The Comfort of Strangers (1990) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

A young British couple returns to Venice, where they had once shared a fiery romance. They have lost some of that flame, and hope to rekindle it. While there, they get lost one night and are rescued by a mysterious Italian who resides in a nearby palazzo. As the film progresses, the normal young couple start to realize that the older man and his wife are very strange, and will eventually require something very intimate and perverse from the young Brits. At first, the younger couple sees hints of mild eccentricity in the elder duo, but the hints become flagrant, and the mild eccentricities turn out to be deep psychoses. The primary dramatic tension in the film hinges on whether the young couple will recognize their apparent, if unstated, peril in time to escape from it. The secondary source of dramatic movement is the audience's curiosity about exactly what that peril might be.


  • Natasha Richardson shows her breasts many times, and the top of her buns.
  • Rupert Everett shows his butt, and offers a very dark look at his penis - really only the shape is visible.

This movie has "menacing" down to a science. Here's the formula:

  • hire Harold Pinter to write the screenplay

  • get Christopher Walken and Helen Mirren to deliver the lines

  • set it in Venice late at night, where every corridor seems to lead into a desolate, foggy, dead-end, and every road is a waterfront.

  • shoot every camera angle with a weird twist.

  • add the extra touches. Have a tracking shot sneak through an alley and come upon the young lovers. Have doors and windows being opened by unseen hands. Show plenty of close-ups of potential weapons for murder or torture.

You get the picture.

Comfort was directed by Paul Shrader, who co-wrote Martin Scorsese's best films. Shrader's direction is not as accomplished as his writing, but he's had some interesting if not altogether successful directing credits, like Light Sleeper, Cat People, and last year's Bob Crane biopic, Auto Focus. As you can see from that list, he likes dark, sexual themes and is not afraid of nudity.

Region 2 DVD info from

  • widescreen anamorphic

  • no features except the original trailer

  • in English, French, or German

It is a wordy four character play paced very slowly over two hours. I like the movie, although it is certainly not a mass market offering. It's a truly creepy, odd, ultimately mean-spirited film which makes brilliant use of Walken as the vehicle for Pinter's omnipresent sense of dripping menace lurking beneath a patina of polite words. Walken, who is menacing while being amiable and polite, even while being gracious, was born to act with Pinter's dialogue. There could be no better setting for these sinister goings-on than Venetian alleys and interiors.  This is probably the most fully realized example of Harold Pinter's genius on film.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Roger Ebert 2.5/4

The People Vote ...

  • It grossed a million dollars in arthouse distribution.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C+. Most people will dislike it intensely. If you're into creepy movies, however, give it a go.

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