Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Census Bloodbath: Single White Psycho

Year: 1980
Director: Gordon Willis
Cast: Talia Shire, Joe Cortese, Elizabeth Ashley
Run Time: 1 hour 36 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

1980 really was a rip-roaring year for controversial queer films, positioning every facet of the spectrum as the raging psychopath of their very own slasher. There was no bisexual killer, because nobody seemed to have recognized that they existed yet, but a gay man rampaged through Cruising, a transsexual sliced and diced in Dressed to Kill, and completing the trifecta is Windows, about a lesbian maniac also wreaking havoc in New York City.

Because of the status lesbians hold in pop culture, Windows is much more of a psychosexual erotic thriller than a slasher, which is the reason I hadn’t covered it until now. And boy do I wish I hadn’t loosened my restrictions, because this movie was a capital S Slog.

I really do think I qualify for sainthood with the patience I’ve displayed during this project.

In Windows, we follow the story of newly divorced Emily Hollander (Talia Shire), who still works with her ex-husband at a… museum? It’s not actually clear what her job is, because she never goes to it and the only aspect of her personality the movie wants to explore is the fact that she has a stutter. One night a shadowy assailant breaks into her apartment and holds her at knifepoint, forcing her to strip off and make moaning noises, which he tape records.

Immediately, her kindly neighbor Andrea (Elizabeth Ashley) rushes to her side, but Emily just wants to be left alone. Actually, we can only assume that they’re neighbors from the synopsis on the back of the box, because it is in no way clear where Andrea lives or how they know each other. They’re just piddling details in the story of the Stutter. Emily moves apartments and strikes up a relationship with Bob (Joe Cortese of Evilspeak), the detective who has been assigned to her case.

[SPOILERS, not that you should care] This ignites the jealous rage of Andrea, who is madly in love with Emily and hired the man who assaulted her so she could get a tape of her sex noises. She holes up in a loft across the river, where she spies on Emily with a telescope, killing anybody who comes between them.

And by that, I mean two totally unrelated characters who have barely a minute of screen time each.

Let’s kick this thing off by saying something nice. Windows, as the first and only directorial feature of The Godfather and Annie Hall cinematographer Gordon Willis, is very beautifully shot (Willis also lensed Windows, pulling double duty). The opening shot turns a walkway tunnel into a twirling kaleidoscope of color and silhouette, and his frequent exterior shots of the windows of Emily’s apartment are just plain gorgeous. And… that’s the absolute last good thing I have to say about Windows.

First of all, it’s not a true slasher by any definition. The kills – all two of them – are bundled offscreen in a  misguided attempt at class. But that’s the least of it. Windows is barely a movie. In addition to the murders, every single interesting thing about this plot happens off-camera: Emily’s divorce, her introduction to Andrea, the inception of her new romance, and so on and so forth. Perhaps it’s an experiment to see what would happen if you composed a movie out of only deleted scenes, but either way it’s a spectacular failure. Characters aren’t established, the plot is a nonentity, and the whole affair is a tremendous waste of time.

The only thing you have to cling to for dear life is Emily’s stutter, which the movie is convinced is something that makes her weak somehow. Seriously, Windows seems to think that Emily is just as impaired and imperiled as Jennifer Jason Leigh’s deaf, blind, and mute character in Eyes of a Stranger. There is no tension, no discernible threat for at least an hour, and no reason to care one whit about any of the three or four characters that drift aimlessly across the screen. It’s like watching an old Windows screensaver for 96 minutes. 

Actually, come to think of it, maybe that’s how they got the title.

Windows slips into one scene after another like an endless series of nightcaps, starting off relaxed but getting blearier and more disjointed as it moves along. I can’t stress enough how literally nothing happens in the plot. I sat through an hour and a half of this and all I can remember are the first and final scenes. Windows is extravagantly boring. If it was a case of style over substance, that would be one thing. It does have the capacity to be pretty, but that’s not exactly a defining feature of the thing. Style is still technically over substance, but it has already leapt off the cliff. Substance is at rock bottom, and style is following close behind. It’s all relative.

When it comes to erotic thrillers, even Sorority House Massacre II is an improvement on Windows. It might be so bad that you can literally see the ketchup bottle squirting out the blood, but at least there is blood. And frankly, the “erotic’ element barely comes into play either. Windows Iisso stiflingly demure about everything it wants to be that it ends up being nothing.

It’s not erotic. It’s not a thriller. It’s not a slasher. It’s certainly not a sensitive depiction of the lesbian lifestyle. It’s not worth your time.

You’d be better off just staring out the nearest window for two hours. Wherever you happen to be, whatever’s out there is guaranteed to be more interesting than this film, even if it’s just your faint reflection in the glass.

Killer: Andrea Glassen (Elizabeth Ashley)
Final Girl: Emily Hollander (Talia Shire)
Best Kill: C’mon. Not freaking applicable.
Sign of the Times: Emily has to cross an entire room to answer the phone.
Scariest Moment: Emily’s attacker randomly appears back at her apartment, shoving his arm through the door.
Weirdest Moment: Emily has like 80 books about stuttering on her shelf.
Champion Dialogue: “Please... don't hurt me. Please... don't hurt me. Please... don't hurt me. Please... don't hurt me. Don't hurt me. Please. Please. Please don't hurt me. Please don't hurt me. Please don't hurt me. Please don't hurt me. Please.”
Body Count: 2
  1. Sam is killed offscreen.
  2. Andrea’s Shrink is stabbed offscreen.
TL;DR: Windows is one of the most boring, demurely unsensational erotic thrillers ever made.
Rating: 2/10
Word Count: 1090

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