Uforia (1985)


USA. 1985.


Director/Screenplay – John Binder, Producer – Gordon Wolf, Photography – David Myers, Music – Richard Baskin, Visual Effects Supervisor – Chuck Comisky, Production Design – William Malley. Production Company – Universal


Fred Ward (Sheldon Bart), Cindy Williams (Arlene Stewart), Harry Dean Stanton (Brother Bud Spencer), Robert Gray (Emile), Darrell Larson (Toby)


Drifter Sheldon Bart arrives in a small California desert town to visit his friend Bud Spencer, a confidence trickster who is running a scam as a revivalist preacher. Sheldon moves in with supermarket cashier Arlene Stewart. Arlene believes that UFOs are coming to take people away When she starts preaching about this, people unexpectedly respond to her. However, Brother Bud then starts trying to milk Arlene’s success for money.

Originally made in 1981, this likable little film spent an inordinate length of time on the shelf before being spottily distributed, whereupon an attempt was made to market by comparing it to the cult hit Repo Man (1984), playing on the connection of actor Harry Dean Stanton. Uforia is not a particularly great film but is nevertheless one that proves undeniably likeable. It confirms what one has always suspected, that the American Midwest is an intellectual twilight zone inhabited by a menagerie of crazies – either conmen (which, as the film makes the point of showing, are identical to used car salesmen) or lost souls with strung-out, seemingly interchangeable beliefs in Jesus Christ and UFOs. The film shuffles out a charmingly believable parade of fringe cults and believers – fundamentalist revivalists, UFO churches, Born Again Christians and New Age hippies.

Uforia rambles along in its likably eccentric way and it is only in the last third that the film gains any approximation of a plot. It makes no pretence to message or insight – at most its seems to be setting up vacant-headed Cindy Williams against conman Harry Dean Stanton and cynical Fred Ward, who lectures about his God-given right to believe in nothing, to deliver the dubious message that at least believing in something, no matter how far out, is better than believing in nothing. The abruptly fantastic ending seems a shrug designed to say “Who knows, sometimes an out-of-it belief might be right?”

More than anything, it is the characters that Uforia is worth watching for. Fred Ward is very good as the cynical drifter who eventually becomes drawn into getting behind Cindy Williams’s beliefs – one scene also shows him as a rather good Country-and-Western performer. Cindy Williams’s strung-out vacant role has considerable charm. Particularly good is Harry Dean Stanton who does a spot-on imitation of the fired-up zeal and vocal intonation of a revivalist preacher. The character’s combination of loose friendliness, flinty wisdom and ruthlessness proves fascinating.

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