Thursday, September 17, 2015

Penthouse Gore 'Em: "The Comeback" (1979)

I haven't seen this film in over three decades, but a rewatch shows it still packs an over-the-top punch. Jack Jones is pop singer Nick Cooper, who has been on a six year hiatus from recording at the insistence of his wife Gail (Holly Palance). The couple has just divorced, and Nick decides to go back to recording for music executive Webster (David Doyle). Gail? Oh, Gail is savagely murdered in the estranged couple's London penthouse by a killer with a small scythe and sporting an old woman's mask.

Nick is put up in an English country house where the servants Mr. and Mrs. B (Bill Owen and Pete Walker regular Sheila Keith) are taking care of the estate while it's owners are on a year-long cruise. The B's are an odd couple, but Nick takes to the house's isolation and starts recording. Nick also takes to Linda (Pamela Stephenson), Webster's secretary. The two begin seeing each other, as Gail's body decomposes in the penthouse, almost getting discovered on a couple of occasions. Red herring suspects in the murder increase with the introduction of Harry (Peter Turner), Nick's creepy go-fer. Nick begins having nightmares, and the hallucinations turn real as someone wants to either drive him insane or kill him off themselves.

Although I had not seen this in over thirty years, some scenes still stuck with me: the murders are gory, a surprising cast member's character is actually a cross-dresser, there is an instance of tree vandalism, and Stephenson's bare rump. What I didn't remember is how good a job Jones does despite some convenient filmmaking cheats. When Nick sees a gory sight, he runs away from it or hides, giving the body or body part a chance to disappear. Jones plays his role well, sporting a nice delivery whether singing or reacting to the craziness around him. Stephenson is an attractive leading lady, and Doyle and Johnson provide ample support. Sheila Keith is always good in these roles, but I dare you to shake her similarity to Robin Williams' Mrs. Doubtfire. Now that I have mentioned it, that is going to be all you think about when she is onscreen.

Walker is known for his crazed exploitation (I saw "House of Whipcord"), and he is given ample opportunity here. The description I have read about the film, that Nick's ex-wife haunts him, isn't really true, although there is a supernatural element tossed into this glossy slasher flick, which will remind you of everything from "Curtains" to any other slasher film of the late 1980's. The story does drag a bit in the third act, and I probably would have figured out (and remembered) the climax if I had thought about it a little more.

My poor father. He dragged his rabid film loving son to this, "Friday the 13th Part 2," and "An American Werewolf in London" before he realized that I was thrilling to the gore and nudity while he desperately searched for a Universal monster like the ones he grew up watching. Once HBO came along, kids my age didn't need to get an adult to vouch them into a theater, the blood and boobs appeared in our living rooms!

I watched "The Comeback" on a dodgy Media Blasters DVD transfer that left a lot to be desired. Horror fans will want to seek it out, some parts of this have to be seen to be believed. The MPAA rated this (R) and it contains strong physical violence, gore, some profanity, brief nudity, some sexual content, sexual references, some adult situations, and alcohol and tobacco use. (* * * *) out of five stars.

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