Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Halloween 2016: October 3

Seed of Chucky (2004)

By 2004, the Chucky series had transferred fully from slightly funny horror films to absurdist comedies. This tonal shift reached its peek with the fourth sequel, “Seed of Chucky.” Yep, Chucky and Tiffany became parents. With the latest film, series creator and screenwriter Don Machini was moving behind the camera for the first time. The film was his directorial debut. Some fans would say “Seed of Chucky” took the comedic elements too far and the sequel wouldn’t be as successful as the previous entries. Yet, I have to admit, this level of gory silliness is right up my alley.

Five years after slithering out of Tiffany’s plastic womb in the final minutes of “Bride of Chucky,” the off-spring of the murderous dolls is having an existential crisis. Living in the Britain as a ventriloquist’s puppets, he wishes to connect with his missing parents. After seeing news of a movie about Chucky being produced in America, he travels across the globe. He uses magic to bring Chucky and Tiffany back to life, who then name the child Glen. The parents argue over how to raise their progeny. Meanwhile, the two perilous play things conspire to impregnate movie star Jennifer Tilly, who is starring in the Chucky film within this Chucky film.

Glen is, for all intents and purposes, the sequel’s protagonist. The film opens with the doll’s nightmare, a brilliantly shot first person scene devoted to Glen committing murder. Yet Glen, while awake, harbors no violent desires. Manchini’s script gifts the character with a number of bizarre quirks. He constantly pisses his pants. Due to the “Made in Japan” lettering on his wrists, he occasionally adopts Japanese attributes. His eyelid twitches when frightened. Most prominently, Glen’s gender is undecided. Chucky wants a boy. Tiffany, meanwhile, wants a girl and calls the child Glenda. Later in the film, Glenda manifests as a separate personality, a murderous doll clad in a platinum blonde wig. Hobbit actor Billy Boyd voices Glen with his flighty accent, bringing warmth and humor to the role. When playing Glenda, Boyd adopts a hilarious Southern accent, playing the murderous alter ego as a Betty Davis-style psycho biddy.

Yet gifting Chucky and Tiffany with a timid, transgender child is only one of “Seed of Chucky’s” hilariously off-beat decisions. The film is, more or less, a comedy about the doll’s incredibly dysfunctional relationship. After being revived, the two celebrate by decapitating a random dude and kissing in a fountain of blood. However, Tiffany quickly decides to give up murder, a decision Chucky is against. She undergoes a twelve step program to break her addiction to slashing, leading to several hilarious moments. Such as a phone call to the spouse of a former victim or a panicked call to a help hotline. Chucky, meanwhile, sneaks behind his wife’s back and kills. Despite her objections, Tiffany frequently slips up and murders anyway. The death scenes are ridiculously over the top in their gore, with a Britney Spears look-alike driven off the road, John Waters’ face melted with acid, and Redman’s intestine spooling onto the floor. Yet watching the two killer dolls bicker and negotiate marriage is far more entertaining.

Telling the story of a gender fluid doll trying to find his place in the world and the tribulations of being married, psychotic, and made of plastic wasn’t enough for “Seed of Chucky.” Manchini also throws in a meta twist, opening up opportunities for Hollywood satire. In addition to voicing Tiffany, Jennifer Tilly also plays herself... Who is also starring in a movie about Chucky. Tilly’s duel performance is fearless. The fictional Tilly is struggling with her diet and is worried her career is flat-lining. She’s willing to sleep with rapper-turned-filmmaker Redman just to get a role in his Biblical epic. The Hollywood satire is pretty crude and the parallels concerning virgin birth are tenuous. The subplot works best when played for maximum absurdity. Tiffany the doll is, in fact, a big fan of Tilly. While Tilly discusses some strange events with her agent, Tiffany hi-jacks the phone call. Later, she attempts to correct the actress’ life decisions while asking for an autograph. Numerous references to “Bound” are dropped. It’s often hilarious and Tilly shows no shame, embracing the script’s self-awareness.

Not all of “Seed of Chucky’s” goofiness succeeds. A late film kung-fu fight pushes things too far. The puppet effects are the less convincing of the series, with an early shot of Glen running being especially awkward. The script is surprisingly ambitious but its themes about gay acceptance and the pressures of being a woman in Hollywood never combine into a coherent point. Manchini’s direction is sometimes a little flat. Yet “Seed of Chucky” is still a delightfully silly gore comedy, letting the lovably murderous dolls graduate to full-blown characters with neurosis, anxieties, doubts and fears. [7/10]

From Hell It Came (1957)

From time to time, I’ve mentioned the hours I used to spent on the message board. When the topic of ridiculous horror movie monsters came up, which it did with some frequently, “From Hell It Came” was almost always mentioned. In truth, “From Hell It Came” has become something like an in-joke among fans of cheesy fifties monster movies, the film being remembered for its incredibly goofy monster. The title and its image of an angry faced tree creature have always stuck with me. Now the time has come for me to experience “From Hell It Came” myself.

A team of scientists have traveled to an island in the South Seas. They hope to save the natives, from a plague sweeping the island, with their modern medicine. However, the islanders’ superstitious chief is suspicious of the American’s science. The chief has recently executed the tribe’s prince, penning a murder he committed on the innocent boy. Before having a knife driven into his heart, the prince threatens to return from beyond the grave for vengeance. This threat comes true. The prince is reborn as the Tabanga, a tree monster that grows from the ground and seeks out those that wronged him in life.

Fifties sci-fi monsters don’t get much sillier then “From Hell It Came’s” Tabanga. First off, the name is goofy, the nonsense word being repeated often. The concept of a walking, murderous tree is, at the very least, not as threatening as space invaders or giant insects. The suit used to bring the Tabanga to life is comical. It’s so stiff that the actor inside can barely move. When the script calls upon the tree creature to pick people up, the camera has to cut around the suit’s inability to bend over. Most silly is the bug-eyed, pug-faced expression the monster always wears. The film’s treatment of the Tabanga is as ridiculous as its design. The Americans dig the creature up by the roots and perform successful surgery on it, reviving the monster with blood transfusions. When the tree monster wanders off the lab table, nobody seems that startled. The Tabanga disposes of its victims in such a nonchalant manner. He quietly carries them to quicksand or a cliff, stiffly dropping them to their doom. When defeated, it falls backwards like a stunned goat.

The utterly ridiculous monster is not “From Hell It Came’s” sole source of hilarity. The cast is small, mostly composed of the four scientists and a handful of natives. Since “From Hell it Came” was a low budget production from 1957, the monster stuff only occupies about ten minutes of the film’s meager hour and change run time. Instead, the script fills time with banter between the four scientists. These scenes are packed with unintentional comedy.  Linda Watkins plays a Cockney accented colleague to Tod Andrews’ scientist hero. She awkwardly hits on the other guy, makes belabored references to living in the U.K., and blathers endlessly while running from the monster. Andrews and Tina Carver’s heroine have a romance. What’s suppose to play as cute banter instead seems belligerent and hopelessly cheesy. Furthermore, the script’s attempt to justify the clearly magical monster’s existence with talks of “radiation” is baffling.

Rounding out the film’s suite of unintentional hilarity is its deeply racist portrayal of Pacific Islanders. First off, they’re all played by clearly Anglo actors, wearing grass skirts and spray-on tans. They speak in stilted English. Their lives are ruled by superstition. Many of them are in constant opposition to the English-speaking doctors, the villainous chief plotting to murder the intruders. The natives that aren’t planning to kill the Americans are in awe of their advanced science. At the end, an islander even asks one of the scientists to become their new witch doctor. Early on, the heroes discuss how primitive the islanders are, how annoying their drum playing is. The movie really goes out its way to paint anyone who isn’t white as stupid and backwards, if not outright evil. It’s offensive, yeah, but so over-the-top it adds to the film’s comedic value.

I’ve heard some refer to “From Hell It Came” as a boring movie. I guess I can see that, as the plot basically circles back on itself until the conclusion comes. Yet something ridiculous or amusing is happening nearly every minute of the movie. Whether it’s the horribly insensitive portrayal of other races, the dumb ass scientist heroes, a random cat fight, Tina Carver’s goofy sounding screams, or the Tabanga’s frozen face, “From Hell It Came” had me laughing more often then not. And, hey, the movie is barely over an hour, meaning you won’t waste much time watching this lovably dumb flick. [7/10]

Tales from the Crypt: Ear Today… Gone Tomorrow!

The penultimate episode of “Tales from the Crypt” focuses on Glenn, an over-the-hill safe cracker whose skills are suffering because of his hearing loss. Glenn owes a local mob boss quite a bit of money and has nearly been killed by him before. However, the gangster’s moll takes a liking to Glenn. She recently had a cat’s corneas surgically attached to her eyes. Glenn sees her doctor, receiving an owl’s auditory system. He plans to rip off the crime boss but, this being “Tales from the Crypt,” it doesn’t quite work out for him.

Plot wise, “Ear Today… Gone Tomorrow!” takes too long to get to its point. The central story gimmick of animal parts being attached to human parts doesn’t appear until the half-way point. Until then, the episode is about Glenn being threatened with violence or seduced by the mistress. These elements are violent and sexy, respectively, but not very distinct. Once the gene splicing begins, the episode gets a lot better. The cat lady coughs up a fur-ball while in her death throes. Glenn grows an owl’s face, the feathers and beak bursting through his skin like it was an egg shell. Robert Lindsay is entertainingly sweaty as the safe cracker while Gretchen Palmer has a natural sex appeal as the cat woman. It’s a shame the second to last “Tale” takes so long to get going, as its positive elements are easily recommendable. [6/10]

Lost Tapes: Mothman

Mothman is my local monster and my all time favorite cryptic. Which means I had certain expectations the first time I watched the “Lost Tapes” episode devoted to him. Likely to distinguish itself from the earlier Owlman episode, “Mothman” is a period piece. Set in the days before and after the Silver Bridge collapse in 1967, it follows Roy. After seeing the Mothman outside his house, Roy became obsessed, constantly going down to the Ohio River, feeling a sensation of dread emanating from the location. Following the tragedy, Roy is suspected of destroying the bridge by the FBI, who record their interviews with the man.

“Mothman,” disappointingly, barely holds onto the found footage gimmick. During his interrogation by men in black, the episode flashes to images of the Mothman or the Bridge. By cutting between the different footage, it totally shatters the illusion. Christopher Stapleton is quite flat as Roy, certainly not selling the character’s mania well. Building such a cheesy episode of TV around a real life tragedy like the Silver Bridge collapse is in questionable taste. The event lamely happens totally off-screen, signaled by a crashing noise and the camera shaking. “Mothman” also has a fairly thin script. Basically, there’s no more story here then the husband becoming obsessed with the creature, the bridge collapsing, and Roy being interviewed afterwards. About the only thing worth recommending about the episode is a brief sequence where Roy encounters the Mothman in the trees. It’s creepy, a black shape coming into frame before Roy becomes too frightened to move. I wish “Mothman’ had more moments like that and fewer stationary shots of a guy talking. [5/10]

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