Tag Archives: Tom Atkins

Maniac Cop (1988, William Lustig)

There are good things about Maniac Cop. Not many and director Lustig doesn’t know what to do with them, but there are good things about it.

James Lemmo and Vincent J. Rabe’s photography is excellent. Lustig never asks them to do anything interesting, but they’re clearly capable of it. The stunts are also pretty good. They’re ambitious, which is strange, because nothing else about the movie is ambitious.

Lustig, as a director, can’t work with actors–the most annoying thing about Maniac Cop is it should be all right. Lots of elements should be good. Lustig can’t get acceptable performances out of actors like Tom Atkins and Richard Roundtree. If you can’t get acceptable performances out of character actors, there’s something seriously wrong with your approach.

Larry Cohen’s script isn’t great–it’s similarly unambitious after a layered first act–but had Lustig kept the film interesting until the last act, it would’ve been better. The revelation of the evil spree killing cop is a dumb twist, but Cohen’s plotting of it is inept. It’s so inept, Lustig can’t even impair it.

Inordinately bad music from Jay Chattaway doesn’t help things. David Kern’s editing isn’t scary or exciting; Maniac Cop has this ornate, incompetent chase sequence where there’s clearly time put into it, but without good result.

Eventual lead Bruce Campbell’s okay. He manages to make a dip of a character likable and he has some fun playing the damsel in distress for a bit, but Lustig wastes him. Cohen writes a good character for Laurene Landon and Landon has some decent moments. Not enough, thanks to Lustig’s inability to direct his actors.

Maniac Cop plays like it is going to get markedly better at any moment. It never does.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by William Lustig; written and produced by Larry Cohen; directors of photography, James Lemmo and Vincent J. Rabe; edited by David Kern; music by Jay Chattaway; production designer, Jonathan R. Hodges; released by Shapiro-Glickenhaus Entertainment.

Starring Tom Atkins (Frank McCrae), Bruce Campbell (Jack Forrest), Laurene Landon (Theresa Mallory), Richard Roundtree (Commissioner Pike), William Smith (Captain Ripley), Robert Z’Dar (Matt Cordell) and Sheree North (Sally Noland).


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The Fog (1980, John Carpenter)

It’s not just Janet Leigh being in the film or all the trouble–visibly–starting when Jamie Lee Curtis arrives in town, it’s everything about The Fog–it’s an aware Hitchcock homage. The list can continue with the setting, the reference to The Birds, but it’s even more. There’s a definite feel to the film; Carpenter seemingly (he really doesn’t, since the film’s only ninety minutes) dedicates a bunch of time to the character development.

He’s got that fantastic introduction to Adrienne Barbeau’s character. There’s her talking to admirer Charles Cyphers on the phone to showcase her actual personality (versus her radio personality), the guys on the boat talking about her, then, a few scenes later, there are the backstory heavy photographs and newspaper clippings. It takes almost no time, but Carpenter and co-writer Debra Hill create this incredibly full character. I think the line about her grocery shopping does a lot of work in about four seconds.

Hill’s contributions to the script can’t be overlooked–besides Barbeau’s fine character, there’s also the almost passive–but touching–romance between Tom Atkins and Jamie Lee Curtis. It’s so passive, it’s hard to even call it a romance, but it’s there and the scenes are great. Atkins is the closest thing the film’s got to a leading man and he’s fantastic–his character’s also very Hitchcockian. The film’s got six principles–Barbeau, Atkins, Curtis, Leigh, Nancy Keyes and Hal Holbrook. Leigh and Keyes spend most of the film together–another great relationship–while Barbeau and Holbrook are mostly solo. Holbrook’s part is only significant at the beginning and end, so the film’s almost three–Barbeau the radio deejay, Atkins and Curtis’s wild ride, and Leigh and Keyes working on the town’s anniversary celebration.

The anniversary celebration, which is handled extremely carefully, just shows off what a great job Carpenter does with limited money here. Everything gives the impression of majesty, mostly due to Carpenter’s fine Panavision composition and Dean Cundey’s lush color palate (another Hitchcock similarity). It’s an incredibly tight script and the majority of the film doesn’t have a single misstep. There’s Cyphers in his small role and he’s great. Darwin Jostin has a cameo, he’s great. It’s all great… until the end.

The end falls apart slowly, maybe because it’s hurried. After spending so much time with Curtis and Atkins (and Leigh and Keyes), seeing them pushed aside for Holbrook to take over–while Barbeau awkwardly narrates–really knocks away at the picture.

The film opens slowly and quietly. You’ve got John Houseman telling a story. Houseman’s definitely got the voice for it. It’s gradual, ominous and full of mood. The ending is fast, loud and neon.

The performances are all good, especially Barbeau (until the end, she can’t make her monologues sound good, no one could), Atkins, Keyes and Curtis. Atkins is such an assured leading man, it’s hard to believe he never played one again (maybe he did, but I’ve sure never seen it). Barbeau’s character is so interesting, she could have played her in a straight, non-genre picture and it probably would have been even better.

It’s great filmmaking, it’s just a problematic film.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by John Carpenter; written by Carpenter and Debra Hill; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Charles Bornstein and Tommy Lee Wallace; music by Carpenter; production designer, Wallace; produced by Hill; released by AVCO Embassy Pictures.

Starring Adrienne Barbeau (Stevie Wayne), Jamie Lee Curtis (Elizabeth Solley), Janet Leigh (Kathy Williams), John Houseman (Mr. Machen), Tom Atkins (Nick Castle), James Canning (Dick Baxter), Charles Cyphers (Dan O’Bannon), Nancy Kyes (Sandy Fadel), Ty Mitchell (Andy), Hal Holbrook (Father Malone), John F. Goff (Al Williams) and George ‘Buck’ Flower (Tommy Wallace).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | JOHN CARPENTER, PART 1: THE WONDER YEARS.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982, Tommy Lee Wallace)

Halloween III: Season of the Witch is a–well, it’s kind of a remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and not discrete about it at all. The setting has changed and the details, but the movie’s obviously going for the same feel. Occasionally, it even pulls something off. Tommy Lee Wallace is only an adequate director–and one who apparently doesn’t shoot enough coverage–but it’s Dean Cundey shooting Panavision. Dean Cundey shooting Panavision is never going to be a worthless experience.

Witch has one of the meanest spirited–maybe the meanest spirited–plots I’ve ever seen. A nasty Irishman is going to kill every kid on Halloween. Presumably, only in the continental United States and maybe Canada, but still. The movie even has a scene with a kid dying as part of the evil plot, something I really wasn’t expecting to see in a major studio release.

But all that mean spiritedness is revealed at the end and there’s about an hour to get through before then. The hour’s got some okay stuff and some bad stuff–Wallace’s dialogue is awful a lot of the time, so bad even Tom Atkins can’t get it out. Leading lady Stacey Nelkin is bad. Dan O’Herlihy has a great time as the mad Irishman, though. The rest of the supporting cast is immaterial.

What’s strange about the movie is it ought to be better. Producers Debra Hill and John Carpenter seem to have been the laziest producers ever, not giving the script an obviously needed polish. Carpenter did contribute the score, which is occasionally effective but the occasional references to his original Halloween score just show his mediocre effort on this one.

Wallace’s direction is strangely inept. He frequently shoots through a wall (imagine a room with four walls, the camera–in order not to make the scene look wrong–should appear to be shooting from inside those walls; Wallace often shoots through the walls), but then manages to create a fantastic tone in his exterior shots. The little town–and big reference to Body Snatchers–comes alive during Atkins’s arrival (and Witch‘s potential booms).

The film’s gotten a lot of more recent notice for its commentary about capitalism and consumerism (and, definitely vertical integration). These elements are rather clear and obviously presented in the movie–and the New York Times review at the time mentioned them–so I’m not sure why they’re a surprise. The commentary is much quieter than Carpenter had in some of his 1980s pictures; I’m not sure why this one stands out.

It’s definitely watchable for the Cundey photography and so on. Actually, it’s only really boring during the mediocre first act. As Wallace’s dialogue gets more and more absurd, the movie’s more compelling.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Tommy Lee Wallace; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Millie Moore; music by John Carpenter and Alan Howarth; production designer, Peter Jamison; produced by Carpenter and Debra Hill; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Tom Atkins (Dr. Dan Challis), Stacey Nelkin (Ellie Grimbridge), Dan O’Herlihy (Conal Cochran), Michael Currie (Rafferty), Ralph Strait (Buddy Kupfer), Jadeen Barbor (Betty Kupfer), Brad Schacter (‘Little’ Buddy Kupfer), Garn Stephens (Marge Guttman), Nancy Kyes (Linda Challis), Jonathan Terry (Starker), Al Berry (Harry Grimbridge), Wendy Wessberg (Teddy) and Essex Smith (Walter Jones).


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