Saturday, October 30, 2010

NEVER PICK UP A STRANGER (1979) - good advice all around, especially if you're a hot chick who lives in immoral urban decay

Here's the video teaser for this "terrifying tale of Hitchcockian suspense". If you're talking Frenzy, I can halfway see it. Sorta.

The original title of this film is Bloodrage, and that's also the title used for the VHS copy I have (the original 1983 big box release from "Best Film and Video", which is scarcer than a vagina at a Slayer concert). I would normally go with that title, but I prefer the Never Pick Up a Stranger moniker, as it better evokes the subgenre it belongs to (the sleazy woman hating serial killer likes of Maniac, Don't Answer the Phone, Don't Go in the House, etc.). Also, I want to try and avoid confusion with another movie called Blood Rage, aka Nightmare at Shadow Woods, the identical twin slasher film with Louise Lasser (she plays the twins' collective mother). Curiously, the first Bloodrage title is one word, and the second is split into two words. Webster's Dictionary officially calls bullshit on the former.

Well, the film is about a hooker snuffing psychotic named Ritchie (played by Ian Scott, although not the guy from Anthrax), who looks like a sunken eyed, super creepy version of Ron Howard (the guy who played Ritchie Cunningham, appropriately, and also directed a bunch of Oscar bait horseshit on the side). Let's just say he has "issues" with women. Namely, he is fixated on prostitutes and strippers and the sexual allure they provide. He has no particular hobby or "vice", as his screeching female roommate puts it, other than going to strip clubs and staring out the window at prostitutes in the adjacent building (several rotate in and out of an apartment) as they entertain clients and parade around naked. Particularly alluring to me in particular is the lovely Betsey Ranlow (her only other role being a small one in The Yum-Yum Girls) who plays one of the hookers, gyrating in her birthday suit, showing off her long, lithe figure (and everything else for that matter). Also, in a nice Polanski-esque touch, there is a creepy old lady in the same building across the way that sits there all day and stares out the window and, resultingly, stares into Ritchie's fractured mess of a soul.

He solicits hookers, as they are the only women he can find that will agree to be intimate with him, or indeed the only people of which he can have any sort of human relationship it would seem. He seems to hate that they're tough cookies (realistic and well portrayed cookies to boot) who quickly become annoyed with his possessive weirdness, instead of the feminine ideal he has in his head (whatever the fuck that might be). The opening hooker murder takes place in the small town where Richie grew up, and it's truly savage and abrupt. Afterwards, he flees for New York City, where hooker killers can get lost in the big city (not to mention hone their craft), with a cop on his trail. He lets us in on his inner thoughts, saying "she disgusted me...I wish she was somebody else, we would've gotten along real well...god damn whore...". The first hooker murder when he gets to NYC is truly uncomfortable to watch, prolonged as it is (contrasting with the first murder), as he repeatedly drowns the girl in a tub before eventually choking her with a telephone cord. "I'd thought she'd be different, but it didn't take me long to find out about her". I don't know what he was expecting, but women are people too, and a hooker is just a woman with a (usually) shitty job. Here we dip into the mind of a true psychopath, and specifically, how empathy eludes him.

While the film is padded with a ridiculous police procedural subplot (although occasionally featuring an always entertaining Lawrence Tierney), including a hilariously abrupt ending, what we have is sort of the sleazy hooker slasher version of Taxi Driver, albeit in a rough, hour long format (if you take out the stuff with the cop on his trail). It lacks much of the "thriller" element of similar films (Maniac is similar on the surface, but still functions as a series of thriller set pieces). Instead, it feels uncomfortably realistic, a genuine psychotic trapped in an urban wasteland with no future prospects. He does manage to find work in a Yoo-Hoo factory, sticking cans in cardboard boxes (and doing a horrible job of it, no less), but this is obviously not a career path to look forward to (even if you really really really like Yoo-Hoo). One needs to find a hobby, lest a hobby finds you, and killing hookers becomes Ritchie's lone form of self expression by default.

The centerpiece of the film is Ian Scott's uncomfortably believable performance, hinting at a tortured childhood while expressing a raw hatred for humanity. The other important character (apart from the victims) is the city itself, a wonderfully convincing portrait of NYC sleaze circa 1979. Such enveloping urban hopelessness is hardly a healthy environment for the misanthropes of the world, especially when they're packed in like sardines with other humans. Then again, maybe I'm just a pessimist. Perhaps I should click my heels more often. That might help. time like the present.

/attempts to click heels together
//clumsily falls over
///hits head on corner of table
////bleeds to death

P.S. Post number nine in the lazy baker Halloween horror countdown. Shit just got real.

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