When writer-director Larry Cohen died last year, there was a lot of talk about his diverse filmography. He struck during the era of urban action with Fred Williamson in Black Caesar and Hell Up In Harlem. The horrific It’s Alive series about mutant cannibalistic babies made him a drive-in legend. God Told Me To was equally disturbing. The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover looked deeply into the head of the FBI. Q– The Winged Serpent was a massive monster film. The Stuff was his vision of humans overtaken by consumerism of another kind. One of the things that didn’t get much attention was the time Larry made two films in downtown New York City that both came out in November of 1984. Special Effects starred Eric Bogosian (Talk Radio) and Zoë Lund (Ms. 45). The second also featured two downtown icons of the time. Perfect Strangers (not to be confused with the sitcom) brought downtown’s Anne Carlisle (Liquid Sky) and Ann Magnuson (the opening victim in The Hunger) into the world of an underworld killer.
Johnny Ross (Smithereens and Special Effects) guides a guy into an alley in downtown New York City. Before too much can happen, Johnny pulls out his knife and takes care of the other guy. It should have been just another body found in the city except a small child (Matthew Stockley) saw the hit through the gaps in his backyard fence. The boy’s mother Sally (Desperately Seeking Susan‘s Anne Carlisle) didn’t see anything and doesn’t want her non-talkative two year old son getting grilled by the cops. Her protective friend Malda (Star Trek: Picard‘s Ann Magnuson) agrees and suggests she buy a gun since New York City isn’t safe. Johnny isn’t sure what to do since he fears the kid identified him. He meets up with Sally “accidentally” to see if the boy remembers him from their previous encounter. Johnny’s mob boss gives him his marching orders to get close to Sally and eventually make kill the kid so it look like an accident. New York City isn’t a great place to raise kids what with all the traffic and windows that children can fall out. Is Johnny that cold blooded? He isn’t merely a hitman for the mob, but a bit of a graffiti artist who uses black spray paint to capture his shadow on various objects around time. He’s not just all about the killing. But he can’t upset his mobster boss.
Perfect Strangers is an edgy delight. If you’re only used to Anne Carlisle from Liquid Sky, you’re going to be in for a shock at how motherly she can be on the screen. She isn’t male and female characters dealing with an artsy world and aliens even though she’s still in the 212 area code. She’s a woman with normal hair who loves and son and has serious issues with her ex-husband. She’s happy when Johnny shows real interest in her. Although she’s clueless that his interest is to whack her kid in a non-suspicious way. She really likes Johnny so the truth is going to kill her. Larry Cohen fares well in the territory that’s normally framed up by Abel Ferrara (Driller Killer). He brings plenty of emotions to film that could be so ultra formulaic in the hitman genre. Perfect Strangers is a movie of its time since there’s no way we can believe that a single mother can afford such a large apartment with a backyard in Manhattan nowadays. Do not overlook Perfect Strangers when you’re on a Larry Cohen binge.
The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. The 2K transfer is from the 35mm interpositive from when the movie was called Blind Alley. The resolution lets you enjoy the atmosphere of downtown Manhattan in the mid-80s. There’s fine shots of the World Trade Center Towers. The audio is DTS-HD MA mono. The levels are fine for getting the city noise through the speakers. The movie is subtitled.
A True Artist (7:46) interviews Anne Carlisle during the Pandemic via Skype. She points out her sister is in the movie. She was a painter in college and realized her work was stuff that wasn’t going to buy. Her break through was being part of a camera tracking exercise that led to being in an acting class. Her acting class teacher turned out to be a casting director who got her hooked up with Liquid Sky and this film.
Shadow in the City (9:13) is an archival interview with Larry Cohen. He explains how he had a deal with Helmdale to make two films back to back with the same crew to make shooting in New York City affordable. So he made Special Effects and Blind Alley. He talks about casting Carlisle after seeing her in Liquid Sky. He explains how he decided upon the little kid and why he didn’t need twins for the role.
Promotional Still Gallery (0:38) is behind the scenes shots.
Vinegar Syndrome presents Perfect Strangers. Directed by: Larry Cohen. Screenplay by: Larry Cohen. Starring: Anne Carlisle, Brad Rijn, John Woehrle, Matthew Stockley, Stephen Lack and Ann Magnuson. Rated: R. Running Time: 91 minutes. Released: July 28, 2020.
Tags: Larry Cohen, Liquid Sky, Perfect Strangers, Vinegar Syndrome