Tag Archives: thriller

Vacancy (2007)

VacancyPoster

Vacancy
3 ½ Stars

To say Vacancy owes a bit to Alfred Hitchcock would be an immense understatement. From the groovy credits to the eerie Psycho-esque Motel to the cinematography, director Nimrod Antal apes the master in almost every scene. What sets him apart from other homages (and I’m using the term lightly), is that Antal somehow makes Vacancy feel fresh.

You Can Check In…

David (Luke Wilson) and Amy (Kate Beckinsale) are the unlucky couple whose car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. It’s just one of many bad things that have happened that night apparently, seeing that the couple loves to take nasty digs at each other via any possible opportunity.

Returning on foot to the gas station they stopped by earlier, the couple spot a hole-in-the-wall motel in back and decide to stick it out there until morning when they can have their car towed. This ain’t the Ritz either. Bugs on the floor, dirty walls and icky bed sheets give the room a nice skid row feel. However, someone has left behind an assortment of unlabelled VHS tapes for the couple’s entertainment. At first, Wilson watches the tapes in bewilderment. After sitting through a throng of people being tortured and killed, he notices that the room on the crude tapes looks awfully familiar. In fact, it looks exactly like the room our couple is staying in. Upon realizing that he’s watching a snuff film, things turn deadly.

… But You Can’t Check Out

The crux of Vacancy‘s success lies not in the story, which presents nothing new, but rather in the atmosphere. The hotel room looks so dirty you’ll want to take a shower afterwards, and the desolate location feels very isolated, leaving the potential victims with little hope. Where the film exceeded expectation is in the snuff tapes themselves. There’s a definite camcorder video feel to them and the brief clips come across as truly authentic, which upped the scare factor without resorting to overindulgent gore.

Wilson and Beckinsale are both good as the bickering couple. Prior to seeing Vacancy, I was only familiar with Wilson’s comedic films. His performance here was a treat and he proves that he’d make an interesting leading man. I’d like to see him cut his chops on more serious fare. Frank Whaley, who plays the hotel manager, is good but he’s a bit too mousy to come off as a truly intimidating character. Still, he jumped into the part with gusto and his mustache was a hoot!

The Bottom Line

Vacancy is a rarity in the cycle of modern Hollywood horror. It’s got fairly famous actors, but the film itself is small. So small, it feels a little like an old ‘70s TV movie with a bit of blood thrown in for effect. With current movie-going audiences hungrier for bigger, more violent fare, Vacancy was practically guaranteed to fail at the box office. Now with the DVD release, it will hopefully find the audience it so richly deserves.

 

This review originally appeared on About.com

The Seduction (1982)

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DVD: “The Seduction”

Reviewed by Amanda Reyes
3 stars
The Bottom Line

Morgan Fairchild is the ever professional Jamie Douglas, an anchorwoman who’s got everything – a great job, a loyal boyfriend, a beautiful house… and a stalker. He’s Derek (Andrew Stevens), a deranged photographer who only views life through the skewed vision of his lens. When he sets Jamie in his sights, nothing will stop him.

Pros

  • Andrew Stevens is great in a fairly subtle performance
  • Cinematography is glitzy and glamorous
  • As the media insists on bringing us closer to celebrities, this film feels a bit relevant in these intrusive times.

Cons

  • Michael Sarrazin is the weak link in the cast
  • If 80s glamour isn’t you style, stand back! Hair doesn’t get much bigger than this!
  • I prefer to call it methodic pacing, but the tempo may be too slow for some

Description:

  • DVD Extras: Yes, including commentary and a nice reunion featurette.
  • Directed by: David Schmoeller
  • Starring: Morgan Fairchild, Andrew Stevens, Michael Sarrazin, Vince Edwards, Colleen Camp
  • Original Release Date: January 29th, 1982
  • DVD Release Date: November 7th, 2006
  • Distributor: Anchor Bay

Guest Guide Review – DVD “The Seduction”

Although, no one would consider this early 80s thriller a classic, it does have some interesting, if glossy, qualities to it. Andrew Stevens’ character is fairly well drawn for a popcorn thriller and eerily close to the kind of obsessive fan media folks have had to accustom themselves to. In fact, The Seduction’s voyeuristic theme still holds a candle about the warped ability to turn one’s fantasies into a dangerous reality when it comes to our media darlings.

Without a doubt, The Seduction is still an exploitation film, although it’s quite mild by today’s standards. After such notorious Hollywood thrillers as Basic Instinct made smaller films seem almost quaint by comparison, it’s kind of nice to see such innocence in Fairchild’s brief nude scenes. She’s good here, and looks lovely too but she’s a far cry away from her earlier, bitchier performances in such excellent TV fare as The Initiation of Sarah and Flamingo Road. But once she grabs that shotgun, Fairchild really kicks into gear. Fans of blondes with guns blazing and lovers of all things 80s will not be disappointed in The Seduction. And dig the totally awesome Dionne Warwick theme song!

This review originally appeared on About.com.

Party Line (1988)

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I saw most of Party Line waaaaay back in the early 90s when it was first running on late night cable. I didn’t remember much except Leif Garret wore a wedding dress (!) and people spoke on the phone to each other. Not much to go on, but since I’ve been walking down this lane of fragmented Cinemax memories, I decided to pick up a copy and give it a go.

Wow.

I mean wow in a good way and a bad way. Like, I have a new appreciation for the psycho-sexual thrillers from the 80s and 90s. It was strange time folks, people still tried to include a story in the midst of its tawdriness. Can you believe it? And for the most part, a lot of these films aren’t as bad as people would have you believe. Well, Party Line is bad though. I mean, it’s about a supposedly incestuous rich brother and sister who bide their time by hitting the club circuit where Angelina (the AWESOME Greta Blackburn) lures horny men into her clutches with offers of real wild sex. Then Seth (Leif Garrett) shows up and slits their throat. He dons a red wig and takes no prisoners.

Enter Dan (Richard Hatch), a typical ‘goes against all policies but gets the job done’, cop who just happened to be at a nite club where the latest murder took place. He’s all angry, but dude he just cares. He ends up being paired with Stacy (Shawn Weatherly looking divine), a by the book assistant in the D.A.’s office. Yeah, you totally see where this is going, huh? But you don’t! Because lo and behold, Dan has a girlfriend, a fellow cop named Butch (Marty Dudek). Threw a wrench in that love interest angle, don’t it? Well, maybe not…

Anyway, Stacy and Dan check out this awesome 80s club with a killer live band and some great synth pop. They actually encounter Seth, who tries to give them false info. This kind of blows up in his face when he’s asked to leave his info with an officer for further questioning. Whoops!

And while all of this mayhem is taking place, there’s a sixteen year old nymphet who likes to call the “Party Line” and talk amongst other horny people. It’s so funny to see this, as it’s such a precursor to chat rooms. I like this idea better because you actually get a voice on the other line. Well, Jennifer kind of enjoys calling 976 numbers when she’s babysitting, so it’s not long before her lecherous employer, Mr. Simmons wants a piece of Jen’s action. He calls the Party Line one night as she’s arranging a date with The Fireman, who is Seth. By the way, she goes by the pseudonym The Explorer, which is kind of gross.

During all of this mysterious mysteriousness, Seth gets pulled over by Butch and he slits her throat. When Dan finds out, he means BUSINESS. He’s going to put some of that Apollo foot to ass and real good like, I tell you!

The next day, Seth shows up at a café with his requisite red suspenders and another Party Line listener approaches him as if she was The Explorer, much to Jennifer’s dismay. Then comes Mr. Simmons and the three soon leave to meet up with Angelina for a night of rough and weird sex. Things don’t go so well though and the anonymous girl and Mr. Simmons end up in a field in Malibu all nekkid and stuff. I’d like to say Mr. Simmons blew that one, but that’s kind of inviting a Three’s Company type joke.

Jennifer realizes she was just inches away from a madman and goes to Stacy to help catch the killer. I mean, someone needs to bring Mr. Simmons’ killer to justice. Right? Right? Oh, damn, I’m losing you…

OK, this movie rules. Aside from Leif in drag, the dynamics of his relationship with Angelina is amazing. She totally rules the roost and when she’s not playing mind games or killing, she’s working out. And she works out a lot. It also doesn’t take much to aggravate her as she’s often calling Seth a “Mama’s boy,” and slapping him. Personally, I think he kind of likes it.

Unfortunately, Angelina is actually the smart one. So it really doesn’t take long for the shit to hit the fan, but c’mon did you really want more than 90s minutes of a transvestite Leif slitting throats? Yeah, I wanted more too. It’s a fun movie, shot pretty well and Hatch is really good. Richard Roundtree shows up for a bit too and he’s always gold. And contrary to what I’ve read, Leif is actually quite good. He’s very subdued, but I think his character calls for that. Now, Greta Blackburn, damn she’s great. She wears only the BEST late 80s gear and has the coolest frosted perm this side of Dynasty! She’s a lot of fun to watch and I think even if this movie was just her slapping Leif for an hour and half, I’d love it all the same!

Party Line was directed by William Webb who also helmed the cruelly slandered film The Banker with Robert Forster – but that’s for another blog day!

This review originally appeared on the blog Genre Girls.

Selling Innocence (2005)

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Selling Innocence
Directed By: Pierre Gang
Written By: John Moffatt
Starring: Mimi Rogers, Sara Lind, JR Bourne
2005

It doesn’t embarrass me one bit to confess that I am a Lifetime Junkie. From re-runs of The Golden Girls to the makeover show How to Look Good Naked to original TV series like The Division, this little cable channel has offered me many hours of ‘Television for Women’. But of course, this network would be nothing without their TV Movies. I live for Lifetime originals. They are so good! I know, I just can’t contain myself!

I was fortunate enough to catch Selling Innocence not that long ago, which was awesome since I missed the original broadcast back in ‘05. I was drawn to it based on a commercial which featured a lovely Sarah Lind vamping it up in a school girl dress… I know, I’m such an easy target.

Essentially, Sarah plays Mia, a goth-loving, sweatshirt-wearing teen who’s mother, Abby (played by the even lovelier Mimi Rogers), is constantly pounding the idea into Mia’s head that being pretty = happiness. Abby drags Mia to a modeling agency where young girls garnish compliments all over her. The owner of the agency, Malcolm (JR Bourne), lies right in the middle of sleazy and sincere but lathers enough charm over Abby to get her to sign a contract.

Things go well at first for Mia – she models polyester blended pants for a local flyer (much to the chagrin of her best friend) and joins Malcolm’s paid website for online chats, with a webcam (he assures her that the members are ‘clients’). For once Mia is being paid attention to and she likes it, she really likes it. So much so, she willingly gives a little more skin each time she chats. At one point Malcolm tells her “You’re a star, so act like one,” and the next day Mia is strutting said stuff all over the joint.

Things slowly begin to unravel after that – she inherits a stalker, she’s forced to attend a costume party for some ‘clients,’ her best friend disowns her and her dirty little secret is exposed for every Tom, Dick & Harry to see.

Although this is not groundbreaking stuff, it’s certainly an interesting thriller with a satisfying twist that could have actually been expounded upon even further (there’s another movie that could be made just on that development alone!), but the key factor here is Sarah Lind. Obviously a gorgeous woman, the casting here is realistic and she anchors the film with a strong and thoughtful performance. The producers were smart to hire an attractive girl who probably would never qualify for professional modeling – she’s got healthy curves. This was an important choice because we know Malcolm is pulling one over on her, even though working for him helps her transform into a confident beauty. It underlines the sad fact that girls can be lured into fulfilling dreams with even the most troublesome of characters.

Mimi Rogers is also good as the exasperated mom who loves Mia but has no real time to see what is going on in front of her. A likeable character, she is certainly flawed and sometimes meek, but owns up to her own mistakes when it comes to Mia.

So, that’s a lot of thought for a Lifetime movie, no? Although I wouldn’t classify all their films as thought-provoking material, Selling Innocence does give parents and young girls something to ponder. Give me that over thoughtless high-budget fare any day.

This review originally appeared on Pretty Scary in my column Lifetime Kills.

Sudden Death (1985)

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Although the tagline for Sudden Death reads, “Don’t mess with this Dirty Harriet,” I practically had to be hit over the head with a user comment on IMDb before I could make the connection. Valerie (Denise Coward), the protagonist of this movie is actually not a hard-nosed city cop like Mr. Eastwood’s most famous counterpart, rather she’s far more akin to his revenge seeking nemesis played by Sondra Locke in Sudden Impact (again, how lame is it that I didn’t make this connection? The word Sudden should have been my first clue). And in some respects she’s an awesome female companion to Robert Forster’s angst ridden vigilante in, you guessed it, Vigilante.

 After Valerie is brutally raped and told her case isn’t all that high on the priority list, this hot mamma grabs a gun and decides to hunt her assailants while cleaning up the streets of New York along the way. The problem is Valerie isn’t all that good at the vengeance thing. I mean, she becomes a notorious multi-murderer (nicknamed the Dum-Dum Killer based on the bullets she uses), but she always let the culprit get just a tad too close. This girl is on death’s door (or more aptly, rape’s door) almost every time she encourages a situation. So, she gets points for effort but loses some in execution. Ha! Get it? Execution…? Well, it seemed funny at the time…

 Released in 1985, Sudden Death is pure exploitation, and somewhat enjoyable. Writer/Director Sig Shore goes out of his way to capture New York as a city living in fear. Empty, rain-slicked streets become the stomping ground for the human animals. Every male is potentially a rapist, or at the very least, a really gross dude (check out the drug addict cab driver for proof). The women aren’t exactly portrayed as pure victims, but in an interesting scene featuring Valerie and her friend window shopping, they pass a confederate flag and a gun shop. This is not just a man’s world; it’s a universe devoid of anything not completely masculine (beside the feminine targets) and these guys apparently haven’t set foot outside the civil war (why a confederate flag is being displayed in New York is beyond me). With the exception of Detective Marty Lowery (Frank Runyeon), there are no likable men to be found. Even Valerie’s (soon to be ex) fiancé doesn’t understand why she can’t just go back to normal and screw him. It’s important to note that this film came out just a few years after the courts quit blaming the victim as much as the rapist himself. That’s probably why this revenge fantasy works. Although slow and somewhat flawed, the filmmakers put in an earnest effort to showcase Valerie as a woman lost in the scuffle of new system, which might not be able to implicate the woman in the court room, but can certainly incriminate her in the eyes of a still ignorant public. Anything that gives people an excuse not to care, right?

Australian born Coward gives the film a rocky start, but becomes more likable as the film progresses and she’s allowed to not just be wide-eyed and sweet. It is suggested that she treasures the battle wounds she retains from each murder, and these counter attacks allow her to move forward with her life. Of course I’m not saying assault victims should grab their favorite gun and right the wrongs of the world, but it certainly feels good to watch a pretty lady exact revenge. What can I say, I’m a softie!  

This review originally appeared on Pretty Scary.

Swimfan (2002)

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Swimfan
Directed by: John Polson
Written by: Charles F. Bohl and Richard Schneider
Featuring: Jesse Bradford, Erika Christensen and Shiri Appleby
2002
Twentieth Century Fox

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before – A hot stud with a worshipping girlfriend betrays her in one night of lost passion with another girl. Once he realizes his mistake, he tries to dump the other woman only to realize she’s not giving up that easy. A few dead bodies later, he has to go toe to toe with the bitch from hell and only one will come out the winner. If you can’t name at least three movies this synopsis reminds you of, than you are obviously not spending enough of your time watching bad movies.

If Lifetime ever made a big screen movie, Swimfan would likely have been the film they would have produced. Salacious and featuring a good mix of nice and nasty female characters, this teenage Fatal Attraction is a not bad thriller. Not terribly good either, but certainly not worthy of some of the bashing it received upon its initial release in 2002. I mean, am I the only one who enjoys watching pretty people being stalked, tortured and/or killed?!? OK, maybe I am the only one, but if you were of any age in the early 90s, it was impossible to miss the onslaught of sexy stalker pics such as the unforgivably ludicrous Whispers in the Dark to the wonderfully over the top The Crush (in which a pretty girl got socked in the jaw. Go Cary!). Like all the other blueprint stalker films that came before Swimfan, this one plays it by the book but not without a bit of trashy fun. The problem here is that it isn’t trashy enough. Our resident female scorned character, Madison Bell (Erika Christensen), is played with a Drew Barrymore circa Poison Ivy-like charm. She’s Jessica Rabbit on acid and dips herself into the role with enough menacing abandoned that she’s brings the picture up a notch. The rest of the cast can act, but none of them come out more than cardboard (except for Max Rosmarin as the Music Nerd who is so cardboard it’s actually fun!).

Although it’s obvious that the screenwriters were out to lunch when they wrote Swimfan, at least they gave it an original title and didn’t take the remake road that so many Hollywood suits have been relying on as of late. It might not be great, but at least it doesn’t smear the memory of the good films it’s attempting to rip-off. Sadly, that makes it something of note.

This review originally appeared on Pretty Scary.