(UK - 1989; US release 1991)
Written and directed by Mike Hodges. Cast: Rosanna Arquette, Jason Robards, Tom Hulce, Mark Joy, Ron Rosenthal, John Bennes, Linda Pierce, Olek Krupa, Marty Terry, Ed L. Grady, Rick Warner, Jon Thompson, Helen Baldwin, Ed Lillard, Darla N. Warner, Muse Watson. (R, 103 mins)
"If you knew for certain that there was nothing after death, that you only had one shot...maybe if we didn't indulge in the arrogance of thinking we go on forever, we'd be better people while we were alive."
A film that adamantly refuses to adhere to genre labels or even be clear about exactly what it's up to, BLACK RAINBOW has a deceptively straightforward narrative but still comes off at the end like a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma. It feels like the kind of ambiguous, "elevated horror" slow-burner that A24 would release to critical acclaim and mainstream derision today. Harvey Weinstein certainly didn't know what to with it back in 1989, when Miramax acquired the British-financed film and promptly shelved it for two years. They eventually sold it to Showtime, where it debuted as one of the cable network's original movies in August 1991 before turning up in video stores in 1992. It was a labor of love for Mike Hodges, best known for 1971's GET CARTER and 1980's FLASH GORDON. Hodges' career had been on a downturn throughout the '80s, and he cited BLACK RAINBOW as the first project in a long time where he was given complete freedom to make exactly the film he wanted to make. It's always intriguing and compelling, and the location work in rural North Carolina offers the kind of unique perspective of small-town America that can often only be achieved when seen through the lens of an outsider such as the British Hodges, much like two other British films made at roughly the same time: Donald Cammell's disturbing, Arizona-shot WHITE OF THE EYE and Philip Ridley's Canadian-shot, Idaho-set THE REFLECTING SKIN. But Hodges seems to be biting off more than he can chew, taking the clairvoyant elements similar to what was seen in Italian gialli like Dario Argento's DEEP RED and Lucio Fulci's THE PSYCHIC and weaving them into a supernatural ELMER GANTRY, while at the same time shoehorning in subplots about industrial corruption, hired killers, and NORMA RAE-esque concerns about safety issues in blue-collar workplaces, all bookended by wraparound story that could very well be taking place inside The Shimmer from ANNIHILATION. It's a unique and unconventional chiller that might have more going on that it needs, but it refuses to hold your hand and expects you to pay attention. It's the kind of film where even a local yokel's seemingly throwaway line about kudzu vines is there for a reason.
PARENTHOOD). It's particularly noticeable with the characters of Silas and the hit man, both of whom should've been played by established character actors who could've done more with the roles than make them the one-dimensional caricatures they end up being. Knowing in the first scene that Walter is killed ten years earlier does undermine the proto-Shyamalanian twist at the end, but I don't think the plot twist was Hodges' chief concern. I'm not even sure what Hodges' chief concern was given what transpires in the ruthlessly ambiguous closing scenes, but he creates a cultural and religious portrait of red-state America that remains shockingly prescient today. While BLACK RAINBOW was issued on DVD with no fanfare in a subpar, cropped transfer on the budget Trinity label in the early 2000s, it's been somewhat difficult to see in the years after its ubiquitous video store presence in the '90s. As a result, it's found a decent-sized cult following over time and has just been given a pristine HD restoration on the new Blu-ray release from Arrow, because physical media is dead.