For our second 4/20 double feature show, we are going to delve right into cinematic abyss of William Friedkin’s colorful mind. The legendary badass film-maker with box-office hits The French Connection and The Exorcist under his belt, gone through several turbulences during his respectable 50+ years career in various media. But always with something interesting or challenging (if not financially successful/critically acclaimed) to offer. In this piece, we focused on two of his lesser efforts in terms of their mass appeal: one is dark modern fairy tale featuring Evil Dead-level of bloodthirsty tree, the other plays like a second-rate Basic Instinct rip-off. Blaze ’em up, guys and gals. This is going to be a bumpy ride. Same, as it (with Friedkin calling the shots) ever was!
“Don’t let that woman back in your house!” – Ned Runcie
The Guardian (1990) based upon the novel The Nanny by novelist Dan Greenburg was heavily marketed as Friedkin’s first foray into the horror genre since The Exorcist. It stars Jenny Seagrove as a mysterious nanny who is hired by new parents, played by Dwier Brown and Carey Lowell, to care for their infant son. Initial trouble arose as the couple discovers the nanny to be a Hamadryad (a Greek mythological being that lives in trees) whose previous clients’ children went missing under her care. The film had a troubled production, with script undergoing numerous changes that continued well into the shooting process. Surprisingly, I found none of that being projected into an over-all feel of The Guardian, its effective mood/atmosphere or sharp direction.
While reading synopsis for The Guardian, one should and probably would suspect “guilty pleasure” written all over it. But hold your horses and light up a new one, pal! This is not your typical “so bad, it’s good” type of stuff. And not a horror, either. It plays as an unconventional fairy tale set in the area of Santa Clarita, California with its super-cool pads representing the highs and lows of modern architecture, rather than your typical scare-fest. Friedkin is not going for your throat like some horny teenager armed with knife and rubber in his back-pocket: he is too old for that shit. With no obvious fat to trim, the whole thing moves at fast pace, clocking at deeply respectable 1h 32 min.
Main characters are likable enough for viewers to sympathise with them from the get-go. Not because they are virtually unknowns (part of Friedkin’s charm is he often hires fresh faces), but because they seem to CARE. About each other, their baby, even their friends/neighbours. They are these loving good ole people… until shit went south and THEN they are forced to reveal their inner demons in order to survive. I must admire that, because it goes hand in hand with THE THEME of all Friedkin’s pictures: conflict between good and evil. Sudden deaths that started to appear are either brisk (lovely Theresa Randle axed in fatal accident) or almost ritually prolonged (Woody Harrelson-lookalike getting his commupance by four-legged “soldiers of nature” inside his own built uber-cool pad/prison). Lot to enjoy here, buddies. Jenny Seagrove’s nudity in repeat-mode is just one of many appreciated perks thrown at us.
Two things makes this picture particularly worthwhile in my book, besides presence of Miguel Ferrer in supporting role. Firstly, it’s ballsy shift in tone during third act, where shit goes Evil Dead-crazy: I mean chainsaws, blood-lust, funny faces and everything. Secondly, the exquisite cinematography and camera-work (some weird angles on par with Scott Spiegel-directed flicks to be found here!) by late great John A. Alonzo. This might be my personal favorite from his impressive oeuvre which also includes Polanski’s Chinatown and De Palma’s Scarface, in terms of photography.
Verdict: While preparing the original story to adapt, Friedkin was inspired by his own personal accounts with nannies that were recommended to him off some elite agency. Nannies turned out to be pain in the ass by the time they were taking care of director’s kids in L.A., hence The Guardian. This movie is sort-of that kind of experience in reverse. It looks like a dud from the distance, but once you take a seat, you suddenly realise there is lot to enjoy. Stay open-minded to initial fairy tale elements of the story, don’t expect another Exorcist and you might be pleasantly surprised.
“It’s a fuckhouse.” – Assistant D.A. Corelli
Jade (1995) written by pen-master of cinematic sleaze Joe Eszterhas foreshadowed the end of an era of erotic thriller, so fashionable in the early-to-mid nineties. What began as a HUGE financial success with previous Eszterhas-penned thriller Basic Instinct in 1992, rather quickly turned into self-parody of a genre by the time Jade (and yet another Eszterhas vehicle Showgirls) went into release. Audiences were suddenly bored with perverted tales of courageous Hungarian-born who once was the highest paid Hollywood screenwriter. Both Jade and Showgirls tanked at the box office and immediately went onto a healthy second life via home video and cable TV. Showgirls directed by Paul Verhoeven is now legitimate cult flick of the highest order while Jade tend to be looked upon as a sort of forgotten and obscure failure of a movie.
Produced by former head of production at Paramount and coke-head enfant terrible Robert Evans (whose credits include The Godfather, Serpico and Chinatown), trying to re-establish himself within the Hollywood industry, this seemed like a sure bet. Cum-filled and blood-soaked script by Eszterhas, experienced director in need of a hit, sultry brunette Linda Fiorentino freshly deflowered as a femme fatale in John Dahl’s The Last Seduction, great locations, 50 million budget. What could possibly go wrong? Well, um, David Caruso. Not that he is not a great actor, which he most definitely is. Audiences just weren’t ready to see him in a role that would much better fit Michael Douglas or Richard Gere. It almost seems to me, that during vast rewrites of Eszterhas script by Friedkin himself, a decision was made to substitute non-existent character of Douglas’ stature with an amalgam of Caruso AND Chazz Palminteri.
The film begins with a blatant reminder of Basic Instinct intro: San Francisco big-shot is brutally murdered in his stylish mansion. The case lands in hands of ambitious Assist. District Attorney Corelli (Caruso) who then discovers links to blackmail & prostitution, all of which involves Governor (Richard Crenna), Corelli’s fomer love – psychologist Katrina Gavin (Fiorentino), her husband Matt (Palminteri) and this mysterious woman known only as „Jade“. In typical Eszterhas fashion, story is peppered with foul language, sexual innuendos, even hints of misogyny BUT unfortunately, in somewhat restrained form. Having read Eszterhas’ account of this movie’s production, I suspect director Friedkin is to blame for softening the material. Most notable example of this kind of „brushing the edges“ has to be (lack of) nudity. For a story of this caliber, one would expect MUCH more skin to appear. Not happenin’.
Famous for his car-chases (To Live and Die in L.A. being the prime example), Friedkin doesn’t disappoint here. Caruso is going berserk while tracking the murderer in black Thunderbird and it’s all pretty good until he got stuck in Chinese parade. The scene plays like an excuse for having a lot of visually amusing Oriental shit on display, with lot of extras – but it lacks substance like many other nuances played out in Jade. Even the presence of Angie Everhart as a sort of eye-candy seems forced – just to remind us that Caruso is, in fact, a tough guy with balls big enough to gave her a black-eye.
Verdict: This is not good, nor bad movie. In fact, it’s pretty mediocre – for guys like Eszterhas and Friedkin, with their track records in mind. Backed with 50 mil and sexy Fiorentino in cast, to boot! I smell failed attempt at something which SHOULD have been Verhoevenesque thrill-ride with Linda showing off her cooch.