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Eclectic DVD presents
Headless Body in Topless Bar (1995)

"Who said anything about executing witnesses?"
- Man (Raymond J. Barry)

Review By: Jeff Ulmer   
Published: April 30, 2002

Stars: Raymond J. Barry, Paul Williams, David Selby, Jennifer MacDonald, Rustam Branaman, Taylor Nichols
Other Stars: April Grace, Biff Yeager, Tom Bresnahan
Director: James Bruce

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nudity, language, implied violence)
Run Time: 01h:43m:59s
Release Date: April 30, 2002
UPC: 022891101192
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

"We cooperate like a family, or nobody gets out alive." - Man

Late night in a seedy Manhattan strip club. Patrons are few, it is a slow night. A man (Raymond J. Barry) seats himself at the bar, and orders a drink, sparking up conversation with the barkeep (Biff Yeager). At the back of the club, Candy (Jennifer MacDonald) takes the stage and begins her routine for an audience consisting of a business man (David Selby), a pair of hockey buddies (Rustam Branaman, Taylor Nichols), and a wheelchair bound cripple (Paul Williams). At the bar, the man pulls a gun, demanding the night's cash be handed over. The bartender argues, calling attention to the situation from the other customers, who momentarily distract the thief. Spinning as he hears the cocking of a shotgun, the robber shoots the barkeep in the forehead, whose body falls dead behind the bar. With a room full of witnesses to a murder, he ponders his next move, conscious of the details that could prevent him from walking away a free man.

With a room full of hostages, including the half-naked stripper, he goes through the steps necessary to clean up the crime scene—wipe for fingerprints, remove any evidence, deal with the witnesses. For the next hour and a half the group will ponder their fate, as the man applies his prison psychology while figuring out his course of action. In a series of mind games the captor toys with his prey. They will be humiliated, forced to reveal their darkest secrets, who they are and why they came to be here, but in the back of everyone's mind is whether or not they will escape with their lives.

Based on a real headline the New York Post in 1983, the story reveals the shifts in atmosphere as an admitted career criminal tries to walk away free from an accidental crime. From the comments on the IMDB, it is plain that no one has seen this movie, and if I had my choice in the matter, I would be among them. While I will cut the producers some slack for the budget they had to work with, the pacing of this film is agonizing. The director utilizes a number of extended scenes, one running uncut for over eight minutes, as the camera dollies around the establishment. While the technical achievement is notable, the execution leaves much to be desired. I didn't care for any of these characters, and would have been just as happy if they were iced in the first ten minutes. Interest picks up as the evening wears on and relationships between the characters are exposed, but there isn't enough here to engage, let alone hold, my attention. The performances aren't bad, but I didn't buy into them. The compositions, while going for some arty off angles and lots of multi-plane two shots, just weren't that interesting, and the story, even with its defining moment, reads better as a headline.

Rating for Style: C
Rating for Substance: C


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Image quality is fine, but on the fairly soft side. Colors are reasonably saturated, black levels seem solid. The look is on the dark side, with a lot of colored interior lighting. Compression artifacts are pretty minor, and grain is well preserved.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Two-channel mono audio is presented reasonably well. Dialogue is easy to discern and isn't overly sibilant, but does tend to become edged with distortion at times. There are a couple of minor dropouts here and there. I wouldn't expect much more for a low budget production.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 15 cues and remote access
1 Feature/Episode commentary by James Bruce, Peter Koper
Packaging: Scanavo
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: For extras, there is a commentary track from director James Bruce and writer/co-producer Peter Koper. The two discuss the many issues surrounding the production, and comment on their actors with the expected accolades, though mistakenly attribute a performance by Paul Williams to Phantom of the Opera, instead of Phantom of the Paradise. There is a major problem with the background soundtrack at the 01h:31m:20s mark, where the audio slips way out of sync for the duration of the commentary track.

A 03m:56s clip with the title song playing over excerpts from the movie is also included, as well as images of the original April 15, 1983 New York Post newspaper story that inspired the film. While unreadable on the TV screen, those with a DVD-ROM drive may be able to make out the copy, which details how security guard Charles Dingle forced a woman to cut off the head of his murder victim, and was later arrested after falling asleep in a drunken stooper in his car, where the head was found in the trunk.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

I'm sure I'll hear about this from the cast and crew, but I did not in any way find Headless Body in Topless Bar appealing. I didn't like the characters, the title is more interesting than the story, and the outcome, while not entirely predictable, is pretty unsatisfying. Considering the entire film takes place with the characters sitting at a couple of tables, I will credit the director for at least attempting to make it interesting, but the end result is pretty dull. At least the headless guy didn't have to watch the movie.


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