This truly hidden, solid thriller with a very strong cast and some experimental plot elements makes for a surprisingly enjoyable dig.
A quack medium has a deadly vision that comes true, and now she must convince her father and the town that there is a killer on the loose. Let’s dig into 1989’s BLACK RAINBOW, directed by Mike Hodges!
As I See It
Doomed to ostensibly no release, this little thriller never had a chance.
Written and Directed by Mike Hodges, it’s surprising and refreshing to see a somewhat original film squeak through the regurgitation imitation machine that is Hollywood. No, a medium and a killer is not an original combo, but Hodges played with reality enough in the story to make this truly unique.
It doesn’t always hit for me, but I can appreciate the hell out of his swings.
Rosanna Arquette plays Martha, a traveling medium who is managed by her alcoholic father, Walter (Robards). She’s a charlatan, of course, because all mediums are. But for some inexplicable reason, she has a true vision — one of a murder that has not happened yet.
You may notice my bias against mediums and similar mountebanks. There’s a reason for that.
I used to work at a live performance venue for well over a decade. A few years running, we had a very famous medium rent out the theater for a run of about fifteen to twenty “shows”.
Now, my ideology and beliefs don’t leave me open to such, shall we say… emotions, but someone who specifically just lost someone dear to them is hardly thinking rationally.
Usually, they’re searching for answers they’ll never find. Here steps in our performer who, thanks to the local newspaper, has a front page article and subsequent inside spread giving all the details of the tragically deceased.
They just couldn’t help themselves but to “read” that family, and I had to sit there and chew back the bile while that motherfucker lined their pockets. So you can forgive me for falling on the moral side of this practice.
Back to the film.
They do a great job of displaying the pageantry and subsequent denial that comes with such performances. Arquette is wonderful. Robards shows why he was such a heralded actor. Hulce is endearing and surprisingly full of charisma. Lastly, Hodges (Flash Gordon, Get Carter) deserves much more respect as an auteur.
Tom Hulce (Gary) has played some rather substantial characters in his career. From Mozart in Milos Forman’s Amadeus to Larry Kroger in John Landis’s seminal Animal House. He’s particularly good in this film.
Rosanna Arquette (Martha) of the famous Hollywood Arquette family can not escape her role of Jody in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction in my mind.
Jason Robards (Walter) had a long and storied career. Being a child of eighties pop culture, it’s the Corey (Feldman and Haim) vehicle Dream A Little Dream and the Steve Martin comedy Parenthood, which ironically also featured Tom Hulce, that sticks out most for me.
Of Gratuitous Nature
Rosanna Arquette’s nude scenes seem a bit out of character. Arquette’s inherent sexuality (at least in my perception) makes it easier to sell, but Martha’s timidness when off-stage does not seem to fit with the scene. It may speak to the multi-verse, varied timeline effect Hodges was going for. I wasn’t mad at it.
Despite what I just said, Rosanna Arquette’s seduction scene is palpably sexual and impossible to ignore.
Ripe for a Remake
I never like lending credence to charlatans, much like The Amazing Randi.
No progeny to report.
Where to Watch
Arrow Films restored the film from the original negative, and Mike Hodges had a level of approval on the print. You can stream it on Arrow.