Tuesday, December 29, 2009

THE STRANGER (1987)



by Kris Gilpin

No, this ain’t the classic Albert Camus story of alienation, but -- judging by the video box art -- a suspenser posing as a horror flick. Made a year or two ago by Columbia, it received sparse (if any) theatrical distribution. Bonnie Bedelia stars as an amnesia victim under the care of shrink Peter Riegert. She can remember some creeps blowing a family away in a house in which she was hiding; she also recalls them chasing her and shooting at her before she got in her car and crashed it. Slowly she remembers a lover and something about a small aircraft company, as she makes occasional eyes with Riegert. The doc, meanwhile, is a gambler who owes $62,000 to a Las Vegas casino (they establish the city with a cheap $5 Spectra Star lens effect). At one point, the head Bad Guy approaches Riegert and offers to cover his debt if he helps them get to Bonnie (huh?!), but since they don’t follow up on their threat, nothing comes of it. There are several other moments of stupidity here which, I imagine, is what kept it out of most theaters, such as when the investigating cop (played by Barry Primus) wants to put Bonnie’s face in the papers under the headline “Does anyone know this woman?” (Gee, maybe the killers will tell them!). One baddie, played by David Spielberg, kills the super-shrink flown into town to handle the woman’s case, then proceeds to impersonate him -- extremely easily, I might add. But the biggest crock is when (note: there’s a spoiler coming, so skip this line if you don’t want a surprise in the film ruined for you) the co-cop is revealed to be "one of them." Oh, really? When did this happen, before he entered the force, or did he infiltrate his way in? Bedelia flashes a breast in her black-&-white remembrance/flashback scenes, which was a bit of a thrill for me as I’ve always thought she was a super-cutie. Riegert eventually sends her to the home of a nurse/friend to be treated as an outpatient, and when Spielberg breaks in one night and you think something’s finally going to happen -- nothing happens. Granted, the twist of the slaughtered family that no one can trace is an interesting and original (well, to me anyway) red herring, but it’s not enough to justify a rental of THE STRANGER. With no real suspense, this one’s only a mild mystery.

[Originally published in Temple of Schlock #13, November 1988]

3 comments:

Marty McKee said...

I bet I picked up this box forty times in video stores over the years, and still never rented it. Thanks for posting the longest review I've ever seen of it. I still think I'd like to see it.

mikemacnaptown said...

Interesting that Kris's review mentioned Camus- when I first saw the ad for this in the Indianapolis paper back in December of 1987, I thought (for a half second or so) that it might be an adaptation of the Camus book. The Stranger was at only one theater in Indy- the now-gone Glendale IV-V-VI (which was separated from the Glendale I-II-III by the equivalent of two and a half large parking lots, and six lanes of Keystone Avenue). I saw this one at the theater, but besides remembering that Bedelia and Riegert were in it- and that I didn't think that it was all that great- I don't recall very much about this one. Thanks for the review.

Anonymous said...

Another good review from Kris, we are doing the crosswords and getting a kick from them also. Seems like just yesterday we enjoyed "Pink Flamingos" at the U of M weekend midnight movies. While the sun-tan-u coeds gave the entire world a contact high. Good luck and thanks... gone gone years ago, the long lost... M.I.A. Molt