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.