A KISS BEFORE DYING is James Dearden's remake of Gerd Oswald's 1957 potboiler, both based on Ira Levin's beautifully titled novel.
Jonathan Corliss (Matt Dillon), a youth literally from the wrong side of the tracks in Pittsburgh, is obsessed with gaining wealth and prestige. He fixates on the family of one particular local tycoon, Thor Carlsson (Max von Sydow). He seduces Carlsson's gullible daughter, Dorothy (Sean Young),
but when she becomes pregnant, an event which will force their marriage and her subsequent disinheritance, he murders her. Having kept a successfully low profile during their liaison, he is then able to approach Dorothy's grieving twin sister, Ellen (Young again) and get under her skin, as well.
This time, his plans go through without a hitch. He wins the approval of Carlsson, marries Ellen and settles into a cushy son-in-law-also-rises position in the family company. Ellen, however, is bent on uncovering the truth about her sister's death, never having believed it to be a suicide. Her
investigations lead to the horrifying disclosure of Jonathan's true nature, providing a wild climax.
James Dearden, who covered sexual mania in FATAL ATTRACTION with lip-smacking relish, turns to pure, psychopathic greed with this venture. A KISS BEFORE DYING is one of those films that may play absurdly in a theatre, eliciting hoots, groans and sighs of relief at its end from the audience, but
on video provides a mindless, undemanding diversion. Dearden knows how to purvey pulp--there's no question of that. He pumps it with simmering shots of coal refineries over the credits; the very young Jonathan as a child from the VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED, staring from his bedroom window at trains
careening past; and later, a couple of brutally quick murders. Dorothy's demise is the film's most striking sequence. Jonathan deftly uproots her from a precarious skyscraper perch and she goes tumbling backwards and down, smashing into a tile floor with an impressively Guignol stream of blood
providing her final aureole.
After his revelatory outing in DRUGSTORE COWBOY, Dillon doesn't reveal any new facets here, but is, nonetheless, rather scarily effective within the mild expectations of this genre piece. His blank, camera-proof good looks, eyes with the lights switched off and sudden outbursts of clenched rage
lend themselves to the character. Playing a very conventional psychopath, he is, at least, never laughable in the role, as many of his contemporaries (Rob Lowe, the dreaded Andrew McCarthy) would be.
A KISS BEFORE DYING remains watchable, even though it lags somewhat toward the end, with Young's inept attempts to convey the suffering she feels at the hands of Dillon's supremely indifferent, yet equally suspicious, louse. Nearly finding him out in their lavish, newlyweds' apartment, she tries
to put him off her track by inquiring aloud, with mirth-provoking banality, if they are out of pretzels. She also tries dying her hair blonde in a truly expendable humiliation scene. Young is undeniably one of the most fetching women on screen, but let no one call her an actress. Like the film,
however, she improves on video. She lacks the range to give the Carlsson sisters sufficient differentiation, but in her own, lesser way, she is as appropriate for the demands of the film as is Dillon.
Veteran composer Howard Shore's (DEAD RINGERS, NAKED LUNCH, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS) score is a moody, powerful asset to the film, effectively accompanying Young's classic features, which are an apt tragic mask, especially when prettily tearstained. (Violence, profanity, adult situations, sexualsituations, nudity.)
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- Released: 1991
- Rating: R
- Review: A KISS BEFORE DYING is James Dearden's remake of Gerd Oswald's 1957 potboiler, both based on Ira Levin's beautifully titled novel. Jonathan Corliss (Matt Dillon), a youth literally from the wrong side of the tracks in Pittsburgh, is obsessed with gaining… (more)