Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Silent Partner

Oh, Canada. . . From our neighbors up north comes The Silent Partner (1978), another underseen and underappreciated gem that features a solid cast and an intellectually thrilling precision-like plot.

Elliot Gould stars as common bank teller Miles Cullen who works in one of those banks located in a huge shopping center.  It's Christmastime and there are people everywhere, and Miles notices that one of the mall Santas has been acting strangely, which leads him to suspect that he is casing the joint.  Figuring that this fake Santa is going to rob the bank, Miles sets it up so that he himself ends up with the money and Santa gets away with barely anything and all the blame.  The robber, Harry Reikle (an icy Christopher Plummer), doesn't appreciated being played for a fool, so he comes after Miles in what becomes a tense cat and mouse game of wits and oneupmanship.

Featuring some crafty subterfuge and plenty of thrills, with bits of humor, blackmail, eroticism, and shocking violence, The Silent Partner is full of surprises, with a terrific cast and sharp storytelling that has the whole film moving like clockwork.
Miles Cullen is kind of a bland, milquetoast, boring sort of guy.  He works at a bank, he's an exotic fish enthusiast, and he lives in a small apartment.  Despite these nebbish qualities, Miles manages to have multiple women in his life.  He has an obvious attraction to his co-worker Julie Carver (the lovely Susannah York, in a wonderfully subtle role), but that's complicated as she also happens to be his boss's mistress.  The other woman in his life is Elaine (the also lovely Céline Lomez), a femme fatale who has her loyalty tested in more than one way.
Elliot Gould is great in the lead role.  His intelligent charisma and humorous charms make him an odd but appealing leading man, the kind they only had back in the '70s.  He brings this plain normalcy to Miles, but he's also got this slyness about him.  Miles isn't a brave or crackerjack cool type that Gould plays in The Long Goodbye (1973) or California Split (1974), he's more the type of guy who acts on an opportunity, thinking he's intelligent enough to outwit his opponent, not realizing the lengths the game would take him.
A complete 180º turn from his role as Capt. Von Trapp in The Sound of Music (1965), Christopher Plummer is a fearsome individual, in what is one of his most vicious roles, as the psychotic Harry Reikle.  He's fiercely determined and has the most menacing eyes; when they appear at Gould's mail slot, it's the most effectively creepy moment in the film.  Plummer glares from behind his Santa Claus suit in the opening robbery, but later in the film he has an even more shocking disguise, although I'm not going to ruin that surprise for anybody.  The first time I watched this, it totally caught me off guard.  It's a pretty good disguise, that's all I say.  (He does make one mean looking Santa).
The Silent Partner was made during the "tax shelter era" of Canadian film production, which as far as I can tell only lasted a few years and allowed investors to deduct their entire investments from their taxable income and defer their taxes, or something like that.  Most of the films made under this provision were quick productions designed to be commercial projects that disguised their "Canadianness," usually by casting American actors and hiding landmarks and other local indicators.  While The Silent Partner does use American and British actors, it doesn't make much of an attempt to hide its Canadianness, something that sets it apart from other films of the period.

The city of Toronto is given a nice showcase in The Silent Partner.  Part of the film is set in Eaton Centre, a popular shopping mall, and Canadian flags can be seen flying around the cityscape.  Even if you don't pick up on landmarks like the CN Tower (I didn't), the first shot of money at the bank is a dead giveaway that this isn't America.  It looks like Monopoly money or something.......
Director Daryl Duke was mainly a TV guy, but in addition to this nifty little thriller, he also directed the well regarded Rip Torn country-western vehicle Payday (1973).  I think I'm going to have to check that one out.

Writer Curtis Hanson would follow up this tight and taunt script with a writing gig on Samuel Fuller's controversial White Dog (1982) and would go on to direct L.A. Confidential (1997, for which he won a screenplay Oscar), Wonder Boys (2000), and 8 Mile (2003).  The Silent Partner is based on a book by Anders Bodelsen entitled 'Think of a Number' and is a remake of an obscure Danish film from 1969 of the same name, starring Bibi Andersson.
The cinematography isn't flashy but is effective in setting the tone at different locations.  There's some moody, noir-ish lighting in Miles' apartment and in the streets below his window.  The one big shocking scene of violence is orchestrated like an Italian horror film, almost operatic in its nature and execution.  The music was provided by Oscar Peterson, a great Canadian jazz musician and composer, considered to be one of the greatest jazz pianists.  The score is unobtrusive and accentuates the tension by using moody orchestrics, mainly strings and horns, with the percussion saved for the chase and getaway scenes.
Look for John Candy in a small supporting role, who gets a couple funny lines but mostly his suits are just funny.
Celebrating its 35th year of release, The Silent Partner is a really great crime thriller, with well-defined characters and some nice understated performances, this is one of those rare gems that more people need to see.  Seek it out.

I first saw it on DVD at the recommendation of a friend awhile back, but earlier this year I saw a 35mm print of The Silent Partner at The Hollywood Theater as part of their New Years Day Secret Movie Marathon and it was quite a treat, my favorite thing shown at that event.  The Hollywood Theater also screened the film again recently as part of their Polyester Pulp: 70s Crime Series, going on this month through May 1st.
This is the shitty cover to the no-frills DVD that's out there.  Makes it look like a Reservoir Dogs knock-off. . . .
....and these old VHS covers down here aren't much better.  The first one's okay, the second one has Gould with an apple in his mouth (?), and the third one has one of those cartoon covers that were kinda popular back in the 70s.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Charley Varrick

The 1970s were a great period for film and it's my particular favorite decade of American cinema, without a doubt.  I find the look of everything and everyone to be very visually appealing, and the stories being told were combinations of things never seen before and old narratives being told in new and often exciting ways.  Also exciting was how various genres were reexamined and reinterpreted in accordance to the era's shifting and changing social and cultural values.  Film noir, a film genre that was most popular during the '50s, went through a rougher and tougher period in the 1970s, one that was an all too brief renaissance for the genre.  These lower profile 70s crime films were generally overlooked upon release and are now overshadowed by their contemporary classics, by your Taxi Drivers, your Godfathers, and your French Connections, if you will.  I don't want to dispute the greatness of some of those films, but they do seem to dominate the conversation when 70s American cinema is concerned.

Which is a shame, as there were some fantastic dark and gritty crime films being made and released back then, including The Long Goodbye (1972), The Mechanic (1972), The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973), The Outfit (1973), The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974), The Yakuza (1974), and a truckload more.  One of my personal favorites from this field of underappreciated gems is the 1973 crime/heist film from director Don Siegel, Charley Varrick, starring Walter Matthau, Joe Don Baker, and John Vernon.

Charley Varrick is bookended by two great action scenes, the tricky and thrilling opening bank heist pulled by Varrick (Walter Matthau) and his crew, including his wife Nadine (Jacqueline Scott) and his partner Harman (Andy Robinson), and the final chase and showdown that takes place in a junkyard and involves a bi-plane and Joe Don Baker.  Both of these scenes are tense and full of creative energy.  Everything in between is more subdued and calculated, but just as riveting, as Varrick and crew unexpectedly come away with almost a million dollars in mafia money, money that the mafia wants back.  Varrick must use his cunning and cleverness to stay multiple steps ahead of the mob, the authorities, a ruthless hitman named Molly (Joe Don Baker), and even his partner and buddy Harman.

That's really all you need to know about the plot, or at least all I'm going to say.  The details that come while watching the film are part of the thrill of experiencing the twists and turns of the narrative.  Varrick is a gum chewing, level headed, rational thinker, someone who is pragmatic and practical.  When he finds out what they've stolen is most likely mob money, he just nods his head coolly and moves on to solving this new problem.  When Harman is talking up a storm about not waiting to spend his share of the loot, Varrick just says, "okay, you know what's best," and doesn't make a big scene about it and goes about his business, which includes hiding the money so Harman can't lay his hands on any of it.

Charley Varrick breaks a couple of the conventions of film noir by forgoing the shadows and darkness of metropolitan cityscapes and replacing it with the bright, sunlight open spaces and small-townness of New Mexico, but its landscapes are still populated by crooked, greedy lowlifes and other various miscreants and oddballs.  Everybody in the movie seems greasy or weaselly or both.  The callous directness of some of the characters and the intricate cause-and-effect plot mechanics recall the world depicted in Richard Stark's series of Parker novels, but with slightly softer edges.  Some of the tricks and turns of the plot are telegraphed early, but when the payoff comes it is still pretty damn great.

Walter Matthau is amazing as the title character, his hangdog looks and demeanor at odds with his steely determination and decision making.  He makes as unconventional an action hero as you could imagine, but he brings this cool headed intelligence to the role, making him compelling to watch, simply because you want to know what he's up to.  Varrick owns an independent crop dusting business and talks about how bigger companies are pushing the smaller guys under, and how that's led him to crime (or possibly back into crime; the film never makes it clear if his earlier days involved crime, although it seems likely).  His business slogan is "the last of the independents," which also works as Varrick's personal motto (it was also going to be the original title of the film) and which sort of hints at the "free spirit" that a certain population of American was searching for at that time in history.

It's said that Clint Eastwood was originally up for the role of Varrick, having worked with director Don Siegel on his previous three pictures, including the very popular Dirty Harry (1971), but I can't imagine Eastwood bringing the right presence or attitude to Varrick, not in the way Matthau does.  The audience would expect Eastwood to be able to win this one right from the get-go, but Matthau is an unproven commodity as far as action movie expectations are concerned.  At this time, Walter Matthau was mainly known for his comedies with Jack Lemmon, like The Fortune Cookie (1964) and The Odd Couple (1968), but he also had some excellent dramatical work in Nicholas Ray's Bigger Than Life (1956), Elia Kazan's A Face in the Crowd (1957), and Sidney Lumet's Fail-Safe (1964).  His post-Varrick career includes another excellent 70s crime movie, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974), and his loveably foul turn as the manager in The Bad News Bears (1976).  (If you're only familiar with Walter Matthau through Grumpy Old Men (1993) then you need to knock it off and get with the program).

A great hero like Charley Varrick needs a villain that is equally measured, and to balance Matthau's cool-headed evenness, we get Joe Don Baker (in what is easily his finest role) as the ruthless and coldblooded, but surpsingly upbeat, hired hitman Molly.  Unlike Varrick, who rarely has to muscle anybody, Molly muscles everybody he comes across.  The guy whose car he repossesses, the girls and clients at the whore house he stays at, the wheelchair bound gun-store owner, and even the lady photographer who specializes in fake documentation, Molly punches, slaps, insults, and threatens them all with seemingly sociopathic enjoyment, wearing a big cowboy hat and an even bigger smile.  He's mean as a rattlesnake, but he's also a pipe smoker who whistles to himself, is nice to dogs, and won't sleep with whores (if he knows about it).  Molly seems to be a direct influence on the character of Anton Chigurah (Javier Bardem), the single-minded and ruthless killer from the Coen Brother's No Country for Old Men (2007), another film that takes place in the sun-drenched southwest.  Joe Don Baker would also star in Walking Tall and The Outfit (both also 1973), as well as Mitchell (1975, immortalized on the 5th season of Mystery Science Theater 3000), The Pack (1977), Joysticks (1983), Fletch (1985), and Cape Fear (1991).  He can also be seen in the upcoming and anticipated (by me at least) Mike Nichols movie, Mud (2013).

John Vernon plays Maynard Boyle, the mob money man who hires Molly to track down who robbed the bank, mainly in a preemptive effort to ensure his bosses don't think he had anything to do with the robbery.  He has some good scenes with FBI agent Garfinkle (Norman Fell, wearing sunglasses just like Mr. Roper might wear) and with the bank manager Harold Young (Woodrow Parfrey) that display Boyle's own cunning and slickness.  He has a line about guys using "a pair of pliers and a blow torch" that Quentin Tarantino would wholesale lift for Pulp Fiction (1994).  Vernon plays a great bad guy, usually an egotist and always a dick.  Vernon was the mayor in Siegel's Dirty Harry and was also in Point Blank (1967) and The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), but he is without a doubt best known as the evil Dean Wormer from the classic college comedy Animal House (1978).

Andy Robinson's first role in a feature film was in Dirty Harry as the Scopio killer and Charley Varrick would he his follow-up.  He has a long list of television credits, most notably as reoccurring character Garak on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.  He's maybe most recognizable to horror fans for playing Larry in Clive Barker's Hellraiser (1987).

Don Siegel has a long career of projects that were able to transcend their budgets and/or subject matter and become classics, like Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and The Killers (1964), and he would also mentor Clint Eastwood, working with him five times.  Eastwood would dedicate Unforgiven (1992) to both Sergio (Leone, Clint's other mentor) and Don.  Siegel would sometimes do cameos in his movies; in Charley Varrick he can be seen as a ping-pong player.

The score is another excellent piece by Lalo Schifrin, less jazzy than some of his other works, using more ambient effects and instrumentation.  The opening credits has a nice gentle theme that plays over scenes of small-town domestic life, before opening up some big orchestration and a ripping sax solo that settles down and leads into the tense bank heist.  Schifrin has a ridiculously long list of credits, including most of Don Siegel's movies; some other highlights (and personal favorites) include Cool Hand Luke (1967), Bullitt (1968), Pretty Maids All in a Row (1971), Enter the Dragon (1973), The Manitou (1978), and of course his most iconic musical piece, the theme song to Mission: Impossible.....

I usually like to mention a couple minor supporting players and point out other minor supporting work they've done.  Here's two:  Woodrow Parfrey (wormy bank manger Harold Young) would play an orangutan in Planet of the Apes (1968), a Dr. Maximus to be exact (he sat in on Taylor's trial), and Sheree North (Jewell, the lady photographer) gets beat to death in Maniac Cop (1988) and was in a couple episodes of Seinfeld as Kramer's mother Babs.

Also of note, in one scene late in the movie, Matthau sleeps with a woman played by actress Felicia Farr and in general the scene feels kind of shoehorned in, which apparently it kind of was, as the scene is private joke of sorts.  You see, Felicia Farr was Jack Lemmon's real life wife, and "sleeping" with her onscreen was Matthau's way of getting a dig at his old friend.  I'd say the scene is out of place with the rest of the movie (and why this woman would suddenly sleep with Varrick is beyond me), even if the "joke" is kind of funny.

Also, with all apologies to Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959), the Best Use of a Crop Duster in a Motion Picture goes to Charley Varrick.

Another thing I love about this movie:  the finale is FULL of squealing tires on dirt!

I saw this last week as part of the Polyester Pulp: 70s Crime Series being screened at the fantastic Hollywood Theatre this month here in Portland, OR.  The 35mm print looked great and the crowd dug it.

Charley Varrick is a film I HIGHLY RECOMMEND.  You can find no-frills-but-in-proper-aspect-ratio copies of it to buy online and it's on Netflix (I think) and you should also be able to find it to rent at your local video store if it's cool enough (or not even; first time I saw it, I rented it from a shitty Family Video), but if all that fails or if you're cheap, you can apparently watch the whole damn movie over on YouTube, but don't look here for a link, I'm not posting one.  Sometimes if you want things, you have to work at being independent.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Deadly Friend

In my last post for Wes Craven's Deadly Blessing (1981) I talked about how his career has great peaks followed by recessive periods.  Deadly Friend (1986) is the lead off movie of Craven's second low period.  It's actually his follow-up film to the wildly successful A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), and as a follow-up to NightmareDeadly Friend isn't very good.  It somehow manages to look cheaper and have a less focused story, bouncing between teen drama, dark romance, revenge thriller, and science fiction horror film.

Deadly Friend qualifies as a crappy movie, without a doubt, but there's some neat things in it and it can be enjoyable on its own terms.  Most importantly, and comically, the movie exposes the dangerous potential of basketballs.
Deadly Friend opens with a sneaky car thief busting into a van but getting attacked by an unknown something, a "something" that makes weird noises and has a robot claw.  After the opening credits roll, we find out that this "something" is a remote controlled, artificially intelligent robot named BB that was created by and belongs to Paul (Matthew Laborteaux), who is sort of a boy genius.  He and his mother Jeannie (Anne Twomey) are moving into a new neighborhood, and at first some people are freaked out by this yellow robot buzzing around and talking and stuff, but they generally seem to accept it and react to it as they might any other new neighbor.  That's called tolerance.
Right from the start, you know Deadly Friend is going to be an odd movie, what with this yellow robot rolling around and all.  BB is shown to have great strength, but he also mumbles and sputter-talks in a voice (provided by Charles Fleischer, voice of Roger Rabbit) that is like a cross between a Gremlin and R2D2 that comes off more grating than anything.  Paul is obviously a genius in the field of robotic technology, but why did he have to make the robot so gawdamned annoying?
Paul and his mother have moved to this new suburb because Paul the genius has a scholarship at the local university (in addition to taking classes, he also has his own laboratory).  Paul is still a nerdy teenager though, and that's who he still relates to.  Upon moving into the new house, he meets and becomes fast friends with the paperboy, Tommy (Michael Sharrett), who goes by the odd nickname "Slime."  Paul also, in classic teen-drama tradition, falls for the girl next door, Samantha Pringle (Kristy Swanson).  When Paul first meets Sam (as she likes to be called), he notices that she has a bruise on her arm and she seems to be real careful about not upsetting her father, Harry (Richard Marcus), who, as we find out, is an abusive drunk.
Over the next few weeks, Paul, Tom, Sam, and BB become closer friends, as Paul studies at the university and helps Tom with his paper route during his free time.  One day while they're all playing basketball, their ball lands in the heavily fenced off yard of the mean old neighbor lady, Elvira (Anne Ramsey), who comes barging out of her house, threatening the kids with her shotgun, and throwing their basketball inside her place, saying it belongs to her now.

This leads to the group of them attempting to pull a prank on Elvira on Halloween night.  The prank of course goes tragically wrong and Elvira (SPOILER) blows BB up with her shotgun, shooting him to pieces.  Paul is of course devastated at the loss of his friend (and creation;  jeez how much did that thing cost??  Hope he had insurance), as are Sam and Tom, who feels extra guilt, as the prank was his idea.
Time passes, and Sam shares a Thanksgiving dinner with Paul and his mother.  Afterwards, Sam and Paul share their first kiss, as it is readily apparent that they have developed feelings for one another.  Unfortunately, after returning home, Sam is met by her drunk father as he berates her, slaps her, and pushes her down the stairs, severely damaging her brain.  Rushed to the hospital, Sam is put on life support, but the doctors can't help her; she's brain dead.  Claiming she tripped and fell down the stairs, her father requests that she be taken off life support.

Devasated at yet another loss, Paul (showing shades of Herbert West) comes up with a scheme to use BB's microchip brain to kickstart Sam's.  He and Tom steal Sam's body (pretty elaborate for a couple teen boys) and hide her out in Paul's garage.  Sam returns to life, but is basically an animated corpse, slowly remembering how to do things, like walk and move around properly.  As could be predicted, the melding of a robot and human brain does not go well.  Once Sam relearns basic motor functions, she also gains super robot-level strength and a need for revenge against those that have wronged her and BB.  Paul has to deal with the implications of having a murderous, reanimated girlfriend, as well as explain all this to his buddy Tom while trying to hide Sam from his mother and the authorities.  Teenager problems are the worst problems...
Like I said, Deadly Friend is kind of a crappy movie.  I guess the weird tonal shifts in the film are due to the typical bit of studio interference, who wanted to add more shocks and scares.  The original film Craven delivered was more a supernatural science fiction thriller that focused mainly on the dark romance between Paul and Sam and wasn't graphically violent at all.  The screenplay was written by Bruce Joel Rubin, who would prove to be versatile with the weepy cry-fest Ghost (1990, for which he won an Oscar) and the mind-fuck freakout Jacob's Ladder (also 1990, criminally not nominated for a single Oscar).

Craven wanted to abandon the project, but was forced to stay on for the reshoots because he was going through a messy divorce at the time and was also facing a lawsuit, so getting paid became the bottom line.  To this day, Craven dislikes the final film, effectively disowning it.  I can't imagine his original version being much better than the final product, as most of the added scare scenes are some of the best parts of the movie.
Added to the film were some dream sequences, both of them very Freddy Kruger-like in their execution.  In one, Sam's father Harry leers over her while she's in bed.  He's all sweaty and starts laying hands on her before she stabs him with a broken vase, blood spurting everywhere.  Later, Paul has a weird, jolting dream where the burnt-up corpse of Harry pops up out of the middle of his bed.

The Elm St. comparisons don't end there.  The basement of Sam's father's house has a creepy, fiery furnace in it that closely resembles the same thing in the basement of Nancy's house in Nightmare.  Also, the idyllic suburban setting closely resembles the neighborhoods seen in many 80s horror films, including Fright Night (1985), The Gate (1987), and yes, Elm St. as well.
In addition to the dream sequences, they also added some graphic gore scenes, including a tacked on shock-ending that is even more ridiculously nonsensical than the whack-a-doo ending to Craven's Deadly Blessing.  The cheeseball special effects don't help.

The best added scene also happens to be the most memorable scene in the movie.  After Sam has been resurrected, she breaks into Elvira's home and attacks her, killing her in the most ludicrous fashion:  with a basketball.  It's quite the head explosion, really graphic stuff (again, tonally out of place in the film) but then it goes an extra step into goofiness when the body begins to shimmy and shake around with laughable effects.  It really is a must see, truly the one great scene in the movie:
I told you basketballs were dangerous.
The technology of the film is, naturally, very 80s.  Paul shows off BB's "brain" a couple times and it is twice as big as my smartphone.  The special mechanical effects used to make BB happen are decent enough and it's fairly believable that this thing could be moving around and acting on its own.  In one scene, BB goes badass and threatens some biker punks, grabbing one by the crotch.  When compared to other 1986 robots, BB is definitely less deadly than the killbots in Chopping Mall but quite possibly more annoying than Johnny-5 in Short Circuit, if you can believe it.

The most compelling relationship in the movie, to me, was not the Sam/Paul drama, but the Paul/Tom dynamic.  As friends, they're shown to have a true camaraderie, as evidenced in the scene where Paul convinces Tom to help him steal Sam's body from the hospital.  Later, when Tom finds out that Sam has started killing people, he's justifiably freaked out and decides to tell the police.  This doesn't go over well with Sam, who leaps out of a window and attacks Tom.  It's at this moment that Paul first realizes that bringing Sam back from the dead maybe wasn't the best idea (or maybe it's a few seconds later when she's choking him?).
Matthew Laborteaux, who is best known for his role on Little House on the Prairie as Albert Quinn Ingalls, got his start as an actor playing one of Peter Falk and Gena Rowland's children in A Woman Under the Influence (1974).  He plays Paul as kind of a know-it-all super genius, not really smug, just a little over-confident for someone so young.  Despite being shown to care for his mother and friends, Paul is portrayed as having a singular focus on advancing his work and theories.  In this story, he is the Dr. Frankenstein character, obsessed with creating life (first with BB, then Sam).
This was Kristy Swanson's first big role, after smaller parts in Pretty in Pink and Ferris Bueller's Day Off (both 1986).  After Deadly Friend she would land a lead role in Flowers in the Attic (1987) and would go on to star in Hot Shots! (1991) and Buffy, the Vampire Slayer (1992).  She's really stiff in this movie, and that's just not due to her acting like a robot.  In general, Swanson's cardboard acting is charming in its own way and she manages to maintain watchability throughout.
Her abusive father Harry was played by Richard Marcus, who I recognized as poor old Nestor from Tremors (1990).  Anne Twomey (Paul's mother) would play Rita Kirson on Seinfeld, the president of NBC who passes on Jerry and George's sitcom, Jerry, after Russell Dalrymple disappears.

The shotgun-weilding, mean old lady Elvira was played by professional mean old lady Anne Ramsey, who would have similar roles in Any Which Way You Can (1980), The Goonies (1985), and Throw Mama from the Train (1987).  Nobody could yell at kids or Danny DeVito the way she could.

Cinematographer Philip H. Lathrop has an impressive filmography that includes John Boorman's Point Blank (1967), Sydney Pollack's They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969), and Walter Hill's The Driver (1978).  Deadly Friend would be his last theatrical film and evidence that he had bills to pay or owed someone a favor.
Deadly Friend is a big old mishmash of clashing elements, none of it quite gelling.  More silly than scary, less sick than it is sweet, Deadly Friend is probably the most oddball film in Wes Craven's filmography.  Unfortunately, it isn't his worst film because we live in a world where Scream 3 (2000) and Cursed (2005) still exist.

Craven's post-Nightmare/pre-Scream resume also includes other wildly uneven and questionable product, like Shocker (1989), The People Under the Stairs (1991), New Nightmare (1994), and Vampire in Brooklyn (1995).  I've always been partial to New Nightmare, but his best film from this period is probably the voodoo thriller The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988), but I've always been lukewarm on that one due to the presence of Bill Pullman and the severe lack of deaths by basketball.
Careful with those basketballs, kids.

Two things about this trailer:
#1- There is a suspicious lack of BB.
#2- at the 51 second mark there is a "hey, girl."