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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Rivals (1972) review


Scott Jacoby (Jaime), Joan Hackett (Christine), Robert Klein (Peter), James Karen (Psychiatrist)

Directed by Krishna Shah

"Since Douglas's death, Jaime's changed. Sometime's I think's almost as if he's trying to take his father's place."

The Short Version: Confoundingly bizarre and totally unclassifiable movie about a disturbed ten year old boy with an Oedipus complex. Shah's movie can't make up its mind what the hell it wants to be. There's several daringly intriguing ideas presented here and some shock moments, but it's not enough. There's also a wacky performance from Robert Klein and a good turn by Scott Jacoby as the mentally unhealthy boy as well as some great and surreal shots of New York city life circa 1972 that looks all the world like it was shot "live--as it happens". This is a freakish curio for cinematic danger seekers, while most others will likely be bored and tune out by the thirty minute mark.

Jaime is an unusually intelligent ten year old boy who has a special, if unhealthy relationship with his mother, Christine. When Jaime's mother meets Peter, a quirky tour bus driver and a younger man, this drives a wedge between mother and son. The animosity Jaime feels towards Peter escalates when he and his mother plan to get married. Devising a murderous plan to get rid of Peter, young Jaime has no intention of allowing another man to come between him and his momma.

Utterly bizarre movie from the director of HARD ROCK ZOMBIES (1985) that alternates between pseudo hack work and transgressive surrealism. Portions of the movie are well shot with some good performances and others look to be the work of a slop artist bearing amateur levels of acting delivery. To describe this movie would be an act in futility. It's as if director Shah was trying for an occasional avant garde atmosphere, although some of these moments look like they were designed and shot by a middle school student--and in a way, they were! Speaking of middle school, Jaime plays a filmmaker in training along with a bunch of his other pre-pubescent buddies. The film is peppered with these weird musical interludes that look like they'd make a better fit in an episode of THE BANANA SPLITS or SESAME STREET. Other times the film resembles a romantic comedy between self reliant art gallery owner Hackett and the free spirited ardor of Klein.

Shah's movie trudges dangerously close to onscreen pedophilia at times and if it weren't for a handful of worthwhile moments, this uneven mishmash would be ripe for 'The Dis List'. Shah wrote the script and he seems a better writer than a director as his written word explores some fascinating, if controversial terrain. In fact, he packs way too much subtext here without ever giving any one thing an opportunity to bloom. If that weren't bad enough, there's a grand potential here for exploitation greatness, but Shah squanders it on so many themes and issues that it all ends up being perfunctory at best. Such as when Jaime is bullied by a gang of older kids. Does he ever plot revenge on them? No! Instead, he attempts to have sex with the bully boy's girlfriend. The music is also terrible across the board. It sounds like stock cues from a classroom filmstrip and that's likely what it is.

Funnily enough, the opening title reads "Krishna Shah's RIVALS". This being his first feature and it being as frequently ridiculous as it is, his name above the films title is hilariously pretentious. Another interesting tidbit more curious than anything in the movie is the story credit for Stanford Sherman who wrote such movies as ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN (1980), KRULL (1983) and ICE PIRATES (1984). Also, one of horror's favorite character actors, James Karen (FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE SPACE MONSTER, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD) has a supporting role here as a child psychiatrist. Regarding the movie itself, the only major point of interest is Jacoby's character of the troubled Jaime. He's really quite good and if the film had stayed its course instead of alternating between a romantic comedy-drama and some experimental children's show by way of a twisted pathological semi-exploitation picture, we would have had an engrossing psychological example of the 'evil child' sub genre.

We learn Jaime is a genius with a higher than normal IQ (142 at six years old!). We know he had an indelible devotion to his father--this hammered home in several surreal flashback--dream sequences (Why do we need to see shots of him potty training shittin' in a toilet?). We also learn (in the first ten minutes) that Jaime has an unusual curiosity and learned capacity for the sexual act. At one point, Jaime dreams of some sort of satanic orgy where a group of onlookers watch Hackett and Klein have sex in the floor while Jaime masturbates behind a tree and keeps getting interrupted by his babysitter!

In one of the more exploitable sub plots, Jaime becomes infatuated with his babysitter who is awestruck by his statements of sexual enlightenment. Eventually she desires his little ten year old body while her of age boyfriend becomes understandably incensed. If it weren't for this borderline sexual deviancy and calculatingly sinister behavior on the part of Jaime, this movie would have nothing to offer. The films plot wants to be of the 'killer kid' sub genre, but can't make up its mind when so many other peculiar plot strands are thrown at the screen all of which ultimately render the films title a misnomer for much of the running time. Essentially both Jacoby's and Klein's characters are "Rivals" for Hackett's affection, but like the half dozen extra sub plots, the film is like a storm at sea cerebrally rising to the occasion before sinking back down into hackneyed waters.

Horror fans will recognize Scott Jacoby from the popular 'TV Movie Terror' of BAD RONALD (1974) and the taut thriller THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE (1976), a film that treads some lines of decency regarding young people with what looks like an underage, and in one scene, a very naked Jodie Foster. Jacoby is consistently good in RIVALS if nothing else really is. The ending delivers a cruel twist of fate and if the rest of the movie had a lot more punch, than RIVALS would likely have been something well worth revisiting as opposed to a bewildering oddity that never left the playground.

This review is representative of the Code Red DVD


Shaun Anderson [The Celluloid Highway] said...

This sounds like an intriguing obscurity. Another one from Code Red I see. Thanks to you Brian I have an ever increasing shopping list of DVD''re going to cost me a fortune! I've added RIVALS to it...a great review!

venoms5 said...

Thanks, Shaun. RIVALS is a thoroughly irritating movie in terms of figuring out what it's supposed to be or what Shah's intentions were here. It played much better on the second viewing, but my opinion didn't change at all. It's worth seeing for its balls out weirdness.

A shame CR didn't have enough faith in it to do any extras, much less a menu for this one. The trailer for FAMILY HONOR, a movie they've been teasing for a few years now, starts automatically, then the RIVALS film. When it ends, the RIVALS trailer plays and then a few additional trailers.

I'm honestly surprised CR is still in business considering the obscure nature of so many of their movies and according to them, their discs move relatively few units. Which is a shame, because they do have some genuinely fun movies in their catalog. I should have reviews for WORKING GIRLS (See Elvira naked!) and NIGHTMARE coming up this week.

Samuel Wilson said...

Hadn't heard of this one. Seems like a lot of filmmakers liked to include street theater in films from this time to give them a semblance of authenticity and relevance -- Billy Jack comes to mind. You make Code Red sound like an admirable venture; I suspect they ought to be grateful to you.

Shaun Anderson [The Celluloid Highway] said...

Yes I've heard mixed notices about Code Red. The problem for me is that I'd have to import the discs, which means I'd probably end up spending twice what you do for them in the US. On the Amazon Marketplace here in the UK, they tend to sell for around £9-12 including P+P. This is a lot I think for unproven obscurities I haven't heard of. However I do look forward to your review of NIGHTMARE. It's a film with few redeeming qualities, but I'm sure you'll find some.

venoms5 said...

@ Sam: I enjoy purchasing many of their discs whether I've seen them or not as they are really taking a chance by releasing some truly obscure movies. I also like how they utilize original poster artwork for their discs. They are a strange company at the same time, though. They've gotten a lot of flack for things of minor importance as well as obvious things. Some they've brought on themselves, but it's no doubt difficult to satisfy any fan of rare or niche movies especially if they are uninvolved in securing said films for release and all the process entailed in releasing them.

@ Shaun: I've seen NIGHTMARE a few times on videotape. The first time was from Continental in one of those glossy big boxes and again under a fake title called BLOOD SPLASH which had this big sticker on the back hyping Tom Savini's involvement in the picture. The new DVD is supposed to put to rest what he really did on this movie.

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