Liar’s Edge (1992): Falling Down

Matty dives into Ron Oliver’s flawed but hugely enjoyable thriller.

Now a regular on the Lifetime, Hallmark, and Peacock Christmas movie circuit, Emmy nominated writer/director Ron Oliver broke into the industry in the late ‘80s after impressing Canuxploitation icon Peter R. Simpson with a script he’d written called ‘Camp Out’. A horror anthology, ‘Camp Out’ wasn’t made but Simpson liked Oliver’s ideas and style so much he recruited the then twenty-six year old to pen a batch of genre flicks the Prom Night (1980) producer’s company, Norstar Entertainment (née Simcom), could cobble together on the cheap. 

Oliver’s first produced script for Simpson was ‘The Haunting of Hamilton High’, which became Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (1987) at the insistence of distributors Alliance Films and The Samuel Goldwyn Company. Prom Night III: The Last Kiss (1990) followed. Having previously overseen the reshoots for Hello Mary Lou, The Last Kiss was intended to be Oliver’s directorial debut until the film’s financers, worried about a largely unproven talent, asked Simpson to pair up with his protégé as a co-helmer. While their creative union proved fractious (“You simply cannot have two alpha wolves in one pack, you know?” Oliver later reflected [1]), Oliver and Simpson remained good friends and teamed again on LIAR’S EDGE (1992); an interesting little thriller Oliver was finally allowed to tackle solo.

Unfolding against the backdrop of Niagara Falls — from the awe-inspiring majesty of the actual beauty spot, to the ruinous glamour of the scuzzier surrounding areas Ontario-side — Liar’s Edge concerns Mark (Nicholas Shields): a suicidal teenager haunted by the death of his father, a daredevil who — of course — met his end going over the falls in a barrel. Despite doting on him, Mark’s protective — albeit misguided — young mother, Heather (Shannon Tweed), encourages her son to mask his mental health struggles, lest her new suitor, Gary (David Keith) — a loudmouth full of empty promises — be deterred and leave them languishing in the trailer park they’re forced to call home. “Everyone lies,” says Heather, establishing the film’s core theme (even if it never comes together as snugly as it should). 

Good is the growing tension when Heather and Gary wed. Does Gary hate Mark? Or is the friction between the boorish trucker and his already sensitive step-son imagined, a symptom of Mark’s psychosis? Adding further unease is the arrival of Gary’s garishly dressed brother, David (Joseph Bottoms) — a bisexual party animal with apparent designs on his ‘nephew’ — and Mark’s frequent visions of a woman in a flashy red car (Joanne Perica). Wanting to ascertain whether the dark haired hottie is real or not, Mark tails her to an isolated area beneath The Honeymoon Capital of the World… Only to be plunged into a dizzying, De Palma-esque whirlwind of madness and murder when he spies the lass being murdered mid-quickie by a mysterious man in a splashmac whose sole identifiable feature is the bat tattoo on his left buttock. 

Messy yet compelling, what Liar’s Edge lacks in wholly smooth storytelling it atones for elsewhere. The ambiguity that initially lines the film is fabulous which makes it somewhat frustrating when Oliver kicks it to the curb and pivots into more typical psycho killer territory. However, when said narrative flip results in such delirious sights as Mark and his punky would-be gf (Kathleen Robertson) stumbling into David’s S&M dungeon (“Twinkle Cottage”); a wickedly perverse torture sequence involving a duck hand puppet (!); and a lively climax set in a wax museum, it’s hard to be too critical. Bolstered by strong tech credentials, Oliver the director navigates the potholes left by Oliver the writer with aplomb and coaxes unanimously excellent performances from his game cast. Becoming crazier as Liar’s Edge trundles along, Keith and Bottoms are a terrific pair of (potential) maniacs; Shields is a pleasingly complicated hero; and Christopher Plummer’s extended cameo as a detective on the cusp of retirement is an amusing Columbo pastiche that facilitates this surprisingly humorous caper’s darkest punchline. The acting honours, mind, belong to erotic thriller empress Tweed. Her nuanced depiction of a broken woman doing what she can to get by in the wake of an awful tragedy packs a powerful punch.

Lensed across twenty days in April 1991 and plagued by behind the scenes problems (the worst being Oliver needing to replace the film’s original cinematographer two weeks into shooting when a screening of the dailies revealed that seventeen shots were out of focus), Liar’s Edge opened theatrically in Ontario and in Buffalo, New York on 7th February 1992. Subsequent big screen dates throughout Canada found it sharing cinema space with Norstar’s final Prom Night sequel, the Oliver-less Prom Night IV: Deliver Us From Evil (1992) [2]. Here in the U.K. Liar’s Edge was issued on cassette by High Fliers in March 1993; in the U.S. it gained its greatest exposure via Showtime, debuting on the network on 4th December ‘93.

Also known as ‘Intimate Delusions’ and, four saucy moments aside, definitely not an erotic thriller, irrespective of stateside video distro Columbia-TriStar’s enterprising claim otherwise (tagline: “This time Shannon’s sleeping with the enemy…”).

[1] They Came From Within: A History of Canadian Horror Cinema by Caelum Vatnsdal, Arbeiter Ring Publishing, 2004.
[2] Liar’s Edge also played as part of a special ‘Canadian Film Celebration’ event in Calgary on 28th March ‘92.

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