Dave gets all hot and sweaty over a made-for-cable crime-thriller that’s an absolute delight.
Loathing Robert Bloch’s 1982 sequel to his book Psycho, Universal swiftly set the wheels in motion for their own follow-up to the 1960 classic and hired screenwriter Tom Holland and director Richard Franklin to make it happen. Determined to retain some kind of connection to the original picture, the studio got in touch with the film’s A.D., Hilton A. Green, to see if he’d come on board as a producer, which he did, but only after he’d sought the blessing of Hitchcock’s daughter, Patricia.
A movie brat born to the prolific director Alfred E. Green, this new opportunity marked a change in the filmmaker’s career, which had become markedly arid following a decade working in television up until the mid-’60s. The relative success of Psycho II (1983) led to sequels in ’86 and ’90, the latter being made for cable TV, giving executive producer Green the perfect opportunity to use his ongoing partnership with Universal to edge away from the iconic franchise with SWEET POISON – although the term ‘psycho’ looms large.
An opening love scene between portly pharmaceutical salesman Henry (Edward Herrmann) and the long blonde curls of his delectable wife Charlene (Patricia Healy) leaves no illusion that there’s a fragility to this union. “I’m going to wear you out, then I’m going to have to throw you away,” she jokes – but it’s a throwaway line that’s eerily prophetic, for when deranged convict Bobby (Steven Bauer) kidnaps the couple on their way to Henry’s father’s funeral, the thrill of danger and the lure of money is a seductive combination that Charlene can’t resist.
Screenwriter Walter Klenhard was a veteran at penning taught scripts like Dead in the Water (1991) and Buried Alive II (1997) for the USA Network, but Sweet Poison is by far the best. Tense, exciting, and bursting with well-written characters, it’s buoyed further by the stylish direction of Brian Grant, a Brit who had spent the eighties cranking out music videos in partnership with David Mallet and Russell Mulcahy. Grant manages to blend the blistering heat of Alabama Hills with the nocturnal sleaze of anonymous rundown motels, and in doing so exhibits a restrained cinematic flair that compliments every frame .
Herrmann is dependably brilliant, and Bauer does psychotic with a smirk, but it’s the Egyptian-born Healy in her first feature role who frequently lights up the screen. Klenhard has penned a complex role for her as this cash-craving conspirator, and she handles it with an unerring mix of steely arrogance and doe-eyed vulnerability.
A sweat-stained road movie, it would fit perfectly alongside the thematic similarities of J.S. Cardone’s Black Day, Blue Night (1995), creating a B-picture double-bill that boasts a lean efficiency that even a ‘50s Don Siegel would be envious of.
USA ● 1991 ● Thriller, TVM ● 100mins
Steven Bauer, Edward Herrman, Patricia Healy, Pruitt Taylor Vince ● Dir. Brian Grant ● Wri. Walter Klenhard
 Alabama Hills, Lone Pine is located just east of the Sierra Nevada, and formed the location for a litany of Westerns, including the ‘Ranown’ cycle of Budd Boetticher and Randolph Scott pictures.