Sleepaway Camp (1983, Robert Hiltzik)

Sleepaway Camp has two things going for it on a consistent basis–Benjamin Davis’s cinematography (it’s not flashy, but it’s exceptionally competent) and the special effects. There aren’t a lot of gore shots in Camp, but director Hiltzik makes sure they count. He can’t do the suspense sequences, which is a bit of a problem, but I’m not sure where to start with all the film’s problems.

Some of it is a perfectly fine dumb camp movie. It’s mean in that “jocks versus the norms” eighties way, but there’s a cool counselor (Paul DeAngelo–who shockingly doesn’t turn out to be a prick) and Hiltzik is definitely trying with the camp stuff. The scenes with the counselors explaining how an activity works and whatever? Hiltzik worked on those scenes.

Or he just hired photogenic camp counselors.

But it’s not just some dumb movie about Jonathan Tiersten’s bringing his shy cousin (Felissa Rose) to his favorite summer camp, where she romances his best friend, Christopher Collet, and feuds with his ex-girlfriend, Karen Fields. No, it’s not got a serial killer on the loose. At first, the serial killer after some of the downright evil and then just stupidly bad people in the camp. Eventually, however, the killer starts targeting even the innocent and what’s going to happen. Will sleazy camp owner Mike Kellin pin it on Tiersten, or is something else going on?

It’s not a good mystery–there isn’t one–so Hiltzik slaps a twist ending on it. That twist ending has certain very uncomfortable foreshadowing throughout the film and it’s clear, even though Hiltzik wanted to write about a bunch of kids at a summer camp being in danger, he never had any sympathy for any of the characters. Otherwise, maybe the script would’ve been better.

But there’s nothing to be done about his direction. Or Edward Bilous’s score.

Decent moments from Tiersten, Collet, sort of Kellin, definitely Paul DeAngelo and maybe a handful of others. Rose’s part is awful. It’s hard to gauge the performance. Desiree Gould turns in a performance out of a Saturday Night Live dinner theatre sketch. Not the best way to start a picture.

Sleepaway Camp, partially thanks to Hiltzik’s misunderstanding of MacGuffins and general weirdness about sex, is nowhere near as endearing as it should be.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Robert Hiltzik; director of photography, Benjamin Davis; edited by Ron Kalish and Sharyn L. Ross; music by Edward Bilous; production designer, William Bilowit; produced by Jerry Silva and Michele Tatosian; released by United Film Distribution Company.

Starring Jonathan Tiersten (Ricky), Felissa Rose (Angela), Christopher Collet (Paul), Karen Fields (Judy), Mike Kellin (Mel), Katherine Kamhi (Meg), Paul DeAngelo (Ronnie) and Desiree Gould (Aunt Martha).


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The Mangler (1995, Tobe Hooper), the director’s cut

The Mangler is terrible. One hopes the rumor producer Anant Singh replaced director Hooper is true because the film’s bad enough and desperate enough, you occasionally want to cut it some slack. You can’t, because it’s terrible, but you still kind of wish you could.

Here’s the movie. Small town in Maine (it’s a Stephen King adaptation), evil laundry magnate (Robert Englund in a risible performance) runs the town because he has the demonic laundry machine. It needs the occasionally virgin sacrifice or it starts walking around like a Transformer, just with some of the worst of the worst mid–1990s CGI. Seasoned but sad widower cop Ted Levine does not think this is just some laundry machine accident. There’s something afoot with creepy old Robert Englund who mentally and physically abuses a runaway (Lisa Morris) because he can’t mentally and physically abuse his niece (Vanessa Pike). But then Levine’s brother-in-law (maybe, there was kind of mention of it), Daniel Matmor as the lamest hippie occult nerd ever, convinces Levine of the demonic possession. There’s some more, but not really.

It’s dumb. It’s a dumb movie trying to mix metaphors and genres and it fails over and over again. It’s not even like Levine is holding it together. If he were somehow this great noir detective befuddling his way through The Mangler, it might be something. But he’s not. He’s not good, he’s just affable and shows signs he could be good in a far better film.

Unfortunately, none of the other acting is any good at all. Matmor, Pike, Morris, Demetre Phillips, Jeremy Crutchley (a young guy inexplicably cast as an old man and in tons of make-up!), Englund–they’re all terrible. Maybe Ashley Hayden and Vera Blacker are okay. Maybe. They’re not enough it enough to be worse.

Bad music from Barrington Pheloung, really bad photography from Amnon Salomon.

At some point as the second act is finally wrapping it up, it becomes clear somehow really tried with The Mangler. Maybe producer Singh really thought it’d be able to hope on that legitimate Stephen King adaptation bandwagon. At least one of the three screenwriters did. But it can’t, because it’s terrible. It’s terribly acted, directed, photographed, everything. It’s slow. It’s not scary, it’s not gross.

If this movie didn’t have Ted Levine, it would be the equivalent of watching dog poop dry on the sidewalk.

BOMB

CREDITS

Directed by Tobe Hooper; screenplay by Hooper, Stephen David Brooks and Harry Alan Towers, based on the short story by Stephen King; director of photography, Amnon Salomon; edited by David Heitner; music by Barrington Pheloung; production designer, David Barkham; produced by Anant Singh; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Ted Levine (Officer John Hunton), Robert Englund (Bill Gartley), Daniel Matmor (Mark Jackson), Lisa Morris (Lin Sue), Vanessa Pike (Sherry Ouelette), Demetre Phillips (George Stanner), Ashley Hayden (Annette Gillian), Vera Blacker (Mrs. Adelle Frawley) and Jeremy Crutchley (J.J.J. Pictureman).


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The Dunwich Horror (1970, Daniel Haller)

There’s a handful of good things about The Dunwich Horror. They can’t overcome the bad things, but they’re still pretty neat. The script, at least for a while, is fairly nimble. There’s a lot of bad exposition from old dudes Ed Begley and Lloyd Bochner, but the younger folks do quite a bit better. See, Dunwich ought to be hip, but it’s not. The script knows it needs to be hip; director Haller can’t do it. And even if he could do it, cinematographer Richard C. Glouner couldn’t do it. Editor Christopher Holmes tries to be hip with his cutting. He doesn’t do a good job of it and the film’s poorly edited, but he is at least on the same page as the script as far as tone.

Because it’s Dean Stockwell as this smarmy geek who manages to seduce little Sandra Dee away from college with promises of hippie orgies and such. It’s a great idea for a smart genre picture. And Haller butchers every minute of it. There’s some solid dialogue from Curtis Hanson, Henry Rosenbaum and Ronald Silkosky. There’s good characterization of Donna Baccala as Dee’s concerned friend. There’s nothing to be done about Begley and Bochner however. They both refuse to chew at the scenery. They just look miserable instead.

The sets are fairly awful. They’re poorly lit, but they’d still be pretty bad. Dunwich is never pragmatic when it needs to be, except with some of the special effects.

And here’s the other big bad in Dunwich. The last third of the movie when Haller’s trying to do monster suspense. He butchers it, over and over and over and over and over again. Every time it seems like something might actually be creepy or scary, he screws it up. It’s uncomfortable to watch, just because there’s never anything going for it and it’s all Haller’s fault.

I mean, even the perv shots of Dee’s body double writhing in Cthulic anticipation get cut with some kookiness from Stockwell. He goes nuts for the part while still maintaining this creepy sweet guy thing. It’s an awesome performance. Not good, just extremely entertaining. In terms of actual acting, Baccala and Talia Shire are the best. Dee’s okay but she eventually becomes, well, a human sacrifice.

Finally, the music. Les Baxter’s score is hip, romantic, lush, subdued and a dozen other things. It doesn’t always get cut right–because Holmes is bad at the editing thing–but it’s always kind of amazing. It’s a delight in an almost delightful mess. But Haller and Glouner just tank it.

BOMB

CREDITS

Directed by Daniel Haller; screenplay by Curtis Hanson, Henry Rosenbaum and Ronald Silkosky, based on the story by H.P. Lovecraft; director of photography, Richard C. Glouner; edited by Christopher Holmes; music by Les Baxter; produced by Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson; released by American International Pictures.

Starring Dean Stockwell (Wilbur Whateley), Sandra Dee (Nancy Wagner), Ed Begley (Dr. Henry Armitage), Donna Baccala (Elizabeth Hamilton), Lloyd Bochner (Dr. Cory), Sam Jaffe (Old Whateley), Talia Shire (Nurse Cora) and Joanne Moore Jordan (Lavinia Whateley).


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The Day of the Locust (1975, John Schlesinger)

The Day of the Locust is a gentle film, at least in terms of Schlesinger’s direction, Conrad L. Hall’s cinematography and John Barry’s score. The film’s softly lit but with a whole lot of focus. Schlesinger wants to make sure the audience gets to see every part of the actors’ performances. He also wants the actors to exist in this dreamland. It’s Hollywood in the thirties, it’s supposed to be a dreamland. Except everything is a threat, possible danger is everywhere. Only Schlesinger doesn’t break that gentle direction until the third act, so he has to figure out how to suggest that danger as gently as possible.

Luckily, he’s got great actors, he’s got Hall, he’s got Barry, he’s got editor Jim Clark who does an unbelievable job cutting the film. Day of the Locust is a film about terrorized people who don’t realize they’re terrorized until its way too late.

The film opens with William Atherton moving into a not great apartment complex and getting a job in the art department at Paramount. He’s got a rather attractive neighbor, Karen Black, who works as an extra. Black lives with her father, played by Burgess Meredith. The first twenty or so minutes of the film beautifully establishes the grandeur of thirties Hollywood through Atherton’s perspective. Once Meredith shows up, however, the film becomes more and more Black’s.

Eventually, as Atherton’s attempts to woo Black go unsuccessful, Donald Sutherland shows up. He’s not in L.A. for the showbiz. He’s an accountant and a delicate person, something Sutherland essays beautifully. The thing about the acting in Locust is all of its great, it’s just great in completely different ways. Atherton’s story arc, for example, eventually becomes entirely subtext. A long take on him here, a cut to his reaction somewhere else. His character development becomes background, even though he’s somehow always the protagonist.

Sutherland falls for Black too. Just like Bo Hopkins does. Just like Richard Dysart does. Black doesn’t convey malice or even indifference to her suitors, she just doesn’t return their affections. Waldo Salt’s script is extremely complicated in how it deals with Black’s character. She’s never kind, but occasionally gentle. She’s rarely mean when sober, but when drunk she’s vicious. Her character, just like most of them in Locust, is inevitably tragic.

The Day of the Locust‘s characters’ tragedies stem from their unawareness. They’re victims, whether they know it or not. And they only way to succeed is to victimize someone else, which can even be a mutually beneficial arrangement. It’s a rather depressing film. Of course, Atherton’s protagonist is never looking for happiness so much as he is for beauty.

Black’s performance makes the film. Sutherland’s great, Meredith’s great, Atherton’s excellent in a slimmer role than the others, but it’s Black who makes The Day of the Locust so devastating. At least until the final devastation, where Schlesinger and Salt shatter the already shattered dream. For all Schlesinger’s excellent fine, gentle filmmaking, when he unleashes at the end of Locust, it’s even better. And editor Clark ably handles it all.

The Day of the Locust is exceptional.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Schlesinger; screenplay by Waldo Salt, based on a novel by Nathanael West; director of photography, Conrad L. Hall; edited by Jim Clark; music by John Barry; production designer, Richard Macdonald; produced by Jerome Hellman; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring William Atherton (Tod Hackett), Karen Black (Faye Greener), Burgess Meredith (Harry Greener), Donald Sutherland (Homer Simpson), Richard Dysart (Claude Estee), Bo Hopkins (Earle Shoop), Geraldine Page (Big Sister), Paul Stewart (Helverston), John Hillerman (Ned Grote), Pepe Serna (Miguel) and Billy Barty (Abe Kusich).

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