Prom Night III: The Last Kiss (1990)

Ron Oliver
Peter Simpson

Tim Conlon - Alex Grey
Courtney Taylor - Mary Lou Maloney
Cynthia Preston - Sarah Monroe
David Stratton - Shane Taylor
Dylan Neal - Andrew Douglas
Jeremy Ratchford - Leonard Welsh

Genre - Horror/Comedy/Supernatural/Slasher

Running Time - 97 Minutes

One of the oddest horror franchises ever has been the PROM NIGHT series. While other franchises tend to maintain a level of consistency on some level, this Canadian horror franchise’s only common element is that each film usually revolves around a prom, and appearances by actor Brock Simpson. 1980’s PROM NIGHT was definitely an attempt to capitalize on the massive success of 1978’s HALLOWEEN, even casting HALLOWEEN lead Jamie Lee Curtis as the film’s Final Girl. While a popular slasher film for its time, it felt like a standalone movie that didn’t necessitate a follow up. However, HELLO MARY LOU: PROM NIGHT II was released seven years later, lessening the slasher elements in favor of a more supernatural/possession film that seemed inspired by both THE EXORCIST and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. Even though not necessary, HELLO MARY LOU manages to be more entertaining than the first one, making it the favorite for many when it comes to the franchise.

I guess believing that the sequel’s villain, Mary Lou Maloney, could be the franchise’s star, producer Peter Simpson and writer Ron Oliver decide to make her the focus again for 1990’s PROM NIGHT III: THE LAST KISS. That’s all fine and all, but if you’re expecting a true continuation of the second film, you’re not going to find it here. In fact, this is a weird sequel that wants to spoof itself to make the audience laugh rather than feel scared. The fact that it doesn’t even earn to right to even make that move at this point in the series, while failing at what it’s trying to accomplish for the most part, is even more baffling.

After escaping hell with the help of a nail file, Mary Lou Maloney (Courtney Taylor) returns to Hamilton High for revenge. One night, she stumbles upon very average student Alex Gray (Tim Conlon) on school grounds. Instead of killing him, she seduces him and has sex with him. Having enjoyed this tryst, Mary Lou begins helping Alex with his grades and with his position on the football team to make him a star student. Even though he has a girlfriend (Cynthia Preston) who doesn’t care how average he is, Alex falls for Mary Lou and gets in a relationship with her. This benefits Mary Lou, as she has had to murder any teacher, counselor, or student in Alex’s way to make him look above average to his friends and parents - causing Alex to bury the evidence under the football field out of loyalty.

Unfortunately, Alex grows tired of being Mary Lou’s accomplice, breaking up with her and going back to his girlfriend. Not one to be dumped, Mary Lou decides to take revenge on Alex and his girlfriend on their prom night, making sure that no one will have him if she can’t.

Like I mentioned earlier, PROM NIGHT III: THE LAST KISS is a strange follow up to HELLO MARY LOU. It has the same character in Mary Lou Maloney, but it doesn’t really continue from the events of the previous film. In fact, one scene practically uses the previous film’s events as a punchline - almost as if what we take as canon is nothing but a joke and doesn’t mean a whole lot in the end. And while certain moments like this one do bring a chuckle and some amusement to the viewing experience, it also drags PROM NIGHT III down because everything is played for laughs.

Like HELLO MARY LOU, THE LAST KISS is inspired by A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. The only difference is that HELLO MARY LOU was inspired by the scarier early films in the franchise, taking the supernatural and murder stuff seriously to tell a good story. THE LAST KISS seems inspired by the more mainstream NIGHTMARE films [such as THE DREAM MASTER and THE DREAM CHILD], which were played more for laughs. But say what you want about those NIGHTMARE sequels - at least they tried to balance the comedy and the horror. THE LAST KISS doesn’t bother trying to scare anyone, treating the entire story as a joke that’s not all that funny.

It also doesn’t help that the script itself is not all that well-written. In fact, the Mary Lou character seems to have changed quite drastically since the second film. In HELLO MARY LOU, she was a pretty promiscuous and selfish girl who wanted revenge on those who wronged her by possessing another student. She took no prisoners and was presented as a serious threat that made that film entertaining. In THE LAST KISS, she’s a love-struck spirit who murders people because she feels it’ll please her living boyfriend. And when he dumps her, she feels scorned. She never cares about being Prom Queen or murdering whoever else was at the scene of her death. She’s that bitchy and clingy ex-girlfriend that made you start screening your phone calls and start thinking about that restraining order. And like Freddy Krueger, she quotes one-liners that pertain to her particular murders. But they seemed forced rather than natural, which is a credit to Robert Englund more than anything else. Actress Courtney Taylor doesn’t have the ability to deliver lines like that, making the jokes seem flat.

Even worse is that our main “hero”, Alex, is pretty much an unlikable prick. He’s a pre-med student who is pretty much an underachiever. He has a beautiful girlfriend who loves him, yet wastes no time in cheating on her with a dead person. And when said “dead person” murders people for him, he sees it as no big deal until he’s tired of burying the bodies for her. At one point, Alex even admits that he enjoyed what he was doing with Mary Lou without a sense of guilt. What’s worse is that no one even punishes him for his actions. His girlfriend never finds out. His best friend just shrugs it off. Alex never learns his lesson from the acts he has committed. Nothing about this character is worth rooting for. So why should I care about who I’m watching PROM NIGHT III for?

The other characters aren’t any better. They’re all stock characters that don’t evolve to more than they are. Sarah is the smart and beautiful girlfriend who loves Alex, flaws and all. She’s completely oblivious to her boyfriend’s actions, even when Mary Lou alludes to an affair with him. I will say she’s the only character worth getting a damn about, since she’s pretty bad-ass in the film’s final act and seems to be fighting for something. Shane, Alex’s best friend, is there - for some reason. The film sort of implies a homoerotic bromance between the two that never really develops. But Shane joined the football team because Alex did. And when Alex reveals the truth, Shane is only upset that Alex didn’t come to him about it. Oh… and Alex plans on spending the summer all alone with Shane rather than with Cynthia. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with that. But more could have been done with it. Andrew is just the classic bullying douche who also happens to be Class President and star of the football team. Leonard is the geek of the school, even though he seems to be more in shape than Alex and Andrew combined. And what’s the deal with Alex’s younger sister? She seemed really clingy on him. Was there an incestuous subplot that was totally forgotten in the final draft of the script? Just odd. And what about those teachers and guidance counselors who want to tear down the students rather than build them up? It’s comedy! Aren’t you laughing?

The screenplay does have its moments though. As sophomoric as they are, the announcements on the school loudspeaker did make me chuckle. For example, one states: “Today’s chess tournament has been cancelled; members are asked to report to the library to play with themselves.” It’s dumb but it got a reaction out of me. There’s also a terrible hip-hop rap song that’s so bad, I couldn’t stop laughing at how atrocious it was. And the final act, while bizarre and ending flatly, has some decent touches of character for those involved. I also found it amusing that a Canadian production tried so hard to be American. Maybe Canadians find sex on American flags erotic, I don’t know. But at least it was memorable.

The special effects, while not the greatest, do at least help elevate the film somewhat. We get an electrocution via jukebox. We get a pretty gnarly death involving ice cream cones through the hands and a blender through the skull. Someone melts via battery acid in a decent effect. Another person gets impaled by a metal football through the chest. A heart gets punched out. And we get a drill through the skull. The make-up effects, especially Mary Lou’s burn scars, look absolutely horrible - as if someone dripped pancake batter on her face and decided that was a cool effect. Unfortunately, you can only get the cool looking gore effects in the Uncut Version of the film. Otherwise, you’ll barely see most of them in the regular version - which won’t help making the viewing experience a little better.

The direction by Ron Oliver & Peter Simpson prove that a screenwriter and producer shouldn’t visually present a film. Even though I believe this was slated for a theatrical release, PROM NIGHT III ended up going straight to video [at least in the United States]. And boy, does this look like a straight-to-video film! Considering Oliver & Simpson had a hand in producing HELLO MARY LOU, which looked pretty great, it’s a shock how cheap this sequel looks. It looks and feels like a TV movie but with more elaborate effects. Nothing about the direction is worth discussing. There’s a scene with one of those 50’s student films that should look retro, but looks like everything else presented in the film. And there’s a hilarious scene with a visible boom mic in a kitchen. Otherwise the film is just there, which what a horror sequel shouldn’t feel like. It’s a long time where I’ve watched a film and I have absolutely nothing to say about the visual presentation. It’s not scary. It’s not even funny. It just exists. It’s watchable. That’s the most I can go with this.

The acting is pretty awful for the most part, which probably adds to the twisted entertainment of the film. I will say that Tim Conlon as Alex is probably the best actor in the film. As much as I disliked his character, he did play it well. I thought he had great delivery in his lines, had some charisma, and had nice chemistry with co-star Courtney Taylor. Speaking of her, Taylor isn’t a great actress, but she is sure easy on the eyes. I guess she played Mary Lou well enough for this type of film, but Lisa Schrage was much dynamic in the role. But she’s definitely eye candy [even having a quick nude scene at one point] and seemed to be having fun playing a psycho bitch. I give her points for trying. Cynthia Preston is much better as Sarah, giving depth to a character that probably didn’t earn any. I particularly liked her feistiness in the final act. The other actors are over-the-top in their deliveries to varying success. Only Dylan Neal has done a lot of stuff since, making himself a good career since the release of this film. While the acting was weak, at least the actors were enjoying themselves making this film. Their enthusiasm added a bit of entertainment and camp value to a crap film.


  • The school janitor drinks on the job. Well if you’re going to mop up puke, it might as well be your own.

  • The school band plays a jazzy rendition of “La Bamba”. This truly may be the day the music died.

  • The newly opened gym looks like it was structured after Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical” music video. Let me hear your body talk, movie. Make a move on me.

  • Alex and Mary Lou have sex on the American Flag. I don’t think anything was at “half staff” that night.

  • Alex’s mom sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher on the phone. Good grief!

  • Mary Lou murdered the school’s guidance counselor with battery acid. That’s too bad. She looked like she was melting with good advice.

  • Mary Lou killed someone by tossing a football through their chest. I think Gisele married the wrong quarterback!

  • Alex is hauled by the zombies of Mary Lou’s victims. As lousy as PROM NIGHT III is, at least the film is still more entertaining than the last few seasons of The Walking Dead.

  • If I can’t have you, nobody can.” And thus, Lifetime Movies were born.

  • Some Skid Row rejects played at the prom. They deserve “18 and Life” for trying to kill glam metal.

I remember enjoying PROM NIGHT III: THE LAST KISS a lot more when I was younger. However, the film has not held up for me all that well. The screenplay tries too hard to be a comedy, which it fails at. It’s not scary at all. The direction isn’t remarkable or memorable at all. But if you have the Uncut Version, the special effects and death scenes aren’t too bad. And while the acting isn’t strong, at least the actors are having fun with the material. If you want to watch a horror-comedy from this period, stick with SLEEPAWAY CAMP 2 & 3, or even A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4: THE DREAM MASTER. Those films succeed in what PROM NIGHT III fails to do. Save that last kiss for a film more worthy than this one.

1.5 Howls Outta 4


Still Alive + New Focus for the Blog

Hey everyone!
Yes, I'm still alive and kicking. I've just been very unmotivated and dealing with depression and anxiety - which doesn't help you when you want to write. I've barely even watched films period, which has me frustrated to no end. It's tough when your body wants to write, but your mind is telling you the opposite. It's a struggle I'll probably deal with for the rest of my life.
But enough of that sad stuff because my motivation is slowly building and I plan on posting stuff on this page and on my blog again. However, it'll be under a new focus as I felt trying to juggle too many genres actually raised my anxiety level and left me stepping away from here. So I decided that Full Moon Reviews will mainly focus on HORROR. If other genres have horror elements in them, I'll probably cover it. If you want to read articles on superhero films or action films, there are many other sites and podcasts that cover them. But I just need to focus on one single thing for this blog and page to succeed. So horror is the main focus, but I will continue stuff like "Animal Summer" and special themes like that. If I do discuss other genres that I may write for another site, I'll share them here as well.

I'm also working on a project where I'll be looking at every single slasher film of the 1980s and discussing them. Not sure if it'll be text, a podcast, a video series, or what. But I've been prepared for it and ready to go down that decade-long rabbit hole. That should be fun.
Again, I apologize for my absence but appreciated all the likes that this page continues to receive. It means a lot. Hoping for a busy 2018.


Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015) & Insidious: The Last Key (2018)

Leigh Whannell [Chapter 3]
Adam Robitel [The Last Key]

Lin Shaye - Elise Rainier
Angus Sampson - Tucker
Leigh Whannell - Specs
Dermot Mulroney - Sean Brenner [Chapter 3]
Stefanie Scott - Quinn Brenner [Chapter 3]
Hayley Kiyoko - Maggie [Chapter 3]
Tate Berney - Alex Brenner [Chapter 3]
Michael Reid MacKay - “The Man Who Can’t Breathe” [Chapter 3]
Josh Stewart - Gerald Rainier [The Last Key]
Spencer Locke - Melissa Rainier [The Last Key]
Caitlin Gerald - Imogen Rainier [The Last Key]
Kirk Acevedo - Ted Garza [The Last Key]
Bruce Davison - Christian Rainier [The Last Key]

Genre - Horror/Supernatural/Possession/Demons

Running Time - 97 Minutes [Chapter 3]/ 103 Minutes [The Last Key]

PLOT (from IMDB):
INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 - After trying to connect with her dead mother, teenager Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott), asks psychic Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) to help her, she refuses due to negotiate events in her childhood. Quinn starts noticing paranormal events happen in her house. After a vicious attack from a demon, Quinn’s father (Delmot Mulroney) goes back and begs Elise to use her abilities to contact the other side in hope to stop these attacks by this furious demon for a body.

INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY - Parapsychologist Dr. Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) faces her most fearsome and personal haunting yet - in her own family home.

James Wan has probably become the most prolific modern horror director and producer of the last fifteen years. While he has started to slowly move away from the genre to tackle more action-oriented fare [FURIOUS 7 and soon, AQUAMAN], you can’t deny that the man [along with co-writer Leigh Whannell] has crafted three of the more popular and extremely profitable horror franchises in the modern era. 2004’s SAW led to a massively popular and money-making franchise that just made a comeback a few months ago. 2013’s THE CONJURING has also made a ton of money, especially if you include the ANNABELLE spin-offs. And 2011’s INSIDIOUS series has proven that fans still care about horror films with substance, good acting, and scares that are earned without relying on loud noises to make people jump.

In fact, INSIDIOUS proved that ghost stories and films about demon possessions can still send a chill up and down your spine if done right. The first film, in my opinion, is still one of the better horror films of the 2010’s - just a stylish movie of subtle creepiness with great actors, beautiful shots, and a script that delves deep into the characters tormented by the evil spirits that make up this franchise. INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 was less so, but it has a great performance by Patrick Wilson and a great villain that kept you invested from beginning to end. 

The surprising thing about the INSIDIOUS series is who really became the focus of the franchise. Instead of the main characters, the supporting ones have managed to keep the franchise afloat for 7 years now. Who knew Lin Shaye’s Elise would be the heart and soul of the series, taking what should have been a vehicle for the Lambert family and making INSIDIOUS about her and her sidekicks, Tucker and Specs. For better or worse, the shift of focus to the ghost hunters has given INSIDIOUS a pulse that keeps audiences flocking to watch these films. It’s even crazier when Elise was murdered in the first film, yet she’s the one giving the series life.

Realizing that Lin Shaye was the glue that held INSIDIOUS together, Leigh Whannell decided to focus on stories that took place before the first INSIDIOUS film that give us insight on Elise’s journey to help the Lambert family and how she hooks up with Tucker and Specs. That’s the reason why INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 exists. The first prequel in the franchise, James Wan hands the director’s seat to Whannell, who makes the series more about Elise while still giving us The Further and characters who are traumatized by some dangerous demonic spirits out to hurt them. In a way, CHAPTER 3 is a less convoluted retelling of the first film, just with different characters dealing with a different demonic force. The Brenner family is less captivating than the Lamberts, but their story is also very relatable. Teenage Quinn has lost her mom and feels pressure from her dad to pretty much pick up the pieces, which conflict with her passion to become an actress. She believes the spirit in her house is her mother, but learns quickly that it’s something more sinister. She seeks help from Elise, who is dealing with her own grief and refuses to help until she realizes how much trouble Quinn is really in. The parallel stories of trauma and grief between Quinn and Elise is a clever plot device, as both parties deal with it differently - but it effects them in a similar way. However, Elise’s motivation to move on from it gives her the strength to face her fears and help Quinn against her adversary in order for her to move on. Elise is an interesting character to begin with, but Quinn [which could have been a one-dimensional protagonist] is given a lot of depth due to her passions, her struggles, and her willingness to fight. Her strained relationship with her father is compelling and makes us sympathize with both sides, leaving us to care about what happens to them by the film’s end. And Elise’s struggle with losing her husband to suicide and dealing with nightmarish spirits since gives us more insight on her life and makes her more heroic when she sucks it up and decides to confront the demons to help other people defeat theirs. I liked the balance of the two arcs and I felt they came together decently well by the end.

CHAPTER 3 does have its issues. The second half of the film does come across a bit silly at times. Elise recites some lines that Shaye attempts to make work to the best of her ability, but they’re more laughable than empowering. And The Further stuff wasn’t really all that interesting nor scary. In fact, I had issues with The Further in previous films, but at least the demons were memorable and there was something ominous about this dark world. CHAPTER 3 doesn’t really allow for that, as it feels more empty compared to the previous films [not sure if that was a budget issue]. And the breathing demon didn’t do anything for me. Sure, the sound is a bit creepy, but I wish we knew more about him. Compared to the previous villains, this breathing guy felt like a last resort to give the movie an antagonist. Plus, I really want to like Specs and Tucker more than I do. I still feel that a lot of their comedy falls flat, even though it was nice to see them before the whole “suit and tie” deal and how their relationship with Elise came to be.

Also, what happened to Quinn’s love interest and her best friend? They seem pretty important in the first half, yet totally disappear once the second half starts. And they never return! At least Quinn’s little brother brought in Specs and Tucker to help Quinn out, which is more I can say for the little brother in the first two INSIDIOUS films.

I will say that despite a change in directors, CHAPTER 3 still fits in well with the rest of the series. Leigh Whannell takes over for James Wan, and despite the lack of Wan’s style, Whannell handles himself well behind the camera. The best move on Whannell’s part is restraining the jump scares. Instead of constantly using loud sounds and noises [which Wan likes to do], Whannell leads into the scares, making them more effective and well earned. In fact, I thought a lot of the scares here worked really well. Jump scares aren’t terrible, like many believe. It’s just that they’re overdone a lot without a reason. CHAPTER 3 has a reason for them, which is why they’re welcomed. I also felt that Whannell used some great moments of visual misdirection to give the audience false security prior to a nice surprise. Still, CHAPTER 3 doesn’t look quite as rich as the first two films, nor does it manage a flow that the first two carried well. But for a man who’s not really known to direct films, he does Wan-lite very well.

The acting in CHAPTER 3 elevates the material. Don’t know much about Stefanie Scott, but she’s really great as Quinn. She took a token one-dimensional lead horror character and give her a ton of depth and sympathy. I believed Scott throughout the film, from her frustration with her family life, to her grief over her mom, and to her fear of realizing she was the target of a demonic entity. I thought she did a really nice job. Dermot Mulroney is more plus than minus. He handled the stress of being a single dad to teenagers well, but there were times where his acting got a bit hammy for the material. But Mulroney mostly knocks it out of the park, giving his character more depth than expected as well. I thought his father-daughter chemistry with Scott was convincing and welcomed. Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson do their thing as Specs and Tucker. I blame the material more than their acting abilities, but you really can’t have an INSIDIOUS film without them. I felt they were a bit more subtle this time around and weren’t really given much to do, which created a mixed bag of sorts. But smaller doses with these guys are probably for the best.

However, the film belongs to Lin Shaye, who really grounds CHAPTER 3 with a multi-dimensional performance of a woman who’s ready to give up on her life after the death of her husband, only to find purpose when someone [who has yet to really live her life] needs her help. She handles every emotion needed well. Her anger is believable. Her sorrow is heartbreaking. She’s convincing as a total bad ass at the end. Shaye knows her character and is a lot of fun to watch as Elise. It’s nice to see this character actress of a specific age leading a horror franchise in the modern era.

Speaking of Shaye, she’s also the best part about 2018’s INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY - the second prequel in the franchise. Since the story is mainly focused on Elise, Shaye gets to play with a facet of emotions and situations that flesh out her character and give us a reason to love her more. Unlike CHAPTER 3, Shaye is so good that she even makes the sillier moments feel important in THE LAST KEY. She has great facial expressions, body language, and portrays Elise as a total hero who is both vulnerable and strong. She brings a grounded, motherly vibe to this film. Without Lin Shaye, THE LAST KEY would be a total disaster in my opinion.

Thankfully, Shaye is in the film, making THE LAST KEY at least watchable for those fans of the series. It’s a shame that the story falls apart whenever things take place in “modern times” [story takes place in 2010]. Besides her, everything else just feels like a shadow of what has already been established in these films. Someone gets possessed, but it’s a character we don’t really know or care about. Specs and Tucker are here to be the comic relief, but 85 percent of their material isn’t really funny and feels forced. We get introductions to Elise’s family, but none of them are really given time to develop - especially when one of them also has Elise’s power and it’s just assumed to be a family trait without much explanation. The Further is handled okay, but again just feels cheaper compared to the other films - even CHAPTER 3. And the villain is a cool concept, but feels like a bit player compared to everything else. It’s a shame because I think films about Elise’s adventures could keep the franchise alive for years. But judging by this film, THE LAST KEY is barely trying to keep the door open.

The best stuff have to do with Elise’s childhood flashbacks, which honestly made me wish the whole film was about these moments instead. The opening section of the film is pretty disturbing stuff and some of the darkest moments in the franchise to date. Since I don’t want to spoil things, I’ll keep it short: Elise lives with her parents and younger brother on the ground floor of a penitentiary where inmates are electrocuted only one story above. Suffice to say, Elise sees a lot of tortured souls and strange things happen in the household. The mother believes in her gift, her prison guard father abuses her because of it, and her younger brother is so scared by her that he wants nothing to do with her. Every scene involving the past are captivating and present some nice moments of terror, mystery, and a neat twist I didn’t see coming. Yes, a film based on the past would have probably lost Lin Shaye for the most part, but the flashbacks really deserved their own film. It probably would have worked better than the actual THE LAST KEY. The modern horror moments seem so silly after the more realistic horror stuff from the past that the film loses steam any time we’re back to present day.

The direction by Adam Robitel [who achieved acclaim for THE TAKING OF DEBORAH LOGAN] is serviceable in terms of capturing the tone and look of the INSIDIOUS franchise. Again, Wan brought style to the franchise which Robitel can’t match. But the flashback scenes are shot really well, and the scenes in The Further looks pretty nice, even if they aren’t really all that interesting. The jump scares don’t really work this time around however, as most of them just feel forced and expected. But I appreciated the flow of the film and the splicing of footage from the first INSIDIOUS at times. 

Besides Lin Shaye, the rest of the acting in the film is pretty okay. Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson return as Specs and Tucker. Their acting is fine, even though the material is pretty rough for both of them. The characters were kind of distracting for their own good at times, but the actors made it work at best as they could. Bruce Davison came for a paycheck, since his role is pretty much a glorified cameo. His scenes with Shaye didn’t really connect with me, and it wasn’t because of her. Josh Stewart is very good as Elise’s father, portraying a cold, brooding, vicious presence that I appreciated. He was scarier than the actual spirits in this film. Spencer Locke is cute, but doesn’t really get to do much. Caitlin Gerald did well enough in her role as Imogen, bringing out the better elements of Whannell’s and Sampson’s acting. And I like seeing Kirk Acevedo in anything, and he was okay here. The weakest acting in the franchise, but it was decent enough nonetheless.

If you’re not a fan of the INSIDIOUS films, CHAPTER 3 nor THE LAST KEY will change your mind. But if you do enjoy these movies, CHAPTER 3 is the better of the two. It’s a pretty good prequel with some strong performances, good plot elements, and good direction by writer Leigh Whannell. Unfortunately, THE LAST KEY didn’t do a whole lot for me. More of the same, but not as creepy, interesting, or captivating. The flashback scenes are really great though and the direction by Adam Robitel is competent. And without Lin Shaye, THE LAST KEY would barely be able to turn the lock. I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of these films soon, but THE LAST KEY shows that the well may be running dry with this franchise.


2.5 Howls Outta 4

2 Howls Outta 4




Midnight Confessions Ep. 131: "Don Dohler Double Feature"

Our last episode of the year and we're spending with Don Dohler, because...why not? We take a look at Dohler's first 2 films, THE ALIEN FACTOR (1978) and FIEND (1980). We also do a year end recap [to the best of our recollection], plus music by Murderock because...why not? We'll be back in February! So until then, Happy Holidays from the MC Crew!


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Death Wish (1974)

Michael Winner

Charles Bronson - Paul Kersey
Hope Lange - Joanna Kersey
Vincent Gardenia - Lt. Frank Ochoa
William Redfield - Samuel “Sam” Kreutzer
Steven Keats - Jack Toby
Stuart Margolin - Ames Jainchill
Jeff Goldblum - Freak #1
Kathleen Tolan - Carol Toby

Genre - Drama/Crime/Action/Exploitation

Running Time - 93 Minutes

With Eli Roth’s remake being released in theaters at the end of November during a time of social unrest in terms of politics, civil rights, and police violence, I figured it was the right to reflect on the original DEATH WISH franchise starring Charles Bronson. It’s funny how a film from 1974 is still as relevant today as it was back then, but the original DEATH WISH still manages to tackle certain issues the current generation is still struggling with. Back when the original Charles Bronson classic was released, the days of black-and-white heroism and happy endings were long gone. Instead, we had anti-heroes who expressed grey morality, not following the tradition societal rules, hoping stepping outside the box would breed positive change through not-so-positive actions. Clint Eastwood’s turn as Harry Callahan in 1971’s DIRTY HARRY set a trend for a movie hero who took the law in his own hands when law enforcement wouldn’t get their hands filthy to clean up crime. Bronson’s Paul Kersey follows the trend of a man who feels justified about his “above the law” stance to clean up the streets of New York City after tragedy strikes his family. The fact that many people today believe that owning guns to protect themselves and eliminate any sort of threat that the police refuse to get involved with shows that not much has really changed since the 1970s when it comes to individual thoughts on justice.

Based on a novel by Brian Garfield, DEATH WISH is about architect Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) whose life turns upside down after returning to New York City from a wonderful trip with his wife Joanna (Hope Lange) to Hawaii. When Paul is at work, Joanna and daughter Carol (Kathleen Tolan) are followed by three thugs (including a young Jeff Goldblum) after a trip to the supermarket. These hoods force their way into their apartment, brutalizing Joanna and raping Carol to get back at the upper class. When Paul learns of the incident, he’s devastated to find out that Joanna died from the attack and Carol is now in a catatonic state due to trauma - the point that she can’t function emotionally and has to be placed in an institution. Paul wonders what the police will do about what happened to his family, upset that the police have nothing on the thugs and can’t follow any leads to serve justice. And as his world crumbles, his paranoia gives him tunnel vision of all the crime around him in the city.
During a work-related vacation in Arizona, he meets developer Ames Jainchill (Stuart Margolin) -  who convinces Paul that guns are the way to maintain a civil society. After Ames gives him a revolver as a gift, Paul returns to New York luring muggers and fatally shooting them. As the killing spree grows, the news of a mysterious vigilante decreasing muggings in the city pleases the public. However, the police are worried with Lt. Frank Ochoa (Vincent Gardenia) in charge of hunting down Paul and stopping him from taking the law into his own hands - even though if he and some of his fellow officers aren’t totally displeased by Paul’s actions.

An exploitation film at heart, DEATH WISH struck a chord with audiences upon its release. The 1970s were a frightening time for many in the middle and upper classes of society, due to the upswing in crime in major cities in the United States. The police couldn’t seem to get a handle on it, and politicians were dealing with putting out scandalous fires of internal espionage and unnecessary wars to be too concerned. DEATH WISH is not subtle about its message. Within the first five minutes, a supporting character quotes urban crime statistics to Paul the moment he returns from utopian Hawaii, complaining about how dangerous New York City has become. Almost every other scene in DEATH WISH depicts crime - from Paul watching thugs vandalize a car right outside his window, to muggers attacking him in the streets or on subway trains - making New York City feel like a dystopian area that seems almost unbelievable to exist. This is even made for evident when Paul travels to Arizona, which looks like paradise compared to the gritty NYC. No one is afraid there. Everyone is having fun watching western shows [which Paul feels inspired by since shoot outs create justice] and driving through miles of desert. This freedom, as Paul’s developer Ames claims, is due to owning guns and protecting themselves from anything bad. There’s also a claim that overcrowding leads to more crime, which Arizona doesn’t have to deal with. DEATH WISH lays it thick with its message, but it also makes you wonder if the message isn’t all that far from the truth.

In some ways, you’d think DEATH WISH was a propaganda film created by the NRA to justify the right to bear arms and defend yourself from muggings and random violence. Paul, who was in the military during the Korean War - but as a medic, is pretty much anti-violence. But after what happens to his family and witnessing crime with his own eyes, his stance begins to change to reflect the world around him. Ames takes Paul to a gun range in Arizona, surprised how well Paul handles shooting targets with ease. And once Paul finds out Ames presented him with a pistol, he begins to take his frustration on the lawlessness of his environment by luring muggers and murdering them. It startles him at first, but the thrill of murder and taking the law into his own hands revitalizes him to the point it becomes an addiction. And when he pops up all over the news as the mysterious vigilante, it almost makes him feel good and justified for creating discussion about his actions. Even law enforcement officials are torn between following the law or applauding Paul’s actions. DEATH WISH seems to suggest that to fight crime, individuals must stand up to it and prey on those who are creating trouble. And watching this in 2017, it kind of shines a light on how things haven’t really changed much. It’s sad, to be perfectly honest.

While DEATH WISH is obviously a classic in cinema, there are detractors who feel that it doesn’t live up to its rape-revenge motif. Paul’s wife gets murdered and Paul’s daughter gets raped [even painted with red paint on her butt as a target - obviously inspired by 1971’s A CLOCKWORK ORANGE] by three thugs, whom Paul never gets revenge on due to lack of evidence and identity. Instead, Paul uses his grief to get rid of other criminals to prevent the same thing happening to others that happened to him. So technically, Paul never gets revenge on those who wronged his family, making DEATH WISH an oddity in the rape-revenge sub-genre. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the message still plays out as it should. It also allows Paul to carry out the character arc the story puts him in, going from peaceful grieving husband to violent vigilante. But the fact that the culprits are never caught or dealt with is disappointing in a narrative way, even if it does happen from time to time in the real world. However, the film still works, even if it isn’t one hundred percent satisfying. 

The other characters deal with the events in their own way as well. Paul’s daughter Carol is completely traumatized by the rape and death of her mother, dealing with catatonia and the inability to handle human contact. Paul nor Carol’s husband Jack can’t help her, sending her to an institution so they can deal with it. Speaking of Jack, he pretty much follows the status quo. He grieves the loss of his family, he struggles dealing with his catatonic wife, and doesn’t understand why Paul is so calm about everything all of a sudden. He feels doing nothing and letting things happen is the civilized way, even though this conformity is just making the world around him worse. And Lt. Ochoa is on the hunt for Paul, wanting him to stop taking the law into his own hands - while understand why Paul is doing it and quietly admiring him and respecting him for his actions. It’s good to see a variety of reactions towards the whole vigilante situation, as it broadens the depth of the message being told.

The direction by Michael Winner, who has directed Bronson in the fantastic 1972 film THE MECHANIC, as well as directing the cult horror film THE SENTINEL from 1977, sort of presents DEATH WISH as a gritty city version of your typical western. Instead of cowboys, Winner presents Bronson as a gunslinger hero who shoots evil people who threaten the status quo. It’s not the most stylish film and looks like your typical exploitation film of the 1970s at times. But there’s a certain level of sleaziness that crafts the film’s atmosphere, using the scenes of muggers threatening Paul and others as a way to build tension and anxiety as the film runs. New York City is shot in such a dirty, scuzzy way that it differentiates itself from those beautiful, colorful scenes of Hawaii or Arizona. There’s a dark cloud over DEATH WISH through majority of the film, with Bronson being the story’s only hope of a silver lining. For that, I think Winner does a good job visually bringing the story and its message to life.

The acting works for DEATH WISH. Charles Bronson is probably best known for his role as Paul Kersey, even though his acting won’t catch the attention of those handing out awards. It’s fascinating to watch Bronson in this film. Whether finding out his wife has been murdered and daughter raped, or showing euphoria for murdering muggers, his facial expression never really changes. Bronson is pretty much stoic throughout the film, making you wonder whether he wants Paul to display any sort of emotion at all. But for some reason, it’s perfect. You’re always wondering what’s on the man’s mind, waiting for the moment until he finally snaps - which never happens. It’s a wonderful performance of an actor not doing much at all, but saying a whole lot for 90 minutes. Vincent Gardenia is also great as Lt. Ochoa, the man chasing after Paul to stop him. He plays your typical gruff cop who secretly respects what Paul’s doing, but know it goes against his job, Gardenia also adds in ticks, like sneezing and coughing, that give Ochoa personality. Stuart Margolin is great as Ames, the man who makes Paul reconsider his stance on justice. He brings some humor to the film, acting as the catalyst to Paul’s vigilantism in his short role. And it’s funny to see Jeff Goldblum in his first film role as “Freak #1”, one of the thugs who murders Paul’s wife and watches Paul’s daughter get raped. And Christopher Guest as a young police officer towards the end of the film is also neat to see as well. A really solid cast in DEATH WISH.

And I can’t end this look on DEATH WISH without mentioning Herbie Hancock’s jazzy score, which adds a funky mood to a bleak film. It’s great stuff.

DEATH WISH still resonates today as much as it did back in 1974. The message of using violence to stop violence is something many in our current society are still struggling with, whether some of us quietly agree with the idea of “an eye for an eye” or downright oppose it and want peace instead. DEATH WISH doesn’t really work as a direct rape-revenge film since he never really gets vengeance on those who harmed him and his family. But as a commentary of 1970s urban anxiety and the need to make change happen in a lawlessness world through any means necessary, it works extremely well. Charles Bronson typecast himself as the stoically gruff vigilante character with DEATH WISH, but that’s a credit to Bronson being so well cast for the role of Paul Kersey. Exploitative at times, gritty, violent, and even thought-provoking, DEATH WISH maintains a film that audiences should watch all these years later. 

3.5 Howls Outta 4

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