Monday, May 14, 2007

#10: The Borrower (John McNaughton, 1991)

I love the premise of this movie, and I love its execution. An alien, from a planet where all the lifeforms look kind of like human-sized flies and may have evolved from us (this part is kind of unclear), has been arrested for serial murder. Instead of capital punishment, he's given a sentence worse than death. He gets some of that devolution that Devo's always rocking about, and is scientifically transformed into a human (the lowest form of life) and banished to Earth to make his way in a strange new world. There's a catch. The alien-to-human transformation process is not without its glitches, and unfortunately the Earth's atmosphere will cause his head to explode after a few hours. This won't kill him, fortunately, but is a major annoyance. The alien is forced to rip someone else's head off and stick it on his own body so as not to arouse suspicion that he is anything other than human. The trouble is, in another 2-12 hours (depending on plot necessity), the head's going to explode again and it's back to square one. This premise fills me with glee. Thankfully, the director, John McNaughton, seems filled with glee as well, and so does his cast. Thanks to the beauty of the film's plot, most of the actors get a chance to play the alien, too, including my two favorites, blaxploitation legend Antonio Fargas and horror and cop movie vet Tom Towles.
McNaughton manages to keep this sci-fi/horror/detective/slapstick comedy/satire/gore/b-movie/art film consistent and expertly paced. Even the reliably bad acting of Rae Dawn Chong doesn't dampen the proceedings. I especially admired the scenes when Tom Towles, manning the alien head, wanders the streets of Chicago and briefly ends up in a homeless shelter. These scenes have a stolen realness and beauty (and appear to have been caught on the fly without permits and with one or two cameras, judging by the seemingly authentic reactions of Chicagoans on the street and real homeless people in the shelter and on the sidewalks in front of it) that belie the film's goofy b-movie exterior. McNaughton is an exciting director who manages to marry art and exploitation trash in worthwhile films like "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer," "Mad Dog and Glory," and "Wild Things." (A friend of mine swears by "Normal Life," but I haven't seen that one yet.) "The Borrower" may be his thinnest and dopiest film, but it's still full of cheap thrills and ideas.
It's also the most good-natured film about decapitation I've ever seen, which in itself is worth a mighty recommendation.



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