At the suggestion of his
manager, screenwriter Jonathan Lynn accepted the opportunity to write THE INTERNECINE
PROJECT for producer Barry Levinson, free of charge, in hopes that the screen
credit would assist him in landing future work. Such advice proved to be wise
as Lynn would find himself penning numerous British television series, both
before and after PROJECT saw release theatrically and eventually would find
himself sliding into the director's chair to helm a number of his own features
including CLUE, NUNS ON THE RUN, MY COUSIN VINNY and THE WHOLE NINE YARDS. While
known primarily for his work in comedies, THE INTERNECINE PROJECT, Jonathan's
first cinematic foray is all about suspense. The basic premise is a murder plot
times four. A conspiracy that the viewer is in on from its set up, all the way
through to its conclusion where, if executed correctly, will result in a very
busy night for London’s coroners.
Professor Robert Elliot (James Coburn, OUR MAN FLINT) has just been tapped as the next economic advisor to the president of the United States. Mr. Farnsworth (Keenan Wynn, PIRANHA), a close associate of Robert's, flies to London to inform his friend of his impending promotion and to warn him as such a prestigious distinction will no doubt warrant close investigation before receiving approval. Mr. Farnsworth’s reservations prove to be of merit as the professor has been doing more than lecturing while in London. Dabbling in the spy game, Robert has amassed a humble quartet of operatives who deliver both materials and information via their respective occupations. There is David Baker (Michael Jayston), a scientist with access to cutting edge technology and weaponry, Alex Hellman (Ian Hendry, TALES FROM THE CRYPT) a nervous foreign official with a knack for numbers, Christina Larsson (Christiane Kruger, Radley Metzger's LITTLE MOTHER), a high priced hooker fond of taping her sessions with privileged clientele and Albert Parsons (Harry Andrews, MODESTY BLAISE), a misogynistic masseuse privy to the unguarded banner of businessmen. Meeting with each of his associates individually, Robert lays the ground work for an ingenuous and risky operation. One that will not only get rid of any potential problems for the professor but one that will also allow his hands to remain clean, despite leaving a potential body count, stacked four high.
Considering that the second half of the picture consists of James Coburn reacting to a telephone and little else, THE INTERNECINE PROJECT is quite the little film that could. Aided by a tension driving score by Roy Budd, the picture wastes little time in establishing its characters and their respective roles in Robert’s impromptu game of chess. Each of his pawns is given a chore, something menial, such as breaking into an apartment and leaving a rather innocuous looking metallic box under a couch. Others are more direct and decidedly deadly, such as sneaking into a stranger's flat to switch out their diabetic medication with one filled with a lethal dosage. Instructed to call him along each step of their respected journeys, Robert is able to follow the night’s revelry while sitting comfortably at home. Following Robert's plan as it unfolds hits the occasional and expected bumps, resulting in an enjoyable and engaging yarn, though I question the picture's replay value as I would imagine that the tension would be greatly dismissed on repeat viewings. Still, the film has plenty to admire, most notably Christiane Kruger, and at least one incredibly effective and brutal scene that had me questioning how the film ever received a PG rating.
Harry Andrews' brutish take on Albert Parsons is a show stopper. Albert clearly has no love lost for the fairer of the species so when presented with the opportunity to get rid of Mr. Elliot’s feminine problem, he willingly and enthusiastically signs himself up for the job. Recruited to get rid of Christina, Albert breaks into the prostitute’s apartment just as she is getting into a shower. Approaching her from behind, Albert, a lumbering gorilla of a man, startles the soaked beauty by strangling her to death through the fogged curtain of her shower. The way Geoffrey Unsworth’s camera frames Harry’s face against the shower curtain as he chokes the life out of her is a defining moment for the picture. One that is made all the more creepy and unsettling by little touches, such as the way water pools up between Harry’s hand and Christiane’s neck.
Released on VHS from CBS/FOX video in the U.S. and on DVD from Fremantle Home Entertainment in the U.K., THE INTERNECINE PROJECT gets a digital upgrade Stateside thanks to Scorpion Releasing. Touted as a brand new, high-definition master taken from the original interpositive, PROJECT is presented anamorphic in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The print suffers from an occasional swarm of white speckling and an overall softness in detail and coloring but it’s not enough to ruin the experience as a whole. While visually debris is noticeable from time to time, the English mono track features no such glaring errors and does a serviceable job to both dialogue and score.
Special Features include “Decoding the Project: A conversation with writer Jonathan Lynn”, a 30 minute interview that delves into Jonathan’s involvement with PROJECT as well as touching on a number of his other films. While a bit long in the tooth, the interview provides several interesting bits of back story such as Coburn’s vocal disapproval of his characters fate. Lee Grant (DAMIEN: OMEN II), who stars as a reporter and love interest to Robert in the film is featured in a two and half minute video that is about as throw away and interesting as her character in the feature. A seven minute audio review of the film by James Coburn’s daughter Lisa provides a heartfelt, if not slightly biased take on the picture. The film's original trailer as well as trailers for VOYAGER, THE LAST GRENADE, POWER PLAY, THE FARMER, THE GIRL IN BLUE, SAY HELLO TO YESTERDAY, SKATEBOARD, SILENT SCREAM and GOODBYE GEMINI top off another solid effort from Scorpion Releasing. (Jason McElreath)
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