My first introduction to the work of Eric Red was not through a film he directed, but through films that he’d written. Namely, The Hitcher and Near Dark. Both films I found to be fantastic and some of the best that came out of that decade. I was elated when I found out that this great writer had also directed films. As a teenager I grew up watching those films, and I can easily say that Eric Red’s work shaped me as a genre fan and gave me the passion for it which flows through my veins. I like the style and substance of his films, and if anything they are unique and able to really capture the audience. He’s tackled a range of interesting stories and ideas. The man is one of a kind.
As you probably know, I’m a fan of films that really stand out. Films that are unique and can test me as a viewer. I like to feel a range of emotions as I take a ride, including the feeling of confliction over events and characters. I want to feel challenged. Eric’s first feature length film Cohen and Tate was all of those things, and is quite simply an amazing film. I walked into this film without any knowledge of what it was about. All I had to go by was the box art, and the fact that the film was written and directed by Eric Red and starred Roy Scheider and Adam Baldwin. The opening scene to this film is quite shocking, and the set up was done so well that I had no idea what to expect. The reveal of Scheider and Baldwin actually sent shivers down my spine. I knew then that I was in for a wild ride.
Films involving assassins are not always easy to pull off. For starters, they kill people for money and that really isn’t exactly easy to relate to. However, the film isn’t so much about the profession but the people who do it. In particular, Cohen (Scheider) and Tate (Baldwin) are both faced with what at first seems like an easy enough job, but turns out to be much more than they bargained for. Our two title characters are the polar opposite of each other, with Cohen being the older, lonesome, calm and collected type, while Tate is the arrogant, blood hungry, act-now-and-don’t-think-at-all type. It’s clear from their introduction that the duo aren’t going to work well together, and as their task gets more complicated, both men struggle to find the balance. All of this takes place over the course of one night, in one basic setting and with three characters. A cat and mouse game is at play, with a splendid mix of dialogue and action to move it forward.
Both Scheider and Baldwin give some of the best performances of their careers. It was such a perfect fit. The two played off of each other so well, and the tension that built up between them was unlike anything that I’d ever seen. The script is a rather unusual one, and I really have to give Eric props for actually having the guts to pen something that’s so against the norm. His expert dialogue between the characters flows seamlessly. Add in the setting, and you have yourself a trip like no other. His direction was strong, especially considering that there was just one setting. His shots made it visually interesting to look at, and it had an almost claustrophobic feel to it. There was a hint of The Hitcher in the film and some great visuals that felt like a nod to Near Dark. This film is an amazing ride to go on and very much deserving to be seen.
While still being a good film, and good effort, I found Undertow to be the film of Eric’s that I enjoyed the least. It was co-written by Kathryn Bigelow (Near Dark and Blue Steel), and it starred only three actors in one basic location. I guess I would compare this to Dead Calm, only this was set in the backwoods. They are different films, but both play upon a similar dynamic. The cast are all quite good, with Lou Diamond Phillips as Jack, a man whose car goes off road during a storm and he forced to take shelter with Lyle (Charles Dance) and his young wife Willie (Mia Sara). Tension begins to build between the men, and a romance forms between Jack and Willie. In this kind of situation, something’s got to give and crazy follows. It’s a simple story, and the interest lies between the characters and the relationships they form. Unfortunately for me, I just wasn’t all that invested with them, and I found it hard to care.
It’s not easy to sit through the tension and awkwardness that builds up in this film, which is both good and bad. It’s good in that there was real danger at hand, and bad in that I wasn’t sure that I cared about what happened. The minimal character thing in this case was a tough sell, because I wasn’t as engaged as I should have been, unlike in Cohen and Tate, where the characters grabbed me. I don’t think it was necessarily the actors who did anything wrong. As I said before, they were all solid. I’m just not sure that the story itself was all that interesting, especially being put into this location. It was an interesting film all the same, and I give props to Eric and everyone involved for tackling something different and taking the chance to give it a try.
There is definitely a running theme throughout the films of Eric Red, mainly having minimal characters, one or very few locations, and cat and mouse games between those characters. These are things present in just about every one of his directed films, and also ones that he’s written. I absolutely love that this man can make these elements work, no matter whom they actually involve. Whether it be a dog versus werewolf, a killer versus another killer or a woman versus a ghost, he can make these situations work. It is interesting that each film is different, despite having the same elements at play. He can apply different characters and settings to a central conflict, and take the audience on a ride that is enjoyable, memorable, scary and intense. What works in his favour is that he is a writer and he directs from something he has written. He knows the material, he knows how to tell a story, and it all comes together quite well. As mentioned earlier, the films tend to have one or few locations, and they always feel very isolated. I would bet that this is to reflect the characters’ own isolation within the story and the situations that they’re faced with. There is a tragic feeling amongst the films, with the characters dealing with all sorts of different things that in a way feels more real for its inclusion.
A film that I remember pretty well from my childhood is Body Parts. Mostly because it had an amazing VHS cover, and I would always stare at it every time I snuck off into the horror section. Eventually it got rented out, and at my young age this freaked me out big time. I was so scared that I might lose a limb and have it replaced, and go through what Bill (Jeff Fahey) did in this film. However I got older, and upon the good ol’ re-watch I found that yes the film is still freaky, but also full of some great ideas and is such an intense watch. The film centres on criminal psychologist Bill, and after a car accident he ends up losing his arm. But a radical new procedure sees him get a new arm, and life starts to go back to normal. However he begins to get haunted by dreams and his new arm starts to act strangely. Bill begins to investigate just what exactly is happening to him, with brutal consequences. With that synopsis I think you can see why this freaked me out as a kid! The character of Bill is an instant attention grabber (and how could he not be with Jeff Fahey?), so to see his accident at the beginning is shocking and very sad. Once his wife (played by a great Kim Delaney) accepts to have the arm transplant (albeit with some hesitation), you just know that things are going to go south and you really don’t want them to. The honeymoon period doesn’t last too long and things begin to happen. The will for Bill to get out of this predicament is high. I think I actually screamed at the screen because I felt so strongly for this man.
The film is definitely a departure from the small amount of characters and location structure in the other films that Eric has done. It was quite interesting to see how he handled something on a grander scale, which he did superbly. The whole body parts transplant thing is a great concept. It’s frightening, especially when more about the procedure is revealed. The cast is top notch, with Fahey stealing the show. He is a fantastic actor and greatly underrated. He took what was already a fantastically written character and made him even more fantastic. It got to the point where I basically could have burst into tears over every little thing that happened to him. I loved the concept and the ideas behind it. The build-up was handled really well and it moved at the perfect pace. This is a top film, and Eric Red should be proud of what he was able to do with this film. A real hidden gem from the early 90’s, and a must see for genre fans.
The last film we saw from Eric Red was the ghostly fun 100 Feet starring Famke Janssen (featuring our main man John Fallon in a small role). So what does he have in the works now? Currently he is developing his graphic novel Containment (artwork by Nick Stakal) into a film. This definitely excites me, zombies in space; I am so there! Also in the works is a western (with some horror added in), about a trio of gunfighters who face off against some horrific villains. There are certain western elements present within his work; I am interested to see how one set in the old west will turn out. I look forward to anything Eric’s name is attached to, and I thank him for giving us an update on what he’s working on.
In an age where it seems cinema is too afraid to take risks and actually develop characters and scenarios, it’s refreshing to re-visit the filmography of Eric Red. Each film is unique and its own entity unto itself. Each film cleverly develops the characters, sets the scenes and pulls the audience in, giving us something to engage with. There is never a dull moment with Eric Red, and that is the way this lady likes it. I am a product of these films, and as I said I owe a lot of who I am today to these films. My teenage years wouldn’t have been the same without his scriptwriting or his directed films, and they will always have a special place with me. Intense entertainment is what you will get with an Eric Red film, buy the ticket and enjoy the ride.