Perfect Strangers – Blu-Ray Review

Perfect Strangers—or Blind Alley, as the title card on this release reads—is a Larry Cohen film made during the absolute wild career that he had during the ’70s and ’80s. Cohen continued to work on stuff, but by the late ’90s he was primarily a screenwriter for hire, including for Phone Booth, although he did direct an episode of Masters of Horror.  He would get Hollywood money sometimes, but always shot out in the streets extremely recklessly, often in his beloved New York City. Cohen was very much in the linage of filmmakers like Samuel Fuller, those who made genre films with a ripped-from-the-headlines type of feel.

This film came as a part of a two-picture deal with John Daly’s Hemdale after the success of Cohen’s successful but utterly crazy Q – The Winged Serpent. The other film in the deal was Special Effects. Hemdale made some of the best films from the ’80s, and were willing to gamble on films by true auteurs, including the back-to-back Best Picture at the Oscars Platoon (they also did Stone’s Salvador) and The Last Emperor, the first and still best film in the Terminator franchise, and one of the most perfect films ever made, Miracle Mile, amongst many others. Cohen was apparently a good fit, and in the supplementary interview, he seems to have gotten on with Daly pretty well.

Anne Carlisle, who was the height of her short-lived cult movie fame after starring as both the male and female leads in Liquid Sky (which also has a excellent Vinegar Syndrome release, by the way) plays Sally, who is a bohemian single mother in New York. Her young son isn’t quite old enough to be speaking yet. The little boy witnesses a mob hit, and hitman Johnny (Brad Rijn) seduces Sally because he doesn’t want the boy to possibly identify him to the cops.

It’s a really simple, direct plot, which is Cohen’s trademark, but this time there is also a kind of feminist message, it’s very much a pro-family and pro-child message, but without the need for men at all. Sally’s ex-husband is depicted as a total douchebag who basically attempts to kidnap their son in broad daylight, which they even shot as if it was really happening—Cohen had to step in to calm the crowds down, hence why he has one of his multiple cameos in the film in that scene. You definitely get the sense Sally has probably been sleeping around with women more than men since her divorce, since all her best friends are these militant man-hating feminists, including a fun turn from Ann Magnuson. It’s probably a better snapshot of downtown New York in the early ’80s than it some kind of great thriller, but it has some fun set pieces. One scene includes Sally chasing her son, who is on a merry-go-round on the back of a speeding truck!

If you are a Larry Cohen fan, Perfect Strangers is an absolute must, and it was Anne Carlisle’s only lead role in a film other than  Liquid Sky. She had some bit parts in film and TV, including Desperately Seeking Susan (which is also a good snapshot of the downtown scene in ’80s New York), but has retired from acting in the early ’90s and went back to being an artist, mainly doing painting and sculpture. The disc isn’t packed, but includes two short interviews: one with Carlisle, which was done remotely due to the Coronavirus pandemic (I’m sure we will be seeing a lot more of this in the near future) and the other a Larry Cohen interview from a few years ago, as the director died in March 2019.

★★★½

Ian Schultz

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