FearDotCom is a thoroughly lazy, deeply awful hunk of excrement. What makes it so bad is the sheer potential of its concept, squandered on a brain-meltingly generic serial killer story that we’ve all seen hundreds of times. After a rainy prologue (the whole thing seems to take place in a perpetual monsoon) involving a short lived and painfully underused Udo Kier, we’re told that multiple victims have begun to disappear 48 hours after logging on to some freaky website called fear.com. The rest of the film could have gone a bunch of different cool and inspired ways, but nooo… instead it plods along with a Detective (Stephen Dorff) and a sanitation worker (Natasha McElhone should know better than to take a second look at scripts like this) as they hunt the proprietor of the web domain, a nasty yet ultimately boring murderer played by Neil Jordan’s thespian of choice, Stephen Rea, who also should know better than to wander into this mess. Now, all that could be forgiven, seeing as how potential is pissed away every hour in Hollywood, it’s just par for the course. But where the film really, truly shits the bed is it’s DVD art. I remember specifically avoiding the aisle that housed this flick back in the days of blockbuster, because the images on the cover were so uniquely scary. There’s a horrific looking mannequin girl, dead bodies arranged in a way that would give Dali nightmares and just a general uneasy look to the box. Thing is, none of that stuff actually shows up in the film anywhere. It’s either a con job, butchered editing or the industry’s hugest distribution error. For years I was petrified by those images, only to finally get a chance to see the thing, and go: “This?! This is the film that that wickedly memorable horror show of a cover advertised!? Weak…” All we get out of it is a dour, boring, barely conscious bottom of the barrel shocker outing that leaves no lasting impression whatsoever. You’re better off buying the DVD, whipping the disc off your balcony like a frisbee and framing the cover on the living room wall to freak your kids out.
Felon is a bitter,and tragic prison drama that’s packed with wrenching injustice, simmering anger and caged animal violence. Loaded with the kind of tough guy elements which make prison films exciting (check out Lock Up with Stallone), it’s also has a tender side brought forth by its extremely thoughtful and well written script, which explores ideas that are both hard to swallow and very sad. Stephen Dorff, a guy who already has the gritty look as soon as he walks into a frame, plays Wade Porter, a simple family man who is just starting out at life along with his wife (Marisol Nichols). Their hopes and dreams turn into a nightmare, however, when a violent intruder breaks into their home one night. Wade strikes out in defence of himself and his wife, accidentally killing the criminal. Because of the backwards ass way the States run things, he is accused of manslaughter and sentenced to serve out jail time. He is then thrown into the dog pit, literally and figuratively. The penitentiary he is sent to is run by sadistic and corrupt Lt. Jackson (Harold Perrineau) along with his brutal enforcer Sgt. Roberts (Nick Chinlund). Jackson organizes vicious fight club style matches between the inmates, totally off the books and beyond any correctional legislations. Wade is forced to adapt, adjust and bring out monstrous aspects within himself to survive, and make it through his sentence with both his life and humanity intact. It’s not an easy turn of events to watch unfold onscreen, but necessary in the sense that this probably happens quite frequently to people in real life, and should be seen. The only solace Wade finds is with his gruff, veteran cell mate John Smith (Val Kilmer) a lifer who once went on a massacre of revenge against individuals who murdered his family. Smith is his guiding light, steering him through the hellish carnage of what he’s forced to do and helping him to keep the candle of compassion alive within him, never losing sight of what is essential in his fight to claim his life once more. Kilmer is a force that will knock you flat in this role, an old bull with dimming fury in his eyes, a man with a bloody history that has forged the weary dog we see in the film. Late in the film he has an extended monologue to Wade, giving him both blessing and advice with some of the most truthful and affecting gravity Kilmer has showed in his career. The writer/director, who appears to be primarily a stuntman, should be commended for such a script, that could have easily been a straight up prison flick without the pathos that drips off its heartstrings. We as an audience view this painfully and prey nothing like this ever happens to us or anyone we know, hoping to see a light of hope at the end of the dark tunnel for Wade. I won’t spoil it, but it’s worth the hit that your emotions will take while watching, and there is hard earned catharsis to be had, and penance for the characters you want to shoot in the face along the way. The extends to brilliant work from Chris Browning, Anne Archer, Nate Parker, Johnny Lewis and a fantastic Sam Shepherd as another seasoned convict. This was correct to video as I recall, which is a crime. It’s up there as my favourite prison set film that I’ve ever seen, a soul bearing piece.
CITY OF INDUSTRY is that seedy noir where men treat their own gunshot wounds with whisky and cigarettes in a rundown bathroom of a motel, talk in short and blunt alpha male code, and live by a code of honor and revenge. The film has a fantastic cast led by Harvey Keitel giving his archetypal tough guy performance. Supporting Keitel is Timothy Hutton, Famke Janssen, Lucy Liu, Michael Jai White, Stephen Dorff, and Elliot Gould.
The film’s premise is the Richard Stark esque caper/revenge story of four men robbing a jewelry store, and then one of them (Dorff) kills off two (including Keitel’s younger brother played by Hutton) and then Harvey Keitel spends the rest of the film tracking him down and killing anyone in his way.
The film thrives on its minimalist approach. It knows exactly what it is, and it does not try to be anything more. Keitel commands the screen with his scowls and his pistol whipping anyone who stands between him and Dorff. Along the way, Keitel befriends the widow (the always great Janssen) of one of his slain crew members, and of course finds solace and redemption in helping her while tracking Dorff.
The film is what it is. For those who enjoy the heavy B movie revenge genre, this film was made for you. Keitel’s stoic performance is solid as ever, Dorff and his blonde highlights is sleazy as ever, and Elliot Gould makes a brief yet groovy turn as a sweaty and smooth crime boss. CITY OF INDUSTRY is one of those gems that stand out among the best of the 1990’s straight to VHS crime films.
We’re back to a “regular” episode where we discuss a film that is underseen, underrated, and/or unfairly criticized. This week’s episode is Peter Iliff’s RITES OF PASSAGE, and we were fortunate enough to have Peter back on our show to discuss his film. This film hits an array of genres, has a fantastic cast, and excels madly. RITES OF PASSAGE is available on DVD, blu ray, and streaming via Amazon or you can buy or rent the film digitally on Vudu.