This psychological suspense thriller is about Drake and Patti, a young, unmarried, promiscuous couple who buy a large, Victorian-style “fix-er-up” house in the Pacific Heights section of San Francisco. Remodeling complete, they rent one of the apartments to Carter Hayes (Michael Keaton), a well-dressed con man who at first appears to be a model tenant, but soon becomes a vicious threat.
From the outset, Drake is unable to collect any rent money from Carter, who is extremely adept at playing off Drake’s limited knowledge and inexperience as a first time landlord. When Drake and Patti realize Carter is not what he seems, they try unsuccessfully to evict him. Carter changes the locks, and Drake, angered, shuts off the power. Carter retaliates by calling the police, who warn Drake that once a tenant takes possession, regardless of circumstances, he has rights.
Carter slowly begins to wage an escalating and terrifying psychological war on the defenseless couple, which causes Patti to miscarry (they’re promiscuous, remember) in a tasteless scene. Drake is enticed into assaulting Carter, and Carter, who knows the housing laws all too well, gets the judge to issue a restraining order against Drake, so that when Drake tries to visit his girlfriend, Carter is justified in shooting him. (The limits of plausibility are really stretched here).
Drake is hospitalized, and Carter finally evicted. Patti is warned by a savvy policeman to let this sick individual go before he makes the situation personal, because to Carter ripping off people is his business. Patti, however, won’t let the matter lie.
Patti learns that Carter is, in fact, James Danforth, a wealthy son legally severed from the family fortune. When she stumbles upon a swindle Danforth is planning with Drake’s stolen credit cards and ID, she turns the tables on him, which lands Danforth in jail. When Danforth gets out, it is a personal matter. However, his revenge attempt is foiled when he is impaled.
As far as psychological thrillers go, PACIFIC HEIGHTS draws you in through a haunting musical score, good suspense and mounting tension between protagonist and antagonist. However, what it draws you into is the story of a terrorizer who plays with razors and roaches in the dark, something no one in their right mind would want to watch; not to mention what else occurs: 27 obscenities and profanities, nudity, promiscuity, revenge, lying, deceit, and fraud.
In a way, the film is intended as a cautionary tale aimed at young, inexperienced, would-be homeowners who are thinking of getting into the rental market. The picture concludes with Drake and Patti selling the house to another young couple, and keeping silent as the new couple are shown to be making the same mistakes in judgment as Drake and Patti did.
It’s evident that none of these characters have ever heard of Ephesians 4. Then, Drake and Patti would not have been caught “by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.” And, their assailant would have been admonished to “put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor.” As things are, it is best to avoid PACIFIC HEIGHTS.
23 obscenities and 4 profanities, nudity and promiscuity, violence (including an impaling), revenge, lying, deceit, and fraud