FTP: Perfect Strangers (1984)

DECEMBER 1, 2022


My least favorite Larry Cohen movie (of the ones I've seen anyway) is Special Effects, his Body Double-esque thriller that I found impossibly dull. But some friends have raved about it (one even said it was in fact one of his best!) so I've been meaning to give it another look, and after watching the late director's interview on the bonus features for Perfect Strangers (aka Blind Alley, which is the title on the film itself but the disc packaging is given the Strangers title) my goal has been renewed. Because it turns out they were shot back to back, and now I can't help but wonder if he was spreading himself too thin, resulting in these two uncharacteristically light films from the usually dependable maverick.

At least this one starts off promising, with a guy getting stabbed in front of a kid and then worrying if the kid (who is like two and can barely talk) will be able to identify him. So he does the most obvious thing: he finds a different (older) kid in the street and asks him if he'd remember him if he saw him again later, to which the kid asks if he's a ______ (word that doesn't fly anymore, starts with R, slang for dumb person). The killer also spray paints a shadow of himself while talking to himself as a song about shadows plays on the soundtrack, and all of this is in the first five minutes! So, yeah! This rules!

Unfortunately the silliness tapers off as the film goes on. It's only 90 minutes (so, shorter than Special Effects at least) and there are some solid bits throughout, but the opening promises a little more excitement than the film ultimately offers. Our guy is tasked by his mob bosses to kill the kid to make sure there are no loose ends, and to do this he begins romancing the boy's mother (who missed the crime entirely; her not paying much attention to her toddler is kind of a running theme throughout the movie) to increase his chances of offing the kid and chalking it up to an accident. So it SEEMS like a movie where this guy might legit start falling for her and switch sides, maybe protect the kid (and the mom) from his mob partners, but nah. It's mostly just a series of scenes of him having the perfect chance to off the kid and then deciding not to, so it gets pretty repetitive. The mob guys never even really take a more active role in the proceedings, nor does he encounter the cop (Cronenberg regular Stephen Lack, the only person in the movie I recognized) which might give it a little tension. It's all just very loosey goosey, and I couldn't help but think if the guy was played by Michael Moriarty it might have been at least more fun.

Still, Cohen tosses in a few good bits, like a scene where the killer plans to kill the kid by pushing him so hard on the swing that he falls off and impales himself on a nearby fence (!), and an insane climactic chase where the kid is on a portable merry go round (is this a real thing?) that's hitched to a truck, which has been hijacked by the killer. So we see the kid spinning around and around as the truck drives around New York, no obvious dummy being used (it's CLEARLY him in a few shots, in fact); it's not only fairly well crafted, it's kind of terrifying in a "there's a million ways this could go wrong" way.

But apart from those scenes, there's just too much filler here, with unresolved plot points (the kid's real father is last seen being held at gunpoint by the mom's over protective friend - it's unclear if she ever let him go!) and nowhere near enough suspense to maintain the "thriller" we've been promised. Cohen bounced back the next year with The Stuff, so it's obvious he still had his chops - I'll forever wonder if he had combined his resources and budget to make just one of these two (Effects had better potential, in my opinion) it could have ended up being one of my faves. Instead we got two of his lesser works, though I guess it helps me appreciate The Stuff all the more, so that's fine.

What say you?

Couldn't find a trailer so here's someone else reviewing the Vinegar Syndrome disc!


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