All-American Murder Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Vinegar Syndrome
Directed by Anson Williams
Written by Barry Sandler
1991, 94 minutes, Rated R
Released on May 25th, 2021
Christopher Walken as P.J. Decker
Charlie Schlatter as Artie Logan
Josie Bissett as Tally Fuller
Joanna Cassidy as Erica Darby
Richard Kind as Lou Alonzo
Amy Moore Davis as Wendy Stern
Mitchell Anderson as Doug Sawyer
After being arrested for burning his dorm room, rebellious Artie Logan is transferred to Fairfield University and his dad makes it clear he is running out of second chances. Artie is not a bad kid, he just has issues with authority. On his first day, he makes the bold move of sleeping with the dean’s wife, who apparently makes a practice of having sex with the student body. Soon, he falls for a gorgeous blonde, Tally Fuller, who is smart, wholesome and out of his league. After some time following and watching her, he works up the courage to talk to her. She reluctantly agrees to go out with him and he seems harmless enough. She really is a good person, actively campaigning for her friend Wendy’s admission into her sorority. Artie steals a kiss, but Tally insists they take things slowly. She agrees to meet him again the next night, but when the time comes she appears to have changed her mind. Artie’s night is about to get a whole lot worse when he witnesses Tally falling from a balcony fully engulfed in flames. Before he can react, people start arriving on the scene and accusing him of killing her.
Artie finds himself in the local police station being questioned by an eccentric detective named Decker. The other cops on the case believe Artie is totally guilty, but Decker has his reservations. He verbally spars with Artie and decides to release him, giving him twenty-four hours to clear his name. There’s no shortage of murder suspects, starting with the creepy janitor who has an eye for Tally or maybe the overbearing dean or his slutty wife. Artie finds an incriminating videotape and has questions for Tally’s friend Wendy and frat boy Doug. Every wrong lead seems to end with the discovery of a new corpse and Artie will likely be blamed for these deaths too. Decker turns up every few hours to check his progress and rattle his cage. It is one hell of a night, but nothing can prepare Artie for the truth.
All-American Murder is a contemporary spin on the classic whodunit with a man wrongfully accused desperately trying to solve a mystery to retain his freedom. Our reluctant hero gathers evidence and follows clues while trying to talk to anyone who may have helpful information about the murder victims. Artie learns Tally kept a lot of secrets but can’t figure out who would want her dead. His best efforts frequently come up short and every time he appears to be making progress, someone else turns up dead with him being the last person to see them alive. Artie’s best chance of getting out of this mess lies with Decker, who wants to believe him and oddly allows him to do all the investigating.
Actor-turned-director Anson Williams (Happy Days) delivers an entertaining thriller that includes many familiar genre elements found in both giallo films and the popular slasher flick. Written by Barry Sandler (Crimes of Passion), the story contains a wicked sense of humor and a decent number of twists and surprises that play with the formula and keep viewers’ attention. Where the script excels is in the scenes between Artie and Decker whose spirited exchanges provide the most compelling moments as the cop toys with his suspect. Decker is the most interesting character, with his non-traditional approach to solving crimes and relating to others. Decker is brought to life by the always-watchable Christopher Walken (The Addiction), who brings his unique spin to the role and owns every minute of his screen time.
Charlie Schlatter (Bright Lights, Big City) stars as Artie Logan, desperately in over his head and racing against the clock to solve a series of murders. Schlatter brings a much needed sense of levity to the picture with his clever quips, but maintains a believable sense of urgency during the more serious moments. Schlatter’s best moments are shared with Walken, but he has great onscreen chemistry with Josie Bissett (Hitcher in the Dark) as the doomed Tally, even though their time together is limited. Joanna Cassidy (Blade Runner) is great as Erica Darby, the dean’s unfaithful wife and Richard Kind (A Serious Man) is relentless as the detective Lou Alonzo determined to prove Artie’s guilt.
All-American Murder is a comedic thriller with a made-for-TV vibe despite its inclusion of adult language and gratuitous nudity. There are several murders, but onscreen bloodshed is kept to a minimum. I enjoyed the film overall despite some shortcomings in the script in which characters are forced to do dumb things to keep the story moving – and the less said about the dopey soundtrack the better. An unexpected highlight comes 69 minutes into the picture when Artie returns home to find his place ransacked. In the shot looking around the room we see a random crew member in jeans and a white t-shirt sitting on the floor like he has no place better to be. Why this guy was allowed to sit on that side of the camera and why a second take without him wasn’t shot I have no idea, but it is now my favorite scene. Seriously, however, Walken is the real reason to check this one out and he doesn’t disappoint.
Video and Audio:
Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio and scanned and restored in 2K from the original 35mm interpositive, picture quality is rather impressive with bold colors and rich black levels. The image pops off the screen with plenty of small-object detail and flesh tones appear natural throughout.
A DTS-HD MA 2.0 track preserves the original stereo mix and is free of any hiss, pops or other distortion. Dialogue levels are clean and always understandable and goofy music cues are clear and never intrusive. Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
The Hysteria Continues podcasters contribute another entertaining and informative audio commentary that you won’t want to miss. There are plenty of interesting bits of trivia disclosed, starting with the revelation that the legendary Ken Russell (The Devils) was attached to direct before Anson Williams came on board. I can’t imagine how bonkers his take on this story would have been. Other topics include casting, the script, and how this film fits within the genre. Another takeaway is that Williams is the nephew of the famed Dr. Heimlich.
Being on a Team (15 minutes) catches up with actor Charlie Schlatter, who tells some hilarious Christopher Walken stories and confirms the Ken Russell nugget from the commentary. He shares his thoughts on the script and shooting in Oklahoma and has kind words for his co-stars. He says it was a tight shooting schedule but it went smoothly and he is pleased with the picture.
Cinematographer Geoffrey Schaaf (Fatal Exposure) appears in the interview segment A Valuable Experience (15 minutes) and he has a number of entertaining production stories to share. He breaks down some challenging shots and memorable scenes and also talks about the cast, particularly Walken and Schlatter. He also draws the connection that this is essentially a TV movie with nudity, but is happy with the end result.
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