Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Friday, September 30, 2016

Halloween 2016: September 30

I am currently in Baltimore for Monster-Mania 35, these updates coming from my hotel room. So there will be no updates tomorrow, the Halloween Horror Fest Blog-a-thon resuming on Sunday. Don't worry. A written convention report and podcast episode will be published soon afterwards. See you on the other side, Halloween faithfuls, and Happy October.

Bride of Chucky (1998)

After “Child’s Play 3,” Don Machini and most everyone else involved assumed the Chucky franchise was over. But “Scream’s” surprise success in 1996 brought with it a renewed interest in everything slasher related. The killer doll would return to life with “Bride of Chucky.” In addition to the new title, Charles Lee Ray would gain a new look, a girlfriend/wife, and the series would totally shift in tone. While not well received by every fan, “Bride of Chucky” would become the most popular entry in the franchise. It may very well be my favorite of these films, thus far.

Tiffany Valentine bribes a police officer, which she then murders, to bring her the tattered remains of a particular Good Guy Doll. Before Charles Lee Ray died the first time, Tiffany was his girlfriend. She’s carried a torch for all these years. After stitching the doll back together, Tiffany revives him. Not all is well though between the two homicidal maniacs and, following an argument, Tiffany ends up inside her own plastic doll body. Chucky remembers a MacGuffin that can restore him to human life, buried with his body. The two murderous playthings hitch a ride with a pair of runaway teenage lovers, traveling across the country and leaving a body count in their wake.

As the title indicates, “Bride of Chucky” ditches Andy Barclay and his childhood phobias. The sequel also abandons all pretenses of being a horror film. Instead, the script turns towards absurdist and often meta comedy. An opening scene features the trademark weapons of other famous slashers. Later, one of Chucky’s victims resembles “Hellraiser’s” Pinhead, a connection the doll comments on. “Bride of Frankenstein” is referenced throughout, sometimes to bittersweet effect. While relating his story, the doll admits that it would take “three or four sequels” to do it justice. When not making cute references to the genre, “Bride of Chucky” is full of amusing silliness. Chucky and Tiffany make chitchat while a victim is smothered to death. Later, a lover’s quarrel about dishes explodes into violence. Martha Stewart becomes a reoccurring joke. The two dolls even toke up at one point. The film takes its premise to its logical conclusion, giving us an intimate look at Chucky and Tiffany’s wedding night.

Considering Brad Dourif has always made Chucky a weirdly relatable character, the franchise’s graduation to full-blown comedy is a natural move. Dourif is just as adapt with absurdist humor as he is with murder-related one-liners. But what of Tiffany, Chucky’s bride? She’s played in human form by a voluptuous and scantily clad Jennifer Tilly, who is perfectly in tune with the film’s goofball wavelength. Tiffany is just as murderous as her husband but also carries with her a romantic streak. Such as when she considers a drive-through wedding chapel sweet. Or when she actually roots for the heroic human lovers. In other words, she makes an amusing foil for the cynical, selfish Chucky. The two are a match made in Hell. Tilly, meanwhile, is just as good a voice actresses as Dourif is.

“Bride of Chucky” would be the break-through English film for Hong Kong action auteur Ronny Yu. Yu brings a stylish approach to the sequel. Much of the scenes are set at night, adding a moody, foggy atmosphere to the feature. Befitting someone who cut his teeth on action films, Yu fills “Bride of Chucky” with creative carnage. A man receives a face full of nails. In a moment stretched out for maximum absurdity, Chucky blows up a friggin’ cop car. Tiffany literally smashes a glass ceiling, sending shards down on the couple below. The film even concludes with a car chase and crash. The use of CGI is sometimes overdone, such as in a dramatic dive from an exploding RV. Yet Yu’s stylish direction makes ‘Bride of Chucky” a good looking film while matching the screenplay’s gleefully silly tone.

While Chucky and Tiffany are clearly the stars of the show, the murderous doll having long since graduated to villain protagonist status, the human cast proves surprisingly likable. Katherine Heigl stars as Jade, the girl running away from a control freak uncle. Nick Stabile is her hunky boyfriend, Jesse. Heigl and Stabile play the material one hundred percent seriously, becoming the straight men to the quipping dolls. Gordon Michael Woolvett is amusing flippant as the couple’s gay best friend. John Ritter, of all people, appears as the asshole uncle. Ritter is very amusing, playing up his mean side. The film happily invites comparison between the teen lovers and the killer dollies, which is another layer of the script’s good-natured comedic streak.

There has always been an element of comedy in the Chucky film. After all, a small doll bringing down grown adults has always been slightly ridiculous, something the previous films would comment on from time to time. By embracing this humorous undercurrent, “Bride of Chucky” successfully revived a series once thought dead. (Yu would next revive two other eighties horror stalwarts, with the equally loopy “Freddy vs. Jason.”) The movie made me laugh a whole bunch, as it keeps the kills and quips coming quickly. [8/10]

Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957)

By the time he made “Attack of the Crab Monsters,” Roger Corman had already directed eleven films. Keep in mind, all of those were produced between 1955 and 1957. The notoriously thrifty and prolific Corman was already an expert at churning out cheaply produced and highly profitable exploitation flicks. “Attack of the Crab Monsters” would be another big hit for him, made for all of 70,000 dollars and grossing over a million at the drive-in market. This kind of success might make you think that the film is some sort of overlooked, B-movie classic. Not quite. Occasionally, a movie about giant radioactive crabs that eat people and adsorb their minds is just as silly as it sounds.

This is the plot, as far as I can decipher. Scientists touch down on an obscure island for two reasons. First off, they are there to study the affect of radiation on the local animal life. Secondly, they’re looking for the previous expedition team, who vanished without a trace. Soon, the motley crew of geologists and biologists get grisly answers to both questions. Giant crab monsters, mutated by nuclear testing, have taken over the island. The same crustaceans have a bad habit of devouring people’s brain, adsorbing their minds in the process. How will our intrepid heroes survive such an insidious threat?

I’ve got no problem with “Attack of the Crab Monsters” being silly. Silly monster movies from the black and white era are my bread and butter. The movie’s ramshackle script is what bothers me. Minutes after touching down on the island, a man ducks his head below the waves. When his body is pulled back up, his head is missing. Gee, you’d think that would be a clear sign that something unusual is up? That our heroes should probably turn back? Nope, they sally forth. Later, people think nothing of strange sounds outside, choosing to dismiss them as wind. Characters disappear and reappear from scene to scene. What the crab monsters plan to do in retaliation against the human invaders also shifts frequently. In one scene, they threaten to blow the island up. In another, a mother crab monster is about to give birth to a whole brood of similarly deadly creatures. In yet another scene, the crabs declare that they will chip away at the island’s foundation, sinking it into the ocean. It’s pretty clear that the film’s plot was made up on the spot.

Which probably didn’t matter much to Roger Corman. After all, he wasn’t in the game to tell coherent stories. He wanted to make a buck. Corman contributes the film’s success to its outrageous title and unforgettably ridiculous monsters. Most B-movies would simply feature giant, radioactive crabs. Corman, meanwhile, mixed it up. Yes, the crab monsters are half human. Every victim they kill is adsorbed into a hive mind. As strange as that sounds, it’s nowhere near as odd as the crab monsters talking. Yep, the crustacean critters psychically speak with human voices, luring victims out into their claws. In one scene, a defeated crab monster vocally chastises the protagonists, letting them know he can grow back his limbs but they can’t. As dumb and hastily assembled as the film is, you’ve got to give Roger points for creativity.

“Attack of the Crab Monsters” only runs a little over an hour long, which is the right length for a film this done. This being a 1950s B-movie, there are quite a few scenes of characters standing around and talking. In truth, there’s very little action here. Several times, the heroes attempt to shock the crabs to death with electricity. Yet the attack scenes are so poorly organized that the effort barely registers. Honestly, a lot of the crab attacks happen off-screen, the audience simply hearing someone scream as they get crunched. Only once or twice does a human interact with the shelled monstrosities. The conclusion is especially underwhelming, a foot chase that leads into an unimpressive sacrifice.

Famously, the titular monsters were constructed from paper mache. It’s said that, in several scenes, you can see the feet of the operators underneath the crude puppets. I wish I liked the movie more. It’s premise is completely nuts but the execution varies between incompetent and boring. Aside from the goofy designs of the monsters, leading lady Pamela Duncan is what I’ll most remember about the movie. Her shapely body is clad in various tight outfits throughout. Corman prodigy Jim Wynorski wanted to remake the movie, seeing potential in its concept, but Roger wouldn’t let him. Apparently, the B-movie baron is fond of this one. That’s a fondness I can’t share. [4/10]

Tales from the Crypt: Confession

I might have mentioned once before about how, for a brief period, “Tales from the Crypt” aired on Fox in a heavily edited form. I can definitely recall seeing “Confession” on that network. The episode revolves around two individuals. Jack Lynch is a hard boiled detective, currently pursuing a series of gruesome serial murders. Someone has been leaving the bodies of prostitutes, sans heads, around the city. Lynch believes he’s found a suspect in Evans, a screenwriter of violent and sexually explicit horror films. During an intense interrogation, it becomes apparent that both men have their secrets.

“Confession’s” script is pretty easy to predict. Not long after appearing on screen, the detective boasts that serial killers often carry souvenirs of their murders around in public. Lynch, meanwhile, always lugs a bowling ball bag around. Gee, I wonder what could be in there? Yet “Confession” is still entertaining, thanks to its cast. Eddie Izzard is amusingly sarcastic as the screenwriter, who frequently boasts of his research skills and industry success. (In a cute meta joke, Evans’ first credit is an episode of “Tales from the Crypt.”) Ciaran Hinds is, meanwhile, likably sweaty and intense as the detective. Watching the two play off each other is rewarding. The writer, occasionally, is more knowledgeable about serial killers then the cop, which leads to several nice moments. It’s a game of wits between the two men and both actors give fun performances. You can see the twist coming but “Confession” is still worth watching. [7/10]

Lost Tapes: Skinwalker

“Lost Tapes” enters the realm of explicitly supernatural monsters with “Skinwalker.” College student Andy Miller returns to his childhood home, a ranch in the Utah countryside. He has two goals. First, he plans on recording the trip, in order to show his girlfriend back on campus. Secondly, he hopes to reconnect with his dad, who is still bitter about the boy abandoning the family business. Dad has lost several sheep to a coyote recently. While hunting for the hungry canine, Andy and his father encounter something very strange. Events which are captured on the boy’s camera.

“Skinwalker” represents “Lost Tapes’” best and worst tendencies. A brief scene devoted to the men driving, surrounded by eerie howls, is genuinely creepy. The required scenes of panic, when Andy runs while swinging his camera, actually ratchets up the tension. The conflict between father and son is standard stuff but slightly more grounded then “Lost Tapes”” usual drama. (Amusingly, Andy’s dad repeatedly asks him to put the camera down.) Sadly, “Skinwalker” still features some goofy moments. All the titular monster does is kill a sheep and traipses around in a wolf skin, which isn’t very scary. The episode’s ending is underwhelming, barely qualifying as a conclusion. Actual experts on Indian mythology are interviewed during the educational segments. Which is fine. But the decision to repeatedly insert stock footage of a growling werewolf is strange. So is the episode’s attempt to connect its story with Skinwalker Ranch, a location of dubious credibility that actually has little to do with skinwalkers. [5/10] 

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