Four films to get released on the weekend of June 14-16, 1985 get the Journal treatment here. In this installment, we celebrate the 28th anniversaries of PRIZZI’S HONOR, D.A.R.Y.L., SECRET ADMIRER and NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR!
SCOTT’S FILM GEEK JOURNAL – ENTRY 47
D.A.R.Y.L. (1985) – A little boy (Barrett Oliver – THE NEVERENDING STORY, COCOON) is found in the woods with no memory of where he came from. He is placed with child services and set up with loving foster parents (Michael McKean and Mary Beth Hurt). He even makes friends with the neighborhood smartass (Danny Corkill). But Daryl isn’t a normal little boy. He is incredibly intelligent, possesses a vocabulary more sophisticated than most adults, can learn things instantly and has an innate knowledge of computer systems. It is only when the two figures claiming to be Daryl’s real parents show up that he discovers exactly who that is.
This is something the film tries to keep secret, so I’ll understand if you stop reading here. However, all the advertising and even the film’s title literally spell it out for you, so forgive me if I don’t regard the following as a major spoiler. Daryl is a test tube baby with a cybernetic brain. He was developed in a government laboratory on orders from the Pentagon with the hopes of turning him into a weapon. Why the Pentagon would be interested in having a scrawny kid who does not possess any sort of super strength as a weapon is unclear. It is just one of many things that may have flown under the radar for me when I was nine years old. But now that I’m an adult, it stands out as a plot hole you could shove a UNIVAC through. And let me tell you, there’s a lot more where that came from, right down to the ludicrous ending.
There are moments in D.A.R.Y.L. That suggest a much better film could be made out of the material. Josef Sommer, a fave character actor of mine, turns in another fine performance as Daryl’s duplicitous creator. There are some interesting scenes regarding Daryl’s development and the later scenes featuring the tyke hooked up to soulless, overpowering pieces of technology are quite chilling. It’s too bad that we are thrust into these scenes so suddenly, and it’s equally unfortunate that the film’s villains are as idiotic as they are cardboard. ★½ (out of ★★★★)
NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR (a.k.a. SHIVER) (1985) – This is a horror anthology film that features God and Satan having a debate on who gets certain souls while on board a doomed spectral train. In the neighboring car, a bunch of musicians practice. Or at least, that’s what they’re supposed to be doing. Actually, we don’t see any instruments and it just looks like they lip-sync and do synchronized dance routines while lights and fog machines are abused. They also look like they’re performing in a frat house rather than a train car. While they go about their business, God and Satan look in on various stories (with Ed Wood-style narration) to determine who gets the souls of the people within.
The film boasts five directors, my guess is that a separate person helmed each of the stories. The IMDB mentions that the first story was actually footage from an unfinished horror film, repurposed to fit in here. But honestly, all of the stories have this same feel. They jump around a lot, depend on narration to attempt explaining what the hell is going on and then they just end, with God, the Devil and a creepy train conductor on hand to describe what happened to the protagonists later.
NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR is bad. I mean, really bad. Think of a bad movie, that one you use as a frame of reference for bad movies. NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR is worse. The film makes no sense and the acting is terrible across the board (even genre stalwarts Richard Moll and Cameron Mitchell appear lost). It feels like a jigsaw puzzle, assembled on a deadline with several pieces still missing. So, why doesn’t it get the coveted zero star rating? Well, say what you will but NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR certainly isn’t boring. It’s mildly entertaining trying to figure out what the heck is happening and wonder how much worse the film will get before someone pulls the plug. It features the most pandering types of sex and violence and oddities like a stop-motion insect creature. This should not be mistaken for an endorsement however. Films like SUPERSTITION and HELLHOLE also fit this description but were much more entertaining in their audaciousness. If I could think of a film to compare this to, I would suggest the 1989 video flick, THINGS, where the whole thing is so bizarre and amateurish and you stare at it, fascinated, wondering how much of this insanity was on purpose. ★ (out of ★★★★)
NOTE: The embedded trailer contains violence and nudity and is therefore NSFW.
PRIZZI’S HONOR (1985) – Charley Partanna (Jack Nicholson) is the main mob enforcer for the Prizzi crime family. He’s in on most of the goings on within the family. He meets Irene (Kathleen Turner) and immediately falls in love, not realizing at the time that she’s a professional assassin. Nevertheless, and despite Charley discovering her involvement in some stolen mob money, the two get married. But when a job both are involved in goes wrong, the pressure is on the Prizzi crime family to sort things out with Charley and Irene caught in the middle.
John Huston is one of the only directors to transition successfully from the old Hollywood of the 1940s to the new Hollywood of the 1960s and 70s and beyond into the 1980s. And boy, can you ever tell why here. PRIZZI’S HONOR is a beautifully shot, stunningly crafted film. Huston’s daughter, Angelica, has a supporting role here as well. But all questions of nepotism go out the window when you see how she conquers in her Oscar-winning role. Nicholson is great as usual as the dim-witted, weak-willed Charley. But honestly, I was surprised how much Kathleen Turner just didn’t work in the crucial role of Irene. She generates no heat with Nicholson and though it sounds cruel to say it, it feels as though she’s out of her depth, trying to impress the seasoned actors she’s partnered with. I realize this makes no sense. Turner is a talented actress who has acted alongside greats both before and after this film. I merely report my impression of what I saw. Because of this missed mark, a lot of the drama we should be wrapped up in, falls by the wayside. If I had two actors to single out in PRIZZI’S HONOR, it would be Lee Richardson and John Randolph as two other high-ranking members of the Prizzi family.
PRIZZI’S HONOR could have been a classic with some better casting in the Irene role and a few loose ends tied up. Even taking these flaws into account, it’s still the best 1985 film this week. ★★★ (out of ★★★★)
SECRET ADMIRER (1985) – A secret admirer writes a love letter to high school student Michael (C. Thomas Howell). He gets the notion that the letter was sent by his crush, the high-maintenance Deborah Anne Fimple (Kelly Preston – After MISCHIEF, this is Preston’s second 1985 role as a self-absorbed girl who the protagonist falls for but shouldn’t.). He writes a letter back, but it’s so terrible that Michael’s friend, Toni (Lori Laughlin) writes a better one for him. She falls for him and the two start to hook up. Meanwhile, the letters wind up in the possession of Michael and Debbie’s respective parents, which causes a whole lot of mistaken identity humor.
Boy, C. Thomas Howell. What a dork, huh? Actually, that’s probably unfair, but Howell did tend to get stuck with a lot of dorky roles, few dorkier than the dorkiest dork of the bunch here in SECRET ADMIRER. I once wrote a screenplay filled with teenagers who spoke and acted just like they do in this film. But I was twelve years old at the time, and had no idea how teenagers acted outside of bad 1980s movies. I’m not sure what the excuse is for Tim Kouf and David Greenwalt – yes, the same Kouf and Greenwalt who have gone on to do exemplary work in television (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, ANGEL, GRIMM). Calling it a rookie mistake might be the nicest way to put it. But there’s no getting around the fact that Michael and his friends aren’t very bright, are prone to rash judgments and top it all off with a sense of smug obnoxiousness. Since the whole film hinges on the idea that someone out there finds Michael irresistible, the viewer is left to ponder why?
SECRET ADMIRER is pretty rough going, especially towards the beginning. The film seems to wise up about 45 minutes into the film by spelling out exactly who wrote the initial letter without saying it. Good thing too, since you can tell you wrote it from the beginning just by looking at the young woman’s arms, clothes and the boulder-sized hints that are dropped along the way.
It is somewhat redeemed by a good supporting cast. Of particular note are Fred Ward, who is pretty great as a strict, jealous but sympathetic police officer (He tells a muscle-bound pretty boy: “You’re getting pretty big. What are you curling these days, besides your hair, handjob?”). I have also long been an admirer (ooh, see what I did there?) of Lori Loughlin. She brings some real depth to what lesser actresses would dismiss as the best friend role. Her comic timing is great and her problems feel real. I would have watched Loughlin in pretty much anything. Well, until she did FULL HOUSE. And then OLD DOGS. And 90210. Apparently, I have my limits. Damn girl, if you wanted to keep me away, you could have just filed a restraining order.
It’s also always good to see Dee Wallace (this is back when she was still going by Dee Wallace Stone). She’s another actress who doesn’t get her due often enough. Oh yeah, and the Jan Hammer theme music is awful pretty. ★★ (out of ★★★★)
BOX OFFICE CHAMPS – JUNE 14-16, 1985
1. RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II (2,074 screens) $9.2 million ($85 million – 4 weeks)
2. THE GOONIES (1,705 screens) $8.4 million ($22 million – 2 weeks)
3. FLETCH (1,277 screens) $5.2 million ($24.5 million – 3 weeks)
4. PRIZZI’S HONOR (719 screens) $4.2 million (1st week)
5. A VIEW TO A KILL (1,479 screens) $3.4 million ($35.9 million – 4 weeks)
6. BREWSTER’S MILLIONS (1,287 screens) $2.8 million ($28.8 million – 4 weeks)
7. D.A.R.Y.L. (1,100 screens) $2.6 million (1st week)
8. PERFECT (1,339 screens) $2.5 million ($8.6 million – 2 weeks)
9. SECRET ADMIRER (1,300 screens) $2.4 million (1st week)
10. BEVERLY HILLS COP (648 screens) $1.0 million ($223.3 million – 28 weeks)
source: Box Office Mojo
Number of films covered in the Journal so far: 217
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