Looking back on things, 1990 was a strange year to try to make an independent exploitation film, as the landscape was shifting but had not yet settled. 42nd street was in its death throes, as were the drive-ins, but both were still up and running, if only on fumes. The home video market had cooled off a bit from its early-80s “explosion” days, and the two Shannons — Tweed and Whirry, in chronological order, had not yet established the direct-to-VHS market as being primarily the stomping grounds for “mature” T&A “mystery thrillers.” In addition, some movies were even going right to cable, with the proliferation of Skinemax and other pay channels looking for movies to fill up their schedules on the cheap. Last but not least, the independent “art house” circuit had not really come into being yet in anything like the form it is today.
Oh, sure, some of the old rules were still in play — at least a little bit of nudity was a must, for instance, but the “slasher” craze had died down a bit and heavy-duty gore was considered a bit passe at the time — as was, if we’re to be completely honest, horror itself.
Thankfully, though, not everyone got the message.
Down in south Florida, an aspiring your director named Cliff Guest had gotten ahold of a script by equally aspiring young screenwriter Laura Radford that he thought (quite rightly) had some real pop to it. He was able to secure (a laughably small amount of) financing through an outfit called A.F.T. Productions, headed by one Ron Cerasuolo, who would later go on to business success as the guy who came up with the original idea for the “Planet Hollywood” restaurant chain.
It’s worth noting, at this point, that of these three principal players, “The Disturbance” remains the only credit on the film resumes for any of them (and the same is true for Timothy Greeson, who played the film’s troubled leading man, although that’s not particularly relevant to the point — yes, I do have one! — that I’m about to make here). That being said, however, they sure hit on a novel way to market their product.
Given that a theatrical release seemed almost impossible for a low-budget effort like this, and that much of what was assumed at the time to be horror’s last throes was headed straight to video and/ or late-night “premium” cable, it looked like “home viewing platforms,” as they say in industry lingo (although the wretched phrase had yet to be coined at the time) were going to serve as the dump-off spot for this little 10-years-too-late exploitation effort.
But what if they could expand the film’s market without the aid of even the most miniscule theatrical run?
That’s where the purely accidental genius brought about by cold, hard necessity came into play, and either Guest, Cerasuolo, or both in concert came up with the idea of actually making two films here for two completely different markets.
One would be a DTV ultra-low-budget “psychological horror” that followed the screenplay as written, namely the story of a young guy named Clay Moyer (the aforementioned Greeson), a schizophrenic guy who’s just been released from a long stretch in a mental hospital and has returned home to live with his parents. He’s prone to sleeping late and spending all damn day down at Miami beach doing nothing apart from watching the waves and trying to keep his head together. One day while indulging in this exhausting regimen, he meets a young lady named Susan (Lisa Geoffrion, since deceased, who also has only one screen credit to her name — that being this one, of course) and the two strike up a romance. Things are looking up for our guy Clay — he’s staying stable, he’s getting laid, and he even gets a job as a dishwasher in a kitchen.
Before too long, though, Susan begins to wonder why they never go to his place, only hers, and why he doesn’t talk about his past or his family very much. And when his clingy, smothering behavior starts to really cramp her style, she decides she’s had enough.
Needless to say, things spiral downwards pretty rapidly for Clay at that point. He’s been having troubling dreams about violent murder that only get worse when his ladyfriend dumps him (he even dreams about killing her). He begins to stalk her and to harass her at work. He has long periods of blacked-out or “missing” time. And just to add insult to injury, his mom catches him jerking off in the shower.
When dead bodies start turning up in the vicinity, though, Clay has to wonder if his dreams are really that, and if the fact that he can’t account for long stretches of time most nights might have a sinister explanation.
Not a bad little premise, if hardly resoundingly original. What is it, then, that sets this movie apart from so many other similar “Psycho”-type flicks? Well, for one thing, the gore effects during the dream (or are they?) murder sequences are good, especially given the budgetary constraints involved. But there’s much more to it than that, which is where the secondary market for this film really comes into play.
You see, Radford’s script wasn’t just a garden-variety mentally-disturbed-killer-terrorizes-the-community story. It actually provided a rather detailed, accurate, thoroughgoing, and even sympathetic portrait of mental illness, in particular schizophrenia obviously, and those who suffer from it (and Greeson deserves credit for portraying Clay in a realistic, as well as humanistic, manner). So what did Guest and Cerasuolo (again, who gets the exact credit for this idea I couldn’t say) decide to do? They made another movie. Of the same movie. How appropriately schizophrenic is that? Which brings us to —
“What’s Wrong With the Neighbor’s Son? ” is “The Disturbance.” Minus the T&A. And the gore. It was distributed amongst the academic and clinical communities as a “realistic portrayal” of what it’s like to suffer from schizophrenia, a straight-ahead, no-frills, non-sensationalistic character study of those who suffer from this horribly debilitating from of mental illness and the challenges they face at home, in the workplace, and in their communities — a look at their internal and external struggles as they work to stay stable and find a place in a world that fears them. It’s won praise and accolades from most major psychological associations, been included as part of the curriculum in countless college courses and research and study groups, has been shown in numerous mental illness support groups, and has even been praised by Presidents Bush, Clinton, and Bush Junior. In short, it’s a well-respected and groundbreaking academic film.
And with about twenty minutes or so of nudity and gore thrown in, it’s “The Disturbance,” a far-better-than-average psychological horror exploitation film.
It got a little bit of buzz when Quentin Tarantino mentioned it as being among his top ten favorites of the 90s, but by and large “The Disturbance” saw very little distribution on the home video market (the original VHS release is literally impossible to find), and it only saw release on DVD last year from Media Blasters as part of volume one of its “Rareflix” box set collection (the other two movies coming with it being “Posed for Murder” and “Death Collector”). It’s not available for individual sale, but the “Rareflix” boxes are pretty cheap (they can be had new for about $15 each), and all things considered you get a decent amount for your money, given that the disc has a pretty decent-looking full-frame transfer, plenty good mono sound, and features a nice selection of Media Blasters trailers and, best of all, one of those semi-inebriated commentary tracks from Media Blasters personnel that made the (now, apparently, sadly canceled) “Rareflix” collections (there are four of them in total) such a treat for B-movie junkies.
So oo yourself a favor and check this movie out, it’s definitely several cuts above most similar fare and offers a much more realistic portrayal of serious mental illness and its consequences and effects than much more high-brow fare that tries to tackle similar material. Plus, it’s got more gore and nudity than that other purportedly “classy” — but usually in truth much more exploitative and much less authentic — stuff. It’s well-made, absorbing, and even, dare I say it, compelling psychological horror on a shoestring budget, and you know, somehow I find it appropriate that the behind-the-scenes crew and the cast have no other credits to their name, since this film exists in a category all its own.