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Pretty Poison

Noel Black

Pretty Poison
Despite a glowing notice from Pauline Kael, this movie flopped abjectly in its 1968 release and disappeared into cult legend. And no wonder: this is the kind of perverse gem that eludes broader audiences while playing straight to the crazy kids who obsessively keep the faith. Anthony Perkins plays Dennis, a young man about to be released from the mental hospital despite a plethora of unresolved issues. He lands a job at a small-town chemical plant and promptly gets bored, a problem he ameliorates by seducing the teenaged Sue Ann (Tuesday Weld) with wild stories about being a government agent. At first, we fear for the girl, who’s clearly being led down the primrose path into illegal activity, until we discover that she’s the all-American bad girl who makes Dennis look like a piker. The film is initially stiff, with Dennis coming off as too smooth and self-assured despite Perkins’ nailing of the part, but once the switch is thrown it’s a grabber all the way. Weld is uncanny in her rendering of her "wholesome” sociopath and while it wouldn’t be cricket to tell of her misdeeds, rest assured that she never betrays her true colours until the very end. Though the technique is a little too polished for such a desperate narrative, the film goes as far as one could before the American Renaissance arrived with its formal daring, and is guaranteed not to bore you once you get sucked into its downward spiral. With its casual approach to mental illness and cruelty, it’s remarkably current — with very few changes it could pass for a movie released yesterday if not for the fact that it’s handled by people with intelligence and wit. (Fox)
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