Friday, January 29, 2021

Night School

The director of CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG ended his career with the atrocious SEXTETTE (starring a stuffed Mae West) and this minor slasher movie filmed in Boston. Paramount released Ken Hughes' NIGHT SCHOOL on a double bill with the slasher spoof STUDENT BODIES, but you’d be hard-pressed to decide which film is funnier.

NIGHT SCHOOL is certainly the duller, and hardly anyone would remember it if not for its 24-year-old star, Rachel Ward, making her first feature. The English actress quickly appeared in SHARKY’S MACHINE and DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID before THE THORN BIRDS, which aired on ABC a year and a half after NIGHT SCHOOL vanished from theaters, made her a brief household name.

Not much about her performance in NIGHT SCHOOL indicates success in Ward’s future, though she’s certainly beautiful (and isn’t shy about revealing her body). Producer Ruth Avergon also provided the screenplay about a mysterious killer in a leather jacket and motorcycle helmet who decapitates young women and deposits their heads in containers of water. Leonard Mann, usually the star of Italian thrillers (THE HUMANOID), plays the Boston detective in charge of the case. His main suspect is anthropology professor Drew Snyder (AMERICAN HORROR STORY), who is boffing his live-in teaching assistant (Ward).

Hughes, perhaps unsurprisingly for a filmmaker with British classics like CROMWELL and THE TRIAL OF OSCAR WILDE on his resume, seems unsuited for bloody horror and unwilling to get into it. Keeping the murders off-camera lowers the interest of horror fans, but NIGHT SCHOOL is too dull, stiffly acted, and light on characterization for more refined thriller fans. The only suspense is the revelation of the killer’s identity, but Avergon’s script provides too few suspects to make a real game of it. Ward made another cheap horror flick, THE FINAL TERROR, but it didn’t get released until after she was famous. Composer Brad Fiedel (THE TERMINATOR) and director of photography Mark Irwin (SCREAM) also went on to better things.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Red Heat (1988)

Yes, Virginia, there once was a very small window of time in which husky comic actor Jim Belushi (THE PRINCIPAL) was not only a major Hollywood action star, but one who received equal billing with superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger (COMMANDO). Both actors are cast according to type in RED HEAT, a raucous action comedy directed by the man who helped create the genre with 48 HRS.: Walter Hill. It opened at #1 (the same weekend BULL DURHAM and THE GREAT OUTDOORS opened), but was not one of Arnold’s biggest hits. But, hell, neither was THE TERMINATOR.

Schwarzenegger is Ivan Danko, a tight-lipped Moscow cop with a dangerous reputation for kicking bad guy ass, even naked in the snow. Belushi is Art Ritzik, a laidback slob and Chicago cop whose clowning rubs the ultra-serious Danko the wrong way. Their common goal is Viktor Rosta (ACTION JACKSON’s Ed O’Ross), a druglord who escapes Danko’s clutches in Russia, but ends up in Chicago. The two cops tear hell out of half the Windy City in pursuit of Rosta...if they don’t kill each other first!

Action fans eager for a chase or shootout every ten minutes and plenty of smart talk will find RED HEAT worthwhile. The story is more formulaic than might be expected from credited writers Hill, Harry Kleiner (BULLITT), and Troy Kennedy Martin (EDGE OF DARKNESS), but in the steady hands of action craftsman Hill, the film is fast, funny, foul-mouthed, and full of interesting character actors. Peter Boyle (TAXI DRIVER) has the thankless role of Belushi’s boss. Laurence Fishburne (THE MATRIX) shows up as an uptight cop, Gina Gershon (BOUND) is a dancer, Pruitt Taylor Vince (BEAUTIFUL GIRLS) is a hotel clerk, Brion James (BLADE RUNNER) is an informant, and Peter Jason (ARACHNOPHOBIA) is a television host.

In the grand tradition of Sean Connery playing an Irish cop in THE UNTOUCHABLES and a Spaniard in HIGHLANDER, Schwarzenegger makes no effort at a Russian accent. RED HEAT did, however, shoot one day in Moscow’s Red Square — the first American production to do so — so there’s novelty value in seeing Arnold there. If you watch a lot of action movies, you may recognize the bus chase, which the studio sold as stock footage to independent movies that couldn’t afford to shoot their own.