SPLIT IMAGE (1982) Largely forgotten anti-cult movie from the early 80s.

splitimage_usposterTheme Song:


How do you make a movie and then not give credit for the closing credits song?

Interesting Dated References: Trying to rescue a loved one when they join a cult, and for that matter, trying to intervene in any way when someone you care about does something you disagree with. Yelling at your wife for not stepping out her cigarette.

Best Line: “Dear God I love this boy.” — Said by cult leader. “I live in a piss-hole.” — Said by James Woods in reference to his piss-hole apartment. “I feel like I’ve been slowly raped” — Said by someone in reference to being slowly raped.

Social Context: Cults. American hippie idealism of the early 70s left many prone to cults thought the mid-to-late 70s. After Jonestown in 1978, things pretty much reached a fever pitch with anti-cult sentiment and you began to see a lot of literature and media that was against cults and how they slowly took over the lives of shitty musicians and loose chicks.

Summary: As usual, Hollywood was a little late with their swell of anti-cult movies. For whatever reason, Ticket to Heaven remains the go-to movie people reference when talking about cults. It’s widely available on DVD and seems to generate more interest. People (because they are assholes) have forgotten all about Split Image. That’s sad because I think it might be better than Ticket to Heaven.

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Meet Danny Stetson, played acceptably by Michael O’Keefe. An expert at the uneven bars, Danny is struggling with being the best on his gymnastics team.

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Danny wins a local meet and makes his dad, Brian Dennehy, very proud. The video camera this guy is carrying around is ridiculous. For 1982 that’s pretty high-tech. I take it Danny’s parents are loaded (with money, not in the way my parents were loaded, with drunk). Sure enough, back at the Stetson household, we find out they are rich. The house is some open-air design awesome future house. After a family breakfast in which he gets grilled about applying to college, Danny goes to a loud busy restaurant to do his homework, where he gets cruised by Karen Allen (Raiders of The Lost Ark, Starman), which is weird because she’s a bit older.

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She invites him to a meeting at her “club,” where they watch a movie and stand in front of awesome artwork I would kill for. While there, Danny acts slightly aloof as the group tries to act all existential, and then later as they all leave, James Woods and some of his cronies attempt to abduct one of the kids at the meeting.

Seriously though, who throws an old tire at someone as a means of self defense? And the exit Danny makes on the fencing that is conveniently set up exactly like the uneven bars? Who thought that was a good idea to add into the script? As you can see, James Woods is all set to ram it down and deliver the goods in another great early-80s James Woods performance. Danny gets all kinds of praise for helping stop the abduction. What Danny does not know is that Woods is a deprogrammer for people in cults and was hired by some concerned parents. The next day, Danny calls his rich-ass parents to tell them he’s going away for the weekend. Apparently the prospect of making love to Karen Allen has consumed Danny so much that he can immediately stop what he’s doing.

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Along for the van ride to a place they are calling, “Homeland,” is Pamela Ludwig (Cory from Over The Edge) and the fucking one guy from Thirtysomething with the stubble who dies at the end of the series, which made my mom cry.

When they arrive at the compound, they are attacked and touched by a bunch of braless frumpies. This Homeland cult has their shit together. Look at the building. Waterfalls, gold lamé, all that shit.

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So at lunch, Danny complains about the lack of protein being served. You know, he’s an athlete. Then an (unintentionally?) eyebrow-less Peter Fonda walks into the room. He delivers a speech and everyone stares at him in awe. Danny is a little put off, and stares at Fonda while everyone else lowers their head in prayer. In case you’ve never experienced it, this is what awe looks like:

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In the next scene, Karen Allen takes Danny on a tour of the facility. She brags about how they make everything themselves. Pottery, gardening, weaving, all that stuff. It’s all done on-site. Then, get this, Karen suddenly walks upon a printing press and just starts running it! She loads a paper lift that’s like half a ream! She just twists a knob and we’re suddenly supposed to think she already inked up and got her registration and side guides in order!

At breakfast the next day, Fonda gets all upset and breaks stuff. Do you think the glasses he broke were made by Homeland? If so. isn’t that kind of an asshole move? And why is everyone so against designer jeans? After a bunch more moralistic shit, an attempted escape, some soul searching, and a near drowning, Danny finally cracks. Fresh from having his hair blown dry, he is converted into a cult member at some fire pit. He burns his wallet, cuts his hair, and puts on a terrible wig that makes it look like he shaved his head. I’m trying to figure out what the O’Keefe was filming at the same time as Split Image, which got him to convince the director he couldn’t shave his head for a cult movie. The only thing I’m coming up with is Nate & Hayes, which is ridiculous.

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Papa Dennehy tries to visit his son at the “camp,” since he hasn’t been home in two weeks. He’s met by Fonda and Danny (now named, “Joshua”) and gets arrested. The sheriff explains to him the cult thing and Dennehy cries a lot. Luckily James Woods shows up. A lot of people say James Woods was a coke head, but they are wrong. I think he’s just an excitable/outgoing guy with a large penis. If you had a large penis, you might be slightly more excitable and outgoing as well

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Then there’s a bunch more unnecessary scenes designed to hammer home the whole cult thing, including one in which Karen Allen and Danny discuss how he no longer needs to shave, and she doesn’t get her period.

This makes Danny have a wet dream. Then Woods abducts Danny. The 6-hour deprogramming scene begins! It’s basically Woods yelling at Danny for a long time.

Woods is really good in this movie. So the Homeland cult takes an hour out from hanging out in Geodesic Domes, and descends on the Stetson house in an attempt to get Danny/Joshua back.

Look at this house, that’s the game room! And what about how Dennehy bull rushes eight full-grown men and they all go flying? So eventually Woods figures his only option left is to beat up Brian Dennehy in front of Danny/Joshua.

And then Danny is free from the cult. Since they wanted to make the movie another 90 minutes longer, they make Karen Allen send Danny a message to meet her at the same restaurant she first met him, where she professes her love and expresses a feeling burning in her loins.

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Suddenly Fonda and company show up. Danny and his weird wig stand up to them and he runs off with Karen Allen, and Fonda just stands there all dumbfounded. Now Danny is stuck with Karen Allen.

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Seriously, that’s a wig in the second scene, right? It’s like he shaved his head for real in the first scene, but then refused to during later re-shoots? Obligatory mentions: Split Image was directed by Ted Kotcheff right after or during his filming of First Blood. If Split Image had been tightened up by about 35 minutes, it would probably be a well-regarded movie today.

Poster and Box Art: One of the other major problems with Split Image is the poster art. Sure they had the whole puzzle-piece-as-representation-of-mental-shit thing down 18 years before The Game, but as a whole it fails to engage in anyway. The only reason The Game succeeded was because of a recognizable star like Michael Douglas, but Michael O’Keefe didn’t really have the power to carry a poster for Split Image.

Availability: Long forgotten, I’d go so far as to call this movie neglected. Old VHS.

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