Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Date with a Kidnapper (1976)

          On a story level, Date with a Kidnapper—also known as Kidnapped Coed, among other titles—is the usual woman-hating sludge, a perverse male-power fantasy filled with sexual violence. Indeed, most viewers would do well to ignore the movie’s existence for just that reason. Yet for those who enjoy exploring the fringes of American cinema, there’s something here worth examining. Writer-director Frederick R. Friedel displays considerable visual imagination, often using small details to give scenes atmosphere and tension. Regarding the former, look at the way Friedel slides his camera past a spiderweb while rolling into a shot establishing the vibe of a decrepit barn. Regarding the latter, consider the movie’s inevitable rape scene, during which Friedel repeatedly cuts to closeups of a male character’s bloody wrists while he struggles against bonds, dramatizing the mans hopeless efforts to rescue his female companion.
          The dynamic of that particular scene is even more complicated than the preceding remarks suggest, because—as the film’s title suggests—Date with a Kidnapper is all about the peculiar relationship between a small-time crook and the college girl he abducts. In some scenes, he’s her tormentor, and in other scenes, he’s her protector. He is also, at regular intervals, emasculated by circumstance. He’s the guy tied to the chair during the rape, which is committed by other criminals. Even a first-year student in gender studies could spend hours unpacking the contradictory and demeaning images in this picture, such as the scene of the coed begging her kidnapper for sex. In most movies of this type, that archetypal moment is maddening and vile; here, it’s both of those things but also slightly unnerving, because Friedel does a fairly good job of giving the kidnapper emotional dimensions. (Example: We see him calling a nursing home to check in on his infirm mother.) To no one’s surprise, the coed isn’t nearly as well developed as a character, so she comes across as a device for expressing Friedel’s troublesome ideas about feminine sexuality.
          Parsing an exploitation flick for deeper meanings may seem absurd, but Date with a Kidnapper is made with sufficient skill to invite closer inspection. If it’s not quite a real movie, in terms of exceeding its grindhouse mandate, it comes close. And if Leslie Rivera’s turn as the coed is frustrating—lots of naked desire without real grounding in character—at least Jack Canon’s performance as the kidnapper is consistently surprising.

Date with a Kidnapper: FUNKY

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