The Borrower – Defenseless – tape 1777

Here’s a couple of fairly obscure titles. The Borrower is directed by John McNaughton, whose first film was the infamous Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer, a very nasty but fairly intelligent film that upset the UK censors, and was banned for some time.

The Borrower was his follow-up, a science fiction story, not about tiny people, but about a vicious alien murderer who, as punishment, is ‘de-evolved’ into human form and banished to Earth. Gee, thanks, alien insect judicial system.

Borrower and guard

Nice to see that not only have they de-evolved his body into humanoid form, they’ve also popped ahead to Top Man for a nice shirt and trousers.

They land in a wood, watched by a couple of hunters in their car, and the prisoner immediately starts beating up his alien captor. Naturally the hunters come to the aid of the human and shoot at the alien, who escapes.

But the borrower (as we’ll call him) isn’t that pleased to see them, punches one of them ten feet along the ground, then starts to manifest some old-skool makeup effects.

Old Skool Effects

His head explodes, which seems a sub-optimal survival strategy. The older hunter sends the younger one off to fetch a truck, so they can take the remains to someone who might pay them money for it. But it’s not dead, and grabs the older one, doing something offscreen.

We then meet Rae Dawn Chong, as a police detective, facing down a hoodlum with a knife and a hostage.

Rae Dawn Chong

Cut to a woman driving alone, listening to the radio. “She leans back and laughs til you see just the whites of her eye” are the lyrics of the song, linking back to White of the Eye a few tapes ago.

The Borrower, as his title implies, has now borrowed the head of the hunter, and is stumbling along the road. Of course, the car hits him. She’s horrified, so she gives him a lift to the hospital. Cue some quizzical ‘alien not understanding ordinary things’ scenes. Sadly, the Borrower isn’t up to much more than grunts, so the dialogue is hardly sparkling.

He meets up with a homeless man, played by Antonio Fargas (Huggy Bear from Starsky and Hutch) who sort of takes him under his wing.

Antonio Fargas

Chong and her gruff partner are assigned the case of the hunter in the woods with the missing head. They don’t have much to go on at first, but the Borrower eventually has to borrow another head – every time he’s injured, I think – and this time it’s Fargas who’s the lucky recipient.

While all this is happening, Chong also has to deal with a thug she arrested (and shot in the leg) escaping from custody in a hospital, and we presume out for revenge against Chong. Chances of this guy’s head being used by the Borrower? Fairly high, I’d say.

But first, Vargas/Borrower collapses on the street and is taken to hosital, where he grabs the head of a doctor. This one has a bit more conversation, although not much.

Doctor Collector

But even he doesn’t last long. After an interminable sequences where he drives to ‘his’ house (brains must retain memories) and looks around his house, he meets ‘his’ dog.

Next door, a girl is filming a rock video for a band of guys. They hear the dog next door making a lot of noise, and when one of the band goes to investigate, the borrower, now with the dog’s head, attacks them. Luckily, the girl’s father has a bunch of guns on the wall, so she loads one and shoots the borrower/dog. Chong and partner confirm this is who they’ve been looking for, and that the borrower is ‘a monster’ and he’s taken to the morgue, presumed dead.

Later, Chong’s nemesis breaks into her house while she’s asleep, but she sleeps while armed, and she shoots him dead.

At the morgue, the mortician is looking at the borrower’s blood, watching its strangel behaviour. She’s wearing a turtleneck sweater. Somehow that tells me her head’s coming off too.

Mortician Turtleneck

Chong and partner arrive at the morgue to find the borrower/mortician chomping away on the dead body of Chong’s former assailant, and after a surprisingly brief tussle, her partner shoots it. “You know all that money we’re spending exploring outer space? We’ve gotta stop” he says, despite nobody, at any time, even suggesting there’s an alien explanation for this.

Then, the borrower smashes out of the morgue again, this time (at last) with the head of Chong’s nemesis, and attacks her partner. For some reason, this time he seems to be more impervious to bullets, and Chong empties her pistol, but he keeps coming, and it’s only when, out of nowhere, two FBI men are suddenly there, that they shoot him to a standstill.

The feds take the body away in an ambulance. “They don’t know what they’re doing.” says Chong. “Feds never do” says her captain as the ambulance drives away, and it intercuts Chong’s stoic scowl with shots of the ambulance driving along a freeway as the borrower reanimates, grabs the two men in the front of the ambulance, and the vehicle crashes (offscreen).

The End.

Good grief, I can see why I didn’t remember much about the film. There’s almost no plot, no real stakes, virtually no tension, and a handful of gore effects that weren’t that special to begin with. Rae Dawn Chong isn’t required to do a single bit of detective work. At all. She just has to turn up at a crime scene and take bodies away. Thank goodness she had that short chase and stand-off at the start otherwise she’d have had even less.

And what, really, was the point of the thug at the start and his vendetta against her, when it was all cleared up with barely a struggle, and even when he became the borrower, he might as well have been a random stiff in the morgue for all the difference it made to the story.

The one thing I liked about this film was Chong’s relationship with her partner, Don Gordon. Here was an older detective partnered with a younger woman, and at no point was he sexist or creepy with her (not that I noticed). Their only arguments came out of work, or stress at the shocks they’ve had. I wonder if her character was originally male, and they ‘did a Ripley’ and flipped the gender without rewriting much. The scene at the start with the thug she shoots in the leg has a bit of gendered language after she’s cuffed him, but apart from that it’s all fairly neutral.

Still doesn’t make it much of a film, though.

After this, recording switches to another movie, Defenseless. Or is it?

Ball Busters

Actually it’s a screening room, and Ball Busters looks like a tacky teen sex comedy, although I think it’s supposed to be porn. The man watching the film is attacked by another man who walks in, saying “That’s my daughter”.

Next we meet Barbara Hershey, a lawyer whose life is clearly busy, as evidenced by the amount of dirty washing up in her sink. She visits the studio to meet with a Jack Hammer, a witness in a case she’s working on.

Barbara Hershey

Her client is JT Walsh, who owns the building the studio is in, and he’s being sued because the porn film company were casting under 18s in their films, which is what motivated the attack at the start of the movie. He only rented the company the building, and isn’t involved in the movie company at all.

JT Walsh

She and Walsh are romantically involved, despite him being a client, and married. She’s deposing actors who worked on the films, asking if they recognised Walsh, and whether he had anything to do with the films. Bull Dozer, one of the actors, testifies he’s never seen him.

At lunch, she bumps into an old school friend, totally at random, who’s keen to catch up, and show her pictures of her child and her husband – her husband is Walsh.

She’s invited to dinner, and can’t duck out. Walsh is there, of course, as is their daughter. It’s all very domestic, until Walsh refers to his daughter as ‘pie-face’, a term of endearment we heard him use for Hershey earlier. Yikes.

Daddy and Daughter

It’s an awkward dinner, and Walsh’s wife seems unnaturally perky at all times, so I’m waiting for the mask to drop, and the betrayed wife to appear. But the evening ends with a hug. Walsh gives Hershey one of his wife’s cardigans as her battered Porsche has no soft top. When she arrives back at her apartment, someone is waiting, probably the assailant from the beginning of the film, angry that his daughter was abused by the film company (and therefore by Walsh, presumably). He gets into the parking garage, but does nothing but watch her leave her car.

Next day she has to visit Walsh at his office. It looks a bit deserted, but that’s an impressive glass water feature there. If it’s not destroyed by some sort of fight or other violence, I’m going to be disappointed.

Water Feature

Walsh isn’t there, but someone is definitely lurking in the background. looking for a piece of paper to write down a phone number, she spots something slightly incriminating.

Film Receipt

It’s an invoice for rolls of film, made out to Steven Seldes (Walsh) of Blue Screen Productions. That’s the company that made the porn films. Double Yikes.

She’s very angry at this discovery, so when Walsh appears at the door she gets a bit angry and lashes out, they struggle, and she manages to give him a headbutt when he won’t let her go, also stabbing him with a letter opener to get him to let her go.

She runs out of the office pronto, onto the street, leaving Walsh clutching his bloody nose. Will he come for her?

She’s still clutching his wife’s cardigan, and tosses it away into the trash at the side of the street, but has to return to the office because she’s left her keys and bag there.

Walsh isn’t around, but there’s blood on the kitchen counter, and more in the bathroom, leading to one of the stalls.

Dead JT Walsh

I think I see where this movie is going.

She calls the police, and she’s interviewed by detective Sam Shepard. She leaves out some of the incriminating parts of what happened, but I’m sure that won’t matter at all. More importantly, that water feature remained entirely intact.

The next day she gets a call from her friend, Walsh’s wife, Ellie Seldes (Mary Beth Hurt) which takes her to the police station where Detective Sheperd has arrested Hurt for the murder of her husband.

I was definitely not expecting that.

Even more interestingly, Hurt doesn’t have an alibi. But the main clue they have is her cardigan, the one that Hershey threw away in the street.

As if the case couldn’t get weirder, she gets a call from the porn actor she deposed, Bull Dozer, who’s in hospital. He was attacked by the man from the start of the movie – His assailant went full Lorena Bobbit on him.

Hershey visits the assailant’s house to find his wife in fear of her life, because she spoke to Hershey before to warn her off, and to find his daughter asking if she might get her job back at the porn film company. She knew Walsh, and said she’d never been treated so well before.

Sheperd’s boss, the District Attorney, is using the Seldes case to puff up his election chances, to Hershey’s irritation. Then Hurt tells her that she’s pleading guilty. She won’t tell her if she’s protecting someone.

Hershey takes their daugher Janna out to the beach – during the journey we see the murder weapon under the seat of the car. Janna doesn’t think much of Hershey’s bashed up car.

Murder Weapon

The main suspect, Bodeck, phones Hershey at her apartment and wants to talk, arranging a time and place, But he’s already in the building, and pursues her through her apartment. Luckily Sam Shepard has been listening in to her apartment, so he’s on hand, although, inconveniently, the lift in the building isn’t working so it takes him a while. It all goes a bit Die Hard when she calls the lift, the door opens and there’s no lift there, so she’s hanging on for dear life as Bodeck goes to shoot her, but he gets pushed down the shaft by Shepard.

But the case against Hurt is still soing ahead. The DA doesn’t think Bodeck killed Walsh, despite him having violently assaulted three other people in the case. Hershey learns that Bodeck had an airtight alibi for the night of the murder.

The trial continues, with Hershey cross-examining Shepard. Afterwards, Hershey and Shepard talk, and he sneakily gets one of her hairs, and has them compared with one on the cardigan. Will they match?

Then Hershey confronts Walsh’s daughter Janna, and finally gets her to open up and admit that her father had been abusing her.

Hershey gets Hurt a not guilty verdict, but soon afterwards, Shepard is at her door with Walsh’s keys to her apartment, and the knife from under her car seat, so she’s now banged up. It’s Hurt’s turn to do some prison visiting, and it’s sounding like it’s vaguely possible she was guilty all along. I like the uncertainty here, it could genuinely go in several directions.

It’s not looking good for Hershey, but Shepard is still looking for the right answer, and he visits her cell. “How about the truth this time?” I think we’re approaching some kind of reveal.

We cut to Hurt’s house, as she and daughter Janna arrive home, in the rain and dark, with shopping. You can tell something dramatic is going to happen as they spend valuable film time putting groceries away, so it’s not a huge shock when Hurt closes the fridge door to reveal Hershey standing there.

What follows is a frankly bonkers scene where Hershey confronts Hurt, to find out the truth. Hurt is clearly deeply disturbed, at one point starts stabbing herself in her arm, and then holds herself at knifepoint. But in the end she’s disarmed by Hershey, and is last seen in an ambulance with her daughter, who has promised to look after her.

Standoff

As for Hershey and Shepard, her car won’t start, so they leave together.

The only reason I recorded this film was because it was directed by Martin Campbell, who had directed the classic Edge of Darkness serial, and would go on to direct both Goldeneye and Casino Royale. But I’m glad I did, as it wasn’t at all bad. Night quite up there with Jagged Edge, but an enjoyable thriller with plenty of non-stupid twists.

After the film, recording continues, and there’s half an hour of Nowhere to Run, a Jean Claude Van Damme film, co-starring Rosanna Arquette, and with a story by Joe Esterhaz and Richard Marquand, which is more impressive when you realize the film was made in 1993 and Richard Marquand died in 1987. I presume has was developing it with Esterhaz with an eye to possibly directing it.

Recording stops after half an hour of Van Damage.

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2 comments

  1. My memory of “Defenceless” is that Mary Beth Hurt should have had the book thrown at her for overacting.

    Good thing the tape ran out before “Nowhere To Run” could up space that could have been occupied by a *good* Rosanna Arquette movie (even allowing for the “Let’s talk about Jean-Claude Van Damme’s penis while we’re having dinner as a family” scene).

  2. The Borrower looks like they thought up the head-swapping premise and after patting themselves on the back realised they didn’t know what to do with it, but went ahead (a-head?) anyway. It makes a weird contrast with Henry, or even Mad Dog and Glory.

    Also, I miss JT Walsh.

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