Before the review, I wanna note that Jonathan Kaplan, the director of today’s film, Unlawful Entry (a reworking of yesterday’s film The Prowler), also directed the underrated 1979 juvenile delinquent tale Over the Edge. I named this blog after the fictional housing development where that film takes place: New Granada. So yeah, that’s pretty cool. Kaplan has had a pretty versatile career, which includes the mighty trucksploitation film White Line Fever and lots of Law & Order: SVU episodes. And the guy’s still working well into his ’70s. Here’s to you, Mr. Kaplan.
Unlawful Entry is a fun reworking of The Prowler with an all-star triple play of Kurt Russell, Ray Liotta, and Madeleine Stowe. It came out while the erotic thriller resurgence was still going strong (Basic Instinct came out the same year), but Unlawful Entry is pretty light on the sexy time. And while The Prowler kept the overbearing husband behind the curtain before icing him, here he’s played by Russell, so you know he stays alive. Another difference is that the lonely wife, played by Stowe, wants nothing to do with the cop, Liotta. While Webb Garwood was a charming corrupt cop with big dreams of middle class living, Liotta’s Officer Pete Davis is a stone cold loon.
Overall I prefer The Prowler, particularly taken within context, but I can’t deny how fun this one is.
Mike Carr (Russell) and his wife Karen (Stowe) enjoy an upper middle class existence. Karen teaches middle school while Carr burns the midnight oil trying to get his new nightclub funded. They don’t seem to have a rocky marriage or anything (like in The Prowler), but Karen clearly wishes Mike would put the phone down at night and spend more time with her and her stupid cat. She even tells Mike she doesn’t care about how much money they make – that she’d be happy in a smaller house, as long as they were together. But Mike’s got big dreams of turning the L.A. club scene on its ear (for some reason).
One night they endure a horrific home invasion. The crook holds a knife up to Karen’s throat, while Mike can only look on helplessly. He dumps her in the pool and takes off, but not before shaking the couple to their core. Officer Davis and his partner reply to the distress call, and like the original, Davis takes an instant liking to Karen. He shows up the following day to oversee the installation of their new security system. Then he shows up at Karen’s work. Gradually he increases his advances on her and starts manipulating Mike so that nobody believes his stories about the “psycho cop” trying to ruin his life. This scenario is common in erotic thrillers – in which the psycho makes the spouse seem more crazy than he is. What makes Unlawful Entry unique though is Ray Liotta.
And lemme tell ya, Liotta is good in this role. He’s downright chilling in some scenes. My favorite is when he invites Mike on a ride along. After quietly ditching his partner, Davis takes Mike to the bad part of town where he’s located the crook who broke into his house. He gives Mike the opportunity to go to town on him with a nightstick, but Mike isn’t that kinda nightclub entrepreneur. Davis, however, certainly is. He goes nuts on him, practically foaming at the mouth.
Stowe is fine in her role, although she isn’t given much to do until the very end, when Davis makes himself at home. Russell is his usually intense self, which is always a good time. The suspense is handled deftly. Kaplan knows when to release the grip and when to tighten until your eyeballs start to bulge. The beats the film goes through flow really well – from intense to cool off from intense to cool off etc. Early in the film the geography of their house is established really well, so during the climax it’s easy to follow where everyone is and how close they are to killing each other.
Compared back to back, it’s pretty shocking to think how far Hollywood has come. They lost their shit over The Prowler, thinking it would destroy the foundations of the nuclear family. Forty years later, Unlawful Entry follows just about the same structure, but it’s nothing more than a deranged cop flick. And Kaplan didn’t get blacklisted for his efforts. Check them both out for a solid double feature.