Thanks to Arrow Films for providing a review copy!
George Romero is an icon of horror and is largely responsible for the zombie genre that is prevalent today. Along with the Living Dead series, he also wrote and directed 1973’s The Crazies, horror anthology film Creepshow, and the horror anthology television series, Tales from the Darkside. All are classics, and are just a snippet of Romero’s work. He also directed the 1971 drama There’s Always Vanilla.
Chris Bradley (Raymond Laine) is a military veteran who now willingly lives his life as a jobless drifter. He randomly decides to return to his home city and meets Lynn (Judith Ridley), an actress in commercials. Throughout the movie, Chris is confronted with having to become more responsible and as he and Lynn become closer the question becomes more pressing.
Romero was always known for the deep messages in his seemingly simple horror movies. Night of the Living Dead dealt with racism while its sequel discusses the importance put on material positions. There’s Always Vanilla is no different as the movie not only deals with Chris’s dilemma but with the general turmoil of Vietnam War era United States. During the opening credits, people on the street talk about not understanding today’s youth and during various parts of the movie a radio show can be heard where the radio host argues with various callers about important issues of the day.
The messages are clear and poignant but unfortunately are clumsily delivered. When Chris first sees his dad after returning home, his dad tries to convince him it is time to get a job, but not until after the two have a wild night. The aforementioned radio show is also guilty. The first time it is heard, it is a clever way to deliver the movie’s message. However, the more it is played, the more intrusive it becomes. The worst part is everyone in the movie has an agenda. This is not just a case of everyone of having opinions; everyone in the movie has deep drawn out thoughts. It is hard to enjoy the movie when it is a constant stream of pontificating. This is especially problematic since Chris is narrating the movie after the fact through older and supposedly wiser eyes but is still saying the same things.
The one exception is Lynn who wants what is best for Chris and herself. At first, Lynn seems to want to experience everything life has to offer, but very quickly she begins to focus on ensuring her life is secure. What makes Lynn’s character great is that she still wants to do things her own way. It is refreshing to see since every other character in the movie makes black or white decisions.
Ridley also has the best performance in There’s Always Vanilla. Most of the cast are mediocre with a few being outright bad, but Ridley is consistently good. She delivers her lines fluidly and is the only interesting character. Lynn never seems to be reading scripted lines and instead is saying what she thinks. In a movie filled with rambling monologues, Lynn is needed.
There’s Always Vanilla is the only drama in George Romero’s extensive filmography. The movie has a plot and a point to make, but it seems to aimlessly wander about for the most part. The movie has its moments and the ending ties the story together nicely, but this is only for Romero completionists.