Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Dumb Waiter, The (1979)

Directed by:
Robert Bierman

Sally (Geraldine James) receives a creepy phone call one evening from a man who asks “Haven't you seen me following you?” and then tells her to “Look out for me while you're driving... I'll be right behind you.” Later, after she picks up her dry cleaning and is heading home, she notices a car following closely behind. She doesn't give it too much thought until the car starts threateningly flashing its lights and then she pretty much knows who it is. The car pulls ahead, cuts her off and stops. A man jumps out, rushes toward her, opens her door and tries to pull her out but she's able to drive off and get back to her apartment. Ah, safe at last. Still a bit shook up over the incident, she calls her boyfriend and asks him to come over as soon as he can. While she's taking a bath and getting herself ready for his visit, the black-gloved psycho stalker (John White) is busy trying to find a way inside her apartment. Luckily for him, Sally has the titular contraption inside that she uses to get rid of her trash. That's all she wrote plot-wise in this 17-minute British short but, in this particular case, that's all it really has to be. This also obviously has nothing to do with the famous Harold Pinter play of the same name.

A pretty good sign for something like this is if you'd like for it to go on longer than it actually does or if you can imagine what it would be like placed inside a full length movie and it gets the wheels turning about what the rest of the film would be like. This achieves that much and it really could have been a signature set piece within a feature or perhaps even the big finale to one. It's stylish, well-shot, has a great eerie synthesizer score from Colin Towns and provides some actual suspense and several good shocks, which is pretty impressive for the short running time. The ambiguous freeze frame ending may not be for all tastes, though.

The only glaring issue I had was that Sally never calls the cops. Even putting this in context to when it was made that's a hard swallow. In those pre-Internet / pre-cell phone days, it was cake to find the numbers / names / addresses of whoever you wanted just skimming through a phone book. Given the general anonymity of phones back then, it wasn't uncommon at all to receive the occasional call from a stranger saying they were going to do something horrible to you. You didn't call the police for something like that, you told the person to fuck off and then hung up on them. However, someone threatening you, telling you they know where you live and then actually physically coming for you after trying to run you off the road certainly was, is and always will be enough reason to get in touch with the cops! The fact Sally doesn't drive straight to the police station after the attempted attack, doesn't even call them when she gets home and doesn't even mention it to her boyfriend so he'll hurry his ass along is pretty silly.

Director Bierman went on to make the BAFTA nominated D.H. Lawrence adaptation The Rocking Horse Winner (1983), the CableACE Award-winning TV movie Apology (1986) and the very polarizing Nicholas Cage vehicle Vampire's Kiss (1988), which wasn't particularly well-received at the time but has since gone on to garner a cult following. After such an interesting start, it's kind of a shame to see he was relegated mostly to TV work after 1990. All that is currently available for this one is a poor copy that was recorded from a TV broadcast. Apparently it played in UK theaters as a warm up to Pink Floyd's The Wall (1982), which is... odd.

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