From early horror and obscure thrillers to Razzie worthy bads and maligned comedy, these peculiar films peppering Sharon Stone’s repertoire remain surprisingly entertaining viewing despite their flaws – or maybe because of them.
Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street) directs Ernest Borgnine (McHale’s Navy) and the debuting Sharon Stone in this 1981 rural cult thriller that will be too stereotypical and country slow paced for some viewers. Fortunately, Peeping Tom angles, peering camera depths, blinding lights, red photography, and scary shadows provide the sinister afoot. Extreme religious implications, farm country isolation, creepy barns, and the backwoods lack of technology create fear. This is not for those afraid of snakes and spiders! Although the music accents the scares and suspense alongside some lovely character moments, innocence, and well done themes; the flat script leaves certain dramatic and supernatural elements unexplored. The pieces don’t all fit together as Borgnine’s stern and spooky looming and Stone’s very effective heebie jeebies don’t always mesh. The weird ending combines slasher and mystical scaries but the uneven girl power versus scream queens ends up as unfulfilling and out of place. Thankfully, there’s a very freaky bath tub scene and enough mystery and creepy atmosphere for fans of the cast and crew.
Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold
James Earl Jones (Coming to America) and Cassandra Peterson (Elvira: Mistress of the Dark) join the titular Richard Chamberlain and his lady love Stone in this 1987 sequel to King Solomon’s Mines based upon the H. Rider Haggard adventures. Unfortunately, snakes, chases, and gunfire can’t distract from the cringe worthy colonialism, white savior heroics, nondescript interwar setting, and eighties anachronisms of this cheap, rushed, turbulent production. Superfluous characters with terribly racist accents, poor dialogue, and weak backstory waste time when our arguing, no chemistry couple could have uncovered the gold pieces and Phoenician daggers themselves. The uneven first half hour can be skipped in favor of the lovely waterfalls, rainbows, sunsets, and lions, but the various terrains and picturesque views are just montages with a very thin script occasionally peppered by fun booby traps.
For every decent action moment, two more Temple of Doom knockoff sequences drag on, and the overplayed score forces the adventure on even when nothing is happening. This almost has to be seen to be believed, yet these mistakes have much in common with today’s franchise ad nauseam – strung together stories, shoddy action sequences, flat characterizations, and danger wrongly played for humor. Contrived perils are resolved easily through happenstance, and although he never has to reload, Quatermain’s only successful when using his gun. Overacting Stone’s Jesse is treated as capable sassy one minute then petulant and screaming the next, stomping her foot or clingy as needed. Peterson is also wasted as a non-speaking evil queen, and the evil priest slave labor a la Mola Ram goes on fifteen minutes too long with no rhyme or reason to the laughable gold weapons, thunder, yelling, and yes, golden showers.
Craft shears, elevator attacks, and red bearded culprits spell tension, repression, and paranoia for ingenue Stone, doctor Ronny Cox (Total Recall), and Steve Railsback (Lifeforce) twins in this 1991 thriller. The claustrophobic atmosphere is thick thanks to penetration symbolism, sleazy old men, and scissors as self-defense. Frenetic camerawork, distorted angles, and zoomed in details reflect Angie’s understandable fears amid seemingly kind men who nonetheless linger uncomfortably close in her personal space. Angie retreats to her pink apartment with a room for her creepy doll restorations – dressing the hip 26 year old in a little black dress one minute and childlike in white lace the next. She looks at herself nude but turns away from her piggy puppet toy watching her and avoids discussing her childhood in regression therapy. Our doctor applauds her strength, but we wonder about her background and the underlying male dominance controlling her psyche. An attempted romance with a soap star neighbor is stilted by his lecherous wheelchair bound brother, and their making out on her little white daybed is also weird – innocence mixed with steamy music, shadowed lighting schemes, peepers looking through the blinds, and our smiling piggy.
Angie is threatened again in a dark movie theater, running away in fear while men stare but don’t notice anything’s wrong. She hides in the dark with her dolls but is called to a stenographer job in an under construction building with a swanky sample apartment and elaborate machinations. Stone carries the suspenseful build in solo scenes – sans the corpse in the bedroom – as panoramic overhead spins and colorful lighting changes reflect Angie’s unraveling. Choice pans, carnival crescendos, duplicitous mirrors, and a voyeuristic camera follow Angie as she recoils before still silence while she bangs on the soundproof windows. It is however a mistake to break from the trapped isolation for obvious twin stunt double struggles and the old pencil rubbing on the notepad contrivances. The traumatic source is also apparent despite pointless red herrings and superfluous characters, and things get silly as her deprivation increases, descending into camp with the corpse at the doll tea party. The flashback probably shouldn’t be so laughable, but the turnabout topper embraces the preposterous psychological analysis.
Writer and Director Albert Brooks (Defending Your Life) is losing his edge screenwriter Steven Phillips and Sharon Stone is the muse who helps him finish his latest script in this 1999 Hollywood play within play farce. Everyone’s a fake stealing ideas, and studio executives admit to churning out repetitive bad action movies just to meet three picture deals. These snotty execs lied about liking Steven’s last picture and it’s not their problem if he depends on this next writing income to support his family. They suggest he take a vacay, go back to the smaller films they earlier claimed no one was buying or perhaps he try television. Clever one on one conversations laced with Hollywood mirror to nature remain relevant as Steven leaves Paramount before being denied at the Universal Studios gate and walking across the uphill backlot only to meet nepo hires who also never see the real Spielberg. No one’s telling Steven’s writer friend Jeff Bridges (The Big Lebowski) that he’s too old to write because he had a hit movie, and talk of writers having short lives or killing themselves hint at a deeper Hollywood darkness.
Our writer must accept this windfall with no questions asked, but always without a pen Steven also expects it easier, wanting Sarah to write his script for him. His wife Andie Macdowell (Groundhog Day) has to roll with the Tiffany gifts for his muse and put her family first, becoming slightly cliché with her own onscreen safe and domestic cookie business. Steven objects to the idea that Laura’s Cookies will support them when he’s turned out of his own bedroom and can’t finish his script before a deus ex machina oil strike idea from Sarah and one more everyone believes everything in Hollywood wink. At times, the tone here is flat, mirroring downtrodden writer Brooks instead of embracing the whimsy peppered by sardonic cameos from James Cameron, Martin Scorsese, and more. Fortunately, Stone’s whirlwind diva remains memorable thanks to her increasingly outrageous intrusions. Her funky hair style matches her shiny, feathered pajama frocks while folding fan exaggerations and snappy mannerisms hit home the creative hurricane. Is Sarah really an uplifting deity in disguise or a manipulative couch surfer faking it to make it? Wild errands for Spago salads, aquariums trips, and demanding the walls be painted a nicer color are all part of Steven’s inspirational experience, and this zany commentary deserves multiple viewings.
Cold Creek Manor
New York skylines, business flights, and scary accidents lead to a perilous country renovation for Dennis Quaid (Innerspace) and Sharon Stone in this 2003 thriller from director Mike Figgis (Leaving Las Vegas). High end style, brick manors, overgrown charm, and unusual slaughter tools forgive the cliché driving to the scares and redneck rest stops. Spiderwebs, children’s clothes left behind, vintage family portraits, and saucy Polaroids set off older phones that feel more rural rather than dated. Overhead camera angles, up close shots, in and out of focus usage, slow zooms, and pans in the stairwell provide eerie while intercut conversations build tension. Snakes, nasty old men, threatening dialogue, and tavern violence accent the backwoods car chases, animals in peril, and buried evidence as storms approach. Unfortunately, the trailer park naughty, shirtless handyman, foreclosure dilemmas, and mano y mano contests are weak, trying too hard alongside several unnecessary characters compromising what should be taut isolation. Nobody pays attention to the son with all the information or the real estate deal that would have saved everyone this trouble. Evasive editing doesn’t distract from the confusing logistics, affairs contrivances, and claims that the pretty rich white people have no other resources to leave. Although this tries to be a sophisticated, steamy, cerebral thriller and the quality pieces don’t quite come together before the weak rooftop standoff; the most frightening scenes are the quiet chills and this can be bemusing if you enjoy the house horrors.