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Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Brittany Murphy Performances

Brittany Murphy had a look and a talent that jumped off the screen wherever she was seen. She made an apparent effort to pick edgier, more challenging roles in distinct, darker projects and as such her career is speckled with some truly interesting appearances. That’s not to say she didn’t know how to carry herself in the odd RomCom or straightforward drama, which she did here and there too. But it was that adaptable nature, that obvious magnetism and passion for unconventional films and frequently playing broken, troubled individuals that made her so magical onscreen. She left us far too soon but her work remains, and here are my top ten personal favourite performances!

10. Tai in Amy Heckerling’s Clueless

A surprise 90’s sleeper hit, the trio of Murphy, Stacey Dash and Alicia Silverstone as three teenage girls coming of age is a charmer thanks to all their performances, hers being the standout.

9. Fay Forrester in Penny Marshall’s Riding In Cars With Boys

Everyone is dysfunctional in this off kilter, bittersweet drama showcasing a woman (Drew Barrymore), her family and everything that befalls them. Murphy is bubbly, sweet, neurotic and adorable as her friend Fay who struggles equally as hard and deals with it in hilarious ways, like belting out off key solos at a wedding.

8. Izzy in The Prophecy II

Right as Izzy and her boyfriend deliberately crash their car into a wall and commit suicide, Christopher Walken’s scheming Angel Gabriel shows up to grab her soul and help him out in a few endeavours. She gives the dark situation a comedic touch here, it’s a nice riff on ‘suicides become civil servants in the afterlife,’ plus she has terrific chemistry with Walken.

7. Daisy in James Mangold’s Girl Interrupted

In a powerhouse female cast with people like Angelina Jolie, Winona Ryder and Clea Duvall, Brittany holds her own as an outcast of the group with a sad history of sexual abuse, bulimia and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. She has a complex relationship with her father who mistreats her and a corrosive one with Jolie’s wild card Lisa that ultimately ends her arc in tragedy. Murphy handles it with maturity and a clear sense of character the whole way.

6. Jody Marken in Cherry Falls

The Scream franchise gets all the slasher spoof accolades but this underrated gem is well worth checking out. Set in a small Virginia town where a serial killer is targeting virgins, you can imagine how it goes. She plays the daughter of the local sheriff here (Michael Biehn) and gives a tough, magnetic turn in a very subversive piece of hysterical genre satire.

5. Veronica in Phoenix

A wayward Arizona teen who crosses paths with a corrupt vice cop (Ray Liotta), its an uncomfortable case of daddy issues run amok in a hot blooded desert film noir. Her mother (Anjelica Huston) knows reprehensible behaviour when she sees it, both on her daughter’s part and Liotta’s. She’s great in scenes with both these acting titans and demonstrated early on her natural talent and ability to control a scene almost effortlessly.

4. Rhonda in Matthew Bright’s Freeway

When Reese Witherspoon’s fearsome protagonist Vanessa finds herself in juvie lockup, Murphy’s Rhonda is her cellmate of sorts, and she’s quite something. Twitchy, off kilter and slightly disassociated, we kind of wanna know why she’s in there too, until we find out and regret it. This is probably the most distinct and oddball character work she has done, replacing her usual bubbly nature with a sly, ever so slightly menacing smirk and creepy mannerisms that bounce hilariously off of Witherspoon’s deadpan acidity.

3. Shellie in Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City

As saloon barmaid with questionable taste in men, Shellie can be forgiven for the simple fact that every single man *in* Sin City is questionable in nature. Embroiled in a sweaty love triangle between hard-ass Dwight (Clive Owen) and nasty corrupt cop Jackie (Benicio Del Toro), she gives her scenes a slinky, nervous yet in control quality and suits this world nicely.

2. Nikki in Jonas Åkerlund’s Spun

Spun is a delirious, heavily stylized and chaotically brilliant look at a day in the life of LA meth junkies, one of whom is Murphy’s Nikki. She’s dating a meth cook twice her age (Mickey Rourke) and can’t seem to figure out why her dog’s fur is green, so needless to say her life is somewhat in shambles. She finds the manic, buzzing energy here alongside a wicked awesome cast, giving Nikki a tragic edge that cuts deep past all the posturing and ditzy fanfare.

1. Elizabeth Burrows in Gary Fleder’s Don’t Say A Word

Psychologist Michael Douglas is called in to evaluate her character here, a highly disturbed teenager who hides behind a shellshocked, twisted facade and guards closely the reason for her damaged mind. Years before she witnessed her father die at the hands of a ruthless killer (Sean Bean) and knows that one day he’ll come back for her. Despite being younger than a good portion of her scene partners throughout her sadly short career she always found energy and potency alongside them and quite often stole scenes. Such is the case in her interplay with Douglas here, a harrowing set of mind games meant to smoke the truth out of her and constant ditch efforts on her part to avoid facing the past. Brilliant performance in a solid thriller.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more!

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Francis Delia’s Freeway


In the vein of highway set psycho thrillers, stuff like Robert Harmon’s The Hitcher and Steven Spielberg’s Duel paved and pioneered the way, fertilizing the ground for countless other similar efforts, some terrific and others not so much. Freeway falls into the former category, an atmospheric little B movie that delivers more clammy thrills than it frankly has any right to. It’s not to be confused with the classic Reese Witherspoon trash-terpiece of the same name though, this is a different animal altogether. There’s a serial killer terrorizing the nocturnal arteries of the L.A. highway system in this, an unhinged whacko in a Lincoln of or some such automobile of equally austerity, firing off love rounds into people’s faces whilst bellowing out bible verses extremely out of context all over the overpass in the wee hours. He’s mostly heard and unseen, but he’s played by none other than Billy Drago when he does show that leering visage, and the man let’s it rip in a performance that should be legendary. He’s hunted by another cool-as-ice character actor, tough guy James Russo as a Detective of few words and tons of action, namely shooting anyone that won’t give answers or spur his leads. There’s a dark, dreamy nocturnal aura to this, love and care put into atmosphere, showing is that the filmmakers, despite working with a low budget, actually give a darn about quality in their work as opposed to a throwaway second tier genre mad dash where the lack of passion is evident. A low rent classic in the realm of homicidal vehicular themed exploitation. 

-Nate Hill

Matthew Bright’s Freeway


Matthew Bright’s Freeway is the most fucked up, disturbing take on the Little Red Riding Hood tale you’ll find, and the only time Reese Witherspoon totally cut loose, got down n’ dirty to truly give a performance straight from the gutter. You can’t spell gutter without gut, which is the primary place this film operates from, gag reflex and all, and the same goes for her wickedly funny firebrand of a performance. The filmmakers have taken every minuscule plot point from Riding Hood and deliberately thought up the most disgusting and deplorable ways to drag them through the mud, churning forth a film that is so sickeningly perverted that you can’t take your eyes or ears off it once, kind of like a fresh, glistening pile of roadkill on the interstate that induces retching, yet is compelling in a sense, even attractive in its ability to morbidly hold your attention by being something that’s outside the norm. Witherspoon is Vanessa Lutz, a trailer park baby who’s been dealt a rough hand in life on all fronts. Her kindly boyfriend (Bokeem Woodbine) is tied up in dat gang life, her mom (Amanda Plummer) is an unstable slut-bag and her stepdad (Michael T. Weiss) has a case of… wandering hands, shall we say. Vanessa picks up and leaves town to go visit her grandmother, but no sooner does she hit the road, she’s tossed from the frying pan right into the fire when she’s picked up by psychiatric counsellor Bob Wolverton (Kiefer Sutherland). Bob is your classic clean cut, mild mannered yuppie, save for the fact that he also happens to be a dangerous pedophiliac serial killer, and she’s now in his car. Vanessa is a force to be reckoned with though, as Bob soon finds out, and the two of them wage sleazy war all over the state, until one or both are either dead or incarcerated. It’s so much heinous mayhem and depravity that one reaches saturation point and just had to go with the grimy flow, either that or walk out of the theatre, but that’d make you a bitch. Witherspoon and Sutherland are having a howling good time, each sending up their hollywood image in the type of roles that John Waters or Wayne Kramer would think up some lonely night. Bob is the worst type of offender, and one has to laugh when he’s wheeled into court, facially deformed at the hands of Vanessa, and she proceeds to savagely berate him on his looks, dropping insults that you can hear whistling through the air, delivered like gunshots by Witherspoon, then only barely twenty years old, who has never been this good in any film since. Funnier still is Wolverton’s naive wife looking on in aghast horror as only Brooke Shields can do with that soap opera stare. Other talents include Dan Hedaya as a stoic Detective, Conchata Farrell, Tara Subkoff and Brittany Murphy as a creepy cell mate Vanessa meets while in holding. Anyone claiming to be a fan of Witherspoon who hasn’t seen this just needs to take the time and do so, she’s just the most foul mouthed, violent, adorably profane trashbag pixie you could ever imagine, especially when onscreen with Sutherland, who has never been more evil or intimidating. This is one fairy tale you wouldn’t show the kids, but it still stands as my favourite cinematic version of Riding Hood to this day. There’s a sequel out there somewhere too, but I can’t weigh in on it as I haven’t had the time so far to check it out. I doubt it reaches the heights of sordid delight achieved here though. 

-Nate Hill