave Thomas.  It’s strange to see Michael Sarrazin trying to figure out who killed his wife while Eugene Levy loiters in the background.  It leaves you waiting for a punchline that never comes.

The SCTV people are in the film because it was directed by George Bloomfield, who also directed several episodes of SCTV.  Since this film was made before SCTV really broke into the American marketplace, it was probably assumed that no one outside of Canada would ever find the presence of John Candy in a dramatic murder mystery distracting.  Of course, when Deadly Companion was later released on VHS in the late 80s, Candy and the SCTV crew were all given top billing.

Creature Double Feature 5: THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (AIP 1964) and THE TOMB OF LIGEIA (AIP 1965)


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Boston’s WLVI-TV 56 ran it’s ‘Creature Double Feature’ series from 1972 to 1983. Though fans remember it mostly for those fabulous giant monster movies starring Godzilla and friends, CDF occasionally featured some monsters of a different kind… 

Roger Corman and Vincent Price had teamed to make five successful Edgar Allan Poe adaptations for American-International Pictures, beginning with 1960’s HOUSE OF USHER (there was a sixth, THE PREMATURE BURIAL, that starred Ray Milland rather than Price). Studio execs James Nicholson and Sam Arkoff, always on the lookout for ways to cut costs, joined forces with Britain’s Anglo-Amalgamated Productions (makers of the CARRY ON comedies) and shipped Corman and company to jolly ol’ England for the final two, THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH and THE TOMB OF LIGEIA. Both turned out to be high points in the Corman/Price/Poe series.

1964’s MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH is a sadistic, psychedelic nightmare of…

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Shattered Politics #48: The Kidnapping of the President (dir by George Mendeluk)


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Agency was not the only Canadian film to be made about American politics in 1980.  There was also The Kidnapping of the President, a low-budget political thriller that, because it has since slipped into the public domain, can currently be found in a few dozen DVD box sets.  In fact, you may very well own a copy of The Kidnapping of the President without even realizing it!

Don’t worry if you do.  The Kidnapping of the President is a fairly harmless little film.

U.S. President Adam Scott (Hal Holbrook) is visiting Toronto when he gets handcuffed to a South American revolutionary named Roberto Assanti (Miguel Fernandes).  Assanti locks President Scott in an armored car that is wired with explosives and then demands a hundred million in diamonds and two planes.  (Though the film never explicitly states it, I imagine that Assanti was primarily motivated by jealousy over the fact that Che is on a million t-shirts while Assanti remains fairly unknown.)  It’s up to secret service agent Jerry O’Connor (William Shatner) to negotiate with Assanti and rescue the President!  Meanwhile, the ethically compromised Vice President (Van Johnson) is left as acting President in Washington and struggles to keep things calm while his ambitious wife (Ava Gardner) plots for a brighter future.

Overall, the Kidnapping of the President is okay for what it is.  It’s neither exceptionally good nor memorably bad.  It just sort of is.  Hal Holbrook is always well-cast as a President and William Shatner gives a typical Shatner performance, which is either a good or a bad thing depending on how you feel about William Shatner.  And, for that matter, Miguel Fernandes is a properly unlikable villain though he never really seems to have the charisma necessary to make him believable as the dynamic leader that he’s supposed to be.

Probably the most interesting thing about The Kidnapping of the President is that it doesn’t try to pass Montreal off for being a location in the United States.  Instead, the film was not only filmed in but is actually set in Toronto as well.  When Jerry attempts to deal with the local authorities, that means that he ends up talking to a bunch of very polite men in red uniforms.

But what’s strange about this is that the people of Toronto are so excited about the arrival of the President.  You half expect to hear one extra say, “I never thought I’d live long enough to see the day that a leader that I can’t vote for and who has next to nothing to do with my everyday life would come to visit Toronto.”

Don’t get me wrong.  If you follow me on twitter, then you know that I am unashamed to declare my love for all things Canadian.  And obviously, as neighbors, Canada and the United States do have a close relationship.  But would people in Toronto really be that excited to see the President?

If so, I think we really owe the people of Canada an apology for not knowing more about their government.  At the very least, we should definitely invite Stephen Harper over for lunch.

Horror Film Review: Damien: Omen II (dir by Don Taylor)


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The first sequel to The Omen was 1978’s Damien: Omen II.  Damien: Omen II is an odd film, one that is not very good but yet remains very watchable.

Damien: Omen II takes place 7 years after the end of the original Omen.  Antichrist Damien Thorn (now played by Jonathan Scott-Taylor) is now 12 years old.  He lives with his uncle Richard (William Holden) and Richard’s 2nd wife, Ann (Lee Grant).  His best friend is his cousin Mark (Lucas Donat).  In fact, the only problem that Damien has is that his great-aunt Marion (Sylvia Sidney) can’t stand him and views him as a bad influence.  Fortunately, as usually seems to happen whenever someone puts an obstacle in Damien’s life, there’s always either a black dog or a black crow around to help out.

Damien and Mark are cadets at a local military academy where Damien deals with a bully by glaring at him until he falls to the ground, grabbing at his head.  In history class, Damien shocks his teacher by revealing that he knows the date of every battle ever fought.  Damien’s new commander, Sgt. Neff (Lance Henriksen), pulls Damien to the side and tells him to stop showing off and to quietly bide his time.

Meanwhile, Richard is busy running Thorn Industries.  One of his executives, Paul Buhler (Robert Foxworth), wants to expand Thorn’s operations into agriculture but his plans are opposed by Richard’s executive vice president, Bill Atherton (Lew Ayres), who considers Paul to be unethical.  However, during an ice hockey game, Bill falls through the ice and, despite the efforts of everyone to break through the ice and save him, ends up floating away.  Paul is promoted and pursues his plans to make money off of world famine.  In between all of this, Paul finds the time to speak to Damien and tell him that he has a great future ahead of him.

Along with Thorn Industries, Richard also owns the Thorn Museum in Chicago.  The museum’s curator is Dr. Charles Warren (Nicholas Pryor) who was a friend of the archeologist Karl Bugenhagen (Leo McKern) who, in the first film, revealed that not only was Damien the antichrist but that the only way to kill him was by stabbing him with the Seven Daggers of Meggido.  Dr. Warren is also friends with Joan Hart (Elizabeth Shepherd), a reporter who both knows the truth behind Bugenhagen’s death and who has also seen an ancient cave painting that reveals that the Antichrist looks exactly like a 12 year-old Damien Thorn.

Much as in the first film, just about everyone who comes into contact with Damien ends up getting killed in some odd and grotesque way.  Crows peck out eyes.  Trucks run over heads.  One unfortunate victim is crushed between two trains.  Another is chopped in half by an elevator cable.  At times, Damien: Omen II feels less like a sequel to The Omen and more like a forerunner to Final Destination.

Damien: Omen II is one of those films that I like despite myself.  It’s bad but it’s bad in a way that only a film from the 1970s could be and, as such, it has some definite historical value.  The script is full of red herrings, the acting is inconsistent, and the film can never seem to make up its mind whether Damien is pure evil or if he’s conflicted about his role as Antichrist.  As I watched the film, I wondered why the devil could so easily kill some people but not others.

And yet, Damien: Omen II is so ludicrous and silly that it’s undeniably watchable.  If the first film was distinguished by Gregory Peck’s defiant underplaying, the second film is distinguished by the way that William Holden delivers every line through manfully clenched teeth.  Everyone else in the cast follows Holden’s lead and everyone goes so far over-the-top that even the most mundane of scenes become oddly fascinating.

For me, the film is defined by poor Lew Ayres floating underneath that sheet of ice while everyone else tries to rescue him.  On the one hand, it’s absolutely horrific to watch.  I’m terrified of drowning and, whenever the camera focused on Ayres desperately pounding on the ice above him, I could barely bring myself to look at the screen.  But, at the same time, we also had William Holden screaming, “OH GOD!” and Nicholas Pryror enthusiastically chopping at the ice with a big axe and dozens of extras awkwardly skating across the ice.  Somehow, the scene ended up being both horrifying and humorous.  It should not have worked but somehow, it did.

And that’s pretty much the perfect description of Damien: Omen II.  It shouldn’t work but, in its own way, it does.