The Borrower – USA, 1991 – reviews

 

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The Borrower is a 1991 American science fiction horror film directed by John McNaughton (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer) and produced by Cannon Pictures and Vision Pictures.

The film sees an alien serial killer who is sent to Earth to live among humans as a form of punishment. It stars Rae Dawn Chong, Tom Towles (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer; Night of the Living Dead; The Pit and the Pendulum) and Antonio Fargas (Firestarter).

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McNaughton’s second film, after his breakout stunner Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, came a good five years later but is likely to have waited in the wings for a good couple of years before finally seeing a release.

The set-up is simple but opens up a world of possibilities; an insect-like alien race sentence one of their kind to a lifetime of misery by transfiguring him into human form and casting him out into the world of the worthless Earthlings as punishment for mass murder. The change does not last for long with the alien’s guise soon bubbling and pulsing, requiring him to repeatedly replace his head with that of another human to prevent detection.

Borrower, The (1991) [UK VHS]

The casting of Fargas (best known, of course, as Huggy Bear from Starsky and Hutch) suggests a lack of commitment in terms of wanting the film to be taken seriously but his performance is well-pitched as both the down-and-out loon and possessed alien goon. Rae Dawn Chong disappoints as the suspicious cop who struggles to get her boss to believe her wacky theories; distracted by her enormous mobile phone and widescreen-spanning hairdo, she neither overacts nor plays it straight, simply coasting through her lines, the only option that wouldn’t work.

The rest of the cast are far more approving of their material, in particular Tom Towles (Otis in Henry and Harry in Tom Savini’s Night of the Living Dead remake) as the initial alien incarnation, staggering through the filthy hooker and drug-dealer filled streets of Chicago, aping the actions of those around him. There’s a nice scene of him amongst the occupants of a homeless shelter, which raises the bar in terms of metaphors not needing to be laid on with a trowel.

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The make-up and transformation effects from the hands of Kevin Yagher, who had already been responsible for the effects on A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, 3 and 4 and had designed the Chucky doll for Child’s Play, are top-notch, the bubbling and expanding heads very reminiscent of the creature effects in The Beast Within – perhaps then it’s no coincidence that the film also features the acting talents of Don Gordon who played the judge in that film.

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The film may be a bit of a one-trick pony but it’s a high-quality pony with a hat on. The gloom and despair which permeates Henry isn’t here but there’s great wit and overall some tight performances; the overall feel is of Stuart Gordon (on a good day), with gloop, headless torsos and a dangling string between laughs and yuks. Henry is clearly something of an albatross around the director’s neck but appears briefly on a poster on a lamppost; less explainable are the clips of The Garbage Pail Kids Movie. 

The ending is extremely rushed and is an undeserving conclusion; the production suffered from funding through and it’s very obvious that this isn’t how the film was initially intended to finish. McNaughton finally found his feet again with Wild Things in 1998 and there are high hopes for his forthcoming film, The Harvest, to cement him as one of the most forward-thinking directors.

Daz Lawrence, MOVIES & MANIA

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