Sony // 1989 // 88 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Mitchell Hattaway (Retired) // November 5th, 2004
A new place to look for terror.
Columbia TriStar has reached deep into its catalog in order to bring us the DVD release of this comedy about a young boy and his psychic connection to a murderous demon. Huh, what's that? This isn't a comedy? Well, that certainly changes things.
Professor Owen Lansing (Tab Hunter, Polyester) is researching untapped human psychic abilities. Believing his experiments best conducted on the mind of a child, he chooses Cameron (Scott Curtis), his ten-year-old son, as his subject. The experiments proceed smoothly until it becomes apparent Cameron's powers have allowed a demon to escape from its prison in the underworld. Ben (Chuck McCann, Ladybugs), Dr. Lansing's colleague, urges the professor to end the experiments, but Lansing foolishly presses on. Lansing soon begins hearing strange noises emanating from Cameron's closet; he suspects Ben was correct about the demon's connection to Cameron, but is killed before he can act on his suspicions. Cameron then moves in with his mother, Dory (Kim Lankford, The Octagon), and her live-in boyfriend, Bob (Gary Hudson, Roadhouse); Bob abuses Cameron, and is soon killed by the demonic force. Meanwhile, Sam Talliaferro (Cotter Smith, X2: X-Men United), the detective assigned to investigate Bob's death, has been having strange visions, and is ordered to see Dr. Nora Haley (Mel Smith, thirtysomething), a psychiatrist. Nora also begins examining Cameron, and she discovers the boy's abilities. She soon realizes there is a connection between the mysterious deaths, Cameron's powers, and Talliaferro's visions. She also knows the demon hopes to use the detective to kill Cameron, whose death will allow the evil creature to enter the human realm without opposition.
Cameron's Closet is incredibly bad. You can't really know how bad it is until you've seen it; there's no need to put yourself through that, though, so let me try to give you a sense of its unrelenting awfulness.
This film was directed by Armand Mastroianni, a man whose only distinction is having directed He Knows You're Alone, which featured the film debut of Tom Hanks. The fact he's been allowed to direct more than one feature film is more than I care to ponder. He doesn't know anything about pace or mood, and his approach here is to nail the camera to the floor and hope to capture something on film; you'll find a more accomplished visual style in a Kevin Smith flick. The screenplay was written by Gary Brandner, author of the novel on which The Howling is based. Too bad Joe Dante and John Sayles weren't around to prop up him this time, as he doesn't know anything about character or dialogue. Put Mastroianni together with Brandner, and the result is a film even worse than those giant snake movies they run on the Sci Fi channel.
It's hard to believe just how nonsensical this thing is. Cameron unleashes the demon by playing with a small statue of said demon, but it's never explained where the statue came from, or why it would be in the laboratory of Cameron's father. The demon is able to kill at least five people on its own, but for some reason it needs someone else to kill Cameron. Cameron and Talliaferro both have visions of a seagull in flight, which seems to have something to do with the manner in which Dr. Lansing tapped into his son's abilities. Okay, I'll accept that last bit, but why does the demon, who is causing Talliaferro's visions, use the same device on the detective? For that matter, if the demon wants Talliaferro to kill Cameron, why does the detective have visions of murdering his partner (Leigh McClosky, Inferno)? Bob is a bad actor (in fact, he's a bad actor being portrayed by a bad actor), so why does he have a role in a production of Julius Caesar? Bob looks like he'd be more at home in porn than in Shakespeare, considering he's the kind of guy who oils himself up before washing his car. Speaking of his car, Bob finds a scratch while washing it, and assumes Cameron's responsible just because the boy owns a rubber ball. Speaking of porn, there's a pointless moment in Talliaferro's precinct house involving the booking of two pornographers. The arresting office is holding a reel of film (yes, a reel of film, as if anyone in the '80s was still shooting porn on film -- c'mon, I saw Boogie Nights), and identifies the men as the director and producer of the porno. Okay, so where are the actors? When Bob is killed, three reporters show up at the house to interview the police, but only one of them thought to bring along a cameraman. I also don't understand why Bob is even killed; he hates Cameron, so wouldn't it make more sense to use him to kill the boy? Alan (Dort Donald Clark), Cameron's uncle, always looks as if he's about ready to jump his own sister. The demon must be aware of this, because when it decides to kill Alan it waits until he's taking a shower, assumes the form of Dory, steps into the shower, kisses Alan, and then starts smashing his head against the wall. (Come to think of it, Dory never seems to be too shaken up over the death of her boyfriend, so I guess maybe her brother was comforting her in more ways than one.) Sam and Dr. Haley go to Ben's cabin, hoping he can shed some light on the research he and Cameron's father had been conducting; Ben, an alcoholic who sits around in his bathrobe all day, gives the pair a videotape, which Dr. Haley takes home and views. The tape details many of the experiments, and is ominously narrated by Ben. Cameron can be seen on the tape playing with the demonic statue, so Dr. Haley starts thumbing through a book titled Demons and Dwellers of the Netherworld. She somehow matches up a demon referenced in the book with Cameron's statue, even though the two look nothing alike. (She also reads the passage concerning the demon aloud, which is helpful to the audience.) Meanwhile, Dr. Lansing's corpse visits Ben and tells him to destroy the videotape, as it reveals too much about their experiments. Why's a corpse so concerned about ethics? Dr. Haley and Sam attempt to rescue Cameron, who has been kidnapped by Ben. Dr. Haley knows they will find the boy at his mother's house because the demon needs Cameron to be killed in its original dwelling. Wait a minute, wouldn't the demon's original dwelling be Dr. Lansing's home, or even his laboratory? When they arrive, Ben has been boiled alive by the demon, and Sam has to confront a wolf man before Cameron finally battles the demon, a task he performs by clenching the statue and gritting his teeth.
Not only is Cameron's Closet dumb, it's clumsy and cheap. The demon, touted on the DVD's packaging as the work of Carlo Rambaldi (who worked on E.T. and David Lynch's Dune), looks like a rabid version of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. I get the feeling Rambaldi built this thing in his parents' garage when he was twelve. When Cameron's uncle is killed, the shower walls shake every time the actor's head smacks against them. The demon kills Bob by throwing him out a window, causing him to crash onto the roof of his automobile; you can clearly see the wires on the stuntman as he flies through the air. Dr. Lansing is decapitated early in the film, and the mannequin used in the shot is laughably unrealistic; it also bears no resemblance to actor Tab Hunter.
The folks at Columbia TriStar must have known what they dealing with here, so they put absolutely no effort into this release. The full frame (!) transfer is horrible; there's abundant grain, artifacts aplenty, and a generally washed-out appearance. The source print was obviously in terrible shape, as scratches, specks, and dirt are all visible. (To tell you the truth, I'm not even sure a print was used in the transfer. It really looks like someone transferred this straight from a VHS tape to a DVD-R.) The audio, presented in a Dolby 2.0 surround mix, fares better, but not by much. It exhibits dated fidelity, there's very little channel separation, no bass activity, and the surrounds rarely come into play. The only extras are previews for other Columbia titles, which is disappointing, as I was really looking forward to an Armand Mastroianni/Gary Brandner commentary.
Oh, yeah, one more thing. The cinematographer on this film was Russell Carpenter, who later won an Oscar for his work on Titanic. Well, I guess stranger things have happened.
We can't argue with any of the above statements.
Shut the door to Cameron's Closet, bolt it, and then board it up. Now go outside and burn down the house. I can't confirm this, but I suspect this film sat on the shelf for some time after its completion and was only released after thirtysomething brought Mel Harris a bit of fame. Aren't we lucky?
Oh, man, is this thing ever guilty. Enough said.
Review content copyright © 2004 Mitchell Hattaway; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Bottom 100 Discs: #86
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Rated R