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NIGHT FLOWERS (1979).

This depressing, brutal and unjustly obscure drama centers on two psyche-damaged Vietnam veterans, their dead end lives and the havoc they eventually cause. Think of it as a dimestore, New Jersey TAXI DRIVER crossed with MIDNIGHT COWBOY. In addition to being a showcase for lead actor and scriptwriter Gabriel Walsh (who earlier penned the screenplay for QUACKSER FORTUNE HAS A COUSIN IN THE BRONX), editor-turned-director Luis San Andres keeps the story downbeat and authentic, while eschewing the usual exploitative elements in favor of fleshing out these disturbed characters. Walsh and Jose Perez (SHORT EYES, Bruce Jay Friedman's STEAMBATH) star as struggling vet-pals, Irish-American Tommy and Hispanic Nordi, and their lives are in shambles. They share a rundown apartment, have crappy jobs, deal with bureaucratic hassles at the local VA hospital, and spend their copious free time ogling young girls (as does the cameraman). They hang out, drink and complain, plus since Nordi is a pushy little prick, they have zero luck with the ladies. Worst of all, Tommy suffers from unpredictable war flashbacks and self-described "angry fantasies." In a lame attempt to get laid, the duo even post fake "Apartment Rental: Young Women Only" notices at the local market, and their first applicant is a flighty but cute hippie chick. This is when it gets grim, folks, because dysfunctional Nordi suddenly rapes and murders this innocent ditz in the middle of her 'interview,' as Tommy passively watches it all go down. The assault is particularly shocking because it's captured in one long, grueling take. Meanwhile, Tommy gets lucky with a pretty blonde (Sabra Jones, who later co-founded New York City's Mirror Repertory Company) who, for some unfathomable reason, likes this simmering "head case." As this troubled twosome makes one misguided decision after another, Perez has the flashier role, but it's Walsh who really shines as shell-shocked Tommy, often lost in a post-war haze and barely able to put together a complete sentence. It's a shame Walsh's career never flourished. His script takes some genuinely weird tangents, such as Lazaro Perez as a white-suited disco-hustler who answers their ad, while the supporting cast is laced with familiar NYC-area character actors, including David Margulies (the mayor in GHOSTBUSTERS) as Tommy's VA shrink and Henderson Forsythe (who won a Tony Award that same year for BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE) as his ill-tempered father. Also, Linda Hamilton (using her birth name Linda Carroll Hamilton) is listed deep in the credits as playing "Wafer," but I couldn't spot her. [Note: In a 1981 interview for The Philadelphia Inquirer, Ms. Hamilton mentioned her work on the film: "Two years ago I had four days' work in New York, playing a college girl, in a post-Vietnam feature not yet released, NIGHT FLOWERS. I had maybe five minutes on-screen. It was my only job that year."] There's also an early score by Harry Manfredini, who soon moved onto horror fare like the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise, while "Directory of Cinematography" Larry Pizer (THE PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE) gives the story an authentic urban stench, complete with a bottom-rung massage parlor, a local female wrestling match and 42nd Street during its sleaze heyday. Much of it was also lensed around the Jersey City/Hoboken area (including the Art Deco former Jersey City Medical Center) and Rahway State Prison, long before either became a spill-over for Manhattanites, and he perfectly captures all of the freaks and misfits that used to populate the area.

© 2005 by Steven Puchalski.