Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Tower (Jim Makichuk, 1985)

A stark, and, some might say, subdued warning from the future, that actually takes place in the past, but, when one analyzes the many different variables that are currently at play, seems like it came from the past, the present, and the future simultaneously, The Tower is here to challenge your outdated views on science and technology. Your toaster transforms bread into toast by transferring energy from a wire that's connected to a wall socket. What happens exactly when you go beyond the wall socket is a bit of a mystery, well, at least it is to me (my expertise is limited to crocheting and industrial music). Either way, I'll be slathering my freshly toasted bread with my favourite fatty butter substitute in no time thanks to the energy coursing through those magic holes. Just for the record, I'm already starting to regret this whole toast metaphor that I somehow got roped into employing, as I despise the idea of people trying to imagine what I might look like ingesting carbohydrates while I'm writing about toast. As my Aunt Judy once told me: "There's nothing more undignified than stuffing food in your mouth in a public setting." Soldiering on. What if your toaster, or, for that matter, that gaudy-looking table lamp languishing in the corner of your room were all powered by the heat generated by your body, wouldn't that be awesome? People powering machines? That's ridiculous. People make machines, they don't power them, that's what fossil fuels are for. Of course, I can picture a person producing power for a bicycle (I'm not as close-minded as I look), but a table lamp? Get real. What if told you could power an entire office structure using this technique. Now you're talking crazy. It's funny that you should mention the word "crazy," because the great city of Hamilton, Ontario is the only place I can think of that's forward-thinking enough to allow a building to be run by a computer named LOLA.

Emanating from the fertile mind of writer-director Jim Makichuk, this Emmeritus Production, in association with CHCH-TV and Telefilm Canada, may look like just another in a long line of low budget thrillers about a bunch office drones struggling to stay alive in a multi-story building where an energy-starved computer wants to convert their body heat into power, but it's so much more than that. How much more, you ask? Even though I feel like I'm the only person living outside of Hungary who has seen this flick, I'm not sure if I'm qualified to answer such an awkwardly didactic question. I mean, I want to say that it's a cautionary tale about the dangers that could arise when a society becomes overly reliant on technology, but I don't really think a statement like that properly captures the unnerving disquietude that this film radiates on a semi-regular basis. What's a blithering idiot to do?

I'll tell you what I'm not going to do, I'm not gonna let the misshapen density of The Tower intimidate me. Sure, it's set in Hamilton, and, sure, the characters don't say the word "out" like you and I (it sounded like they were saying "oot" most of the time), but that's no reason to be afraid of the peculiar goings on at the Sandawn Building. Besides, LOLA can smell your fear, and you wouldn't want her to zap you while you're trying to adjust the whirlpool setting for the swimming pool/jacuzzi located inside the building's state-of-the-art aquatic centre, now do we? In other words, play it cool, man, LOLA sees all.

As you would expect, I'm literally clawing at my taint to explain how LOLA works. Nevertheless, before I do that, I'd like to introduce you Laura (Jennifer Cornish) and Brad (Paul Miklas), two petty criminals who plan on kidnapping Mr. Sandawn (George T. Cunningham), some sort of bigwig (his wig is so big they named the building after him). Why are you introducing us to these wankers? Well, you see, in the film's opening scene, just as Brad is about to call his partner in crime (the garbage bags hastily strewn about the phone booth he enters are meant to illustrate that he lives and/or hangs out in the shady, dilapidated part of town just outside of town), Laura can be seen standing in front of a full-length mirror. Yeah, so, lots of people look at themselves in the mirror before they leave their place of residence, it's called having self-respect. You didn't let me finish, señor dingus. As she's standing there, she reaches down and runs both her hands up the shapely, nylon-encased circumference of her right leg. Making sure there are no creases or crinkles present in the lavender, no-nonsense pantyhose lurking below and underneath her grey pencil skirt (the modest slits, one in the front and one in the back, allow the wearer to navigate an office environment with a greater sense of ease and comfort), the sight of Laura enjoying the sturdiness of her hosiery-adorned legs was an absolute joy.

When it comes to looking at stuff, I find that it usually takes me around ten, maybe fifteen minutes to realize the object I'm currently watching is actually deserving of a sizable chunk of my time. In the case of The Tower, it took only eight seconds for me to start nodding favourable nods of nod-worthy approval. The instant Jennifer Cornish (Friday the 13th, the TV series) began caressing the silky sheer surface of her own leg, I knew I was in for a cinematic treat. Of course, just because you enjoyed the workmanlike proficiency of Laura's impromptu leg stroke (which took approximately one and a half seconds for her to implement) does not necessarily mean that everything that follows it will be able to match its positive, leg-molesting temperament.

On the contrary, my chromosomal friend, after the stem-based high that comes as a result of Laura's corporeal tune up, we could find ourselves trapped inside a windowless stairwell with nothing but lousy acting and hackneyed dialogue to keep us company. Luckily, that doesn't happen, or does it? Are we given a taut cyber-thriller loaded with enough twists and turns to satisfy even the fussiest of viewers, or are we given a giant piece of shit? Who's to say?

Content in the knowledge that her corporate pantyhose are on straight, Laura heads down to the Sandawn Building to meet Brad and execute their devious plan (Laura actually works in the building, but like most young women living in the '80s, finds her arduous journey to the top to be slow and unfulfilling). As Laura and Brad are making their way over to the building, a couple of balding security experts can be seen discussing the disappearance of three people who work at the very building our two opportunists are headed. Apparently, a maintenance man, a typist, and a junior executive have all gone missing recently. However, this couldn't have been the workof Laura and Brad (they only kidnap rich people), there must be something else going on over at the Sandawn Building.

How does a person go missing in a building that's so heavily monitored by electronic sensors and video cameras? I'll get to that in a moment. What I really want to get into is the sequence where LOLA introduces us to the structures many different features. Explaining how it extracts heat from the people who work there, LOLA (voiced by Monique Verlaan) gives us a guided tour of the building. Filled with big haired secretaries, desks, copiers, coffee makers, computer terminals, and sporting a shopping centre (one with a hair salon to accommodate the big hair needs of the big haired secretaries) and a swimming pool, the building is essentially a self-contained universe.

The first sign of trouble comes when a big haired secretary exiting the pool in a black and red one-piece gets a bit of a shock when she attempts to alter the setting of the swimming pool's whirlpool jets. It would seem that LOLA went at a little overboard while trying to withdraw a small fraction of the 3345 BTU's she was putting out there. It's at this point we meet Mr. Watson (Alfred Topes), the self-described visionary who invented LOLA, and Joanna (Jackie Wray), a freshly permed secretary who is "weary of progress." Discussing how LOLA works, the two exchange a largish slab of expository dialogue, then Mr. Watson relinquishes his post, leaving LOLA in charge.

As Laura finally arrives at the Sandawn Building (Brad's waiting for her in the lobby), we also meet Jerry (George West), a slightly dorky security guard, Cindy (Zuzana Struss), his smoking hot girlfriend (she's the reason I called Jerry "slightly" dorky, as supposed to just plain dorky), Ben (Ray Paisley), a frustrated ad man in brown slacks, who apparently used to run his own agency, and Zach (Kenner Ames), one of Ben's co-workers (his nonexistent sideburns imbued his aura with the territorial markings of a frozen ghost).

After one of the balding security experts I alluded to earlier gets absorbed by LOLA, the group of people I just mentioned, including Mrs. Sandawn (Dorothy Clifton), the long suffering wife of Mr. Sandawn, find themselves at LOLA's mercy. In other words, stay away from all outlets, whirlpool setting switches, telephones, elevator buttons... you know what, just don't touch anything, especially if it's electrical.

Painfully inept acting, a glacial approach to pacing (the film clocks in at just over ninety minutes, but it felt like it was four hours long), shots that were repeated (the footage of Joanna and Mrs. Sandawn nervously walking down a flight of stairs is used three times), and amateurish special effects aside, the synthesizer score by David Chester and Julia Hidy was one the best I have ever heard. Every situation that arises in The Tower seemed to have its own synthesizer sound to accompany it. Let me give you a couple of examples. When it came time for Cindy to try out her new bright yellow bikini in the Sandawn swimming pool, the synths were lush and warm. Yet, whenever Laura would appear onscreen, the synths would take on a more eerie sounding tone.

An ambitious young go-getter in a double-slitted pencil skirt, Jennifer Cornish's nasty turn as Laura Martin, the gal who's so sick of working in "purchasing" that she's willing to allow a middle-aged man in a bad hairpiece to penetrate her with his ordinary penis, is the embodiment of the Canadian femme fatale. Unafraid to use her well-proportioned hips to get ahead, Laura toys with the men in her life with an effortless aplomb. And unlike her many of her peers in the femme fatal racket, she exudes a confidence that comes from a real place.

The complete opposite in terms of personality, but no less alluring when it came to tickling the fancies of those with swelling genitals, Joanna, a curly-haired single mother who's terrified of snakes, is the genuine heroine of the piece. It's true, some of the fellas try to fill that role from time to time, but I found Ben to be overly timid, Jerry was too bland, and Zach, well, his complete and total lack of sideburns hampered every attempt I made to evaluate the spiritual makeup of his character. No, I'd say Jackie Wray's performance was the most conventionally tolerable out of all the professional and nonprofessional actors who appear throughout The Tower.

It's kind of ironic that a film that is purportedly about an energy conscious computer vaporizing office workers also does an efficient job at sapping the strength of all those foolish enough to sit in front of its inexpensive glow. The scenes that feature Joanna and Ben bonding with one another in the bowels of the Sandawn Building were pretty tedious, but my favourite example of this energy depleting monotony has to be the scene where Mr. Watson makes a drink for Lois (Charlene Richards), an exotic dancer he met a club, as it just seems to go on forever (the sound of each ice cube hitting the bottom of the glass was agonizing). Speaking of exotic dancers, what's with the nerds in this film snagging overly attractive women? I mean, the pairing of Jerry, the slightly dorky security guard, with Cindy (who's one cup size away from starring in a Russ Meyer movie) was pretty far-fetched, but Mr. Watson and Lois?!? Talk about your odd couples. Of course, nowadays, nerds are all the rage, but back in the middle of the 1980s, nerds were strictly forbidden from dating hot chicks.

If you're interested in obsolete technology, Ontario's classic trillium logo (the door handles on the main doors of the Sandawn Building bear the province's iconic logo), pencil skirts (and other mid-80s office attire), Canadian culture, movies that feature killer computers, bikinis that employ iridescent fabric, big hair, old school computer animation, the city of Hamilton, drum machines, and synthesizers, then, by all means, check out The Tower. However, if you like your films to move at a brisk pace, boast competent acting, and to be filled with mind-blowing special effects, then I recommend you look elsewhere for your tower-based kicks.



  1. I love the artwork for this. I want to live in The Tower and surround myself with these ladies. Bad hair, or not.

  2. Bad hair?!? I think you meant to say, "big hair." ;)

  3. ...or Bitchin' hair. I need some crunchy hair in my sightline right now. The very least a side ponytail or something that brushes up against a big shoulder pad.

  4. did a piece on the production company responsible for this and other slabs of video fuzzed canuckleheaded goodness. Alas, I have not seen any of them, but I don't think they got much distribution on the old VHS format. I found this article and read it after this review intrigued me. Thank you yet again for exposing me to unknown horseshit, especially north of the border horseshit. I thought I was really up on this stuff, but I'm glad to be periodically proven wrong.

    This movie kinda sounds like Death Spa without the exercising.

  5. @Cinema du Meep: A side ponytail never hurts.

    @Thomas Duke: The bit on The Tower mentions Jennifer Cornish sporting a "birds nest-forward perm," but actually Jackie Wray is the one with the nest-like hairdo.

    No problem, man. If there's an American that will be able to appreciate the kind of Canadian horseshit The Tower puts out there on a regular basis, it's definitely you.

    Yes, Death Spa without the exercising. I'm surprised I didn't make the connection... you know, since I've seen myself some Death Spa.

  6. Amazing that this got any content, for what it's worth I wrote and directed it with an awful tv crew from CHCH Hamilton. My idea was good but with amateur actors and no money it wasn't what I wanted. The scenes with a girl in bed with another guy and the blonde in bikini was all forced on me by the producer. But hell, it was a job and there is a theme there beyond all the crappy stuff.

  7. Hey, Jim Makichuk, writer-director of The Tower.

    For what it's worth, I love the scene with the blonde in the bikini. ;)

    The film practically oozes '80s-era CHCH.

  8. Can anyone suggest where I could purchase a copy of this movie please. I am located in Australia and I doubt it ever made it this far. Sites like have drawn a blank.

  9. I was able to watch The Tower thanks to the fine folks at Eyesore Cinema.