After pay­ing his dues in char­ac­ter parts for much of the ‘80s, Bill Paxton made the move up to lead roles in the ‘90s.  One of his ear­li­est lead­ing roles was in The Vagrant — and it’s one of the odd­est entries in a fil­mog­ra­phy that’s crammed with gen­re-themed odd­i­ties.  Paxton toplines as Graham Krakowski, an aspir­ing yup­pie who cow­ers before his boss (Stuart Pankin) and freely sur­ren­ders to the whims of his sta­tus-con­scious girl­friend (Mitzi Capture).

However, his neb­bish lifestyle become upturned when he buys a new house and is har­rassed in a stealthy way by the title char­ac­ter (Marshall Bell), a grimy bum who feels free to slip in and out of the house.  Graham is first dri­ven to dis­trac­tion, then to des­per­a­tion as his life spi­rals out of con­trol.   It’s all capped with a finale that mix­es black com­e­dy, action and slasher/horror ele­ments in a dis­tinct­ly odd way.

That said, odd doesn’t mean suc­cess­ful — and The Vagrant is a bizarre grab-bag of mate­ri­al that some­times works and some­times falls flat on its face.  Richard Jefferies’ script starts out in a com­pelling direc­tion that sug­gests that the vagrant might be a hal­lu­ci­na­tion or alter ego for Graham but the sec­ond half of the film aban­dons that, going for a more con­ven­tion­al finale that is less inter­est­ing than the buildup.  It also has an unfor­tu­nate pen­chant for overt­ly broad com­e­dy that is too shrill and obvi­ous.

The Vagrant works much bet­ter when it just con­cen­trates on being weird.  The direc­tion by erst­while FX design­er Chris Walas has a decent visu­al style and his odd­ball approach is aid­ed nice­ly by a quirky yet catchy musi­cal score from Christopher Young.  Paxton is a com­pelling lead no mat­ter what the sto­ry throws at him and the back­ing cast is full of famil­iar faces like Colleen Camp, Marc McClure and Michael Ironside.

Ultimately, The Vagrant is best approached as a curio for the cult movie crowd.  The whole nev­er quite adds up to the sum of its parts — but it’s just weird enough to be watched all the way through once (prefer­ably in the wee hours of the morn­ing, when its brash weird­ness will be more acces­si­ble to the tired mind).

DVD Notes: this title was miss­ing in action for many years after its ini­tial home video release on VHS but has recent­ly resur­faced On DVD in Scream Factory’s 2-DVD/4-film com­bo pack All Night Horror Marathon.  It is pre­sent­ed in an anamor­phic trans­fer that does well by the film’s slick pho­tog­ra­phy and also fea­tures a Dolby stereo sound­track.  This set also includes What’s The Matter With Helen?, The Outing and The Godsend.  It’s bud­get-priced and a good val­ue for the hor­ror com­pletist.