Ladies and gents, my second list for Man, I Love Films, won’t stick to the indie world. Today, it’s killers revealed over the last 20-30 mins of a movie. I hope it’s at least as fun as my first list offering. Let’s get to it, but please keep in mind that this entry is necessarily spoiler-laden. Just skip past any title that you haven’t seen…
The Usual Suspects
Well, there was no way not to mention this film in my list. Throughout the running time of the Bryan Singer-directed, Christopher McQuarrie-written noir story, we are constantly told that the identity of Kaiser Soze is unknown. But the story is so smoothly and expertly-recited by Kevin Spacey’s Verbal Kent, it becomes all too easy to accept his version as the factual account of the movie’s events. When the audience witnesses the likeliest villain committing the violent act that opens the film, we’re sold hook, line, and sinker. But the joke, ultimately, is on us.
Is a fun little movie from 1995 that I was lucky enough to see straight away. From the get-go, tension is created because we watch an American movie crew as they film on the cheap in Russia. The lead is a mute woman who works in the makeup department, and we are left as speechless as she is when we see a porn film seemingly turn into a snuff picture.
As the threats increase and the danger gets all the more torturous, we shift back and forth from the fleeing-yet-silent protagonist to the peripheral characters who are caught up in these events. But one of the most chilling moments comes when we see a fancy old car pull up before the studio lot, and Alec Guinness’s friendly voice talks in the most chilling fashion, with no apparent care over life or death.
The Man With Two Brains
Back in the early 1980’s, Steve Martin could do almost no wrong, barring Pennies From Heaven. But the real twistiness, for the purposes of this list, come from the multiple plot contrivances that pile up during this seminal comedy.
For one thing, we have Kathleen Turner’s black widow-figure, who we see commit murder in the very opening of the picture. Then we’re off to Switzerland for an ill-begotten honeymoon, wherein we learn that David Warner’s mad scientist is conducting the most immoral of Frankenstein-esque experiments. And then we have Steve Martin, who is being driven by a strong psychic connection – and his own wife’s salaciousness – to consider killing so that his dream girl/brain can inhabit a new body.
It’s only towards the very end that we learn that a Swiss murder-spree that’s been on the periphery the whole time is being carried out by one of the friendliest faces on TV – Merv Griffin.
Actually, this is a last-act killer anti-reveal, as we learn that Mother didn’t kill anybody; this lousy parent still should find the blame (most likely) resting with her, regardless. Anybody that’s expecting Momma to get her big reveal – and has seen some ’80’s horror films – is awaiting the big moment when she walks in and makes everything worse. To quote 80’s slang: psyche!
M. Night Shyamalan’s second film was very divisive for viewers. Not only was his popularity quite high – and his penchant for “HEY, IT’S A TWIST” endings unfamiliar – but the topic of the story was bound to be polarizing. I always thought the dividing line with this movie was whether the film-goer was the kind of person who did (or could have) read comic books. After all, this story is patterned off of the type of tales told in graphic novels.
More importantly, a lot of Unbreakable‘s tropes are firmly-rooted in comic book lore. A down-trodden do-gooder with personal secrets. A world that undervalues the protagonist. A fractured home life. These are all staples of graphic novels, but Unbreakable abruptly shifts – pulling a receptive observer with it – from telling the story of how someone deals with being abnormally powerful to actually being about a flawed insane person who is seeking out their life’s greatest challenge. Instead of just finding out how a hero becomes a hero, Unbreakable shows us how a villain becomes a villain. (flawed-and-belated kudos, Mr. Shyamalan!)
Color of Night
I cannot express how much affection I have for Bruce Willis’ only skinemax-ready film – but I’ve already done exactly that on my own time. This story is about a New York psychologist who is emotionally-crippled – and left color-blind! – after a client commits suicide before his very eyes. Having escaped his worries with an extended trip to LA, Bruce’s Bill Capa must find out which member of a therapy group is capable of murder. Despite all his professional skills, this man is as unprepared as the audience is to learn where the real danger lies. Fun fact: I will one day karaoke the titular theme song by Lauren Christy.
Well, actually, we get three last-act killer reveals in this picture. The first time out, we learn that one person was responsible for all the deaths that the cast have been trying to resolve since 20 minutes into the movie. The second time, we learn that another individual did it all. But, in my personal favorite sequence, the third ending shows that an independently-operating group was responsible for all this death, Agatha Chrystie-style.
Throughout most of this dark picture – the supposed modern father of our current “torture porn” problem – we are led to believe that multiple people are being targeted, a la Se7en, by an extremely insane, yet moral, killer. Although many people, including my two theater companions, found the acting to be melodramatic and laughable, the final reveal feels like we’ve had an anvil dropped onto our feet. Stunned, shocked, and pained, we witness the closing moments of a movie that should never have had any sequels…
Dressed to Kill
This quintessential Brian De Palma film is a bigtime flashback in a lot of ways. We see Michael Caine in his 40s, Nancy Allen when it looked like she might become a star, and the graffiti-laden, hyper-dangerous 1980 NYC transit system before Bernie Goetz committed manslaughter/self-defense.
This story, and its climax, is all the more jarring for its subject matter: a New York call girl bares her secrets before a therapist, then finds that the people around her are being maniacally slaughtered. As the prostitute herself keeps running into extreme danger, she relies on her trusty shrink to uncover the hidden details that might unlock the crimes going on. Little does she know that the threat might be coming from a frighteningly-close – and horribly-disturbed – source. DtK is almost John Carpenter’s Halloween, but about city-dwelling adults.
This fine 1991 film is a throwback, in many ways. For one thing, it’s a noir that follows an imperfect detective as he tries to unspool the events behind a decades-old murder and its weird connection to current events. For another, it was filmed when Emma Thompson and Richard Branagh were happily-married and single-handedly creating most every Shakespearean reproduction or Merchant/Ivory picture. The acting, dialogue, and cinematography are all superb. And I even loved Robin Williams’ cameo as a disgraced psychiatrist who works in a supermarket.
But there is so much fun to be had with this twisty-yet-romantic tale, with its concept of hypnotic regression therapy, in addition to karmic reincarnation and “past lives.” It has even more meat to chew on by featuring a tracheotomy-sporting Andy Garcia, an amnesiac Thompson, and Branagh as a PI who’s both falling in love and trying to quit smoking. By the time we learn the real murderer is the role played by the esteemed Derek Jacobi, we’re already kicking ourselves for not having recalled I, Claudius, and guessing the killer’s identity immediately. Unless you’re my big brother, who did exactly that…
Remember, we here at Man, I Love Films don’t do definitive lists. We do our favorites and we want to hear yours. So, make sure and tell us about them in the comments section below.