Tom Leins heads back to the 80s for this week’s home entertainment round-up
52 Pick Up (Arrow Video) -based on the excellent Elmore Leonard novel of the same name -ranks as one of the more unlikely productions from B-movie titans Cannon Films, although anyone who has watched the superb Electric Boogaloo documentary will already know that there was more to Cannon than Chuck Norris and his action jeans!
Helmed by John Frankenheimer (French Connection II, Ronin) the movie stars Roy Scheider (Jaws) as Harry Mitchell, a successful businessman whose life threatens to fall apart when a compromising videotape of him and his mistress Cini (Kelly Preston) becomes a tool for blackmail. Unable to go to the police without compromising the political career of his wife Barbara (Ann-Margret), he is forced to take matters into his own hands, and trawl the sick underbelly of the city in search of the men blackmailing him -a rag-tag bunch of pornographers and killers.
With a screenplay co-written by Leonard himself, 52 Pick Up is an appropriately grubby thriller that keeps you on your toes throughout. Whereas the worst Leonard adaptations (Big Bounce, Be Cool) have been broad, garish and played for non-existent laughs, 52 Pick Up actually has the sleazy, violent feel of a 70s Elmore Leonard book (despite being made in 1986!). With a stand-out supporting role for Clarence Williams III as drug-addicted hitman Bobby Shy, and cameos from a series of 80s porn stars, the milieu is perfectly judged, and a stony-faced Roy Scheider is a good choice for the taciturn Mitchell -a man determined to reset his own wonky moral compass.
52 Pick Up is a cult classic that deserves to be rediscovered, and indeed ranked alongside the very best movie adaptations of Leonard’s work.
This week’s second title is brought to us courtesy of a brand new UK distributor Indicator (part of Powerhouse Films), which has lined up a seriously impressive list of Dual Format (Blu-ray/DVD) limited editions, complete with archive bonus features and booklets.
Released in 1984, the sleaze-drenched Body Double (Indicator) was director Brian De Palma’s unlikely follow-up to Scarface. After losing his job on a low-budget vampire movie due to his claustrophobia, unemployed actor Jake Scully (Craig Wasson) is asked to house-sit at a luxurious hillside apartment by his friend Sam (Gregg Henry). Jake is delighted to find that Sam has rigged up a telescope to spy on his sexy neighbour Gloria Revelle (Deborah Shelton), who performs a striptease in front of her bedroom window the same time every night. When Jake discovers another man is also spying on Gloria, he begins an obsessive surveillance of her, and his obsession leads him into the murky twilight world of X-rated film, where he encounters the eye-catching Holly Body (Melanie Griffith, in one of her first major roles), whose behaviour offers some bizarre parallels to that of Gloria
Body Double plays out like a Hitchcock-goes-hardcore 80s death-trip, and De Palma’s dual obsession with Rear Window and Vertigo is allowed to run wild throughout. Deliberately provocative and dangerously voyeuristic, Body Double is part LA neo-noir, part 80s erotic thriller, but harder and nastier than anything else that occupied the mainstream at that time. David Lynch toyed with this kind of freakiness in subsequent years -and earned much greater acclaim in the process -so Body Double is clearly ripe for reappraisal, and this well-judged re-release comes at a great time.
It may have been reviled upon its initial release, but this movie feels like Brian De Palma’s vision at its undiluted best. Disturbing? Yes. Self-indulgent? Yes. Brilliant? Hell, yes!
Also Out Now:
Re-released on a limited edition Dual Format basis just in time for Halloween is Christine (Indicator), John Carpenter’s memorable 1983 version the Stephen King novel of the same name. The movie -which tells the story of a geeky, unpopular high school student whose life is altered forever when he acquires a dilapidated 1958 Plymouth Fury with a dark past -holds up very well, and its bloody mash-up of 1950s teen culture and genre horror is still a striking combination. Initially dismissed by Carpenter as just a ‘job’ that he felt would give his career a boost after the initial critical backlash against The Thing, Christine has earned an appreciative cult audience in subsequent years, and remains compelling viewing. Great stuff.
(Note: both Indicator titles are limited to 5,000 copies apiece. When the initial run is sold out, they will still be available on Blu-ray, just without the DVD or booklet.)