Category Archives: 1980s

Clue (1985)

*. Clue is a movie that nobody much liked when it came out but which has gone on to attract a small following. I don’t think it rises to the level of a cult, but Adam B. Vary in a BuzzFeed article on the subject makes the case, calling it “a true cult sensation, a prime example of how a discarded scrap of Hollywood commerce can, through the transubstantiation of time and word-of-mouth, become one of the most beloved films of the 1980s.”
*. While I don’t think it’s a true cult film, at least yet, it does have some of that flavour with its general campiness and bad dialogue that is easily recalled. And Madeline Kahn as Mrs. White has one genuinely bizarre bit of improvisation that stands out. So it may achieve cult status some day, if we still have cult movies in the future.
*. Why do people like Clue now? I think for the same reason they still play the game. Nostalgia. I played the board game Clue a lot when I was a kid. But compared to the board games made today it doesn’t hold up. In fact, it’s pretty bad. I don’t dislike it, certainly not as much as I hate Monopoly, but it doesn’t work for me any more. Still, it has that nostalgic charm to it, that breath of one’s childhood.
*. I think people who like Clue the movie are responding to something similar. Though it was made in 1985 it’s set in 1954 and has that ’50s air of a screwball comedy. It’s a family game, or movie, without anything offensive about it.
*. Nothing offensive, but nothing very funny or clever either. Apparently Tom Stoppard was originally approached to write the script but backed out. Stoppard might have made it work. As it stands, we begin with a gag involving the butler Wadsworth (Tim Curry) stepping in some dog shit that drags on forever. It’s a terrible way to start a movie, and while things get better they don’t get a lot better. And then after a while they get worse again.
*. One of the things the movie is known for is the gimmick of being released with three different endings that played in different theatres. Normally I think that a movie that has alternative endings (usually included with the DVD) indicates a fundamental problem, since it means the movie has no ending. But in this case it’s fair enough. Since the question of who did it is just random in the game it makes sense that it’s essentially a random draw here as well. Though I’d agree with what I think is the critical consensus in saying that the first or A ending (where Miss Scarlett is the killer) is the best.

*. This is not to say that any of the endings is particularly good. Reports are that there was a fourth ending where Wadsworth does all the murders but it was rejected as no good, meaning it must have been really, really bad.
*. The talent in front of the camera is capable enough, but none of the characters come to life with any distinct personality, despite the fact that they’re all playing wild caricatures. There are a few funny lines, but the plot never catches your attention and gets you interested in the question of whodunit. So the only way director Jonathan Lynn can keep us from being bored is to have the characters run around and yell and scream, or have the lights go off or a chandelier fall. All of which gets kind of tiring pretty fast. When the cast keep yelling at Wadsworth to “get on with it” at the end you want to yell along with them. Or when a character tries to make a long story short and someone tells him it’s “too late.” It’s a movie that knows it’s spinning its wheels but can’t think of anything else to do.
*. I’ve heard it described as a satire on the genre, but it seems to me that the game itself did just as good a job, or better, than this. And so did Murder By Death, which had been ten years earlier. What’s even stranger is that it doesn’t play any interesting riffs on the game itself either. The different rooms don’t have much of a role and there are no serial declarations of who did it where with what. That might have been fun. But then, there never was any logic about the murder weapon anyway since aside from the blunt force objects (candlestick, wrench, lead pipe) each weapon would leave a different, obvious signature.
*. I sort of liked this movie when it came out. And I enjoyed seeing it again. But if you ask me why I can only point to nostalgia. I can’t say there’s anything worthwhile in it, only that it passes the time in a mostly genial way.

House of the Long Shadows (1983)

*. The format we see movies in can do a lot to shape our response to them. I first saw House of the Long Shadows by way of an incredibly shoddy DVD transfer that, in addition to being filled with technical glitches, was so dark that you couldn’t make out what was going on a lot of the time.
*. It’s since been restored and had a deluxe release, but that first time has stuck in my mind. The murky candlelight gave it an impressive sustained chiaroscuro, and in the properly restored version I feel like some of that dramatic contrast was lost. Even the fierceness, or sickliness, of the yellow light was toned down. It’s a better looking movie, but for such a movie as this that’s not always preferable.
*. It’s not a movie that’s very well known. This may be surprising given the cast: John Carradine as the elderly patriarch presiding over a brood of “weirdos” including Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, and Christopher Lee. The set-up has a bestselling author by the name of Magee (Desi Arnaz Jr.) accepting a bet that he can write a novel on a par with Wuthering Heights while staying overnight in a creepy mansion. As the night progresses the house starts filling up with the aforementioned oddballs, until it seems Magee will never get back to work.
*. The story is based on the 1913 novel Seven Keys to Baldpate by Earl Derr Biggers, which had been adapted into a play and filmed several times (I tried to watch the 1917 version once and couldn’t make any sense of it, even already knowing the source). It’s changed up a bit here to play off of horror conventions, but retains the original story’s playful sense of indeterminacy. Ironically, this makes it feel ahead of its time, despite being such old material.
*. A side note on inflation: In the 1917 movie Magee was going to win $5,000 for writing a novel in 24 hours. Sixty-five years later the prize money has only gone up to $20,000. That hardly seems worth a bestselling author’s time in 1983.
*. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t do much more than poke some fun at conventions that were already clichés. As Kim Newman, who really didn’t like it, admitted, the only charm was in seeing all the old faces. But what faces! I mentioned in my notes on The Old Dark House how that film was an homage to faces, and that seems to be very much the same spirit at play here. This is also a place where the chiaroscuro effect I mentioned is most effective, grooving the faces with slashes of darkness in the candlelight.
*. Faces, and voices too. It’s worth it just to listen to this cast go at it, from Price objecting to being “interrupted in my soliloquizing” (and calling Christopher Lee a “bitch”!) to Cushing turning his r’s into w’s. Apparently Elsa Lanchester was going to play Victoria Grisbane but was too ill. Drat. That really would have been the cherry on top.
*. It’s also Pete Walker’s last film. I think he was an odd fit for material like this and didn’t bring much to the table. He might have had more fun sending the genre up but I’m not sure he was ever that invested in the genre very much in the first place.
*. I think how you feel about this movie is based on what direction you come to it from. Given the cast and the material it should have been better. If you’re not expecting too much, however, it’s still a pleasant enough experience. I certainly enjoy it on that level, and because I do maybe that’s another reason why I prefer seeing it look like a chewed up VHS tape. It feels more like an artefact than a film. And I mean that in a good way.

Cyborg (1989)

*. A few years back a French scholar named Pierre Bayard achieved a certain level of notoriety for writing a How to book called How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read. While jokey, he actually had a point, which is that most of us can’t remember anything at all about most of the books we’ve read so there’s not much difference between talking about them (the books we’ve forgotten) and other books we’ve never read any part of.
*. There’s some truth to this, and I think the same thing goes for movies. I don’t think I’d seen Cyborg since it came out thirty years ago and I couldn’t remember much about it. If you’d asked me I would have said that Jean-Claude Van Damme was the cyborg, which would make him sort of like a low-budget Terminator (albeit one of the good guys). I’d forgotten that the cyborg is actually a woman with some data implanted in her skull that may be used to cure a post-apocalyptic plague.
*. But then, why would I have remembered that? It doesn’t make much, or really any, difference to the story. Van Damme’s character has his own reasons for going after the bad guy. He doesn’t need to save the world too.
*. Anyway, I did remember this as being a cheesy Golan-Globus production with Van Damme taking his shirt off and doing lots of spinning back kicks. But I didn’t remember it being this cheesy.
*. Being a Cannon film you’d know it was going to be cheap, and look cheap. It’s also a project that came with an interesting geneaology. It was originally ntended as a sequel to the He-Man movie Masters of the Universe (1987), going by the name of Masters of the Universe 2: Cyborg. But when the first Masters of the Universe failed (not because of me, because I paid to see it) they decided to do something (kind of) different.
*. Instead of Dolph Lundgren the property was offered to Van Damme, who had just had a hit with Bloodsport. To be precise, Van Damme was offered the lead in Delta Force 2, American Ninja 3 or Cyborg. Decisions, decisions.
*. Even stranger was to come, as Cyborg went on to spawn not just one but two trilogies. It stands as the first film in director Albert Pyun’s Cyborg Trilogy (followed by Knights and Omega Doom). And then it had its own sequels in Cyborg 2 and Cyborg 3: The Recycler. I haven’t see any of these other movies (at least that I can remember), and my understanding is that they have next to nothing to do with this one so I won’t say anything more about them here.
*. I don’t think anything is done well here, though the sheer awfulness has contributed to making it a fan favourite. Ebert joked about “a future world in which all civilization has been reduced to a few phony movie sets.” He might have added a couple of phony matte paintings. Most of it just looks like it was shot in a dump. The costumes have that funny ’80s gangbanger vibe. The fight scenes are full of the terrible choreography you get in all of Van Damme’s movies. People just stand there waiting for punches or kicks to hit them in the head. From the editing I couldn’t tell if anyone else in the cast knew any martial arts at all, or could even throw a punch or a kick. And yet this is widely classified as a martial arts movie.
*. Three things do stand out. (1) Fender’s opening voiceover is justifiably famous. Nothing in the rest of the script even comes close. (2) There was an obvious decision to use crosses and crucifixes as a motif throughout, hanging on walls or from Fender’s ear and culminating in Gibson’s calvary. I suppose this is to make us think of him as a Christ figure, especially given the line at the end where it’s suggested that he may be the “real cure” that this world needs. Whatever that means. It’s not like he’s Neville at the end of The Omega Man. He’s just an asskicker. (3) Gibson’s flashbacks to the origin of his hatred of Fender must have been an intentional nod to Once Upon a Time of the West. Which is an odd thing to find in a movie like this.
*. So like I say, it’s cheesy. Which means that it really is so bad it’s kind of good. I actually did get a kick out of seeing it again. Maybe I’ll even see it once or twice more, down the road. I just need to give it a few years so that I can forget it again.

The King of Comedy (1982)

*. The King of Comedy was a movie that failed very badly at the box office. This shouldn’t have been that surprising. Even Martin Scorsese’s strongest critic-fans, big names like Pauline Kael and Roger Ebert, had major reservations. They found the movie an oddity, and uncomfortable.
*. Its reception makes me think of The Cable Guy (1996), another black comedy that seemed a little too black, or too close to home, when it came out. The Cable Guy made money (it starred Jim Carrey at the height of his celebrity), but I think the box office was still disappointing, and critics were put off.
*. Today the conventional view is that The King of Comedy (like The Cable Guy) was ahead of its time. Maybe, but we have to specify in what ways. The script by Paul Zimmerman had been kicking around for ten years (Dick Cavett was the model for Jerry Langford), and just as a satire on celebrity or the media I don’t think it was saying anything terribly new. Lauren Bacall had been stalked by a crazy fan just a couple of years earlier. But of course that was a slasher flick, and this was Scorsese.
*. In the featurette included with the DVD release both Scorsese and Sandra Bernhard argue more for it being a movie that marked the end of something, a great period or golden age of America filmmaking, than being ahead of the curve. Bernhard: “I don’t think a film like The King of Comedy could be made today.”
*. Of course, in 2019 they did try to make a movie very much like it in Joker. But Joker is set in 1981, so is it of its time or does it harken back to a lost world?

*. I’ll pursue this a bit further. Here’s Roger Ebert: “This is a movie that seems ready to explode — but somehow it never does. . . . That lack of release disturbed me the fist time I saw The King of Comedy . . . I kept straining forward, waiting for the movie to let loose and it kept frustrating me. Maybe that was the idea. This is a movie about rejection, with a hero who never admits that he has been rejected and so there is neither comic nor tragic release — just the postponement of pain.”
*. Originally, Jerry Lewis had wanted the same kind of thing Ebert found missing, some more explosive catharsis. Lewis argued that Pupkin should have killed Jerry Langford at the end but Scorsese nixed the idea and Lewis was disappointed in the result, feeling the movie didn’t have a proper finish.
*. Joker would not be so discreet or ambiguous, erupting in a climax of individual and mass violence. Why? Because in 2019 perhaps we were all Arthur Fleck. In 1983 we most definitely weren’t all Rupert Pupkin. So in that sense at least we can say The King of Comedy was ahead of its time.
*. Rupert is not a gangster but one of Scorsese’s disturbed loners, men who don’t belong to any gang or community, or who even have girlfriends. Travis Bickle and Max Cady are the other two that come to mind. These people are very dangerous, existing outside of any socializing structures (however criminal those structures may be). Does Rupert even live with his mother? Or is that another part of his fantasy? Scorsese didn’t want audiences to be able to differentiate, any more than Rupert can. Without any social connections, unless you include the equally deranged Masha, Rupert is free to make up his own reality.

*. What is Rupert’s chief fantasy? Is it fame? Yes, but only as a means to an end. That end is not his being able to marry Rita (Diahnne Abbott, De Niro’s wife at the time) but rather to get revenge. He jokes with Rita about being able to spit down on those who will be beneath him when he becomes famous. In the dream wedding scene his high school principal is made to grovel, begging forgiveness. But most of all there’s the closing monologue, which consists mainly of a catalogue of the abuse Rupert suffered at the hands of his parents, being picked on and bullied by fellow students, and even developing an eating disorder. Is all this just made up too? Maybe, but I don’t think so. Something is fueling Rupert and I think this is it.
*. It’s a testimony to De Niro’s performance that we can feel Rupert’s anger beneath his unflappably nice persona. Despite the loud suits and the funny moustache and the general air of a prolonged losing streak we sense Rupert is a dangerous and nasty man. We can understand him, but can we sympathize with him? I don’t.
*. Masha is a scary figure too, and it’s remarkable how Bernhard not only holds her own with Lewis and De Niro but actually manages to upstage them. But what happens to Masha at the end? I guess she could have afforded a good lawyer, if charges were ever laid.

*. This is a movie that makes me think and wonder. One thing I wonder about is the freeze frame that Scorsese holds on for the opening credits. Masha inside the limo, pressing up against the glass. Rupert on the outside, illuminated in a flash and staring in at her. What meaning did Scorsese see in this image that he wanted us to look at it for so long? Is it just playing with the idea of our fascination in what’s on the other side of that invisible membrane?
*. One thing I don’t wonder about is Scorsese’s comment that the visual style of the film was somehow influenced by Edwin S. Porter’s Life of an American Fireman (1903). I think that was just pulling our legs.
*. How often have movies done TV well? I think of Network but not much else. There’s something about television that doesn’t translate to the big screen. Not because they’re in competition but because they’re mediums that don’t really communicate with each other. The fact that they seem to be growing together in the twenty-first century may be erasing that difference though.
*. I really love the script, even if I share David Thomson’s sense that Scorsese might not have understood it and in many scenes the dialogue was improvised. But setting those scenes up is done perfectly. All the notes are struck just right: the televised wedding fantasy as a way of expressing Rupert’s anger; the blow up with Jerry; the way Rupert’s final monologue is funny because it’s true; the housekeeper complaining that “He’s touching everything. He’s ruining the house.” That last gave me a flashback to the scene in Pink Flamingos when Divine and her son break into the house of their enemy and rub themselves over everything. Rupert has a similar kind of taint to him.
*. It was a masterstroke to cast Jerry Lewis in the role of Langford and then get him to play the part with such quiet understatement. There’s not a trace of shtick about him. And I love how Scorsese doesn’t force anything. Look at Langford watching Rupert on the showroom TVs after he escapes Masha. We just see his face and he doesn’t say anything. What is he thinking? He’s angry, I think we can take that much for granted. But is there some grudging respect for Rupert there? Or even sadness? I can’t read his expression, and I love that I can’t.

*. Two lines stand out for me as having particular resonance. The first comes when Rupert is having dinner with Rita and he tells her that a “guy can get anything he wants if he pays the price.” What a touching credo, and one that is so ingrained in our modern ethos. But of course it isn’t true. Riches and fame are distributed randomly. Rupert works hard and believes in himself, and his stand-up isn’t terrible (though it’s not ready for prime time either). But it just isn’t going to happen for him. What does happen to him then?
*. The other line I keep thinking about comes during Rupert’s confrontation with Jerry at the latter’s house. Jerry says he’s not going to listen to Rupert’s stuff because he has a life. Rupert says he has a life too and Jerry says “that’s not my responsibility.” I think we all immediately think that’s right, but then we may wonder where our responsibilities for each other begin and end. Or do we have any?
*. The celebrity and the incel raging in his mother’s basement are at either end of a polarity, but they share a divorce from that social connection I mentioned earlier, or any sense of personal responsibility. It’s telling that Jerry is a loner too, with no wife or kids anywhere in sight. Scorsese found one of the most interesting questions raised by the film to be that of what fans want from celebrities. Obviously what Rupert wants is a foot in the door, but beyond that he wants to be Jerry. What I think Jerry understands as he looks at the row of TVs he can’t hear, is that to some extent he already is. It’s just that one of them is living the dream and the other the nightmare. And that’s not Jerry’s problem, or responsibility, but ours.

Demons (1985)

*. Oh boy! It’s guilty pleasure time.
*. There were a lot of trashy video treasures in the 1980s, but few with the same appeal as Demons with all of its crazy Euro weirdness. It’s an Italian production, filmed in Berlin and Rome but seeming to take place in an alternate dimension that the mystic Metropole cinema opens onto. Directed by Lamberto Bava (Mario’s son) and produced and co-written by Dario Argento, it has several hallmarks of the Italian horror films of the period (notably the colour and gore), yet maintains a unique quality.

*. It’s loopy in ways that defy explanation or understanding. Are the demons going to take over the world? Where are they coming from? What is the connection between the demon outbreak and the movie about the kids breaking into Nostradamus’s tomb? Is the cinema a gateway to another realm? Who is the man in the mask? Why is the usher in the green dress made to seem so sinister at the beginning only to be turned into just another victim?
*. The audience for the night’s entertainment are an eclectic bunch, including a blind man whose wife is cheating on him (this is apparently meant as a joke, though blind people do attend movies), and a pimp daddy with two foxy ladies on his arms. They don’t seem like the kind of crowd who’d be likely to go to see such a movie as Nostradamus’s Tomb, but then the ticket didn’t make it clear what was on tap.

*. Demons is very bad in all sorts of enjoyable ways. The dubbing is atrocious, and some of the voices are so out of synch you get several seconds of dialogue being spoken without anyone’s lips moving. That dialogue is, in turn, laughable, with one of the best lines being the cokehead gang member wondering if the demons are after his snow. Dude!
*. The plastic gore effects consist mainly of bodies dissolving or melting like wax into sludge. The action is utter nonsense, culminating in the hero tearing around the theatre on a motorbike while cutting down the demons with a samurai sword. There’s a great heavy metal soundtrack. What’s not to like?
*. The only complaint I have is that it could have been something more. The premise of a haunted movie theatre has a lot of potential that goes unrealized. I mean, look at how much ink has been spilled talking about the end of Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets (1968), which actually seems to be doing something similar to what’s going on here.

*. I sort of agree then with Kim Newman’s conclusion: “The promising subject matter is rather botched as Bava opts for a misjudged Night of the Living Dead rerun, throws in an inept selection of Heavy Metal hits on the soundtrack and fails to find any ironic angles in the story.”
*. All of which is only to say that it’s not as good as it might have been. And yet just it’s just that glimpse of potential that sets it apart from most of the other Eurotrash of this period. The Metropole itself strikes me as evocative of something deeper. It’s a magical place both mysteriously walled in and yet subject to random invasions from the outside world (a helicopter falling through the roof!). Then, once you finally escape the theatre, you find that the world outside has changed. What does it all mean? Probably nothing. But I find it suggestive.

No Way Out (1987)

*. Kenneth Fearing’s novel The Big Clock had an unbeatable premise for a suspense thriller: an innocent man forced to investigate himself by the very man he knows was the real murderer. Unfortunately, the 1948 adaptation wasn’t anything to get excited by. If they’d only lost the title, and changed the setting from the New York publishing world.
*. No Way Out happily corrects both failings. There’s no big clock, real or metaphorical, and instead of a giant publishing conglomerate we’ve moved to the Pentagon. I think this second change was a stroke of genius — having the hero take on the bureaucracy of the military-industrial complex as part of a plot to cover up a political scandal is both entirely believable and ups the level of danger. Tom Farrell really doesn’t have any way out. Washington is a company town, after all.
*. A long list of actors turned down the leading roles here, but it sort-of made Kevin Costner a star (it came out right after The Untouchables, which also helped). If only he’d quite while he was ahead.
*. I semi-jest. Costner is well cast here, as is the cute and vulnerable Sean Young as Susan. They work well together. Even the make-out scene in the back of the limo has a bit of ’80s heat. Without any help from the soundtrack, I might add. I originally thought the song that plays, “No Way Out,” had been written for the movie but apparently it first appeared on the 1983 Paul Anka album Walk a Fine Line. The best I can say for it is that it fits the period, along with Young’s hairstyle and Costner’s treasure trail.
*. Gene Hackman as Secretary of Defense David Brice doesn’t have to do much but he does it well, enough so that he was asked to do the same role again ten years later in Absolute Power. Will Patton is more potent as the villainous enabler Scott Pritchard. Though again the homosexual angle is played way down, you can tell there’s something more than just blind obedience in Pritchard’s devotion to Bryce.
*. I really liked this when it first came out. It plays a little tamer today, but I think it’s still a good thriller. The chase scene seems like something the studio might have insisted on, as it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The twist ending also turned a lot of people off. Richard Schickel even thought it spoiled the whole movie. I didn’t mind it at all. It’s a bit gratuitous and silly, but it doesn’t wreck anything. The novel ended on an abrupt note, which had to be sensationalized in the earlier movie. But here Costner doesn’t have a wife to fall back on for a happy ending. Once Susan is killed off there’s no longer any conventional resolution for the story possible. What we get here fits.
*. I think the dating is what holds it back today. Those reams of paper piling out of the dot matrix printer were a real throwback for me. And while I don’t mind the ending in dramatic terms, it’s a throwback too, to the days of Cold War espionage and different threat matrixes. Maybe in another twenty years or so the 1980s will have aged a little better and this will be recognized, like The Big Clock, as a movie worth coming back to. Today, however, it may still be too familiar. It’s well done though, which gives me hope that it just needs some time.

Code of Silence (1985)

*. There’s a scene near the beginning of Code of Silence that I think is worth seeing. It’s basically just filler, showing Sergeant Eddie Cusack (Chuck Norris) throwing some karate punches and kicks at a sparring partner holding pads. But what it shows, better than any of his choreographed fight moves, is just how fast, and how good Norris, a karate champion, really was. I was more impressed by this than anything else in the film.
*. There actually isn’t a lot of martial arts action in Code of Silence. This is probably due to the film’s origins. It was written to be Dirty Harry IV: Code of Silence, but Clint Eastwood turned it down (making Sudden Impact the next Dirty Harry movie instead). Then it was pitched as a project for Kris Kristofferson (who also turned it down). It wasn’t supposed to be an American chop socky. Or, put another way, it wasn’t supposed to be a Chuck Norris movie.
*. That the script had been hanging around for a while without being produced makes the fact that it was sold for a whopping $800,000 all the more amazing. $800,000! In the 1980s! As one story reported at the time, this was “more than the total cost of a lot of Chuck Norris movies.”
*. Now add to this the fact that the screenplay is garbage. The basic story is just a handful of clichés thrown together. Norris is an honest cop who goes by the sobriquet “Stainless Steel.” There is a gang war in Chicago. One of the mobsters has a beautiful young daughter that Norris has to protect from another mobster (played by veteran bad guy Henry Silva, who is literally just showing up here to get a paycheque). There’s no real story but just these basic elements. Plus Norris, the vet, is paired up with, you guessed it, a new kid he calls “kid.” And this after he even tells the chief “Listen, I don’t have time to be nursemaiding a rookie, I don’t need a partner.”
*. So on that level the script is trash. But it’s also filled with trash dialogue, has a disjointed plot, and is without any meaningful structure. Take the scene where a couple of hoods try to hold up a bar filled with off-duty Chicago police. It’s a quick comic piece, but the failed heist serves no purpose in relation to the rest of the story at all.
*. Then, Norris later shows up at the bar and meets an old friend named Dorato (Dennis Farina). Dorato is with a couple of good-looking young women who he introduces to Eddie this way: “Eddie, I want you to meet a couple of friends of mine. This is Ruby. She’s a dental hygienist. She’s very oral. And this – this is Marlene. She works for a proctologist. Don’t turn your back on her!” Ha-ha! Isn’t that funny? No? Well, is it “gritty” or “realistic” (words often tossed at Code of Silence)? No? Well is it worth $800,000 then?
*. The scene between Eddie and Dorato at the bar is immediately followed by a heart-to-heart talk Eddie has with his rookie sidekick, who is agonizing over whether he should be honest at an inquiry into the murder of a civilian by his previous partner or participate in a cover-up. In the course of the conversation he gets to speak lines like this: “I really want to be a good cop. But sometimes it gets so scary, you know?” and “I see that boy’s face every time I close my eyes.”
*. It may not be the fault of the screenwriter, but how much sense does it make for Diana to leave a busy street and run down a deserted alley when being pursued by a gang of hoods? And how does the bad guy manage to drag her along, running, with him holding only a knife on her?
*. You may be wondering why I’m even bothering complaining about a movie like this having a garbage script. Well, in part it’s because of that huge price tag. But it’s also a way of scratching my head a bit about the movie’s reputation. This, I think, is largely due to two factors.
*. The first is our response to how well Norris does. I have a hard time crediting much of Norris’s acting, and in all fairness he never made any claims for himself (or his action peers) in this regard. But I would sign on to what I think is the general opinion that this is his best performance. This is mainly because he doesn’t try to do too much. He stays quiet and doesn’t emote a lot. Which is fine for the role and he acquits himself well. But that’s as far as praise goes.
*.  I’d also add as an aside that Eddie Cusack is a big step up from the beer-fueled Texas Ranger Lone Wolf McQuade (see my notes on that one here). Eddie doesn’t much care for science or art, but he’s not a total meathead. That’s another thing Code of Silence has going for it.
*. The second reason behind the film’s inflated reputation has to do with a pair of very influential (even more influential at the time) film reviewers who just happened to be based in Chicago. Call it the homer effect.
*. Both Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert praised, excessively, the film’s use of of Chicago locations, and commented on the fact that director Andrew Davis was from Chicago. Indeed in his review of a later Davis movie, the very similar Above the Law, Ebert would refer to Code of Silence as not just the best Chuck Norris movie ever made but one that “contains the best use of Chicago locations I’ve seen.” Really? There have been so few movies shot in Chicago?
*. At least Siskel, while praising the film’s authenticity, admits that it “isn’t in the same league as The French Connection.” Shut your mouth! Ebert, however, really went overboard, giving it 3 1/2 out of four stars and writing the following: “this is a heavy-duty thriller — a slick, energetic movie with good performances and a lot of genuine human interest. It grabs you right at the start with a complicated triple-cross, and then it develops into a stylish urban action picture with sensational stunts.” And he doesn’t stop there, adding: “The screenplay doesn’t give us the usual cardboard clichés; there’s a lot of human life here, in a series of carefully crafted performances. For once, here’s a thriller that realizes we have to care about the characters before we care about their adventures.” Please.
*. I think I’ll stop here, as I’ve already written about ten times more on this movie than I thought I would. Given the time and the people involved it’s slightly better than what you’d expect, but that’s a very low bar to clear. The guys jumping off the elevated train was a good stunt. The police robot tank was stupid. Watching it today I couldn’t remember if I saw it when it came out. I think I did, but I can’t be sure. A week from now I’ll probably have trouble remembering it again.

The Unseen (1980)

*. The Unseen. They didn’t spend a lot of time coming up with a title for this one, did they? I guess Junior is unseen for most of the movie because he’s locked up in the basement, and indeed Stephen Furst is credited as playing “The Unseen,” but . . . that’s about it.
*. But then, let’s face it: they didn’t put a lot of work into this one period. Basically there’s this weird couple keeping Junior in the basement and when a trio of young women spend the night at their house Junior, who can travel through the building’s vents, gets out and kills a couple of them.
*. The movie is a bit of an oddity. Junior apparently kills the women by accident, since he’s not really a bad guy. And it’s never clear why he’s being kept in the basement. It’s a big enough house, in a remote location, so you’d think they’d let him out every now and then.
*. Maybe it’s all because Junior’s dad is crazy (and Sydney Lassick, I want to say, is actually pretty good in the part). At least there’s a wild American gothic back story inolving incest and patricide that would suggest as much.

*. The girls are all winsome and disposable, but at least not as hateful as the usual crop of bodies in a dead teenager movie. Why is it raining out at the end? To get Barbara Bach’s blouse wet. But she’s in the basement! No problem. Where there’s a will, and a leering audience, there will be a way. In the event, she’ll be degraded even further when she escapes, having to drag herself through a field of mud.
*. Written and directed by Danny Steinmann, who didn’t want his name on it so he’s credited as Peter Foleg. His previous movie had been a hardcore porno called High Rise, where he used the alias Danny Stone. Apparently he was upset about cuts that were made to this film that took out a lot of the scares. I doubt anything of value was lost. But the MPAA also did a job on his Friday the Thirteenth: A New Beginning, and he kept his name on that one. So go figure.
*. Aficionados of Grade Z chum may find something in this. I thought it was very dull as well as nonsensical. Lassick copes manfully with a ridiculous script but everyone else appears to be struggling. I’d advise taking a pass unless this is your kind of thing.

Your Face (1987)

*. Is there any point digging deeper here? To look beyond the surface of things? Your Face is a short animated piece, an early example of what would become Bill Plympton’s signature style. A man croons of his lover’s face while his own face twists and bloodlessly deconstructs in various ways, the warping and the contortions providing a perfect visual counterpart to the vocals (“Your face is like a song”). It’s being sung by Maureen McElheron but then slowed by a 1/3 to give it a sense of wax melting as well as a more masculine cast.
*. So sound and image are drawn together in a hand-drawn choreographed dance. It’s inventive, funny, and at times even knowing, as when the face goes through metamorphoses hinting at various periods in the development of modern art. But then the face is swallowed by what seems to be the ground, with a loud gulp and a slurp of the lips during the end credits. As if to say there was really nothing to this but an exercise in bringing to life a sketch pad of studies of the human phiz. An accomplished diversion. So accomplished it would go on to be nominated for an Academy Award.
*. Is there a message to it though? I can read one into it. I think it’s having fun with how ridiculous we make ourselves in chasing after love. Like birds doing a dance or some other form of courtship ritual we sing a song or flutter our plumage in some way, with no idea of how silly it all seems from an objective point of view.
*. But is anyone listening? The song plays like a videogram or YouTube video addressed to some unnamed (and faceless) spectator. Perhaps we can imagine he’s singing to us. But whatever the intended audience we see the singer at the end being gulped down by what I’ve said seems to be the ground. But maybe it’s the film swallowing its own tail. Has the singer been looking in the mirror all this time, making faces while singing alone? Now that really would be tying himself in knots.

Children of the Corn (1984)

*. Technically, it’s Stephen King’s Children of the Corn. I’m not sure what King thought of it though or how much he was involved. He isn’t interviewed in the documentary on the Anchor Bay DVD release and his name is only mentioned once, indirectly, on the commentary track (with director Fritz Kiersch, producer Terrence Kirby, and actors John Franklin and Courtney Gains).
*. The story (which was first published in Penthouse) is expanded on quite a bit and has a completely different ending. Burt and Vicky aren’t an attractive young couple just starting out their lives together but are instead on their way to breaking up. They are taking a cross-country road trip to save their marriage but they both seem to know that isn’t going to work. This was probably changed because movies prefer happy people. It’s hard to like characters who don’t even like each other.
*. Movies also prefer happy endings, so the ending of the story, with both Burt and Vicky murdered and the cult going on its merry way, is jettisoned. Again, I don’t know how involved King was with any of this. He apparently did write a script but it was rejected for an adaptation he didn’t approve of. They still really wanted King in the credits though, as by this time his was a name to conjure with.
*. One thing you might turn to the story for is some explanation of how the children have managed to stay hidden away in the town of Gatlin for three years. Presumably they are harvesting all that corn themselves. And turning it into ethanol. Meanwhile, just by changing some road signs the town has vanished so completely that nobody can find it. Not government services or utilities. Not family members wondering whatever happened to in-laws or cousins. It’s just gone.
*. Well, reading the story won’t help clear this matter up. The children there have been in control of the town for twelve years without anyone noticing. As Burt reflects at one point, “What seemed to have happened in Gatlin was impossible.” “How could such a thing be kept secret?” he wonders. “How could it go on?” Answer: He Who Walks Behind the Rows works in mysterious ways. This is one of those things that’s just a given in order for there to be a story.

*. I remember not liking this movie much when it came out. And I’ve always wondered why it was turned into such a long-running franchise when even the original wasn’t a blockbuster. It did take a while for the first sequel to appear (Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice in 1992). Suffice it to say that the studio (which was also driving the Hellraiser franchise into the ground) was taking the low road to a bit of easy money. But that’s another story.
*. Watching it again now, I like it a bit more than I did at the time. It actually gets a fair bit of mileage out of its tiny budget (Kiersch says $1.3 million, $500K of which went to King, so less than $800K, which is nothing). It’s well directed, keeping most of the violence off screen, and it holds our interest. For such a cheap movie most of it looks suprisingly good. Still, I think it would be largely forgotten today if not for the fact that they rolled aces in the casting of Franklin and Gains as the odd couple of teenage psychopathy, Isaac and Malachai. Who can forget these two? Franklin (who was actually 23 at the time) with his Vulcan haircut (courtesy of a commercial he was shooting for a Star Trek video game) and Gaines as the ginger Mick Jagger. Is it any wonder they’re the only members of the cast on the commentary and in the “making of” documentary? They’re the stars.

*. Ah, yes. Once again the city people have left the highway to travel the back roads, and end up getting lost out in the country. Not the wilds, or a forest somewhere, but just the country. A small town. That’s terrifying enough.
*. Kiersch says he thought of it as a B-horror, which it is, but then says his models were Plan 9 from Outer Space and The Day of the Triffids. Hm. Can’t say I see it. And I’m not sure why I’d want to see it. How flattering a comparison is Plan 9?
*. The DVD box declares this to be “The original that started it all.” Well, that’s what originals do. And I like the noncommittal “it.” I take it that this refers to the long string of sequels, which almost nobody saw and few people remember today. King himself didn’t keep track of their number. Blame “it” all on this movie, people!
*. The basic idea is nothing new. The children of the corn are the children of the Village of the Damned. Because ankle-biters are rarely that scary in themselves they have to hunt in packs. It takes a village. Or at least a gang. Hence the Midwich Cuckoos. Or the kids in Devil Times Five, the psycho-spawn in The Brood, the bloodthirsty brats in the Sinister movies, or the whole island of pubescent maenads in Who Can Kill a Child? (remade as Come Out and Play). The premise is, however, an inversion of the usual King starting point, which is terrorized tots. I guess the revived Gage in Pet Sematary is another outlier, but more often in King it’s children who are threatened by adults.
*. I guess Jonathan Elias, who did the score, was listening to The Omen and liked that chanting business. I don’t think it fits. King has a major hate on for organized religion, but I found the evil force here a confusing thing. Why does it adopt so much Christian imagery, ritual, and language? Is there a connection between He Who Walks Behind the Rows and the God of the Old Testament? Why does the gopher demon care if the kids are listening to music or playing games? I didn’t think pagan cults were such puritans.
*. The ending has been much ridiculed. I don’t know. It was a microbudget movie so how surprised can we be that the ending looks cheap? I think they probably did the best they could under the circumstances. I wish it made more sense, but I wouldn’t make fun of the execution.
*. I won’t go so far as to say this is a cult favourite of mine, but watching it again today I appreciate it a lot more and can see why it’s stuck around. As a franchise, however, it went downhill fast and stayed there.