Pacific Heights (1990)
Pacific Heights (1990)

Genre: Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 42 min.

Release Date: September 28th, 1990 MPAA Rating: R

Director: John Schlesinger Actors: Melanie Griffith, Matthew Modine, Michael Keaton, Mako, Nobu McCarthy, Laurie Metcalf, Carl Lumbly, Dorian Harewood, Luca Bercovici, Tippi Hedren




pectacularly unnerving and fast-paced music by Hans Zimmer sets the tone for “Pacific Heights,” even after it transitions into moody, noirish saxophone riffs to narrate Carter Hayes (Michael Keaton) as he rolls around in the sheets with a woman (an uncredited Beverly D’Angelo), before having his pleasant afternoon abruptly interrupted. Two men storm into the apartment with a baseball bat, seemingly intent on teaching a lesson about sleeping with the wrong woman. Meanwhile, Patricia “Patty” Palmer (or Parker as shown in the end credits, played by Melanie Griffith), and her boyfriend Drake Goodman (Matthew Modine) contemplate a big purchase in San Francisco in the exclusive Pacific Heights neighborhood. Looting both of their savings accounts and cheating the figures for the bank (“We’ll fudge the numbers a little; everybody does it”), the couple is soon moving in and fixing up a mansion of a Victorian home with a price tag of $750,000.

Fortunately, the house has two rental units downstairs, which could create extra income to satisfy their mortgage payments. But despite a slew of decent prospective lessees (including Toshio [Mako] and his wife Mira [Nobu McCarthy]), Carter Hayes ends up as a tenant, even though his credit check and references and intentional miscommunications are unreasonably sketchy. And though his rent and security deposit aren’t wired correctly, Hayes obtains access (and presumably a key) to the room, as well as a spot in the garage. “I’m on top of it. Don’t worry about it.”

The typically mild-mannered owners are understandably rattled by Hayes’ presence and his continued dodging of his financial responsibilities. Aggravatingly, once the suspicious man has moved in, California’s laws and civil codes make it exceptionally difficult to evict him. “If he’s in, he’s got rights. Get a lawyer.” What could have been a cautionary tale about bad renters, however, soon transforms into a white-knuckle thriller. Hayes isn’t just everyone’s worst nightmare of a neighbor; he’s also a potentially deadly, thoroughly unpredictable psychopath.

Curiously, despite the abundance of realistic horrors concerning a manipulative, knowledgeable, calculating, downright evil scam artist, “Pacific Heights” opts to include numerous over-the-top components as well. The strains on Patty and Drake’s relationship and finances aren’t enough; Hayes has to twirl a razor blade in his hand as he spies ominously on Patty, a tussle finds two men dramatically thrown through a window, and Hayes strategically breeds cockroaches. It’s quite unnecessary to add unbelievable elements to an already exasperating premise of an extreme invasion of privacy and the catastrophic destruction of the sanctity of one’s own home. The predicament gets so extreme – and the coincidences so unlikely – that it almost becomes comical.

Nevertheless, the actors treat the material with continual sincerity, lending greater weight to a story that gradually grows less and less plausible (especially with all the unseen breaking-and-entering), even if it transforms into something of a cathartic revenge fantasy. Keaton is a particular highlight, playing a stark opposite to his previous turn as caped crusader Batman. Here, he’s a frightening villain because he’s not as farfetched as the boogiemen of typical horror pictures. It’s a shame, then, that the the finale resorts to the very slasher tropes that were avoided at the start.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10