Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Monday, October 5, 2015

Halloween 2015: October 5

The Blob (1988)

I was just thinking about this the other day. Why are modern day remakes usually dismissed as crass cash-ins while the horror remakes of the eighties are looked back on fondly, many considered masterpieces? I think it was to do with time. The original versions of “The Thing” and “The Fly” were made in the fifties. The remakes were made in the eighties. That’s about the same amount of time dividing today’s remakes from the seventies or eighties originals. The difference is that American society changed a lot between 1958 and 1988. Our values, perceptions, and ideas changed. (Special effects changed a lot too but that’s not quite the point I’m making.) Those older stories didn’t resonate quite the same anymore so remaking them, re-calibrating those tales to modern sensibilities, made sense. No remake shows this difference quite as clearly as 1988’s “The Blob.”

Arborville, California is a ski-resort town experiencing an unusually warm October. Meg is a wholesome cheerleader, even if her little brother sneaks out to see nasty horror movies. Brian is a would-be biker from the crappy side of the tracks. Social divides become irrelevant when something falls from the skies. Inside the spherical shape is an overgrown amoeba-like life form, who burns, devours, and absorbs anything it touches. It isn’t long before the town is in the grip of the Blob. However, the government agents who arrive to contain the creature may not have the people’s best interests in mind either.

When reviewing the original “Blob,” I high-lighted its most likable aspects: The small town setting, full of eccentrics and funny behavior. The 1988 version maintains this. Despite moving the story from Pennsylvania to California, there’s plenty of interesting local color. The small town sheriff is trying to pursue a relationship with the local diner’s waitress. Meg’s dad is the owner of the pharmacy, which pays off fantastically when he sees her date for the evening. Brian’s co-worker at the auto shop has some funny dialogue. Even the town pastor is more likable then most, with his clandestine drinking habit. However, times have irrevocably changed. The theater isn’t showing “Daughter of Horror.” Instead, it’s showing a gory slasher movie. The star quarterback plies his girlfriend with alcohol. When the old man, the Blob’s first victim, is dragged into the doctor’s office, the nurse asks if he has life insurance. The class divide between good kids like Meg and bad kids like Brian is more sharply emphasized. The cops don’t trust him, just because he’s from the wrong side of town. The remake successfully updates the original’s setting.

That’s all well and good but 1988’s “The Blob” has a more obvious update. The original’s Blob was a rolling, red glob of silicon. The remake’s, meanwhile, is a writhing mass of fleshy matter. It less resembles Jello – a comparison the remake points out – and more resembles the pulsating walls of interior organs. What the Blob does to its victim is also shown far more graphically. Skin burns. The human form is melted to gory, bloody slurry. The bum is reduced to half a body, his organs trailing from his rib cage. A girl in the theater is melted into the floor, split right down the middle. The Blob grabs a plumber by the face and yanks him into the pipes of a sink, his bones cracking and twisting on the way down. Limbs are softened and pulled from people by the creature’s corrosive qualities. Victims trapped inside the Blob have their skin slowly dissolved away. The effects are disturbing and graphic, even by the standards of eighties horror flicks. There’s none of the campiness of the original here. This Blob is dead serious.

Director Chuck Russell, whose work I’ve recommended in the past, co-write the script with Frank Darabont, a guy who’s made a few movies people like. The writing is actually far stronger then you’d expect from a monster movie. Little incidents, involving a broken bridge or snow-maker, are paid off on later on. Even minor characters are given defining traits, like the projectionist with the yo-yo. Mostly, Darabont’s script and Russell’s direction shine in moments of intense horror. A stand-out scene involves a woman trapped in a phone booth by the Blob. The fate of her attempted rescuer is shown in a grisly, clever way. The Blob pursues its victims doggedly, over walls and through the sewers. The way the Blob’s presence is revealed during that sewer chase is especially clever. After the theater sequence, the entity’s size is really emphasized. The final act feels practically apocalyptic, as the Blob begins to overtake the whole town. Most surprisingly, the remake breaks one of the often unstated rules of horror: It kills a kid. “The Blob” doesn’t just go for gory special effects. It also creates genuine thrills.

The change in attitudes between 1958 and 1988 is most obvious in the subplot the film adds. Midway through the film, government agents – clad in white containment suits that recall Romero’s “The Crazies” – descend on the town. At first, they appear helpful and kind. However, it soon becomes clear that the well-being of the townsfolk is irrelevant to them. They are there to capture and contain the Blob. Which, we discover, isn’t an alien life-form, as in the original. Instead, the Blob was created as a biological weapon, designed to be dropped over Soviet countries. The government conspiracy angle is overused today. It had even been done before in 1988, with the “Alien” films. However, it does add an extra angle to “The Blob.” The authorities can’t be trusted. Meg and Brian have to put aside their differences if they want to stop the monster. The original has been read as about the Red Scare and communism. The remake is, instead, about distrust of the government. Time changes, indeed.

It’s not often that a remake outdoes the original. The original “Blob” is still a charming, well-made creature feature. The remake, however, takes the same premise to far more grotesque and frightening places. The cast, led by Shawnee Smith and Kevin Dillion, is likable. Russell’s direction is clever and inventive. Really, the overdone score is the only thing I don’t care much for. Though not successful at the time – it grossed 8 million against a 19 million budget – “The Blob” has definitely garnered a cult following. I’ll be surprised if the next remake overcomes it. [8/10]

Evil Bong (2006)

Let me tell you a story. Back in 2013, I got to meet Full Moon mastermind Charles Band at one of those Monster-Mania cons I go to every year. Though I’ve heard plenty of less than flattering things about Mr. Band, he was nice to us. JD happened to ask Charlie about the origins of the “Evil Bong” series. He laughed and replied that his son came up with the character while – you guessed it – smoking a bong. And from those ignoble roots emerged “Evil Bong.” Because weaving the thinnest of stupid jokes into on-going franchises of increasingly cheap direct-to-DVD movies is apparently what Full Moon Features does these days. Really makes you miss all those killer puppets movie, doesn’t it?

Here’s a stupid question. What’s the plot of “Evil Bong?” Alistair is a stereotypical nerdy college student in search of a cheap place to live. This brings him to Larnell’s apartment. Larnell is a massive stoner. His other roommates, ex-jock Brett and surfer dude Bachman, also smoke way too much pot. Despite not sharing this interest, Alistair stays in the apartment. The girl he has the hots for, the friend of Brett’s main squeeze, may be the reason why. Anyway, Larnell orders a haunted bong out of the back of High Times magazine. Turns out there’s still such a thing as truth in advertising, as the large bong is indeed an entity of evil that slowly drains the life force of all who suckle upon it.

Because I’m gunning for the Most Obvious Statement of the Year Award, I’ll say the following: “Evil Bong” is a dumb movie. That dumbness mostly manifests in the form of ridiculously broad characters. You’d think in 2006, an exaggerated nerd stereotype like Alistair wouldn’t exist. Yet there he is, with his antiqued language, weirdly parted hair, button-downed shirts, glasses, and pocket protector. To the movie’s credit, at least he’s the hero of the film. Brett is a typical asshole jock, with his pot-smoking being the only thing distinguishing him. Larnell punctuates every statement with “bro,” but his occasional pot-fueled rants are sort of funny. Even the supporting cast of “Evil Bong” are excessively obnoxious. Larnell’s wheelchair-bound grandfather drops ridiculously detailed insults. Brett’s girlfriend, played by “The Gingerdead Man’s” Robyn Sydney, does an insane dance/dry hump combination which has her jumping on a pogo stick. It’s all stupid and doesn’t even amuse but at least it’s mildly memorable.

As for the Evil Bong itself, it’s not the most active antagonist. It can’t move and the prop is barely animated. Someone named Michelle Mais provides the vulgar voice over, which is the Bong’s primarily form of communication. Once someone has partaken of the Bong, the smoker is transported to an alternate world. Otherwise known as a strip club. Inside the club, the doofus dudes are killed by strippers wearing Monster Bras, real accessories Band used to sell through his website. Because nothing has to make sense when you’re stoned, the club is also full of references to older Full Moon movies. The Gingerdead Man and Jack Attack from “Demonic Toys” show up. Full Moon regulars Phil Fondacaro, Tim Thomerson, and Bill Moseley all drop in for cameos. Thomerson reprises Jack Deth, his “Trancers” hero. Bill Moseley plays a loud-mouthed mob boss before directly asking the audience what he’s doing here. That may be the comedic peak of the movie. Mostly, these scenes just remind you of the days when Full Moon movies sucked in a far more charming way. But at least there’s the cheap thrill of naked boobs.

“Evil Bong” is cheap but it is admittedly less cheap then “The Gingerdead Man.” Like that movie, the entire film seemingly takes place on all of two sets. In this case, it’s the bros’ apartment of the Evil Bong’s strip club netherworld. However, the actors seem to be slightly more professional. At least they bring some life to their roles. “Evil Bong” has a full soundtrack, composed of pot-themed rap songs. Sometimes, the music is so loud that it drowns out the dialogue. The scenes in the strip club always have a border of swirling pot leaves around them. I don’t know why. I also don’t know why they’re wacky scene transitions, also composed of swirling pot leaves. Charles Band’s direction is still incredibly flat and stationary. At least there’s a recognizable movie star in the movie for more then four minutes. Tommy Chong is hardly a big name but the performer still has a molecule of comedic ability in him, slightly enlivening his handful of scenes.

So yeah, “Evil Bong” is pathetic schlock. You don’t need me to tell you that. Yet the standard for modern day Full Moon is so low that “Evil Bong” comes off as slightly better. Really, it’s not. It’s dumb, lazy, cheap, crass, and manages to make 86 minutes feel like four hours. But I laughed twice, which is more then I can say for “The Gingerdead Man.” I’m still not bothering with any of the film’s four(!) sequels. Even if their increasingly punny subtitles – King Bong, Wrath of Bong, Evil Bong 420, High 5 – tempts me. [4/10]

Tales from the Crypt: Only Skin Deep

“Only Skin Deep” is a surprisingly dark episode of “Tales from the Crypt.” Carl is a physically abusive asshole who crushes a friend’s Halloween party, despite his battered ex being there. There, he meets a masked woman called Molly. The two head back to her apartment in an abandoned building. They make an agreement not to take off their mask or tell each other their full names. After a night of rough sex, Carl makes a startling discovery about Molly.

“Tales from the Crypt” is usually about assholes getting their comeuppance. Carl, however, is even more of an asshole then usual. He’s short-tempered, violent, gruff, and mean-spirited. The episode deals with his resentment towards women and his dark desires. The sweaty, extended sex scene confronts his issues head-on. He only sees women as a way to meet his sexual wants and, when they transgress against that, he smacks them around. In short, he’s your typical sexist piece of shit. There’s also a layer of sleazy, discomforting body-horror to this episode, with its focus on sweaty flesh and physical deformity. William Malone has never impressed me with his features but his work here is moody. I like the opening shot panning out from inside a jack o’lantern. The performances are ratcheted pretty high but Peter Onorati and Sherrie Rose are effective. Though pretty nasty, “Only Skin Deep” definitely succeeds at its goals. [7/10]

So Weird: Grave Mistake

“Grave Mistake” starts off promisingly before falling to many of the same mistakes other season three episodes have. An old friend of the family named Margaret requests to stay with Molly and the kids. She claims that a ghost is threatening to kill her. Annie is sympathetic but the rest of the family doesn’t believe her. Until the words “You’re dead” begins to appear all over the house. It seems the ghost has followed Margaret to her new location.

“Grave Mistake” has a decent first act. There’s a decent sense of foreboding as the old woman moves in. The start is mildly spooky, as we see the door open on its own and footsteps appear across the kitchen floor. However, the episode soon lays down too many cards, too soon. It’s immediately obvious that the ghost is Margaret’s deceased husband, trying to make her understand that she’s a ghost too. When we hear an old man’s voice coming from a half-seen spectre, the audience has already figured it out. The first appearance of “You’re dead!,” written on a foggy surface, is somewhat startling. But the episode returns to that too often. By the time the word is appearing in dropped Legos or spilled tomato sauce, it’s become silly. Maxine Miller’s performance is definitely overdone. The ending flat-out explains what is going on. Once again, it’s evident that the season three writers don’t respect the viewers’ intelligence. “Grave Mistake” has an interesting idea but handles it in a clumsy, obvious manner. [5/10]

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