Tag Archive: Michael Beck


Chiller-poster-2-328x500Is this film available for rent on Netflix Watch Instant, the iTunes Store, or Amazon Prime? Chiller is only available for rent via Amazon Prime. I have also provided a link below where you can watch the entire film for free on Daily Motion.

Starring: Michael Beck, Beatrice Straight, & Paul Sorvino

Directed by: Wes Craven

Written by: J.D. Feigelson

Wes Craven’s Chiller reminds me of Stephen King’s short stories (as an aside, with the exception of The Stand, King’s short stories are better reads than his novels). Those stories typically have straightforward, simple plotlines that cut right to the chase without wasting any words. They don’t dwell on huge character backstories or veer off into the author’s political or philosophical views. These stories are essentially fun, cheap thrills. This pretty much describes Chiller and if you can get past the HUGELY shitty VHS transfer (it is so bad that in one scene you can hear on one of the soundtracks a sound feed that must have been picked up from another channel by whoever recorded the film), Chiller is a fun ride that is best enjoyed with a group of drunk (or high) friends sitting around with absolutely nothing to do on a Saturday evening.

When I first heard of Chiller, the first question to enter my mind was why a director with the presumably big clout that Wes Craven had (he had just released the popular A Nightmare on Elm Street the previous year) would opt to make a TV movie? I mean sure, there was some pretty rock-on shit that was made for TV back in the 80’s (Shogun, North and South, The Winds of War, Burning Bed), but once you have established yourself as a feature film director, you only go back to doing TV if your feature film career stalls out. However those who are familiar with Craven’s work will know that Craven didn’t hold himself above working in television. In fact, Craven has put out some pretty memorable stuff for television, such as the 1980’s version of The Twilight Zone and two other made-for-television films, Invitation to Hell and Summer of Fear.

For someone who didn’t enter the movie business until the late age of 33, Wes Craven has created quite a colorful filmography for himself. He has gone from making visceral 1970’s grindhouse movies like The Last House on the Left (Craven’s first film, which is still one of the most disturbing films I have ever seen) to 1980’s supernatural horror classics like A Nightmare on Elm Street to the post-modern 1990’s slasher film Scream. Craven’s best work tends to be those films that were made for a low budget. The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, Swamp Thing, A Nightmare on Elm Street. Now please don’t interpret “best” to mean that these films are actually good, award-deserving movies. Many of them are not, but they are the best that Wes Craven has put out and they provide, at most, the fun, cheap thrills that I attributed to Craven’s also-low-budget film, Chiller. Again, lest I lose my good-taste-in-film credentials, I really want to stress the fact that Chiller is by no means a good movie. Putting that aside, however, I had great fun watching over-the-top performances from Michael Beck, Beatrice Straight, and Paul Sorvino.

Chiller is about Miles Creighton (The Warriors and Xanadu’s Michael Beck), a young man who died 10 years ago. Refusing to accept the finality of his death, Miles’ mother (Poltergeist’s Beatrice Straight) has his body cryogenically frozen until such time medical technology can advance far enough to bring her son back to life. That time arrives when one night, Miles’ preservation unit malfunctions and Miles’ body begins to thaw out. Miles is rushed to the hospital, where doctors perform an operation that was not possible 10 years ago. The operation is a success and Miles returns back to the land of the living. However, although Miles is successfully resurrected in body, he comes back without a soul.

With Chiller, Wes Craven makes no bones about the fact that the pipe dream concept of cryogenically freezing your body for a later lease on life is creepy as hell. Aside from the fact that scientists have yet to bring back a person to life after cryogenically freezing their body, this controversial process poses very interesting questions for those who believe in an afterlife. Craven explores this idea in a scene where a priest (Goodfellas’ Paul Sorvino) questions how someone like Miles can be brought back to life when his soul has either gone to heaven or hell. The priest asks whether the soul can even be brought back to Earth to its host body and he concludes that it cannot – once the soul has left this world, it is gone forever. The film’s best dialogue exchange follows this scene, in which the priest finally confronts the true nature of Miles Creighton. Expecting to get a description of heaven or hell, he asks Miles what it was like being dead for 10 years. Miles replies that nothing happens when you die – its all just blackness. Michael Beck gives a wonderful delivery of that line and just as fun to watch is the priest’s shocked reaction to hearing that his faith in God may be a sham.

The character of Miles Creighton also represents Wes Craven’s swipe at the mantra of greed that defined Corporate America in the 1980’s. Upon Miles’ return to the living, he takes over his father’s company and immediately begins firing the old people, makes the women screw their way to the top, and cuts all corporate charitable contributions. Miles is a precursor to Gordon Gecko, who came onto the scene just two years after this film’s release.

Let’s face it – Michael Beck was never really a good actor. The only reason he became somewhat famous was due to the cult successes of The Warriors and Xanadu. Those films, in turn, became popular for reasons other than Michael Beck’s performance. I may be inciting the wrath of rabid cult fans of the films I just mentioned, but I would argue that Beck’s best career performance is in this made-for-TV movie. Sure, Beck’s performance is hammy and way over-the-top, but he is after all playing a man without a soul, which seems to be interpreted to mean people who are complete evil assholes. What helps sell the performance is Beck’s cold, calculating, yet handsome, look. In terms of looks, he is perfectly cast. With a movie like this, no one should be concerning themselves with plot holes, but there is one that I absolutely must point out: If Miles has no soul and is therefore, purely evil and uncaring toward his fellow man, then why does he have a soft spot (until the last scene) for his mother? Is Wes Craven trying to tell us that a child’s love for his mother can survive even without a soul?

Speaking of mothers, Beatrice Straight plays Miles’ mom. If you think you don’t know who Beatrice Straight is, then you are wrong. Beatrice Straight played the paranormal investigator in Poltergeist (she also won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in Network for a performance that is considered the shortest one to ever win an award) and she was one of the best things about that classic film. Straight’s style of acting is one that you don’t see in movies anymore and it harkens back to the acting style that was prevalent in Hollywood before the 1970’s. She, like Michael Beck, also plays up her character in a hammy manner and her character is not very well developed, but she is still a delight to watch.

It is difficult to imagine Paul Sorvino playing anything but a mobster, but he does a fine job as the concerned and reserved priest, who tries to convince Miles’ mother that her son is not the same man she once knew. I mentioned the scene between Miles and the priest, and that is the highlight of the film.

Chiller may not be something I would recommend to the discerning film snob. It does not have the signature Wes Craven gore and blood, it has a shitty VHS transfer, and it is low-budget in a bad, porno film way. However, Wes Craven offers up a straightforward tale that appeals to our very basest levels of entertainment and fun while also giving us a half-baked metaphysical discussion and a critique of 1980’s corporate America. I wish someone would put out a nice, pristine version of this movie with a Wes Craven commentary (like they did with Invitation to Hell).

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AI’m usually reluctant to watch a film that has been labeled as a “cult film” because many of these films tend to have been critically derided box office bombs that were subsequently rediscovered by hipster or nerdy college students with questionable taste in film. I obviously generalize because there are quite a few quality gems that are considered to be cult films. However, if you look at any list of cult films on the internet, the bad tend to overtake the good (PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, PINK FLAMINGOES, RE-ANIMATOR, SHOWGIRLS, TROLL, and THE WICKER MAN). Another issue I have with watching certain older films is that unless you saw the film around the time it was released, you will not get the same enjoyment from watching the film now for the first time. THE GOONIES is a perfect example of this. A childhood favorite of mine, I have stopped recommending this film to my friends because anyone who watches it now for the first time comes away feeling disappointed.

With these reservations in mind, I recently saw Walter Hill’s 1970’s cult classic about New York City street gangs, THE WARRIORS. Based on Sol Yurick’s novel of the same name, THE WARRIORS is set in an unspecified future that except for explicitly being told we’re in the future, nothing in the film points to an indication that we are actually in the future. I think the only reason the story is set in the future is so that we can more easily believe NYC has been almost overrun by street gangs and to explain the lack of normal citizens walking around a very busy city. Cyrus (Roger Hill), the leader of a very prominent gang, calls for a meeting of the representatives of all the city’s gangs, including the titular gang, The Warriors. At the meeting, Cyrus calls for unity and peace among the gangs and a pooling of resources to take over the city. However, Cyrus is suddenly shot dead by Luther (David Patrick Kelly), leader of the Rogues. No one except for a member of the Warriors sees Luther commit the murder and in the chaos that ensues from the shooting and the subsequent appearance of the police, the Warriors end up being blamed for the murder. Consequently, the Warriors find themselves on the run, being chased by every gang member looking to have their head as they try to head back to their Coney Island turf.

I was born in 1975 in a different country so I was too young to know what 70’s American gang culture was like. However, I suspect gangs had more white people in them (hell, my former Bible teacher in junior high was an ex-gang member and he was as white as Casper) and they all seemed big on adopting cool names with logos patched onto denim and leather jackets. My point: Don’t go into this film expecting a hard-core, violent view of modern thug life. THE WARRIORS fits more along the lines of a grittier version of WEST SIDE STORY but without the music. In fact, if you grew up reading comic books in the 1980s like I did, these gangs might seem a little familiar to you in their manner of dress, lingo, and diverse ethnic look.

Upon its theatrical release in 1979, THE WARRIORS generated some controversy. Following a few incidents of vandalism and three killings involving moviegoers going to and from showings of the movie, Paramount Studios removed all of its advertising for the film and theaters were forced to hire security. The film was also criticized for capitalizing on rampant crime in New York City due to widespread poverty in the city’s ghettos and a horrible economy that prompted the city to request a federal bailout (which President Ford denied). Watching it now, you will be shocked that this film was the focus of such controversy. Compared to later gang movies such as BOYZ IN THE HOOD, MENACE II SOCIETY, and even COLORS, THE WARRIORS is tame. The characters are not very menacing in the sense that you see them attack innocent bystanders, rape a bunch of women, or otherwise act in a cold-hearted, callous manner that today’s gangsters presumably exhibit. In other words, I didn’t see what the big deal was as to why it would cause any alarms. At worst, THE WARRIORS may engender disillusioned youth to go out and start up a gang, but given the banality of the characters and a surprising lack of action in the film, I can’t imagine the average young moviegoer in 1979 to feel inspired enough by this film to take such action.

The director, Walter Hill, originally envisioned THE WARRIORS as a comic book-style film where the adventures of the gang were divided into chapters and each chapter would be introduced with a splash page. Due to the film’s low budget and tight schedule, Hill was unable to realize this goal. However, when the DVD of the film came out, Hill was finally able to insert the comic book splash pages as he originally intended. Even without the splash pages, THE WARRIORS continues to come off as a stylized, campy adventure of a couple of gang members who are reminiscent of a superhero group (like a superhero, each gang member has a fictitious name). The rival gangs the Warriors face each have a name and each gang has its own costume. And of course, THE WARRIORS takes place in New York City, the birthplace of DC and Marvel and where most of our classic comic book heroes reside.

In addition to its comic book influence, shades of the western genre can also be heavily seen in THE WARRIORS. Walter Hill is a big Western fan and before he signed on to direct THE WARRIORS, he was looking to direct a Western. THE WARRIORS is arguably even more comparable to a Western than a comic book. Street gangs have been likened to being the modern day version of the cowboy posse with city neighborhoods as their turfs instead of dusty towns. In THE WARRIORS, our protagonists must trespass across different gang turfs to get safely to their own turf. In the process, the gang is forced to face the gang posse that controls the turf. Also similar to Westerns, the good guys (The Warriors) and the bad guys (The Rogues) end up in a final showdown by the film’s conclusion. In Westerns, there is a code of honor upheld by the good guys and you see that to a certain extent in The Warriors as the gang sticks together come hell or high water.

As you can probably tell, there are elements of THE WARRIORS that I admire, but overall I was left unsatisfied and wanting more. To those who like the film, they call it campy. Those who don’t like the film call it crap. I waver somewhere in between because as much as I enjoyed its place in film history and pop culture, THE WARRIORS itself does not ultimately amount to very much. The most difficult thing to get past in this film is the poor dialogue and performances from the actors. Aside from hearing its famous one-liners (“Waaaaariors, come out to plaaaay” and “Can you dig it?”), the quality of the dialogue is on the same level of what you would find in a video game. I couldn’t tell whether the actors had no talent or were not directed well, but their delivery of poorly written lines is so woodenly stilted that any chance of making a connection with any character is immediately dashed the second any character opens his mouth.

Fans of THE WARRIORS might counter that STAR WARS also had shitty dialogue and look how great that movie was. True, but STAR WARS had Harrison Ford, it had a great story, and it had a lot of action. For an action movie set in the mean streets of New York City, one would expect a ton of action to take place, right? Instead, the protagonists spend an excessive amount of time simply running from one turf to another with a few occasional run-ins with cops and rival gangs. And even when we are treated to a fight sequence, the fight choreography is a mix of old STAR TREK fight moves and Michael Jackson’s BEAT IT video.

As for the story, in a classic case of mistaken identity, a gang leader gets shot, the murder is wrongfully blamed on our protagonists, our protagonists are on the run, our protagonists are eventually cleared of the murder. THE WARRIORS has a simple story whose simplicity I appreciate. I wasn’t looking for a complex plot of double-dealings and different types of interactions between various gangs. The linear story fits the primal, singular motivations of street gangs. Walter Hill also makes up for the film’s simplicity with outrageous costumes, garish art design, gritty locales, a fantastic music score by Barry de Vorzon, and a distinguished soundtrack with tracks by Joe Walsh and Mandrill. Hill eschews portraying a realistic version of street gangs and instead opts for a fantasy portrayal of this lifestyle.

Ultimately, I was conflicted by how I felt about THE WARRIORS. Its legacy and popularity has so affected my perception of the film that its difficult to dismiss the film outright as being crap. At the same time, I’m not one to gravitate toward campy fare and the film’s weaknesses are many times too much to overlook. I will probably need to see this a second time to fully absorb all of the film’s elements and finally make a definitive conclusion of THE WARRIORS.