Archive for April 1982

TAG: The Assassination Game

April 28, 1982

Longtime John Carpenter associate Nick Castle (who played the Shape in Halloween) made his writing-directing debut with this overlooked little beauty about the popular campus game TAG, which involves students stalking one another with rubber-dart guns. One of the players — Bruce (Re-Animator) Abbott in his first film, looking a lot like Travis Bickle — is a loner who takes pride in his perfect “kill” record. When another player inadvertently “kills” him, Abbott goes nuts and returns the favor — with real bullets. Campus-paper reporter Robert Carradine wants to interview champion TAG player Linda Hamilton (in her first film, making a great-looking film noir heroine), the only “assassin” who can beat Abbott. Very slickly done, not without humor, and undeserving of its obscurity and its mostly negative reviews. Also with Kristine De Bell, Michael Winslow, and Frazer Smith as the sleazeball who organizes TAG — he’s like a junior James Woods, and he’s named (ahem) Carpenter. Hamilton and Abbott later married and divorced.

Alone in the Dark (1982)

April 2, 1982

“He’s very deeply into his own space just now,” says psychiatrist Donald Pleasence about one of his patients, whom he calls “voyagers.” Pleasence’s sly flower-child inversion of his implacable gun-toting shrink in Halloween is just one of many surprises in this offbeat horror movie, which features two future Best Supporting Actors as psychos who escape from the institution during a power outage. Maybe Jack Palance and Martin Landau later wanted to leave this off their resumés, but they’re entertaining in it; Landau, who has that alarming grin going for him anyway, delivers his lines with sick conviction. (Spotting a mailman on a bike, Landau hisses, “I want his hat…”)

The psychos (rounded out by massive Erland van Lidth de Jeude, from Stir Crazy) terrorize rookie shrink Dwight Schultz (The A-Team) and his family. The usual stalk-and-slash stuff follows, but the movie’s tongue-in-bloody-cheek satire of psychobabble sets it apart. Pinch-hitter Tom Savini came in and contributed one make-up job, seen in the film’s best seat-jumper. This was the directorial debut of Jack Sholder, a former editor (The Burning) and award-winning filmmaker for PBS, and one of the genre’s more interesting (if not especially prolific) directors of the ’80s; his next was A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2. Look for the Sic Fucs performing “Chop Up Your Mother.”

Basket Case

April 1, 1982

basketcaseThe ads for this cult classic proudly displayed Rex Reed’s pull-quote (“The sickest movie I’ve ever seen”). It’s a horror-comedy about Duane Bradley (Kevin VanHentenryck), a soft-spoken, mild-mannered young man who takes his little brother Belial to New York City. What’s sick about that? Well, Belial is Duane’s deformed Siamese twin, who lives in a wicker basket, looks like a snaggletoothed hamburger patty, and has a telepathic bond with Duane. The brothers hole up in a dingy hotel (Hotel Broslin!) and track down the three doctors who surgically separated them. Laughable animation, explicit gore, and a necrophilic sex scene between Belial and a hapless woman make this $35,000 first feature by Frank Henenlotter off limits to all but the most decadent viewers, but if you’re in the right mood, this monster mash is vile fun. Also with Terri Susan Smith, Beverly Bonner, and Robert Vogel. “The tenant in Room 7,” drooled the ads, “is very small, very twisted, and very mad.” In a great promotional gimmick, moviegoers were handed surgical masks “to keep the blood off your face.” A censored version played in many cities; the video is uncut.

Basket Case 2 (1990) – At the end of the first film, Duane (Kevin VanHentenryck) and Belial fell from the window of Hotel Broslin. Turns out they survived and were rescued from the hospital by Granny Ruth (Annie Ross), a doctor who shelters “unique individuals” (i.e., freaks), and her granddaughter Susan (Heather Rattray). For a while, this sequel is slow and depressingly slick-looking. And when an amoral tabloid reporter (Kathryn Meisle) starts sniffing around Granny’s house, you know you’re in for a revenge-of-the-freaks climax. But there are plenty of laughs, a brave performance by Ross (who doesn’t even flinch at lines like “Ripping people’s faces off will not solve your problems”), and one loony, lyrical scene worthy of Stuart Gordon: Belial falls in love with a female detached Siamese twin named Eve, and …. Well, see for yourself. The movie doesn’t have much of that over-the-top stuff, but Duane’s final “reunion” with Belial is certainly an eye-popper. Look for Matt Malloy (In the Company of Men) as a character named “Toothy” and David Emge (Dawn of the Dead) as “Full Moon.” I assume they’re freaks. I hope they are. There’s also a character named “Man with 37 Noses.”

Basket Case 3: The Progeny (1992) – Fairly lame sequel with a few scattered laughs and a gonzo turn by Kevin VanHentenryck — not up to par with its predecessors. Belial’s “girlfriend” Eve gives birth to 12 little Belials. The script, by Henenlotter and Robert Martin, is full of weird and interesting ideas, but overall it just didn’t grab me (Frankenhooker, the previous Henenlotter/Martin collaboration, is far better). Maybe this simply wasn’t meant to be a series.