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The Philadelphia Experiment

January 20th, 2011 by aunt john · 12 Comments

Once in a very great while a movie comes along that seamlessly combines top drawer acting and mind-boggling special effects while exposing a shameful military cover-up. 1984’s THE PHILADELPHIA EXPERIMENT is not such a film; however it does have one card up its sleeve that trumps its inherent mediocrity and her name, my friends, is NANCY ALLEN!

Okay, NANCY naysayers, hear me out. During the tumultuous weather patterns that crippled the Eastern Seaboard last month, I found myself with plenty of sofa time and a desire to watch DePALMA’s BLOW OUT. Enter the ALLEN on her one-trick hooker pony and I really thought she stunk up the joint. UNK strongly disagreed and requested that I at least watch DRESSED TO KILL before I threw NANCY out once and for all with the married-to-the-director bathwater. UNK, I gotta say, really knows best! As the working gal with the heart of gold who, with the help of a plucky teen shutterbug, turns the tables on a straight-razor wielding transvestite therapist, ALLEN secured my undying admiration and sent me on a quest to explore her full body of work.

In short, THE PHILADELPHIA EXPERIMENT is loosely based on the conspiracy theory surrounding battleship invisibility testing that allegedly took place at the tail end of World War II in the Philly Naval Shipyard. As the story goes, a naval destroyer temporarily disappeared during a top-secret, hush-hush experiment gone awry and when it reappeared, some of the crew members were stuck in the walls and the decks and, in the end, they were all driven insane by the residual effects of time travel and the government covered it up. Or something like that (if you care to go down that rabbit hole, by all means, be my guest and please go HERE.)

Perhaps realizing that a whole film devoted to time traveling seamen would not be of interest to a mainstream audience (I mean, sure that could play in the art houses, but not Middle America); the screenwriters threw in an unrequited love story between one of the time-displaced sailors (brooding slab of beef MICHAEL PARE) and an ambitious ingénue headed from Cincinnati to Los Angeles who gets carjacked when she stops to use a payphone in one of those creepy, two-mule desert towns in Nevada.

So, of course, our hopeful actress looking for her big break is played by NANCY, who gets even more props in my book for playing against type by neither being a lady of the night nor a complete monster (ala her bitchy, star-making turn in CARRIE.) You see, ALLEN, as I have finally comes to realize, has somewhat of a considerable range and THE PHILADELPHIA EXPERIMENT showcases her previously unseen empathetic and maternal sides. Whereas anyone in her right mind would probably press charges against the sailors for kidnapping and car jacking and then not show up for the hearing because she had a really big audition, ALLEN’s character sees something in PARE’s troubled puppy eyes. She packs a hell of a lot into the little line, “I believe that you believe it.”

And since she believes in him, we the audience must too, even as he grows increasingly insufferable and more violent as the film progresses. He trashes the motel room she rents for them, never manages a simple thank you for the packs of smokes she buys for him, and nearly kills her when he subjects them to one of the hokiest high-speed car chases through an orchard ever caught on film. But that’s NANCY, she cares damn it, and for that I cannot fault her for this hot mess of a movie.

Blame could be placed on director JOSEPH RAFFILL, but how can I, in good conscience, hate on the genius responsible for the Kindertraumatic Klassic MAC & ME (not to mention THE ICE PIRATES and MANNEQUIN: ON THE MOVE )? I could try to fault the special effects department for making every last time travel sequence look like it was ripped from the then cutting-edge “HBO Feature Presentation” teaser trailer, but as a kid of the late ‘70s/ early ‘80s I was raised on that and am quite the soft touch when it comes to rudimentary lighting effects. Haters hate, but back then, that sort of stuff was cool on the first go round.

Seriously though, I think the Stockholm syndrome so elegantly exhibited by ALLEN rubbed off on me. I should not recommend this film to anyone, and I won’t, but I am kind of looking forward to watching its 1993 sequel THE PHILADELPHIA EXPERIMENT II. What’s that you say? NANCY ain’t in it… well then, never mind.

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Tags: If Loving Nancy Allen is Wrong... I Don't Want to Be Right!

12 responses so far ↓

  • 1 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Jan 20, 2011 at 9:15 am

    I tried to explain to Aunt John that Nancy Allen was only acting a ditz in “Blow Out” and for some reason he didn’t believe me. He is now obsessed with her which I can only hope means Poltergeist 3 is coming up next. PE did not hold up particularly well in my book but I do like the “Starman” road movie aspect of it. Mostly my viewing time was spent coveting the magical lumberjack flannel that somehow fits both Allen and Pare.

  • 2 ApocalypsejunkieNo Gravatar // Jan 20, 2011 at 11:13 am

    I can’t remember if it’s this movie or an “In Search Of” type show that I saw the sailor’s aftermath (the ones that even returned, anyway) that scared the ever living crap out of me. They were shambling, insane, thousand yard stare catatonics and if I recall correctly they’d lost all their hair, too. And coming back stuck in a wall, ugh.

    There’s something about disappearing and reappearing from….somewhere else that really freaks me out. It never turns out well, you either return bat shit crazy or bring something back with you that doesn’t want to be your BFF. Event Horizon’s premise another example that I can think of.

  • 3 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Jan 20, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    I watched a History channel Netflix streaming on the Philly experiment a couple months ago and they ended up debunking the whole thing. It kind of got me mad because I wanted the story to be true. Actually, I think I’m going to believe it anyway.

  • 4 michaelNo Gravatar // Jan 20, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    This is a great Kindertrauma movie. I was pretty unshockable as a kid but there’s a brief scene of a guy stuck in the deck of his ship that freaked me out.

  • 5 bdwilcoxNo Gravatar // Jan 20, 2011 at 9:01 pm

    @Apocalypsejunkie: Read Stephen King’s ‘The Jaunt’ from his collection of short stories “Skeleton Crew”.

  • 6 David FullamNo Gravatar // Jan 21, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    The bit with Pare meeting the transvestite in jail was pretty funny.

  • 7 Bill PetreeNo Gravatar // Jan 22, 2011 at 12:03 am

    Badmouthing Allen and Pare? You’ve lost a lot of credibility with me, sir.

  • 8 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Jan 22, 2011 at 12:45 am

    the views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of Kindertrauma inc.

    That said, if there’s a bigger Allen/Pare fan out there than Aunt John I’ve yet to meet them.

  • 9 GrokensteinNo Gravatar // Jan 22, 2011 at 3:49 am

    I always felt sorry for Nancy. Her husband Brain was always offing her on film; creepy or not creepy?

    Michael already mentioned the big pay-off that really tosses a wet blanket over the save-teh-wurld climax: horribly-burned, still-living US Navy men fused into steel.

    But for bad-movie buffs (hi), “Philadelphia”‘s best moment is the long shot of Pare and Allen talking in their vehicle, while another vehicle is fully visible through their rear windshield. This shot is REPEATEDLY intercut with close-ups that give us a good look at the suddenly empty road behind them, so the vehicle blinks in and out of existence until you’re no longer paying attention to anything else.

  • 10 GrokensteinNo Gravatar // Jan 22, 2011 at 3:50 am

    …her husband Brian, not “Brain.” DERP DERP

  • 11 ApocalypsejunkieNo Gravatar // Jan 24, 2011 at 4:57 pm

    @Apocalypsejunkie: Read Stephen King’s ‘The Jaunt’ from his collection of short stories “Skeleton Crew”.

    I think I may have. Is that the one where the little boy pretends to be knocked out during a deep space travel and comes back bat shit crazy after looking at what was in the worm hole?

  • 12 bdwilcoxNo Gravatar // Jan 24, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    That’s the one!

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