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The Vagrant Reviews

Yet another yuppie nightmare thriller, THE VAGRANT posits a Bum from Hell making life miserable for an uptight young professional. Unfortunately, unlike its more realistically played counterparts, this movie's approach is an awkward marriage of cheap laughs and queasy shocks. The yuppie in question is Graham Krakowski (Bill Paxton), a young financial analyst who's working toward a promotion at his office and buys a new house across from a vacant lot. The lot is home to a gnarled, rangy vagrant (Marshall Bell), who's apparently not satisfied with outdoor living and enters the house on a regular basis. The intrusion doesn't stop after Graham moves in, and the homeowner, unnerved by the vagrant's gruesome appearance and unwanted presence, has the bum arrested. But the vagrant is soon harassing him anew, and Graham responds by installing eight-foot walls and a ring of spotlights around his house. But even this doesn't work when Graham's girlfriend Edie Roberts (Mitzi Kapture) comes to visit; while he's at work, Edie takes pity on the bum and invites him in for some food. Graham is close to the breaking point, and Edie soon leaves him; shortly thereafter, both his neighbor, Mrs. Howler (Mildred Brion), and a real estate agent, Judy Dansig (Colleen Camp), with whom Graham had a fling, are brutally murdered. Investigating Lt. Ralf Barfuss (Michael Ironside) discovers parts of the victims' bodies in Graham's home, and the hapless yuppie soon finds himself on trial for murder. During the trial, however, Graham's mother dies of a heart attack while acting as a character witness for her son, and Graham is let off. He takes to the road, eventually landing a job at a trailer park. But the vagrant has followed him there, and after killing the elderly owner's dog (inspiring a heart attack in the owner himself), he attacks Graham as he's fleeing in his car. After finding the vagrant's belongings in the back seat, Graham discovers that the bum is actually a disgraced professor who's using him as a guinea pig in a psychological experiment, attempting to prove that a stable professional man will revert to the animal inside under enough pressure. Graham goes after the vagrant in a dilapidated amusement park, where he also runs into Barfuss and another policeman; Barfuss is killed by the vagrant, but the other cop manages to blow the tramp away. Graham has retained his humanity, but can't shake the memories of the vagrant. THE VAGRANT's premise--a downtrodden homeless man exacting symbolic vengeance against an uptight member of the wealthy class--could have produced a dark and disturbing tale with resonant undertones, a perfect expression of Robin Wood's "return of the repressed" theory of horror. Instead, director Chris Walas (the makeup effects artist who also helmed THE FLY II) and screenwriter Richard Jeffries camp up the material and only go for the most obvious shocks, resulting in a wildly uneven and frustrating movie with a few good individual moments. Most of these are derived from the sight of the horrific vagrant invading the sanctity of house and home; but since the character is not fleshed out in any significant way, the potential for more meaningful shocks is lost. And the explanation behind the vagrant's terrorization of Graham is ridiculously over-literal and a cheat, as is the previously silent villain suddenly uttering psychobabble during the final confrontation. Similarly, the film negates the possibility of a claustrophobic, housebound climax by moving Graham to the trailer park for the final reels, yet never explores the ironic potential of having him wind up a vagrant himself. Equally disappointing is the way the film wastes a strong genre cast: ALIENS' Paxton is given a practically unplayable character, and of TOTAL RECALL's Bell and Ironside, the latter chews the scenery. As if to guard against being seen as exploiting a very real social problem, the filmmakers play a good deal of the material as a big joke, with clunky comedy out of a bad Mel Brooks movie. (Brooks's company, in fact, produced the film.) This includes a burlesque dialogue sequence about the vagrant's urinating in the bushes, multiple pratfalls by Paxton as he encounters the bum, the glaringly out-of-place scene of Graham's mother's death and even silly character names (in addition to those mentioned above, Graham's boss is named "Mr. Feemster"). THE VAGRANT should have been as single-minded and relentless as its villain, but it ends up as confused as its protagonist. (Violence, profanity, sexual situations.)