2019 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge: Day 25: Open House (1987)

DAY 25 Vanishing Cities: One with gentrification or real estate development as the setting, also known as a Slasher Month two-kills-with-one-swipe-of-the-blade-studded-plunger entry

You’re David Mickey Evans: A budding screenwriter that wants to break into the business with two, deeply personal screenplays—Radio Flyer (1990) and The Sandlot (1993)—that enrapture the innocence of your childhood and lifelong love of baseball.

Yeah, right kiddo. It’s time for a Hollyweird reality check.

You’re trying to “make your break” during the slasher ‘80s. And this is the movie business—the operative word being business—and La-La Land stands at the foot of Mount Lee to make money, kid. And they’re not here to give people the warm fuzzies about their lost childhood.

So you come to the realization you’ll have to write “for the marketplace,” which means you end up as a writer-for-hire on a WarGames (1983) knock-off. . . .

“Kids and computers, kid. Kids and computers. Smart-ass teen hackers and kiddie tech nerds sell tickets,” stogie-belches the studio fat cat as he perches his wing-tipped spats on his ostentatious oak desk. “But give me a My Science Project (1985) or The Manhattan Project (1986), kid; not a shit-storm Prime Risk (1985). And none of that personal childhood crap. You want to relive your baseball dreams, go play a pick-up game in Griffith Park and gander at The Hollywood Sign from afar. And I want action with those smart-ass remarks and no introspective statements about man losing his humanity to technology, either. Now get out of here, kid. I have a ‘nooner’ coming in, I mean, I’m casting a part.”

And the executive cheeses that script with a “design” for the poster of what becomes Terminal Entry (1987): Black-clad terrorist dudes superimposed-running across and attacking an IBM PC, complete with a Tom Cruise Risky Business-inspired smart ass wearing a chef’s hat in the background.

“Give me Risky Business with a computer, kid.”

But Terminal Entry worked out reasonably well on cable and home video, so you’re hired to complete uncredited re-writes on a sci-fi clunker, Class of 1999 (1990; sequel to the superior Class of 1984). Again, the end product wasn’t so great, but it did reasonably from a financial, if not critical, standpoint.

So now the wing-tipped fat cats are willing to take a look at those two “personal” screenplays. And you’ve become the toast of Hollywood as one of the highest paid screenwriters of the ‘90s, with sales of over $1 million for each script.

You gotta start somewhere as a screenwriter.

Yes. The million-dollar scribe behind two of the ‘90s highest paid, and most brilliant, fresh screenplays broke into the business with his screenwriting debut: a slasher script, Multiple Listings. And since were talking David Mickey Evans: I’ll roll the benefit-of-the-doubt dice and gamble his screenplay was once an intelligent statement on class struggle inspired by the literary classics The Grapes of Wrath, Great Expectations, and The Great Gatsby: a statement—with horror overtones—regarding the plight of the homeless and their harsh treatment against the materialistic, narcissistic ignorance of L.A’s high society. (A concept that is not that far off the mark of what 1974’s Homebodies—see my upcoming “Scarecrow Challenge Day 31” review—tried to accomplish, only regarding the plight of the elderly vs. real estate greed.)

And if Open House was lensed by John Carpenter and washed in a stylized Dario Argento giallo color palate or went the Umberto Lenzi trashy-scuzzy route of Nightmare Beach and Hitcher in the Dark (both 1989). And maybe if William Lustig of Maniac (1980) fame got a hold of Multiple Listings as a precursor to his home video slasher-classics Relentless and the Maniac Cop series. Maybe then we’d have a stylized-slasher romp that, like Maniac, left such a strong impression on the rental market, it’d be the subject of a remake, like Maniac (2012), and all of the 21st century Halloween inversions.

But alas: Your screenplay falls into the hands of Indian-American exploitation writer-director Jag Mundra. And it becomes his first American feature film résumé bullet in a long list of exploitive horror and erotic thrillers that he churned out for the U.S direct-to-video market: Hack-o-Lantern (1988; aka Halloween Night; ugh, you can’t fool us), The Jigsaw Murders (1990), and Night Eyes (1990; Andrew Stevens and Tanya Roberts—you see where that ditty is going). And Mundra’s soft-core pseudo-porn roster, tailor made for Showtime late-night cable viewing, goes on and on: Last Call, Legal Tender, Wild Cactus, Tropical Heat, Improper Conduct, Irresistible Impulse, etc.

Now Mundra’s propensity for exploitive, late night soft-core pseudo-porn is important to note: While his films had a profitable “niche” and met a market demand, they are none-the-less, poorly (over) lit, cinematographically-flat productions. Yeah, the quality of Mundra’s oeuvre is analogous the porn movies shot by John Howard; himself an innovator of injecting extended bondage scenes into erotic adult films featuring fleshed-out characters and extended out-of-the-norm-for-porn plots. (See Spine, Howard’s ‘80s SOV slasher; newly reviewed for B&S Movies’ “October 2019 Slasher Month,” coming soon.)

Granted, Open House isn’t exactly an SOV frolic, and it’s not a Howard-lensed erotic potboiler or a porn film—but yikes—it is damn close to it. And David Mickey Evans deserved better. And star Joseph Bottoms (The Black Hole, The Intruder Within)—who fell from winning a 1975 Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year and working with Meryl Streep in the Emmy Award-winning mini-series, Holocaust (1978)—deserved better. And Carpenter’s then ex-wife, Adrienne Barbeau (Creepshow, The Fog; used to full marketing advantage on Open House), deserved better. (According to interviews, she took the film to “pay the bills,” in this case, her son’s tuition fees; god knows what financial straits Joe was in that made him take this real estate slasher.)

I know. I know. R.D, you’re off-the-rails, again. The truth is: This is a case of where the pre-production history of the off-the rails celluloid madness that is Cobra, Tango & Cash, and D-Tox is more interesting than the actual movie itself.

Another truth: The only reason I rented this real estate stinker is because it was set inside a radio station and, because of my career choice, I’m obsessed with radio station depictions in cinema. And I am a stuck up snob in regards to the inaccurate technical depictions of radio stations in film. And outside of A Matter of Degrees, FM, and Outside Ozona (which aren’t technically perfect themselves), most of those radio flicks are epic fails. (Eric Bogosian’s Talk Radio (1988) and Kevin Costner’s The Upside of Anger (2005) are the exceptions to the rule.)

Thankfully, Sam B’s talk radio psychologist, Dr. David Kelley, unlike most movie jocks, wears a set of headphones when he opens a microphone—and doesn’t pick up an actual phone to take on-air calls (it creates a “feedback” loop that’ll squeal-your-ears-to-bleed). It seems the production benefited from some free technical advice, courtesy of the staff of KRTH 101.1 “K-Earth 101” Los Angeles that rented out a spare studio to the shoot—so Open House has its realistic studio depictions going for it. But that technical accuracy isn’t enough to overlook the film’s porno-rate acting. It’s bad. Like pick-an-SOV ‘80s horror film, bad. Like Blood Cult inept. Like Spine awful.

Uh, plot please, R.D?

So, Los Angeles, instead of being plagued by Lawrence Aston’s (of Spine) nurse-hating spine-ripper behind “The Linda Murders,” we have a faceless, scruffy hulk-of-a-homeless man, dubbed “The Open House Killer,” who likes to chow down at the to-be crime scenes on a can of dog food (he leaves the can as a “calling card”) before he gives the agents a taste of his razor blade-adorned plunger-to-the-face. But he’s not against changing up his M.O with an electrocution, a hanging, an axe decapitation, and a good ‘ol fashioned neck snap by bare hand (each utterly lacking in suspense or shock).

And what’s Ms. Barbeau have to do with all of this? She runs the real estate office supplying the bodies—and the “kill list” via a real estate listing callously dumped into the back alley trash. And Harry the Homeless (Darwyn Swalve, who’s actually very good here; he went toe-to-toe with Paco Querak! as Anatola Blanco in Hands of Steel!) calls his kills into Dr. Dave’s show, “Survival Line,” on KDRX radio because Barbeau is Dr. Dave’s squeeze. (Hey, Snake is the one who called her a “squeeze,” first.)

“I got something to say. I want to make a statement, man,” smacks the dog food-caked lips of Harry the Homeless slasher, he of the razor blade-adorned plunger.

Not in this movie, Harry. Not in this movie. Alas, you’re not a slasher-champion for social injustice, a la Tom Joad, Pip Pirrip, or Nick Carraway. And your statement is that, while you were an intriguing David Mickey Evans-penned antagonist-cum-protagonist on paper, you ended up being just another misunderstood, Grade-Z slasher.

Welcome to the house of tedium that you’re dying to get out of. Close the door on this open house. Watch the full film at your own peril.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S Movies.

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