Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Halloween 2016: September 22

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010)

The murderous redneck is such a well establish horror movie troupe that parodies must now exist. Instead of exaggerating the excesses of the genre like must parodies do, “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil” took its cue from “Shaun of the Dead.” Eli Craig’s film handled its farcical rendition of the killer hick story from the angle of a buddy movie, packing in as much heart as possible into the story of Southern mayhem. This approach worked swimmingly. On multiple occasions, I’ve had people who don’t normally like horror movies tell me how much they enjoyed this one. The film has become a cult favorite since its 2010 release.

In the backwoods of West Virginia, simple minded but good hearted hillbillies Tucker and Dale are hoping to rebuild a secluded cabin into a vacation home. At the gas station they work at, they run into a group of college kids on a road trip. Attractive blonde Allison catches Dale’s eye but his nervous approach disturbs the girl. Her friends think the two guys are deprived rednecks. After rescuing Allison from a swimming accident, a series of bloody misunderstandings ensue between the two parties.

“Tucker and Dale vs. Evil” functions on flipping the slasher formula on its head. Instead of focusing only on the clean, attractive college kids entering the Southern territory, it tells this story from the perspective of the hillbillies. Instead of being deprived murderous, Tucker and Dale are well-intentioned buffoons. When the teens have a creepy encounter with the country folk at a gas station, it’s actually the result of an awkward attempt at flirting. Tucker and Dale never kill anyone. Instead, all the bloody mayhem that happens is strictly the result of unfortunate accidents. What is seemingly a chainsaw attack is actually the result of bad timing and some angry bees. Even individual lines of dialogue sound threatening when heard out of context. It’s a simple joke. But “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil’s” familiarity with horror troupes stretches that simple joke out for an unexpectedly long time and with surprisingly fruitful results.

Tucker and Dale’s friendship is not as endearing as Shaun and Ed’s legendary bro-mance. Having said that, the titular pals prove lovable. The two are part of a long line of fat/skinny comedy duos. Tyler Labine’s Dale accuses himself of being stupid or foolish. In truth, he has a brain for trivia and an inherent sweetness. Labine is super cuddly, a big friendly guy with a soft spot for dogs and broad games that freezes up around pretty girls. Alan Tudyk’s Tucker is the Bud to Dale’s Lou, in an almost classical sense. He seems wily, the smarter of the two, but is actually a bit of a klutz. Tucker’s arrogance is paid back by the comical injuries the script heaps on him. Tudyk is hilarious, especially when reacting to the story’s increasing zaniness. The back-and-forth between the two characters produces the film’s best moments, such as Dale’s response to Tucker’s bee stings or a conversation concerning a chili dog coupon.

For all the ways it plays with slasher movie conventions, “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil” doesn’t skimp on the gore and mayhem. In a kind of splatstick, the vacationing teens die in increasingly unlikely accidents. Running in a blind panic results in impalement via a pointed tree branch. A hole in the ground and a spear combine to make another unlikely impalement. A loose board of nails and a rickety pillar result in a hilariously extended fatality. My favorite scene has a leap of faith landing in a wood chipper. These kind of bloody hysterics as easily entertaining. Less successful is the movie’s other switch-a-roos. The college boy who would be the hero in a normal horror film quickly reveals himself as an unhinged psychopath, with little regard for personal space and a burning hatred of hillbillies. This still produces some decent laughs – such as Dale’s reaction to the killer’s exit from the film – but it’s too silly and obvious a screenwriting decision.

“Tucker and Dale vs. Evil” reaching people typically outside the horror crowd speaks to its affability. (Though Alan Tudyk’s presence, and the horde of obsessive “Firefly” fans he brings with him, surely helped.) There has even been some talk of a sequel bandied about. I have no idea where a story like this goes from here or what other types of evil Tucker and Dale could possibly battle. But these two goofballs are likable enough that I would happily watch another one of their adventures. [7/10]

Dreamcatcher (2003)

What is Stephen King’s worst book? “The Talisman” is divisive. My sister, a big Stephen King fan, considered “The Tommyknockers” his worst effort. “Dreamcatcher,” meanwhile, seems poorly regarded. The 2003 film adaptation was directed by Academy Award nominee Lawrence Kasdan and written by William Goldman, who previously penned the adaptation of “Misery” among other well received movies. This talent did not prevent “Dreamcatcher” from receiving extremely negative reviews. The resulting film hews closely to King’s book, suggesting the source material was the problem here.

Every winter, four friends gather in a rural cabin in upstate Maine. Henry, Beaver, Jonesy and Pete have a special bound. As boys, they rescued a mentally disabled child nicknamed Duddits. A psychic, Duddits linked the five together telepathically. During their latest trip into the woods, strange things begin to happen. Animals flee the forests, covered with an odd, red mold. Military helicopters circle the area. Beaver and Jonesy pick up a sickly, gassy hunter. Soon, it becomes clear that an alien invasion – which has a very nasty way of infiltrating the human body – has broken out around them.

“Dreamcatcher” often plays like an incoherent mish-mash of other Stephen King stories. The theme of boys going on adventures recalls “Stand By Me.” The structure, which flashes between the present day and the characters’ childhood, brings “It” to mind. Duddits is similar to “The Stand’s” Tom Cullen but with magical abilities like any number of King characters. The insidious alien forces suggest “The Tommyknockers.” Of all these elements, the bound between the four men is probably the best part of “Dreamcatcher,” as it brings all these crazy ideas down to Earth. The early scenes of guys using their powers, to help their patients or pick up women, are mildly amusing. However, the character of Duddits is deeply ridiculous, with his unflattering speech impediment and bizarre tics. He’s the worst example of how Hollywood treats the mentally handicapped: A literal Magical Retard. Duddits prevents the story’s emotional heart from connecting with viewers.

As unfortunate as Duddits is, he’s far from the only embarrassing part of “Dreamcatcher.” Behold, the majestic Shit Weasel. The alien threat comes to Earth as a red spore, which is then consumed by humans. It grows in the digestive track, causing immense gastric discomfort. In other words, the aliens make people fart and belch. There’s way more farting in “Dreamcatcher” then any serious horror film should ever have. When done gestating, the alien burst from the host’s rectum, amid bloody bowel movement. This is, admittedly, an extremely unpleasant way to die. The Shit Weasel’s design, both fecal and phallic, is decent. The special effects, a combination of practical effects and solid CGI, works fine.  However, “Dreamcatcher’s” emphasis on bodily functions makes it impossible to take this threat seriously. It’s like a far cruder, much dumber version of “Alien.”

Yet Duddits and Shit Weasels aren’t enough for “Dreamcatcher.” The film also throws in a hostile government quarantine. In one of his few genuinely bad performances, Morgan Freeman seriously overdoes it as Colonel Curtis. The alien hating military leader responsible for containing the outbreak, Curtis goes madder as the story progresses. This subplot results in a lengthy scene of the military bombing the aliens’ crashed space ship. The movie tosses in even more stuff. Such as Mr. Gray, the leader of the invaders. (Called as such because the alien, who actually resembles a giant Shit Weasel, telepathically disguises himself as a friendly grey.) He psychically possesses Jonesy, causing him to speak with an overly foppish British accent. Jonesy hides within his own mind, illustrated as an elaborate library of thoughts. The two personalities often argue for control. If it wasn’t clear, “Dreamcatcher” has an excess of wacky ideas but rarely executes any of them well.

“Dreamcatcher” has a – let’s be kind – colorful ensemble. The film brings together a number of talented actors and allows them to give wildly divergent performances. Jason Lee plays Beaver, peppering his dialogue with profane and bizarre phrases, making him the most Stephen King-esque character ever. As Jonesy, Damian Lewis does fine but as Mr. Gray he wildly overacts. Thomas Jane as Henry and Timothy Olyphant as Pete, meanwhile, go too far in the opposite direction. Their performances are incredibly sleepy and one-note. Tom Sizemore also shows up as Freeman’s second hand man, a role he does little to define. But the worst performance in the movie belongs to former New Kid on the Block Donnie Wahlberg. As the adult Duddits, Wahlberg speaks with a frankly embarrassing speech impediment and mugs horrendously. A reveal concerning his character in the last act blindsides the viewer, raises more questions then it answers, and generally adds the movie’s overall what-the-fuck-ness.

Stephen King has admitted to disliking the literary “Dreamcatcher.” He wrote the novel while recovering from the vehicular collision that almost killed him. During this time, he also developed an addiction to painkillers which he would, luckily, kick soon afterwards. This might explain why “Dreamcatcher” is so damn weird and so sloppily plotted. As for the movie, Lawrence Kasdan isn’t much of a fan either. The film is a complete fiasco, a wild hodgepodge of mostly unrelated ideas, a total narrative and tonal mess. [4/10]

Tales from the Crypt: A Slight Case of Murder

After a two episode slump, season seven of “Tales from the Crypt” finally finds its footing. “A Slight Case of Murder” revolves around Sharon, a successful but anti-social writer of murder mysteries. She despises her next door neighbor, an old lady eager to write her own mystery fiction. Her ex-husband, Larry, hates Sharon too. He arrives with intentions to murder her. Through out the violent game of murder, the neighbor’s nerdy son, who harbors a crush on Sharon, also becomes involved. The body count quickly piles up.

This is more like it. “A Slight Case of Murder” is full of gleeful mayhem. Larry’s attempt to murder and bury Sharon doesn’t work out. She digs herself out of her own grave and goes for revenge. The woman takes a lot more punishment before the story ends, including garden shears to the chest and multiple gunshots. The performances are nicely absurd, especially Francesca Annis as the hateful author, Elisabeth Spriggs as the nosy neighbor, and Patrick Barlow as the weirdo living next door. The episode includes some amusingly morbid images, like a dead body propped up by a typewriter or the satisfying twist ending. In other words, this is a classic “Tales from the Crypt” episode. [8/10]

Lost Tapes: Monster of Monterey

So how does “Lost Tapes” justify its found footage premise this week, during the obligatory sea monster episode? Sharon Novak is a solo sailor, nearing the end of her circumnavigation of the globe. She’s been documenting the journey with web-cast and video recordings. As she pulls into Monterey Bay, she receives a distress call from another boat. Navigating through the increasingly choppy waters, she encounters the titular monster. The episode more-or-less out right states the creature to be a plesiosaur, every cryptozoologist’s favorite aquatic dinosaur.

As always, “Lost Tapes” borders silliness even during its best moments. The main character having a camera on her at all times quickly becomes ridiculous, especially once she goes in the water. Sharon is video chatting with her boyfriend throughout the episode and can somehow still hear him after swimming away from the boat. The “educational” segments are especially goofy, discussing barely connecting facts about solo sailing, plesiosaurs, and the animal life in Monteray Bay. The episode also trots out the Zuiyo-maru carcass as proof of sea monsters, even though that has been repeatedly proven to be a basking shark.

Flaws aside, “Monster of Monterey” still includes some surprisingly spooky moments. An aerial shot early on shows the monster’s underwater silhouette, unnoticed by anyone, passing beneath the ship. A moment devoted to Sharon climbing around her vessel generates some okay tension, as you know she’ll be knocked into the ocean soon. The episode’s final scene, devoted to the protagonist floating alone in the water, waiting for death to come, is almost chilling. Bright spots like that are what keep me watching this goofy-ass show. [6/10]

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