The Landlady (1998) has been on my radar for years, ever since I spied it on a shelf at a video store, on sale for $1.99 or some such. But you know how it goes...sometimes $1.99 is simply too much for a movie. Sometimes free is too much for a movie, but that's a topic for another time. The point is, I'd pick up The Landlady and look at it every time I went a-trollin' and a-browsin' at that particular 20/20 Video, but then I'd leave her behind and it seemed that were were simply not destined to be.
But o, fate! Are we not all destiny's child, each and every one of us? Indeed we are, and at long last, the power of Instant Watch has united The Landlady and I. Though I am still reeling from the experience, let me say this: I don't remember what I spent that $1.99 on after leaving The Landlady behind at 20/20 Video- a pen? 0.24875000000000003% of my rent? 1/7 of a pizza?- but whatever it was, it was the better choice. Would that destiny were barren!
What is it that drew my interest to this film in the first place? Come on! Unless this is the first time you're reading Final Girl, you should be able to suss out the reasons by now. Talia Shire? Well, I have nothing against her. A nutso landlady killing tenants? Fine. And, you know, of course it's a nutso landlady and not a landlord. Sure, there have been nutso landlords in cinema...but there's just something about a landlady, ain't there? They're always so gossipy and nosy and they're always running boarding houses. They're evil or they're drunk or they're horny or they're evil and drunk and horny. From 'Salem's Lot to The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, the cinematic landlady is a stock character I love.
Have you ever had a landlady? Out of all the places I've lived, only one of them came with a lady in charge. She was awful. But worse was the landlord who promised to put new windows in the apartment when I signed the lease. Of course he didn't. The windows didn't lock and I was on the ground floor...and surprise, someone fucking opened one of my windows one night and started to climb in. He was drunk and had the wrong apartment? I guess? I don't know, he split before the cops arrived and I had a nice sleepless night. The next day I told my landlord to fix my GD windows right now, so he came over and screwed them shut.
I'll just let that sit there for a moment.
When I realized what he was doing, I said "What are you doing?", followed by "Why are you doing that?" followed by "What if there's a fire and I have to get out through the window since this apartment only has one door?", and he responded by leaving his screwdriver with me.
That story has nothing to do with anything, but I figured I'd tell you about it because I can't believe I lived there, what the heck.
Anyway, The Landlady. The film begins as Melanie (Shire) catches her husband in flagrante delicto with some floozy. Melanie frets. We can tell a lot about Melanie from this brief opening scene: her plain and dowdy manner of dress imply a conservative, perhaps shy personality. She talks to herself regularly, indicating that she is perhaps mentally ill or mentally challenged.
Melanie heads home to cook dinner for her cheating lout of a husband, but upon seeing cans of "oriental crabmeat" in the cupboard, her mind turns to thoughts of murder. Her husband is highly allergic to shellfish, you see, and so after ingesting mass quantities of oriental crabmeat- carefully disguised as chicken- he dies. Since she has conveniently just inherited an apartment building in Los Angeles from her dead aunt Lydia, Melanie packs up and heads off to smoggier pastures 100% husband-free. She's a landlady now!
Melanie quickly proves herself to be an uptight prude to her new tenants, chastising them for using God's name in vain, doing sex, and smoking- just as you'd expect in a cinematic landlady. Despite her failed marriage (although is a marriage that ends in murder really a failure? amirite? heyoooo), Melanie still believes in true love and sets her sights on a the nice, bland, socially-conscious Patrick (Jack Coleman)...although Patrick is taken and seems oblivious to Melanie's ardor.
Can you guess where the story is going?
You sure can! People who discover Melanie's husband-killing secret (thanks to newspaper clippings OF COURSE) and must be killed. Patrick's girlfriend must be killed. People who discover that Patrick's girlfriend has been killed must be killed. You just know that eventually it will come down to Melanie confessing her love to Patrick and Patrick will respond with a "What? You're a nutcake!" and Melanie will likely try to kill Patrick but Patrick will kill her instead and her last words will be "I love you".
But first! She kidnaps him, ties him to her bed, and "marries" him. At this point in the proceedings, I almost turned The Landlady off because I was just embarrassed, like TALIA SHIRE YOU WERE IN THE GODFATHER AND ROCKY WHAT ARE YOU DOING.
That's right friends, make no mistake: The Landlady is terrible. Bad. Not good-bad, just bad. But here's the biggest problem with the film: several times throughout it, I had the sneaking suspicion that it was perhaps supposed to be satire. Some of the dialogue was too off-kilter to be serious: "Ever since Lydia had her colon removed..." There were scenes featuring Melanie cuddling with and talking to the urn full of her dead husband's ashes...but the "humor" was sprinkled sparingly, and the murders, though bland and nearly bloodless, were all played straight. What to think? Sometimes satire simply becomes the thing you are satirizing, you know? It's a fine line, and The Landlady ended up the side marked "misfire"...or, to be more accurate, "pile of crap I wanted to turn off at the 50-minute mark but I slogged through until the end".
And to tell you the 100% truth, I'm glad I did, because in the last minute- the very last!- minute of the film there is a line that is so unexpected and so well delivered that the humor worked and I could not stop laughing. Well, maybe I was punch drunk from the preceding 90 minutes, I don't know...but I rewound it about five times. Am I saying that it's worth sitting through The Landlady to get to that line? No, that is not what I'm saying.
Okay, that is exactly what I'm saying.
No, no it's not. Really. The Landlady is awful and no joke is worth the pain of it.
When The Landlady was finally over, Netflix suggested I next watch The Night Caller starring Tracy Nelson of Square Pegs and Mary Crosby of Dallas and Shanna Reed of The Babymaker: The Dr. Cecil Jacobson Story...and with a cast like that you don't say no! I started watching it and I swear, it was essentially the same movie as the one I'd just watched. The same writers, director, and production team. The same lead-actress-as-producer credit. The same dowdy woman kills the source of her ire and starts a new life and quickly becomes obsessed with someone she can't have storyline...is this some cottage industry I didn't know about? Because I want in!
No, I don't. I turned off The Night Caller after about twelve minutes to save myself from the inevitable pain.
Okay, I mostly turned it off because it was like 2:30am and I was tired and YES I know I'll go back to it especially because geez, I hadn't even gotten to the Mary Crosby parts yet. Now pass me the oriental crabmeat!