Hell Night is a cheesy 80s slasher flick that has gained a bit of a reputation over the years and a bit of a cult following, too. It was another flick I caught on one of the grind house screens at the Oritani Theater in Hackensack, N.J. and while it was fairly entertaining, I don’t remember being all that overly impressed. I recently had a chance to revisit this slasher and there is definitely some entertainment to be had and the 80s nostalgia added some fun to a flick now revered by some as a cult classic. If you’re a fan of 80s slasher flicks, it’s definitely worth a look and is undeniably a good time.
The story takes place on “Hell Night” a night were fraternity and sorority pledges are initiated to prove their worthiness to join their organization of choice. To enter the Alpha Sigma Rho fraternity, four co-eds, Marti (Linda Blair), Jeff (Peter Barton), Seth (Vince Van Patten) and Denise (Suki Goodwin) are tasked with staying overnight locked inside Garth Manor…a creepy abandoned mansion where twelve years earlier Raymond Garth murdered his family and then killed himself, though local legends say deformed son Andrew escaped his father’s wrath and still roams the grounds. Of course Alpha Sigma Rho president Peter (Kevin Brophy) has had the place rigged and he and cronies, Scott (Jimmy Sturtevant) and May (Jenny Neumann), sneak in after our four are secured inside and plan to scare the wits out of them with scream emitting speakers and ghostly projections. But there is always some truth behind urban legends and someone on the grounds wants prankster and pledge alike dead… and in gruesome fashion. Will any of them survive Hell Night?
As directed by Tom DeSimone, Hell Night has its entertainment value, though is not perfect. It is a rather slow paced and by-the-numbers horror, at least in it’s first two thirds. For the most part victims can be spotted a mile away, as basically they are the ones who wander off, or are left alone, so there is little suspense in the ‘who’s gonna get it’ department. The film follows the 80s slasher formula with little diversion or surprises and the script by Randy Feldman does have it’s share of holes…like why didn’t the ‘killer’ off Peter and company when they were initially inside the house rigging their pranks earlier? Despite the creepy old house locations, the film has the look and feel of a 70s TV movie and, at 101 minutes, is at least 10 minutes longer then it needs to be. It takes about a half hour before we get our first kill and it is about an hour in before things start to pick up. It’s then that director DeSimone starts to give us some atmosphere and a little suspense, as our surviving co-eds are engaged in a fight for their lives in the catacombs beneath the spooky old house and through it’s maze-like hallways. It’s the last act that delivers a good deal of what fun and action the flick has, with the first two acts moving very slowly and most of the kills being fairly routine, when the somewhat two dimensional characters are being slaughtered. There is a nice electronic score by Dan Wyman to add a little 80s flavor and the make-up FX are adequate enough to make our villains creepy.
The cast are all adequate enough for an 80s horror flick. Blair and Barton being the hero and heroine are fine, though don’t get really animated till they are running and screaming for their lives. Blair especially perks up in the last few minutes as her role of final girl intensifies. I don’t consider that a spoiler as she has star billing and is the only person featured on the movie poster, so I think that part of the story is fairly obvious from the get-go as to who our final girl will be. Suki Goodwin is cute and hot as the saucy, sexy blonde, but as all horror fans know, saucy, sexy blondes rarely make it to the last act. Van Patten is your typical horny frat boy and Brophy your typical elitist, fraternity douche. Jenny Neumann and Jimmy Sturtevant fill out the cast as Brophy’s lackeys and killer fodder.
So, overall, Hell Night can be an amusing watch and it does have some nice nostalgia, especially for me, since I got to see it with friends in a theater where movies like this should be seen. While it is very slow to really get going, the last act does kick in gear and deliver some nice action and a little suspense. If today’s audiences are patient enough to get to that point, then they should be satisfied with what the last 40 minutes delivers. Maybe not an outright classic, but if you are a fan of the 80s slasher era, it deserves a look and will probably entertain you just fine when all is said and done…and sometimes that and a few brews are all one needs in a movie.
UPDATE: The flick is now available from the awesome folks at Scream Factory! Here’s my Blu-Ray review…LINK!
Before I get into actually reviewing this film, I have to say that being from Northern New Jersey all my life, I was a little insulted by the fact that writer/director/star Joseph Gordon-Levitt portrays pretty much everyone in his Garden State set movie as a Sopranos/Jersey Shore reject. The scenes with his Jon Martello and his dad Jon Sr. (Tony Danza laying it on really thick) in their matching ‘wife beaters’ and gold chains at post church Sunday dinner could have fit into either one of those shows without missing a beat. I’m not saying there aren’t people here that fit the stereotype but, c’mon… we don’t all talk/act like that and the clowns on Jersey Shore weren’t even from Jersey. But, ironically, I do think that in the context of portraying those stereotypes, Levitt and his cast… especially Johansson… gave really strong performances. They did make their characters work and gave them life beyond the stereotypes but, I was irked that this is how the Texas born Levitt sees us all here in N.J which is a pretty diverse state. But whadda ya gonna do…eh? Fuggedaboutit!
Objectively, Levitt’s directorial debut isn’t that bad. It’s an odd little romantic comedy/drama about Jon Martello (Levitt) a young man whose lady killer skills are renown in his hood, hence the moniker “Don Jon”. But, despite his ability to have a different girl in his bed every week, Jon is addicted to internet porn and actually prefers it to real intimacy. Real life sex never lives up to what he sees on his lap top. Jon then meets and falls head over heals for the beautiful Barbara (Scarlett Johansson, who hits it out of the park with her stereotype Jersey Girl) and begins a torrid relationship with her. But, despite the heat in the bedroom, Jon still can’t kick his torrid relationship with Pornhub.com… that is, until the manipulative Barbara makes him take a night business course and he meets quirky older woman Ester (Julianne Moore). Now Jon must decide where his heart really lies…control freak Barbara, the sweet but odd Ester… or with his box of tissues. Can Jon finally give up his digital fantasies for real intimacy or will he stick with cyber love? I won’t say Joseph Gordon Levitt’s directorial debut is bad. It’s not. He actually does give the film his own style and gets good work out of his cast. It’s a well made and directed little movie. But, it also strongly gives the vibe of being a vanity project where the writer and director creates a character for himself that is a hot looking, jacked-up Romeo that can get the most beautiful girls in the bar into a cab and his bed with little or no effort. And he casts one of Hollywood’s hottest actresses to play his lover with multiple make-out and love scenes. The film is entertaining and has some laughs but, the obvious vanity of the role is intrusive. And let’s face it, even at under 90 minutes, the story of a guy with a porn addiction is not exactly feature film length material and the thinness of the story also shows as, once we reach the film’s conclusion, we realize we really didn’t go all that far. The plot could have been handled in a half hour sit-com episode or an hour TV drama at most. A feature length film is pushing it. There are a lot of scenes of him in front of a computer watching his favorite skin flicks, we got the point about 5 scenes back, and there are the numerous scenes of him at church and then dinner with his family after. I understand he was using this to show his characters progression but, they start to feel like we are re-watching the same scene rather quickly. It gets repetitive. The thing that really works is the performances. Despite my bitching earlier about the use of exaggerated stereotypes as characters, the actors really do good work in portraying those stereotypes. Levitt… who I’ve been a fan of since 3rd Rock and Brick is good and very charming as ‘Guido extraordinaire’, Jon. He’s a simple guy who loves his single guy lifestyle and is not anxious to see it go despite his mom’s (Glenne Headly) pressure for grandkids. Perhaps his addiction to porn and aversion to an intimate relationship is his way of preserving that life. Odds are it is. Johansson is borderline brilliant with her portrayal of a stereotypical Jersey girl complete with the accent and expressive hand gestures, talking while waving her perfectly manicured nails… I’ll admit, these girls do exist and I have encountered them and Johansson nails it with the nails. Danza is a little much with his Jon Sr. I will admit I have never been a fan of Tony Danza, he’s like the 70s Ashton Kutcher. You just keep wondering how he continually gets an extension on his 15 minutes. But, he lays it on thick as the ‘Goombah’ dad and sometimes it’s grating. Moore is spared a Jersey stereotype but, does play another stereotype, the quirky soul who you would find reading poetry in a Village coffee shop and probably has a lot of crystals and incense in her house but, she is an exceptional actress and gives Ester a very human quality and when she reveals her inner pain to Jon, it is a very heartfelt scene. Much like the other leads, she turns a stereotypical character into a three dimensional person which is the film’s saving grace. And that is what elevates Levitt’s filmmaking debut above it’s flaws and made it enjoyable enough to watch, despite some annoyingly stereotypical characters and a thin and sometimes crude story, the actors made real people out of caricatures and in the end you did root for Jon to find intimacy that didn’t require a laptop. The actor/director also has a great chemistry with both his leading ladies which also makes things work far better then it should. Levitt does show potential here as a filmmaker. Interesting to see what he comes up with next. Also stars Brie Larson as Jon’s sister Monica who spends 95% of her role ignoring everyone around her while texting. The character literally speaks once.
Film earns a few extra points for filming in Hackensack, N.J., which is in my neck of the woods, and for Scarlett being volcanically hot.
3 Jersey Girl Johanssons… the film really deserves 2 and 1/2 but, I don’t have the heart to chop the lovely Scarlett in half…
I’ve decided to create the Bare Bones column for miscellaneous reviews and items that don’t warrant a full write up as, in these particular instances, the reviews are simply put and don’t need a full column of it’s own to express. Sometimes, in the case of a movie review, a basic line or two pretty much sums it up and I don’t feel the need to give it the full treatment… as my opinion on these three recently watched flicks illustrates…
Remake has a few moments, especially in it’s second half and Moretz and Moore try hard but, it’s far too close to DePalma’s film to warrant it’s existence and the climax comes across as something out of an X-Men movie with Carrie becoming Magneto, hand gestures, levitation and all.
** and 1/2
DARK TOUCH (2013)
Irish horror/ psychological thriller Dark Touch is a noble effort and has some nice atmosphere, performances and chills but, as the plot unfolds, we realize we’ve seen it all before despite the well intended messages about child abuse and the traumatic effects it has both physically and mentally.
** and 1/2
ARGENTO’S DRACULA 3-D (2013)
Quite possibly the worst adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic novel and continued proof that Argento hasn’t made a film worth watching in over twenty years. Never a big fan of his flicks to begin with… I find them more silly then scary… but, at least his early works are entertaining, stylishly filmed and are worth watching. This is just a complete mess that fails even on a so bad it’s good level! This guy hasn’t made a good movie since the 80s.
A Lonely Place To Die is more thriller then horror movie but, it is a suspenseful and sometimes nasty little thriller at that and does have the violence, tone and body count one might expect from a horror flick. The film tells the tale of a group of friends… Alison (Melissa George), Rob (Alec Newman), Jenny (Kate Magowan), Ed (Ed Speleers) and Alex (Garry Sweeney)… who are mountain climbing in the Scottish Highlands and find a young Croatian girl, Anna (Holly Boyd), buried in a box in the middle of nowhere. They obviously release her and take her with them but, to say that some very unsavory and very lethal individuals want her back, is an understatement and the vacation turns into a fight for survival against two ruthless and armed thugs. What makes this thriller especially effective though, is it’s ability to smoothly change gears. What starts out as a wilderness survival flick becomes something else about halfway through and without missing a beat. It actually draws us in further, as we didn’t expect the movie to take this direction. The less you know the better, so, I’ll say no more. Director and co-writer Julian Gilbey (along with co-writer Will Gilbey) evolves the story without loosing our attention or breaking the tension he creates early on, giving us something more then we expected, so, we are glued to the screen until the film’s bloody and very intense conclusion. He gives us a few surprises along the way and keeps us from ever getting comfortable in our expectations of where this is all going to lead. Performances all around are good with Melissa George playing a strong yet vulnerable heroine and Sean Harris and Gary Sweeney are brutally effective as the pair of cold and vicious kidnappers. The Scottish locations give the film a nice look under the guidance of Julian Gilbey’s lens and he gives the film a nice no-frills yet visually striking style while providing us with some intense action and suspense. A very entertaining action/thriller and a sign of hopefully more good things to come from Julian Gilbey. Also stars Hellboy’s Karel Roden.
For my second It Came From Asian Cinema column, I thought I’d stray from my usual review format and focus on an interesting two movie collaboration between one of Japan’s most versatile filmmakers and one of it’s more unique performers, director Kinji Fukasaku and female impersonator Akihiro Miwa. Both films are based on the works of Yukio Mishima who is another one of Japan’s most controversial talents.
THE COLLABORATIONS OF KINJI FUKASAKU AND AKIHIRO MIWA
Kinji Fukasaku is one of my favorite Japanese filmmakers, probably one of my favorite filmmakers, period. His work over his 40-year filmmaking career was delightfully diverse, directing a wide variety of films from hard boiled Yakuza movies like Graveyard of Honor to silly and campy sci-fi flicks like The Green Slime and Message in Space to the film he is most known for by today’s movies fans, the violent and satirical Battle Royale. But no films truly display Fukasaku’s daring and versatile filmmaking style than his film collaborations with Akihiro Miwa, a Japanese drag queen and cabaret singer who was quite renown at the time. Fukasaku and Miwa made two films together in the late 60s, the campy crime thriller The Black Lizard in 1968 and the noir-ish romantic tragedy, Black Rose Mansion in 1969. In both films Akihiro Miwa, billed as Akihiro Maruyama, plays the lead role and in both cases the characters are femme fatales and the fact that he is actually a man in drag never comes into play. The roles are of women and Miwa’s performing them is never used as a gimmick, but strictly as a bold casting choice.
The first and most fun of these two films is the campy and decadent crime thriller The Black Lizard. The tile refers to Miwa’s character of the master jewel thief, the notorious Black Lizard who is as seductive as she is dangerous. The film is based on a play by the infamous Yukio Mishima from a book by Japanese author Edogawa Rampo and Mishima even has a cameo as one of Black Lizard’s former lovers, now preserved and put gruesomely on display. The film follows Lizard’s attempts to steal The Star of Egypt and of a detective (Isao Kimura) who is hired to stop her. In between there is plenty of intrigue, kidnapping, murder and the deadly charms of Black Lizard. The film is very stylish and has a heavy campy 60s spy movie feel with a dash of Rocky Horror thrown in, years before that play/film was created. It’s a fun movie and Fukasaku has a blast with it, as does his star, who plays the dragon lady Black Lizard with all the gusto of a Disney evil queen or fairy tale witch. Very 60s and a very entertaining movie with a wonderfully comic book visual style.
Black Rose Mansion is quite different. It is written by Fukasaku from a play by Mashima and tells the tragic story of Ryuko (Miwa) a lounge singer hired to perform at the Black Rose Mansion, a home turned into a nightclub by owner Kyohei (Eitaro Ozawa). But Ryuko is a victim of her own charms, and a string of ex-lovers follow her there all emotional, suicidal and even homicidal. This comes decades before Scott Pilgram’s Ramona Flowers had the same problem. Worse still, is that both Kyohei and his son, Wataru (Masakazu Tamura) have fallen for the seductive singer and a tragic love triangle of Shakespearian proportions is the result. Again, Miwa is playing the femme fatale, but here he plays a sad woman who carries around a black rose to symbolize her ever broken heart. She feels that when the rose returns to its red, she will have finally found the true love that has always eluded her. Unlike the campy Black Lizard, Miwa plays Ryuko with both a tragic sadness and a passionate fire. A woman who, despite all her lovers, has yet to know true love. A woman who can’t help who she is and the effect she has on the men around her. Much like the scorpion in the timeless fable with the frog, it’s in her nature. Fukasaku also directs the film far more serious than Lizard but imbues it with his trademark visual style. There’s a great shot of one of Ryuko’s heels floating in the surf to symbolize the beach tryst she just had with Wataru. Evidence she is figuratively drowning by letting her passions govern her choices. A shot that really resonates. Fukasaku gives the film some surreal and psychedelic dream and flashback sequences to keep things lively and interesting, as well. The film is both very 40s noir and very 60s colorful as evidence of Fukasaku’s versatility as a filmmaker.
Fukasaku, obviously went on to have a diverse film career before passing away in 2003. His final completed film is considered his masterpiece, the ultraviolet Battle Royale (he only filmed one scene in BR2 which was completed by his son, Kenta), but fans of that film should be aware of the impressive variety his filmography carries.
Akihiro Miwa, a Nagasaki survivor as a child, who, aside from being a female impersonator and cabaret performer, was also a composer, who wrote his own songs, including the Black Lizard theme song, and an author who wrote numerous books. He also did some TV work and voice over work in animation including Princess Mononoke and Howl’s Moving Castle for the legendary Hayao Miyazaki.
Their collaborations may not be for everyone, but they are worth a watch for film fans who are always looking for something intriguing and diverse, or fans of films, especially Japanese, of this era. Watching the result of two talented and unique individuals working together is reason enough to pique the curiosity.
Currently Black Rose Mansion is available on DVD and can be rented from Netflix, while sadly Black Lizard is unavailable.
For this week’s double feature I have decided to go with two underrated and under-appreciated films from recent birthday boy, legendary filmmaker John Carpenter. These two films also happen to be his strangest and most surreal efforts. Carpenter has referred to these two films as the second and third part of his “Apocalypse Trilogy” that was started with his classic The Thing. I wasn’t sure about either when I first saw them but, both have grown on me over the years and I have now come to believe that they are not given their proper due …
PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1987)
Prince of Darkness is a strange movie written by Carpenter and combining religion and theoretical quantum physics. It sounds like a contradictory combination but, it works better then you might expect. It was the first of a multi-picture deal with Alive Films where Carpenter would make 3 or 4 low budget flicks. The second and last film was the cult classic They Live, as a disagreement over the third film’s budget ended the collaboration.
The story opens with the death of a priest who presided over a small inner city parish. Enter Donald Pleasence as another priest… who’s name is never given… who discovers that the deceased priest was part of a secret society within the church called The Brotherhood Of Sleep. And this sect have been protecting a dark secret that may challenge the very core of what we have come to believe both scientifically and religiously. A team of college students, led by Professor Birack (Victor Wong) and including Brian Marsh (Jameson Parker) and Catherine Danforth (Lisa Blount), are brought to the parish to investigate a strange cylinder filled with a pulsating green liquid in a locked chamber in the basement, as well as, the scriptures that come with it. They discover that the liquid is a form of the Anti-Christ and it seeks release in order to bring it’s father, the Anti-God into our world. And as members of the team start to fall under it’s powerful thrall and they all become plagued by the same strange dreams, it’s terrifyingly obvious that the remaining team members are in a fight against an ancient evil that their science may not be able to contain.
Carpenter delivers a very odd but, effectively creepy film. It’s has an atmosphere of dread from the start to the finish and presents a very chilling scenario that there may be things in existence that neither our religion or science may be able to handle. And as these are two things people most put their faith in, it is a disturbing concept. It also presents an interesting idea that Bible prophecies may have actually been warnings sent from the future as the dream effecting all our college science students appears to be exactly that. Carpenter also presents the possibility that certain Bible stories were put in place to cover more disturbing truths as the scientific knowledge to explain or understand the reality of it was not available. Basically we were told things in fable form because the science wasn’t there to properly explain it and we weren’t advanced enough to understand it. As someone who was born and raised Christian yet has always had an interest in science, I actually have had this thought myself occasionally and it was interesting to see the master filmmaker weave this theory into his plot. Carpenter also uses his low budget well and keeps the story, for the most part contained in the church. Again working with the fear of isolation as a horde of homicidal homeless people keep our besieged team members inside. Gary B. Kibbe provides the atmospheric cinematography and would collaborate with Carpenter on 7 more projects and he gives Prince a very unsettling look yet, rich with color. This is a strange film that may not appeal to everyone, it took me a few years and repeat viewings before I fully appreciated it and it’s grown on me since I first saw it in 87 and wasn’t quite sold on it then.
The film has it’s flaws, some of the make-up FX are cheesy and some of the violent death scenes, especially those perpetrated by the army of homeless people surrounding the church, lead by Alice Cooper, seem a little out of place in a film that starts out working in subtlety. But, since it does switch gears and become more of a traditional horror film in it’s second half, as the possessed students try to kill or possess the others who are fighting against their former friends to stay alive, so, in the overall scheme they work fine. Some may not have patience for some of the science heavy dialog but, I though Carpenter’s script does a good job of giving scientific explanations for some of the more supernatural elements of the religious scripture presented in his story. Regardless of your beliefs, Carpenter poses some interesting questions and the film is really creepy throughout. And adding to the effectiveness is one of Carpenter’s spookiest scores to date.
Overall, Prince Of Darkness is perhaps Carpenter’s oddest and most daring film, in some respects but, yet another that wasn’t all that well accepted at first and now has gained a following over the years and rightfully so. This flick may not be for everyone and it’s mix of science and religion may not work for some but, I think it’s an interesting and thoroughly creepy movie that not only presents some well executed traditional horror elements but, poses some interesting questions and theories about what we believe in as well.
3 canisters of gooey pulsating dormant evil!
IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS (1995)
John Carpenter directs what might be his most surreal film, from a script by Michael De Luca, and the final film in Carpenter’s self denominated “Apopcalypse Trilogy” begun by The Thing and Prince Of Darkness. The Lovecraftian film opens with Insurance Investigator John Trent (Sam Neill) being dragged in a straight-jacket into an insane asylum. An interview with his psychologist, Dr. Wrenn (David Warner) reveals that Trent was on a case to discover the whereabouts of famous, best-selling horror author Sutter Cane (a creepy Jurgen Prochnow) when his publishers file a claim that the Stephen King-like author is missing and hasn’t delivered his next book, which is due to be released very soon. Trent starts to read Cane’s books as part of the investigation and starts to have strange hallucinations but, chooses to wave them off as effects of his imagination combined with Cane’s effective prose which is said to have an equal effect on his readers. He decides to find Cane’s favorite setting, the supposedly fictional town of Hobb’s End which he believes is very real and is where Cane is hiding as part of a publicity stunt. Publisher Jackson Harglow (Charlton Heston) agrees to Trent’s quest as long as he brings Cane’s editor Linda Styles (Julie Carmen) along with him. But, while the journey does indeed lead to Hobb’s End, Trent and Styles find that the town may not be all that is real from Cane’s books as they are slowly drawn into a nightmare that may suggest that the belief in Cane’s novels by his massive fan-base, may be giving life to his prose and that his influence for those books may be from darker depths then just his imagination. Can Trent and Styles escape this living nightmare or are they just characters whose fates have already been decided by the pen of Sutter Cane and the ancient evil that serves as his muse.
Carpenter presents one of his strangest and most surreal film to date and while it gets a little hard to tell whether Cane’s books are effecting reality or if we are actually watching one unfold before us and it’s taking such life that it’s characters don’t realize they’re fictional… but, maybe we’re not supposed to figure it out which, does add to it’s unsettling atmosphere. Carpenter delivers his trademark visuals supported by frequent cinematographer Gary B. Kibbe and we get glimpses of horrible things lurking in the shadows, all tentacles, eyes and teeth, much like the horrors of H.P. Lovecraft. Hobb’s End seems like a typical sleepy New England town but, Carpenter slowly reveals that there is something horribly wrong here as there is an evil underneath the Norman Rockwell exterior with it’s children blood-thirstily pursuing a frightened dog or the sweet old lady who runs the inn and keeps her frail old husband handcuffed behind the counter. When we finally meet Cane things really start to spiral into madness for Trent and Carpenter takes us on the ride with some of the most bizarre and trippiest sequences he has presented and that’s saying a lot.
Where Madness really stumbles is in some weak dialog in it’s script and in an area that Carpenter is usually strong in, casting. For characters in a John Carpenter film, I found Trent and Styles to be fairly weak… though it is not his script or they, his original characters… characters from Carpenter’s own scripts are usually memorable and strong. But, I also thought that Sam Neil and Julie Carmen, didn’t quite fit their roles properly with Carmen especially appearing very uncomfortable or unsure how to play the material. She is the weak link in the film though I don’t really feel Neill, who I am a big fan of, quite fits the role of Trent either. He just seems like he really isn’t clicking with the weird material though he is nowhere near as awkward as Carmen who is borderline annoying here. Neill at least seems to enjoy playing the ‘going mad’ part of his role while Carmen gets worse as the story gets stranger. Prochnow is the only one who seems to get what’s going on and dives in with both feet in his portrayal of the sinister Sutter Cane and Heston is a perfect fit as Arcane Publishing head Harglow. Except for a few of the supporting characters in Carpenter’s The Ward… another film not written by the master… this is one of the only Carpenter films where weak characters or miscast actors were a factor. Classic characters are Carpenter’s forte’, at least when he writes the script.
Overall, In The Mouth Of Madness is a creepy, freaky, surreal film that works far more then it doesn’t. It’s his visually and conceptually most surreal film and it is very effective in both atmosphere and delivering some really cool creatures and bloody gore. Carpenter again writes a cool score, though this time with composer Jim Lang. While it’s leads don’t seem quite right for their roles, it still provides a spooky 90+ minutes that messes with your head a bit and there’s nothing wrong with that. Another Carpenter film that has garnered a bit of a cult following and as a fan of his work, I agree this under-appreciated flick deserves it, even with it’s flaws. Also stars Bernie Casey as Trent’s boss Robinson and John Glover as an eccentric asylum employee.
In a future where the world is no longer run by governments, but by corporations, the world is taught the importance of teamwork and the folly of individual achievement through the vicious sport of Rollerball. Rollerball was created specifically to be a total team sport emphasizing the importance of being one of the team…in other words, following orders and doing what you’re told…but against the game’s intentions, a hero rises, Jonathan E (James Caan). Jonathan is the greatest player the sport has ever known, but a hero is the last thing the corporate heads want and they seek to stop his example of the true power of individual achievement, at any cost. At first he is asked to retire after an illustrious 10 year career. But as Jonathan resists, they begin to change the game’s rules making each competition more and more dangerous till Jonathan submits or is killed. They even interfere in his personal life taking away the woman he loves and giving her to one of their own. But fueled by the obvious assassination of his best friend (John Beck) during a game, Jonathan E has other ideas, even if it costs him his life.
Rollerball has it’s flaws, the movie is very somber and talky and the pace is a bit slow, until the game sequences, which is when the film really comes alive with a furious energy. Director Norman Jewison has a bit more of an artsy style than the film needed, but the contrast between the sober almost sterile everyday life and the brutal viciousness of the Rollerball games does actually work to the film’s advantage. We can see how this game has become the only excitement for the masses and the only avenue to vent their negative emotions.
The good cast all perform well. Caan’s performance echoes the film’s tone. Outside the arena he is soft-spoken and somber, but comes alive when thrust into the competition of the game he loves. At first he is confused and frustrated, but the more he resists and the more he realizes how scared his hero persona makes the corporate leaders, the more powerful he realizes he is. This sets up for a final showdown when the corporate heads (represented by a sinister John Houseman), who…desperate to destroy him…remove all the rules and time limits from the final championship game, turning it into a virtual blood bath.
The film’s portrayal of a corporate run world is probably more relevant today than when the film was first made in 1975 and the depiction of the audience’s bloodthirsty love of the violent game is also more relevant as our own sports events suffer more and more violent incidents at stadiums. So to a degree, this 70s sci-fi thriller actually works better in context with today’s world, than it did in ’75.
A cool flick despite it’s flaws. Also stars Moses Gunn, Shane Rimmer, Maud Adams and John Beck as Jonathan’s ill-fated friend and teammate Moonpie. Avoid the 2002 remake.
I am a big fan of Mike Flanagan’s spooky low budget chiller Absentia(click on the title for my review) and his sophomore feature Oculus is coming from Blumhouse Productions and looks equally creepy. Film is slated to arrive in theaters on 4/11/14! Personally, I can’t wait!