Back Stab (1990): Flak the Knife

Dave tussles with a Pierre David thriller that’s Hitchcock in tone but slipshod in practice.

Produced by Pierre David just as his Image Organization was gathering momentum, BACK STAB is notable for its behind the scenes personnel. Fresh from helming cult shocker Pledge Night (1988), Paul Ziller edits, just as he would on the David-produced Psychic (1991); Rodney Gibbons photographs, ahead of shepherding David’s The Neighbor (1993); and William Webb produces. Webb had previously called ‘action!’ on Party Line (1988) twelve months earlier, a film that Back Stab‘s scripter, Paul Koval, cut. With me so far? Adding a further knot to this incestuous tangle of creators is Back Stab‘s actual director, Jim Kaufman, who has arguably the most enduring connection to the king of ’90s Canuxploitation. David and Kaufman initially connected on David Cronenberg’s Scanners (1981) (Kaufman was 1st AD) and worked together on The Great Land of Small (1986) a few years later.

Though released direct-to-video, I can’t help but think that wasn’t David et al’s original intention: after it wrapped, Back Stab was featured in the Sneak Peeks column of the Los Angeles Times alongside a slew of other titles destined for box office bows (specifically Bad Influence (1990), Blue Steel (1990), and Cry Baby (1990)). Not that its ultimate status as a DTV potboiler bothered the prolific mogul. As David boasted at the American Film Market in October 1990, Back Stab made over $1million in tape sales only a couple of weeks into its video store run.

Recently widowed Cliff (James Brolin) is a successful architect whose firm is subject to a hostile takeover. During a shindig at a local bistro doubling as a meet and greet with the incoming boss, Chambers (Terrence Labrosse), Cliff catches the seductive glance of Caroline (Isabelle Truchon), and the two slip into a back alley for some off the cuff car sex. An affair follows but, after spending the night at his new love’s house, Cliff wakes up to discover Chambers dead in the master bedroom and Caroline gone…

Back Stab peaks at around the twenty minute mark, when Cliff’s predicament is revealed in a shocking moment of Hitchcock-esque ceremony. How much the film plummets from there depends on your tolerance for overcooked scenarios. Koval’s script is prone to cringing contrivance — not least a jailbreak sequence that leaves Back Stab‘s final strand of credibility dangling by the most frayed of threads, and a resolution that yields more questions than it answers.

Marketed in part to capitalise on Fatal Attraction (1987) — mostly here in the U.K. where its tagline read “an attraction as erotic as it was fatal” — it’s clear that this Montreal mystery is a polished number. Alas, overall Back Stab is a bit like those dog-eared paperbacks you see tossed aside in a hotel lobby: an entertaining time-waster that evaporates from your memory the second it’s done.

Canada ● 1990 ● Thriller ● 88mins

James Brolin, Dorothee Berryman, Meg Foster, Isabelle Truchon ● Dir. Jim Kaufman (as ‘James Kaufman’) ● Wri. Paul Koval

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