Appointment with Fear 1985 Review
Appointment with Fear 1985
aka El Resplandor De La Muerte
Directed by: Alan Smithee
Starring: Michele Little, Debi Sue Voorhees, Michael Wyle
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Appointment with Fear’s director Alan Smithee is one of the most prolific filmmakers in cinema. He has worked on over 80 motion pictures, with his first being released in 1968. With such a huge amount of work under his belt it is indeed a surprise that he is so much of an enigma. I have never read an interview with him, seen a picture, a biography or any awards attributed to his work. I tried locating him to no avail and his output is so diverse that it shows no unique style or philosophy. I couldn’t even track down his date of birth!
Ok, so as my daughter would say, I’m being silly. In 1967 during the production of period western, Death of a Gunfighter, original director Robert Totten fell out with his lead actor Richard Widmark after a year’s work and was sacked from the shoot. He was replaced by Don Siegel, but Siegel felt that it was unfair that he alone be credited and offered the title to his predecessor. Totten rejected and they went to the Director’s Guild who released the film under the directorial alias of Alan Smithee (Al Smith was considered, but it was already in use). The ploy worked and critics praised the newcomer’s work, with The New York Times stating, ‘(it’s) sharply directed by Alan Smithee who has an adroit facility for scanning faces and extracting sharp background detail’!
From then on, the DGA allowed for their members to use that pseudonym if their work had been drastically re-shot and re-cut by others without their approval before submission, hence, why it is usually seen on entries that are rubbish or incoherent. There’s not a lot of information available on the development of this mid-eighties slasher, but the fact that Ramsey Thomas distanced himself from its release tells you more than enough. It’s rumoured that he wasn’t even the only director who worked on this, but with no sources available, it’s hard to know the truth. I have learned that on completion, producer Moustapha Akkad was so disappointed with what he was handed by Thomas that he called back most of the actors and spliced in new footage before it was unleashed theatrically.
Akkad himself had made so much profit from Halloween that he must’ve spent the rest of his days hoping that he could get one more shot at the same level of success. There are shades of the aforementioned classic clearly visible here in everything from the mental hospital escapee to the white van stalking the neighbourhood. You can see the allure in the concept on paper and why he believed in the project, but I’d be intrigued to know what he made of the net result.
For a genre with such a low profile in cinema and a reputation for amateurism, it is surprising that we have not had more genuinely weird offerings. Disconnected is for sure a tad strange and there’s nothing more hallucinogenic than the goings on over at Horror House on Highway 5. It’s alongside those slices of bewilderment that Appointment with Fear sits comfortably.
In the opening, a psycho in a white van is seen to be chasing a young woman with a baby. He finally catches up and stabs the mother, but the niño is nowhere to be found. A young girl witnesses the assault and runs over to the female who is profusely bleeding and asks leisurely, “Excuse Me, is there anything I can do for you?” Instead of begging for an ambulance, or in fact, the Police; the victim gives the spaced out youngster her child and tells her to protect him. The rest of the runtime is filled with the maniac hunting down his newborn and killing off the teens that get in his way, but hold on! How can he be doing it when he is clearly unconscious and locked up in an asylum for an earlier crime? That’s where things get a tad more interesting…
Fear has a lot of unique characteristics that make it intriguing even if you push its riddled production to one side. It is extremely new wave in its approach, from its avant-garde locations to its pop-punk soundtrack and ‘tree-spirit’ plot gimmick. One groovy teen wears bright blue eye make-up and is performing a mime routine on her screen introduction, whilst a key male player drives around on a motorbike with a mannequin that he talks to in his sidecar. And no, before you ask, he isn’t even the loon of the title. We also have a homeless guy called Norman who lives in the back of a pick-up truck and spends his screen time either asleep or talking to god and then we haven’t mentioned the disheveled anti-hero who demonstrates limitless bravery with his actions, but really doesn’t end up doing too much. Look out for one of those modernistic dance routines, which lasts about five minutes and seems to have been thrown in for no logical reason and takes the weirdness to a whole different level that even leaves the actors looking bemused.
Between all that we have our clean-cut psycho killer, who looks a bit like he could be Mikel Arteta’s slightly less handsome elder brother. He works his way through a few victims, but doesn’t raise pulses, because there are no chase sequences and most attempts at scares are misplaced. There’s no gore either, which is a bit of a let down and the bogeyman doesn’t look creepy and more like a normal kind of guy. There is of course the twist that owes a nod to Psychic Killer and it’s explained away quite sluggishly, but adds to the unusual tone. The main complaint I had was that after so much effort to build the maniac up as indestructible, he is defeated relatively easily and the ending feels rushed and out-of-place with all that went before it.
It is surprising considering the obvious problems suffered on set just how well the cast carry the feature. Michele Little was cute and charming as the final girl and Michael Wyle also did well as her eccentric love interest. Douglas Rowe captured an under-written character perfectly and the only weaknesses were more the fault of a lack of cohesion in the scripting. The exceptionally well-endowed Debi Sue Voorhees adds to a collection of attractive female cast members that Little heads up superbly and you definitely feel that you want the leads to survive.
The plot is riddled with numerous holes and wasted shots that end in no significance (for example what was it with those dolls?) and it has a massive effect on the pacing. It took me two viewing to see it all the way through and I feel that it may be a hard task for less forgiving fans. To be totally honest, Appointment with Fear is not a very good movie and it will not even generate thrills of the so bad it’s good variety.
With that said, I enjoyed its off the wall stance, attractive cast and ambitious gimmick. It’s bad for sure, but has an allure because it is generally off-beat and extremely peculiar.
Final Girl: √√√