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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As others have noted, this film is loosely based on the story of Sylvia
Likens, 16, who was tortured to death in the basement of an
Indianapolis house in the summer and fall of 1965. Gertrude
Baniszewski, the mentally unbalanced adult who was boarding Sylvia and
her sister Jenny, 14, was eventually convicted and served 19 years in
prison before being released -- despite public protest -- in 1985. She
died of cancer in 1990 while living in Iowa under the name Nadine Van
Fossan. Gertrude's children and some neighborhood boys were also
involved in the torture and some served prison sentences of their own.
One of the neighbor boys died of cancer within a few years after the
There are two books written about this case -- one by Natty Bumppo and the other by Kate Millett. If you want to know about this case, read one of those books. They were written by people who treated this story with the dignity Sylvia was denied -- not exploiters like Jack Ketchum who just wanted to sell books, nor sleazoids like the people who made this movie, who just wanted to glorify the unspeakable depths to which some "humans" can sink. Blanche Baker, the only name actor in this production, ought to be jailed for agreeing to be part of this travesty, which amounts to little more than a snuff movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I watch this one without fail every holiday season along with several
others: "Going My Way" and "Since You Went Away" from 1943 and "It's a
Wonderful Life." I was so glad when "The Homecoming" came out on DVD;
my VHS copy was pretty ragged.
I was six years old when this film premiered on TV. My parents and I and a couple of my brothers watched it together. There are some wonderful memories tied up in it. My parents were Depression-era kids and they told me how Edgar Bergen ("Grandpa" in this movie) had actually been one of the biggest stars of their childhood with his radio program, "The Chase & Sanborn Hour." Later on, we visited the public library and borrowed audiocassette recordings of some of his shows. I have loved him ever since.
This movie is a true and faithful interpretation of life during the Great Depression for rural families. I don't know what was bothering that cranky reviewer who complained about the family's not saying a blessing before eating their soup in the first part of the movie, but to condemn the entire film for it is just silly. Have a candy cane and lighten up. LOL Although I loved The Waltons TV series, I somehow wish it could have retained these original characters (although Will Geer would have to have been worked into the cast somewhere else; he was one of the best actors in it!) The only thing I found unintentionally hilarious was Patricia Neal's interrogation of John-Boy after she finds his bedroom door locked: "What you doin' up thar in thet room by y'seff, BOYYYYYYYY?" That just made this six-year-old viewer pee her pants. LOL Fortunately for television history, John-Boy didn't say "Beating off, Mama," and the G rating was saved. LOL
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The original film, which I call "Sarah Big & Ugly" wasn't bad, even
though I wanted to clout the two whiny little rug rats in it about
every ten minutes. This one, however, like most sequels, was dreck.
Five second recap: Sarah and Jacob are watching the weather in Kansas get drier and drier while all their neighbors pack up and leave the prairie because their wells have dried up. The barn burns down and Sarah has an unintentionally hilarious Prozac-on-the-prairie moment when Jacob tries to shoot a coyote that's drinking from their scarce water supply. Probably thinking "I've got to get this crazy b**** out of my hair!" Jacob sends Sarah and the two whiny rug rats to stay with her relatives in Maine.
Did I mention these relatives? Man, were they weird. I could see where Sarah got it from, and also why they must have been so anxious to pack her skinny ass off to Kansas the first chance they got.
Through her patented Weird Old Lady telepathy abilities, Aunt Lou (who must be some sort of prehistoric bulldyke in her overalls, working at the veterinary clinic to boot) declares that Sarah's got a bun in the oven. Then Jacob shows up in a sissy city-boy ensemble to pack her and the kids home since, in fact, it has actually rained back in Kansas thanks to his skillful deployment of sitting on the porch listening to Sarah's victrola and looking mournful. And he's absolutely THRILLED to learn that the wife is knocked up. Gee, I can hardly wait for installment 3. Not.
For this series, which despite my childhood love I can realize was not
exactly the zenith of television -- this episode was really a good one.
In watching it on DVD recently, I was amused at how thoroughly Jonathan
Harris and Mercedes McCambridge enjoyed their roles. Sherry Jackson
too. All three of them should be congratulated -- Harris and
McCambridge posthumously -- for a job well done.
This is the episode I remember best, and the one that scared me the most as a six-year-old. Penny, Will, and Dr. Smith are filling a time capsule with items from the Jupiter Two, intending to bury the capsule and leave it for future inhabitants of their adopted planet to find. Night falls and Dr. Smith starts blubbering about full moons and werewolves when they hear what sounds like a wolf howl. Sure enough, there's a werewolf on the loose -- although this one seems more inclined to gesture for people to stay away from him than to leap for their throats.
Turns out the werewolf isn't the only newcomer to the planet. A sort of Hillbillies-in-Space family has arrived, intent on "plantin' us a crop and garnerin' us a harvest" of mysterious plants that look sort of, well, hungry.
Mercedes McCambridge didn't land a job voicing a demon in "The Exorcist" for nothing. As the matriarch ("It's Mother; not Ma," she snarls) of the hillbilly clan, she keeps giant, mute son Keel (Dawson Palmer) and sexy daughter Effra (Sherry Jackson) on a short leash. Not quite short enough to keep Effra from flirting with Maj. Don West, however, which allows us to be amused by Judy Robinson's indignant response.
Dawson Palmer played many of the costumed monsters in the Lost in Space series. This is one of the few in which we actually see him OUT of costume.
Put simply, this is the most sensual portrayal of the vampire myth in
recent cinematic history, and it does a neat turnaround of the roles,
since most renditions have a sweet, innocent young woman seduced by a
dark, handsome bloodsucker.
Instead, Jenny Wright is the ethereally beautiful, seductive, mysterious stranger who initiates Adrian Pasdar (as farm boy Caleb Colton, whose openly displayed lust is kind of amusing for a minute there) into the mysteries of her night-focused world. Watch her during the scenes in which she bites Caleb -- and later, kills for him. Jenny Wright certainly never reached the caliber of Meryl Streep during her short career, but she COULD act. Her performance as Mae in "Near Dark" was chilling -- and admirable.
Caleb is on a sort of probationary vampire status, and he finds it impossible to kill (which is a requirement, since according to Mae, "The night has its price.") And yes, the end is probably not what the readers of Fangoria would have preferred, although they probably would've bailed on this anyway once they learned the only real gore was in the bar room scene.
Terrific supporting cast, especially Bill Paxton, who stole every scene he was in. But the scenes with just Wright and Pasdar -- oooh. Powerful, sexy, and unforgettable. Not to be missed.
Janeane Garafalo and Randy Quaid are the only bright spots in this
flick. Ed Flanders (in his last role) has some good moments, but is
It was hard to feel much empathy for the "victimized" children of divorce here. "Ben," the screen son of Matthew Modine's character, needed his butt torn off and his mouth nailed shut in my opinion. And "Emma," the screen daughter of Paul Reiser's character, was nothing but a spoiled, miserable brat. She could have used a trip on the clue bus to the land of reality.
Randy Quaid's kids were actually kind of cute. Maybe because Randy Quaid's character was more believable as a father than those of either of his co-stars.
In the late 1960s, a trend in literature and film -- that of attempting
to make the lives of WASPy East Coast tycoons-to-be look wretched and
soul-destroying -- swept over America. Those of us in the "flyover"
states, contentedly munching our cake and participating in league
bowling and working for a living, were profoundly mystified by this
trend, particularly since films like "Harold and Maude," "Love Story,"
"The Graduate," etc. tended to make the "richie" parents paragons of
evil, to the point they were cartoon characters. Oh, yeah, it's so
terrible that you stand to inherit more money than 20 of my relatives
put together will make in their whole lives. Let me hold the hankie
while you blow your nose. NOT.
It was, as another reviewer pointed out, hard for me to get past the "squick factor" of contemplating a 20-year-old guy in bed with a 79-year-old woman, but it was even harder for me to like dour Harold or annoying Maude. They both seemed utterly amoral and unsympathetic.
The only reason I watched this movie is that I love Ruth Gordon. But I did not like her character in this film.
One of my brothers took a girl he really liked to see "The Legend of
Boggy Creek" on their first date in 1972. She never went out with him
again. Word to the wise.
This is basically a pseudo-documentary with incredibly cheesy music ("Hey there, Travis Crabtree," a local lad is serenaded as he travels to the home of a slackjawed yokel whose name escapes me, but not the fact that he shot off his own foot). As for the "Creature Theme," my brother and I took great delight in parodizing the lyrics:
This is where the creature goes / when he needs to blow his nose
etc. etc. etc. and other preteen humor (?).
But for your basic seventies celebration of Middle American white trash culture, it just doesn't get any better than this. Young girls in curlers, alone in the trailer with a big hairy creature stalking around outside! Cats meeting horrible fates just from espying said creature! Corn-pone accents galore! NOW how much would you pay?
In the early 1980s, a young actress made her first appearances in
television and films with an unforgettably quirky presence --
vulnerable and seductive all at once. Her delicate features -- unusual
green eyes and aching-to-be-kissed lips -- combined with her petite and
shapely figure to make a true elfin beauty.
Unfortunately, Jenny Wright never had much of a chance; she was sidelined into 'tramp' roles from the word go. Her small-screen debut on the critically acclaimed sitcom, "Love, Sidney," was as a teenage runaway/prostitute. Her film debut in "Pink Floyd: The Wall" cast her as a groupie. For the remainder of 1982, the bad girl image more or less stuck: she gave Robin Williams' Garp his first sexual experience as flighty Cushie in "The World According to Garp" and she played the flirty younger sister of Tommy Lee Jones' girlfriend in the made-for-TV film "The Executioner's Song."
In 1984, Jenny Wright was cast as Eileen in "The Wild Life," a semisequel to the popular "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." She was her charming self, in a role that didn't have much to offer, but gave some bright spots to an otherwise forgettable film. The two films she made next, 1985's "St. Elmo's Fire" and 1986's "Out of Bounds," cast her with members of the Brat Pack. Although she was never an official Brat Packer, she was on its fringes.
In 1987, Jenny was offered her first star turn in Kathryn Bigelow's "Near Dark." Released at the same time as the mainstream-smash "Lost Boys," it finished decidedly second at the box office -- a shame, since Jenny's performance as vampire ingenue Mae was nothing short of brilliant. This film also marked Jenny's decided career directional change away from mainstream film and into indies.
"I, Madman" was made in 1989, and watching it is a treat. Jenny is perfect in her dual role as real-time victim Virginia and fifties-era victim Anna Templer. Pursued relentlessly by an apparition seemingly leaping from the pages of a pulp novel, Virginia desperately tries to get someone to believe her story and help her. There were some confusing plot points in this film, but Jenny's performance more than compensated for them.
Unfortunately, "I, Madman" marked the last time Jenny had a major role in a film, and in the early 1990s she reprised her early-career persona of the tramp in films like "Queens Logic," "Young Guns II" (as a memorable madam), and 1992's "The Lawnmower Man" (as Marnie Burke, a widow on the prowl). Making only one more film appearance in 1998, she has virtually disappeared. Attempts to locate her to appear with her colleagues in a documentary about "Near Dark" were unsuccessful. Ironic that this talented actress, so good in two films with sinister plots ("Near Dark" and "I, Madman") should be the subject of a mystery herself.
I was born at the tail end of the baby boom -- 1965. I was also the
youngest of five in my family, so I spent my childhood with a pack of
genuine baby boomers. I didn't see this film until 2005 when I got it
off a dollar rack at Half Price Books. To put it mildly, I made it
through about an hour and couldn't stand any more.
This movie ushered in the flurry of baby boomer flicks that polluted the movie industry for the next dozen or so years. I was actually relieved when Tom Brokaw's book spotlighted the Greatest Generation, since it was a welcome switch from navel-gazing fifties kids whining about their lost youth. Do baby boomers think no one else ever experienced anything -- love, sex, parenthood, grief? The cast assembled for this movie acquitted themselves well in their respective roles -- but they were playing characters I found so shallow, hypocritical, and over-absorbed with themselves that even a good portrayal didn't save them.
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