In the realm of sad-loser cinema we have Rent-A-Pal (2020) which is set in the VHS-friendly era of 1990. In it sad single-guy named David (Brian Landis Folkins, Hoax) cares for his aging and quickly deteriorating mother (Kathleen Brady, Breaking Bad) who suffers from dementia. He spends his free time listening to tapes of his late father's jazz music, watching his dad's vintage porn collection, and submitting VHS tapes to the video dating service Video Rendezvous. He obsessively calls the dating service to see if anyone has swiped right so to speak on his profile, but there's never a match. He also begins to watch a weird VHS tape called Rent-A-Pal, a "video friend" tape hosted by the creepily charismatic Andy (Wil Wheaton, The Curse). The tape offers him some much needed "virtual" friendship, but what starts off as a harmless though deeply sad ritual grows into an increasingly disturbing influence on David. Eventually the Video Rendezvous dating service finds a match for David, a caregiver named Lisa (Amy Rutledge) who seems to have a lot in common with him. She understands the stress and emotional toll of caring for the elderly, she loves jazz, and they seem to hit it off. However, the Rent-A-Pal VHS tape continues to have a dark psychological effect on David and seemingly becomes a bit jealous when David spends more time with her than with his Rent-A-Pal VHS tape. David, increasingly influenced by his video-pal Andy begins to feel change, now openly venting his formerly hidden anger at his mother, believing that she was the reason his father died. Eventually David becomes so deranged that he lashes out at the only people around him resulting in violent and disturbing finale that leaves no one unscathed. This is the first film from director Jon Stevenson and I enjoyed it quite a bit, it is well-directed, the characters are strong, and while it's not a gore-soaked by any means but is an interesting character study of a deranged, lonely man who has gone of the deep end. The Region 4 locked DVD from Umbrella Entertainment presents the film in anamorphic widescreen with lossy English Dolby Digital audio but no subtitles and no extras. Note that in North American the flick is getting a Blu-ray from Scream Factory/IFC Midnight with a handful of extras on March 9th.
STRANGER ON THE RUN (1967)
Label: Umbrella Entertainment
Region Code: ALL (NTSC)
Duration: 97 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (No Subtitles)
Video: Full Frame (1.33:1)
Director: Don Siegel
Cast: Henry Fonda, Anne Baxter, Dan Duryea, Michael Parks, Madlyn Rhue, Michael Burns, Zalman King
This made-for-TV western was directed by the Don Siegel (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) and stars Hollywood legend Henry Fonda (The Swarm) as a washed-up, booze loving vagabond named Ben Chamberlain. Chamberlain arrives in a dusty railroad town at the start of the film after literally thrown off a train car after illegally hitching a ride in one of the cargo holds. He has arrived in search of a woman named Alma (Madlyn Rhue, Operation Petticoat), the daughter of a friend he owes a favor to, but the local Sheriff McKay (Michael Parks, Kill Bill) and his trigger-happy deputies who rule the town with no small amount of corruption are intent on making his stay as unwelcoming as they can. The whereabouts of the young girl he is seeking is shrouded in mystery and when he finally finds her she has been freshly murdered, and he is fingered for the crime. This leads to him being chased through the desert by the corrupt Sheriff McKay and his deputies, managing to take refuge at a farm owned by a kind-hearted woman (Anne Baxter, All About Eve), which puts her at odd with her wanna-be lawman son Matt (60's TV actor Michael Burns) who is part of the sheriff's posse. It's a wonderful little TV western drama with good production value and some solid turns from the notable cast, Fonda is dynamite as the drunk looking for redemption and Michael Parks plays the corrupt sheriff with gusto, not to mention a sweet walrus-mustache. We also get a great performance
from Dan Duryea (The Hills Run Red) as an aging gunslinger with a conscience, in one of his final film roles before dying. Zalman King (Blue Sunshine) also makes a memorable appearance as a crooked deputy, alongside Sal Mineo (Escape from the Planet of the Apes) in a smaller role. Director Don Siegel (The Shootist) doesn't seem too restrained by the TV budget here, the western looks quite good with some wonderful western backdrops . I think this is a hidden gem of a TV western with a terrific cast and a tightly told wrong man story that I found quite compelling. This region-free DVD from Umbrella Entertainment presents the film in anamorphic widescreen with lossy English Dolby Digital mono audio but no subtitles and no extras. If you're a fan of the film and/or want to see it in HD it is currently slated for an early 2021 release on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber here in North America!