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The Stranger Within (1990)
Overacting Hall of Fame
THE STRANGER WITHIN had the potential to be a campy cult classic. The worst parts were a heavily clichéd script and Rick Schroder's overacting. Made up to resemble Charles Starkweather, Schroder was Evil with a capital E. If he was a better actor, he would have been more convincing as a cunning, conniving, charming sociopath next door.
The bleak, remote, rural atmosphere was chillingly effective. But Schroder's over the top style robbed all subtle nuance from it. Evil that is human, not ham-fisted, is what haunts. When Schroder boldly announced he was Kate Jackson's son at their first meeting, it was obvious the screenwriter was going to beat the viewer over the head instead of delivering an intelligent, thoughtful script.
Extremely annoying: Schroder's overuse of people's names. He called Kate Jackson "Mom" nearly every time he addressed her. Was that supposed to be a sign of his psychopathy? Odd aside: Captain Bender looked like a much younger man made up to resemble an older man.
Very predictable film that could have been excellent if Schroder was half the actor Richard Thomas was in YOU'LL LIKE MY MOTHER. This film had a similar atmosphere to the intense and disturbing YOU'LL LIKE MY MOTHER, but the latter featured excellent acting and writing that kept it from becoming trite and tiresome. THE STRANGER WITHIN had no such saving graces.
The Ring (2002)
Too many American films are amalgamations of other films. This is one of them. One of its lessons is people who may be possessed do not like to answer ringing phones. The incessantly ringing phone has become a staple of American mainstream horror/thriller films. Do you find a ringing phone scary? If so, this film may be for you.
Naomi Watts was not convincing as the odd boy's mother. What mother lets her kid walk alone to school in the pouring rain? She smokes and curses to prove how tough she is. Watts is as tough as Monica Potter. Jodie Foster or Hilary Swank could have done better. They are both credibly tough actresses. Watts is a lightweight girlie girl.
Why can't odd child actors just be children instead of spooky miniature adults? Haley Joel Osment was much better in THE SIXTH SENSE.
The dark, gloomy atmosphere was straight out of SEVEN. It did not make this film atmospheric. No police were involved because no one but one person seemed to notice people were dying at the same time on the same day. Other people in Seattle would have caught on to this while Watts smoked more cigarettes and used a few more curse words to convince herself she was tough. Why must such a bad film insult the intelligence of its audience is this film's biggest mystery.
Salem's Lot (1979)
Frightfully Fun Fare
Tobe Hooper's SALEM'S LOT is an engrossing, riveting tale of suspense. The atmosphere makes this film. There is a foreboding creepiness that sucks you into Salem's Lot long before the true horror begins.
David Soul manages to become a vampire slayer in the tightest jeans imaginable. Even faulty jeep doors and vengeful plumbers can't hold him back from probing into the secrets of the old, suspicious New England town of Jerusalem's Lot. What compels him is as fascinating as what he uncovers.
The townsfolk range from a shapely boarding house owner to a deliciously smarmy real estate agent to a truly moving school teacher looking for a way out of nowhere. SALEM'S LOT makes you feel you are among friends, sadly, a community of doomed ones. Mood is everything. If you let it, SALEM'S LOT will get under your skin and seep into your nightmares.
There are moments of true horror: the floating Glick brother window knockers, the caretaker in the creaky rocking chair, Marjorie Glick rising from the dead, the vampires vying for Mark's tender neck. Just a few great scenes in a chilling, memorable film.
SALEM'S LOT is the perfect complement to a sleepy, rainy afternoon at home alone. By nightfall, dare to leave a window ajar as the fog rolls in and the undead fatefully rise to quench their thirst.
Remando al viento (1988)
Blame It On The Monster
This film has promise that is never fulfilled. Curly-topped Hugh Grant as Lord Byron has to be seen to be believed. He wears the frilliest costumes imaginable. With long hair and chest bared, he looks like he's auditioning for a Lifetime biopic of Siegfried and Roy. One of the best (and unintentionally comical) scenes is Grant howling out on a boat. He is too fey and whimsical to make a credible Byron.
Another newcomer is a furry-browed, heavier set Elizabeth Hurley. She is beautiful. Yet, like Grant, she isn't ready for prime time. The scene where her sister, Mary, consoles her following a suicide is funny due to Hurley's exaggerated facial expressions.
The music labors on to new melodramatic Gothic depths. Music can enhance an atmosphere when the atmosphere is right. When it isn't, music only makes for another distraction.
The monster speaks in staccato. Due to editing, it's difficult to determine if he's a villain or victim. Sometimes it's difficult to determine if he even is.
Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977)
When Bad Things Happen to Not-So-Good People
Diane Keaton's brilliance cannot save this dark, depressing venture into '70s hedonism laced with comically cliched Catholic guilt. While she turns in what may be her most powerful performance, the characters in her universe are one-note, laughingstock caricatures.
The deaf girl, Amy, cannot act. When Keaton happily announces they are having a memorable afternoon, it becomes painfully ironic when Amy cannot even muster a smile in agreement. Katherine, Theresa's glamorous sister, is wildly over the top, the "look at me; I'm such a bad, bad girl" neurotic drama queen who will make you leave a party. The other Dunns are a pathetic parade of stereotypes right down to the boozing, Virgin Mary statuette and Notre Dame jacket. Not all people who happen to be Irish-Catholic are so repugnant.
The major flaw, though, is lack of sympathy for Theresa. James is a decent man, so she's not drawn to his sensitivity, kindness and intelligence. Instead she prefers Tony, who is stupid, and Gary, who is evil. It is difficult to like a heroine who is so obviously driven toward self-annihilation.
If judged by her choices in men, Theresa hates herself more than she ever does her oppressive family. While what happens to her should never happen to anyone, Theresa is not a blameless victim; but rather a willing accessory to her own doomed and sordid fate.