Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Friday, September 23, 2016

Halloween 2016: September 23

Cat’s Eye (1985)

In the mid-eighties, Stephen King inspired stories were big business. For a while, at least two adaptations of the author’s work were hitting theaters every year. So many were being made that it actually became possible for the films to be overlooked. “Cat’s Eye,” released in-between “Firestarter” and “Silver Bullet,” did satisfactory box office and was well reviewed. However, the film isn’t talked about much and is often passed over in favor of the bigger King adaptation. This isn’t fair, as “Cat’s Eye” is a charming little picture that King fans should seek out.

“Cat’s Eye” is an anthology feature, adapting two of the stories from King’s “Night Shift” collection and featuring a third story unique to the film. The only connecting fiber between the tales is an unlucky, traveling cat. The movie’s opening segment is “Quitter’s Inc.” Compulsive smoker Dick is determined to quit his nasty habit. In order to facilitate this, he seeks out the services of Quitter’s Inc. The company is guaranteed to get results. Dick is watched at all hours. His family is threatened. After one relapse, his wife is tortured. Ironically, the stress is really making him want a smoke.

“Cat’s Eye” is not a serious horror film, going for lighter thrills. It begins with jokey references to both “Christine” and “Cujo,” director Lewis Teague’s previous Stephen King adaptation. “Quitter’s Inc.,” meanwhile, is pure black comedy. James Woods’ typically high-strung but frequently sarcastic performance establishes the tone. High-lights include him arguing with a closest and destroying a phone. Though the threats of violence are serious, the manners in which they’re delivered are fallacious. Woods has hallucinations of dancing cigarette boxes at a smoke filled party. A gunman sent to observe his family makes light-hearted comments. Alan King’s performance as the glad-handing councilor is dripping with sardonic amusement. “Quitter’s Inc.” feels a bit like a “Twilight Zone” segment and ends with an appropriately memorable twist.

For its second story, “Cat’s Eye” shifts its location to Atlantic City. In “The Ledge,” we meet Cressner, a mob boss willing to bet on anything. Ex-tennis player Johnny recently got caught with Cressner’s girlfriend. The villain has the athlete kidnapped and decides to play a game. Johnny is forced out onto the eighteen inch wide ledge outside the sky-scraping casino. If he can successfully navigate around the building and return to the window, Cressner will send him on his way with money and the girl. The alternative? Fall to his death on the streets below. But the mob boss doesn’t play fair.

“The Ledge” is a bit more serious then “Quitter’s Inc.,” though it maintains the film’s light tone. The tense set-up, sadistic villain, and ironic ending recalls “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” Kenneth McMillan is amusingly nasty as Cressner. His rigs the challenge by blasting Johnny with a hose, honking a horn in his ear, or tossing a sheet on his head. The obstacles the story puts in Johnny’s way, including a pesky and persistent pigeon, escalates the stakes nicely. The reveal is one of “Cat’s Eyes’” most grisly element but certainly puts a strong exclamation point on the film. The conclusion is easily predicted but is certainly satisfying. The only true weakness with “The Ledge” is Robert Hays’ forgettable protagonist.

The longest segment in “Cat’s Eye” is its last one, “General.” Throughout the film, the cat has been having visions of Amanda, a child actress played by Drew Barrymore. The two finally meet after the cat catches a train to Wilmington, North Carolina. Amanda immediately likes the cat, who she names General, but the mother is suspicious. She’s worried about the old legend of cats stealing children’s breath at night. Amanda insists General sleep with her, as she believes the cat is protecting her from a monster living in the wall. The little girl is right and the cat has to leap into action to save her life.

“General” begins as a traditional story about the give and pull between parent and child. Our alliance is with Amanda, especially since her mom’s reasoning is so silly. Drew Barrymore is more comfortable here in the part of a normal little girl then she was in the previous year’s “Firestarter.” What’s most memorable about “General” is its little monster. A troll, wearing a jester’s hat and carrying a tiny dagger, crawls from the wall at night to suck the breath from the girl’s mouth. The troll design, created by Carlo Rambaldi, interacts with an oversized bedroom set. This is a cool effect while the troll, with his grimacing voice and Frank Welker provided grumbles, is a memorable adversary. The final showdown between General and the troll proceeds with a whimsical edge, nicely walking the line between spooky and goofy.

“Cat’s Eye” is a nice snack for fans of King or eighties horror, assuming you’re on its light-weight wavelength. More funny then scary, “Cat’s Eye” is extensively charming nevertheless. Each of the stories has a nice dose of black comedy but enough macabre twists to fit in with the Halloween season. And General is a pretty cool cat too. [7/10]

Redneck Zombies (1989)

With a title like “Redneck Zombies,” you know what you’re getting into. “Redneck Zombies” is brought to you by Troma, the notorious New Jersey based producers of extremely trashy horror/comedy nonsense. But don’t expect cameos from Toxie, Sgt. Kabukiman or Lloyd Kaufman. “Redneck Zombies” was one of those locally produced flicks that Troma merely picked up for distribution. Yet the association with the studio has brought the film some notoriety, as it was even released on DVD as a “Tromasterpiece.” The film was also an early example of a movie shot on video and released direct to video. Don’t let these factoids fool you. “Redneck Zombies” is not a delightful cult item. It is, instead, an exercise in tedium.

The premise, at the very least, gets right to it. A barrel of radioactive toxic waste is transported across the American south via Jeep. After a vehicular accident involving a dog and a joint, the barrel bounces out of the truck. A local redneck corn farmer gets hold of the barrel. He sells it to another backwoods brood, who transform the barrel into a still for making moonshine. The rednecks then sell the moonshine all over their town. The combination of radiation and booze causes everyone who drinks the concoction to transform into a flesh eating, pasty faced zombie. Chaos ensues.

Though not produced by Troma, “Redneck Zombies” maintains the Troma sensibility. The movie is crude and offensive, filled with gore and obnoxious jokes. It also lacks the social satire and demented wit of the studio’s best films. Instead, the movie double downs on the grotesque redneck shenanigans. The toxic waste is stolen by a morbidly obese hick in overalls, a hideous human the movie focuses on repeatedly. After the hillbillies get a taste of the zombie brew, we’re treated to a slow motion montage of the Southerners blithering on the ground. The colors invert as the camera zooms in on their gyrating mouths, their tongues flapping in the air. A later sequence has one of the film’s heroes freaking out, imagining a painfully long medical presentation, which has him swishing a knife through the air repeatedly. This is in addition to the movie’s sound design and music, which is extremely grating.

In order to meet the required 90 minute run time, the script inserts a bunch of random bullshit. Most of these sequences are obnoxious. Such as an old woman who carries a squealing piglet around or a young mother who shares her moonshine with her baby. Or how about an extended scene devoted to a moonshine client who keeps a duck tape bound woman on his couch and watches footage of chickens being slaughtered on TV? While most of these scenes continue the movie’s stupid, gross streak, occasionally a likable loopy moment emerges. Such as a scene parodying “Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” where a hitchhiker rambles on about his shaving hobby. My favorite moment has two of the rednecks running to meet the Tobacco Man, as if it was an ice cream truck. The Tobacco Man wears a burlap sack on his head, speaks with a demonic voice, others Luciferian bargains, and monologues about the evil in the world. It’s the film’s sole moment of genuinely amusing randomness.

Overall though, “Redneck Zombies” fail miserably as both a horror film and a comedy. Its humor mostly manifests as annoying characters doing annoying things. In the back half, the black lead screams and mugs horribly in a high pitched voice. Two minor characters sit around, watching naked women on television, giggling crudely about titties. There’s some good old fashion homophobia too. Among the soldiers is a flamboyantly gay man. One of the redneck sons insist on being called by a woman’s name, though he shows no other transgender traits. As for the horror, “Redneck Zombies” piles on the crude gore effects. There’s gut munching, flesh tearing, eyeball squishing, head crunching, shotgun murder, and much spraying blood. There’s also some vomit too, if you’re into that. If cheap gruel is all you look for in horror flicks, I guess “Redneck Zombies” will satisfy.

Mostly, I found “Redneck Zombies” to be an incredibly irritating and generally boring experience. The opening credits are packed with obviously fake names like Pericles Lewnes, Zoofoot, Boo Teasedale, and P. Floyd Piranha. (Mr. Piranha also plays one of the rednecks.) This suggests that even the people who made the movie wanted to distance themselves from it. Don’t be fooled by the awesome title or outrageous poster art. “Redneck Zombies” annoys more then it entertains. Maybe Pericles Lewnes should’ve made a movie about the Tobacco Man instead… [3/10]

Tales from the Crypt: Escape

For the first time since season three’s “Yellow,” “Tales from the Crypt” returns to the World War setting. World War II, this time. “Escape” follows Luger, a German deserter who betrayed his fellow Nazis and winds up in a British-run prisoner of war camp. He’s immediately recruited by several other prisoners in their bid to escape. Luger is resistant at first, as he finds the entire war effort to be pointless. Yet when the commanding officer he betrayed winds up in the camp, he suddenly became very eager to get out.

Despite the episode’s inspiration being published in “Vault of Horror,” “Escape” is pretty light on the horror elements. The commanding officer is bandaged up like a mummy, there’s a gory throat slashing, and some caskets play an important role. Despite that, “Escape” is still a decently entertaining episode. Martin Kemp gives a nicely slimy performance as the main character. It’s interesting that Luger is slightly sympathetic – a war deserter willing to intellectualizes his cowardice – without sacrificing his scumbag qualities. (The guy is a Nazi after all.) The escape sequences are fun and the twist ending is very satisfying, paying off on several minor elements laid down earlier in the episode. I enjoy the Cryptkeeper’s military puns in the drill sergeant themed wraparound segments too. [7/10]

Lost Tapes: Swamp Creature

“Lost Tapes” take on the Honey Island Swamp Monster has to jump through some especially convoluted narrative loops. A zoologist, documenting the local alligator population following Hurricane Katrina, takes a trip into the Louisiana swamp with her inexperienced nephew/cameraman. After their cell phones and GPS are snatched by a (seemingly heavily sedated) gator, they get lost wandering through the bayou. The cameraman accidentally stomps through a patch of strange eggs and the two soon discover odd, three-toed foot prints. They stumble upon a Cajun fisherman who refuses to go out after dark, for fear of the monster that is closing in.

In addition to the strangled set-up, “Swamp Creature” is, thus far, the “Lost Tapes” episode most blatantly derivative of other horror films. The characters getting lost in the woods recalls “The Blair Witch Project.” Maybe it’s just because I watched it the other day but a sequence where the heroes are threatened by a Cajun after nearly stealing his boat reminded me of “Southern Comfort.” The monster’s rage being activated by the destruction of its nest brings “Crocodile” to mind. Aside from the derivative qualities, the characters in “Swamp Creature” are broad and annoying. The encounter with the Swamp Monster is far too brief. It appears outside the tent, attacks the fisherman, and then wanders off, leaving its eggs unavenged. For once, the edu-tainment segments are more entertaining, as they focus on alligator facts and real interviews with Honey Island locals. [5/10]

1 comment:

whitsbrain said...

I absolutely love Horror anthologies and Cat's Eye is a pretty good one. I like the unique wrap-around...a spunky little cat, desperate to help a little girl. I think the cat as hero is a really smart way to bring everything together. He's got a bit to do in each story, and it's surprising to see the him used in the first two stories, which were each pulled from Stephen King's short-story collection called "Night Shift".

Any self-respecting Horror fan knows "Night Shift". It was a staple of the 1980's Horror paperback craze. I really like "The Ledge" here. It's the best story, surpassing the last one, an original segment with a mini-troll attacking a little girl (Drew Barrymore) and an adaptation of "Quitters, Inc".

All three of these stories team up to make "Cat's Eye" a good time. It's not scary, it's just a little bit mean-spirited and it's actually quite funny. There is one thing that bugs me about "Cat's Eye" and it's the mother of the little girl in the last segment. She's played by Candy Clark and she is an entirely unlikable character. (6/10) My ranked Horror anthologies, with most and least favorite stores of each movie: