Monday, January 15, 2018

"I Got a Hang-Up About Your Hang-Ups" - Point of Terror (1971)

Today we look at an underappreciated drama classic from the early 1970s, Point of Terror.

Reviewer weho90069 writes, "Everything about this film is a howler: script, acting, production values (tin-foil sets), and the music...the music...oh, those songs!" Michael_Elliott says, "The film is bad enough to get a few laughs, especially the look at the bar, which seems to be decorated out of colored tin foil. Point of Terror fails on all other levels but I'd recommend you giving the soundtrack to someone you really hate." Reviewer Coventry writes, "Irredeemably bad & cheesy 70's horror (if you can call it horror...)....unendurably boring trash with a completely uninteresting plot."

As usual, these insults cannot stand. Prepare for the high drama and thrills of Point of Terror.

The film begins with a nightclub performance by the late Peter Carpenter, who for unknown reasons is wearing an all-red outfit with fringe on the sleeves that reach most of the way to the floor. His rousing song features the following chorus:

“Cold and heartless
Won’t give a damn if you’re down and dying.
Oh, I’m cold and heartless
Like a storm that rips the sea.
This is me.
You can’t change the way I am.
This is me.”

The scene suddenly cuts to Mr. Carpenter’s loud scream and images of bloody murder. It seems Mr. Carpenter is actually lying on a beach and dreaming about his nightclub act—it is unclear whether or not the bloody murder is part of the act, or simply part of the dream.

In any case, Mr. Carpenter is approached by a bikini-clad woman named Andrea, played by Dyanne Thorne, who would later assay the role of Nazi sadist Ilsa.

Mr. Carpenter explains that his name is Tony Trelos, and he is a singer at The Lobster House. “Two shows a night,” he says.

“Yes, I know,” she replies. “No cover.”

“And no minimum,” he adds suggestively.

After this subtle contribution to marketing for The Lobster House, director Alex Nicol cuts to the point of view of an older man in a wheelchair who sits atop the cliff behind the beach as he watches the awkward flirtation below. The man’s point of view zooms in on Mr. Carpenter as the singer walks away from Andrea.

We next see the storied Lobster House, a bar with an exceptionally large green room for the singing talent.

Inside the green room, Mr. Carpenter (who, it must be stated, co-wrote the screenplay for Point of Terror) seduces (perhaps the incorrect word) a cocktail waitress by forcing her to the floor despite her protestations.

Meanwhile, at the bar, the baby-faced bartender puts the moves on another cocktail waitress, in a scene that shows off Peter Carpenter’s skill with witty dialogue. “You have a real hang-up about these things, don’t you, Charlie?” asks the waitress as she holds up two shot glasses.

“I got a hang-up about your hang-ups,” he replies.

“It must be something from your childhood,” the woman theorizes.

“I was deprived,” he says.

“And now you’re depraved,” she shoots back.

Apparently having finished with the woman in his dressing room, Mr. Carpenter sings another song, the point of which is that he is a drifter of the heart. This song features the profound line, “Like the wind, they all be down whenever I am gone.”

Fortunately for the audience, Mr. Carpenter’s song is presented in its entirety.

Andrea, the woman from the beach, is in the audience watching. Mr. Carpenter finds out from a waitress that Andrea is “Mrs. National Records,” and that there is a “Mr. National Records.” Mr. Carpenter leaves with Andrea, taking her back to his place to let her hear his record.

Andrea’s first impression of his place is curious: “Who’s your decorator? Bela Lugosi?” Thus, the film trusts the audience to know that Mr. Lugosi was fond of brick walls painted white and posters with the word “Love” hanging on the wall.

After listening to a few seconds of a record, and admitting that she is married to the owner of National Records, Andrea grabs Mr. Carpenter and kisses him. Then she offers him a record contract.

Sally, the waitress Mr. Capenter forced himself on earlier enters his house and warns him about Andrea. “She collects men like she drinks. One at a time, all in a row.” (It is unclear whether this description of serial monogamy is meant to be positive or negative.)

Mr. Carpenter states his ambitions: “I want to be somebody.”

“But you are someone,” Sally says. “You have a job singing at the Lobster House.”

He tells her, without provocation, about his tragic childhood, including the fact that his father was a shoeshine boy. “While he was on his knees, my mother was on her back.”

Then he adds, “Sally, you don’t know what it’s like wanting to be somebody. That’s what I want. To be somebody.”

“When I make it, baby,” he tells her, “I’m gonna buy you a kite made out of hundred-dollar bills.”

All this provocative talk inspires them go out to the beach and take a swim, in the dark, in their underwear. However, they do not make it into the water, if you catch my drift. (My drift here is a dark, split-screen, implied sex scene.)

The film then turns to the domestic life of Mr. and Mrs. National Records. The husband, Mr. Hilliard, is repeatedly described as an invalid, which means he uses an electric wheelchair. He is unable to go the office in his condition, for unexplained reasons, so he stays in his mansion overlooking the ocean. While he is in his office, his wife Andrea entertains a guest poolside with stories about Mr. Carpenter’s talents. “Seriously, chicky, you better be careful. You know Martin’s a very jealous man.”

“Martin’s a wheelchair,” Andrea retorts. Clearly, she does not see her husband as a complete man. Director Alex Nicol frames the power dynamic between the two visually, as the camera looks up at Andrea with a magnificent, Gone with the Wind-esque backdrop, contrasting with out high-angle view of Martin as a small, small man.

The filmmakers next explain more about these characters while also explaining why the word “terror” is in the film’s title. Martin says, “You do remember, Andrea, what we did.”

A flashback shows a redheaded woman, presumably Martin’s first wife, being stabbed by a masked killer.

“It worked, Andrea. It worked. It worked,” says Martin. Murder, it seems, worked.

Soon, Andrea is setting up a contract and a recording session for Mr. Carpenter. His first recording is a catchy, powerful song with this chorus:

“Lifebeats turning into lovebeats,
Lovebeats turning into lifebeats,
Lifebeats turning into lovebeats,
Moving in and taking over me.”

(The song could only be improved if we were told what lifebeats and/or lovebeats are.)

We are fortunate to hear this chorus sung three times, while Andrea watches, concerned, from the recording booth.

We are also fortunate to listen in on one of Martin’s phone calls, where he reveals his revenge against Mr. Carpenter for having an affair with Andrea will be to release one record, make lots of money, and then not allow Mr. Carpenter to release any more records for at least five years.

Meanwhile, Mr. Carpenter continues to perform at The Lobster House while Andrea makes pronouncements about her cynical philosophy. “Hate is no different than love,” Andrea says. “It’s what keeps the world going.”

As if to demonstrate the truth of her philosophy, Andrea takes Mr. Carpenter home where they make love in her pool. After Mr. Carpenter leaves, her husband reveals that he was watching.

In what might be called by some people a lapse of taste, the filmmakers then show a physical fight between the wheelchair-bound Martin and Andrea, who taunts him by waving a red tablecloth at him. This is all scored, of course, to Spanish bullfight music.

Unfortunately for all concerned, the fight ends with Martin and his wheelchair falling into the pool.

Andrea lets the man drown, uttering only the single word “OlĂ©.”

At the funeral (the film avoids the issue of an investigation regarding the fairly obvious murder), we are introduced to Martin’s beautiful daughter Helayne.

The machinations continue even after Martin’s death, however, as Andrea threatens for no apparent reason to shelve Mr. Carpenter’s record. As she makes this threat, she lies on his couch with her legs spread provocatively.

But Mr. Carpenter has a threat of his own—he witnessed her murder of Martin and he threatens to go to the police. As he makes this threat, he drops onto the couch and spreads his own legs provocatively.

After their standoff, Andrea disappears to Europe and circumstances involving Andrea’s drunk, eccentric friend Fran conspire to get Tony to the house where Fran and Helayne are staying. Tony begins to date Helayne, using the pickup line, “Listen, I know where there are two of the sweetest horses you’ve ever seen. You want to go riding?”

They ride horses (for a whole week, according to the dialogue) and then return to Mr. Carpenter’s now Evil Dead cabin-esque home for a romantic (and dark) dinner.

Thankfully, during their dating montage, we hear the “Lifebeats Turning into Lovebeats” song two more times.

Mr. Carpenter tells the much younger woman, “Until I met you, I never thought I could feel this way. It’s like, wow, a whole new world to me.” Then he proposes marriage. After his last show at The Lobster House.

The filmmakers then remember Sally, Mr. Carpenter’s girlfriend, as he prepares to run off with Helayne. Sally, it seems, is pregnant, but Mr. Carpenter brushes her off, telling her she made a mistake.

The taut plot rockets toward its climax when Andrea returns from her trip at the same time as the now-married Mr. Carpenter and Helayne are together in the guest house. Mr. Carpenter sneaks outside to confront Andrea at the top of the cliff overlooking the beach. Andrea reveals that Helayne will not inherit any money if she marries before age 25.

Andrea alternates between threatening Mr. Carpenter and attempting to seduce him, despite her leverage over the singer.

Andrea and Mr. Carpenter fall into what is perhaps the film’s most awkward physical fight, as she grabs his ankle and kicks him in the groin. They struggle on the grass next to a garden hose.

Andrea suddenly goes crazy. “I killed Helayne’s mother! I let Martin die! And I’ll kill you if it will get you out of my life!”

Although they are on the lawn and far from the cliff by this point, Andrea somehow flies over the cliff to her death.

In the coda, Mr. Carpenter and Helayne decide to go on a trip. He wears his best striped jacket and white pants while Helayne packs a series of toupes into her suitcase.

The climax occurs seconds later, as one of the many women with justifiable grievances against Mr. Carpenter shoots him six times in the stomach.

But in the clever final twist, Mr. Carpenter wakes up on the beach, just in time to be introduced to Andrea Hilliard...and the film begins again.

Directed by Alex Nicol, prolific actor and director of The Screaming Skull (1958), and with editing supervised by future Academy Award winner Verna Fields, editor of American Graffiti (1973) and Jaws (1975), Point of Terror has quite the pedigree. Despite the talented filmmakers working behind the scenes, however, it is Peter Carpenter who makes the biggest mark as actor, writer, and singer. His intense performance--reminiscent at times of the work of James Dean, Jimmy Dean, and James Deen--carries the film, and through much of the running time it approaches the point of believability that a series of women would throw themselves at him. But it is his script, co-written with Ernest Charles, Tony Crechales, and Chris Marconi, that truly shines. Each scene is a marvel of high drama, and each line of dialogue has been polished to perfection. "I'm gonna buy you a kite made out of hundred-dollar bills," is not a piece of dialogue that just happens. It takes time and work, and it is clear that Mr. Carpenter was willing to put in that time and work to create a masterpiece of dramatic filmmaking.

According to IMDB, Mr. Carpenter died in December 1971, after this film's premiere but before its general release in September 1973. If this is the case (and there are rumors on the Internet that Mr. Carpenter died later, perhaps in the 1980s), then it is a tragedy that he might not have lived long enough to see his masterpiece let loose upon the world. I would like to think it is not true, and that Mr. Carpenter did live to see this film and his earlier shocker Blood Mania (1970) receive the accolades they deserved. It would only be fair. Lifebeats, indeed, turn into lovebeats. And vice versa, as Peter Carpenter has shown us all.