Written by William Goldman
Directed by John Schlesinger
Stop me if you've heard this one: A Jew and a German walk into a bar. Well, okay, they don't walk into a bar, but they do get into their respective cars, get into a little racially-fueled road rage, and die a horrible, fiery death following a collision with an oil truck. Pretty good punchline, eh?
This horrific event kicks off our story, and from there we meet liberal pacifist grad student Babe Levy, whose girlfriend may or may not be what she claims, and whose brother Doc is a covert government agent killed in the line of duty. Immediately following his violent demise, Babe finds himself on the run from Szell, a sadistic Nazi war criminal--a former dentist with a passion for oral trauma. He's willing to torture and kill for the answer to a single question, an answer that Babe doesn't have.
"Is it safe?"
But, as always, there's only so much poking and prodding a man can take before you hit a nerve--in this case, quite literally--and Babe shakes loose from his pacifistic shackles in hopes of turning the tables on his ratzi tormentor.
Truth be told, this movie is like an old Mustang. It takes a short while to warm up, but once it gets going it purrs like a kitten and takes you for one hell of a ride. Although it's more intrigue and suspense than horror, that doesn't make Szell any less of a terrifying character, and you'll root (canal) for his comeuppance just as sure as you'll cringe at his medieval practices. This could easily be seen as an offshoot of the Survivalist Film, or, if you squint hard enough, a predecessor to the Torture Porn subgenre. It's Hostel...with a storyline. Who would have even thought it possible?
With rock solid performances from all of the dependable leads and admirable direction, this movie has a shiny payoff that you'll want to see, so don't let the rusty warm-up period throw you off.
Is it safe?