Apt Pupil
Rating -

Thriller (US); 1998; Rated R; 111 Minutes

Ian McKellen: Kurt Dussander
Brad Renfro: Todd Bowden
Bruce Davidson: Richard Bowden
Elias Koteas: Archie
Joe Morton: Dan Richler

Produced by Tom DeSanto, Jane Hamsher, Tim Harvert, Don Murphy, John Ottman, Jay Shapird and Bryan Singer; Directed by Bryan Singer; Screenwritten by Brandon Boyce and Stephen King

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Written by DAVID KEYES

Apt Pupil is about as great as a modern Stephen King horror flick could get. There are moments in the film of such intrigue and fascination that it was almost tempting to let the movie pass with flying colors, a fate which it did not accomplish in the end.

Indeed, most things were well worth the money, but isnít the scenario of the holocaust a little inappropriate for this type of genre? After all, this is something that really happened, and trying to make it into a movie using the standard shock-fest put on by Stephen King as the backdrop doesnít sound like a good idea.

Okay, perhaps it is a good idea. Since the holocaust was an event of such beastly horrors, what better way to witness them than in a movie based on a novella by one of the worlds most notorious authors?

Not so fast. Sometimes horror movies can be too savage. Apt Pupil reaches that point so often that it canít be appreciated at the level of other Stephen King films, like Dolores Claiborne. But the difference from these two movies is the historical factor. Dolores Claiborne was pure fiction. Using the holocaust as sort of an atmosphere for the standard set of shocks provided by Mr. King, Apt Pupil stays true to the nature of the historical facts, but the whole concept turns somewhat sour when the Nazi war criminal played by Ian McKellen develops a frenzy to cook cats alive in his oven. Whatís worse, the teenage boy, whom he shares his war stories with, develops Nazism tendencies. Bad idea.

But still, Apt Pupil is not bad, probably due to itís respectful efforts of telling a logical, fascinating story. Brad Renfro plays a teenage boy named Todd Bowden, who watches closely one of his neighbors who has the features and aspects of a wanted Nazi war criminal. Studying the holocaust in high school, he jumps at the chance to have Kurt Dussander, played by McKellen, tell him the stories of the holocaust himself, since, after all, no one can tell them better than him.

Now the plot thickens. When Dussander almost refuses to do so, Bowden threatens to turn him over to the police, since he is, of course, still a wanted criminal.

So Dussander is backed into a corner. With no back-up plan to the boyís reactions, he tells him the eyewitness accounts of the devastating mass murders influenced by the Naziís during that horrible holocaust.

He describes his stories with intense detail. In one unforgettable sequence, he speaks of how the Jews attempted to climb out of their gas chambers at Auschwitz, yet the actual gas hoses were at the top of the chamber, basically permitting the Jews to die quicker than they would have by staying put on the ground.

Stories follow on and on, and eventually, Bowden begins the grave mistake of inheriting these Nazi aspects just as Dussander tells them. He slowly, and assuredly, develops their tendencies, to where even the Nazi war criminal begins fearing him. And so the tables turn, and the kid is now the antagonist of the picture. But heck, thatís probably the way it has to be. Where else could a horror movie go, anyways?

And at a time when the recent Stephen King film adaptations feel completely forgettable, Apt Pupil offers a perspective and treat that stand clear of anything similar. Itís a worthy movie to Kingís name, and, most likely, a winner for anyone whoíd like to be scared at the theater this season. And we thought winter was going to be cold.

© 1998, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org. Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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