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‘The Borrower’ (R)

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 08, 1991

"The Borrower" is about a cannibalistic serial killer from outer space who's just trying to get a head in this world. Sentenced to Earth, he's been genetically devolved to human form, with the caveat that damage to his new body may result in sudden, painful metamorphosis or worse. "Your ingenuity will help you survive," the alien is told. Don't you just know this advice will come in handy when the creature's first human contact is with a yokel poaching with a shotgun -- whoops, here comes that first painful metamorphosis. Indeed, the alien's head blows up (talk about migraines).

Ingenuity? No problem: He just rips off the yokel's head and sticks it on his neck stump. And whenever another head he has appropriated explodes, he grabs the nearest available one and repeats the procedure. Did we forget to mention that this film is directed by John McNaughton, whose last shock wave was "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer"?

"The Borrower" is nowhere as disturbing, though it's certainly gross enough to please horror genre fans. It's also superior genre fare, better made than most despite a visibly low budget, which was spent on actors rather than effects. Those actors include Rae Dawn Chong and Don Gordon as work-weary homicide detectives and Tom Towles, Antonio Fargas and several others as the creature who keeps losing his head. Towles, who portrayed "Henry's" sick sidekick, plays the original yokel/killer, and he's actually quite poignant trying to pass for human by clumsily mimicking the people he encounters. He ends up in a part of Chicago filled with winos and street people, so his role models are a bit strange themselves, which may be why these folks seem unperturbed at what looks like a bungled head transplant walking among them.

Cops and alien killer eventually come together via a human serial killer (who does a little dirty work while a television critic reviews "Henry," one of the film's many in jokes). Before that, though, the alien has gone through several heads (not all human), which miraculously alter the shape and color of his body (he's an equal-opportunistic killer). But special effects are not key here; "The Borrower" is really more about mood and ambiance, a B film with higher aspirations, as well as clear models in the work of '50s noir classicists like Sam Fuller and Robert Aldrich.

It's obvious that McNaughton is after more than just a genre audience. There's a patience to his plotting, depth in his direction and respect for both the wit and terror suggested in the script by Mason Nage and Richard Fire (the latter also did the screenplay for "Henry"). It's no "Henry V" and it's no "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer," just a stylish side trip for a very promising director who clearly prefers the edge to the middle of the road.

"The Borrower" is rated R and contains sci-fi gore.

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