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Pacific Heights (1990, Melanie Griffith, Michael Keaton)

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John Schlesinger’s Pacific Heights gave MICHAEL KEATON a chance to show his capabilities as a villain rather than the good guy in a genuinely scary movie that owes less to Friends and more to Psycho.

Patty Palmer and Drake Goodman (MELANIE GRIFFITH and MATTHEW MODINE) are a longstanding item who fall in love with a Gothic-like sprawling Victorian house in San Francisco’s most attractive area. Financially stretched, they bluff their way to a mortgage which can only be met by renting out two basement areas as flats, still leaving them more than enough space. One flat goes to a quiet Japanese couple, the other to Carter Hayes (MICHAEL KEATON), a mild-mannered, smartly dressed yuppie.

However, once he’s in, he proceeds to become the tenant from hell, tearing up his apartment, inviting a weird roomie to stay a while, breeding giant roaches which drive out the Japanese couple and never paying the rent. But he’s not stupid – using all the legal loopholes, he resists eviction and even has Drake arrested after he snaps and assaults him. It is only after Patty and Drake pluck up their courage and begin to take him on at their own game that they realise Carter’s truly terrible plans, not just for their beloved house but for them.

The script from Daniel Puyne is based on his own personal experience of a Carter-like figure and Griffith and Modine are convincing as the initially rational couple who slowly realise they have to fight fire with fire. As one critic pointed out, this is probably the first film where the audience is on the side of the landlord but such is Keaton’s power as the demented tenant, even if Modine had played a Rachmann-like figure, they’d still have rooted for him.

production details
USA | 102 minutes | 1990

Writer: Daniel Pyne
Director: John Schlesinger

cast
Melanie Griffith as Patty Palmer
Matthew Modine as Drake Goodman
Michael Keaton as Carter Hayes
Nobu McCarthy as Mira Watanabe
Dorian Harewood as Dennis
Luca Bercovici as Greg
Tippi Hedren as Florence Peters
Beverly D’Angelo as Ann Miller
Dan Hedaya as Loan Officer
James Staley as District Attorney
Takayo Fischer as Bank Teller
Frank DiElsi as Precinct Cop
Carl Lumbly as Lou Baker
Miriam Margolyes as Realtor
Laurie Metcalf as Stephanie MacDonald
Mako as Toshio Watanabe
Sheila McCarthy as Liz Hamilton
Guy Boyd as Warning Cop