Sunday, May 31, 2009

SCORPION WITH TWO TAILS (1982) d. Sergio Martino (aka Christian Plummer)

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

Tombs, cemeteries and burial grounds are some of the most fascinating strips of real estate the world has ever known. Despite their morbid nature, silent and forbidding affect and occasionally sinister decrepitude, they can also be places of charming serenity, stylish art and architecture as well as islands of sylvan loveliness leading to spiritual reflection. Depending on your personal bent, a tomb or a cemetery can be a wonderful or a frightening place, but it also depends on the condition of the cemetery. If gorgeous marble and fluted columns are the first thing that meets your eye, you may very well feel at ease, whereas moldered and scabrous headstones leaning drunkenly to one side in a burial ground filled with the rotting skeletons of old trees will not lend itself to a feeling of comfort. SCORPION WITH TWO TAILS (Assassinio il Cimitero Etrusco) is a lot like the tombs in which much of its story takes place. Despite the ominous nature of a tale of murder, the attractive and compelling nature of the statuary and pagan architecture makes it gripping enough on a visual level to keep you going even when the story, much like walking past endless gravestones, gets a little tiresome.

SCORPION WITH TWO TAILS is the story of beautiful Joan Barnard, an Etruscan language expert whose husband Arthur has just discovered an amazing new Etruscan tomb. Just before Arthur’s murder, Joan experiences the first in a series of bizarre dreams and waking visions where she sees people she knows sacrificed in the ancient Etruscan manner of having their necks broken. Arthur is the first in a succession of grisly murders, all seemingly tied to Etruscan rites and supernatural powers. It is as Joan probes deeper into the mystery that she is drawn into a drug trafficking plot and the machinations of grave robbers, both of which are schemes that could prove as deadly as the strange rituals of the Etruscans.

Originally conceived as an Italian television mini-series and then scaled down to be a feature film, SCORPION WITH TWO TAILS is a perfect example of a film that is mostly style with a very inconsistent level of substance. From the outset, there are many characteristics of this motion that are deeply reminiscent of 1970s Italian giallo masterpieces like DEEP RED or SUSPIRIA and that is not to be wondered at considering that director Sergio Martino (using the nom de plume Christian Plummer) was at the helm of ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK a decade before. Since that flick is one of the more iconic examples of a stylishly occult mystery/slasher with Gothic horror overtones, one could expect a similar vibe from SCORPION WITH TWO TAILS. It is an attractive film that would have benefited from either a better transfer or a better source print. There are moments when the imagery is grainy, out of focus or washed out, but most of the time the colors are sharp, the images are crisp and what we are seeing is clear and that is all to the good. The exterior shots of the Italian countryside were quite lovely and there are some striking moments of very old and modern architecture, both real and contrived, that are very impressive. The Etruscan tomb sets, genuine and imagined, are also quite stunning and lend a deeply ensconced sense of authenticity to a movie that trades heavily on being atmospheric, like so many of its predecessors. To add to the aura of being part of a long, cinematic ancestral line, the music of Fabio Frizzi sounds very evocative of something that Claudio Simonetti would have composed for a Golden Age Dario Argento film. The modern strains weave a strange magic with the primordial imagery and create a bizarre sense of occultism that is probably the greatest strength of SCORPION WITH TWO TAILS. To add to the otherworldly feel of this movie, there is the haunting, cold and almost statuesque beauty of actress Elvire Audray who plays Joan. Her rich brown eyes and river of golden locks is somehow at odds with her wintry and slightly emotionless countenance, and yet she is regularly seen screaming during SCORPION WITH TWO TAILS, so she obviously feels the emotion within her body. All of these cinematic traits make for a motion picture that is visually appealing and with its compelling imagery you are somehow pulled into the events irresistibly.

It isn’t the story, the acting or the dubbing that holds your attention in SCORPION WITH TWO TAILS though. While the pace does intensify as the plot advances, the narrative starts quite slowly, has a tendency to wind in gentle loops that don’t seem to be in a hurry to go anywhere. As the pace picks up, the ties between the supernatural events, the drug smuggling crime thriller components and the grave robbing are ever so slightly stitched together, but it is a bit of a stretch. Fortunately, a steady stream of murders takes place that adds a palpable sense of hidden menace and malevolent mystery that keeps the slow story from grinding to a halt. What makes SCORPION WITH TWO TAILS a VERY strange addition to the film canon of Italian cinema is that while its aura may remind you of 70s giallos, there isn’t a lot other than that which should. One of the hallmarks of many 60s and 70s Italian giallo films was the propensity of blood and tasteful yet undeniable gore. While many a character is dispatched in SCORPION WITH TWO TAILS, there is very little blood. This is likely to be due to its television roots, but it stands out and possibly not as something that is a strength. On a similar note, by the early 1980s, Italian exploitation flicks of the killer, rapist, cannibal and crime thug type were thundering across the Mediterranean motion picture landscape. As a result, there were usually all kinds of perversity and salaciousness to be had if one wanted such content. Scandalous offerings are not to be found in SCORPION WITH TWO TAILS, which is quite surprising considering its “pagan sacrifice” central concept. Once again, starting its life as a TV mini-series probably has much to do with it, but the outcome is a film that looks like a lot of its late 70s and early 80s cousins, but feel and plays so much more like something from much earlier in the 1960s due to its PG nature. Add to that a cast that has a couple of Americans, John Saxon and Van Johnson, who were long past their heyday and a mix of Italians of varying acting talent and then a pair of language options (a bad English dub job or Italian without subtitles) that make viewing this film a little more challenging, and you’ve got a flick with loads of potential but that may miss its audience. Most people who enjoy slightly more modern Italian horror films are fans of Lucio Fulci and his ilk, but SCORPION WITH TWO TAILS has very little in common with a Fulci film except a small similarity when it comes to occult mind twistings. For those who prefer older Italian horror fare like that of Mario Bava, SCORPION WITH TWO TAILS will lack that classic feel and will not have the sense of pageantry.

As extras go, SCORPION WITH TWO TAILS has a few interesting tidbits. In addition to being able to choose your language option, there is a small and somewhat redundant poster gallery. What can be enjoyed are the existing excerpts from the original TV version, which are a collection of three deleted scenes and an alternate opening credits sequence, all of which are in Italian but thankfully have been subtitled in English. The TV mini-series excerpts were quite interesting and shed further light on the history of this ambitious project.

Whenever you’ve got a movie that can’t easily find its home among viewers, there is a potential problem. SCORPION WITH TWO TAILS wasn’t a bad film, it just didn’t seem to know what it wanted to be. It looked good on many levels and had a very good premise. Had it not been a TV mini-series to begin with and had a few more bloody and spicy bits, it may have been a better version of LAND OF THE MINOTAUR which had a bit more salaciousness but lacked palpable atmosphere. If you like a film that feels right and has got a much older sensibility to it, SCORPION WITH TWO TAILS is probably right up your alley.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

SAINT FRANCIS (2007) d. Ezra Allen Gould

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

Art, sex, religion and depravity can often coexist, just ask the Ruling Theocrats of the Medieval Catholic church. Few denizens of the world have more grotesquely welded these ideals into a mantra of twisted existence better than the Borgia Family. Authors have more easily and acceptably wound the themes of art, sex, religion and depravity into novels both sacred and profane. Painters and photographers have also tried to combine these seemingly disparate elements with a degree of success as well. Putting four such powerful concepts together in a film can be done, but it is a daunting task. The brevity of a motion picture’s runtime and the need for narrative cohesiveness often precludes the chance of really tackling all of these ideas and there is a good reason why. A film can become of tad too “avant-garde” or far too lascivious if any part of the delicate equation becomes unbalanced, tipping the overloaded tale towards disaster. SAINT FRANCIS is an ambitious and somewhat artistic effort to tell a grim tale that fails of its promise in the end despite some strong qualities, all because it can’t quite get the balance right.

SAINT FRANCIS is the story of the Bernard Family. The father, Dr. P. Bernard, is a sleazy televangelist who is more interested in acquiring cash than saving souls and is also the likely cause of his wife’s suicide that occurred when their three children were young. The children are Francis, Soul and Sid, all of which are caught in a maelstrom of debauchery swirling towards a vortex of ruin. Francis is a mentally disturbed drug addict, while Soul is an introspective and glamorous flesh peddler, and then there is Sid, the boyish-looking drug dealer. Their ineffective machinations and self-destructive personal habits intertwine in such a way as to create a despicable and depraved dance of debauchery spinning steadily out of control. By the end of their tale, all three of the Bernard children have been victims of each other’s violent ways and whose names are etched farther down on the tablet of doomed spirits, while their father ignores their helpless declines and preaches an empty message that no one seems to hear.

From a narrative standpoint, the general premise of SAINT FRANCIS is somewhat compelling. The juxtaposition of a Holy Man who is neither holy nor human with his terrifically degenerate trinity of damaged children has an excellent idea at its core of showing how truly barren either end of the spectrum can be. Neither the preacher nor his thrill-seeking offspring have found anything lasting that buoys the spirit or have done anything that leaves an enduring legacy. Interweaving their miserable chronicles has benefit as well, for what emerges is akin to a sickening kaleidoscope of personal and societal misery that bewilders the mind and is crushing to the soul. Yes, this is a depressing yarn, but looking into the mouth of madness is a good thing sometimes. What shatters the plot on the anvil of its own simplicity though is that there isn’t enough depth to the story, complexity to the characters or profundity to the themes twined about them. Too often we are treated to characters interfacing inanely on their cell phones, looping back over old ground about topics that we have already visited to our profound boredom and that were thin to begin with and/or somewhat meaningless, or worse the dialogue just existed to pad out the length of a fairly short film. What makes these narrative weaknesses even more distressing was that a really good story can sometimes cover for the lack of acting talent. In the case of SAINT FRANCIS, the sparsely spun tale highlighted the poor acting and it was only the propensity of sordid and steamy scenes swollen with salacious skin that helped to distract the viewer from the lack of strong performers just like any good sleight of hand trick, but not quite. At least in the case of Dita Von Teese (Soul), one can say that her spectacular loveliness, elegance and barely contained sensuality makes up to a small degree for her inexperience and underwhelming portrayal of her character, but in the case of Charles Koutris (Francis) and Casey Anderson (Sid), their performances were either overblown and irritating (Mr. Koutris) or downright wooden (Mr. Anderson). On a final acting note, Zalman King (Dr. Bernard) has never been anything but a third-rate actor and while he may add some name recognition to a cast of relative unknowns, was the cost of adding a “lead balloon” worth it?

On the visual side, SAINT FRANCIS was a bit harder to call. In general, I am not usually a fan of “nouveau” visual effects and camera techniques, but in this case they seemed to almost work. There were constantly shifting panoplies of color, shade, lighting schemes and a contrasting chiaroscuro of bright and dark that added imagery similar to a collage to the attendant narrative mosaic. In addition, there were fades and dissolves, out of the ordinary shot compositions and angles as well as expressionistic additions of graininess, soft and stilted focus, quasi-fish eye or POV perspectives that kept the viewer’s gaze moving and the psyche engaged. The otherworldly effect of this miasma of stylishness was not as impressive as the Ken Russell-directed vignette from ARIA called “Nessun Dorma” but it seemed to be going for that same general effect. What it did find a way to improve upon was the morass that was IRREVERSIBLE with its unwatchable methods and mean-spirited mindset. While gloomy and brutal there was thought behind the visual design of SAINT FRANCIS and it nearly achieved what most low-budget modern film efforts are never even remotely able to approach, a degree of artistic success. The problem lay in the repetitive nature of some of the film segments like the heart surgery of Francis which was repeated over and over again. That concept worked in ALL THAT JAZZ for there was a payoff waiting in the wings, but that never had the same punch here. The other problem was the delightful but still somewhat unsuccessfully integrated naughty bits in SAINT FRANCIS. Being that this a Salvation Films release, one knows they are in for some sin and skin. Adding plenty of those elements wasn’t a bad thing but they felt a bit forced at times and rather than intensifying the “debauchery” category, it just seemed to keep the “art” side of the film from reaching consummation while never really delivering on the promise that one expects when watching something that is really going to be spicy. At least that was the case until one reached the extras menu and a bit more of a bang was delivered for the buck.

The supplements section of SAINT FRANCIS was reasonably strong as Redemption releases go. There were three “extended erotic scenes” of roughly 6-8 minutes each, which were the full scenes in finalized form before they were edited into the film sequence. For anyone looking for loads of sexy skin and gorgeous babes, these extended scenes are worth your time. There is a short music video called “The Devil is Laughing” that I found dull and dreary. More interesting were the two different SAINT FRANCIS trailers which were fascinating in how differently they were constructed and edited. The contrast between the two gives the astute film lover the chance to see how very diverse the methods are of marketing movies to the masses. While a tad short, the Stills Gallery has a very eclectic mix of screen captures presented in an artsy-classy manner that adds a degree of savoir-fare to the bonus features. Finally, there were a series of Redemption Trailers, all of which I had seen before in one way, shape or form. While not the “Tomb of the Pharaohs” when it comes to extras, I was pleasantly surprised by my ambles through this supplemental menu.

I have had the chance to view quite a few Redemption discs over the past few years and while not the joy that the Jean Rollin films are or the surprise of SLASHERS, at least SAINT FRANCIS was not a disaster like THE WITCHING HOUR or some of the other modern film releases. I found SAINT FRANCIS to be more like NATURE MORT, a sincere effort at a creative project with some praiseworthy elements that didn’t quite work. Given more resources, experience and practice, Ezra Allen Gould may be capable of bringing forth a motion picture of surpassing artistry and compelling nature someday, or maybe not. It will be interesting to see what happens.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

NIGHTMARE CASTLE (1965) d. Allen Grunewald aka Mario Caiano

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

It has been almost 45 years since NIGHTMARE CASTLE (aka GLI AMANTI D’OLTETOMBA) arrived on the scene and since that time much about the world has changed, mostly for the worse. As film-loving goes, one of the saddest transformations has been the disappearance of the Gothic Ghost Story from the cinematic landscape. Once upon a time, the Gothic Ghost Story was one of the most common of genre films that could be found on the Silver Screen horizon, and its moodiness and delightfully formulaic but still wildly entertaining nature made it a fan favorite for decades. As tastes shifted in the latter half of the 1970s and as those market trends accelerated throughout the 1980s, the Gothic Ghost Story began to vanish into the mists in much the same fashion as did the apparitions haunting the lavishly ornamented halls of the aristocratic manors where so many of these films were set. Whether they were laughable or lugubrious, sinister or salacious, Gothic Ghost Stories often had a little something for everyone, whether it was lovely ladies for Dad, ravishing romance for Mom, ominous spirits for junior and equestrian elements for sister. NIGHTMARE CASTLE is back in public eye again, having been marvelously restored by Severin Films. For those of us who have enjoyed this flick in the past despite its less than perfect former presentations, it is a chance to revel in the lush tapestry of sights, sounds and seductive stories that we have enjoyed before but are getting harder and harder to come by today. For those who have never seen NIGHTMARE CASTLE, it is a chance to see why Gothic Ghost Stories were a profoundly fertile field of cinema’s lost youth.

NIGHTMARE CASTLE is the story of Dr. Stephen Arrowsmith, a brilliant but sadistic scientist tormented by the infidelity of his beautiful wife Muriel. Catching Muriel in the act of betrayal, Stephen visits terrible retribution upon both Lady Arrowsmith and her lover David. After Muriel’s dispatch, Stephen must find a way to insure that Lady Arrowsmith’s fortune remains his and those plans include marrying Jenny Hampton, Muriel’s step-sister and the heir to Hampton Manor and Muriel’s riches. Weaving ever more convoluted schemes with the help of his striking house servant Solange, Stephen attempts to nudge the mentally unstable Jenny over the edge into the abyss of madness, but little does he know that for every move he makes on the chessboard of duplicity, two ghosts are several moves ahead in an attempt to exact their vengeance.

Sourced from an original Italian film print, the DVD of NIGHTMARE CASTLE has an endless number of reasons why it is a jewel to be treasured. First, it is 104 minutes long, the original uncut version of the film instead of the considerably shorter 90 minute American cut. Seeing the entire film for the first time in my life after so many other “abbreviated” screenings was a real treat, for one of the lost strengths of NIGHTMARE CASTLE was its sense of softly modulated menace built patiently and yet inexorably throughout the move. Despite a small amount of film print damage that occurs VERY infrequently at the heads and tails of the reel changes, Severin Films’ restoration and remastering of NIGHTMARE CASTLE is outstanding. For the first time, I was able to see a clear difference between the parts of the motion picture that were suppose to look misty since they were dream sequences and the rest of the movie that was meant to be clear, and how VERY clear it turned out to be! This black and white film, lit so very simply and yet set in such a stunning manner within the confines of such an exquisite Italian villa has never looked so good. The black, grays and all the shades in between are starkly crisp, clean and wonderfully sharp. Every little shadow and nuance of the lighting is thrown out in clear relief so that a textural quality emerges and one can finally appreciate the richness of the fashions, the lavishness of the d├ęcor and the opulence of the interior and exterior locations. Whether it is the sumptuousness of the Victorian-age villa’s rooms or the stately elegance of its gardens, none of the grandeur of NIGHTMARE CASTLE’s visuals truly came across until now, and it isn’t just the inanimate elements that benefit. For the first time, I could really bask in the myriad of enigmatic expressions on the lovely face of Ms. Barbara Steele (Muriel/Jenny), delight in the heart-shattering eyes of Helga Line (Solange) and be equally repulsed by the soulless countenance of Paul Muller (Stephen). The superb transfer allows the Barbara Steele fan to finally feel like they can almost glimpse the fabulous curves of Ms. Steele’s matchless figure under the gauzy glamour of her filmy peignoirs. What also comes across with so much greater impact is the simple and yet effective makeup work applied to the ghosts in this story. Most of the terror of NIGHTMARE CASTLE comes from the psychological and occult trappings of the story, but the “gore” that is woven into this rich tapestry is made all the more effective by a crisp film transfer and a professional restoration effort.

Speaking of the story, what makes NIGHTMARE CASTLE a little surprising is its mix of plot characteristics that is a bit of a Mulligan’s Stew as Gothic fare goes, but it works. There is a heady blend of ghost story and Gothic horror, but liberally applied to that core is a thick veneer of Regency Romance starkly contrasted with some Euro-sadism. As a result, there are some shocks, but they are punctuation to the long and thoughtful statements that are the atmospheric foundation of this film. There are long holds on the emotive faces of the talented and capable cast. Those poignant interactions are even more powerful when coupled with the atypical and yet still masterful score of the legendary Ennio Morricone. The camera work of NIGHTMARE CASTLE is excellent and while not ground-breaking, it is much more impressive then I had originally thought due to my past viewing experiences. We are treated to scene after scene where the skills of the actors must carry the moment, but the cinematography helps to build a detailed and wonderfully complex mosaic of sights and sounds. Now that NIGHTMARE CASTLE has been restored to its former glory and looks probably as goods as it did when it first appeared on the Silver Screen in Rome in 1965, lovers of European Gothic Ghost stories can revel in a movie that is as good an example of the genre as you are likely to find with the exception of a few iconic classics like BLACK SUNDAY or CASTLE OF BLOOD.

As Bonus Features go, the offerings on NIGHTMARE CASTLE are about average when it comes to quantity but simply OUTSTANDING when it comes to quality. First up is the prize we have all been hungering for, a 30 minute interview feature called “Barbara Steele in Conversation”. This “exclusive new featurette with the Queen of Horror” is the grail that many of her devoted fans have been awaiting for many years. This interview looks at Ms. Steele’s career from its beginnings in the late 1950s, through her glory years in Italian cinema of the 1960s and then through her later work in grindhouse flicks of the 1970s, all the way to her work as a producer in the 1980s and 1990s. Throughout her thoroughly enjoyable recollections of her film days, Ms. Steele also recounts her life experiences, reminiscences on directors and co-stars and it is all related in her delightfully dramatic vocal style. Accompanying Ms. Steele’s many anecdotes is a dizzying array of old modeling and promotional photographs and clips from her many films. For someone like me who can never get enough of this elegant and glamorous icon, I was inundated by sounds and imagery that was so multitudinous as to almost quench my thirst for such fare. Almost, but at least I can say that this may be one of the top five most exhilarating bonus features viewing experiences I’ve ever had. All praise to director David Gregory for his work on this supplement. Next is a 14 minute interview segment with director Mario Caiano called “Black, White and Red”, which is a look at Mr. Caiano’s film experiences, but unlike that of Ms. Steele, his focus tends to be more upon NIGHTMARE CASTLE. It is another excellent offering on this disc, and the two featurettes complement each other perfectly and when added to the UK and US trailers, this set of supplements is a plethora of joy to be unearthed once you’ve reveled in the feature and then are ready to bask in the extras.

My only concern when it comes to Severin Films outstanding release of NIGHTMARE CASTLE is that the audience for this motion picture may not be as sizable as it once was. The older folk like me may not be as willing to stroll down memory lane as I am and the younger folk may not see the appeal. Too many of them are beguiled by glitz and other saccharine silliness and they may not be able to appreciate the subtlety of a flick like NIGHTMARE CASTLE. I hope that such is not the case for like so many other Severin Films gems, NIGHTMARE CASTLE is a precious stone of surpassing beauty and value. As has so often happened I am both deeply impressed and even more grateful for Severin’s healthy respect for the lesser known treasures of yesteryear. For those of us who still love the Gothic Ghost Story and still swoon over Barbara Steele, NIGHTMARE CASTLE is succor for the jaded spirit.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

WHILE SHE WAS OUT (2008) d. Susan Montford

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

One of the saddest and most discouraging experiences is that of watching an actor/actress in the midst of career decline. Kim Basinger has been the centerpiece of many films that I have enjoyed over a long life of watching movies. She was so fresh, young and vulnerable in KATIE: PORTRAIT OF A CENTERFOLD (1978). In THE NATURAL(1984), she played a part that was both likable and horrifically repellant, while in 9 ½ WEEKS (1986) she sizzled in a way I wasn’t sure she be able to attain and yet after that flick, I was never able to look at her as the cute “girl next door” ever again. Even though her character wasn’t the strength of BATMAN (1989), I loved that film and still do, just as I have come to respect the film NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN (1983) and her performance therein. Finally, there is Ms. Basinger’s opus LA CONFIDENTIAL (1997), which is likely to have been the critical peak of her career. Times have been somewhat tough for this enigmatic actress over the past decade with her much publicized tribulations with former husband Alec Baldwin, but even more trying has been her run of unimpressive cinematic efforts. Sadly, WHILE SHE WAS OUT has to be added to her growing list of disappointments. It is a movie with a few technical strengths and one moment of surprising but brief screenplay courage, but most of the rest of its runtime was horrendously substandard.

WHILE SHE WAS OUT is the story of an affluent, suburban housewife named Della who is chained to an overbearing and abusive husband in a loveless marriage. After receiving her usual salvo of nightly mistreatment, Della retreats to the mall for some last minute Christmas shopping, only to have a series of escalating and exasperating occurrences increase her aggravation. By the time she departs her consumer sanctuary, Della’s troubles have been magnified several fold as she incurs the ire of a gang of thugs bent on visiting all kinds of savagery upon her. Della is forced to call forth her own deeply seeded ferocity and emotional toughness to outlast and then dispatch her tormentors and finally make it home before Santa arrives.

I went into WHILE SHE WAS OUT deeply suspicious of its quality for a variety of reasons. I had seen the trailer on another Anchor Bay disc and found the content to be wanting. In addition, when I scanned the TV Spots and trailer in the extras before putting in the DVD as is my usual behavior, I suddenly realized that this film once had been in theaters due to its TV Spots and clearly did not receive much of a release when it came out in December of 2008. When a film comes and goes so silently without leaving so much as a ripple, that is not a good thing. Sadly, my premonitions were born out. To be fair, WHILE SHE WAS OUT does have a few praiseworthy qualities. It was competently shot and lit so that I was able to see all of the action and all of the set locations, as well as the actors. I can’t say that for many films today, whose directors have no idea how to shoot and light a film, DEATHRACE for instance, and that was a film where I WANTED to see what was going on. The acting was passable and while that is not a ringing endorsement, it should be viewed as such, for there is A LOT of bad acting out there today and it is a plague that can derail a film instantaneously. The sets and locations were simple but effective and were utilized efficiently to create a small budget look and feel that could have worked. When you look past these esoteric strengths though and delve into the core of what makes a movie, WHILE SHE WAS OUT is laced with troubles innumerable.

Many of the screenplay elements of WHILE SHE WAS OUT were often illogical, more commonly absurd and too often they were absolutely ludicrous. Let us start with the introductory segments of a film that focus on Kim Basinger’s character and her shopping needs. I found it tedious at best to watch Ms. Basinger stroll through the mall on a consuming spree, both a place and an avocation I HATE, during Christmas, a time I avoid shopping like walking over thin ice, and listlessly fingering her way through products that so many wasteful denizens of suburbia feel they “must have” to survive. As a result of this dreadful story writing mistake, I found it VERY difficult to muster any sympathy for Della, despite the reasonable logic of abuse being present as a plot device. It didn’t help that Della’s husband was not well developed and his monstrous nature seemed terribly forced. From there, things went downhill rapidly, due to the fact that the “thugs” Della faced were even more contrived. It was immediately apparent that a “Rainbow Coalition” of ethnicities had been cobbled together to give appropriate representation for each member of the gang. Next, the miscreants were a bunch of weepy, wimpy and whiny second-guessers who were ridiculously silly on occasion, miserably ineffective in polishing off Ms. Basinger in other instances and thoroughly unthreatening at all times. Lukas Haas plays the part of the ring-leader Chucky, and his bright, infectious smile and deep brown eyes make him look more like the kind-hearted outsider than a cruel psychopath. To make matters worse, the pacing of this film was unsuccessfully engineered. I will always applaud any movie that can modulate the action and plot/character development stretches so that a mostly gentle and yet occasionally sharp undulating cadence is created. In WHILE SHE WAS OUT, the plot pace peaks and valleys were so intense as to almost induce nausea. The action speeds up appropriately but then comes to a screeching halt for long and monotonous periods of time but without the payoff of learning more about the characters or seeing some dramatic interplay between cast members. The one and only exception to this occurred in the last one-fourth of the narrative when Della and Chucky seemed ready to put aside their antagonisms to form a dark-hearted alliance. At this point, my eyebrows arched, my pulse quickened and I prayed this film would take The Road Less Traveled and the two characters would end up like a warped version of “Bonnie & Clyde” or even a bizarre “Thelma & Louise” (or Louis in this case), but it was not to be. Despite my joy at the hard left turn WHILE SHE WAS OUT seemed ready to take, I was unsurprised by its lack of courage and slavish adherence to a predictable formula. Predictability was another one of the many sins this movie committed. Too often I could see what was coming miles away and that deepened my intense dislike for what WHILE SHE WAS OUT was trying NOT to achieve. Had WHILE SHE WAS OUT gone for broke in its last acts and really tried to be something other than “one sad woman’s act of defiance against male aggression” I would have possibly found reason to like it.

WHILE SHE WAS OUT has a small but reasonably enjoyable extras menu. In addition to the afore mentioned two TV Spots and theatrical trailer, there is an audio commentary with director/writer Susan Montford and producer Don Murphy and the thoughts expressed in the commentary are worth hearing. There is also a 26 minute “Making of WHILE SHE WAS OUT” that was a bit generic and too heavily slathered with film clips, but all the principle cast and crew members are a part of the interviews and their anecdotes, while unspectacular, do give one a look into the soul of this film. As is always the case, I tend to think a little better of any DVD that has bonus features of any type and after watching these supplements, my indignation towards WHILE SHE WAS OUT was diminished ever so slightly.

I grieve for the waning of Kim Basinger’s career, but sadly, such falls have happened before and will happen again. It can be hoped that sometime in the future, lightning will strike and her fortunes will be reversed. Such could not happen in the company of WHILE SHE WAS OUT, which is the antithesis of spontaneously energetic emission. WHILE SHE WAS OUT was a little more like The Void which devours all light and matter, but that may be overstating things a bit. In the end, WHILE SHE WAS OUT has almost nothing to distinguish it from so many other flicks that it is like and as a result, it will probably sink into obscurity where it belongs, but unhappily it will take a little piece of Ms. Basinger with it and for that I will mourn.