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Stranger is Watching, A
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by Jack Sommersby

"An Unctuous Unthriller"
2 stars

The kind of medicore material you'd expect in your mediocre TV Movie of the Week.

A Stranger is Watching, director Sean S. Cunningham's follow-up to his passable Friday the 13th, just isn't suspenseful and tightly wound enough to grip us in the nerve-jangling manner it would like to -- we're more aware of the intent behind it while constantly spotting the chalk marks it's not hitting. We start off with a prologue where a young teenager watches as her mother is viciously raped and killed by a home invader; we forward two years later and the man convicted of the crime is set to be executed in three days. As it turns out, the daughter's father is the managing editor of a New York magazine, and his girlfriend, a TV reporter, is covering the story. Soon their lives are turned upside down when the two females are kidnapped by a real sicko who holds them hostage inside a locked room in the dank bowels of Grand Central Station for a hefty ransom. Is the man facing execution really the killer, or is it the kidnapper whose face the daughter is slowly starting to recognize? If you've seen just a handful of movies, the answer to this is more than a little bit obvious; and even if you've never seen one, the interest level isn't nearly as involving as it should be, with most of the blame falling on the too-episodic screenplay (based on a novel by best-selling author Mary Higgins Clark, and co-penned by Victor Miller of F13) that starts to repeat itself fairly soon. Not helping matters is the lackluster directing that lacks the tautness and definition necessary to consistently keep us on edge -- Cunningham, to put it kindly, isn't exactly a virtuoso in the area of expressive film language, and every single touch of his is ho-hum obvious. Further demerits include an array of characters we have absolutely no stake in (not caring whether the victims make it out alive is quite a major no-no), performances that are strictly second-rate (and that includes the one by the usually-welcome Rip Torn, who can't get anything fresh going as the kidnapper), a running time that's overlong by at least fifteen minutes (a casualty due to Cunningham failing to adeptly shape the scenes and turn the screws), and several boo-hiss plot components like the captives being held in a place where the villain can be seen coming and going rather than his van where he earlier had them tied up and bagged. So in the end, despite some semi-textured grittiness (there's one good bit where the daughter tries escaping up a web-and-dust-covered dumbwaiter passage), A Stranger is Watching simply fails to take hold and put us through the wringer like any good thriller should. Friday the 13th was no classic, but with its limited contextual value Cunningham elicited some effective moments. Here, away from a secluded summer camp and in the midst of the Big Apple, he's churned out quite the cinematic limp noodle.

Cunningham's "Spring Break" and "House" are definitely superior to this mess.

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originally posted: 05/30/09 08:23:18
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User Comments

1/26/09 action movie fan scary grand central tunnel atmosphere and good crime drama, evil rip torm-a winner film 4 stars
4/25/06 Mer Hathaway Own it and love it 5 stars
4/13/03 Jack Sommersby Flawed but pretty tense thriller. Better than Cunningham's "Friday the 13th". 4 stars
12/29/02 Crystal Fleming Great suspense movie 5 stars
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  02-Aug-1982 (R)



Directed by
  Sean S. Cunningham

Written by
  Earl Mac Rauch

  Kate Mulgrew
  Rip Torn
  James Naughton
  James Russo
  Barbara Baxley

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