Granted, when we’re dealing with domestic releases that isn’t all that common these days. Having seen so many – having read about so many – from the big tentpole releases to some small independent pictures here and there – I’ve stumbled across a great many projects that I never heard about. When appropriate, I try to add them to the pages of SciFiHistory.Net; if I don’t have the time immediately, then I add it to the growing list of citations I can only hope (at this point) to get to in a single lifetime. An even greater joy is when I fall face first into an older picture that involves some big name talent whose participation likely made it a better and more memorable outing than had they sat this one out, and those – my friends – are very rare, indeed.
But … I’m here to let you know that I’ve found another one!
The Vagrant (1992) apparently came and went fairly quickly from theaters back in its day; and – after digesting it completely – it ain’t all that hard to see why. Part Horror and part Black Comedy, its various pieces – including performances from such notables as the late Bill Paxton, Colleen Camp, and national treasures like Marshall Bell and Michael Ironside – are occasionally a bit over-the-top, maybe even a bit grotesque for the sake of gratuitousness. I know director Chris Walas’ name more for his work in the field of Special Effects than I do directing, and I’m not sure this story (as penned by Richard Jefferies) could’ve worked all that differently in the hands of another storyteller. All-in-all, it’s a bit uneven, a bit undercooked, maybe even a bit unclear …
… and yet that just might be the source of its unmistakably charm. It definitely has ‘cult’ written all over it, and I’d give it a strong thumbs up if only for audiences who like that kind of thing.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the film’s IMDB.com page citation:
“A businessman buys a house, but he has a hard time trying to get rid of its previous tenant, a dirty bum.”
In the hands of an everyman like Paxton, Krakowski is your typical young urban professional (think ‘yuppie,’ for those of you who know the term). Who’s doing everything he can smartly to get ahead at work – garnering praise from the ‘corner office’ but not at the risk of being perceived as butt-kissing – and in his private life. Because he’s reached the point in his personal development that purchasing a house is the smart thing to do, he’s put in the research and believes he’s found a place that might usher in the next chapter in his existence. Living his days in the proper step-by-step formula, Graham is the perennial white-collar worker aiming at the right choices.
Therein lies the beauty of The Vagrant’s simple, underlying theme: life rarely goes as planned.
Something invariably throws the proverbial monkey wrench into the mix, and it’s here that The Vagrant excels. It introduces Krakowski to the absolute antithesis of his existence: a homeless man (who is – for all intents and purposes – best known as ‘The Vagrant’ abiding by my spoiler rules) has not only taken up residence in the vacant lot across the street from Graham’s dream house but also he can seemingly find his way inside the place whenever he chooses. Try as he might to keep the unwashed, unclean, and unkempt itinerant out and away from his personal business, Krakowski fails at every opportunity, so much so that one might begin to suspect magic – if not downright undiagnosed psychosis – might be afoot.
In fact, Jefferies’ script deliberately toys with Krakowski’s increasingly fragile psyche up and to the point wherein audiences just might begin questioning if the lines of reality have blurred. We learn that Graham sleepwalks on occasion, and it starts to look as if he himself might be his own worst enemy in these unintended nocturnal episodes. Yet because The Vagrant really is the stuff of living nightmares we’re eventually brought back to the point that these things taking place are very real, potentially very deadly, and inevitably requiring extraordinary solutions.
As for the cast?
Reflecting upon the journey, I think that The Vagrant’s subversiveness probably was found a bit too risky to put this thing out with a wide theatrical release. As I said above, it’s one of those rare flicks that isn’t quite specific enough grounded in any one genre, choosing instead of cross over – perhaps even back-and-forth – with traditional Horror, conventional then dark Comedy, as well as the mainstream urban thriller. Because it never commits to any one theme, it likely confused studio suits in much the same way Tremors (1990) had done just a few years before. Saddled with this thematic inconsistency, The Vagrant only found extremely limited airings, eventually being dumped into the retail/rental market where it finally found an audience. That’s a shame because I’d argue it deserved better: it definitely deserves to be seen, though I think only those who gravitate toward cult flicks might inevitably embrace it as the diamond-in-the-rough that it remains.
Like every good Horror concept, the film does have a very solid twist – a final surprise – withheld until the final reel, and that’s one thing that I think was handled intelligently enough to encourage folks to give it a single viewing. It may not be as grand or as frightening as it was intended, but it definitely gives one something to mull over the next time you see that scruffy fellow standing on the corner with a sign asking you for your spare change. Who is that fellow? What might his true backstory be? Why could avoiding his glance – why might not giving him a buck – be the worst choice you ever made? As is the case with living life unbridled, you never truly know … do you?
Recommended … but only truly if you’re a purveyor of cult flicks, obscure Horror releases, and/or oddball black comedies.
I think – with a film like The Vagrant – it goes without saying that the motion picture won’t be for everyone. Its comic moments are a bit fleeting at times, occasionally played a bit over-the-top, and its Horror elements are likely too few and far between to truly light a fire in that genre’s most ardent fans. I suspect this was the type of project that no one quite knew what to do with once completed, and this certainty probably left it with the scant theatrical airings it was afforded. As can happen over time, home video releases likely gave it new life, as renters are far more forgiving with features that lean toward the fringes and forgotten films.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Arrow Films provided me with a complimentary Blu-ray screener/copy of The Vagrant by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.