Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Fourth Man

(1983) ****1/2

A few years before he won America's heart with Robocop, Starship Troopers and Showgirls, Paul Verhoeven made this slick little number back in his native Holland.

Gerard Reve is a drunk, broke author in Amsterdam, and one weekend he heads to a remote seaside town to give a lecture. In the train station he becomes instantly smitten with a hottie potatti Dutch guy in a wifebeater, but the guy gets on a train and disappears. Proceeding to his engagement, Gerard's distaste of the whole affair turns around when he meets Christine, an attractive, rich young woman who lives in town. After a night of hot sex, he's about to fark off back to Amsterdam as Christine is getting a little clingy crying about her dead husband and her lonliness. But then he sees a letter to Christine from her lover, the same young man from the train station, whose name is Herman. (It sounds sexier if you say HerMANN.) Determined to get busy with Hermann, Gerard makes a show of staying for a while. But all this is only half the story.


While this is going on, Gerard's already active imagination is running hot, and he's been experiencing an array of strange sights: sometimes in dreams, sometimes in waking visions, and sometimes in the actual real-life experiences around him. These unnerving, gory incidents seem to be clues, or perhaps dire warnings.

Fortunately for us, they're visually arresting. I saw this when I was in college, and watching it again reminded me of certain slasher movies that pad themselves out with faux suspence by having one character, usually the "hero girl," suffer from an endless, tedious series of dire visions (Slumber Party Massacre II, I'm looking at you). This movie is the complete opposite of that mule poop; the eerie sights and events surrounding Gerard are the stylistic underpinning of the film, much like the Dali-designed dream sequence in Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound. This movie positively drips with style and symbolism, flaunting it like the heavy mousse and eye makeup on the Femme Fatale. It is indeed a movie of the 80's: perhaps overly laden with gloss, but sincere in its belief of its own compelling vibe.

Whatever this menace surrounding Christine is, it's conveyed solely by the trappings of the real world. No back-room magic, no black robes -- just the occasional look that Gerard can't see. And, of course, this maelstrom of oblique clues... something is happening, but what the heck is it?

Jeroen Krabbe does an excellent job at playing anti-hero Gerard. He's an asshole to most of the people he meets, and his alcoholism is ugly and pathetic (one morning he wakes up with such bad shakes he can't shave, the next morning he furtively hustles to the leftover wine on the coffee table). He obviously regards the folks paying him for his lecture as a bunch of peasants. But when he gives the lecture he's witty and engaging, and though you can see the slime on his charm, you're still charmed. Christine is played with blonde fatale-itude by the woman from Eve of Destruction, and does a bullseye job of getting Gerard's number. On two occasions when Gerard tries to downplay his love of the hooch by asking for a mincing little drink, she gives him a mega whopper drink instead, smiling slightly when he takes it anyway.

The Fourth Man is highly recommended. In your lifetime movie career, I'd say it's a must-see.

5 comments:

Octopunk said...

This also goes on our short list of gay interest horror movies. All I can think of for that list is Nightmare on Elm Street 2 and Leeches!

Octopunk said...

(The exclamation point is in the title.)

AC said...

I would add Interview with the Vampire to that short list.

Nice review!

JPX said...

This sounds great!

(The exclamation point is in the title.)

Nice review and great choice of pictures.

DCD said...

Cool.

(There is no exclamation point in the title.)