The VHS Files: Yesterday’s Target

Today’s VHS File is a dusty old SciFi time travel flick called Yesterday’s Target whose plot I just couldn’t get a handle on, despite it having some cool ideas, ambient atmospherics and neat set pieces. It stars one of the Baldwin brothers, and you pretty much know what you’re in for when they headline something. Daniel Baldwin is an unassuming factory worker who is recruited by a shadow organization because of his untapped psychic talents, targeted by a mysterious rogue military scientist played by Malcolm McDowell in one of his classic mega villain roles but he’s curiously restrained and relaxed here. Baldwin basically goes on a cross country road trip to find other psychics like him including a clairvoyant (Stacey Haiduk), a short order cook who is a firestarter (T.K. Carter from The Thing in this film’s liveliest performance) and others. They’re pursued by McDowell’s top man, a cowboy hat wearing Levar Burton in a bizarrely cartoonish performance that doesn’t work and brings the film somewhat down whenever he’s onscreen. There’s an absolute deluge of expository mumbo jumbo, arbitrary subplots and just garbled SciFi clutter here including some secret society that travels through time to prevent people from having shitty lives, a child prodigy, Vegas card sharking, McDowell’s random personal life with his wife and all sorts of interludes that muck about until I really wasn’t sure what this film was even about beyond a vague idea of ‘time travelling clairvoyants.’ Still, it’s very atmospheric and some of the performances are a lot of fun. It’s also quite muted and laidback and even when there’s gunplay or a pursuit it feels just… hushed and soothing somehow. There’s a deliberately anticlimactic ending as Baldwin and McDowell standoff only to surprise each other with revelations regarding identity, time loops and serendipitous phenomena that again, I wasn’t clear on, but allows Malcolm to inject some real poignancy into an otherwise standard villain role, if even for a brief moment when all is almost said and done. It’s worth a look but nothing special. I have no memory of where I even got the VHS tape but it’s another one of those screeners that nobody is supposed to sell yet somehow find their way to good homes. I see this is also streaming on something called Tubi though, if anyone is at all curious.

-Nate Hill

Walter Hill’s Southern Comfort: A Review by Nate Hill

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Walter Hill’s Southern Comfort is the bees knees when it comes to backwoods survival thrillers. It’s frightening, elemental, and relentless in pace, inciting primal fear in the viewer who finds themselves terrified of these events ever happening to them. It’s a very overlooked film, with most of the kudos within this genre going to John Boorman’s Deliverance. This one is way better, at least for me. The immediacy of the protagonist’s situation, the hypnotic atmosphere of both score and cinematography working together for something really special. In rural Louisiana, a platoon of American soldiers prepares to embark into the tangled wilderness of the nearby bayou, attempting a routine training mission. Powers Boothe is awesome as Cpl. Charles Hardin, a well educated man who silently resents the roughnecks and dimwitted dead enders in his regiment. He’s joined by Spencer (a cavalier Keith Carradine), and a whole host of others as well. Now, the Bayou is home to the reclusive and eccentric Cajun people, who apparantly will keep to themselves if you do the same. But try telling that to a troupe of childish, immature GI’s packing heavy artillery that’s beyond both their pay grade and IQ. After one lugnut plays a nasty prank on a group of Cajun fisherman, they take it slightly personally. Before you can say crawfish, they promptly murder the commanding officer (Peter Coyote) and set a series of deadly traps and snares for the soldiers, out to send every last one of them to a swampy grave. It’s a beautiful backwoods nightmare, and Hill tells the story exceptionally, aided by a twangy, brilliant score from his go to composer Ry Cooder. Boothe and Carradine are shoe ins to hold off their pursuers, while the rest of them soon fall prey, in elaborate and gruesome ways. Fred Ward is badass as a fellow soldier who turns homicidal, and has a wicked knife fight with Boothe that ramps up the adrenaline and then some. The late Brion James makes quite the impression as a Cajun who they briefly capture, after which he eerily warns them of the hell that’s coming from his compadres. The locations feel authentic, damp and waterlogged as hell, making you feel every squelchy step these poor bastards take into the Bayou and closer to their end. Near the end of the film we are treated to some authentic live Cajun music (some of my favourite kind) from Dewey Balfa, a gorgeous interlude and showcase of Hill’s desire to make the auditory atmosphere of his films as heightened and immersive as possible. An unheralded classic.