Blow Out (1981) and Body Double (1984). Chez Scrubbles was abuzz this week with a mini film fest of Brian De Palma thrillers. Although I didn’t find either of these movies particularly great, they do stand as quintessential films of their time in all their lurid, sleazy fun. Dressed to Kill was the standout from this period (still haven’t seen Scarface, natch), but Blow Out was a cheesy blast on its own. John Travolta stars as a movie sound engineer who inadvertently records an auto accident which may have been a case of murder; Nancy Allen is the airhead hooker caught up in the conspiracy. Both actors are amazingly awful to behold, honestly, but it’s fun seeing them slogging through early ’80s Philadelphia and De Palma contributes several chilling, effective scenes. Body Double, from three years later, trods a similar path (De Palma even opens the film with a similar movie-within-a-movie). It’s even sleazier, more violent, and more blatantly a ripoff of earlier, better movies. In a Rear Window/Vertigo pastiche, doofusy Craig Wasson plays a struggling actor who gets sucked into spying on a beautiful woman from inside John Lautner’s Chemosphere in the L.A. hills (hats off to the set designer for making the place look like an ’80s cokehead’s dream palace, missing only a framed Nagel print). Before you can say “totally eighties,” he acts in a porno movie with Melanie Griffith and Frankie Goes To Hollywood, and eventually unravels the mystery. Ridiculously entertaining trash.
Daisy Kenyon (1947). I remember seeing this a long time ago on American Movie Classics, with vague memories that it was a bore and a half that not even La Crawford could save. A recent DVD viewing confirmed my earlier view. Joan couldn’t have been more miscast as a bohemian Greenwich Village artist caught between a slick but married Dana Andrews and a single but wishy-washy Henry Fonda. All the cutesy peter pan collars in the world couldn’t hide the fact that she was too old for the part. I enjoy a good-bad soapy melodrama every once in a while, but this film doesn’t know what it wants to be, with a silly and dull script that takes a lot of unwarranted side detours (look, child abuse!). Oddly this does have the bones of a good film, and you can see the attraction director Otto Preminger had for these admittedly complex characters. It just doesn’t work — at all. For such an ignoble effort, Fox actually supplied the DVD with a couple of good “making of” docs that are more enjoyable than the film itself.
House (1977). Could this possibly be the weirdest movie ever made? This Japanese-schoolgirls-stuck-in-a-haunted-mansion romp plays like a first-season Facts of Life episode on crack. In the beginning it comes across like a frenetic comedy, with awful jokes and shallow characters defined by their English nicknames (Gorgeous, Prof, Melody, Kung Fu, etc.) — then it abruptly turns into a bizarre and gory fright fest. Apparently this was the debut feature for the director, whose background in commercials is readily apparent with all the “throw something onscreen and see if it works” tricks on rapid display here. Gaze in slack jawed wonder at the scene below involving a killer light fixture. I mean, wow. A must-see for weird-ass Asian film fanatics, others beware.
Let Him Have It (1991). A deeply compelling film about one of the most notorious executions in Great Britain. Derek Bentley (nicely portrayed by Christopher Eccleston) is a mentally challenged 19 year-old who falls in with the wrong crowd. In a robbery gone wrong, his friend accidentally shoots and kills a police officer — but it’s Bentley who got the more severe punishment of death by hanging. Not the brightest moment in British history, but this film has an excellent sense of a particularly austere time in the UK (and it’s not quite the overwhelming bummer I’ve made it out to be). Well acted and similar in tone to Dance With A Stranger (which was about the last woman executed in Britain). Christopher picked this from the IFC schedule, an excellent choice.