Pacific Heights [1990]

Ever a had neighbor from hell? You know, the one who never cleans, makes too much noise at night with his jigsaw, and breeds cockroaches and pumps them into your apartment? Never have? Well, pump up your paranoia with this outlandish if mildly enjoyable thriller starring Melanie Griffith and Matthew Modine as San Francisco yuppies-cum-landlords who rent out an apartment in their Pacific Heights house to mild-mannered Michael Keaton in order to make the mortgage payment. What seems like a happy arrangement all around turns hellish when: (a) Keaton refuses to pay the rent; (b) firmly entrenches himself in the apartment thanks to some legal maneuvering; and (c) starts playing with the cockroaches. Ostensibly, Keaton wants to drive Griffith and Modine to bankruptcy and then pick up their fab Victorian house for cheap, but as is the way of all thrillers, he's got a sadistic and homicidal bent to back up his real-estate envy. Director John Schlesinger (Midnight Cowboy) manipulates the thrills somewhat effectively, if not gratuitously, especially with Griffith's damsel-in-distress character, turning on the tension in the don't-go-to-the-attic/garage/basement set pieces. Part of the problem of the film lies in its schizophrenic tone: one moment it's a what's-in-the-dark? thriller, at other times a nifty cat-and-mouse game of psychological wills between Keaton and his landlords. Both sides of the movie are effective in their own right, and Keaton is a great psycho, but Schlesinger doesn't quite bring it together, despite a considerably amped-up climax. Still, if the sight of a beautiful house being slowly destroyed is your idea of the ultimate horror, you'll be chilled to the bone. Look for Griffith's mother, Tippi Hedren of The Birds fame, in a small role. --Mark Englehart

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