Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Halloween 2016: October 11

Phantasm: Ravager (2016)

When Reggie followed the Tall Man through the dimensional gateway at the end of “Phantasm: Oblivion,” fans – or phans, if you will – had no idea if we’d ever see the characters again. Sixteen years passed. News of a fifth “Phantasm” movie occasionally surfaced but nothing definitive ever emerged. Until two years ago, when “Phantasm: Ravager” was officially announced. The film was already partially shot, with newcomer David Hartman taking over for series creator Don Coscarelli. During “Ravager’s” lengthy post-production, Angus Scrimm passed away, seemingly confirming the new film’s status as the final entry in the series. Now “Ravager” has arrived, allowing fans to judge if the new film lives up to that lofty expectation.

Reggie, ice cream vendor turned defender against the Tall Man, has wandered the wastelands for nearly twenty years. Emerging back into our world, he finds an nearly devastated Earth. Mike, recovered from the wounds he received in “Oblivion,” leads a resistance against the Tall Man’s invasion of our reality. Or, at least, that’s one version of the events Reggie sees. He may still be traveling the back roads of America, having adventures and seducing babes. Or maybe he’s an old man in a nursing home, suffering from dementia. Or maybe all of these things are true and the Tall Man’s influence has extended to multiple realities.

“Ravager” isn’t a straight forward sequel. I suppose that wouldn’t have fit a series built upon dream logic and male adolescent wish fulfillment. The smartest thing “Ravager” does is recenters the franchise’s themes a little bit, after the increasingly action packed sequels. After all, “Phantasm” started out as a dark dream about a teenage boy’s fear of death. In one of the realities we’re presented with, Reggie is a sick old man, facing down his imminent mortality. This suggests that all of “Phantasm” might have been the delusions of a mental patient, a twist totally befitting the series’ style. Seeing Reggie and Mike reminiscence is kind of touching even.

But the post-apocalyptic action is a little more satisfying. Reggie picks up the quad-shotgun again, blasting the Tall Man’s henchmen. Mike fires a rocket launcher at Scrimm’s towering adversary. A new version of the Sentinel sphere appears, spiked balls that explode after stabbing victims. Jody – whose reappearance is not explained – arrives in the ‘Cuda, now covered in armor and chain guns. The most tantalizing aspect are the glimpses we get at the Tall Man’s invasion of Earth. We see grainy footage of colossal spheres decimating cities, unphased by military attack. There are new characters, including a new tough woman and her little person sidekick, but they aren’t very compelling. All of this stuff was clearly created on a low budget. The CGI and green screen effects are quite crude. But it’s still neat, recalling the big action of “Phantasm II.”

Yet “Ravager” also contains some more low key sequences, recalling Coscarelli’s later sequels. If you can call Reggie blasting spheres from the driver’s seat of his Cuda “low key.” These scenes build upon Reggie Bannister’s laid back charm. Seeing the former ice cream man attempt to seduce an unwilling hippy chick, his infamous romantic sway finally running out, is funny. Even when he picks up a guitar and improvises a cheesy song. It also features the sequel’s heaviest horror elements, when the killer sphere converge on Reggie’s new girlfriend’s ranch house. It doesn’t continue the story or fill in the missing gaps. It is kind of fun, mostly thanks to Bannister’s goofy best friend next door appeal.

“Ravager,” however, is ultimately disappointing. The film awkwardly attempts to wrap up the last sequel’s dangling plot point. That whole business about the Tall Man desiring Mike’s power is resolved in one montage. “Oblivion’s” conclusion is clumsily swept away midway through the film. There are some grave sequences devoted to the Tall Man confronting Reggie and his friends. However, it’s clear that Angus Scrimm’s failing health limited his involvement. The Lady in Lavender, despite being heavily featured in the trailers, is brought back for only one sequence. As the end credits draw closer, it’s apparent that David Hartman doesn’t have a definitive ending in mind. “Ravager” briefly builds upon the mythology, providing some vague answers. Instead of wrapping things up, it ends on another sequel hook. This is extremely frustrating.

Maybe making shit up as you go along, no conclusion in mind, is the “Phantasm” way. But surely Coscarelli and Hartman realized this would be Scrimm's last go around as the Tall Man? Without Angus, how can “Phantasm” continue? Look, I wasn’t expecting a definitive answer to everything. Just some sort of resolution. “Ravager” is cheaply produced. When combined with the clearly ramshackle script, it gives the impression of a fan film that somehow reached official status. There are fun moments here. Watching Reggie screw around and fight monsters will always be fun. Ultimately, “Ravager” is unable to stand up against fan expectations. This isn’t the epic conclusion to the Tall Man saga. Maybe we never should’ve expected that. [6/10]

TerrorVision (1986)

Once again, I return to the eighties output of Empire Pictures. When it comes to gooey and goofy creature features made during the Reagan administration, few other studios did it as well. Before creating the “Subspecies” films for Charles Band’s Full Moon Features, Ted Nicolaou wrote and directed this intensely goofy parody of monster movies, satellite TV, and yuppie hedonism. Suitably, many fans would first be exposed to the flick thanks to television. Unreleased on DVD for many years, Scream Factory would finally rescue “TerrorVision,” allowing a new generation to see this goofball cult classic.

The Putterman family have just installed a new satellite link-up for their TV. Parents Stanley and Raquel use the fancy TV set-up as a status symbol, something to impress the couples they bring over for swinging. Youngest son Sherman and his survivalist grandpa use it as escapism, enjoying late night monster movies. Teenage daughter Suzy and her metal head boyfriend prefer MTV. Whatever expectations the family has for the new satellite package, they certainly didn’t expect a tentacled monster to come through the TV and start to eat their heads. Thanks to a mix-up at an intergalactic waste management center, that’s exactly what happens.

As long as you’re on its very silly wavelength, “TerrorVision” has a lot to offer. Let’s look at its monster, referred to as only the Hungry Beast. It’s compared to both a pile of vomit and poo, which are not inappropriate parallels. From the creature’s ravenous mouth emerges multiple tentacles. Some are outfitted with hands, eyeballs, or pinchers that dissolve victims. The Beast can also mimic the appearance of the people it eats. Its crudely animated face twitches while it waits in Jacuzzis or corners, waiting to ambush people. Yet the Hungry Beast is also weirdly cute. In some of “TerrorVision’s” funniest scenes, the teens train the monster to love television. He hangs out with them, wagging his tail, eating fry chicken. The film manages to make a deeply unappealing creatures strangely likable. Even if he still eats people.

“TerrorVision” also, obviously, goofs on television. One of its best reoccurring jokes revolves around Medusa. She’s a late night horror host whose sassy personality and pillowy cleavage are clearly modeled on Elvira. Unlike Cassandra Peterson’s beloved creation, Medusa’s double entendres are sludge hammer crass. Through Medusa’s TV show, “TerrorVision” features clips from classic monster flicks – I spotted “Robot Monster,” “The Giant Claw,” and “Earth Vs. the Flying Saucer” – which contrast nicely against this movie’s status as a more tongue-in-cheek riff. “TerrorVision” isn’t a clear satire about television. It's deepest jab is that people are obsessed with TV. But that’s enough, as Nicolaou is only seeking to poke fun at things, not make critical points about them.

This is clear in how ridiculously exaggerated the characters are. Gerrit Graham and Mary Woronov are hilarious as a deeply sleazy married couple. Woronov has decorated the house in neon colors, paintings of bizarre sexual scenarios decorating the walls. The two are swingers and their attempt to make it with another couple provides some of the film’s silliest laughs. The grandfather, meanwhile, is a military nut, armed to the teeth and living in a bomb-proof bunker. Amusingly, gecko tails – since they grow back – are a great renewable food source. Diane Franklin’s Suzy is the most ridiculous cast member, a New Wave kid whose style is embellished to cartoonish levels. They’re all absurd eighties stereotypes tossed into the same family, their foibles playing nicely off each other.

When the sci-fi plot and parody of eighties excess meet, “TerrorVision” reaches one of its best gag. The conclusion is a bit sudden, as if Nicolaou realized this goofy scenario had played itself out. He was correct, as “TerrorVision” is already a little too long. You’ll probably know if this movie’s for you from the moment you hear the Fibonaccis' brilliant, shrieking synth theme song. (Weirdly, the movie shares its title with a short-lived Lifetime horror anthology series and a British post-punk band of some fame. I’m not familiar with those “TerrorVisions” but I doubt I’ll enjoy them as much.) [7/10]

Masters of Horror: Chocolate

Mick Garris was the organizer behind “Masters of Horror” which meant he got his chance to make an episode, even if his mastery of the genre is debatable. Truthfully, Garris’ “Chocolate” barely qualifies as horror. The episode revolves around Jamie, a recently divorced man who creates artificial flavors for a candy company. His normal life is interrupted when he starts experiencing the feelings and sensations of a strange woman. He sees through her eyes, tastes what she tastes, feels what she feels. Through this psychic connection, he falls in love with her. The one-sided romance takes a dark turn when Jamie witnesses the woman committing murder.

If it wasn’t for the murders, “Chocolate” wouldn’t be horror at all. Instead, it would be a tedious erotic drama. Jamie immediately jumps into bed with a girl he meets at the super market. (She has no deeper affect on the story.) After they make love, he senses the mystery girl having sex. Later, he experiences his dream woman’s masturbation ritual. Following the graphic sex of Argento’s “Jenifer,” you get the impression that these Masters of Horror are dirty old men.

Watching Jamie, played by a maudlin Henry Thomas, track down his dream woman isn’t very interesting. Their confrontation awkwardly lurches towards violence, in a deeply unconvincing fashion. It’s as if Garris knew he had to insert some gore at the end, in order to justify this story appearing on this show. “Chocolate” wastes the few interesting aspects it does have. Matt Frewer, as an aging punk rocker, is relegated to a brief supporting role. An uncomfortable moment, when Jamie’s wife and son walk in on him while he’s enraptured by the woman’s orgasm, builds too quickly towards comedy. The premise is interesting but Garris isn’t the guy to do it justice. [5/10]

Lost Tapes: White River Monster

I don’t know how the “Lost Tapes” producers chose their subjects but Arkansas’ White River Monster seems like an especially obscure creature to feature. The episode revolves around Mac and Tyler, two city boys eager to learn noodling. Which is the dangerous, stupid redneck past time of grabbing giant catfish with your bare hands. Mac decides to record the trip, for some reason. Their fishing guide takes them down the White River. After climbing in, Mac gets his leg stuck in the mud. The other climb in to rescue him. Instead, they get attacked by the Monster. He watches helplessly while the creature, under the waves, picks off his friends.

“Lost Tapes” was improving throughout season two but “White River Monster” represents a big downturn in quality. Setting the entire episode within a short stretch of river was a mistake. The camera is stationary for far too long. When the camera does move, it frantically splashes through the water, giving us brief glimpses at the monster. Which is played by a crude puppet, resembling a giant muskie. The attack scenes are unintentionally funny. The actors shout and shake before diving under the water. The characters are unappealing, being either rednecks or would-be frat bros. The expert interviews are actually more interesting, as they discuss extinct giant fish species and local legends surrounding the monster. Though Loren Coleman’s theory that the White River Monster is a northbound elephant seal seems especially egregious… [3/10]


whitsbrain said...

The 1980's were culture prime-time for me. Much of my teenage, high school and college years were contained within this decade. Not surprisingly, I am fond of many of the Movies and TV of this period.

I think I'd seen TerrorVision before, likely when it first came out in theaters or on VHS way back when. It seemed familiar but I have no idea if I disliked it then as much as I do now.

This is a B-movie. I get it. It's stupid on purpose. But I don't really like when bad movies know that they are bad. I've never liked anything by Troma studios or more recently, The Asylum. TerrorVision wasn't produced by either one, but it's just as rotten.

The only thing that keeps me from scoring this piece of crap as low as I can is Jon Gries as heavy-metal rocker, "O.D.". He's a lot of fun and every laugh I had was supplied by him. Everything and everyone else was lame.(2/10)

Mark said...

Largely agree on Phantasm Ravager. Some neat new ideas, but even though I know we shouldn't expect anything like a pat ending to the series, it still feels a bit anticlimactic. I didn't really read it as a sequel hook at the end though, as Reggie is kinda the heart of the whole thing. Unless they do a prequel, I guess, but that seems like a bad idea. Ultimately, I feel like it holds its own against the sequels, but the original is where it's at, and while the sequels add shading and fun background, they don't add up to too much and the result is essentially the same as the ending of the original...