Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Larry Cohen Week: Special Effects

This film is not a horror film per say, but it is a solid thriller with some gruesome death in it.  The key thing that makes this movie interesting is that the plot is extremely-layered and full of numerous things that challenge the conventions of typical film screenplays.  I know that makes it sound obnoxious and pretentious, but it isn't.  It's hard to explain without talking about the whole I'll do that.  This is...
The film begins with a woman being confronted by a man in her apartment.  He is trying to get her to come with him, but she refuses.  She seems to relent and prepares her bags...only to escape out the window and leave.  Who are these people?  Why are they fighting?  Wait and see, dear readers.  The woman goes to the loft of a film director (famous play-actor Eric Bogosian) to get cast in his next film.  The man is not in a good spot, however, as he was just fired from his last film, due to it going over-budget.  He promises her a role in his next movie, but only if she sleeps with him.  She does this without question, which makes her an immediately-likable character.  Moments later, he chokes her to death in bed and has the whole thing filmed for posterity...or state's evidence.  In fairness to the film, this guy is like a crazed Cecil B. DeMille (yes, there is a distinction), so this makes sense.  The body is dumped out in the street and, not surprisingly, the excited boyfriend who just showed up in town is a prime suspect.  It probably doesn't help that he was last seen yelling at her as she drove off, huh?
The brief bit of mention that the director gets for being the last non-killer to see her is inspiring and leads him to make a new project: the story of the woman's death.  Of course, his version of the events is a bit different and less incriminating.  Using his Hollywood mojo and some film-style bribery, the man convinces the police to give him 'key details of the crime' for his screenplay.  How?  By offering them all parts in the film and Executive Consultant credits.  Oh, but it gets better!  The man even convinces the police to allow the prime suspect to star in the himself!  Thanks to some conniving and trickery, he doesn't realize that the screenplay fingers him as the suspect.  How does he do this?  He offers the senior detective a Producer's credit on the filim!  Our hero begins to suspect that something is up (you think?!?) and looks into the man.  Here's the thing: the lady was his wife and recent mother.  However, she got the urge to go to Hollywood and be a big, movie star.  On that urge, she left Kansas (a bit cliche, I know) and her new family.  He knows that everything that they are saying about him is bullshit, but how can he prove it?
The shooting schedule and demands get even worse.  It's bad enough that he's playing himself in a fictionalized story of the death of his wife.  First, the director only shows him the daily shooting script and never lets him see the ending he has planned.  Second, the director wrote in a love scene between him and a woman playing his wife.  It would be less awkward if he went to a funeral and knocked over the casket!  It would be less awkward if he was at his own wedding and had sex with his the front of the ceremony!  Of course, the evil director just wrote this in to watch him twist in the wind & he relishes every moment of it.  Given a little bit of freedom as an actor, the man breaks into the director's big loft and discovers a hidden film projector.  He plays what is on the reel, which turns out to be the video of the director killing his woman.  Just because the film needs more drama, the director comes home while this is going on and the man has to hide.  In his haste, he actually causes the 16mm reel to set on fire, destroying all of his evidence.  His hiding place proves to be insufficient and a fight ensues.  Eventually, he knocks the director over a banister to his death, making all of this moot.  The man flies home to Kansas to be with his kid and, as one final hurrah for insanity, the Detective's Producer credit flashes on the screen!
This film is good, but it is certainly not for everyone.  The whole thing is built around a very strange and elaborate premise that may be hit or miss for some people.  The story itself is pretty simple & flows naturally.  Bogosian is great as the crazy and eccentric director, which is probably helped by his pretty famous cocaine problem during this time period.  While I don't recommend drug use to aid a performance, the man's own does add a certain manic charm to it all.  The rest of the acting is pretty ho-hum, but they spend plenty of time with their star.  The poor lead gets some good screen time, but is really more of a means to push the plot forward than anything else.  What this movie accomplishes is a very weird sense of self.  Look back at this for a moment: the film is about a director making a film about a murder he committed (and filmed), but turning the events to be about the innocent man- who is playing himself in the film within a film- being guilty.  How crazy is all of that?  Suck on that plot, Tropic Thunder!  The fact that the whole thing ends with an implication that all of what you saw was also a movie is just icing on the cake.  This thing is worth a look for any crime thriller fans.
Up next, Larry Cohen directs a film about aliens trying to invade the Earth with yogurt and Garrett Morris.  Plus, the ADA from Law & Order is a complete dick!  Stay tuned...

1 comment:

  1. I thought I hadn't seen this, but after seeing the screen shots, I remember that I had. Its been a long time though--not even sure I knew it was a Cohen movie. I definitely check this one out.