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.

A Mardi Gras Film Review: Mardi Gras For The Devil (dir by David A. Prior)


A maniac is holding New Orleans hostage!  He’s committed a series of savage, Satanically-influenced homicides and the police cannot seem to even slow him down!  The entire city is terrified!

Well, actually … New Orleans doesn’t seem to be scared at all.  In fact, no one in this movie seems to be all that disturbed by all of the brutal murders that are happening around them.  Some people would probably say that’s because this film takes place during Mardi Gras and everyone’s too drunk to notice.  Why worry about being murdered when all you have to do to get a bunch of cheap beads is flash a boob?  Add to that, this is New Orleans.  New Orleans is a very forgiving city.

Anyway, regardless of whether people care or not, there’s a Satanic murderer prowling through the city.  Who is the killer?  Could he possibly be that guy who always dresses in black, who has a perfectly trimmed beard, and who is always throwing back his head and laughing before doing something evil?  The guy’s name is Bishop and he’s played by everyone’s favorite Canadian character actor, Michael Ironside.  As far as Michael Ironside villains are concerned, Bishop is pretty frightening though he’s nowhere near as a frightening as Darryl Revok.  I mean, he does a lot of evil stuff but he doesn’t actually make anyone’s head explode.

Detective Mike Turner (Robert Davi) is obsessed with stopping Bishop.  Unfortunately, Detective Turner doesn’t appear to be very good at his job.  I mean, everyone he knows he keeps getting seriously injured.  His first partner dies.  His second partner gets run over by a bus.  His ex-wife (Lesley-Anne Down) ends up trapped in a pool.  His girlfriend (Lydie Denier) ends up getting tied up in a barn while a time bomb ticks down across from her.  Fortunately, a few of these people do manage to survive.  Turner may not be a very good cop but, fortunately, Bishop isn’t that good of a serial killer.

It soon becomes apparent that Bishop has a motive for all of his murders, one that goes beyond the usual serial killer weirdness.  It turns out that Bishop’s murders are actually sacrifices and he has given his soul to Satan.  Giving your soul to the devil apparently gives you the power to do whatever the script needs you to do at any particular moment in the movie.  Fortunately, it also leaves you with a weakness that can be exploited whenever the movie decides to come to an end.

Am I saying that Mardi Gras For the Devil makes no sense?  I most definitely am!  However, that’s actually the film’s charm.  The film was made with so little concern for continuity and narrative logic that it plays out like a fever dream.  The cast is surprisingly good for a film like this, which means that everyone delivers the strangest of lines with the utmost sincerity.  Michael Ironside plays his role without a hint of subtlety, which is exactly the type of bad guy that a film like this requires.  Meanwhile, Robert Davi brings a weary cynicism to his role.  You can just hear him thinking, “Satanic serial killers?  I’m too old for this shit.”  Combine that with a fiery ending that doesn’t even try to make sense and you have a movie that, perhaps through no intention of the film’s director, manages to create and sustain a very surreal atmosphere.  The film may not be any good but it’s hard to look away from.

Though the film takes place at Mardi Gras and was released, in some countries, as both Mardi Gras For The Devil and Mardi Gras Nightmare, it actually has very little do with Mardi Gras.  The opening scenes were shot during a Mardi Gras parade but that’s about it.  The film was also released under the title Night Trap, which is a woefully generic title.  You can find the movie on YouTube.

A Movie A Day #347: High-Ballin’ (1978, directed by Peter Carter)


Hey, good buddy, remember the Snowman?

The Snowman was the handle of Cledus Snow, the independent trucker who, along with his basset hound Flash, helped the Bandit escape Smokey in three different movies.  Cledus was played by the country western singer, Jerry Reed.  Interestingly, when Smokey and the Bandit was still in preproduction, the film’s producers envisioned a low-budget drive-in movie with Reed in the role of the Bandit.  When Burt Reynolds signaled that he would be interested in playing the man in the black Trans Am, Reed was instead cast as Cledus.

The box office success of Smokey and the Bandit led to several road films being rushed into production and more than a few of them starred Jerry Reed.  Several other of them starred Peter Fonda, who had already proven himself to be the king of the road with Easy Rider.  However, High-Ballin’ is the only trucker film that can claim to have starred both Jerry Reed and Peter Fonda.

In High-Ballin’, Jerry Reed may be playing “Iron Duke” Boykin but he might as well just be Cledus Snow again.  Once again, Reed is an independent trucker with a family at home and a love for the road.  (Just as he did with Smokey and the Bandit, Reed even performed High-Ballin‘s theme song.)  The local trucker’s union is putting pressure on the independent truckers and trying to intimidate them into joining.  Iron Duke has no intention of doing that.  Iron Duke has been hired to haul a load of liquor to an isolated lumber camp and he is not going to let the union or its thugs stop him.  Helping him along the way is his friend Rane (Peter Fonda) and another independent, Pickup (Helen Shaver).

High-Ballin‘ was not as bad as I was expecting it to be.  Reed, Fonda, and Shaver are likable in the lead roles and the action scenes are exciting.  Fonda may have been a notoriously inexpressive actor but he was always believable whenever he was cast as a rebel or an outsider and the friendship between him and the more expressive Reed is as believable as the friendship between Cledus and the Bandit in Reed’s previous trucking film.  Of course, the main reason you are going to watch a movie like High-Ballin’ is to see how many different ways that a car or a truck can be destroyed and this movie does not skimp on the vehicular destruction.  It’s nothing great but, as far as 70s trucking films are concerned, High-Ballin’ is better than average.

One final note: keep an eye out for Michael Ironside in an early role.

10-4, good buddy.  I’m out.

Cleaning Out The DVR: Crime + Punishment in Suburbia (dir by Rob Schmidt)


(Lisa is once again trying to clean out her DVR!  She’s got about 182 films on her DVR and she needs to get them all watched by the end of this year!  Will she make it?  Not if she’s too busy writing cutesy introductions for her reviews to actually watch the movies!  She recorded Crime + Punishment in Suburbia off of Flix on February 25th!)

Oh, dammit.

I have seen some really pretentious movies before but Crime + Punishment in Suburbia is really something else.  As you might be able to guess from the title, the film is supposedly based on the Dosteyevsky novel but it takes place not only in modern times but in suburbia as well.  Oh, and it actually has next to nothing in common with Doteyevsky novel, beyond a murder and occasional religious symbolism.  And by occasional, I mean that there’s a scene where Vincent Kartheiser wears a Jesus t-shirt.

Kartheiser plays Vincent, a teenager who I think we’re supposed to think is dark and disturbed but instead he just comes across like a weird little poser.  I mean, honestly, it takes more than just wearing black clothes to be weird.  I had a closet full of black clothes when I was eighteen and it still never brought me any closer to enlightenment.  Anyway, Vincent is a classmate of Roseanne (Monica Keena) and Roseanne is dating a handsome but dumb jock named Jimmy (James DeBello).  Roseanne’s mother is named Maggie (Ellen Barkin) and Maggie has recently married an abusive drunk named Fred (Michael Ironside).

Fred is a total jerk so Maggie goes out with her best friend, Bella (Conchata Ferrell), to a bar.  It’s at the bar that she meets Chris (Jeffrey Wright), a handsome and charming bartender.  Soon, Chris and Maggie are having an affair and when Fred finds out, he rapes his stepdaughter.  Roseanne convinces Jimmy to help her murder Fred but, after the deed is done, Roseanne finds herself struggling with her conscience.

Now, of course, in Crime & Punishment, the whole point is that the murder itself was largely random and motiveless.  The rest of the book deals with the protagonist’s attempt to come to terms with not only his crime but also with the meaninglessness of it all.  In Crime + Punishment in Suburbia, Roseanne has a good reason for killing Fred.  Fred is such a monster that there’s no real confusion as to why Roseanne did what she did.  One could argue, quite convincingly, that if she didn’t kill Fred, he would have ended up killing her.  That makes the film’s later attempt at moral ambiguity feel rather hollow and empty.

The other problem with Crime + Punishment in Suburbia is that we don’t see the story through Roseanne’s eyes.  Instead, the entire movie is narrated by Vincent.  Now, Vincent Kartheiser is not a bad actor.  Anyone who has seen Mad Men knows that.  And, in this film, he occasionally gets to flash a cute smile that makes the character a little bit bearable.  But the character he plays, Vincent, is so weird and off-putting that you have no desire to spend 100 minutes listening to him portentously talk about his existence.  Considering that Monica Keena actually gives a pretty good performance as Roseanne, the decision to tell her story through Vincent’s eyes feels all the more mistaken.

The only thing more overwrought than Vincent’s narration is Rob Schmidt’s direction.  This is one of those films that uses every narrative trick in the book to tell its story.  Look at the wild camera angles!  Look at the sudden slow motion!  Look at the freeze frame!  This is one of those movies that you watch and you just want to shout, “Calm down!” at the director.

Crime + Punishment in Suburbia is one to avoid.

A Movie A Day #195: Best Revenge (1984, directed by John Trent)


Damn … John Heard died.

I know that almost everyone knows John Heard as either the father from Home Alone or as the detective on The Sopranos or maybe even the executive in Big.  Over the course of his long career, John Heard played a lot of neglectful fathers, greedy businessmen, and corrupt politicians.  Heard was good in all of those roles but he was capable of so much more.  Though he did not get many chances to do so, he could play heroes just as well as villains.

One of his best performances is also one of his least seen.  In Best Revenge, he plays Charlie.  Charlie is a laid back drug dealer, someone who would probably hate and be hated by most of the authority figures that Heard was best known for playing.  Charlie is the ultimate mellow dude, without a care in the world.  All he wants to do is play his harmonica and spend time with his girlfriend (Alberta Watson).  However, an old friend (Stephen McHattie) wants Charlie to help smuggle 500 keys of hash from Tangiers to America.  Charlie wants nothing to do with it but then he finds out that the Mafia will kill his friend unless the drugs make it across the ocean.  Charlie and his friend Bo (Levon Helm of The Band) fly over to Morocco but are betrayed.  Charlie ends up in a prison cell, from which he has to escape so that he can rescue Bo, smuggle the drugs, and get revenge on those who betrayed him.

Because of the prison aspect and the fact that Charlie wears a fedora, Best Revenge was sold as being a combination of Midnight Express and Raiders of the Lost Ark but actually it is a character study disguised as an action film.  Despite the title, Best Revenge is more interested in the real-life logistics and hassles of being an international drug dealer than in any sort of revenge.  Though it is a role far different from the ones he may be best known for, John Heard was perfectly cast as a small-time drug dealer who suddenly finds himself in over his head.  Heard gives such a good  and sympathetic performance that this film, along with his work in Cutter’s Way and Chilly Scenes of Winter, shows what a mistake was made when Heard became typecast as the bad guy.

Best Revenge was filmed in 1980 but not released until four years later.  Along with appreciating Heard’s performance, keep an eye out for Michael Ironside in an early, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role.

Insomnia File No. 5: Black Ice (dir by Neill Fearnley)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

Black Ice 2

If you were having trouble getting to sleep last night at 2 a.m., you could have turned over to Indieplex and watched Black Ice, a Canadian thriller from 1992.

Why is the film called Black Ice?  Well, that’s a good question.  There’s a lot of snow and ice to be seen in the film but absolutely none of it is black.  According to the imdb, this film was also released under the title A Passion for Murder.  I have to admit that I kind of like A Passion For Murder as a title, simply because it’s so generic and empty that it becomes oddly brilliant.  If you were making a parody of the type of movies that Netflix usually lists in the “steamy thriller” category,  A Passion For Murder is probably the title that you would come up with.

But, as for this film, it opens as all thrillers from the early 90s must, with a man in a suit meeting his clad-in-black-lingerie mistress in a hotel room.  The man in the suit is an up-and-coming senator.  His mistress is the mysterious Vanessa (Joanna Pacula).  When Vanessa pressures him to leave his wife, the senator gets mad and leaves.  Vanessa goes back to her apartment, where she is soon visited by the senator.  She and the senator get into a fight.  She shoves the senator into a window, which shatters and promptly kills the senator.

Meanwhile, Ben Shorr (Michael Nouri) is barely making a living as a taxi driver.  He’s an aspiring writer and, just in case we had any doubts about his intellectual bona fides, he has a pony tail and talks almost nonstop.  (Ben also owns a goldfish that he’s named Travis, as in Taxi Driver‘s Travis Bickle.)  Ben is pretty annoying and when he picks up Vanessa, you’re kind of hoping that she’ll end up killing him like she killed the senator.

But no, it turns out that Ben is supposed to be our hero.  Vanessa asks Ben to drive her from Detroit to Seattle.  And, of course, Ben agrees because … well, there wouldn’t be a movie otherwise.

It turns out that Vanessa is actually a secret agent.  She was supposed to seduce and eventually marry the senator.  Now that she’s accidentally killed him, her supervisor, Quinn, is determined to kill her.  Because this movie was made in Canada, the villainous Quinn is played by Michael Ironside.

The rest of the film is basically Quinn chasing Ben and Vanessa across the northwest.  Along the way, Vanessa and Ben fall in love.  One huge problem with Black Ice is that the audience knows everything about Vanessa before Ben does.  There are a lot of scenes of Ben trying to figure out why Quinn is pursuing Vanessa but, since we already know why, those scenes mostly feel like filler.  If  Vanessa had been as much of a mystery to the audience as she was to Ben for most of the film’s running time, Black Ice probably would have been a bit more intriguing.

As it is, Black Ice is pretty much a standard, low-budget chase film.  Michael Nouri is pretty annoying but Joanna Pacula and Michael Ironside both give good performances.  It snows throughout the entire film and there’s a few genuinely impressive shots of the three main characters running across the icy landscape.  Otherwise, Black Ice is pretty forgettable but it also doesn’t require much thought, which might make it an appropriate film to watch if you’ve got insomnia.

Black Ice

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover

The Things You Find On Netflix: 88 (dir by April Mullen)


88

If you go over to Netflix right now, you can watch 88, the best film of the year so far.

88 opens with a close-up of Gwen (Katharine Isabelle).  Gwen is sitting in a diner and she has no idea how she got there.  All she knows is that her boyfriend Aster (Kyle Schmid) is dead and that she believes that her former employer, Cyrus (Christopher Lloyd) is responsible.  Oh, and Gwen’s hand is also covered in a bloody bandage, largely because she’s missing a finger.  When Gwen tries to leave the diner, several gumballs and a gun fall out of her bag.  The cops eating breakfast overreact.  A waitress panics.  Gwen accidentally shoots someone as she flees.

Still with no idea where she is exactly or how she got there, Gwen discovers that she has a motel room key on her.  When she goes to the motel room, she discovers that the walls are covered with newspaper clippings.  And, of course, there’s a corpse in the bathtub.  On top of that, there’s also a rather hyperactive man named Ty (Tim Doiron, who also wrote the film’s script).  Gwen claims to have never seen Ty before.  Ty, however, says that they’re friends and they’re planning on killing Cyrus together.

Meanwhile, as we watch Gwen try to figure out what’s going on, we also follow the adventures of Flamingo (again played by Katharine Isabelle).  Flamingo is a tough-talking survivor, the type of girl who, when we first meet her, is busy strangling a random motorist so that she can use his car.  Flamingo goes from motel to motel, always staying in room 88.  She obsessively drinks milk.  When she runs into Cyrus and his gang on the street, they claim to know her.  However, Flamingo has no idea who they are.

Which, of course, does not mean that she’s not willing to kill them…

88 is a masterpiece of the grindhouse imagination, an over-the-top film that not only embraces its pulpy origins but practically revels in them as well.  The film is full of wonderfully strange and crazy moments, like when Gwen and Ty visit a flamboyant gun dealer or when Flamingo casually trashes a convenience store for no reason beyond the fact that she apparently feels like doing so.  There is not a single character in 88 who is not, in some way, memorably odd.  Between Gwen’s amnesia, Flamingo’s psychotic behavior, Ty’s cheerful embrace of violence, and Cyrus’s raspy monologues, 88 presents a world that is familiar and yet uniquely its own.  When Michael Ironside shows up as a strict but good-hearted sheriff, it only makes sense that, in the world of 88, Michael Ironside would be the face of law, order, and decency.

Now, to be honest, you’ll probably figure out just how exactly Gwen and Flamingo are related long before the film actually makes it explicit.  You probably figured it out just from reading this review.  But it doesn’t matter.  Ultimately, the specifics of the twist really doesn’t matter.  This film is a celebration of pure style and pulp energy.  Katharine Isabelle is brilliant, both as Gwen and as Flamingo.  In the role of Gwen, Isabelle gives a very sympathetic performance.  You want to understand what is happening to Gwen and, even more importantly, you want her to survive.  Meanwhile, as Flamingo, Isabelle is a force of pure, destructive nature.  Finally, in the role of Cyrus, Christopher Lloyd is a sleazy marvel and even manages to bring a hint of humanity to an occasionally demonic character.

88 is one of those films that will probably never get the critical support that it deserves.  However, I think it’s one of the best of the year so far.