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01. Happy Death Day 2U (2019) 3/4 02. The Ritual (2017) 2.5/4 03. Happy Death Day (2017) 2.5/4 04. South by Southeast (2005) 2/4 05. Trick (2019) 1/4
01. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) 3.5/4 02. Delirium Tremens (2019) 3.5/4
01. Hereditary (2018) 4/4 02. Time of Miracles (1990) 3.5/4 03. Doctor Sleep (2019) 3/4 04. Tales from the Lodge (2019) 3/4 05. The Diary of Diana Budisavljevic (2019) 3/4 06. The Body (2018) 2.5/4 07. Ghost Stories (2017) 1.5/4 08. Powaqqatsi (1988) 1.5/4 09. Flesh & Blood (2018) 1/4
The Thing (1982) 4/4 Burnt by the Sun (1994) 4/4 The Terminal (2004) 3.5/4 The Thing from Another World (1951) 3.5/4 Knives Out (2019) 3.5/4 The Thing (2011) 2.5/4 Catch 22 (1970) 2/4 Sometimes They Come Back... for More (1998) 0.5/4
Jack Klugman guest stars in a rather average episode
I was really very excited to learn Jack Klugman guest starred in this episode since he's one of my absolute favourite actors and a terrific comedy performer to boot, but I was disappointed to see him appear in a rather average Carol Burnett show and with little chance to shine.
The first sketch, after a very short and not particularly funny Q&A session on Vicki Lawrence's baby, is "The Small Office", a funny sight-gag sketch about three accountants working in an office so tiny, they have to climb over each other's desks to get out. Carol and Harvey play Florence and Edgar celebrating their 20th anniversary working together in the tiny office, Tim plays Mr Barker who is assigned to their office and has to find somewhere to sit while Carol and Harvey carry on working, seemingly oblivious to Tim's presence. Highlights include an extremely long files drawer which, when pulled out, goes over Harvey's head and Tim's nose getting stuck on Harvey's typewriter. This is the only sketch in the episode featuring both Tim and Harvey, but there are no crack-ups as they both seem to be playing straight men to the tiny office set.
Next up, Jack Klugman and Carol perform a comical song entitled "Where Were You" about a couple who spent last night waiting at different restaurants bickering over whose fault the mix-up was. Although the punchline is rather obvious, this bit works very well, mainly because Jack and Carol are completely in their element as the neurotic guy and the klutzy girl, respectively.
The big sketch of the episode is "The Clairvoyant" in which Jack and Carol play a married couple entertaining the wife's sister (played, of course, by Vicki) and her new boyfriend (Harvey) who is also a clairvoyant. Jack puts on a big show about being a skeptic, that is until one of Harvey's predictions irritates him. This is a strange sketch as it feels rather underwritten and crying for some of Tim Conway's improv antics. The whole thing is rather one-note and although the cast does a superb job (Jack is again terrific as the neurotic husband and Harvey is simply hilarious as the leisure-suit wearing clairvoyant) the whole thing falls flat mainly because it lacks a punchline. The whole thing feels like an outline for a much broader, funnier sketch. Big props to Bob Mackie, though, for picking out the most subtly hilarious outfit for the clairvoyant boyfriend.
Tim and Carol star in "I'll Do the Talking" in which Carol plays a woman trying to argue with her silent lover (Tim) who just sits there reading the papers. The premise is pretty old-hat and the sketch is a tad too long, but the punchline is very funny. Funnily enough, it was Tim who made me giggle the most during this one although he barely does anything but read the paper. This sketch is a very good demonstration of how funny he could be through nothing more than subtle little looks and micro-reactions. He was not just a showboat!
Tim gets another chance to shine in "Stop Grabbing My Jewels", a sort of a "Pink Panther" type bit of slapstick following a clumsy burglar trying to steal a valuable jewel from a museum. Tim does his best, but the problem is that the set is so cramped and limited that he has to repeat the same gags over and over again to pad out the runtime. There are a few clever moments in the sketch, but overall it's pretty forgettable and typical fare.
Finally, there's the musical number "The Country's in the Very Best of Hands". The whole thing is typically well choreographed with Vicki getting the chance to show-off her dance skills but I have to confess that the jokes either flew right by me or simply weren't there. For a political bit, this song lacks any sort of bite or commentary. My feet were a-tapping but I sure as heck wasn't laughing.
Episode 9.23 is pretty average stuff, with typically strong performances from the regulars and a great guest star but some sadly underwhelming writing. The sketches mostly felt unfinished with only the set-up but little or no development or punchlines. Also, although there were plenty of gags which made me giggle, I had no big laugh-out-loud moments which is strange to say about a Carol Burnett show.
Screen Two: In the Secret State (1985)
An Adequate Spy Thriller for Television and Nothing More
Clearly inspired by their brilliant adaptations of John le Carré's "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" (in 1979) and "Smiley's People" (in 1982), the BBC commissioned this adaptation of journalist Robert McCrum's middling paranoia thriller "In the Secret State" to close out the first series of "Screen Two", their premiere anthology follow-up to "Play of the Week". But despite copying several of the more successful elements from the George Smiley series, "In the Secret State" never manages to be anything more than acceptable.
Despite the ads focusing solely on Frank Finlay, "In the Secret State" has two lead characters. One is Frank Strange (Frank Finlay), an idiosyncratic but fatherly spymaster pushed out by an ominously self-named "new regime" and his star pupil James Quitman (Matthew Marsh). On Strange's last day in the service, one of the employees in his department, a raving alcoholic named Richard Lister (Pip Donaghy) commits suicide by jumping from the roof of a building. However, Strange is suspicious and launches a private investigation into his death during which he uncovers that Lister had named a senior officer of the MI6 as having "misused" certain classified files. Meanwhile, Quitman is officially assigned to the case by the oily deputy chief of MI6 (Geoffrey Chater) and told to keep an eye on Strange whom the powers-to-be want arrested on trumped up charges. But, as it turns out, they don't quite believe Quitman either. Will the two men join forces to uncover the true enemy or will Quitman believe their lies and have his old friend and teacher arrested?
Despite fine performances all round (though none of them quite manage to stand out) "In the Secret State" has two major problems which eventually bring it down. First is that the novel upon which it is based is simply no "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy". McCrum's spy yarn is fine airport reading but very far from memorable. The characters are two-dimensional cliches with Strange being nothing more than a thinly veiled regurgitation of George Smiley. Meanwhile, it's view of the MI6 is quite naive and sensationalist making it hard for us to really care about anything that's going on. On top of that, the plot barely contains any twists or surprises even though it constantly introduces new characters and situations very few of which really amount to much. If you're not able to guess who the bad guys are and why from the very beginning than you need your eyes tested.
The other problem this ill-fated adaptation encounters is time restraints. While "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" had the luxury of unfolding its complex tale over the course of five hours, "In the Secret State" has to do with 100 minutes. The result is a story which moves at such an erratic pace that it becomes increasingly difficult to keep up. Characters, situations, and plot points are thrown at us constantly in a manner resembling a rubbish truck dumping its content at the dump. We have no time to process the information we've learned or to get to the point where we care about any of the characters before we're on to the next scene. The impression one gets is of watching a badly shortened cut of a much longer movie or having the plot of a complex spy novel retold to you by someone suffering from ADD. Because of this, the atmosphere suffers and Christopher Morahan's competent direction, in the end, falls flat.
"In the Secret State" has not been repeated (as far as I know) since its original broadcast and has due to its rarity acquired something of a cult status which is wholly undeserved. Frank Finlay gives a typically strong performance as does Matthew Marsh, but this TV movie is nothing more than a nicely diverting spy thriller which you'll forget by the next day. It carries no emotional punch, there are no staggering revelations nor a particularly interesting plot, and if you've so much as seen one spy thriller beforehand you'll be able to confidently guess who the bad guys are before the first half-hour is through.
Dalziel and Pascoe (1996)
An uneven series eventually winds up trudging the mud of formulaic-procedural cliches
Reginald Hill is one of the most inventive, original, and unusual crime-writers that have ever lived. In fact, he's so good he's managed to twist the genre he's operating in around so much that I hesitate to even call him a crime-writer at all. Most of his novels are actually clever exercises in genre-twisting and metatextuality with tons of references to obscure classic literature, self-parody, and real, well-developed, three-dimensional characters. It's crime-writing for people who don't like crime-writing or mystery fans with philosophy diplomas. He's a genius.
This is why it was so surprising to hear that BBC were planning to mount an adaptation of his works. Yes, he's successful and his novels sold well but could his style be carried over to television? How can something so genre-bending, rule busting, and metatextual be carried over to a format whose audience demands a level of cosines not provided by an author of Hill's standing?
Well, the answer is unpredictably but decidedly odd as watching the first four series of "Dalziel and Pascoe" is like listening to someone retell the plots of the novels after having skimmed them some years back. Sure, the plots are there, and so are the characters, but they have been sanitised beyond recognition so there's barely any traces left of Hill's unique style at all. Oh sure, the show WAS good. It had engaging mysteries, good humour, and the characters were still three-dimensional and likeable, but what made the novels so unique and so beloved was their originality which was now gone. Thus the first series proceeds quite by-the-book, in a manner interchangeable with some of those bland ITV crime dramas of the time (with the sole exception of "Morse" which was always and will always be singularly and unexpectedly brilliant). I enjoyed all three episodes for their humour, I played along with the mysteries, but as I type this I have trouble remembering them very well. I do know that out of all three I enjoyed "An Advancement of Learning" the most as it had a little of that Reginald Hill sparkle left somewhere in it.
The second series, however, was a huge surprise as among the other three rather bland and forgettable episodes comes "Deadheads". The only episode of "Dalziel and Pascoe" that nails the feel of a Reginald Hill novel exactly. Hilarious, uncomprosing, and genre busting it must have done the author very proud as it stands head-and-shoulders (and any other extremity you can think of) above the other episodes. This is probably because it was written by Alan Plater, a genius in his own right and the author of the equally bendy "The Beiderbecke Affair". Sadly, "Dalziel and Pascoe" never reclaims the glory of "Deadheads".
Series three is slightly better than the other three episodes of series two but after "Deadheads" seems curiously bland. "Child's Play" is a very fine mystery episode and it could even rank with some of the better "Morses" and "Bones and Silence" is a good adaptation coming close to but not quite achieving the greatness of "Deadheads".
Then something telling happened. Halfway through series four the producers abandoned Reginald Hill's novels in favour of writing original scripts which brought about the show's failure. Up until this point it sort of hung on a thin thread as its terrific characters at least had interesting plots to work through. From series five onwards, however, all this would be gone and everything from that point on is pure, plodding procedural stuff without wit or imagination. Oh sure, a good episode would sneak in from time to time, but even those (like Glenn Chandler's "Guardian Angel") are merely formulaic stuff with a little glimmer of unusual wit (for this show at least) thrown in. The show eventually winds up trudging the mud of formulaic-procedural cliches to such an extent I can't really remember even the episodes I watched recently. I tend to get them mixed up with other dull procedurals such as "Silent Witness", later seasons of "Vera", or "Waking the Dead". And, to think that, had the BBC played their cards right, "Dalziel and Pascoe" could have been their "Midsomer Murders" only with a philosophical edge to it.
Funnily enough, series four contains an episode that comes the closest to a Reginald Hill novel besides "Deadheads". It's called "The British Grenadier" and it's an involving and unusual story of a hostage situation in a pub brilliantly directed by Maurice Phillips , a TV great gone too soon. What's so funny about it is that it is an original script. It's the only "Dalziel and Pascoe" original to reach any sort of greatness.
A few years down the line, another Hill adaptation would be attempted in the form of "Dialogues of the Dead", but the result was a stodgy, hopelessly boring, and plodding procedural with such an appalling lack of wit and imagination I'm sure Mr Hill would have rather had his name off it. Penultimate series' episode "Houdini's Ghost" was likewise adapted from a Hill novel but so loosly and badly that the less said of it the better.
The real tragedy of "Dalziel and Pascoe", however, is the fact that it had the perfect cast. The always brilliant Warren Clarke was spot on as the vulgar, grumpy, overweigth Andy Dalziel and Colin Buchanan provided a worthy foil in the form of the wiry. politically correct DI Pascoe. Also wonderful was David Royle as DS Wield, easily one of the most interesting characters ever to show up on a procedural. Susannah Corbett was an excellent Ellie too, treading that fine line between annoying and likeable with staggering ease.
Overall, "Dalziel and Pascoe" proves that old adage about producers having no balls. Its a saddening mainstream-isation of a series of enchantingly oddball books that had wit, smarts, and originality, three things to be avoided on consumerist television
Still, "Dalziel and Pascoe" is fine entertainment for a rainy day if you can stomach heavily formulaic procedurals. If your into more edgier stuff (and if you like Reginald Hill) you probably are. Go watch "Deadheads" and then transition to "The Beiderbecke Affair". You'll find it to be more of your cup of tea.
Big Little Lies (2017)
A bland script elevated by terrific performances despite of the bad direction
Small, upper-middle class communities have been in the cross hairs of artists for a very long time. Beginning (perhaps) with such great novels as "Middlemarch" or "Cranford" by way of "Payton Place" and "The Stepford Wives", the provincial suburb way of life with its intricate feuds, seething resentments, and amicable facades has proved a fertile ground for psycho-sociological studies on the nature of human relationships as well as for some gloriously snarky satire. Sadly, one of the latest of them, "Big Little Lies", doesn't have much of either.
Telling the story of three different women living in the same small town on the Californian coast, it is decidedly milquetoast in its approach to a series of subjects better covered by better writers in better films, shows, books etc. Fond memories of "Pleasentville", "Happiness", "Desperate Housewives", and the works of Alexander Payne came flooding by as I watched a series of highly predictable storylines unfold before my eyes.
The show frames itself as a mystery of sorts with a "Damages" style narrative constantly flipping between the future and the present, coyly refusing to tell us who the victim is. However, I'd figured it out before the first episode was through, as I did the identity of Jane's rapist, the reason for Madeline and Ed's lack of sexual charge, and who the mysterious school bully is. This is not because I am an oh-so-clever-boy, but because - as anyone who's ever watched an episode of "Pretty Little Liars" can tell you - this is all kids' stuff. In fact, the only reason I couldn't figure out the identity of the killer is because it is such an enormous cheat. But none of this is the show's biggest problem.
The biggest problem is its downright tragic lack of bite. Despite what its promotion says, "Big Little Lies" is not a thriller, and as such I wouldn't have minded the predictable, cliched story had it had a genuinely ballsy, witty, original approach to it. But by the end of the series I'd seen nothing I hadn't seen a dozen times before. In fact, the whole procession has a distractingly shiny veneer of mediocrity to it. Despite quite a lot of promising elements (such as the two-faced Greek chorus of other suburbanites) the show has no real edge to it and most of its humour is on the level of a network sitcom. Predictable, coy, and safe. All great satires (listed above) have a strong edge to them, the kind of humour that would immediately insult the person it describes. However, if any of the characters of "Big Little Lies" watched the show I doubt they would even bat an eyelid. Writer David E. Kelly writes every scene with kit gloves and the end result is a series so nice and inoffensive and lacking in satire that it becomes instantly forgettable. Skeletons in the closet have never been so rose-coloured.
Another issue is the fact that nothing really happens in the show until the final 15 minutes. When the series was over and I stopped to think about it all I realised that all of the show's big events happen in parts one and eight with two to seven serving up some good character development but very little else. A good dramatist could have made a tight two-hour movie out of this novel.
Thankfully, the execution is slightly better. First of all, I do have to note that I found director Jean-Marc Vallée's style horrendously distracting. His modernist approach to editing that seems to entail removing any scene in which we actually see a character walk across the room from point A to point B simply made me confused and feel like I was having blackouts. He's also another member of the Luc Besson school of directing which says that your audience will immediately tune out unless you're either moving your camera or cutting rapidly and for no apparent reason.
Never-the-less, the cast is top notch and that's what saves this show. And yes, I mean saves, because for all its faults and flaws, it does boast an impressive cast which is fun to watch. Most of all that's Reese Witherspoon, one of the very best actresses to show up in the 90s. She's been one of my favourite Hollywood stars since her brilliant turn in Alexander Payne's "Election" and this is one of her very best parts. She plays Madeline, the show's neurotic centre. She's like the sun around which all other plots and characters revolve and there's no better actress alive today to play such a role. Witherspoon, with her nervous energy, natural magnetism, and endless with and charm, carries the role (and with the series) with mesmerising ease and grace. She's a joy to watch (as ever) and she's also hilarious to boot. It's a superb performance. Another terrific turn comes from Nicole Kidman, unexpectedly subdued and subtle. Her Hollywood years have almost made me forget how good an actress she really is and she manages to convey a lot with very little playing the abused Celeste. Finally, there's Shailene Woodley, a relative newcomer managing to stay afloat next to two greats with seeming absolute ease. She doesn't dominate the show the way Witherspoon does nor is her performance as impressive as Kidman's, but she does a very commendable and believable job especially in the scenes where she has to fight for her son.
The supporting cast is equally as good led by the always terrific Laura Dern who provides the show with its only remotely satirical performance. She hams it up delightfully as the obnoxious rich bitch Renata Klein. Her scenes with Witherspoon are electric. Also great are Alexander Skarsgård, terrifying and infuriating as Celeste's abusive husband, Adam Scott and Jeffrey Nordling, Madeline's two husbands (one current, one ex, respectively) battling it out for her affection, and P.J. Byrne as the local school's long-suffering principal. Unexpectedly, they also found some wonderful child actors out of which Darby Camp stands out the most as Madeline's precocious daughter. She got most laughs out of me than anyone else.
Overall, the big question after "Big Little Lies" is why does it exist. As it didn't tell me anything new and it wasn't particularly inventive or innovative, the only reason I can think of is that it was made as some sort of a platform for Witherspoon, Kidman, and Woodley to flex their acting muscles. But, if not exactly noble, that's not a bad raison d'être. All three are a joy to watch and hoenstly, I've been hoping for a Reese Witherspoon TV show for ages now, so I'm in. I do wish that the script had that Alexander Payne bite to it, though, because this could have been something truly brilliant. As it stands, it's diverting, fun, and, in the end, thought provoking, but after you're done thinking about all the issues brought up by the show you'll find you've already forgotten about the show itself.
Spoiler free review
I've been an atheist for almost as long as I can remember. The whole invisible-almighty-geriatric-in-the-sky malarky never seemed to me either a good government system or a fantasy to find comfort in. However, dear reader, this, second, episode of "Inspector Lynley Mysteries", turned me religious. Yes, indeed, a miracle occurred and a wayward son returned to god, if merely, for a brief second, for when "Well Schooled in Murder" finally stumbled to a close, I made the sign of the cross and thanked the good lord for releasing me of this self-imposed imprisonment. This may seem overly dramatic to those who've not suffered through this 90-minute harrowing, but my fellow travellers who've found themselves subjected to this insufferably bad excuse of a detective story will no doubt find themselves in my Lynley-inspired religious awakening.
Oh, indeed, the plot sounds promising enough. A pupil at an exclusive, all-boys school shows up murdered and a former pupil turned police inspector, now has to carefully navigate the labyrinthine net of false friendships and misplaced loyalties weaved by a bunch of misguided and frightened teenagers and dogmatic teachers all in the name of "old school ties". However, right from the start, it is evident that "Well Schooled in Murder" will stubbornly and continuously refuse to capitalise on its intriguing premise or naturally atmospheric setting. Namely, the story begins as one of the teachers (John Sessions) rushes through a rainy night towards a small house in the countryside to inquire whether one of his pupils has unexpectedly returned home. Upon finding out he has not, he receives a phone call informing him that the child's body has been found mutilated and laid out on school grounds. This sequence, potentially mesmerising and intense on paper, shows up on screen strikingly lacking in both atmosphere and urgency. Robert Young, a British director who's failed to rise to any great stature during his many, many years of continuous work, directs this thriller in such a "by-the-book", matter-of-fact way that even the most generous of viewers will find it difficult to be thrilled by it. There is not one ounce of visual inventiveness, atmosphere, or drama. Urgency never rears its head either and I'm not sure Mr Young even knows what suspense is. Instead, the episode meanders pacelessly and stutteringly to a finale so unexciting and utterly uninvolving I couldn't believe it wasn't just yet another red herring.
Which brings me to the script. Written by Simon Block, it is a mess. A shambolic, bland, needlessly drawn-out retread of various thriller cliches better utilised in most other crime dramas of the past 60 years or so. Here be gay teachers, drunkard accountants, uncaring headmasters, and ambiguously gay students galore and all of them so painfully dull and shallow that I found myself paying more attention to the sound mix than their dialogue. And here was I thinking that such a sad myriad of two-dimensional bores can only be seen during Prime Minister's Questions. None of them has any interesting developments during the story, character arcs, or even character traits beyond the most basic plot-mandated descriptions (drunkard, paedophile, drug addict etc.), Which brings us to our two leads. Two characters whom to call wooden would be an insult to trees whom I've heard can be quite charismatic if they try really, really hard. Inspector Lynley (as portrayed by muttering, mumbling, softly-softly in my chin Nathaniel Parker) is for a lack of words a total upstart prick who charges through the plot with a dismissive manner and highly annoying smirk on his very slappable face. He is sort of like Morse if you stripped Morse of his soulfulness, melancholy, and basic human decency. Beyond these traits, of course, Lynley has no character and I emerged from this episode without ever learning anything about him at all. Sharon Small emerges from this mess looking a little better, if only because she's a far more capable actress than Mr Parker, however, her character is equally as annoying because her chip-on-the-shoulder non-sequitur soliloquies on class differences are so horribly written I kept waiting for the real leader of the opposition to show up. Again, beyond this character trait, DS Havers is a big nothing. Not even a few asides about her (apparently) dying father help fill out the massive, gaping holes in her "character". It is, of course, also highly telling of the quality of your script, when not even the highly venerable supporting cast consisting of Bill Nighy, Martin Jarvis, John Sessions, and Frederick Treves manage to make anything out of their dialogue. Nighy twitches and hops through his role seemingly entirely unrestrained by his typically uncaring director, Jarvis stumbles around pretending to be drunk and is about as convincing as a four-year-old swearing he didn't bring the mud into the house, and Treves looks surprised, in his one scene, that his agent even dared offer him such dreck as this. Sessions, is the only actor in this dreadful mess, to emerge unscathed mainly because ineffective authority figures who may or may not be gay happen to be his speciality and he seems to be able to direct himself. But his fine performance is merely a drop of good in an overall sea of embarrassing dreadfulness.
That the British Broadcasting Corporation would ever put their name to something as wholly incompetent, dry, bland, and shambolic as this is only telling of the state they're in. While at the same time, someone in the same corporation was making the exquisite, stylish, and clever "Messiah 2: Vengeance is Mine", these poor souls were trapped in the limbo that is "Inspector Lynley Mysteries". It has been a long time since I was both so completely bored and yet utterly transfixed by the sheer incompetence of a production. "Well-Schooled in Murder" should stand alongside "Keith Chegwin's Naked Shame" as one of those cautionary tales about how not to do IT, whatever IT may be. Our killer may be well-schooled in murder, but sadly the filmmakers have no clue how to do their jobs.
Columbo: Ransom for a Dead Man (1971)
After "Prescription: Murder" was a huge hit in the ratings, NBC understandably wanted to turn "Columbo" into a series. But Peter Falk was reluctant to do it. He'd just been burned on "The Trials of O'Brien", a short-lived courtroom drama with Falk as an over-the-top lawyer. Additionally, filming a 26-episode TV show would certainly hinder his successful movie and theatre career. Three years later, NBC formed their signature 'NBC Mystery Movie Wheel". The idea was that instead of producing one 26-episode show, they'd produce three, 6-8 feature-length episode long shows. The format had been tested somewhat by their earlier series "The Name of the Game" which had three rotating characters. The wheel's inaugural shows were "McCloud" and "McMillan and Wife", but a third was needed. NBC decided to ask Falk again. The reduced episode order would allow him to do the show quickly and go back to his other work, but it also allowed the show's format to remain fresh and enjoyable. However, NBC was afraid that "Prescription: Murder" was a one-off hit, a fluke. The premise was so original and the character so unusual, that they just weren't sure. So, they ordered a second pilot. "Columbo" creators and future showrunners, Levinson & Link, were busy so they came up with the story and left the writing to Dean Hargrove, a future veteran of crime dramas, at the time a fledgeling producer and minor writer. Levinson & Link were unhappy with NBC ordering a second pilot as they thought "Prescription: Murder" was pilot enough but thank god they did as "Ransom for a Dead Man" is truly the first "Columbo" ever. Whereas "Prescription: Murder" is a neat curiosity in its history, "Ransom for a Dead Man" is the honest-to-god, 100% solid introduction to the show. All the pieces are here, lovingly and stylishly assembled. The Columbo character, now written for Falk's performance, is rounded and quirky, as he will remain for the rest of his television life. All the fidgeting, the humbleness and the obfuscating absentmindedness are there coupled with the funny bits of business the show would become famous for. In fact, in one of his more memorable entrances, Columbo shows up at the doors of his future suspect looking for a pen. It's quite fitting than that on his first real outing he should also be described best. In one excellent scene, the killer of the week notes how he "is almost likeable in a shabby sort of way. Maybe it's the way you come slouching in here with your shopworn bag of tricks." Feigning surprise, Columbo retorts "Me? Tricks?" "The humility, the seeming absent-mindedness, the homey anecdotes about the family: the wife, you know?" the killer goes on "Yeah, Lieutenant Columbo, fumbling and stumbling along. But it's always the jugular that he's after. And I imagine that, more often than not, he's successful." It's absolutely correct to the last detail and shows just how well formed the character became between the first pilot and this episode. It also proves somewhat my notion that Peter Falk invented the character. All the things she lists are his own additions, the ways he played the lines in "Prescription: Murder". All stuff that didn't show up verbatum on the written page until now. The script is much better than the one for "Prescription: Murder" as well. Perhaps, I shouldn't say much better, but rather more televisual. The former was stilted and suffered from a less-then-smooth translation from the stage. It was reminiscent of the scripts for 50s live TV shows or UK studio-bound productions. Now, the full potential of the screen is used with aeroplane rides, stylised sequences and frequent changes in location. In fact, in many ways, "Columbo" as a series had a whole lot larger scope than most of its contemporaries. Back in the director's chair is Richard Irving. His stylish directing offered the occasional injections of dynamics to "Prescription: Murder" but here he is allowed to go all out. The way he shoots "Ransom for a Dead Man" is beyond cinematic. I can imagine sitting in a theatre and being impressed with what I'm seeing. He has a knack for suspense and atmosphere that is truly evident here. Even though some of the visuals may be very dated (especially the psychedelic optical effects) they really help add tension and pace to the already terrific story. The killer here is a ruthless, ambitious and sociopathic lawyer played by Lee Grant. Grant is absolutely marvellous in the role. One of the most memorable "Columbo" murders, she really adds a lot of class and cunning to the character. It's fun to watch her switch between her true, cold and calculating persona and the sad widow front she puts on for everyone. Her banter with Falk is lively and leaps off the screen. They have terrific chemistry they would later the same year utilise on Broadway, in a production of Neil Simon's comedy "The Prisoner of Second Avenue". Here she kills her husband and stages a kidnapping. This puts the FBI in the driving seat with Columbo as the local liaison. When he arrives at her house everybody ignores him as he fumbles around the house, looking at evidence and for the men's room. When the husband's corpse is discovered it is glorious to see him take charge from the arrogant FBI agent (Harold Gould) who'd so wrongly underestimated him. After the agent attempts to warn Columbo off Lee Grant, Columbo turns to him and in a rare moment when he drops the humble fumbler act gives him to it straight: "You see, it's like this: this is not just a kidnapping; this is a murder now, and I kinda figure that's my department. I'll see ya 'round." The look on Gould's face is hilarious. The first half of the story is the best. The drop is to be made by aeroplane (Lee Grant's character is a licensed pilot) which Irving, of course, shoots wonderfully with a real sense of urgency and pace so sorely lacking from "Prescription: Murder". This sequence also showcases the marvellous moody score by Billy Goldenberg. As the story progresses, slightly plodding padding starts rearing its ugly head. Most of the later "Columbos" would be 75-minutes long. "Ransom for a Dead Man" is 95 and the additional 20 minutes can be felt. Irving's stylish interjections, opticals and psychedelic sequences help seamlessly pad out the first half, but the second half is more clumsily lengthened most noticeably in the form of Grant's precocious and annoying stepdaughter (Patricia Mattick) who hates and suspects her from the start. Her character is a mere plot necessity, but it also brings with itself many scenes in which Mattick and Grant argue on and on about the same things and in which the stepdaughter comes across more unlikable the murderer. Mattick is not a great actress but opposite Grant, who is absolutely fabulous, all her shortcomings come to light. She seems wooden and not nearly as energetic and engaging as she the others. She actually plays much better off of Falk but they only share three scenes (only one of which is anything but brief). Otherwise, all of her appearances serve only to make the episode longer and tend to drag it down. On the up-side, however, there's plenty clever and funny banter between Falk and Grant as well as the (rightly) fondly remembered sequence in which the increasingly scared Columbo questions the skilled pilot Grant in her aeroplane. There's not much suspense as to how Columbo will catch the killer and the case is not as convoluted as it may seem. The ending is not quite in the style of "Columbo" as he entraps Grant rather than finding a particulalry engenious clue. Still, the nifty writing manages to obfuscate the otherwise straightforward plot. Perhaps, the stepdaughter character should have been dumped and the twenty minutes used to make the story more complex and the ending more memorable, but on the whole "Ransom for a Dead Man" is a superior "Columbo" episode. It has style, pace and a very well written (if somewhat shabbily concieved) script. Lee Grant is a highly memorable killer and the story is engrossing from start to finish. Here is where it all truly begins.
Prescription: Murder (1968)
Spoiler free review
Well, if there was ever a case of an actor surpassing the writing it's Peter Falk in "Prescription Murder". It was originally written as a one-off play by mystery writing legends Richard Levinson & William Link who had no idea Lt Columbo would prove to be such a brilliant character that he could support a series all of his own. In fact, as written, Columbo is not a particularly memorable character. He is a little quirky and the harmless, bumbling fool act is there, but he is nowhere near the man he would become. Falk, however, manages to make Columbo pop off the screen, all the way through I couldn't take my eyes off of him. He fumbles around, always looking for cigars, pens and clues, scratches his head, always has another question up. It is easy to see how many actors could play Columbo straight. They wouldn't add the subtle little quirks and the soulful humanity he would become well known for. Played in such a way he would blend into the background and be the supporting character he was written to be. Falk, on the other hand, embraces the character's full comedic potential and makes him lovable, shrewd and above all interesting. All this is not to say "Prescription: Murder" is a bad play. It's not. The interplay between Columbo and his suspect is engaging, witty and clever and the first half of it (that shows the murder being committed) has a wonderful kind of hypnotic concentration to it that really glues you to the screen, but it lacks that something that the later series had and that was brought in by the more strongly defined central character. It is also obviously based on a play and suffers a lot from its inherent staginess and stiltedness. There's a distinct lack of tension or suspense in the piece as it's based around dialogues in which you know (by the nature of the formula) who will emerge as the victor. Even if I didn't know of the later series I'd know there would be no way the murderer would get away, this is just not that kind of a programme. Director Richard Irving tries to jazz up the proceedings but there's only so many things you can do with a scene of two men sitting in chairs and talking on a television budget. The later series would often open these dialogues up by moving them outside, having the characters walk and talk or even do something completely different during the conversation like cook, taste wine etc. They would also add little side conversations to it like Columbo inquiring about prices of shoes or some such delightful nonsense. There's no such writing in "Prescription: Murder" which is very straightforward and (excuse the pun) by the book. It lacks the comedic touches or stylish flourishes of the later series. Additionally, the case before Columbo is not particularly interesting. We never really wonder how he's going to solve it (he pretty much tells the killer how he's going to catch him) and even though the killer's plan is interesting it's not ingenious or unheard of. Namely, it's about a doctor (Gene Barry) who kills his wife then has his lover (Katherine Justice) pretend to be her during a stage fight in the aeroplane as he is leaving for Acapulco to give him an alibi. If you haven't already figured out what the weak link in the chain is you weren't reading very closely. Barry makes for a good murderer, sly and aristocratic, but something interesting happens here. In the credits, Falk is listed first. This tells me that there was already an eye on Columbo getting his own series. This also means a lot more focus is put on him then on Barry, but Columbo is very thinly written here as I mentioned above and Barry, under the impression, he's playing the supporting part, doesn't quite put the effort the later Columbo killers, who understood the format in which they were the leads, put into crafting a distinctive, well thought-out character. Barry's performance is good, but fairly one-note throughout. On the whole, "Prescription: Murder" is a great introduction to the character, but very flawed. It doesn't quite rank up with the series' best, but I did enjoy it.
A Mind to Kill (1991)
An able cast's valiant endeavour marred by a cliched script and unimaginative direction
"A Mind to Kill", the Welsh police procedural starring the smooth-voiced Philip Madoc as DCI Noel Bain, ran over the course of eight years to much critical acclaim and enviable but not groundbreaking ratings. However, few of its dedicated viewers know that the series was spun-off from this 1991 TV movie, largely due to the fact that it was rarely rerun and not seen on home video until 2010. It was also bafflingly not included on the "Complete First Series" box set and remains unreleased in the USA. But considering that it's not very good maybe it's not such a glaring oversight.
The plot has a lot of promise. A small Welsh seaside town is plagued by a series of gruesome murders and mutilations of teenage girls committed by a person wearing a leather gimp mask. The irascible DI Noel Bain (Philip Madoc) finds himself under pressure from both the press and his neighbours to catch the killer but his mind is most occupied by worry for his teenage daughter Hannah (Ffion Wilkins). Meanwhile, the philandering criminal psychologist and local college warden, Dr Gareth Lewis (Hywel Bennett), makes a deliberate nuisance out of himself in a bid to assist the police in catching the killer so he can, like David Yallop or Vincent Bugliosi, write a book about the experience.
The film's most noticeable and egregious problem is that, despite a potentially disturbing plot, it lacks any kind of atmosphere. Director Peter Edwards, one of those unimaginative hacks who give television a bad name, utilises a very dull point-and-shoot style direction which manages to make even the kill scenes look bland and uninteresting. Not that the script gives him much of a helping hand. Written by novelist Lyn Ebenezer and Sion Eirian, it moves at a snail's pace and is so filled with procedural cliches that it is downright interchangeable with some of the lesser episodes of "A Touch of Frost" or "Vera". Like those two series, "A Mind to Kill" features a charismatic and engaging star, Philip Madoc, but unlike those two he's never given anything interesting to do. Hywel Bennett also struggles valiantly with his dull character but fails to make anything out of it.
The final nail in the coffin is the movie's wildly predictable slasher climax, a blatant rip-off of the "Halloween" finale which feels distinctly out of place in this low-key thriller. Sad really, because a far better and more interesting (if not any more unexpected) ending writes itself and fits far better with the tone and mood of "A Mind to Kill" than the one they went with. However, even if they had used it it would've been too little far too late. "A Mind to Kill" is a dreary trip through a sludge of cop cliches at a pace that would make a snail feel at home. Its excellent cast is completely wasted playing roles that could have easily been filled in by cardboard cutouts as is its picturesque location. What's the point, I wonder, of shooting "A Mind to Kill" in a seaside town when most of it takes place in grey-walled rooms. There is only one shot of the sea in this whole production and it looks so bleak I think I'd rather holiday at Duwamish River.
Chillers: Old Folks at Home (1990)
Spoiler free review
Sylvia (Brigitte Fossey) and Luc (Jean-Pierre Bacri), a successful yuppie couple take in Fred (Llewellyn Rees) and Rose (Odette Laure), an octogenarian husband and wife from the local couples' retirement home, currently under renovation. Immediately, however, Fred and Rose prove impossible to deal with and Sylvia and Luc find themselves regretting their good intentions.
"Old Folks at Home" is the perfect example of everything that's wrong with the French episodes of "Chillers". First of all, the dubbing is so appealing it made my skin crawl (in that sense, at least, the episode is chilling), but most importantly, screenwriter Gérard Brach and director Peter Kassovitz, somehow manage to miss the point of the tale.
The original short story is loaded with cynicism and is, in fact, a savage satire of bored, middle-class yuppie couples. While most of their friends buy expensive paintings or clothes to show off, Sylvia and Luc get themselves a poor, old couple. Their intentions are not kind or generous, they only took them in so they could brag to their friends how they're "so charitable". But it seems Highsmith's trademark irony and subtlety was missed by the filmmakers who interpret Sylvie and Luc's intentions as genuine and thus turn a bitingly satiric short story into a run-of-the-mill comedy about a lovely younger couple who take in a grotesquely over-the-top elderly couple. As such "Old Folks at Home" simply doesn't work. Unlike the previous episode "What the Cat Brought In", it fails to see or convey the humour of the piece and ends up becoming heavy-handed, drawn-out, and painfully unfunny.
Spoiler free review
An unusual anthology series entirely based on the short stories by Patricia Highsmith, "Chillers" was a co-production between Britain and France with each country producing 6 of the show's total 12 episodes. The series was obviously targeted to an English speaking audience as all of the episodes were shot in English and star at least one British actor. Even more unusually, there doesn't seem to be an agreement on the series' actual title since in Britain it aired as "Mistress of Suspense", while in France it bore the name "Les cadavres exquis de Patricia Highsmith". Most famously, however, the series aired in the USA as "Chillers" and since that is the title under which the (now sadly rare) DVD box set was released that is what I'll call the show for the duration of this (and every episode-specific) review.
As all anthology series, "Chillers" is an uneven batch of stories, though since they are all based on the works from the same author there is a pleasing tonal unity. Highsmith is well known for her cynicism and unlikeable leads and it's a pleasure to see that this aspect of her stories was faithfully recreated. All in all, the adaptations in "Chillers" are fairly faithful but sadly not all of the stories translate very well to the screen. Some lose along with the internal monologues the psychological depth and nuance featured in Highsmith's work and others come across as fairly insignificant on the screen. "The Stuff of Madness", for instance, suffers from both problems because the story of a man pining away for his ex- girlfriend might be transformed on the page into a fascinating character study, but on the screen feels trivial.
Thankfully, though, none of the stories is boring and most of the episodes feature bravura performances from well-established actors. At its best, "Chillers" easily parallels the better known "Thriller" and almost always betters the pulpy and predictable "Tales of the Unknown". At its worst, it still manages to entertain and in the case of the fairly shoddy "The Day of Reckoning" baffle and bemuse.
The British produced episodes are mostly consistently good always cast with the creme de la creme of the day's television actors. Ian Richardson, Edward Fox, Nicol Williamson, Michael Hordern, Bill Nighy, Peter Vaughan, Anna Massey, Jane Lapotaire, Ian McShane, Benjamin Whitrow, Ian Holm, Eileen Atkins, Murray Melvin, and more show up and are usually given interesting characters to wrestle with. Add to that some excellent music (mostly by Stanislas Syrewicz), sturdy if unimaginative direction, and good dialogue and you've got yourself some good, old-fashioned television. The kind old people moan they don't make anymore.
Sadly, for everything that's said above the reverse is true in the French episodes which were obviously made with less care, inventiveness, and money. Most disastrously the French cast is either dubbed by the world's worst voice actors (think anime style voicing in live-action thrillers) or allowed to speak in their heavily-accented natural voices (think "'Allo 'Allo"). Also, the tone is all wrong. Despite being an ex-pat American, Highsmith's biting wit and cynicism are vedy, vedy British indeed and her stories are usually portraits of repression and stuffiness, two character traits the French are not very well acquainted with. This is most obvious in "The Day of Reckoning", in which the supposedly boring and emotionless chicken farmer is played by the most scenery- chewing actor I've seen in my life. He overacts so wildly, the voice actor dubbing him has audible troubles keeping up. Perhaps he didn't get the memo that he was starring in a thriller series but whatever the reason, it just doesn't work. Even more interestingly, one of the series' best episodes if not the best is the French produced "The Thrill Seeker" (though directed by the Swedish-born British director Mai Zetterling), but sadly, it's the only exception to the rule.
Finally, the show is introduced by Anthony Perkins in a series of what is probably the world's most half-arsed intros ever produced. Shot on the same location and on the same day (the suit betrays it), the visibly tired Perkins rushes through his lazily written lines (most of which merely sum up the story we're about to see) in what looks like twelve single takes (fluffs abound). When the show aired in Britain, the intros were not included, once again proving that the Brits understood this series far better than anyone else. Perkins tries to be his usual charming self but fails and these intros are the downside of every episode.
Despite all this, I quite enjoyed "Chillers". Only half the episodes are really any good at all but all twelve are entertaining (though not always in the way the filmmakers wanted them to be) and actually quite memorable. Above all, Patricia Highsmith is an excellent writer and even when her work isn't well translated into another medium, her brilliance shines through and for that alone, "Chillers" is worth the watch, if you can find it!
For those who don't want to bother looking through my episode specific reviews, here's the rundown:
1. The Cat Brought It In (8/10) 2. The Thrill Seeker (8/10) 3. A Curious Suicide (7/10) 4. Puzzle (6/10) 5. Sauce for the Goose (6/10) 6. Under a Dark Angel's Eye (6/10) 7. A Bird Poised to Fly (6/10) 8. The Stuff of Madness (5/10) 9. Something You Have to Live With (5/10) 10. Old Folks at Home (4/10) 11. The Day of Reckoning (3/10) 12. Slowly, Slowly in the Wind (2/10)
The series' final score is a medium score of all the episodes.
Chillers: The Cat Brought It In (1992)
Spoiler free review
The first episode of "Chillers" is a very witty satire on the stuffy country house Britishness and while the premise and execution are not exactly original or groundbreaking, its downright absurdist sense of humour (think Harold Pinter) makes for a fun viewing.
Colonel Phelps (Michael Hordern) and his morbid niece Phyllis (Amelia Shankley) are spending a pleasant weekend at the country house of one Michael Herbert (Edward Fox) and his wife Gladys (Rosalind Ayres) when their idyll is broken by the Herbert's cat that brings in a pair of human fingers. Their first instinct is to hide them from the housekeeper before indulging in a nice snack. Then Herbert and Phelps decide to investigate the matter on their own so as not to disturb the police on a weekend ("Wouldn't be decent"). Their investigation, however, is less concerned with finding the killer or justice as it is with keeping the status quo of British comfort and respectability.
Although a strange premiere for a series alternatively known as "Chillers" and "Mistress of Suspense", this entertaining and genuinely funny humoresque works largely due to an excellent script by Douglas Livingstone and the simply superb cast whose deadpan delivery and mannered performances would make Mr Pinter proud. Fox and Hordern are particularly good and their transparently conspiratorial behaviour as they "investigate" made me laugh out loud more than once. Bill Nighy is also excellent as the dead man's former employer who simply can't be bothered with the fact the man is dead.
Very funny and excellently executed even if it isn't bubbling with originality.
Chillers: The Thrill Seeker (1990)
Spoiler free review
"The Thrill Seeker" is a superbly involving, funny, and touching character drama about Andre (Jean-Pierre Bisson), an impotent and fairly dull proofreader who vents his frustrations by visiting various women and conning them into believing he's various, outrageous characters. Unlike other con men, however, he's not out for money or sex but rather the thrill of becoming someone else if only for an hour or so.
The story's goofy premise is wonderfully executed by directors Roger Andrieux and Mai Zetterling who manage to give even the most comedic scene a sense of wistful tragedy. Consequently, "The Thrill Seeker", though often over-the-top, never tips over into comedy but rather executes almost flawlessly a dangerous balancing act walking between the absurdist humour of "The Cat Brought It In" and "Puzzle" and the kind of genuine, human drama only someone who truly understands humanity, like Patricia Highsmith does, could write.
On top of all that, this episode boasts a bravura performance from Jean-Pierre Bisson, a regrettably underrated character actor, so memorable in 1987's "Death on a Rainy Sunday". He manages to inject a tangible feeling of sadness into every one of Andre's actions. In lesser hands, Andre could have become an unbelievable caricature like the characters in "The Cat Brought It In", but Bisson makes him so real and relatable, the episode becomes, at times, difficult to watch. Brightening up the proceedings are Charlotte de Turckheim as a ditzy starlet who's recently discovered Buddhism and Katrine Boorman as a tough war reporter who's not quite sold on Andre's act. Finally, also excellent are Lucie Airs as Andre's loving daughter who shares the best scene in the episode with Bisson and Marisa Berenson in a brief but memorable appearance as one of Andre's victims.
"The Thrill Seeker" is a subtle, well-balanced, and sharp episode and simply the best "Chillers" has to offer. It is also doubtlessly (with "The Cat Brought It In") the finest Highsmith adaptation of the lot managing to transport all of the intentions and finesse of the short story onto the small screen.
Chillers: Sauce for the Goose (1990)
Spoiler free review
"Sauce for the Goose" is one of Patricia Highsmith's best known short stories but on the screen, it is only slightly above an average "Tales of the Unexpected" with its predictable plot and thin characterisations.
Olivia (Gwen Taylor) is a bored housewife married to a bedridden hotelier (Benjamin Whitrow) pining away for her neglected singing talent until a devilishly charming lounge singer Steven (Ian McShane) comes into her life. The two fall in love and concoct to kill the husband but Olivia starts to suspect that Steven is not the lovebird he pretends to be.
Much more could have been done with "Sauce for the Goose", particularly character-wise because if it had featured deeper, more original characterisations it could have risen above its by-the- numbers suspense plot. Olivia, for one, would have been far more interesting had she been as smart and as cunning as Steven, but sadly she remains merely a housewife, struck dumb by desire until the answer to her quandaries almost literally presents itself on a platter. The male characters in the piece are equally flat as well with the husband nothing more than a whining wreck and Steven, despite being well played by the devilish McShane, turns out to be nothing more than a minor thug. The first should have been given a soul, something for us to care for, and the second one should have turned out to be Satan personified. Now that would be an interesting twist on this rather old tale.
Still, we should be grateful for the small mercy that this episode wasn't produced by the French since what does work in it are its involving dialouge and three subtle and engaging performances that try to further flesh-out the rather dullish characters. The episode is far from boring, in fact, it is often highly entertaining and well directed by Clare Peploe, but it sorely needed a splash of originality to revive its predictable story line.
Not Only But Always (2004)
Spoiler free review
All biopics inevitably fall into the trap of simplifying a lifetime of genius and then having to shoehorn it into two hours of eventful drama. Some succeed, most don't. The ones that do however either hang their hook on some particular event like "Trumbo" did with the blacklisting or just outright fictionalise everything and capture the spirit of the person into an imaginary story ("Amadeus"). "Not Only But Always", a biopic on the genius duo of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore attempts to tell the whole story and fails to do so. I shan't dabble into minor squabbles with the film's accuracy ("Ad Nauseum" was recorded before "10" was shot etc.) because the most important thing this film needed to get right it got absolutely wrong. It takes the complex, energetic and endlessly fruitful relationship between Cook & Moore and simplifies it into a series of rows. Not a hint of their mutual love and respect is seen, not a hint of their chemistry or that magic they had together. Watching this film one gets the sense of hatred and contempt between the two men never the love that must have been there. This isn't simply my view. The hate-filled energy emanating from the duo has been contested by numerous biographies and people who knew them. Even Peter Cook's first wife has spoken out against this production. The heart of it is not missing it's wrong, which is far, far worse. This is not the fault of the film's two stars. Rhys Ifans and Aidan McArdle are spot-on as Pete & Dud, respectively, and the framing story (which involves Pete & Dud, the characters, watching the life story of Pete & Dud, the comedians) is the best part of the film as they manage to portray the duo so uncannily that I found myself unable to tell real footage from the recreation. The fault lies squarely on the shoulders of writer/director Terry Johnson who seems content to simply sensationalise a 30-year partnership. Watching this film I got the same feeling I get when I read a tabloid. All rows, no depth, no insight. This truly surprises me because his play "Insignificance" (later brilliantly filmed by Nicolas Roeg) is absolutely the perfect biopic of not one, but four people. Taking an event that never happened, draping it in the soft gauze of surrealism, Johnson managed to capture the essence of Albert Einstein, Marylin Monroe, Joe DiMaggio and Joseph McCarthy. The essence of Peter Cook & Dudley Moore has evaded him.
The Sentinel (1977)
Spoiler free review
"The Sentinel" is a film of two halves, the first one drawn out, boring and filled to the brim with sequences connected in no way to the actual plot and the second one somewhat more entertaining, but still silly and very, very confused. I say confused because the film's mythology and the villain's plot are very vague and badly explained, and while films like "The Exorcist" or more recently "The Blair Witch Project" use this to their terrifying advantage in "The Sentinel" it looks just very amateurish. In fact, the script feels like it is a cut up version of a first-year film school student's first draft of a Gothic horror film. At least half of this film are pointless scenes dedicated to celebrity cameos. Eli Wallach and Christopher Walken (pre-fame) are heavy-handedly shoehorned into the plot as two police detectives bothering Chris Sarandon and then disappear without a trace after about three scenes in which Wallach wisecracks. Martin Balsam shows up for 2 minutes, is given several absentminded jokes to do (which he does surprisingly badly), translates some Latin then disappears. Still, the most audacious one of all is the impressive waste of Jose Ferrer (in a role even smaller than his turn in the immeasurably more entertaining "The Swarm") as a priest who mumbles something to another priest and then disappears, a real Oscar worthy mumble it was. When the film is on plot it ranges from mind-numbingly boring scenes in which Cristina Raines complains of headaches to blatant homophobia. John Carradine is painfully wasted here as a priest who spends the entire film staring out of a window, but at least he has some plot significance. The film finally stumbles upon its climax seemingly through sheer plot convenience we finally get some genuinely creepy imagery (the priest's pink fluffy hat aside) but all it comes down to is Catholic propaganda and the sad realization you've just wasted 90 minutes of your life. The film does have its strengths but they're so few and far apart that they don't really matter. There are two excellent spooky scenes in the film (the aforementioned climax and a really creepy scene in the middle of the film) and one person who almost makes watching this film excusable. Burgess Meredith gives one of his best performances (of many) in this film and unlike everyone around him who are obviously phoning their performances in (everyone that is other than Cristina Raines who really, really tries but is a sadly bad actress), Burgess Meredith gives it his all and pulls of a performance worthy of a real classic horror film, unfortunately, it is in a confused, schlocky, badly written one.
P.S. Jeff Goldblum and Jerry Orbach show up playing almost the same character and both of them could be cut out of the film without any grief. In fact, if you were to cut out all the fat from the film you would get a really bad episode of "Tales from the Crypt". Now isn't that a turn-on.
P.S.2 The film has without a doubt the best director's commentary ever recorded. Listen to that, skip the film.