Retro Film Report #40: Four from 1980

Dressed to Kill illustration from MAD magazine 
Here are short reviews of four films I recently watched, all released in 1980: Dressed to Kill, Cheech & Chong's Next Movie, Death Ship, and House on the Edge of the Park.  Enjoy.


The lovely Nancy Allen, illuminated by lightning, is unaware of the disturbed killer behind her.  Meanwhile, her ally stands helpless outside the window, futilely screaming that the murderer is right behind her.  This is but one of many brilliantly executed scenes in Dressed to Kill, but every standard a masterpiece.  Hitchcock would be proud.

The film is 33 years old, yet I still hesitate to giveaway spoilers.  The unexpected twists and turns are one of the joys of this movie; to be in on the secrets will significantly detract from the enjoyment. So, if you plan on seeing this film for the first time, skip this review.

De Palma, ever the faithful purveyor of the Hitchcock method, here achieves the perfect equilibrium of plagiarism and invention. It begins with Angie Dickinson, a wealthy, unsatisfied wife who craves some excitement. She even makes a pass at Michael Caine, her shrink, but the attempt is an awkward failure.  He ain't interested (you'll see why later).

Although nothing really happens in the ensuing museum scene, it is still considered the film's crowning achievement.  Dickinson's quest for sexual adventure leads her into a lengthy cat and mouse game in an art museum.  It could have been dull, but this is a textbook example of how a good director can shape any scene and turn it into something wonderful.

Audiences are shocked as Dickinson's character is summarily murdered midway through (a la Psycho) by a mysterious killer in an elevator (following her tryst with the museum dude). The female lead is now abruptly replaced by a call girl, Liz (Nancy Allen), who is the only witness to the crime.

Dickinson's death is so jarring, that it actually takes a few minutes to acclimate to what seems like a whole new movie.

Detective Marino (Dennis Franz) wants Caine's appointment book, but the psychiatrist stands behind his patient confidentiality agreement.  With the police investigation going nowhere, Dickinson's son, Peter, enlists the help of the prostitute to solve the crime.

Liz tries to seduce the psychiatrist at his office in order to gain access to his appointment book.  What she doesn't realize is the killer is onto her; what follows is among the tensest scenes you're likely to find.  I'll spare you the details of the ending.  Suffice it to say, Dressed to Kill delivers the goods.


The term "mindless fun" I think was coined after the premier of this film.  There is absolutely zero plot, and the bits and pieces that are fused together to make this movie hardly make sense.  Up in Smoke, which admittedly had a pretty weak plot itselfwas definitely their high water mark  This is several leagues down..

But if you can turn off your expectations and shut down your cerebral cortex entirely, you might actually find yourself enjoying this film.

You'll be hard pressed to find a more random, balls out comedy.  Cheech drinks piss, Chong rides a UFO and does Space Coke, Paul Rubens (Pee Wee Herman) is a hotel clerk, Cheech snorts soap, and Michael Winslow (Police Academy) nurses a soda can in a welfare office.  It definitely isn't boring.

This sounds crazy, but one of the beauties of the film is it's attention to detail.  Cheech & Chong's Next Movie put as much detail in their gags as Merchant Ivory does in their costume department.  I mean, you could watch this film twenty times and not pick up on all the side gags happening all around.

For instance, the 20 Mexicans pouring out of the house, or all the odd characters at the LA County welfare office, or funny asides like when Chong says the hot tub is getting warmer, and Red adds that it's getting yellower too....  it's freaking insane.

Nothing is sacred.  Cheech re-enacts the common Mexican image (often painted on the side of vans) of an Aztec hero and his lover.... I won't tell you what he does next.


The Love Boat crashes into a mysterious ship, and the survivors must climb aboard.  Excessively dull happenings begin to occur.  The ship's captain (George Kennedy) starts thinking he's Hitler or Goering or somebody.  Richard Crenna is the Gene Hackman of this failed Poseidon Adventure, and even's Rambo's commander can't save this dud.

As in The Shining, they are trapped inside a location which as an evil corrupting force.  Kennedy is the Jack Torrance character, possessed by the demons of the past.  Like The Shining's room 237, there's a forbidden room on the Death Ship which holds dark secrets.  Plus there's a couple pale creepy kids who wander the ship's mazes like Danny Torrance on a Big-Wheel.  It all sounds so promising, doesn't it?

Unfortunately, it is all executed so un-masterfully.  Death Ship drags along oh-so painfully, that I expected the film to just stop and a narrator tiredly admit that it just isn't worth it.

That being said, there is one - I repeat, one - frightening scene.  Those that have vague recollections of Death Ship always seem to remember the bloody shower scene.  The water turns to blood in Lori's (Victoria Burgoyne) shower, and she can't get out.  No matter how much Nick tries to open it, the shower door just won't budge.  I know it sounds fairly typical, but it's actually executed well (perhaps surrounded by such dullness, this scene stood out all the more sharply).

Unfortunately, even this scene is undercut by ridiculously irrelevant scenes of the Marshal kids.  Yep, the one truly horrific scene in the entire movie was neutralized by pointless editing.  No thanks.


If you're rich and want to have a decadent swank party, don't invite blue collar blokes to join - they'll only dampen the fun...... and rape and murder the guests.

David Hess continues the role he perfected in Last House on the Left, as an irredeemable dirtbag.  He and his mentally challenged buddy at the auto shop are invited to a social gathering in the ritzy part of town. Option A would be to awkwardly try and fit in; to try and overcome the fact that they are far outclassed.

They choose Option B: Hold everyone hostage, rape the women, and murder everyone.

It's all their fault for letting in the riff-raff.  I presume there's some statement here regarding the class system, but it gets lost in the overriding brutality.  What would you expect, considering the director is Ruggero Deodato - the nice fella that brought you Cannibal Holocaust that very same year.

I cannot comprehend going to see this at the theater; a drive-in, maybe.  It's just so damn uncomfortable. Hess and his mentally challenged partner manage to degrade every person in the house in long horrific sequences of torture and abuse.  This is one of those films you'll need to counteract with something benign and cheerful just to erase the suffocating nihilism.  I recommend a Pauly Shore film.

This film is wrong on a number of levels.  Among it's numerous sins is the depiction of the ladies getting some enjoyment from their predators.  Another is the music played at the party - I wish I could share it with you.  It's so unforgivably awful; perhaps more traumatizing than the violence.

All that being said, the purpose of a horror movie is to stir up strong emotions.  So, horror films are often put in a Catch-22 scenario:

(1) Use strong visual elements to inspire genuine horror, but be criticized for being too disturbing.
(2) Lighten the horrific elements and tone things down, but be criticized for being too soft.

So, judging House on the Edge of the Park in terms of what it sets out to do: it is an absolute success.  It is profoundly disturbing, but at the same time highly watchable in that it keeps you riveted from beginning to end.  I've seen similar hostage movies such as The Strangers and Funny Games - this is superior in my book.

I'm happy to report that the ending of this film is immensely satisfying.  Again, I'm sure there's an underlying allegory in there somewhere, but the bottom line is that I was very happy.  And my happiness is all that matters.


Cheech & Chong's Next Movie