With this horror-sci fi gorefest, HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER director John McNaughton proved he was not a one-trick pony, delivering a gross, funny and imaginative B-movie that plays like a darker, grittier variation on the eighties flick THE HIDDEN. THE BORROWER, though, is unique enough to stand on its own merits.
I remember, around the time of HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER’S 1990 release, John McNaughton mentioned in an interview that his follow-up feature THE BORROWER, completed in 1989, was unreleasable due to legal entanglements—“I can’t even show it my friends” he complained. HENRY, for its part, was completed in 1986 but remained undistributed until four years later, so the situation was hardly unprecedented.
THE BORROWER was eventually distributed in 1991 (after another McNaughton picture, the concert film SEX, DRUGS, ROCK & ROLL, had been completed and released), as the success of HENRY apparently convinced THE BORROWER’S warring financiers to set aside their differences. It was not a huge success, and has since become fairly obscure, but is well worth tracking down (on the out-of-print VHS, that is—it has yet to make it to DVD).
Aboard an alien spaceship, an extraterrestrial creature is being tried by his fellow aliens for “unspeakable” crimes. They decide to punish the errant alien by giving it the body of a human, which horrifies it to no end. It somehow manages to escape, together with one of its accusers, in a space pod that crashes to Earth in a forest where a redneck and his son are hunting. The redneck spots the alien-in-human-form grappling with his inhuman accuser, and so shoots the latter. The surviving alien in turn rips the redneck’s head off his shoulders just as its own explodes. It seems the thing needs a new head every so often, which invariably blows up at the end of a proscribed (and unexplained) cycle.
Diana, a determined young police officer, is charged with investigating the redneck’s headless corpse. By then, though, the alien has switched heads again, this time with an African American bum…and again with a young doctor, and finally with a dog. In this guise it’s shot by some partying teenagers and rushed to a hospital where Diana, hot on its trail, is headed for a final showdown.
But Diana has other problems. A colleague has been brutally raped by a slimeball, which has impacted Diana considerably. She’s plagued by nightmares about the slimeball breaking into her house; one night he actually does manage to burst in on her, but she wakes up in time to shoot him. This means that now Diana, who’s never killed anybody, has a murder on her conscience.
Back to the hospital showdown: the alien sits up on an operating table and nabs a new head. Diana confronts it in a hallway and shoots it about a dozen times; next some FBI agents bust in and shoot it a dozen or so more times. It doesn’t matter, though, because as the Borrower is hauled off in an ambulance, it continues its reign of terror unabated…
John McNaughton brought quite a few of his HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER cohorts along with him for THE BORROWER (producer Steven Jones, screenwriter Richard Fire, editor Elena Maganini, actor Tom Towles), but it’s a far cry from the reality-based horror of HENRY. Rather, it’s a colorful romp that confidently mixes laughter and scares in the manner of quite a few other eighties horrors. There’s plentiful gore, a number of sprightly paced action sequences and some impressive transformation effects by the great Kevin Yagher—plus, Rae Dawn Chong as the heroine isn’t nearly as awful as she usually is. THE BORROWER, in short, is a B-movie in the grand tradition and, to its credit, makes no apologies for it.
That said, I believe McNaughton errs by trying to inject “seriousness” into the proceedings in the form of a pointed rape subplot that’s wildly at odds with the rest of the film. Socially redeeming though it may be, said subplot is ultimately little more than a distraction in an otherwise sprightly and enjoyable gross-out treat.
Director: John McNaughton
Producers: R.P. Sekon, Steven A. Jones
Screenplay: Mason Inge, Richard Fire
Cinematography: Julio Macat, Robert C. New
Editing: Elena Maganini
Cast: Rae Dawn Chong, Don Gordon, Tom Towles, Antonio Fargas, Neil Guintoli, Larry Pennell, Pam Gordon, Tony Amendola, Robert Dryer, Richard Wharton, Bentley Mitchum, Zoe Trilling, Tamara Clatterbuck, Tom Allard, Darryl She