Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Vicious (1988)

... aka: To Make a Killing
... aka: Vicious!
... aka: Wild Boys

Directed by:
Karl Zwicky

Bright teenager Damon Kennedy (Tamblyn Lord), taking a break from school studies, is back home in the small oceanfront town of Harvest Bay with his parents. While the folks are away on a fishing trip, a trio of young thugs; Felix (John Godden), Benny (Kelly Dingwall) and ringleader Terry (Craig Pearce), break in and start to steal things until Damon disrupts them. They put the stuff back and leave amicably but bored Damon hops on his bike and follows their car to another home they're robbing. Police are called by a suspicious neighbor, the punks steal a woman's Jaguar and Damon ends up in the car with them as they go on a joyride. A "higher education" about the real world soon follows. There's beer, booze, smoking, foul-language, dangerous games (like car hood surfing) and sex when they pick up a pair of teenage girls; the slutty Claire ("Leather" / Ajay Rochester) and naive good girl Sondra (Tiffiny Dowe), prompting the following hilarious exchange between them: Sondra: “Do you have to do it with all of them?” Claire: “Well, they're mates. It would be easier if you took on two.” Sondra: “No way. They could have a disease.” Claire: “Well I've got a condom. Reckon they'd mind sharing?”

Despite having broken about half a dozen laws during their time together, the day ends without anyone really getting hurt (or arrested). However, Damon makes the mistake of cluing Terry in on just how wealthy Sondra's family is. Her father, Graham Price (John Clayton), is well-known in Australia as “The Kitchen King” and his line of modular kitchens have celebrity endorsements from the likes of Olivia Newton-John. The following day, Damon accompanies his parents, Brian (Gerard Maguire) and Diana (Joanna Lockwood), over to the Price household for dinner. Both sets of parents brag about their children's futures and compare test scores and talk about what their kids will be doing after school and what kind of jobs they'll be getting. The one good thing to come of it for the teens is that Damon and Sondra start seeing each other, though she's reluctant to sleep with him.

After Damon's parents take off for a few days, guess who decides to pay him a second visit late at night? Yep, the three dangerous punks he'd spent an afternoon with. They force him into their car, give him an amateur tattoo of a dollar sign on his arm and then drive off to the secluded Price mansion. Armed with a couple of rifles and a harpoon gun, the three break in, beat everyone unmercifully and kill the parents once they learn they don't have any money on them. Damon and Sondra are then dragged to a lake, where Terry tries to instigate a gang rape but Damon manages to get his hands on a gun and the two terrified teens flee into the night for a little cat-and-mouse through the woods. The rest of the film takes a few very interesting and unexpected turns best not revealed by me here.

Much to my surprise, Vicious was good on several fronts. At a base level, this is a taut, well-directed and sometimes ugly little suspense film with good performances, sharp writing and harrowing, bloody and rough-edged scenes of violence. However, there's a lot of subtext in here, too. The film is especially critical of parenting and the pressures parents put upon their children and how their good intentions can drive even the most well-bred, privileged adolescents to run wild and / or have self-destructive impulses. During the dinner party scene, the parents speak about their own children in clinical, statistical terms; completely oblivious to their thoughts, feelings, problems and insecurities, or what their real dreams may be. Damon's parents want him to get into Harvard and work in business or banking but the boy confides in Sondra that he'd secretly love to get a job pumping petrol simply to piss them off.

The three punks in the film are clearly meant to represent Damon's desire to rebel against parents who are trying to plan his entire life out for him. They introduce him to all of the things many parents probably fear (sex, drugs, rebellion, tattoos, independent thought!): anything that may tempt him off the golden path. It's the same reason rich girl Sondra is hanging out with a sleazy, promiscuous girl she has nothing in common with. For both Damon and Sondra, it's an opportunity to feel something and gives them a chance to escape from the constant chatter of college, money and test scores. The lengths these parents will go to make sure their plans for their children reach fruition is made quite evident toward the end of the film in how Damon's mother reacts to a certain situation. The intelligent script was co-written (along with the director) by P.J. Hogan, who'd go on find international success with the crossover hit Muriel's Wedding (1994).

Aussie producers Tom Broadbridge, David Hannay (who was actually born in New Zealand) and Charles Hannah decided to back four horror / exploitation films to sell on the video market, all of which ended up being shot in 1987. These were James Bogle's Kadaicha (released in many other markets as Stones of Death), Chris Roache's The 13th Floor and two from Karl Zwicky: Contagion (1987) and this one, which was filmed under the title To Make a Killing. To my knowledge, none of these played theatrically but all four received VHS releases here in America, mostly courtesy of SVS / Sony (13th Floor, reputedly the lesser of the four, was distributed by Prism). The production companies Medusa Communications and Premiere Film Marketing Limited were also responsible for Craig Lahiff's pretty good suspense TV movie Coda (1987 aka DEADLY POSSESSION or Haunted Symphony), and Brian Trenchard-Smith's Out of the Body (1989).

Despite giving a very promising performance here, star Pearce didn't have much of a film acting career and instead went on to co-write numerous Baz Luhrmann movies like Strictly Ballroom (1992) and Moulin Rouge! (2001). Ralph Cotterill (from HOWLING III) appears in just one scene at the very end. The budget was 640,000 AUD (around 450,000 U.S. dollars).

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