Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Film Appreciation - Are You Scared Now?

Cody Hamman revisits a childhood cable favorite, Far from Home (1989), for Film Appreciation. 

Charlie Cox and his daughter Joleen are nearing the end of their month long road trip vacation and Joleen can't wait to be done with it. She's about to turn fourteen and this vacation with her dad, who she sees as a hopelessly clueless, incompetent dweeb, has not been her idea of a good time. She wants to get back home to her mom's place and celebrate her birthday in style.

But things don't go according to plan, as the Cox family truckster runs out of gas and the fuel pumps at the nearest gas stations are dry, leaving Charlie and Joleen stranded in a small, remote desert community.

Things are clearly off right from the start. The locals are an odd bunch and one of the first things Charlie and Joleen do in the community is stumble across the body of a murder victim in the town grocery store. This victim is just the first of several.

While Charlie and a fellow desert castaway search for gasoline, Joleen gets mixed up with a couple local boys; the violent tempered Jimmy and the awkward Pinky; and a mysterious killer continues lowering the town's population by knife, by gun, by fire, by bathtub electrocution.

As with many of the movies I've written about on here, Far from Home is one that I watched repeatedly on cable with my grandmother. It was shown on the movie channels regularly around 1990 and I was always into watching it whenever possible. It's got a weird atmosphere and tone that has stuck with me over the years.

Watching the film now, it comes off as even stranger, especially given how inappropriate some of the elements are. Joleen is played by Drew Barrymore, who was the same age as her character when this film was made, thirteen going on fourteen, and there are all sorts of moments dealing with burgeoning sexuality. When she first meets Jimmy, he immediately, wordlessly starts rubbing an ice cube on her arm. Soon after, she goes swimming and while wearing a bikini spies on a couple having sex (a cameo by porn star Teri Weigel) and gets cornered by a lascivious Jimmy, who is so enraged when she gets called away that he punches a wall. Attempted rape and attempted loss of virginity follow later. I thought nothing of all this when I watched the movie in my younger days, I totally forgot about it until my most recent viewing, when it was uncomfortable to see and added a whole new layer of sleaze to the proceedings.

Not that there wasn't always sleaze, Jimmy's bad home life with his mother - who doesn't even stop smoking and drinking beer during a bath - is up there with the beginning of Rob Zombie's Halloween as far as over-the-top dysfunction goes.

What drew me to this film in 1990 was the setting, the insanity and the murder mystery, and it still holds up as a decent killer thriller.

Far from Home was written by Tommy Lee Wallace, writer/director of such films as Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Fright Night Part 2, and the miniseries adaptation of Stephen King's It, and was directed by Meiert Avis, a music video director best known for the U2 videos of the '80s. Avis doesn't go as flashy as many music video directors do, but does make some unusual lens choices.


The cast is impressive. In addition to Barrymore, there's Matt Frewer as Charlie, Richard Masur as a Vietnam vet who refuses to deal with money, Susan Tyrrell as the trashy trailer park owner, the great Dick Miller as the town Sheriff, Karen Austin and Jennifer Tilly as others in need of gas, Nightmare on Elm Street 4's Andras Jones as Jimmy, and Anthony Rapp as Pinky. With his roles in this, Adventures in Babysitting, and Dazed and Confused, Rapp was one of the top young actors of my childhood.

Somehow this film wormed its way into being a cornerstone of my cinematic world, it's one of those movies you encounter in your childhood and never shake. While I haven't watched it many times since the early '90s, something about it has always been lodged in my brain. I would often think back to the electrocution scene or Pinky and the microwave tower, I've had dreams in a setting similar to Pinky's abandoned apartment building hangout. As it's determined to stick in my head, it's one that I will continue to rewatch over the years.

1 comment:

  1. I interviewed the director Meiert Avis about the film. Here's the link: