Over Twenty Years Later It Can Still Scare You
Unlawful Entry is a 1992 thriller. It starred Kurt Russell, Ray Liotta, and Madeline Stowe. It was directed by Jonathan Kaplan and written by George Putnam, John Katchmer, and Lewis Colick.
What I Remember: I first saw this movie in March of 1993. My family had traveled from Toronto to North Conway, New Hampshire for my then Spring Break. We decided to leave during the coldest part of the year and arrived during one of the worst winter storms in New England at the time. Sitting in our hotel room during a massive blizzard, we chose to see Unlawful Entry. We saw a film that was well plotted, well acted and so unnerving that gave us a fright. In other words, it had all the hallmarks of a good thriller.
After seeing it again this week, I can state that even though it’s been over twenty years since it was released, it still does.
The Story: The movie opens with Karen Carr (Stowe) having fallen asleep in front of the TV in her bedroom, waking up startled at an unknown sound coming from somewhere downstairs in her home. She walks to an adjacent room to tell her husband Michael (Russell) about what she heard. Michael is a Los Angeles businessman who is about to put together a nightclub, is busy speaking with his lawyer, business partner and friend Roger (Ken E. Lerner) on the phone about a meeting their having with a potential investor the next day. At first Michael is dismissive of Karen’s concern about the noise, but when they hear another noise Michael grabs a golf club-his putter- and heads downstairs to investigate. After checking the closet and various doors around the house and seeing nothing suspicious, Michael heads to the kitchen to have a beer. It is then that he notices the broken skylight above the kitchen and realizes that there definitely is an intruder in the house. He runs to the stairs and tells Karen to call the police and at that moment a large man jumps out of the downstairs closet. Michael grabs the intruder’s foot as he tries to get away. Karen runs to the kitchen to call the police and at that moment the intruder grabs a hold of her, takes a butcher knife on the counter and holds it to Karen’s throat. Michael begs the intruder not to hurt Karen. He takes her outside and Michael stands frozen in fear. When he hears a splashing noise he runs outside to find the Karen had been dropped in their pool as the robber ran away. She is uninjured, but is terribly shaken up.
Shortly thereafter two police officers arrive to find out about the incident. Michael introduces himself to Officer Roy Cole (Roger E. Mosley) and Officer Pete Davis (Liotta.) As Michael begins recounting what transpired Karen comes down and Pete is mesmerized by the sight of her. He is very helpful and friendly with both of the Carrs and over coffee in the kitchen with Roy, provides advice on how to prevent another robbery from happening to them. The officers leave and Pete is seen remarking to Roger what nice people he found the Carrs’ to be. Roger then jokingly intimates that Pete might be attracted to Karen.
The next day Michael goes to his meeting and Karen stays home from her job as an elementary school teacher. After no one from the police department shows up to dust for prints as promised, she nervously phones Michael and he instructs her to call the police and ask for help from Pete and Roger.
Michael comes home to find Pete in the house surrounded by dozens of workers from a security company. Pete has the Carrs’ house completely fortified with a full security system and even what can best be described as a panic room. Both Michael and Karen are very grateful to Pete and invite him to stay for dinner.
A budding friendship develops between the couple and Pete. But, after Michael goes on a ride along with Pete and Roger and sees how vicious Pete can be on the job, Michael wants to keep his distance and not allow Pete into their lives any further. He and Karen fight over this.
After Pete repeatedly visits Karen alone and then shows up uninvited to a party that Michael holds for potential investors at his night club Michael angrily tells him to leave and stay out of their lives.
When Pete is cut off from seeing Karen he then becomes the Carrs worst nightmare. What follows is a story filled with suspense, twists, murder and an exciting climax all of which demonstrate that the Carrs lives will never be the same again.
Technical Details: Unlawful Entry is a very good thriller. It is well paced, well edited, well directed and the writing is laudable. What makes the picture though is its acting. Kurt Russell is at his best as Michael and Madeline Stowe is more than qualified in her role as Karen. However, Ray Liotta is brilliant as the psychopathic cop, Pete. His transformation from the charming helpful policeman to an obsessive, brutal killer is unsettling.
I remember being scared of Liotta when seeing him in this is as a child. (After viewing Goodfellas years after I saw this movie, I can say without hesitation that he is great at playing psychopaths.) In fact, he was so good that years later when seeing him in a play on Broadway and then one day by chance on the streets of Manhattan, I was a little tense having him be in such relatively close proximity to me. That being said, I think my nervousness was really a compliment since it showed how excellent his performance in this film was.
Having just watched this again as a grownup, I’m not as frightened of him as I used to be, but I can say that he does give you chills.
End Credits: If you’re in the mood for a good thriller you should take a look at Unlawful Entry. It has all the elements that make this type of film fun to watch. When it’s finished you’ll want to lock the doors, set your alarm and be careful whom you choose as your friends and whom you make angry.