A Movie A Day #72: Delusion (1991, directed by Carl Colpaert)


George O’Brien (Jim Metzler) is a former executive at a San Diego computer company who is driving across Nevada.  He is heading to Reno, where he plans to set up a company with the embezzled millions that he has hidden in his trunk.  When he spots former Vegas showgirl Patti (Jennifer Rubin) standing on the side of the road, he stops to pick her up.  She explains that her car broke down and she needs a lift.  George is happy to give her a ride.  The only problem is that Patti is traveling with her boyfriend, Chevy (Kyle Secor).  At first, Chevy just seems to be a goofy guy who talks too much.  However, Chevy is actually a hitman, traveling to Vegas to kill a gangster (Jerry Orbach).  After the hit, Chevy abandons George in the desert and steals his car.  Determined to get his money, George pursues Chevy and Patty across the desert.

Starting like a caper film and ending like a spaghetti western, Delusion was one of the best (and most overlooked) of the many low-budget neo-noirs that came out during the first half of the 1990s.  While the underrated Metzler and Secor both give good performances, Delusion is stolen by Jennifer Rubin, who is sexy, funny, and unpredictable as Patti.  The scene where she performs These Boots Are For Walking is one of the best of the 90s.  Whatever happened to her?

And why hasn’t this excellent retro thriller been given a proper release on DVD or Blu-ray?  If any movie is deserves to be rediscovered via a special edition, it’s Delusion.

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The TSL’s Daily Horror Grindhouse: 976-Evil (dir by Robert Englund)


976-evil_cover

Ewwwwww!  The movie reeks of stale cigarettes and Axe body spray!

976-Evil tells the story of two teenagers named Spike (Patrick O’Bryan) and Hoax (Stephen Geoffreys).  You know what?  Whether your parents decide to name you Spike or to name your Hoax, your life is pretty much fucked up from the minute either name is entered on your birth certificate.  Anyway, Spike and Hoax are cousins.  Spike is the dangerous bad boy who rides a motorcycle and wears a leather jacket.  Hoax is the really nerdy kid who worships Spike and who lives with his ultra-religious mother (Sandy Dennis).  Hoax can’t wait until the day he and Spike ride across the country on their motorcycles.  Spike is just busy trying to get laid and looking forward to heading out on his own.

Anyway, Hoax eventually gets tired of being picked on all the time so he decides to call the phone number mentioned in the film’s title.  Hoax discovers that he has a direct line to Hell and the voice on the other end has some definite ideas for what Hoax could do to even the score.  For instance, Hoax could cause spiders to attack a Spike’s girlfriend.  And, after that, Hoax could transform into a monster and attack the local bullies at their poker game.

“That’s a dead man’s hand!” Hoax announces, while literally holding up a dead man’s hand.

(That’s right!  Turning evil means becoming a master of puns!)

Uh-oh!  It looks like Hoax has been possessed by evil!  Even worse, the phone bill is HUGE!  Those calls to the Devil aren’t cheap, you know!  Can Spike defeat his cousin or will evil rule the day?

Now, I will say this for 976-Evil: as annoying as Stephen Geoffreys is when he’s playing nerdy Hoax, he actually is a bit frightening as evil Hoax.  For that matter, Patrick O’Bryan is probably does about as good a job as you can do while playing a character named Spike.

But otherwise, 976-Evil is nearly unwatchable.  I mean that literally.  The entire film appears to be covered by a layer of grime.  Between the unappealing visuals, the poor dialogue, and the lack of appealing characters, there’s really not much in 976-Evil to hold our attention.  It might help if we felt bad for Hoax but, even before he calls the phone number, he’s such a weirdo perv that you just kind of want him to go away.  Hoax is basically the type of loser who thinks that an Axe body spray commercial is a documentary.  You can imagine him desperately spraying himself before he goes to school every day and announcing, “I smell like Axe!  I’m losing my virginity next period!  And then me and Spike are going to ride our motor scooters to Toronto!”

Released in 1989, 976-Evil was also the directorial debut of Robert Englund.  I kinda hate to be so negative about the film because Robert Englund is such a good actor and he always comes across as being such a nice guy.  If you haven’t already, be sure to get a copy of Englund’s autobiography, Hollywood Monster.  Englund tells a lot of good stories and is admirably positive about being a horror icon.  But, though Robert Englund’s a great guy, 976-Evil just doesn’t work.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #87: One False Move (dir by Carl Franklin)


One_false_moveWho doesn’t love Bill Paxton?

Seriously, he’s just one of those actors.  He’s appeared in a countless number of films and he’s played a lot of different characters.  He was a psycho vampire in Near Dark.  He was the underwater explorer who got stuck with all of the worst lines in Titanic.  In Frailty, he was a father who was driven to murder by heavenly visions.  He was the sleaziest of sleazes in Nightcrawler.  And, of course, in Big Love, he was an unrepentant polygamist.  In all of these roles, Paxton showed the quirkiness that has made him so beloved to film lovers like me.  Much like Kevin Bacon, it doesn’t matter what role Bill Paxton is playing.  You’re going to like him and you’re going to be happy to see him onscreen.

And yet, considering just how many popular films that he’s appeared in, it’s interesting to note that Bill Paxton’s best performance can be found in a film about which not many people seem to have heard.  That film is the 1992 Southern crime drama, One False Move.

Actually, it does the film a disservice to refer to it as merely being a crime drama.  I mean, it is a drama and it even has a properly dark ending to prove that fact.  And it is about criminals and police officers.  But ultimately, the film’s plot is just a starting point that the film uses to examine issues of culture, race, and guilt.  In the end, One False Movie is an unexpectedly poignant and penatrating character study of 5 very different people.

We start out with three criminals.  Ray (played by Billy Bob Thornton, who also co-wrote the script) is a career criminal, a white trash redneck who is not particularly smart but who is dangerous because he’s ruthless and he’s willing to whatever he need to do to survive.  (If you’ve lived in the country, you will recognize Ray’s type as soon as you see him.)  Ray’s girlfriend is Fantasia (Cynda Williams), a beautiful but insecure woman.  And finally, there’s Ray’s partner and former cellmate, Pluto (Michael Beach).  Of the three of them, Pluto is the most menacing, a knife-wielding sociopath with an IQ of 150.  Even though he’s working with Ray and Fantasia, Pluto always makes it clear that he considers himself to be both separate from and better than both of them.

Ray, Pluto, and Fantasia have just brutally murdered 6 people in Los Angeles, all of whom were friends of Fantasia’s.  Now, they’re making their way to Houston, planning on selling stolen cocaine.  Pursuing them are two LAPD detective, Cole (Jim Metzler) and McFeeley (Earl Billings).  When Cole and McFeeley come across evidence that the three criminals might have a connection with the tiny town of Star City, Arkansas, they call up the local sheriff.

And that’s where Bill Paxton shows up.

Paxton plays Sheriff Dale Dixon.  Dale’s nickname is Hurricane and it’s soon obvious why.  Like a hurricane, Dale never stops moving.  He’s a well-meaning but hyperactive good old boy who has a talent for saying exactly the wrong thing.  When he first talks to Cole and McFeeley over the phone, he amuses them with his enthusiastic bragging and briefly offends them with his casual racism.

Cole and McFeeley eventually end up taking a trip to Star City, so that they can investigate how the three criminals are connected to this tiny town.  When Dixon meets up with them, he asks them if they could help him get a job with the LAPD.  The two cops initially humor Dixon and laugh at him behind his back.  When Dixon’s wife (a wonderful performance from Natalie Canerday) asks Cole to keep Dixon safe, Cole assures her that Ray, Fantasia, and Pluto are probably not even going to come anywhere near Star City.

However, Dixon soon reveals to the two cops that Fantasia’s name is Lila and that her family lives in Star City.  What he doesn’t tell them, however, is that he and Lila have a personal connection of their own…

One False Move is a twisty and intense thriller, one that’s distinguished by strong performances from the entire cast.  (Even Metzler and Billings bring unexpected shadings to Cole and McFeeley, who, in any other film, would have been portrayed as being stock characters.)  But the film is truly dominated by Bill Paxton.  When we first meet Dixon, he seems like a joke.  We’re sure that he’ll somehow end up being the film’s hero (because that’s what happens in movies about small town sheriffs being underestimated by big city cops) but what we’re not expecting is that Dale is going to turn out to be such a multi-layered and fascinating character.  Just as Dale eventually starts to lower his defenses and reveal who he truly is, Paxton also starts to reign in his initially overwhelming performance and reveals himself to be a subtle and perceptive actor.  It’s a great performance that elevates the entire film.  Al Pacino won the 1992 Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in Scent of a Woman.  That award should have gone to the unnominated Bill Paxton.

It wouldn’t be fair to reveal One False Move‘s secrets.  It’s a film that you really should see for yourself.

Back to School #43: River’s Edge (dir by Tim Hunter)


In his film guide, Heavy Metal Movies, Mike McPadden describes the disturbing 1987 teen crime drama River’s Edge as being “666 Candles“.  It’s a perfect description because River’s Edge appears to not only be taking place in a different socio-economic setting than Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club but perhaps on a different planet as well.

River’s Edge opens with a close-up of a dead and naked teenage girl lying on the edge of a dirty, polluted river and it gets darker from there.  The dead girl was the girlfriend of the hulking John Tollet (Daniel Roebuck, playing a character who is miles away from his role in Cavegirl).  As John explains to his friends, he strangled her for no particular reason.  His friends, meanwhile, respond with detachment.  Their unofficial leader, the hyperactive Layne (Crispin Glover), insists that since nothing can be done about the dead girl, their number one concern now has to be to keep John from getting caught.  While Layne arranges for John to hide out with a one-legged drug dealer named Feck (Dennis Hopper), two of John’s friends, Matt and Clarissa (played by Keanu Reeves and Ione Skye), consider whether or not they should go to the police.  Oddly enough, John really doesn’t seem to care one way or the other.

Seriously, River’s Edge is one dark film.  If it were made today, River’s Edge would probably be directed by someone like Larry Clark and, in many ways, it feels like a distant cousin to Clark’s Bully.  The teenagers in River’s Edge live in a world with little-to-no adult supervision.  Matt’s mom is more concerned with whether or not Matt has been stealing her weed than with the fact that Matt might be covering up a murder.  The local high school teacher is a former hippie who won’t shut up about how much better his generation was compared to every other generation.  In fact, the only adult with any sort of moral code is Feck and he’s usually too busy dancing with a sex doll to really be of much help.  It’s a world where no one has been raised to value their own lives so why should they care about a dead girl laying out on the banks of the river?

The film features good performances from Keanu Reeves, Ione Skye, and Daniel Roebuck but really, the entire movie is stolen by Crispin Glover and Dennis Hopper.  In the role of Layne, Glover is a manic wonder, speaking quickly and gesturing even when he isn’t making a point.  When Layne first shows up, he seems like he’s just overly loyal to his friend John but, as the film progresses, it becomes more apparent that he’s less concerned about protecting John and more interested in ordering other people to do it.  For Layne, protecting John is ultimately about maintaining power over Matt, Clarissa, and the rest of their friends.

As for Dennis Hopper — well, this is one of those films that you should show to anyone who says that Hopper wasn’t a great actor.  The role of a one-legged drug dealer who lives with a sex doll sound like exactly the type of role that would lead Hopper to going totally over-the-top.  Instead, Hopper gave a surprisingly subtle and intelligent performance and, as a result, he provided this film with the moral center that it very much needs.

Glover and Hopper