Quick Change: adapted by Howard Franklin from the novel by Jay Cronley; directed by Bill Murray and Howard Franklin; starring Bill Murray (Grimm), Geena Davis (Phyllis), Randy Quaid (Loomis), and Jason Robards (Rotzinger) (1990): This is almost a ‘lost’ Bill Murray movie, one that didn’t do well at the summer box office back in 1990. I think it may be too low key to have ever been a huge success, but it also got lost in a flood of blockbusters that year. As is, it’s the only movie which Murray also produced and (co-)directed, and it’s really good.
Quick Change follows a bank heist masterminded by Murray’s character. That part goes smoothly. However, getting out of New York turns out to be the real problem. Terrific supporting work from Geena Davis, Randy Quaid, Tony Shaloub, and Jason Robards makes a zippy script flow smoothly even if the plan does not. Murray’s character, while sarcastic as always, nonetheless also resonates with what appear to be warmer human feelings. It’s a fine, neglected performance from Murray in a fine, neglected film. Recommended.
And Then There Were None: adapted by Dudley Nichols from the play Ten Little Indians by Agatha Christie; directed by Rene Clair; starring Barry Fitzgerald (Quincannon), Walter Huston (Armstrong), June Duprez (Vera Claythorne) and Louis Hayward (Philip Lombard) (1945): Adapted from Agatha Christie’s play, itself an adaptation of her own novel which at one point had a truly regrettable title in Great Britain (look it up). Fun though somewhat stagy and a bit overlong, the movie adapts a book that really works as the foundational work for an astonishing number of horror movies and thrillers in which a rising body count lifts all tides. Walter Huston and Barry Fitzgerald pretty much act everyone other than Judith Anderson right off the screen. Recommended.
The Grudge: adapted by Stephen Susco from the screenplay by Takashi Shimizu for Ju-On; directed by Takashi Shimizu; starring Sarah Michelle Gellar (Karen), Jason Behr (Doug), William Mapother (Matthew), Bill Pullman (Peter), Grace Zabriskie (Emma), Clea DuVall (Jennifer), Ted Raimi (Alex), and Ryo Ishibashi (Nakagawa) (2004): The sprung rhythms of this horror movie, adapted from a Japanese horror movie directed by the same director, sometimes yield good scares. By the end, though, the ridiculous omnipotence of the ghosts makes the movie an exercise in the cliched nihilism of most American horror movies.
No one even tries to find a religious or spiritual solution to the ghost problem, though there is a scene early in the film which suggests either an abandoned plot thread or a red herring. The logic of the ghosts in the movie would seem to suggest that everyone on the planet should have been murdered by spirits long ago. They can do anything and go anywhere. And what is up with the hair? Lightly recommended because it’s really short.
Night of the Living Dead: written by George Romero and John Russo; directed by Tom Savini; starring Tony Todd (Ben) and Patricia Tallman (Barbara) (1990): 1990 remake of George Romero’s genre-defining zombie masterpiece of 1968. Romero supplies a new script, while make-up wizard Tom Savini directs for the first time. The whole experience loses something in colour, but the thing does build to a satisfying climax.
Stuntwoman Patricia Tallman makes for a good heroine, much less passive than the original Barbara, while Tony Todd is sharp and sympathetic as her brother-in-arms (though not the actual brother who says that famous line I’m not going to repeat). The social satire is much more pointed this time around, and much more in the vein of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. His zombies may be dangerous, but they’re also sources of sorrow and pity in a way few other film-makers have even even tried to capture. And unlike so many younger American horror film directors, Romero isn’t afraid to mix a bit of hope in with the despair and the disgust. Recommended.