ExtremitiesThis misconceived 1986 film adaptation of William Mastrosimone’s 1978 play, an upscale rape-revenge fantasy, is best remembered nowadays as one of several attempts by the late Farrah Fawcett to establish herself as a serious actress.

In its original form, William Mastrosimone’s EXTREMITIES, which New York Daily News critic Douglas Watt dubbed “A good nasty jolting evening of playgoing,” was to theatergoers what LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE were to grindhouse patrons. It told the brutal tale of a young woman who viciously turns the tables on a rapist in her isolated farm house, and her two chirpy friends who turn up to argue the various moral issues.

Farrah Fawcett, then (and now) best known as an ex-CHARLIE’S ANGELS sex symbol, lobbied hard for the lead role, and in 1983 succeeded in following Susan Sarandon and Karen Allen in the original off-Broadway production of EXTREMITIES. Fawcett can be said to truly “own” the role, since when she took time off due to an injury the play closed within a week. Fawcett also headlined this film version, scripted by Mastrosimone and directed by the talented Robert M. Young (SHORT EYES, DOMINICK AND EUGENE).

Fawcett plays he attractive Marjorie, who’s waylaid by a masked rapist (James Russo) on her way home from work one night. She manages to fight him off, and heads directly to the nearest police station. However, since no rape was actually committed there’s not much the cops can do.

A week later Marjorie is settled down in the suburban house she shares with her friends Terry and Patricia. Both are out, though, when a man abruptly enters the house. He claims to be looking for someone named Joe, but it quickly becomes clear that he’s actually the slimy fuck who attacked Marjorie a week earlier—and this time he’s got her cornered.

As a prelude to his planned rape he degrades and humiliates Marjorie, making her dress up for him in a slutty outfit and cook him bacon. But just as he’s about to violate her fully she blasts his face with bug spray. Marjorie further splashes him with boiling water and then entraps him in the fireplace by lashing a bed frame over it.

Around this time Terry arrives home for an understandable shock. Marjorie demands Terry help her kill and dispose of the “Animal,” as she knows the cops will do nothing to help her. Being a bit of a wuss (and a rape victim herself), Terry goes along with Marjorie. Then Patricia shows up.

Patricia is a hard-core liberal, and more strong-willed than the mousy Terry. Not fully believing Marjorie’s story, Patricia demands “Animal” be given medicine. He for his part does all he can to convince Terry and Patricia that Marjorie’s lying. Eventually, however, Marjorie’s torture gets to him and he confesses that he stole the ladies’ mail with the intention of stalking and killing them all.

As a play EXTREMITIES works fairly well, but not so much as a movie. Director Robert M. Young’s attempts at rendering this patently stagy material cinematic include a twenty minute prologue of material not in the play, including an opening scene set on a nighttime express way, a police station visit, a lengthy sequence featuring Marjorie puttering around her house and a lot of excess brutality. Unfortunately all any of this does is make it that much more jarring when the film devolves into a claustrophobic three-way talkfest.

The acting is quite fine, as expected, with Farrah Fawcett wowing in a performance of real emotional depth and powerful physicality. James Russo, another returnee from the stage version, is at his sleazy best as Fawcett’s attacker, and quite moving in his final soulful monologue. As Fawcett’s two chirpy friends, Alfre Woodard is solid but Diana Scarwid (of MOMMIE DEAREST infamy) goes over the top in a cringe-worthy riot of wailing and blubbering.

In the end, what should be a searing and horrific account comes off as misconceived and plain dull, regardless of the good (and not-so) performances. The film didn’t quite succeed in establishing Ms. Fawcett as a respectable actress, but it certainly didn’t slow her down.

Farrah Fawcett died on June 25, 2009. She may have never succeeded in shaking the CHARLIE’S ANGLES sex symbol stigma, but that wasn’t for lack of trying.

Vital Statistics

Atlantic Releasing Corporation

Director: Robert M. Young
Producer: Burt Sugarman
Screenplay: William Mastrosimone
(Based on a play by William Mastrosimone)
Cinematography: Curtis Clark
Editing: Arthur Coburn
Cast: Farrah Fawcett, James Russo, Diana Scarwid, Alfre Woodard, Sandy Martin, Eddie Velez, Tom Everett