Tagline: Don’t lend him anything you can’t afford to lose.
Director: John McNaughton
Writers: Mason Nage, Richard Fire
Starring: Rae Dawn Chong, Don Gordon, Tom Towles, Antonio Fargas, Neil Giuntoli, Larry Pennell, Pam Gordon
18 | 1h 32min | Comedy, Horror, Sci-Fi
Budget: $2,000,000 (estimated)
In many ways The Borrower is a low-budget derivative of Jack Sholder’s 1987 sci-fi horror The Hidden, one that proves infinitely less successful in its comical aspirations, but that’s not to say it is completely without its charm.
By 1991, production company the Cannon Group was way past its peak following a misguided plunge into the realms of blockbuster extravaganza, but this particular movie is evidence that those at Golan-Globus could still attract their fair share of household names, even if the stars in question were a half decade past their commercial prime.
Firstly, the movie is directed by none other than John McNaughton, who with 1986‘s Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer produced one of the finest and most misunderstood movies of the decade, one dismissed by most as a sleazy ‘video nasty‘, but a movie that respected critic Roger Ebert called ‘a low-budget tour de force’, describing the industry’s division in opinion as being ‘between those who felt the film did its job brilliantly, and those who felt its job should not have been done at all.’
Clearly, the latter of those voices made themselves heard loudest because one of the most promising director’s of the genre disappeared almost overnight.
The second familiar face is one Rae Dawn Chong, who you might remember as Schwarzenegger‘s main squeeze in 1985‘s tongue-in-cheek actioner Commando. Chong was hot property at about the same time as McNaughton, and though she possessed cinematic qualities and improbable beauty, she would all but fade from the mainstream in the ensuing years. Some people are just bereft of good fortune it seems.
The Borrower fails to do its job even half as well as those other movies, but it is a curious little number. It is the story of an alien race of giant grasshoppers who sentence a member of their species to the ultimate punishment, turning him into a human being and banishing him to a corrupt planet of primitives known as Earth. Once there, our intergalactic criminal struggles to maintain his new form, pulling off the heads of fresh victims and swapping them for the last one he ‘borrowed’. The fact that black hands suddenly become white to match the alien’s current head should not come as a surprise in a movie whose negligence in continuity proves part of its appeal.
In-between instances of gross self-decay and brutal murder, our alien sets off on a meandering odyssey, assuming the identities of local hick Bob Laney (Towles), homeless drunk Julius (Fargas), and the womanising Dr. Cheever (Amendola), drooling and mumbling and bleeding its way to the same morgue where a notorious criminal ends up. This is the same crook previously entrapped by sexy, streetwise cop Diana Pierce (Chong), who ends up on the dubious trail as the headless bodies pile up along with wild stories of monstrous alien sightings.
Chong is excellent as the determined, yet soft-centred Pierce, while Bullit’s Don Gordon and ‘Henry’s‘ Tom Towles bring some much welcome panache to proceedings, offering some genuine acting stability to a screenplay that bleeds absurdity. The movie also benefits from some charmingly schlocky practical effects that more than justify its $2,000,000 budget, but while there are some genuine laughs on offer, the alien-on-a-foreign-planet gags prove uninspired and repetitive, and you feel that with a little more effort the movie could have been so much more.
Still, for sheer ridiculousness The Borrower is well worth a look, and any movie that gives you a murderous alien doctor with a dog’s head can’t be all bad. It also gives us a rare glimpse into the stuttering career of the ostracised McNaughton, who would return to the American mainstream with 1993‘s largely forgotten and cruelly underappreciated gem Mad Dog and Glory, a movie produced by none other than Martin Scorsese, but one that would fail to reignite McNaughton’s long-dormant and ultimately doomed career. Never has such a considerable talent been so badly mistreated.
With the deadly sting of ‘Henry’ still smarting, The Borrower takes a precarious slapstick approach to its horror, one that was never going to give McNaughton a new lease of mainstream life. But like much of his work it is interesting and uniquely conceived. A film which lacks the potency for widespread cult appeal, but one that bad movie aficionados will not want to miss.
Downing an entire bottle of liquor, The Borrower‘s latest human vessel begins to bubble and mutate, and the erupting alien’s murderous tendencies reveal themselves in a street-bound decapitation of grotesque proportions.
Most Absurd Moment
After unleashing a hosepipe on a neighbour’s barking dog, a douchebag punk rocker gets the shock of his life when Dr Cheever crashes through the fence, the mutt’s head now attached to his headless corpse.
Most Absurd Dialogue
Informed that the coroner’s latest corpse contained a third type of unidentified blood, and still reeling from several claims of extraterrestrial foul play, officer Pierce displays some grade A detective work.
Diane Pierce: ‘So, we’re dealing with a serial killer who’s not only a cannibal, he injects his victims with his own blood!’
No, detective. He’s an alien.
For fans of B-movie absurdities, The Borrower packs enough of a comic punch to keep you entertained, but you can’t help but wonder what might have been for director John McNaughton had his wonderful Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer received the exposure it deserved. As sad as it may sound, some filmmakers are just too authentic for their own good.
Cedric Smarts: Editor-in-Chief and Art Director
Science fiction author, horror enthusiast, scourge of plutocracy, shortlisted for the H. G. Wells Award, creator of vhsrevival.com
Likes: 80s poster art, Vangelis, classical liberalism, dystopian allegories, dissident political activism, Noam Chomsky, George Orwell, George Saunders, John Updike, Kurt Vonnegut