Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Blackout (1978) review


Jim Mitchum (Dan Evans), Robert Carradine (Christie), Belinda Montgomery (Annie Gallo), June Allyson (Mrs. Grant), Jean Pierre-Aumont (Henri Lee), Ray Milland (Richard Stafford), Don Granberry (Chico), Terry Haig (Eddy), Victor B. Tyler (Marcus)

Directed by Eddy Matalon

The Short Version: A modestly entertaining quasi-disaster thriller, BLACKOUT's major, if unlikely, selling point is the unpredictably terrifying performance of a pre-REVENGE OF THE NERDS Robert Carradine. A few grueling scenes of sadism and a wild and woolly gun battle n' car chase finale provide thrills for a film that could've used more of them. With that said, everything else in between drags when it needs to be frantically paced. Scenes of people working together in a crisis should provide stark contrast against the brutalism of the four killers, but these bits, too, are a letdown as they lack any emotional investment. BLACKOUT (debuting on blu-ray in its uncut version) flickers intermittently but manages just enough juice in its bulbs for a mildly satisfying 90 minutes.

A group of disparate criminals led by Christie, a psychotic political activist, escape police custody when the van transporting them crashes during a city-wide blackout. The quartet of crazies mingle among the looters before terrorizing and murdering occupants of a ritzy high rise apartment complex. Meanwhile, a lone cop stumbles upon the police van wreckage and traces the killers location in an attempt to stop them during the Blackout.

On July 13th, 1977, a series of lightning storms caused a near city-wide blackout in New York City that lasted 25 hours. In that time, thousands of stores were looted and dozens of buildings burned resulting in thousands of arrests.

Eddy Matalon's BLACKOUT is based on that grueling ordeal but only scratches the surface at capturing the chaos of that days-length of darkness and hysteria. Actually, Matalon has trouble keeping viewers riveted with far less time at just 90 minutes in what should've been an intense, gripping pseudo-disaster thriller. There's just enough set pieces to make BLACKOUT worthwhile, only not the 4-star suspenser the real-life occurrence demands of it.

The main source of electricity in the movie is the chilling performance of Robert Carradine as Christie, a domestic terrorist. The pre-REVENGE OF THE NERDS (1984) star played a few creeps in films like JACKSON COUNTY JAIL (1976) before essaying nicer guys in ORCA (1977) and the aforementioned NERDS series. In BLACKOUT, Carradine's character is despicable and made all the more horrifying in that the actor doesn't look threatening at all. For some, his slight stature might come off as an unbelievable presence for a main antagonist. In the place of an imposing physical presence, Carradine's character is charismatic yet calculatingly evil.

A mentally damaged man who feels society owes him something, Christie sees faults in virtually everyone who enjoys life. From what little the script reveals of his past, Christie would seem to take his deranged frustrations out on those he feels should suffer for his own poor life choices.

Easily becoming the leader of three other escapees, the quartet prefigure a similar gruesome foursome in Jack Sholder's cult horror favorite ALONE IN THE DARK (1982). Moreover, one of Matalon's crazies is a hulking strongman akin to Erland van Lidth's lumbering maniac of Sholder's movie. The most flagrantly psychotic of Christie's band is Chico, played in over-the-top fashion by Don Granberry, of DEATH WEEKEND (1976); a Canadian thriller where he acted in similar capacity.

Some of the attack scenes are filmed with little attempt at building suspense. Others, though, are more successful; such as the film's most harrowing moment when Christie delivers a speech about the uselessness of keeping the sick and weak alive after ransacking an elderly couple's apartment. The husband living his last days on a breathing machine, Christie calmly questions, "Who says he has to breathe?" In a scene that rivals a similar one in the underrated 1982 slasher VISITING HOURS, Christie pretends to let the couple live, but casually returns and shuts off the old man's life support.

Another strong moment is when the gang get inside the apartment of a kindly, lonely old man (played by Jean Pierre-Aumont); a magician whose best friend is his dog. Christie and Chico feign kindness to the elderly man, questioning him about his life. When he says something that reminds Christie of his father, they relish in the man's final moments as his dog whines while watching his master pass.

James Mitchum (son of Robert) is the opposite of electrifying in his unenthusiastic performance as the policeman who ends up combating the villains in the high rise. The script doesn't really give him a lot to do and what there is, Mitchum sleepwalks through much of it. When the film finally plugs itself into an outlet during the finale, you're reminded the movie has a protagonist after all.

Mitchum does get juiced up during the exciting finale where he and Carradine duel to the death in a remarkably energetic gun battle/car chase combo inside a parking garage. If only the rest of the movie harnessed the nitro of the ending sequence, BLACKOUT would have been a far more memorable thriller.

The actor is a much better showcase in movies like Albert Band's Italian western THE TRAMPLERS (1965); and MOONRUNNERS (1975), the inspiration for THE DUKES OF HAZZARD television series (1979-1985).

The Oscar winning actor Ray Milland is the biggest name in the cast. In BLACKOUT, he plays Richard Stafford, a man of wealth with an affinity for fine art. When Christie and his gang invade his apartment, he finds the way to torment Milland is not to harm his wife, but burn his art collection. 

Partial to up-scale Hollywood productions during his early years, Milland's later days had the occasional B efforts like THE THING WITH TWO HEADS (1972), FROGS (1972) and THE UNCANNY (1977); or even D efforts like THE SEA SERPENT in 1985. One of Milland's best is his starring role in Roger Corman's SciFi classic X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES (1963).

The movie itself might not be as engaging as it could be, but many of the principals behind the camera were involved in genre work that was in varying capacity. Director Eddy Matalon helmed the obscure 'possessed child' movie, CATHY'S CURSE (1977) prior to making BLACKOUT. It was his only horror feature.

Ivan Reitman, a name many will recognize, was an executive producer and, years before directing such high-profile comedies like MEATBALLS (1980), STRIPES (1981), GHOSTBUSTERS (1984) and TWINS (1988), directed or produced horror movies. Directing the quirky CANNIBAL GIRLS in 1973, Reitman later produced Cronenberg unpleasantries like SHIVERS (1975) and RABID (1977); as well as the underrated rape-revenge thriller, DEATH WEEKEND (1976).

Writer John Saxton pseudonymously penned the notorious ILSA, SHE-WOLF OF THE SS (1975); the overlong slasher thriller HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (1981); and the inventive cult thriller favorite CLASS OF 1984 (1982).

With exteriors shot in New York City, the bulk of BLACKOUT was filmed in Canada. The movie does manage to capture just enough of the NYC atmosphere of the day to make you forget you're watching a movie primarily lensed in Canada.

BLACKOUT struggles to keep the lights on, but manages to flicker to the end with some intermittent scenes of sadism and one amazing gun battle and car chase at the finale. If only other elements of the movie were as fully charged, BLACKOUT's status as an obscurity might not have kept the picture in the dark all these years since its release.

This review is representative of the Code Red blu-ray. Specs and Extras: New 2018 HD master of the uncut version; 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen; interview with Robert Carradine; audio commentary with actress Belinda J. Montgomery; trailer; running time: 01:31:50

Related Posts with Thumbnails


copyright 2013. All text is the property of and should not be reproduced in whole, or in part, without permission from the author. All images, unless otherwise noted, are the property of their respective copyright owners.