Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Director Report Card: Larry Clark (2002) Part 1

4. Teenage Caveman

The “Creature Feature” series was a great idea and a total failure. Five monster movies, each a remake of a 1950s sci-fi creature flick from the American International Pictures vaults. Each film was the loosest of remakes, in-name-only, and helmed by edgy, fresh talent. Creature and make-up effects master Stan Winston produced the whole lot and each one prominently featured work from his studio. The films were shown over the period of a month on Cinemax. There was even a series of high quality, detailed action figures. Sadly, most of the movies were pretty shitty and the whole experiment is more-or-less forgotten these days. (I still have the action figures though! Because I’m a nerd!) Weirdly, it was just announced that a new set of producers are going to try the same thing again, producing a third version of “Teenage Caveman!”

Larry Clark, talent that he questionably is, probably isn’t the first name you’d think of to be involved with such a project. No surprise, “Teenage Caveman” is more in line with his sensibilities then what you’d expect from a typical monster movie. So, naturally, we get lots of naked teenage boys and girls having sex, doing drugs, lounging around in their underwear, and getting splattered with blood. The director even manages to sneak in a reference to skate-boarding.

After some sort of apocalyptic cataclysm has destroyed the world as we know it, society has retreated back into caves. The story follows a group of young people, rebelling against the corrupt and asshole-ish adults who control life in the caverns, because some thing’s never change, even after the apocalypse. After David, the default leader of the group, is thrown out of the caves for stabbing his hypocrite dad in the eye, him and five of his friend set out on a journey into the world beyond. Finding the ruins of New York City, the guys and gals are quickly caught in a freak sand storm. They are rescued by a pair of immortals, Neil and Judith, waking up in their swanky apocalypse bunker in their underwear. The two quickly introduce the group to sex, drugs, and alcohol. However, duh duh dun-duh!, their keepers are not what they appear to be.

It probably says a lot about the quality of the rest of the movie that the first thing I think of to compliment is the production design. When living in the caves, everyone dresses in leftover rags from the previous age. Spears and weapons are similarly fashioned. It’s also intriguing that modern religion has survived into this new world. David’s asshole dad, the leader of the cave folk, uses the Bible to manipulate his people and supply himself with fresh virgins. Kids struggling against puritanical parents is hardly a new idea and, in Clark’s hands, probably would have come off as shrill and overdone. However, it still proves more interesting then the movie that follows.

Clark indulges his fetishes to the point where it becomes distracting. When David is expelled from the cave, his punishment is to be striped naked and tied to a post, the camera paying a bit too much attention to his nude chest. When retrieve by the immortals, the young cast wake up in their underwear. The teens spend, more or less, the rest of the movie in various states of undress, totally nude when not in their tighty-whities. An extended dip in a hot tub leads up to what can only be refer to as the orgy scene. The kids snort coke and swill booze before falling on each other. While Clark skips the male frontal nudity, the kids still get a graphic crash course in sexual gymnastics.

Some time after this, “Teenage Caveman” remembers it’s supposes to be a horror movie. Though it’s apparent to the audience immediately, the kids slowly come to realize their hosts aren’t exactly human. Clark takes a quite literal “sex can kill” message here as, following their enthusiastic fucking session with the hosts, some of the teens explode. The special effects in these sequences are awkward, mixing practical effects and CGI in a non-convincing manner. The cast is slowly widdled away, characters getting guts slashed open, heads ripped off, and hearts torn out. Some of these effects, like a decapitated head still blinking, work quite well. Others, like a hand awkwardly getting CGI-shoved through someone’s chest or a normal forehead rippling into a monster brow, look awful. When the Future Mutant finally shows up, looking nothing like the awesome action figure or illustration on the DVD cover, it definitely proves to not be the Stan Winston Studio’s strongest work. Besides, it’s hard to take a Neanderthal monster seriously in tight, shiny, silver pants.

Probably the biggest, though far from the only, problem with the film is its cast. The actors in this are just plain awful. The majority of the kids are indistinct. Heather is the busty redhead. Joshua is black and romantic. Elizabeth is black and sexually adventurous. Vincent (Stephen Jasso, who Clark would use much better in “Ken Park”) is the one who gets a little too excited about the events that follow. The guys do okay, though Jasso overplays it, but both of the girls give awkward, at best, performances. Even the lead kids, Andrew Keegan as David and Tara Subkoff as Sarah, are frequently weak. Keegan bounces back and forth between the noble leader type and as much of a debauched partier as everyone else. Sarah is the virginal one and, I think, supposes to be the reasonable, smart one. However, Subkoff is shrill and, even when it makes sense, comes off as petty and bitchy.

As bad as the kids are, they can’t compare to Richard Hillman and Tiffany Limos as the immortals. Hillman is doing the world’s worse Jason Mewes impersonation. His character is incredibly petty for somebody who has lived for a hundred years. Everyone he does is for stupid, tiny reasons and, by the time he's slashing his unslashable wrists just to feel alive, any chance of him coming off as a realistic, believable character has gone south. Hillman is terrible. Limos is worse. It, honestly, might be one of the worse performances I’ve ever seen. She is stiff and sleepy during most of the movie, barely emoting. Later on, she starts going way over the top. A shouting match between Hillman and Limos is insanely bad and completely laughable. Everything that comes out of Limos’ mouth is terrible.

The script is loaded with holes. The unkillable mutants are never as invulnerable as they claim.  The sound design is especially bad. Every time somebody gets slapped, which occurs a lot, the same overly loud, obviously canned slap sound effect is used. After the tenth time we hear it, I can only assume it was some sort of in-joke on the filmmaker’s behalf. The pacing is, as is sadly typical with Clark, haphazard. After the orgy scene, the director’s interest weans and the movie wanders aimlessly from plot point to plot point. The
resolution is quick and muddled.

Ultimately, it’s clear that sci-fi-horror isn’t Larry Clark’s forte. “Teenage Caveman” is a bore when it isn’t hilariously bad. The pithy tagline is “The Future Sucks.” So does this movie. [Grade: D]

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