Sunday, September 24, 2006

STONE COLD DEAD on TMC

Andrée Cousineau as one of the tragic victims in STONE COLD DEAD.

To date, George Mendeluk's STONE COLD DEAD (1980) -- starring Richard Crenna and Paul Williams -- has only reached home video here in America as a standard, pan&scanned VHS release from Media Home Entertainment. With this in mind, some of you may be interested to learn that it aired on The Movie Channel last night in a brand new, letterboxed transfer. It is still a notable turn of events, sad to say, when a pay cable station shows a film in its correct aspect ratio, especially a picture on the level of this Canadian thriller.

Crenna stars as a recently separated police sergeant investigating a series of prostitute murders in an unnamed city that he describes as dirty and scummy while driving past a storefront that reads "Disney." (It was shot in Toronto, then credited as being a North American city so clean you could practically eat off its sidewalks, with lots of recognizable Yonge Street landmarks like Sam's record shop.) The hookers are being shot with a customized rifle attached to a 35mm still camera, allowing the limping assassin to develop quasi-cinematic serial photos of each killing in progress; the red-tinted developing room shots, showing black leather-gloved hands hanging the wet prints on a wire, lends the proceedings an occasional Argento-like flavor. Another Argentovian touch can be found in the delineation of Crenna's character, an eccentric who has rigged a special unlisted telephone number to feed his pet fish whenever it rings ("I don't get home much," he explains). An unusually pudgy Paul Williams plays Kurtz, a shag-haired crime boss/pimp -- and the Movie Channel print was so sharp that the red impression of a discarded wedding band is sometimes distractingly visible on the third finger of Williams' left hand. (It's not in this sleazy character's profile to have been married.) Williams, who has a big dialogue scene outside the "Paradise Cinema," is miscast as a crimelord who strikes terror into people's hearts, but Crenna brings a world-weary gravitas to his character that works, and Belinda J. Montgomery has one of her best showings as a daring female officer who goes too far undercover to solve the case; she also gets a rare opportunity to sing, and is in good voice. Christopher Walken lookalike Frank Moore (from Cronenberg's RABID and THE ITALIAN MACHINE) is on hand as a strip-club habitué red herring, and Michael Ironside, buried way down the cast list, appears just long enough to get shot during a stakeout.

I had never seen STONE COLD DEAD before, but I remember seeing TV spots during its initial release to local drive-ins that made it look ugly and sordid and cheap. With that in mind, it was a nice surprise to find it so competent, watchable, and evocative of my own happy memories of Toronto -- and it held my attention even at an hour when common sense dictated I should have long been in bed. It's sleazy too, but a sweet kind of sleazy. It's probably nothing I would bother to record, but sometimes it's pleasure enough to find good people injecting a little soul into a project where such dimension wasn't really necessary or expected.

I've checked The Movie Channel's schedule for the next week and can't find any future playdates for STONE COLD DEAD, so it may be played out there, but -- for those interested -- it's bound to resurface sooner or later on one of the other TMC or Showtime family channels.

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