Larry Cohen’s feature directing debut (he also wrote and produced it) is a delightful cocktail of sex, violence, black, black comedy and surrealism wrapped around an exploration of the class divide and politics.
Sleazy used car salesman Bill (Andrew Duggan) and his shrill and demanding wife Bernadette (Joyce Van Patten) are a (seemingly) wealthy white couple living in the biggest house and driving the fanciest car in Beverly Hills.
They become the victims of a home invasion by a threatening black stranger called Bone (Yaphet Kotto, the Samuel L Jackson of the 1970s in a tour de force performance), who ransacks the house, looking for money.
When his search is unsuccessful, and he realises that his victims are less wealthy than they initially appeared, he sends the husband to the bank to withdraw some cash, threatening him that if he doesn’t return within an hour, he will rape his wife and cut her throat.
Bill takes the opportunity to run out on his wife and has a one-night stand with a psychotic woman (Jeannie Berlin) he meets at his bank.
Meanwhile, Bernadette and her captor begin to form a bond and soon set off after the errant husband to seek revenge and do away with Bill for his insurance.
Throughout all this, there are jump cuts and flashbacks and other cinematic tricks to keep the viewer interested.
Released in some markets under the alternate title Housewife, it’s a strange but breathtaking movie with fabulous performances all around.
Politically correct, it’s not, but it is a cleverly written commentary on 1970s America and the morally and ideologically corrupt core lurking behind the white picket fence.
Yaphet Kotto died at the age of 81 on 15 March 2021, near Manila in the Philippines.
Joyce Van Patten
Lady on Bus