April will be Blog Free and Die Hard Month which is always a good one for us as it clears films off our Netflix lists and doesn’t restrict us (or make us think too hard). I’m a fan of not thinking too hard right now.
This week is my pick and I think I’ve started the month with a bang. Like, literally with a bang…
Without further ado!
Blow Out (1981)
A movie sound recordist accidentally records the evidence that proves that a car accident was actually murder and consequently finds himself in danger.
Young Travolta (and his beautiful bum chin) is a sound engineer for the movies. Sort of in the mold of Toby Jones in Berberian Sound Studio but trashier. Because American slashers not Italian are trashier by default, amiright?
He’s working on a film called Co-ed Frenzy (which sounds incredible) but in post-production it becomes clear that their shower scene victim just doesn’t have the lungs to match her… well, lungs (if you know what I’m saying). So Young Travolta, character name Jack Terry, decides to go out and find a more realistic scream. He’s nothing if not professional, alright?
Out on his first night with his mic, picking out the sounds of NATURE, Jack witnesses a terrible car accident. Not only does he see and record it all, he also gets stuck right in when he jumps into the drink and fishes out a young woman trapped inside the car. While submerged, our Jack sees the body of a man and it’s not looking good for that guy at all.
At the hospital, Jack smokes and swaggers around a lot, and I couldn’t respect it more. Also, I know it was the eighties but I swear he practically barges through operating theatres with a lit cigarette looking for the girl he’s just saved. Nobody stops him or politely asks that he put his god damn snout out in a sterile environment. Ah, the eighties.
Anyway, things are a bit fishy at the hospital as, while Jack is telling the cop what happened and what he saw, he is being strongly persuaded otherwise. This is not Jack’s first rodeo though and he sees through the manipulation. Later, after he’s had a chance to speak to Sally (Nancy Allen), the woman from the car crash, he is approached by some dudes and it is suggested that Sally be left out of all narratives moving forward.
Turns out Governor (and presidential candidate) McRyan was the bloke in the car and these men explain that it would suck big time if his family found out he’d been ‘entertaining’ an escort (Sally) at the time of his death. Which sounds legit but why are men always such the worst?
Sally is a total ditz but she’s a nice enough chick. It seems Jack has a soft spot for her too as they take off to a motel together to avoid any media attention (which sort of makes sense but also, nobody’s supposed to know about Sally). Unfortunately, there’s a more sinister plot at play here as Jack plays back his recording and distinctly works out the sound of a gun shot (before the blow out that sent the car crashing into the river).
At around the same time, a ropey photographer called Manny Karp (best name ever) comes out of the woodwork with a series of pictures from the crash. Jack works out via ingenious methods (makeshift flip book) that the tire was indeed shot out but somewhere along the line evidence to prove this is tampered with.
There’s a sinister mystery man stalking around in the background you see, (played by the excellent John Lithgow) and he’s gone rogue. I don’t want to spoil things too much but it turns out Sally is part of a blackmail campaign that goes array and results in the death of the Gov, at the hands of Burke (our villain). Sally was also supposed to die and it’s a problem that she didn’t, let’s face it.
So John Lithgow is going around committing the most organised crime I’ve ever seen in film – being serial killer “The Liberty Bell Strangler”, who kills women who look like Sally in the most violent way, just so he can murder Sally later on and it not seem suspicious. Keeping up?
It’s awful that he’s doing this but it does lead to some very imaginative scenes and one particularly grubby murder. Meanwhile, Jack persuades Sally to help him uncover the murder of the Governor via his recordings which so far nobody believes and they get involved with a famous talk show host who seems willing to help them.
The climax of this grisly tale is bonkers, if I’m honest but also GREAT. Lithgow pretends to be Frank Donahue, the host and manages to persuade Sally to meet him with all Jack’s evidence. Unfortunately, the lovely Sally is not what you’d call the sharpest tool and goes with him to the Liberty Bell parade where he corners her – the question is, can Jack (who’s been listening in on his headphones) get there in time to save both her life and the evidence? Well, perhaps.
Will he also collect the one thing he set out to before the credits roll?
The ending is something else, honestly. I’m shook.
This is a rip roaring thriller with the occasional unintentional hilarious bit (I’m thinking about Jack’s frenzied chase by car into the centre of the Liberty Bell parade). Most of the acting is a little half-arsed – though Lithgow was born to be a villain and is totally perfect.
I love films like this that expose the underbelly of humanity, and this film is grimy AF and fun, even. It looks incredible, as do the cast and the costumes. The only thing that really grated on me (ironically) was the music. At some moments it is so jarring that I got completely distracted and had to rewind just so I could follow.
This is no Scarface, but De Palma does it again.
What did the Queen of my heart make of this bad boy? Find out here as usual. ♥️