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Film Review: A Stranger Is Watching (1982)

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SYNOPSIS:

A young girl (and her dad’s girlfriend) is kidnapped and held prisoner by a deranged man who killed her mother in front of her years earlier.

REVIEW:

I’d heard of this movie and remember seeing it in the video store back in the day but never took a chance on it because it just didn’t really look like it would be my cup of tea. I had totally forgotten that Sean S. Cunningham (of Friday the 13th fame) had directed it and can say after watching it that it is not his shining moment. I didn’t really enjoy this film and to be honest I thought that it was so boring I had a lot of trouble making it through all the way to the end but somehow I managed to do so. For a suspense/thriller it lacks any real suspense (or thrills for that matter) and I thought that it was just more dull than anything else despite some decent performances from the cast (especially on the part of Rip Torn who plays the kidnapper). I don’t know if I just wasn’t the right audience for it or what but it just didn’t really do anything for me and I expect that I will have forgotten all about it in a month’s time.

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I’ll admit that on paper the premise sounds somewhat intriguing but for some reason it just didn’t translate well to film. Based on Mary Higgins Clark’s novel of the same name (which is apparently quite popular with some readers) I just felt like the movie was missing something and instead of being exciting and suspenseful it was just boring and redundant as hell. I’ve never actually read the book so I don’t know how closely the film follows it but judging my what I just watched I really have no desire to ever read the novel. I don’t really know if fans of the book like the movie or if they hate it but if I had to guess I would probably say that it was most likely the latter. I nearly fell asleep a number of times as I was watching it and I don’t know if I would even consider it a suspense/thriller as it was more of a slow-paced drama that reminded me of one of the bad movies of the week that used to be on network television during my childhood back in the 80’s that my mom would sometimes watch when there was nothing else on. The writing and direction seemed really phoned in to me and I just can’t see a lot of people who love Cunningham’s other work being that impressed with this film as it just isn’t anything special.

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In addition to being mind-numbingly boring I also thought that it just dragged on way too long. Many of the scenes take place in the room where the little girl and her dad’s girlfriend are being held prisoner under Grand Central Station and they are all very similar. The scenes consist of the little girl freaking out, the girlfriend trying to calm her down, and then they make plans to try to escape while the kidnapper shows up from time-to-time to make random threats toward them. Of course there are a number of failed escape attempts thrown in the mix as well and it all just gets very old very fast as essentially the exact same scene plays out over and over again to the point that you know exactly what it going to happen before it occurs.  We also get a few redundant scenes involving the girl’s father trying to find her and the kidnapper’s interactions with random people as well but none of them are really anything amazing and seem thrown in there just to break up the monotony of having to watch the imprisoned females trying to escape over and over again. The film moves at a snail’s pace with very little action and even though it only runs for 90 minutes or so it seemed much longer than that to me. I think that a lot of these scenes could have been shortened-or even taken out completely-as they do very little in terms of making the movie remotely interesting.

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On the flip side I will admit that some of the performances were pretty good. Rip Torn does a great job as the kidnapper and I liked the fact that he is just some regular guy for the most part and not some unstoppable monster that is so evil and demented that he will do anything no matter how unspeakable or horrible it may be. Don’t get me wrong, he is a bad guy and does some bad things but he isn’t over the top evil and as a result comes off a bit more realistic than some other film villains. I also thought that Shawn von Schreiber did a good job as well as the kidnapped girl and you can’t help but feel bad for her at times, especially during the beginning when she witnesses her mother being brutally murdered. Kate Mulgrew does a decent job as the other kidnapped person as well and though I thought that the character came off as a little flat and needed more depth to make her a bit more realistic and likeable (though I don’t blame Mulgrew for this as she didn’t really have a whole lot to work with).

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If you don’t blink you will see the late, great William Hickey (who is one of my favorite actors of all time) in a very short scene where he interacts with Torn and if you ask me this bit was the highlight of the movie for me. While the script may be pretty lackluster at best and the movie itself is quite bad I don’t blame any of the actors for it as they all did good jobs and kept everything from being a complete waste of time for me.

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A Stranger is Watching (which is a very misleading title if you ask me as it makes it sound like it is a film about someone stalking someone else) just didn’t do it for me. I was bored basically the entire time I was watching it and couldn’t wait for it to just be over about twenty minutes into it. There wasn’t a lot about it that worked for me (I thought that the whole subplot with the man falsely accused of committing the mother’s murder that was waiting to be executed in 72 hours was pointless) and I think that the people behind it knew that it wasn’t a great film either (especially since it ends so abruptly as if the filmmakers just threw up their arms in frustration and were like “Okay, I’m done with this train wreck of a movie so let’s end it fast and move on to the next project” ). It just wasn’t for me but that doesn’t mean that you won’t enjoy it if you are into this type of movie. Check it out at your discretion but keep in mind you are most likely not going to enjoy it.

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