Once again, ever present movie-watching pal JD joined me for another evening of horror mayhem. After grabbing decorations and candy from our local "Party City," we settles in for a day full of horror parodies, which was chosen as the theme seemingly at random.
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! (1978)
This one is honestly pretty rough to get through. Talk about extending a one-note joke to feature length. Which isn’t to say that “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” isn’t funny. Initially, the weird grumbling noise the tomatoes makes it pretty funny. There’s a number of amusing one-liners, the bit about submarines probably being my favorite. There’s a smattering of absurdest gags sprinkle throughout, such as someone warning a dead body of approaching danger or the complete non-explanation we get for the killer tomatoes. However, the movie is completely without focus. Is it a parody of fifties creature features? You’d think that but, beyond the premise, the film doesn’t really take much else from those films. The movie tries to split time between each member of its crack team of specialist, preventing any of them from being properly developed. More over, the hysterical, over-the-top tone wears itself out very quickly. This would have been a hilarious twenty minute short. Even at a brief eighty-five minutes, it bottoms out long before it’s over. The movie reaches its nadir around the time of the “Tomato Stomp” musical number. (Oh, yeah, it’s a musical too, did I mention that?)
There’s also some intensely un-PC humor there, such as some blatant Japanese epitaphs tossed around for little or no reason or a character randomly dressing as Hitler for no reason. Despite all of these problems, the movie has developed a cult following. It strongly resembles “Airplane!” and the other Zucker Brothers parody films, but actually predates them. Even though it’s not a very good movie and I only liked about half of it, you really can’t beat owning this one and being able to pull “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!” off of your shelf when ever you want. Supposedly the sequels are much smoother. (5/10)
Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)
Now here’s how you do a genre parody. If it wasn’t for the fact that the film’s menace are killer klowns (from outer space), this would play like a straight-up fifties alien invasion movie. (Right down to the obnoxious comic relief.) You’ve got a young heroic couple right out of “The Blob,” you’ve got the hard-nose authority figure who is clueless and disbelieving, and you’ve even got a group of bikers who think it’s a good idea to try and tough up the monsters. Similar to “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes,” this is technically a one-joke movie. Unlike that film though, this one doesn’t leave the one joke as is and then adds a bunch of peripheral goofiness to make up. Instead, it mines that one joke for all it’s worth, producing a wide array of visual sight gags. Of course killer klowns have acidic cream pies, heat-seeking popcorn guns, murderous shadow puppets, and a big top shaped UFO. Of course they turn people into cotton candy before eating them or have to be shot in their big red noses to be killed. Going by this logic, even the Klownzilla final boss makes sense.
I don’t know if the actors in this movie where just told they where in a serious film or if they’re just that much in-tuned with the material, but they all strike the perfect tone. (Only John Vernon seems aware that he’s in a comedy, but his hamming is perfect for the role of the hard-ass sheriff.) The special effects are nicely cartoony and the inside of the circus tent ship has some fantastic set designs. Also, the Dickies theme song is a total favorite of mine. “Killer Klowns” is pretty much a B-movie delight from start to finish. Is the sequel ever getting made? (7/10)
Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV (2000)
The Dadaist would have loved Troma, a studio all about celebrating independence, vulgarity, throw-it-in creativity, broad social satire, and general mayhem. “Citizen Toxie” represents maybe the penicle of the studio. It’s certainly funnier then just about anything else they’ve ever released and that humor makes up for a lot of the roughness, crudeness, and nastiness that permeates this film, as in all other Lloyd Kaufman joints. The movie has maybe the funniest “Citizen Cane” reference ever, (“Nose blood!”) a joke that had me laughing for literally three minute. There’s a lot more word-play here then in previous installments, and I love the way Toxie is basically transformed into the straight man, reacting to all the insanity around him. (When he isn’t tearing people apart anyway.) The concept of good and evil fetuses battling it all in the womb also strikes me as oddly hilarious. And, once again, great use is made of the musical montage and stock footage. (The infamous car flip footage is nicely lampshaded.)
The movie also does a lot to expand the Troma-verse. There are some great supporting characters. Though Tito and Sweetie-Honey might come off as one-note jokes, seeing as how they’re very broad stereotypes of the mentally handicapped, the characters are actually pretty well developed, if for no other reason then their actors just go for broke. Tito the Retarded Rebel even has an honest to God character arc. Pompey is a bizarre, hilarious character thrown in for the hell of it. Of course, Joe Fleishaker (who is not actually Micahel Herz, I just discovered. Thanks Wikipedia!) was born to play the legendary role of Lardass. But my favorite new character isn’t actually a new character at all. Sgt. Kabukiman (N.Y.P.D!) is almost unrecognizable from his feature debut. I might not have a more favorite trope then the failed superhero and drunken, depressed, useless, amoral Kabukiman certainly fits the bill. (Dolphin Man too, may he rest in peace.) Noxie and all the other evil universe variations are also the first time the Toxic Avenger has ever had a worthy adversary. Usually he just tears his enemies apart in seconds, so it’s nice to see him go up against someone who actually poses a threat.
Of course, the movie is still full of casual misogyny, homophobia, fat jokes, and general misanthropy. It’s a near endless buffet of the crude, disgusting, and shameless, making parts of it a pretty ugly viewing experience. Though, if you’ve ever seen a Troma movie before, you should know that all ready. Since the opening manages to make fun of the mentally afflicted, Mexicans, school shootings, police corruption, media scapegoating, pregnant teachers, and diaper fetishists within minutes it should be easy to figure out wither or not this is your style. For those that do dig it, it’s a hilarious pus, blood, vomit, and shit filled Christmas present. I mean that as a compliment. (8/10)
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
This is a great movie and I adore it. However, it’s not the best choice for the tail-end of a night of horror parodies. Because “Shaun of the Dead” really isn’t a parody. It’s an extremely character driven comedy that just happens to revolve around people stuck in a zombie apocalypse. It’s honestly a bit like the cast of a Kevin Smith movie getting dropped down in the middle of “Dawn of the Dead.” (Only, you know, good. I’ll be burning Kevin Smith all fall. Cause that’s how long it’ll take him to burn up! Oooooooh!)
Honestly, this has to have one of the best structured screenplays I’ve ever seen. There are so many elements introduced in the first act that are perfectly played up on in the last. This is an example of a film catching every ball it throws up in the air. Even better, you never actually notice because you’re so perfectly adsorbed into the film’s fully realized universe. Thanks to Judd Apatow, the market has become flooded with “Man-child grows up” movies, but few actually take the time to develop all of its characters into fully formed human beings. (If I never see the “shrewish nagging girlfriend/wife” cliché again, I can die a happy man.) Liz wants Shaun to grow up, but because she actually loves him, not because she’s a one-dimensional bitch determined to ruin his bro-down. Further more, the movie is all too willing to acknowledge the homoerotic undertones of Shaun and Ed’s relationship. (And the Pegg/Frost/Wright team would take it even further in “Hot Fuzz.”) But the movie shows Shaun becoming agitated with his emotionally arrested best friend. Nobody can be as close as those two and not have some issues between them.
Some people have complained about the tonal shifts in the film. However, I consider them natural evolutions of the movie. Because the characters are so strong, it only makes sense that they would react to these events, not as buffoons in a movie predesignated as a comedy, but because they’re human beings. Maybe I’m giving these guys too much credit, but “Shaun of the Dead” is really just that well-made in my eyes. Even if it isn’t the perfect end-note for a night of horror-parodies. (9/10)