James Clay//Film Critic
The low key home entertainment distributor has been making moves uncovering some deep cuts from some of America’s most famous faces. These are films that been forgotten or just aren’t available for streaming. There something to be said for finding something new or a film you haven’t seen since 1996 that you randomly discovered while flipping through channels at 2 a.m. on a Tuesday.
While that’s oddly specific, their catalog keeps growing with a line of VHS aesthetic releases that will find a nice home on the shelf of any physical media collector. While none of the releases have special features to dive into, Mill Creek gets a pass for keeping their films wildly eclectic and the prices low. Previous highlights have included Willie Nelson’s film SONGWRITER, the swampy truck driving romp WHITE LINE FEVER, Steve Martin’s excellent rom-com ROXANNE, and the truly grimy high school thriller THE NEW KIDS. Sadly, these aren’t released monthly. But for this month, they picked some doozies.
HUDSON HAWK (1992)
This film essentially killed Bruce Willis’s credibility for studios trusting him with creative freedom. Developed by Wills and directed by Michael Lehmann (HEATHERS) as an Indiana Jones-like vehicle that could plop his singing cat burglar character into situations that has him stealing Leonardo DiVinci artifacts while dancing along to the original song “Swinging on a Star.” It’s cringe-worthy to watch him tapping into an old version of cool while wearing a fedora, duster combo, yet this is one charming disaster.
Willis, of course, plays the titular Hudson Hawk, who just got out of prison and wants nothing more to indulge in a cappuccino. Before he can get caffeine in his veins, he’s blackmailed by the Mario Brothers (Frank Stallone) to steal some prestigious art alongside his partner Tommy “Five Tone” Messina (Danny Aiello). Through a genuinely smooth set piece that has the duo casually invading a museum while tapping their toes, they uncover an overly complicated plot that has the duo trekking to Europe.
With a cast that includes Andie MacDowell, Richard E. Grant, James Coburn, and Sandra Bernhard, this film has a strange sense of identity that gets hung up on creating a realistic world that’s obsessed with cartoonish sound effects, stilted dialogue. HUDSON HAWK is an odd bird, but it’s unique and, most importantly, earnest.
Armed with a groovy title and a couple of left-of-center stars, this forgotten ’80s comedy is finally available to those in search of a seriously deep cut.
The premise of VIBES is pretty simple to a fault. It’s the absurdist dynamic between its two stars, Jeff Goldblum and pop star Cyndi Lauper (who has a killer song called “Hole In My Heart” that plays over the end credits), allows this film to be watchable at all.
Directed by Ken Kwapis (THE OFFICE, SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS), the lackluster comedy can’t quite live up to its title. The film follows Nick (the forever wonky Goldblum), a museum curator who follows his heart, but it turns out that intuition he feels is actually the result of psychic powers. He develops a strange relationship with an even stranger psychic named Slyvia (Lauper), who convinces him to travel to Ecuador in search of the source psychic powers.
VIBES certainly doesn’t emit any magnetic energy for a comedy with a unique premise. Kwapis is known for being a journeyman comedy director by making efficient can’t bring a spark to the story that fails to omit any electricity. For a film that could have utilized a particular brand of ’80s weird, this cooky outing is for diehard film fans only.
WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (1979)
The unfathomably creepy psychological horror film, WHEN A STRANGER CALLS, taps into 2020 anxieties of ringing phones with the ominous chill factor of 1979. Directed by Fred Walton, the film stars Carol Kane (UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT) as the terrified babysitter and Tony Beckley (in his final film role) as the maniac who can divorce himself from humanity.
Forget the lousy remake from 2006. The original morphs from an airtight home invasion thriller to a genuinely otherworldly depiction of a psychopath – and more importantly, it shows how the world reckons with such unclassifiable behavior. The most critically heralded portion of the film lies within the opening 20 minutes, filled with a croaking voice, the threat of violence against children, and a shrieking old school landline ring. The middle section tries to understand psychotic motivations while never losing sight of its sensibilities as a dime-store thriller. It’s the kind of work that most likely inspired the likes of David Fincher’s GONE GIRL and ZODIAC.
The film works as a fascinating look into the past at how law enforcement tried to track and decipher serial murders just as the term began to gestate in fringe corners of the FBI behavioral science unit.
WHEN A STRANGER CALLS, by today’s standards, is a deep slasher cut compared to HALLOWEEN or any other films of the time. However, it belongs in lockstep with those greats, and now there is a gorgeous Blu-ray package to celebrate a movie that deserves to get its due.
NO MERCY (1986)
The year was 1986, and the Hollywood factory would churn out vehicles for movie stars (like Richard Gere) to star in a gritty cop drama alongside an ingenue (in this case, Kim Basinger) that lacks a hook to bring in audiences, especially by today’s standards. Other movies like this include STRIKING DISTANCE, with our friend Bruce Willis, or anything with Jean Claude Vam Dam. These were a dime a dozen. While they may be largely forgotten, it’s a blast to dive into a part of Hollywood history that’s mostly gone by the wayside.
Surprisingly NO MERCY is a solid crime exploration that puts a Chicago cop Eddie Jillette (Gere) on the run to New Orleans after his partner was murdered (ahem.. disemboweled) by a Cajun crime lord named Losado (Jeroen Krabbe). Jillette becomes embroiled in a cover-up and winds up getting handcuffed to the mistress of his enemy (Kim Basinger).
While this is incredibly standard crime thriller fare, Gere gives a committed performance that has him acting loud, ridiculous, and out of control. The dynamic between him and Basinger harkens back to every cheesy ’80s sex scene you can imagine that would borderline creep out audiences today.
However, director Richard Pearce gives the film grime that’s hard to wash off without relying on the New Orleans voodoo motif that plagues so many films of yesteryear. Movies like NO MERCY have no place in the contemporary cinematic landscape, and that’s partly why this deep cut is special to stumble upon.
Hudson Hawk, No Mercy, Vibes and When A Stranger Calls are now available from Mill Creek Entertainment.