Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Settle the Score (April 20, 2010)

And again from the "Lillian is obsessed with movies she saw as a kid" files, I bring you this gem from 1989, "Settle the Score." This is another movie I saw on TBS in the early 90s. My mom let me watch it because there wasn't any hint that it was a horror movie, and like the previous review, this movie is more of a thriller than a horror movie, but there are some pretty terrifying things onscreen here and I still can't believe my mom let me watch it (though I'm grateful, of course).

Here, Jaclyn Smith plays a snippy, nasty, unpleasant woman who is going home to her small town and her parents. at first we don't know why (or why she's in such a godawful mood when she does it) but soon we learn that she's a cop in the big city (Chicago) who is on leave because she shot a man dead and enjoyed watching him die a little too much, so her bosses are worried about her mental state. They have good reason to be worried, we learn, because when she was a young teen something terrible happened to her and she's back in her town to try and track down the man responsible and make him pay.

Let's not beat around the bush here. She was raped when she was a teenager, and the opening sequences are pretty horrific (plus we keep flashing back to them throughout the movie) as are the details of the rape. The man raped other women as well over the fifteen year period since this happened to her, and each time, he left his victims hog-tied and let them slowly strangle themselves trying to escape. It's pretty disturbing, and watching it now, I can't believe this was ever shown on daytime TV (an d they say TV these days is violent! Holy shit!)

The horror of what happened and the mystery of the events surrounding this rape have always stuck with me, so I was happy to track this movie down again. I was worried that it wouldn't live up to the hype (I really really really wanted to see it again, and that meant that I had pretty high expectations for it) but despite a few questionable wardrobe choices and some godawful cheesy music (Mark Snow, the man responsible for the music in this movie, should be ashamed) this movie holds up surprisingly well. It might even be better than I remember it.

The small town to which Jaclyn Smith returns is a huge throwback to a time when women thought "Stand by Your Man" meant going through whatever terrible, painful, humiliating things he wanted to put you through. Needless to say, as a result of this attitude, the men in this movie don't come out so well. Hell, even the "romantic lead" guy here holds Jaclyn Smith down and tries to force her to have sex with him, and when she wrestles away from him, he asks her "How long have you been frigid?" And he's the GOOD GUY, mind you. Of course, not all men are psychotic freaks, but you wouldn't know it to watch this movie. I grew up in a small town a lot like the one in this movie, and I can attest that this attitude was pretty prevalent, but it's still jarring to see it portrayed onscreen this way. I guess I'm saying that if you wanted to watch this movie with your kids, make sure you explain to them that men aren't all this crazy and that the movie shows a skewed vision of reality.

I've seen other movies since this time ("I Spit on Your Grave" comes immediately to mind) where pretty much all the men act like bumbling psychopaths from the planet caveman, so I can better place this film within a tradition of movies that showed women fighting back against Cletus the Rapist, but back when I first saw this movie, I didn't have such a frame of reference, so it was shocking to sit through this movie and see how everyone behaved (not just the men, either, pretty much all the women in this movie act like any woman who gets picked up by a rapist gets what she deserves). Like I said, it's disturbing, and I sort of felt like I needed a shower after the movie was finished, but still, I have to give it credit for being able to get under my skin like that. I also admire it for having the balls to be so dark and evil and not trying to wrap everything up in a "let's all be happy" type of ending where everyone learns a lesson and everything is ok in the end. This is a little made-for-TV movie that dressed itself up like a romantic thriller and managed to hide the fact that it was really a gritty "Rape and Revenge" movie, so I give it kudos for managing to unnerve even this jaded, cynical film fanatic.

I won't give away the ending, but suffice it to say that everyone in this movie gives a much better performance than you'd expect from a made-for-TV production, the killer is creepy and skeezy, and even after the wrap-up manages to be sad and disturbing. It's not exactly what I'd call a fun experience, but it's a worthy flick to carry the torch passed down by other "Rape and Revenge" movies (such as "I Spit on Your Grave" and "Thriller: A Cruel Picture") and I for one think it deserves more attention than it gets. The music may be provided by the synthesizer that ate Manhattan, but there's a lot to like here when you scratch the surface of this ballsy little movie. If you like this kind of thing (and if you recognized the titles I mentioned earlier and understood that everything I said about this movie being creepy, skeezy, and making you feel like you need to take a shower after it's over was actually a RECOMMENDATION) then I suggest you track it down and give it a chance. I will definitely be watching it again (once I give myself a few months to get its taste out of my mouth).

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