Saturday, November 30, 2013

THE RETURN - DVD REVIEW

The RETURN (1980) is the third Greydon Clark film to be released by Scorpion Releasing after JOYSTICKS (1983) and ANGELS' BRIGADE (1979), this time under their popular “Katarina’s Nightmare Theater” line.  Directed after WITHOUT WARNING (1979), one of his most sought-after films, Clark once again delves into another, even more adventurous “sci-fi terror” film but, unfortunately, the results are rather middling.

During the mid-fifties, in the town of Little Creek, New Mexico, two children and an adult (Vincent Schiavelli), who just happens to be prospecting along with his dog, encounter an UFO and are overwhelmed by bright, colourful lights.  25 years later, a series of cattle mutilations plague the same town while Deputy Marshall Wayne (Jan-Michael Vincent) is unexpectedly reunited of sorts with Jennifer Kramer (Cybill Shepherd), the two children from the opening.  Working for the SSR Institute, a “publicly funded private agency that sends up satellites” owned by her Dad (Raymond Burr), Jennifer arrives in town to investigate a “black hole” or some other “analogous situation”.  She is soon working with Wayne a little too closely as they track down the mysterious prospector who has started to kill humans as well.  Suspicious townsfolk, curious tourists, angered ranchers, spoiled rich kids, a crazy dog and lots of scientific jargon also figure into the script.

As entertaining as the film is, the biggest problem is the lack of explanation for everything going on.  Why do the aliens choose these people and what are they suppose to do?  Why are Wayne and Jennifer seemingly unaffected after all these years but the prospector is compelled to mutilate cattle and later humans?  Is he jealous they’re back in town?  And where did he get his mini light-saber?  Why is the SSR Institute so interested in these anomalies to begin with?  Surprisingly, much of the sci-fi and horror elements are kept on the backburner while much of the film plays out like a hicksploitation flick with some occasional gore thrown in.  The ending is especially weird and disjointed as the prospector battles it out with Wayne and Jennifer in an isolated shack with one of those “black holes” prominently in the background, which actually turns out to be a swirl of colours.  Even though it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, it’s still oddly engaging and Daniel Pearl’s (DP on the original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE) photography was especially sharp and colourful in this new HD master.

Hot off the success of Hal Needham’s HOOPER (1978) and John Flynn's vigilante flick DEFIANCE (1979), Jan-Michael Vincent headlines the impressive cast whose careers were either on the decline or already in the doldrums.  Everyone handles their roles sufficiently while veterans Martin Landau and Neville Brand were already accustomed to appearing in low-budget stuff like this.  Landau is particularly hilarious as the town Marshall who is either discussing his morning bacon or the merits of having bigger holes in his beer can in order to dunk his donut.  The biggest surprise here is Cybill Shepherd who, in what should be a pivotal role, isn’t given very much to do other than exchange glances with Jan-Michael Vincent and watch him crack open a six pack.
   
Scorpion’s DVD of this virtually forgotten title features some fairly extensive extras including an interview and informative commentary with Clark as well as numerous trailers for other Scorpion releases including a terrific trailer for this film.  Of course, you can watch this with or without Katarina Leigh Waters’ intro and closing remarks, but why choose the latter?  Her wraparounds are always good fun.     

Now if someone would finally release WITHOUT WARNING on a legitimate DVD or Blu-Ray.  We can only hope.



Monday, November 25, 2013

STILL LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR


Based on Judith Rossner’s 1975 best-selling book of the same name, which itself was “inspired” by the real life 1973 murder of New York schoolteacher Roseann Quinn, Richard Brooks’ LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR (1977) is an almost forgotten film in this digital era despite its controversial subject and multiple Oscar nominations at the time of its release.  Diane Keaton took on the challenging role of Theresa Dunn, a driven schoolteacher for deaf children who, outside of her job, “cruises crummy bars” in search of men, some occasional drugs and good times.  Unfortunately, her lack of discretion eventually leads to trouble.

Like many book-to-film adaptations, writer/director Richard Brooks slightly altered and, in this case, toned down Theresa’s predilections towards the more overtly violent confrontations Roseann Quinn was attracted too and, even though he hints at this in numerous scenes (Richard Gere’s florescent stiletto, kung-fu, ballet comes to mind), LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR’s Theresa seems to be more interested in the simple pleasures of life after a bout with scoliosis, which resulted in some temporary paralysis as a child.  In spite of her scoliosis, much of her subsequent behaviour undoubtedly stems from her rigid Irish-Catholic upbringing and rather tumultuous relationship with her father (Richard Kiley) and just when you think he’s just another typical caricature, he surprises you with an astounding scene towards the end of the film.  Even during the simplistic, but highly effective credits sequence comprised of black-and-white still shots of Theresa’s nightlife (beautifully shot by Kathy Fields), his is the only one whose picture suddenly moves as he opens his eyes with shock and disapproval at what his daughter is up too.     
After an unsuccessful affair with her selfish university professor (Alan Feinstein), who “can’t stand a woman’s company right after he fucked her”, Theresa eventually moves away from home into a modest Manhattan (or as her father so eloquently puts it, “muggers paradise”) apartment and begins to seek the attention of any man she can pick up, while her very outgoing sister Katherine (a terrific, almost manic Tuesday Weld) keeps popping into her life.  Some of the men she meets include Tony (Richard Gere), a gutter-level hustler, who actually does show some affection for her despite always leaving for “business” for weeks on end, while James (William Atherton), a “respectable” welfare agent is essentially rejected at every available opportunity, because he’s actually looking for an honest-to goodness relationship.  Then there is Tom Berenger as Gary who is first seen making out with Richard Bright at a gay club while Thelma Houston’s “Don’t Leave Me This Way” plays on the soundtrack.  Much like Theresa, Gary is just another lost and lonely individual that she just happens to meet on New Year’s Eve.  Regardless of the excellent character work, this is Diane Keaton’s show all the way and one of her great and certainly most daring performances.  She imbues every scene with a naivety, intrigue and excitement as she pursues even greater thrills each and every night that is utterly believable.  She is unforgettable.
Beautifully constructed by Brooks and cut by George Grenville, the film jumps back and forth between Theresa’s days in the classroom and nights at the bar with great fluidity, which at times challenges the viewer with sudden bursts of child-like daydreams and almost subliminal imagery; the strobe-light ending is as shocking and disturbing as anything from Gaspar Noe or Lars Von Trier.  Special mention should also go to DP William A. Fraker (he was nominated for an Academy Award) who managed to duplicate the shadowy, smoke-filled bars and packed nightclubs with remarkable perfection.

For whatever reason, LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR has become increasingly elusive in this digital age and has yet to appear on either DVD or Blu-Ray.  Come on Paramount, license this to Olive or Criterion, they would undoubtedly do this film proud.