Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Strung Out on Slashers: APPOINTMENT WITH FEAR (1985)

Had he not been killed in a terrorist attack, I would have started this review saying that Moustapha Akkad was the luckiest guy in the world.  After all, this Syrian film financier had fortune on his side when producer Irwin Yablans told him they should hire this kid named John Carpenter for their film THE BABYSITTER MURDERS. The rest, as they say, is history.  Although he had directed desert dramas before and after producing the resulting HALLOWEEN (1978), Akkad’s name would be forever linked to the slasher that started it all. I’m sure he couldn’t have been happier with that as each HALLOWEEN sequel made him richer and richer with nothing more than an “Executive Producer” credit.  That success, however, did not stop him from trying to capture lightning in a bottle again when he produced the ‘80s slasher APPOINTMENT WITH FEAR (1985).

“From the man who brought you HALLOWEEN…” scream the posters and video boxes for APPOINTMENT WITH FEAR.  As if that weren’t strong enough to sway customers, the biggest image accompanying that text is a huge knife.  It all smacks potential viewers across the face with its less than subtle “this is a slasher” iconography.  Hell, that is the reason I bought the VHS last month – I just wanted to dig into a vintage ‘80s slasher film.  So imagine my surprise when I actually watched the film. Is it a slasher?  Yes.  Scantily clad young, high school girls do get stalked in a remote location by a killer with a knife.  But it is also one of the most positively surreal horror films I’ve ever seen.  This film is so damn weird, I thought I might be related to it.  Don’t believe me? Well, just keep reading.

The film opens with Detective Kowalski (Douglas Rowe) on a stakeout watching a station wagon, which is driven off in a hurry by a woman with her baby.  A mysterious man (Garrick Dowhen) in a white van is soon following the lady. She decides the best course of action is to pull over and sit on some random person’s porch after hiding her baby in the bushes.  The mystery man comes up to her, stabs her to death and then leaves.  Witnessing this across the way are friends Carol (Michele Little) and Heather (Kerry Remsen), who is doing an interpretive dance for an old man’s birthday. What?  Anyway, Heather acts in a perfectly sensible manner by deciding she will keep the baby the woman told her to save and sneaks it home in a picnic basket.  Somehow her baby brother drowning when she was a kid is the root for all of this and mom seems to think she is just randomly babysitting. Totally stable girl, as evidenced by her makeup application.

“But you said this was weird,” I hear you cry.  Okay, let’s get to it.  Carol and Heather are planning a weekend graduation party with pals Samantha (Pamela Bach, who would marry David Hasselhoff after this) and Ruth (Debi Sue Voorhees) at an isolated condo in the desert.  Naturally, Heather is sneaking her new baby along too.  Oh, also along for the ride is Norman (Danny Dayton), the bum who lives in the back of Carol’s car. What!?!  Yes, like all high school teen girls, Carol hauls around a bum that she keeps like a pet in the back of her truck.  Did I forget to mention that Carol’s main hobby is eavesdropping on people with her long-range microphone? Like I said, she’s just your average teen girl. Meanwhile, Kowalski is going nuts over this case.  You see, the guy he saw driving the white van was a dude he locked up long ago. Not only that, when he goes to visit him in an insane asylum, he finds out the perp tried to escape the night before and has been in a coma ever since, so he ain’t going nowhere.

Kowalski’s investigation leads him to spiritualist Miss Cleo (Kathi Gibbs), who nonchalantly informs him that the guy he is looking for is really Attis, King of the Woods.  In order to extend his life for another year, he must murder his own kid and he has been telepathically leaving his comatose body in order to find and murder this child. How did he get like this? Hell if I know!  I don’t think the filmmakers knew either.  It is just established and that’s that.  Kowalski continues investigating and wonders if only he knew where this kid was at – wait – he remembers the girls at the crime scene and just knows that Heather took him. Kowalski decides the best way to find the girls is by hassling their friends Cowboy (Vincent Barbour) and Bobby (Michael Wyle), who drives around town with a dummy in the sidecar of his motorcycle.  You know, like all teen boys.  Soon everyone is at the sleek house in the desert and it is a battle to protect the baby from the ever materializing Attis.

Man, words can’t begin to describe how strange this flick is. If I had to compare it to something, I would say it is HALLOWEEN mixed with PATRICK and THE GUARDIAN (but before it was even made).  But such a rote description won’t give you any impression of just what an oddball film this is. It is like Akkad sat down co-writer/director Ramzi Thomas (who later had his named removed and replaced with the Alan Smithee credit) and said, “Thisa John Carpenter.  He makea too much sense. I wanna HALLOWEEN but witha less sense.” I’m not sure why my written Syrian accent comes off sounding like an Italian one. Anyway, this thing is totally bizarre.  I knew I was in for something special early on when I heard this conversation between the old man and old woman during Heather’s dance for him.

Old man: “It’s too early for a party. I never heard of a birthday party so early before in my whole life.”
Old woman: “Stop complaining, you old goat. You’re up and around at 4am every morning.”
Old man: “Well, whose birthday is it anyway?”
Old woman: “Yours! Now shut up and watch Heather.”
Old man: “What is she doing?”
Old woman: “She’s trying to get out of the jar.”
Old man: “Why the hell is she in the jar anyway?”

There is just so much like that going on in this film that makes it so weird.  For example, in the final showdown, how do you think Attis manages to draw the kids out of the house?  Does he set the house on fire?  No.  Does he fill it with all kinds of snakes you can find in the desert?  No. Attis ain’t no fool. He gets them to come out of the house by having 6 dancers materialize in the driveway and have them dance around a maypole.  Duh! Unfortunately, Attis didn’t think ahead because this maypole is exactly what brings about his demise as Carol impales him with it and he explodes into a bunch of leaves.  That is the logic-defying logic contained within this film.  It is the kind of film world where, yes, it is totally normal for a teen girl to want to keep a baby she finds.  It is the world where, yes, it is totally normal for a cop to chase a kid on motorcycle and when they get stopped at a train crossing, the kid goes up and asks the cop if he can teach him how to blow smoke rings.  It is the kind of film where a recurring motif is Kowalski accidentally setting his car on fire with cigarettes.  Where a killer can make his spirit exit his body and materialize anywhere, but he still needs a van to drive around in.  What the hell is going on here?  I don’t know.  I don’t think the director and writers knew either. Whatever it is, I’m happy to have seen it as APPOINTMENT WITH FEAR is truly odd enough to be memorable.

1 Reactions:

  1. Happy Belated Birthday Sean! ( I know it was the 17th ) hope you had a great one! Jlp


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