Death Scream (orig. La maison sous les arbres or The Deadly Trap), 1971, color. Rene Clement (dir.), Faye Dunaway, Frank Langella, Barbara Parkins, Karen Blanguernon. 1:36 [1:32]
We have Frank Langella as a mathematical genius, working for a publisher, who’s contacted by someone who really, truly wants him to do something for them…something clearly not on the up and up. He’s in Paris, where he moved two years previously with his wife (Faye Dunaway), their 8-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son. Dunaway seems to be having memory problems, the marriage isn’t as good as it should be, and he bonds with the daughter while she spoils the (slightly rotten) son. The real estate agent who found them the apartment lives downstairs with her husband and spends a lot of time with them. Dunaway’s character is seeing a psychiatrist and seems to be getting more anxious by the day, especially when she buys a party dress and her daughter points out that she already owns the exact same dress.
And then, she’s with the kids at a puppet show, buys a hoop for the son, and as they’re going home, she loses them. After clues suggesting that they might have drowned (or that she might have drowned them), it turns out they’ve been kidnapped. The rest of the film deals with that (and gaslighting, but not by her husband). The title’s a cheat; there are deaths (two of them), but that’s not really the theme. I guess it’s a psychological thriller; I just didn’t find it particularly compelling. Widescreen (but not anamorphic, and zooming this VHS-quality print up to fill a big screen was occasionally unpleasant). Not terrible, not great, $1.25.
Powderkeg, 1971, color (TV: pilot for Bearcats!). Douglas Heyes (dir.), Rod Taylor, Dennis Cole, Fernando Lamas, John McIntire, Michael Ansara, Tisha Sterling. 1:33.
The plot’s all seriousness: A band of Mexican bandits hijack a train and its 73 passengers (shooting the troops that are on the train) in order to free the brother of the head bandit, who’s going to be hanged in New Mexico after the gang had raided the town. If the brother isn’t freed, the head promises to shoot all the passengers—and keeps running the train back and forth on 40 miles of track in the open Mexican country, so he can spot any attempts to rescue them.
Well, sir…the note demanding the exchange (pinned to the body of a railroad official, thrown off at the station the train doesn’t stop at) was written under duress by a young Mexican lawyer, instructed to address it to the president of the railroad and any high-ranking names he can think of. The two names he adds turn out to be a couple of guys who’ve done border-town cleanup in the past. And thus the romp begins.
And romp it is: High adventure with low plausibility, carried off with style by a good cast. After learning that this was actually the movie-length pilot for a one-season TV series starring Rod Taylor and Dennis Cole (Bearcats!)—well, it’s still a good flick. It’s not even worth recounting the rest of the plot. I found it well done, enjoyable, a fairly good print; easily worth $1.50.
Slipsteream, 1989, color. Steven Lisberger (dir.), Bob Peck, Mark Hammill, Kitty Aldridge, Bill Paxton, Susan Leong, Abigail David, Robbie Coltrane. (Brief parts by Ben Kingsley and F. Murray Abraham.) 1:42.
There’s a deep mystery to this picture. We’ll get to that in a minute.
Oh, the mystery’s not the nature of the killer who’s central to the plot. He (Bob Peck) starts out being captured by two cops, one of whom (Mark Hammill) delights in blowing people away at the slightest provocation; is taken from them by a no-account bounty hunter (Bill Paxton) who wants to turn him in for the reward; and winds up the most heroic character in the film. If you haven’t figured out what he is long before it’s revealed—about halfway through the film—you’re not trying.
It’s not even the erratic nature of the slipstream—the supposed worldwide band of constant howling winds that’s the chief result of “the Convergence,” a near-future environmental disaster that’s resulted in the death of most people and ruination of most others. The slipstream is terribly ferocious when it suits the plot; nonexistent when it doesn’t.
It’s not even just how long in the future this could be set, given that one semi-decadent “downstream” group, living in an old museum/library setting with a variety of artifacts seems to have an unlimited supply of Dom Perignon.
Variable acting (Mark Hammill makes a great villain), pretty good print, loads of scenery, good stereo sound (unusual for these pictures) with an Elmer Bernstein score. Not a great scifi flick, but not a bad one.
The mystery is this: How on earth does a British 1989 color science fiction flick with good production values and scenery (if not great special effects), produced by Gary Kurtz, filmed in Turkey with a quality score and a good cast wind up in a Mill Creek Entertainment megapack? In any case, I’ll give it $1.50.
Somewhere, Tomorrow, 1983, color. Robert Wiemer (dir. & screenplay), Sarah Jessica Parker, Nancy Addison, Tom Shea, Rick Weber, Paul Bates. 1:31.
At first blush, this appears to be a movie told as flashbacks, starting with a teenager (an 18-year-old Sarah Jessica Parker) in ICU after a minor concussion—because, the doctor says, she seems to want to die. And, in the end, she doesn’t—but there’s also a little twist on the twist.
Basic plot: The girl’s father was killed in a plane crash—it’s never said how much earlier. She mourns him. She and her mother live on a horse ranch, but really can’t afford to keep it up. Her mother’s dating a local cop, and the girl’s not too wild about that.
And then…and then. Lots of plot. Cut to a teenage boy and his friend, taking off in a single-engine Cessna (I guess the kid’s old enough for a pilot’s license) to go visit the kid’s horse, who is on a stud appointment at the girl’s ranch. There’s some sputtering just before they take off (as the kid’s teaching his friend to fly), but they ignore it. Which, of course, eventually leads to them crashing in the firebreak near the ranch, just as she’s taking the kid’s horse out for some exercise.
We wind up with the boy showing up as an all-too-physical ghost only she can see (and, oh look, she was watching Topper just before going out for the exercise ride), a lot of blather about the need for her mother to move on, her mother marrying the police officer…and back we go to the hospital. It all ends happily and truly peculiarly.
The good parts: Very good print (full VHS quality). Some good scenery. The bad parts: The very young Parker (in her first movie, although she’d done earlier TV) isn’t all that great, and neither are the other actors—but maybe that’s the script. Oh, and Parker sings two songs, which turns out not be a win either. I found the whole thing sort of dreary; there may have been a Deep Religious Message that I missed, and there’s definitely a “life must go on!” message*, but mostly it was not very good. Generously, $1.