by Joel G. Robertson
The Lady in White – Rated: PG-13; Dir. Frank LaLoggia ; Starring Lukas Haas, Len Cariou, Alex Rocco, and Jason Presson.
When a young boy (Haas) gets locked in his school’s coat closet overnight, he witnesses the ghost of a murdered little girl. Soon, he suspects her murderer is still around, waiting to claim another young life… possibly his own.
The Lady in White is haunting, chilling, and downright creepy at times. The story is retold as a flashback as a writer (very much a Stephen King-type figure) returns to his hometown, remembering the fateful events that led to his own loss of innocence many years earlier. The acting is top notch throughout the film, especially Haas, who carries the movie on the shoulders of his shy, unassuming protagonist.
Director LaLoggia pulls us right into the story and into a world where people aren’t always as they seem. He and D.P. Russell Carpenter did a fantastic job capturing the “feel” of autumn in the small town of Willowpoint Falls. Only a handful of films (the original Halloween and Halloween 4 come to mind) have captured this Halloween-time quality, and The Lady in White is one of them.
And while you can enjoy The Lady in White as a simple, straight-forward ghost story, if you just dig a little deeper you’ll discover a rich, layered story about deadly, small-town secrets and innocence lost.
The Lady in White Trailer
Killer Klowns from Outer Space – Rated: PG-13; Dir. Stephen Chiodo ; Starring Grant Cramer, Suzanne Snyder, John Allen Nelson, and John Vernon.
A sheriff, another guy and his girlfriend must stop man-eating clowns from outer space from turning the residents of their small town into a dessert bar buffet.
Sure it’s campy. Yep, it’s silly, And you’re right, sometimes it’s downright dumb, but Killer Klowns from Outer Space is a staple of B-movie greatness. This is a movie that wears its absurdist colors with pride. Directed by Steven Chiodo and written by Steven and his brothers Charles and Edward, Killer Klowns goes over the top, WAAAAAY over the top (or should I say big top?) and somehow manages to stick that perfect 10 landing for the judges.
Featuring Suzanne Snyder, an unsung 80s scream queen who also starred in Return of the Living Dead Part 2, Night of the Creeps, and Weird Science, Killer Klowns also stars John Vernon, who played Dean Wormer in Animal House.
And for you Christopher Titus fans out there, be on the lookout for a young, bespectacled Titus as he carries a load of beer back to his car on Lover’s Lane. If you just want to have a cheesy good time at the movies, then bring your nachos ’cause this flick’s dripping with it!
Killer Klowns from Outer Space Trailer
Alien Nation – Rated: R; Dir. Graham Baker; Starring James Caan, Many Patinkin, and Terence Stamp.
Years after “The Newcomers,” an alien race land on earth, Sykes (Caan), a cynical, alien-hating cop finds himself partnered with a Newcomer cop named Francisco (Patinkin). Together they must solve a crime involving a highly-potent, alien-manufactured drug and the murder of Sykes’s old partner.
Alien Nation starts like any other hard-edged, 1980s crime drama: cops get involved in a violent shootout with some thugs, leaving one cop dead and the other seeking revenge justice for his partner. However, the “thugs” happen to be aliens called The Newcomers, who arrived on earth years ago and have assimilated into the culture. And while not all Newcomers are prone criminal activity, Detective Sykes (James Caan) doesn’t differentiate. He wears his hatred for the “slags,” as he calls them, on his sleeve.
Much like 1985’s Enemy Mine, the high tension of race relations bubbles beneath the surface of Alien Nation. And like the Quaid/ Gossett, Jr. vehicle that preceded it, Alien Nation uses the tropes of sci-fi to examine this contentious issue.
Caan does a stellar job of protraying Sykes as an embittered, angry, frustrated man, who despite his loathing of the Newcomers isn’t played as a one-dimensional, racist stereotype. Mandy Patankin (seen in the previous year’s The Princess Bride as Inigo Montoya) plays Detective Francisco, gentle, kind-hearted, and tolerant Newcomer who, for the purposes of the plot and dramatic tension, is paired up with Sykes to track down the killers.
Alien Nation achieves what the best of the genre is capable of: tackling social, scientific, and ethical problems while telling a futuristic tale tinged with the trappings of the familiar.
Alien Nation Trailer
Talk Radio – Rated: R; Dir. Oliver Stone; Starring Eric Bogosian, Ellen Greene, Leslie Hope, John C. McGinley, and Alec Baldwin.
Barry (Bogosian) is an angry, opinionated and brilliant talk radio host who pushes the boundaries with his late-night call in show. But when his callers become more violent and disturbed rather than letting up, Barry pushes back… even harder.
Eric Bogosian provides a tour de force performance as Barry Champlain, a late-night talk show host who feeds off the energy of taunting his sometimes hostile audience. Based on a play written by Bogosian, Talk Radio was also director Stone’s follow-up to his successful one-two punch of Platoon (1986) and Wall Street (1987).
It also marks one of the last films where Stone’s progressively more stylized and visually excessive storytelling didn’t overwhelm the story itself.
And like most of his films (Seizure with Hervé Villechaize not withstanding), there’s a deeper social statement pulsating through the frame. And although it’s based on a play, Talk Radio is tense, superbly directed and acted, and tells a riveting tale of the consequences of true free speech.
Talk Radio Trailer
They Live – Rated: R; Dir. John Carpenter; Starring Roddy Piper, Keith David, and Meg Foster.
A homeless drifter (Piper) discovers a box full of sunglasses and when he puts on a pair he realizes that we are not alone. In fact, alien forces have assimilated into our culture and have lulled us into complacency and obedience to further their agenda. And only Nada and a handful of rebels can stop them.
On the surface, They Live is a borderline-campy throwback to 50’s sci-fi paranoia, but with some serious 80’s attitude and swagger. But you won’t have to dig far to discover it’s a smart, social satire containing a dire warning: We’ve all been lulled to sleep, believing our world isn’t manipulating and controlling our thoughts, motives, and actions.
And much like Carpenter’s Escape from New York (1981) (and subsequently Escape From L.A. ), it takes an outsider, a lone individual to bring down the system and shake us away from our falsely-safe slumber.
They Live Trailer
Willow – Rated: PG; Dir. Ron Howard; Starring Warrick Davis, Val Kilmer, and Joanne Whalley.
A fantasy, adventure about Willow Ufgood, a young hero on a big mission to protect a mysterious and magical child from the clutches of an evil queen.
Willow is not a perfect film, but it is a fun film. Director Ron Howard tells the traditional Hero’s Journey-style tale in a simple, straight forward manner. Produced by George Lucas, his influence resonates through out Willow. Parallels to the storyline and archetypal characters of Star Wars are unmistakeable (Mad Martigan = Han Solo), and Lucas’s fascination with mythology informs the story at every turn.
But it’s perhaps the standout performance of Warwick Davis as Willow that’s so remarkable and what makes the movie stand head and shoulders above similar fantasy fare. His diminutive stature isn’t played for laughs and it’s interesting to note that few films before or since have featured a hero who’s more like Warwick Davis than Val Kilmer.
Of course the brilliance of this choice as that children, the target audience for Willow, completely identify him. Not because of his size, but rather because of his inspiring ability to appear vulnerable yet overcome the biggest obstacles. Say what you will about Willow, but one thing’s for sure, it will leave you smiling when the final credits roll.
Those are my 6 must see movies from 1988. What are yours?
Until next time, remember, a flick is only forgotten if you’re not talking about it!