Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Comeback (1978)

          British writer-director Pete Walker was a prolific source of sexploitation and horror movies throughout the ’70s, developing a lurid style filled with nasty gore, overcooked plots, and plentiful shots of attractive women. Although most of Walker’s pictures were indigenous to his home country, featuring UK actors and locations, many found their way to American screens. For one of his final ’70s movies, however, Walker catered overtly to US audiences by featuring an American leading man and a pair of American supporting players. The Comeback, alternately titled The Day the Screaming Stopped, stars cheeseball singer Jack Jones—perhaps best known for crooning the Love Boat theme—as Nick Cooper, an aging but successful pop singer who emerges from a long hiatus to record a new album. For plot reasons that aren’t worth explaining, Nick lives in the UK, having just vacated a posh London penthouse for a remote country estate.
          When the story begins, Nick’s estranged wife, Gail (Holly Palance), visits the penthouse and is murdered—or so it seems. Thereafter, Nick is haunted by strange noises and visions, most of which manifest while he’s trying to sleep in his new home. Adding to Nick’s tribulations, his only companions in the estate’s sprawling main bulding are a demented housekeeper, Mrs. B. (Sheila Keith), and her addled groundskeeper husband, Mr. B. (Bill Owen). The plot also involves Nick’s hard-driving manager, Webster (David Doyle), as well as Webster’s sexy assistant, Linda (Pamela Stephenson), who becomes romantically involved with Nick. Written by Michael Sloan and Murray Smith, The Comeback has a handful of interesting notions and some decent atmosphere, but these things never coalesce. Vignettes of Nick roaming around the estate while listening to weird noises drag on tediously, partially because nothing really happens and partially because Jones is such a non-presence. Conversely, the super-gory scenes involving Gail’s murder and its aftermath—anybody in the mood for a close-up of maggots crawling around a corpse’s eye socket?—feel like they belong in a different movie.
          On the plus side, the music-industry stuff is somewhat interesting, with Nick contemplating lyrics at home and trudging through recording sessions at the studio; one can almost see glimmers of an offbeat thriller predicated on the tensions associated with the creative process. Moreover, The Comeback is not without meager distractions, because Keith gives an amusingly campy performance as the housekeeper, and because Stephenson is quite fetching. Incidentally, she’s also a unique figure in popular culture. After launching her career as a UK starlet, she did a short stint on Saturday Night Live in the ’80s, married wild-man Scottish comedian Billy Connolly, and then expanded her career to include authoring books and practicing psychology.

The Comeback: FUNKY

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