Welcome to Anchorwoman In Peril’s new review strand, the Grindhouse, where I’ll be reviewing the cheapest and sleaziest genre efforts ever to get a legitimate DVD release. And we all know what you get when you mix “cheap” with “sleaze”... Yup, “cheese” – or, to be strictly accurate, “cheaze”, whatever that is. Anyway, whenever you see the Grindhouse logo here on AiP (that’s it on the left), you’ll know to expect fuzzy video, muffled sound, wooden actors... and, who knows, maybe you’ll even come to love ’em like I do. So adjust your brightness, crank up the volume, and don’t expect any special features (or chapter stops)... I’m hoping that, as we wade through the sludge, we might trip over a few diamonds-in-the-rough together (so watch your toes – they might be sharp). The sludgery starts with today’s 1987 psycho-thriller, Run... If You Can!
I’m guessing this movie was made on a budget of about $1,000, most of which went on punctuation for the title. Hopefully, the majority of what was left went into the pocket of Martin Landau... Yes, that’s right, there’s an honest-to-goblins Oscar-winning actor in this movie and, more importantly, he’s actually good in it (unlike most of the name-above-the-title-nobodies like Tom Hulce, Linda Hunt and Louise Fletcher who, after winning an Oscar each, went on to blight a hundred B-movies with hammy performances that only served to drag the films deeper). In Run... If You Can!, however, whenever there’s a moment that rings true or a flicker of raw energy at the edge of a scene, you can bet it’s because Landau is onscreen. But he’s still really only a best supporting actor here; let’s not forget our heroine...
Meet Kim Page (Yvette Nipar), a pretty young student who’s house-sitting for a friend of her father’s. The first thing you’ll notice is that this ain’t no ordinary house – it’s a genuine Beverly Hills mansion, complete with a lagoon-like swimming pool, indoor forest and, up on the roof, a giant satellite dish. Kim’s boyfriend is heading out of town for a while, so she plans to crack out the mac ’n’ cheese and veg out in front of the many TV channels available thanks to the Jodrell Bank-like piece of receiving equipment overhead.
As Kim nods off in front of the tube one night, the late-night movie is rudely interrupted by some amateurish footage of a man and woman having sex. Strange... the TV guide had promised 1930s classic Of Human Bondage, but Kim is drifting in and out of a carb-coma thanks to all that pasta, and barely bats an eyelid when the man suffocates his partner and stuffs her body into a plastic bag.
It’s not until the next day, when her friend Jill informs her that a woman’s body has been found dumped in a plastic bag – the latest in a series of killings attributed to the “Beverly Hills Ladykiller” – that Kim remembers the creepy video. She figures, however, that it was all just a scene from Of Human Bondage (right after the bit where Leslie Howard torches Bette Davis with a flame-thrower, perhaps) and dismisses it outright. Unfortunately, Kim is in for a far greater shock the following night, when the TV snuff scenes are repeated... only this time the helpless victim is Jill!
Low-budget it may be, but Run... If You Can! has a story to tell and manages to tell it with a fair degree of grainy panache. Kim quickly enlists the aid of Lieutenant Landau and his partner, Brian (Jerry – brother of Dick! – Van Dyke), who together bring some old-school acting chops to the table, imbuing an unlikely story with some believability. Nevertheless, I never quite bought the fact that Kim would confuse a black-and-white movie classic with some dirty home video beamed onto her TV in full-colour – but, since she’s getting free nightly snuff-porn of the like Eli Roth would surely kill for, I guess she’s not complaining.
In this late-eighties production, the high-tech world of satellite TV broadcasting is clearly still seen as something frighteningly new. Every time Kim’s rooftop dish does a little swivel, for example, it’s accompanied by scary chords on the soundtrack. And as the police scramble to uncover the source of the broadcasts, I half expected someone to call Kim and cry, “The signal’s coming from inside the house!”. But where the uncertainty surrounding this new technology is understandable, the confusion caused by the revelation of the killer’s identity is just ridiculous. In fact, the more I think about it, the stupider it is. I don’t want to give anything away, but... why? Why, for the love of God, would this particular character be the killer? Did I miss something?
Thankfully, the film ends on what has to be one the greatest freeze-frames ever, er, frozen, which, when accompanied by the novel way of listing the end credits, manages to send you out with a smile. Run... If You Can! won’t please everyone but, with its sly suggestion that late-night TV really is bad for you, makes a great late-night movie itself. Enjoy... if you can.