Archive for October 1990

Sonny Boy

October 26, 1990

Indescribable, but I’ll try. A baby is stolen and taken in by sadistic criminal Paul L. Smith (Midnight Express) and his common-law wife David Carradine. (That’s right, David Carradine.) Smith raises the child like an animal, cutting out the boy’s tongue on his sixth birthday and training him to kill Smith’s enemies. Eventually Sonny Boy (Michael Griffith) grows into a young man who begins to realize there’s more to life than abuse.

I found this consistently fascinating, though it’s the very definition of “not for everyone.” It has a true cult-movie cast, including Brad Dourif as Smith’s grungy right-hand man, Sydney Lassick (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) as his cohort, Conrad Janis (a long way from Mork and Mindy!) as a doctor who experiments on people with monkey parts, and Alexandra Powers as a nice woman who takes a shine to Sonny Boy. Written by Graeme Whifler, who also wrote the equally twisted (but nowhere near as good) Dr. Giggles and directed videos for the Residents. If you have a taste for the unapologetically bizarre and can even find this, it’s well worth a rental, though it’s a 2.35:1 film and the pan-and-scan videotape noticeably and often compromises the widescreen compositions. Any chance of a letterboxed DVD? Probably not. If nothing else, you’ll never look at David Carradine quite the same way again (he’s great as “Pearl,” by the way).

White Palace

October 19, 1990

James Spader is a St. Louis yuppie who falls in love with Susan Sarandon, a 43-year-old waitress in the titular burger joint. They have steamy sex, have many fights about their class differences, and wind up together forever. White Palace isn’t much of a movie, but Spader comes through with another of his intelligent, understated performances, and Sarandon, as always, is superb — she invests each line with bottomless sadness and bitterness. See it for them, and also for Eileen Brennan as Sarandon’s fortune-teller sister and Kathy Bates in a brief bit as Spader’s co-worker. There is one classic exchange, when Sarandon accompanies Spader to his family’s Thanksgiving dinner and encounters a snooty designer who wants to know how she won Spader’s heart. “I dunno,” Sarandon says, “I guess I just give good blowjobs.” “I bet you do,” sneers the designer. “I bet you don’t,” says Sarandon.

Night of the Living Dead (1990)

October 2, 1990

Tom Savini’s completely unnecessary but not-terrible remake tells the exact same story with a few twists. It’s best viewed as the culmination of the thirty-year friendship of Savini and George A. Romero; Savini was going to do the FX for the original, but he went to Vietnam instead. (Romero agreed to do the remake to make some money for the original film’s backers, who didn’t see a dime from the original’s profits; he also did it because someone else was planning a remake and he had to remake it first to lay claim to the rights to the film.)

This was Savini’s feature debut as a director (he’d helmed some Tales from the Darkside episodes for Romero), and he’s competent. An old-school horror director, Savini likes shots of the full moon behind gnarled tree branches. And he has cast, in place of the original’s recessive Judith O’Dea, the ravishing stuntwoman Patricia Tallman in the role of Barbara, who decimates zombies without revelling in it — a mournful Rambette, she is. (The other actors, like Tony Todd, Tom Towles, and Bill Moseley, were picked for their resemblance to the original cast.) But the film lacks the grubby, black-and-white fervor of Romero’s classic, and one may wish that the project, however well-intentioned, had never got off the ground. It is, however, much more respectful of the source material than John Russo’s idiotic 1998 remix. The original was remade again in 2006 (in 3D).