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Cardiac Arrest
(1980)

Director: Murray Mintz 
Cast:
Garry Goodrow, Michael Paul Chan, Max Gail


You may wonder, going through all the movies at this web site, just what it is that attracts me enough to each movie that makes me interested enough to both watch it and subsequently writer a review. I can tell you that it isn't the same thing with each movie. Some movies interest me because Ferrignoof someone in the cast that piques my interest. Sometimes it is the production company behind the movie - as you know by now, movies by companies like PM Entertainment, Cannon, and Nu Image/Millennium are irresistible to me. There is one other thing that has attracted me to a movie many times, and that is the art on the movie's video box. I admit it - if the art on the box is sleazy enough, gory enough, promising tons of action, or even just downright strange, you can bet that I will be suckered enough to plunk down my money to either rent or buy the movie outright. It's been this way ever since I was a teenager, and while I admit that many times over the years I have been ripped off by a movie with great box art, I still have a weakness for great box art. I'll give you an example of a movie that had box art that I found irresistible. See the image of actor Lou Ferrigno that I have placed on the right hand side of this paragraph? That image was on the original video release of the movie Sinbad Of The Seven Seas. Doesn't it look ridiculous? I certainly thought so when I first saw the video box all those years ago. In fact, it looked so ridiculous that I knew I had to pick up the movie and rent it, because the image just screamed unintentional comedy. And that's what I got. Curiously, the DVD release of the movie years later used an image of Ferrigno on its cover that wasn't so laughable. Apparently, it never crossed the mind of the people at the film studio that what might have attracted so many people to the movie over the years to justify a subsequent DVD release of the movie was that silly box art.

Recently, I came across a movie that I knew I had to review for my web site, because of its irresistible box art. Oh, I suppose there were a few other factors that made me grab the movie. One of those reasons was that I was getting kind of desperate. For several days, I had been going Cardiac Arrestthrough my collection of movies as well as patroling the thrift shops in my city for a movie - any movie - that would give me that spark to meet the deadline of writing a new review for my web site. But no movie I came across filled me with inspiration. So I decided to take a break and go to the common room of my apartment building. When I was there, I noticed that on the shelves were a number of newly arrived movies on videotape - apparently, a new tenant had just donated these titles. Not expecting much, I started going through the videos, and after several seconds I saw the spine of one video box, and the spine read Cardiac Arrest. Cardiac Arrest? I had not heard of that movie before. So I pulled out the movie and turned the front of the box to my eyes. Upon seeing the box art, I instantly knew that this was a keeper, and this was a movie I had to watch for my web site. It showed a large picture of two blood-splattered hands holding a human heart, with the piercing eyes of someone in surgical costume glaring forward behind the heart. The same picture is used on the DVD box of the movie, and I've included this picture with this paragraph. Above the picture and the title on this VHS edition was the tagline, "Some killers want more than just your life..." The promise of hearts being ripped out of bodies? I was sold.

Examining the box some more, I discovered another thing that made me believe that Cardiac Arrest would be an interesting experience. One of those things was in the production credits at the bottom of the box. It revealed that the movie was a release by Film Ventures International, a studio whose product I have examined several times previously with this web site. I'm not saying those movies of theirs were good - but they were all interesting enough to write about. Anyway, I took the copy of Cardiac Arrest back to my apartment, where I started to do research on it. At the Internet Movie Database, I read several user comments that did dash my hopes for the movie somewhat - they claimed that like me, they went into the movie thinking it would be a gory exercise, but that the movie was in fact more of a murder mystery in nature. Although I was disappointed by the news, I was partially grateful. Knowing the truth about the movie, I would be able to set my expectations correctly, and judge the movie for what it really was. The plot, according to the video box: "On the streets of San Francisco, the police are baffled by a series of bizarre mutilation murders. And in the city's operating rooms, there's suddenly a surplus of heart-transplant donors... That's when off-beat homicide cop Clancey Higgins picks up the trail. The surgical precision of the grisly mutilations leads Higgins to a blood-curdling conclusion: the murderer is stealing human hearts to supply a black market in transplant organs! As the pulse-quickening action builds, Higgins sets a trap for the demented killer - using himself as bait! Features MAXWELL GAIL - 'Wojo' of TV's Barney Miller!"

My decision to change my expectations from seeing a bloodbath to that of a murder mystery was a wise one - Cardiac Arrest turned out to be just that, a mystery of a kind not that far removed from the kind that were appearing on TV around the time this movie was made. That turned out to be one of several problems I had with the movie, but before getting into what I felt didn't make the movie work overall, I'd to write about what I felt was well done. First, I thought the acting by the participants was surprisingly decent.  Garry Goodrow, playing Clancey Higgins, the chief detective on the case, doesn't try to act like your typical stereotypical movie detective. He doesn't look like one anyway, with his balding head. Instead, Goodrow comes across as more of a guy who has some faults but does not try to hide them. He's honest about himself, and this alone makes him a likable figure and one that we pay attention to. Playing his partner, Michael Paul Chan (The Closer) manages to steals the show from Goodrow in several scenes they share together. In his performance, Chan acts out in such a casual way that it seems effortless, like he is actually not acting and that we are instead seeing an actual cop in action, one that's seen it all so many times that he's not motivated to overreact to anything. As for Maxwell Gail, while he was hyped up in the program description on the video box, he only has a few brief scenes, so he doesn't get to do much. Neverless, playing the husband of a woman who desperately needs a heart transplant, he does manage to make a mark all the same. His part calls for a performance that has to show someone who is desperate to save his wife, yet at the same time has some understandable reluctance to get involved in a clearly illegal black market heart transplant scheme... though one that very well might save his spouse. Gail gives the couple sympathy despite what they decide to ultimately do.

The acting by the performers wasn't the only reason that I liked most of the characters in Cardiac Arrest. The screenplay also gives these characters the occasional quirk that helps them come across more different than the same kind of characters you find in other crime movies and television shows. In the case of lead detective Clancey Higgins, these quirks range from him shown to play the recorder to driving around in a police-issued truck instead of a car. However, it seems that the effort to put in character quirks like this came at the price of deficiencies found in the rest of the screenplay. For one thing, the movie is pretty dumb when it comes to portraying various police procedures - or at least it thought its audience would be too dumb to know the proper procedures. During the course of the movie, we are treated to various sights like cops attempting to or actually breaking into property without a search warrant, or handling evidence with their bare hands. Even for the era when this movie was made, I'm pretty sure audiences would have found such behavior simply unacceptable and insulting to their intelligence. But the stupidity of the police in this movie goes beyond breaking proper procedure. In the first few minutes of the movie, we learn that the city has just been hit by the heart stealing villain for the third time - and the police at this point have no theories as to what's going on. And later in the movie, when Higgins does come up with a theory, it is that South American tribesmen are in town. Honest. Oh sure, it's (eventually) revealed that the victims had been injected with curare poison, but I think that any person of common sense would have entertained the possibility of black market organ transplants. After all, the urban legend of waking up in a bathtub of ice with one of your kidneys gone was around even back then.

Curiously, when the movie ends, it is never explained just how the guilty party got a hold of the curare poison. And it's not explained how the people who got all those ripped-out hearts didn't get curare poisoning themselves. The list of unanswered questions doesn't stop there. There's the couple needing the heart transplant that, for some reason, has missed the headlines and featured stories about those three people in the area whose hearts have been removed. And why the press has been unable to label the killings any more colorful than, "The Missing Heart Murders". And so on. But I think the biggest problem that Cardiac Arrest has is not with its writing - which is certainly bad at times - but the fact that this project will not convince viewers that it was worthy of being a feature-length theatrical movie. As I informed you in the third paragraph of this review, there's no real "adult" stuff on view at any time in the movie, except for a couple of bed sheets soaked with a few drops of blood, as well as one utterance of the "s" word. But the production values also are not up to what you would expect from a theatrical movie, or even many straight-to-video exercises. There is a heart operation where the patient is never actually seen, with instead just close-ups of the heads of the surgical team seen. Later, a coffin is opened to examine the deceased inside of it, though we never see what the investigators seen. And during the end credits, the credits do not scroll, but instead are seen one "page" at a time, just like in a television drama. In fact, this is what Cardiac Arrest really is, a mediocre episode of a '70s televison cop drama stretched out to 95 minutes. If you can figure out a reason why anyone would pay to see something they could see on free TV, let me know, and I'll seriously consider giving this movie a recommendation.

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See also: The Dentist 2, Keaton's Cop, Mansion Of The Doomed

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