Pretty Poison

3 out of 5 stars
Tuesday Weld and Anthony Perkins in Pretty Poison
Tuesday Weld and Anthony Perkins in Pretty Poison

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

He's a disturbed young man just out of a mental institution. She's a small-town high-school girl whose most exciting daily activity is marching-band practice. Sounds like a match made in movie heaven. The head case, Dennis Pitt, is played by none other than Anthony Perkins, and the initial scenes of Noel Black's dark comic thriller playfully trade on his iconic character from that flick about an isolated motel and Mother's corpse. Dennis is creepy even when he smiles, so the madman-alert really sounds when he begins wooing that perky teen, Sue Ann Stepanek (Weld, eerily pitch-perfect), by pretending to be a CIA agent on a top-secret mission. What tangled web is he weaving?

Not so fast: Though Dennis has a fair share of self-created tragedy in his past (something about an abusive aunt and a house ablaze), it soon becomes clear that it's the deceptively innocent Sue Ann who's certifiable. The film is strongest when focusing on the two perfect-foil leads as they blissfully indulge paranoid fantasies about poison in the local water supply and plot covert counterespionage operations. But once the story takes a murderous turn, things quickly fall apart. Too many perfunctory side characters, such as Dennis's clueless parole officer, dilute any sense of tension; the bargain-basement visuals---all overlit interiors and unmotivated zooms---never rise above the luridly cheap; and hoo-boy, those final scenes. If you thought the Dr. Exposition climax of Psycho was too on the nose...

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