I really have no idea why these films are paired together. Liquid Sky is Slava Tsukerman’s cult classic about tiny aliens, drugs, date rape, and so, so many other things. It’s sort of like if Greg Araki directed a mash-up of Sid & Nancy and Velvet Goldmine. You have to wonder if John McTiernan took inspiration from it for the predator vision in 1987’s Predator:
Liquid Sky features atrocious performances, and you kind of have to wonder if, about midway through production, Tsukerman realized this and just decided to go with it. Anne Carlisle, who plays both the female lead, Margaret, and her cohort, androgynous modeling counterpart, the drug-addict Jimmy, delivers all of her lines in a ludicrous monotone. When you hear Margaret’s dialogue it’s tough to believe that it can get worse. It can. Her Jimmy is like someone just learning to read off of a teleprompter.
Tsukerman uses composite shots to place them in the same frame. That’s Jimmy in the white suit on the left image, and in the red jacket in the one on the right. Yeah, that’s the neon, ’80s, clubbing style of Liquid Sky. Notice, of course, the hard vertical lines in each shot to divide, giving away that it’s a composite:
But like other great, renowned cult classics – Manos, The Room, etc – Liquid Sky is fun as hell. It’s filled with hugely melodramatic moments that never seem to go anywhere beyond what is supposed to be burgeoning paranoia, but is in fact just woodenly delivered complaints.
The score for the film is pretty great. Super synthy and repetitive, it’s a constant presence in the film. In fact, the first 10 minutes or so of the movie are so dominated by music that it feels like it might in fact be a silent film. Check it out:
I mostly watched Breakheart Pass for Charles Bronson, but ended up impressed with Richard Crenna’s performance as well in this Murder on the Orient Express-esque Western/thriller hybrid. Bronson is Deakin, a wanted man who’s arrested and taken on the express train on its way to deliver emergency medical supplies to Fort Humboldt. People start disappearing and dying, and, as Bronson is want to do, Deakin starts to think that things look a bit fishy.
Breakheart Pass is directed by Tom Gries, who I’m entirely unfamiliar with, despite his having directed a whole mess of films (I’ve seen parts of Helter Skelter, but that’s it). Gries’ IMDb filmography also indicates that he started in TV, and that really shows in Breakheart. The film is choppy, particularly in long dialogue sequences, where Gries cuts heavy-handedly into a whole slew of close-ups and “maybe he’s a suspect” reaction shots.
Here’s an example. A scene in the dining car starts in close-up on coffee being poured, and then zooms and dollies out to a wide-shot:
As the conversation – regarding the mysterious happenings – progresses, Gries cuts in to O’Brien (Charles Durning):
And then immediately to a suspicious reaction shot from Henry (Joe Kapp) before returning to the wide:
This would all be so much more interesting if simply played out in the wide. Instead, we get that hackneyed ‘let’s suspiciously exchange glances to let the audience know something’s up even though Deakin might not see this,’ moment.
Despite this and moments like it, the acting is solid enough (I also really enjoyed Robert Tessier’s brief performance as outlaw Calhoun), and there’s a good set-piece with destroyed train cars. There’s also an obligatory fight atop a train car, some sluggish pacing, and a mystery that might be far better served to be quieter and creepier. Also: if Deakins is supposed to be an outlaw, why do the others on the train basically allow him to roam free the entire time, thus aiding what becomes his investigation?