“Willy’s Wonderland”

Toward the start of the film “Willy’s Wonderland” a no-name, mysterious loner’s car breaks down in an isolated town. The mystery man is portrayed by Oscar winner Nicolas Cage (Leaving Las Vegas). The damage to his car will cost $1,000. When Cage’s character attempts to pay by credit card, Jed (Chris Warner) the mechanic tells him that he only takes cash. Furthermore, there is no working ATM in the town, or for miles in any direction.

Jed might have an opportunity for the mystery man to get the money he needs for the repairs. ‘Willy’s, a family entertainment center that specialized in children’s birthday parties, has been closed for a long time. Once a successful business, after a number of accidents and deaths, the owner Ric (Tex Macadoo) shut the place down. The rumor is that the business’s seven animatronics, which include among them an alligator, gorilla, and turtle, were to blame for what had taken place.

The proposal Ric offers Cage’s character is as follows: If he agrees to clean Willy’s throughout the course of one evening, his car will be repaired. Unbeknownst to Cage’s character, other people have been given the same offer and not lived to see the next day. In fact Sheriff Lund (Beth Grant) informs her deputy Evan (David Sheftell) that they will not be answering any calls that may come from Willy’s that evening. The only problem with that is that the sheriff’s adopted daughter Liv (Emily Tosta) is on her way to Willy’s with her friends to burn the place down.

Cage’s character has been locked inside Willy’s. He is armed only with a supply of PUNCH energy drink, which he consumes on a timed schedule. Will he be able to survive the night? Are the rumors about the animatronics true? If so, how did they get that way? All of those questions and more will be answered by the film’s conclusion.

Trivia buff take note: The original title of the film was “Wally’s Wonderland.” The design for the alligator animatronic was inspired by the Russian cartoon “Cheburashka.” Despite rumors to the contrary, the film was not inspired by the 2014 video game “Five Nights at Freddy’s” which was created by video game developer Scott Cawthon. Nicolas Cage’s character does not speak a single word throughout the film.

“Willy’s Wonderland” was directed by Kevin Lewis (The Method). G.O. Parsons (Shark Week) wrote the screenplay. The film premiered in Brazil on February 12, 2021; the next day, it was released on the internet for worldwide streaming. Comprised of the genres of action, comedy, horror and thriller, the movie has a runtime of 88 minutes.

I was in the right mood for this kind of film when I sat down to watch it. This is the sort of movie that a viewer can sit back and get caught up in as it pertains to the over the top story and action. There is not much thinking that needs to be done and that’s fine for what the film is. Recommended for fans of Cage, those who like films that are a bit out there in terms of plot, as well as fans of the horror genre.  

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“Sidekicks” (1992)

Barry Gabrewski, played by Jonathan Brandis (SeaQuest 2032), is an asthmatic teenager. He is, for the most part, friendless, with the exception of Lauren, a role acted by Danica McKellar (The Wonder Years). She’s nice to him, but she draws the line at being his girlfriend. Barry lives with his father Jerry, a computer programmer, portrayed by three time Emmy winner Beau Bridges (The Second Civil War). He’s raising Barry alone ever since the untimely death of his wife, a decade prior to the start of the film.

Noreen Chan, played by Julia Nickson (Noble House), is Barry’s history teacher. She’s concerned because he frequently drifts off into elaborate dreams while in class. His fantasies always center on him being the heroic sidekick of his idol, martial artist champion Chuck Norris (Walker, Texas Ranger). (As an aside Norris holds a black belt in Tang Soo Do, Brazilian jiu jitsu and judo).

While Jerry is concerned about his son doing well in school, he also wants Barry to be able to defend himself against bullies. Randy Celini (John Buchanan), and his friends, constantly taunt Barry. They sometimes move past verbal put downs and get physical. Jerry agrees to pay for Barry to take karate lessons. The school they go to, run by Kelly Stone, played by two time Emmy nominee Joe Piscopo (Saturday Night Live), doesn’t work out. Stone has a terrible attitude and Barry and his father get a sense that he’s not much better than the bullies, several of whom take his classes.

Ms. Chan thinks she might have a solution to the problem. Her uncle, Mr. Lee, portrayed by Oscar nominee Mako (The Sand Pebbles), is coming to America to oversee her parent’s restaurant. He agrees to teach Barry. During their time together Mr. Lee not only teaches Barry Karate, but also how to be a more confident person, who believes in himself. (As an aside: Mako was considered for the role of Mr. Miagi in the “Karate Kid,” which was played by Oscar nominee Pat Morita).

Can Barry get good enough at karate to stop Randy and his friends from their harassment? Does he ever get to meet his hero Chuck Norris?

“Sidekicks” was directed by Aaron Norris (Top Dog). The screenplay was co-written by Lou Illar and Galen Thompson (The Hitman) based on a story written by Illar. The film premiered in Germany on December 17, 1992. Comprised of the genres of action, adventure, comedy, and drama, the movie has a runtime of 108 minutes. The soundtrack was composed by two time Emmy winner Alan Silvestri (Cosmos: A Space Odyssey). (As an aside: Aaron Norris is the brother of Chuck Norris, who agreed to take a role in the film as a favor to Aaron).

I watched the film a few times years earlier. I hadn’t seen it in a long time, prior to a couple of days ago. This is most definitely family entertainment. There is some violence throughout, but it’s presented in a way that’s not gratuitous and often times it comes across as comedic, purposely so. Overall entertaining, harmless fun, and getting Chuck Norris to participate in the film made all the difference, otherwise, it might have come and gone with little fanfare upon its initial release.

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“The Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness”

David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam, the .44 caliber killer, held the city of New York in gut wrenching fear from July 29, 1976 up until his capture on August 10, 1977. At the end of his reign of terror, six people were killed and another seven were injured. Avoiding trial, Berkowitz, who has been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, pled guilty to second degree murder, attempted murder and assault. On June 12, 1978, he was sentenced to six 25-years-to-life sentences. The Omega task force, that had been assigned to bring him to justice, had gotten the heinous killer off of the streets. While the series never asserts that Berkowitz wasn’t responsible for death and mayhem, it posits the idea that perhaps there were others involved in the shootings. (As an aside: Prior to the shootings, Berkowitz was responsible for two stabbings. The first of which, that of fifteen year old, Michelle Forbes, took place on December 25, 1975).

The man responsible for raising the idea of others being involved in the murders was an award winning investigative journalist by the name of Maury Terry. His book, “The Ultimate Evil,” which detailed his painstaking investigation, was published by Doubleday Books on January 1, 1987. Throughout its 512 pages numerous assertions are made that the Son of Sam killings, while involving Berkowitz, were actually the work of a satanic cult.

In brief, at the time of his arrest, David Berkowitz was a twenty-four year old postal worker. According to the newspaper and broadcast stories, during the months that preceded his capture, he seemed to be targeting young women with long brown hair. This prompted women with that hair color, to cut it short, dye it blonde or purchase a wig. Furthermore, because of the randomness of the shootings, people starred refraining from going out at night. It’s been well documented that Berkowitz claimed that he got his orders to kill from his neighbor Sam Carr’s black Labrador retriever, Harvey, who he felt was possessed by a demon. Berkowitz has in the intervening years recanted that claim.

From the start, Maury Terry felt there was more to the story. He believed that the police rushed to judgment, because with Berkowitz behind bars, it allowed a city on edge to breathe a collective sigh of relief. Terry’s first suspicion that something wasn’t right stemmed from the eyewitness sketches. Each one of them was different and none of them resembled Berkowitz. From there, as previously stated, Terry spent countless hours following every lead, interviewing whomever he could, and documenting his every move.

Those interviewed throughout the series include, but are not limited to, the following: Members of law enforcement such as NYPD Ret. Lead Detective Joseph Borrelli, who was a leader on the Omega task force; Kevin Murphy, a retired detective who worked for the Yonkers police department. Yonkers is where Berkowitz was living when he committed his crimes and where Terry began his investigation into the satanic cult; Fellow journalist, producer and writer Wayne Darwen, who was a believer in the validity of Terry’s work. For personal context into the type of person Terry was, his lifelong friend Charlie Ott speaks throughout the series, as well as Terry’s ex-wife, Georgina Byrne. Furthermore, Carl Denaro, a Son of Sam victim, backs up Terry’s theory by stating that the person who shot him, was not David Berkowitz.

“The Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness” was directed by Joshua Zeman (Cropsey). The four episodes are narrated by Emmy winner Paul Giamatti (John Adams). The documentary series contains the genres of crime, horror, and mystery. Each of the four episodes that comprise the series are approximately one hour. Netflix released the series for worldwide streaming on May 5, 2021.

For those interested in true crime, or even for those interested in mysteries, this should hold your interest. Terry presents a great deal of plausible evidence to prove his theories. So as not to be a spoiler, and give anything away, I will simply say that, viewers who stay with the series until the end of episode four will watch as one of Terry’s theories is proven to be true. This was an absorbing series that held my interest from start to finish.

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“The Legend of Billie Jean”

“The “Legend of Billie Jean” takes place in Texas. When the film opens it is a sweltering summer day in Corpus Christi. Siblings, Billie Jean, portrayed by Helen Slater (Supergirl), and Binx, played by three time Golden Globe nominee Christian Slater (Mr. Robot), are swimming. Moments later, Hubie (Barry Tubb) and his friends show up. They’re interested in Billie Jean. The feeling is not mutual. A bit later, when Billie Jean and Binx unintentionally encounter Hubie and his friends, while they are eating ice cream, Binx’s motor bike is taken. (As an aside: The film was Christian Slater’s first lead role. Furthermore, despite rumors to the contrary, Helen Slater and Christian Slater aren’t related).

The bike is eventually returned to Binx, but it is damaged. In an effort to keep her brother from doing something foolish, Billie Jean talks with Hubie’s father, Mr. Pyatt (Richard Bradford). He is amenable about paying for the damages his son has done to the bike. He asks Billie Jean to follow him upstairs to the room above the store he owns. Once there, he gives her some of the money, and lets her know she can earn the rest by spending time alone with him. Billie Jean isn’t accepting of his offer. A struggle ensues and Mr. Pyatt gets accidentally shot by his own gun which he keeps in the cash register.

Billie Jean and Binx return home, grab some things and go on the run. They are not alone; joining the siblings are Billie Jean’s friend Ophelia (Martha Gehman) and their precocious neighbor Putter, a role acted by Emmy winner Yeardley Smith (The Simpsons).

The teens are being pursued by law enforcement, led by Detective Ringwald, portrayed by Emmy winner Peter Coyote (The Roosevelts: An Intimate History). Putting pressure on Ringwald and his officers to bring a quick resolution to the situation is District Attorney Muldaur played by Oscar nominee Dean Stockwell (Married to the Mob). Since the shooting, Mr. Pyatt has been reaping the financial rewards of Billie Jean’s fugitive fame, while at the same time telling anyone who will listen, that he wants justice.

While on the run, Billie Jean is able to get the truth out to the public about what happened. She is able to do so, thanks to Lloyd, a technical wizard, played by actor turned director Keith Gordon (Homeland). Billie Jean becomes an instant folk hero.

“The Legend of Billie Jean” was directed by Matthew Robbins (Dragonslayer). The film was co-written by Emmy nominee Mark Rosenthal (Roots 2016) and three time Emmy nominee Lawrence Konner (The Sopranos). The first several drafts of the film were written by Oscar nominee Walter Bernstein (The Front), but he is not listed in the credits for the movie. Parts action, and drama, the film has a runtime of 96 minutes. The movie premiered in theaters in July of 1985. The original title of the film was “Fair is Fair,” the line is something that Billie Jean says during the film. “Invincible,” the theme song for the movie was performed by four time Grammy winner Pat Benatar (Love Is A Battlefield).

This film was on HBO five times a week, or so it seemed, when I was a teenager. I saw it a number of times, but hadn’t watched it in a little over a decade. I was reminded of the film a few weeks ago, but as of the writing of this post, when I went to look for it on Amazon Prime and Netflix, neither of them had the film for streaming. I wound up borrowing a DVD copy from a friend. Overall an entertaining film featuring a heroine at the heart of the story that’s easy to cheer for.

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Are You in the House Alone? (1978)

The tense and suspenseful “Are You in the House Alone?” begins with a trauma having taken place. Gail Osborne, portrayed by Golden Globe nominee Kathleen Beller (Promises in the Dark), has been attacked. The story of what happened to her is told via flashback.

From all outward appearances, Gail is a normal teenage girl living a good life. She does well in school. Her parents, Anne and Neil, played by two time Emmy winner Blythe Danner (Huff) and Oscar winner Tony Bill (The Sting), respectively, care about her well being. Gail is close with her best friend Allison, a role acted by four time Emmy nominee Robin Mattson (All My Children). She’s also been dating Steve (Scott Colomby), who seems like a nice guy. There is, however, a problem she’s dealing with.

Gail has been receiving harassing phone calls at her house. She’s also been receiving the same sort of calls at the home where she babysits. Furthermore, threatening notes have been left at her school locker. The viewer becomes aware that Gail is being stalked, but by whom? The list of suspects includes: her photography teacher Mr. Elden (Alan Fudge), who is very complimentary to her and takes a strong interest in her work; Gail’s ex-boyfriend E.K. (Randy Stumpf) who wasn’t happy with the way their relationship ended; and Phil, portrayed by two time Golden Globe nominee Dennis Quaid (Everybody’s All American). Phil also happens to be Allison’s boyfriend. Could the stalker turn out to be her new boyfriend Steve? (As an aside: Dennis Quaid turned down the role of Bob in Halloween because he was already contractually obligated to be in “Are You in the House Alone?” The part of Bob was played by John Michael Graham, who in “Halloween” (1978) was the love interest of Lynda, a role acted by P.J. Soles (Rock ‘n’ Roll High School). Quaid and Soles got married the same year. They had no children together and divorced in 1983).

Walter Grauman (Murder, She Wrote) directed “Are You in the House Alone?” The teleplay was written by Emmy winner Judith Parker (L.A. Law), based on the novel of the same name written by Richard Peck, which was published by Viking on October 1, 1976. The movie premiered on CBS (Columbia Broadcasting System) on September 20, 1978. Parts drama, horror, and thriller, it has a runtime of 96 minutes.

“Are You in the House Alone?” should keep viewers guessing for a good portion of the movie as to who Gail’s stalker is. The cast as a whole performs well in their respective roles. Being a television movie, there were limitations on what could be shown, so the movie relies on tension and suspense to advance the narrative and both are used well. As of the writing of this post, the movie can be seen on Amazon Prime.

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The Last Blockbuster

It’s the absolute last of its kind. What was once part of a company that numbered in the thousands, is now the last representative of a once thriving business. Located in Bend, Oregon on 211 NE Revere Avenue is the last Blockbuster. The video store is not just operating with older movies for rent, but includes the newest releases. If it’s an older film, however, that a customer is interested in, and it’s not part of the store’s inventory, the owner, Sandi Harding, will order it. Even if it’s only one person interested in watching the movie. (As an aside: Prior to the store in Bend being the last, three other Blockbusters in Fairbanks, Alaska and two stores in Anchorage, Alaska held out until July 16, 2018, before closing).

Harding is the self described Blockbuster mom. In addition to every member of her immediate family, through interviews, a viewer learns that she’s responsible for giving many of Bend’s teenagers their first job. While she is the first to admit that business is not what it once was, her store is still competing with Netflix, Amazon Prime, and the other various streaming services.

The film takes a viewer through Harding’s daily routine. Furthermore, it delves into the history of the video store business, beginning with the formation of mom and pop stores and the way Blockbuster was eventually able to put them out of business with relative ease. For example, when an independent video store bought a movie, it used to cost upwards of $100. If a store wanted to purchase several copies of a new release, the cost was exorbitant. Blockbuster cut a deal with the places that the films were sold from and set up a revenue sharing system, which mom and pop stores simply couldn’t afford to do. The film also explains the reasons for Blockbuster’s demise.

There are interviews throughout the documentary. They include, among others: Actor, writer, producer, and mega comic book enthusiast Kevin Smith (Clerks); Jamie Kennedy (Scream), who along with Emmy winner Jim Gaffigan and two other people, got his start in acting as a member of the Blockbuster Entertainment Squad. The group performed in commercials and did public appearances. For example, the opening of a new Blockbuster; Comedian and Emmy nominee Brian Posehn (Mr. Show with Bob and David); and former Blockbuster CFO Tom Casey. While most people who were interviewed talked positively about their memories of Blockbuster there was one dissenting voice. Lloyd Kaufman, who along with Michael Herz in 1974, founded Troma Entertainment, a low budget film company responsible for the Toxic Avenger series among others, he couldn’t stand Blockbuster. He didn’t like the organization because many of the stores refused to rent films produced by Troma.

“The Last Blockbuster” was directed by Taylor Morden (Pick It Up) and written by Zeke Kamm (The Powerpuff Girls). Emmy nominee Lauren Lapkus (The Earliest Show) narrates the film. The movie was released on Netflix on December 15, 2020. The documentary has an 86 minute runtime.

I viewed this film through a bit of a nostalgic lens. When I was in college, I began working at my local video store. I started as a clerk, and approximately a year before it went out of business, thanks to a Blockbuster that moved in down the street, I had worked my way up to manager. I remember opening up in the morning, and gathering the tapes that had been returned through the drop box over night. Walking into the store I would turn on the electric, check in returned tapes, make sure the shelves were neat and the candy was stocked. Was it glamorous work? No, of course not, but it was fun. I got to watch unlimited movies for free, and interact with film fans – all while getting paid.

For those of you who remember with fondness going to your local video store, this film should appeal to you. Those of you who were children or the parents of children who remember the experience that going to the video store entailed, such as searching the different genre sections for movies for yourself and one for your child or children, loading up on candy, popcorn and soda, this might be something you’ll enjoy. In closing, this is a film which doesn’t overstay its welcome and should make you smile at its outcome.

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“Risky Business” (1983)

In the film “Risky Business” three time Golden Globe winner Tom Cruise (Born on the Fourth of July) portrays Joel Goodsen. He is a well rounded, high school student. He has aspirations to go far in the business world and is a member of a club called the Future Enterprisers, which competes against students from other schools in a contest to see who can make the most profit from a homemade project.

At the beginning of the film, Joel’s father (Nicholas Pryor) and mother (Janet Carroll) are going away on a weeklong vacation. Before leaving, his father admonishes Joel not to drive his Porsche 928. Joel’s not insured to drive the car and he needs to stick to driving the family station wagon. Furthermore, his father reminds him that a representative from Princeton is coming Friday evening to interview Joel about possible admission to the school.

At first, with the exception of blasting his parent’s stereo system to the song “Old Time Rock N’ Roll” by Grammy winner Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band, while dancing around in his underwear, Joel doesn’t stray from the norm. The aforementioned scene, which has become iconic in popular culture, was improvised. The only direction Cruise was given was to dance to rock music.

Joel’s friend Barry, played by Emmy nominee Bronson Pinchot (Perfect Strangers) in his film debut, is one of Joel’s teammates in Future Enterprisers. He wants Joel to keep his thoughts focused on winning the competition. The character of Miles, acted in his film debut by Curtis Armstrong (Revenge of the Nerds), is more interested in Joel having fun, while ignoring the consequences. Miles tries to help Joel by hiring him an escort which winds up not working out. The escort, however provides Joel with a phone number for a different girl.

Lana, is a high end escort played by Rebecca De Mornay (The Slugger’s Wife). As soon as Joel sees her, he is immediately taken with her. She and the things she does with him, which for the most part is more implied than shown, becomes his fantasy come to life. The only downside is when, the next morning, she asks him for the three hundred dollars he owes her for the evening. Joel doesn’t have it. He tells her he will go to the bank and get it, but when he returns home, Lana is gone and so is a valuable crystal belonging to his mother.

Joel tracks Lana down. She lets him know that she is tired of working for her pimp Guido, portrayed by Emmy winner Joe Pantoliano (The Sopranos). Lana has an idea as to how they can make money. Joel, reluctant at first, is going to need to make some fast cash, thanks to having a mishap with the Porsche. Everything hinges on the success of a party he and Lana will throw at his house on Friday night. The same night that Mr. Rutherford, played by Emmy nominee Richard Masur (The Burning Bed), from Princeton is coming to interview Joel. (As an aside: Multiple Grammy and Oscar winner Frank Sinatra (From Here to Eternity) was considered for the part of Guido, but the filmmakers decided he wasn’t the right age for the part).

Will Joel, with Lana’s help, be able to get the money to fix the car? Can he throw the party, interview with Rutherford and avoid dealing with Guido all on the same evening?

Trivia buffs take note: While filming “The Outsiders,” Tom Cruise got the script for “Risky Business.” He asked Diane Lane, one of his co-stars in the film to audition for the part of Lana. Lane’s father, refused to allow the seventeen year old to audition for the role of an escort who would be naked on screen. Oscar winner Timothy Hutton (Ordinary People) was the first choice to play Joel. He turned the part down to work on five time Oscar nominee Sidney Lumet’s (Dog Day Afternoon) film “Daniel.” After Hutton passed, Cruise was one of many actors who were considered for the part. Included, but not limited to, other actors that were considered were: Two time Oscar winner Tom Hanks (Forest Gump); Oscar winner Nicholas Cage (Leaving Las Vegas); and two time Oscar winner Sean Penn (Mystic River). In fact, before Cruise was cast, actor Brian Backer (Fast Times at Ridgemont High) was cast as Joel. Oscar winner Kim Bassinger (L.A. Confidential) was offered, but passed on playing the part of Lana. The movie marked the film debut for two time Emmy winner Megan Mullally (Will & Grace).

“Risky Business” was written and directed by Paul Brickman (Uprising). The film was released in theaters in the United States on August 5, 1983. Comprised of the genres of comedy, crime, drama, and romance, the film has a runtime of 99 minutes. Music for the film was composed by seven time Grammy nominee Tangerine Dream (Tyranny of Beauty). Their music syncs up well with what is transpiring on screen and gives certain scenes a dream like quality.

The film is most definitely a product of its time. Certain scenarios, for example, Joel’s parents trying to get in touch with him from the airport while using a pay phone to call the house’s landline is not relatable these days. Firstly, I can’t remember the last time I saw a pay phone. Secondly, if the film were made today, Joel and his parents would all have cell phones. There are numerous other examples, which viewers will notice, that date the film, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. I would recommend it for fans of Cruise and De Mornay who’ve never seen the movie, or to those seeking a nostalgic 80s film, as well as viewers who are interested in a relatively harmless comedy.

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“To Catch a KIller” (1992)

“To Catch a Killer” begins with Mr. Miklovich (Peter Langley), a distraught father, who is in a Chicago police station reporting that his son is missing. The officer who is taking the father’s information seems thoroughly disinterested. He takes the form Miklovich has filled out and places it in a drawer. Mr. Miklovich, like several people in the miniseries, is based on a real person whose name has been changed. Miklovich has cause for concern. His son, like the sons, brothers, uncles and friends of over thirty families had the unfortunate luck of crossing paths with John Wayne Gacy.

For those who knew Gacy during the years 1972 through 1978, when he was engaged in his depraved acts of murder, he was considered many things. Gacy was a respected business man, who ran PDM, a successful contracting company. He was heavily involved in Democratic Party politics. Furthermore, he was viewed as an altruistic individual, someone who would dress up as a clown to entertain sick children in hospitals. (As an aside: Gacy, who was of Polish ethnicity called his clown persona POGO. The acronym stood for Polish and on the go).

Portraying Gacy is Golden Globe winner Brian Dennehy (Death of a Salesman). Dennehy completely embodies the role of the real life serial killer. His acting is superb, conveying more with a look and facial expressions than a great many actors could with an entire monologue. (As an aside: Gacy, who had a television in his cell, saw the miniseries. Afterward, he wrote Dennehy a letter stating his displeasure and proclaiming his innocence. Dennehy didn’t write him back).

After the opening scene, the series moves forward to Gacy talking to the owner of a pharmacy he’s doing work for. While engaging in small talk, Gacy’s attention becomes focused on Christoper Gant (Nicholas Shields). When Gant, who is saving up money to buy photographic equipment , hears that Gacy pays the guys who work for him double what he’s making at the store, he’s intrigued. He tells his mother (Judith Goodwin) that he’s going out to talk to a guy about a job. Hours later, Christopher has seemingly vanished. (As an aside: The character of Christopher Gant is based on Robert Piest, Gacy’s last known victim).

The next morning Christopher’s mother, father (Shawn Lawrence), and sister (Jaqueline Graham) go the police station to report he is missing. Their case is handed over to Detective Joe Kozenczak (Michael Riley). They relay to the detective that Christopher has never stayed out all night before. The fact that it was his mother’s birthday makes his absence even more puzzling. While talking with Kozenczak, the family mention Gacy’s name.

Without a shred of evidence, Kozenczak has a gut feeling after meeting Gacy, that something is off about a man many people consider a pillar of the community. He becomes relentless in his pursuit of Gacy and finding out what happened to Christopher Gant. Kozenczak sacrifices everything else in his life including his family: his wife Marcia (Lillane Clune), daughters Lisa (Sarah Gibney) and Debbie (Aviva Magner), as well as his son Michael (Toby Proctor). Kozenczak implores the district attorney (Meg Foster) to ask a judge for a search warrant to look through Gacy’s home. He asks his Chief (Michael Copeman) for more man power, which he is given in the person of Paxton (Scott Hylands) and his men, who are an elite investigative branch of the Des Plaines, Illinois Police Department. The detective even goes as far as consulting a psychic portrayed by Emmy winner Margot Kidder (R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour). Gacy is being kept under constant surveillance. Wherever he goes, the police are right there with him. Even at his lawyer’s office, which while under the law, they’re not allowed to enter, they sit and wait in the lobby. How long before Gacy cracks to the mounting pressure being placed on him?

“To Catch a Killer” was directed by Eric Till (Luther). The teleplay was written by Emmy nominee Jud Kinberg (Quincy M.E.). The miniseries premiered in Canada in January of 1992 on the CTV television network. Parts biography, crime, drama, and thriller, it has a runtime of 182 minutes. For those interested in learning more about the techniques utilized by Detective Kozenczak to bring Gacy to justice, he wrote a book, “The Chicago Killer: The Hunt for Serial Killer John Wayne Gacy.” The book, which he co-wrote with his wife, was published in November of 2003. For those interested in learning more about John Wayne Gacy, there are many books, magazine articles, films, and true crime television episodes about him.

The miniseries focuses on the police investigation and not Gacy’s vile actions. In the miniseries there are no specific scenes showing what Gacy did to his victims. There is, however, a standout scene where Dennehy is with a potential victim and takes things right to the edge of something truly awful happening. Dennehy, as stated earlier, is outstanding in his role. Riley, who played Kozenczak, is a bit underwhelming. I felt the actor lacked the intensity the role required. Overall, it is an absorbing miniseries that should appeal to those interested in true crime.

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“The Pit” (1981)

Jamie Benjamin (Sammy Snyders) is a twelve year old boy who seemingly can’t get a break. He’s bullied at school, his neighbors are not fond of him, his father (Richard Alden) professes he loves him, but is curt with him, and his mother (Laura Press) doesn’t know how to help him. In fairness to the aforementioned, Jamie has some quirks as the viewer will learn. Furthermore, his companions are his pet reptiles and his teddy bear, whom he refers to as Teddy. He talks to the bear as if it is a living thing and he still sleeps with it, even though the majority of children his age are past that phase of their lives.

The Benjamin’s have had trouble keeping a babysitter for Jamie. They seem to come and go with no explanation given as to why they can no longer sit for him. The latest babysitter is Sandy O’ Reilly (Jeannie Elias). She is a psychology student who considers it a good opportunity to work with a child like Jamie. She will do her best to give him every benefit of the doubt and attempt to be his friend. As soon as Jamie sees her he is taken with Sandy. Is it an innocent school boy crush that he develops, or is Jamie thinking perverted thoughts?

An example of Jamie’s problem making friends is his dealings with Abergail (Andrea Swartz). The young girl taunts Jamie and plays mean tricks on him. If she would just be his friend, perhaps it wouldn’t lead Jamie to take some of the actions that he does later on in the film. Abergail is the niece of Ms. Livingstone (Laura Hollingsworth), the local librarian. She is another older woman who Jamie has an unhealthy obsession with. One scene shows the lengths Jamie will go to invade her privacy.

Deep in the woods, on one of his outings, Jamie has discovered a pit. Inside of the pit are creatures called Trogs. They are vicious sharp fanged primates who eat meat. At first Jamie makes trips to the butcher shop and buys them food, but then his devious mind, thanks in part to his conversations with Teddy, thinks up a plan of revenge. The plan will both feed the creatures and get rid of those who’ve wronged him. (As an aside: The pit for the film took two weeks to build).

Does the pit really have man eating creatures, or is it nothing more than a large hole in the ground? Are the conversations Jamie has with Teddy real, or a byproduct of a disturbed imagination? How far will Jamie go to carry out his plan of revenge? All of those questions will be answered before the film’s conclusion.

“The Pit” was directed by Lew Lehman, who during his career was a cinematic jack of all trades; he acted, wrote, produced and directed. The screenplay was written by Ian. A. Stuart (The Highland Regiments of Canada). The film was based on the novel “Teddy” which Stuart co-wrote with John Gault. According to the authors, the book was more serious than the movie and took a much darker tone. The film premiered on October 23, 1981. Parts horror and mystery, the movie has a runtime of 96 minutes.

I had heard about this Canadian film for a long time, but up until recently had never watched it. I was able to watch it on Amazon Prime on the Shudder channel. The movie is the type where a viewer must suspend disbelief, in order to enjoy the film, and not get caught up questioning some scenes that are implausible, given the age of the main antagonist. Overall, I got a genuine kick out of the film and without giving anything away, I thought the ending wraps things up nicely, considering the film didn’t garner any sequels.

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“Afterburn” (1992)

“Afterburn” is a television movie based on a true story. The movie stars Oscar winner Laura Dern (Marriage Story). She portrays Janet Harduvel, wife of Air Force, F-16 fighter pilot Captain Ted Harduvel (Vincent Spano).The couple are raising a child, their daughter Kiki (Casey Friel). A short while into the movie, Captain Harduvel is sent to South Korea, much to Janet’s disappointment. (As an aside: Dern won a Golden Globe for her work on Afterburn).

While on a training maneuver, Ted crashes his plane and dies. The accident is ruled his error, but Janet can’t believe a pilot of Ted’s superior skill level would make the sort of mistake he’s accused of. She seeks more information from both the Air Force and General Dynamics, the company which makes the F-16, but she is unsatisfied with the responses she receives. Ted’s pilot friends, such as Casey ‘Z’ Zankowski played by Michael Rooker (Guardians of the Galaxy), implore Janet to drop the issue, but she’s steadfast when it comes to wanting to clear Ted’s name.

Janet seeks legal representation. She finds a lawyer, Leo Morrone, who specializes in aeronautics law. The part is played by Oscar nominee Robert Loggia (Jagged Edge). Morrone is hesitant at first to take on the case. He has successfully sued commercial airlines, but never a company associated with the military.

Further aiding Janet, in her efforts, is her sister Mary (Welker White). She also has help from an unlikely source, Dr. Carl Haller (Andy Romano), a career Air Force service member. Janet’s attempt to have the accident ruled a mechanical error is an arduous one. She encounters resistance with every move she makes. Collecting evidence and proving it in court will also be difficult. Representing General Dynamics is talented lawyer, Acton Ryder portrayed by Emmy winner and two time Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins (Olive Kitteridge).

Will Janet be able to clear Ted’s name? Was Captain Harduvel’s accident his fault? Did he die because of mechanical failure? All of those questions will be answered by the movie’s conclusion.

“Afterburn” was directed by Emmy nominee Robert Markowitz (Decoration Day). The teleplay was written by Elizabeth Chandler (The Red Tent). The movie premiered on HBO on May 30, 1992. The drama is 103 minutes in length.

The cast for the movie were uniformly excellent with Dern, Loggia, and Jenkins being the standouts. I had known about the movie for a long time, it used to be on HBO often. Up until recently I had only seen portions of it, but never from the beginning. The subject matter of the story held my interest from start to finish.

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