Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Saturday, October 6, 2018

Halloween 2018: October 5

Shock Waves (1977)

One of the reasons why the rise of the alt-right Neo-Nazis caught so many people off-guard is because pop culture has turned the Nazis into fantasy villains and jokes. The tenants of National Socialism are so cartoonishly evil and obviously ineffective that, for decades, the Nazi became a bad guy anyone could agree on. Mel Brooks mocked them, “Wolfenstein” made them cannon fodder, and films like “Shock Waves” made Nazis into literally inhuman monsters. Of course, now we understand that dehumanizing these philosophies does not make them any less appealing to certain groups. While many nazisplotation films used the horrors of World War II for salacious thrills, “Shock Waves” would combine the S.S. with another stock movie villain. It helped popularize a new concept in the process: The Nazi zombie.

A group of tourist head out on a Caribbean boat ride, manned by a crusty old captain and a slightly irritated crew. In the middle of the day, a strange haze passes over the boat. All the navigational instruments begin to malfunction. The captain disappears. Lost, the tourists steer the boat towards a seemingly uninhabited island. However, at least one man lives on the island. He claims to be a former Nazi commander. During the war, he led a squad of experimental soldiers. They were men chosen for their brutality and then experimented on until they became unstoppable and undying. The tourists laugh off the old man's words but he tells the truth. Soon, the Totenkorp are stalking them across the island.

“Shock Waves” is one of those horror movies were not a lot happens. There are long scenes devoted to people wandering from one location to the next. Even before the aquatic Nazi zombies show up, the characters are exploring the nearly empty island. They wander around the empty, beached battleship. They search the surrounding jungle and lakes. Even Peter Cushing's Nazi officer gets several scenes of him just walking around, without much direction. The film also perhaps too accurately captures the suntanned feeling of an aimless boat ride. As tedious as much of “Shock Waves” is, it does occasionally capture an eerie feeling. Largely thanks to Richard Eihorn's droning electronic score, scenes of people being stalked by the Nazis, or just wading out through water, do feel a bit creepy.

Something else that impedes my enjoyment of “Shock Waves” is its complete lack of likable characters. Everyone in this movie is so bitchy. Among the ship passengers are a sleazy cook and a bickering old couple. The heroes are fairly indistinct and the personalities that do emerge, such as the claustrophobic guy, are more annoying than anything else. John Carradine's captain is a crotchety old codger. Peter Cushing commands the same level of respect he always does but he's also playing an evil Nazi that gets killed half-way through. The film is actually told in flashback by Brook Adams' heroine, removing much of the suspense. Before the movie even starts, we know who's going to live and who is going to die.

Films before “Shock Waves” mashed up mindless undead ghouls and fascist soldiers that only appear mindless. Such as “The Frozen Dead” and Ralph Bakshi's “Wizards.” However, Ken Wiederhorn's film is likely the only aquatic Nazi zombie movie in existence. The S.S. Totenkorp do make for a memorably unearthly threat. Their skin is pale but spongy, after being underwater for so many years. Wisp of white hair cling to their head. They wear insect-like goggles and faded uniforms, dehumanizing them even further. They walk calmly across the lake beds, silent and weirdly serene in a less-than-natural environment. Seemingly the only way to stop them is to yank those goggles off, since they are sensitive to the light. Otherwise, the undead soldiers are unstoppable. The movie around them might be slow and off-putting but the monsters are effectively spooky.

Despite a languid pace and largely empty story, “Shock Waves” has acquired a cult following over the years. I think the novelty of the premise and the occasional power of its images are primarily responsible for that. Director Wiederhorn would go on to a decent career, directing “Eyes of a Stranger,” “Return of the Living Dead II,” and “Meatballs 2,” which featured a random alien. The film would be a good candidate for a remake, as its premise is dynamite and there's quite a few spooky moments. (The unfinished “Worst Case Scenario” had a similar set-up.) Until then, the original “Shock Waves” stands as an occasionally eerie flick that ultimately isn't quite worth it. [6/10]

Psycho Cop Returns (1993)

1993 would see the release of “Maniac Cop 3,” the final film in the Matt Cordell saga. The same year would, perhaps not coincidentally, see the final adventure of Officer Joe Vickers as well. I guess the “Maniac Cop” and “Psycho Cop” franchises were intertwined until the end. While I had heard almost nothing about the original, a few people have said the sequel is kind of fun. Former podcast co-host JD has, from time-to-time, mentioned enjoying “Psycho Cop Returns” – alternatively known as “Psycho Cop 2” in some markets – when he last saw it. Still, I went into this viewing experience with extremely measured expectations.

Our setting is an office building. Gary is getting married soon and his friends, primarily a guy named Brian and super-nerd Larry, plan to throw him a bachelor party. After their boss leaves for the night, the dudes invite a bunch of strippers upstairs. A wild party ensues. An especially nasty party-crasher soon appears. Officer Joe Vickers, the Satanically empowered Psycho Cop himself, shows up at the office building. The maniacal cop starts to murder everyone he comes across. Soon, only a few people – including working late employee Sharon – are fighting for their lives against the cackling serial killer.

“Psycho Cop Returns” was directed by Adam Rifkin, also known as Rif Coogan. Rifkin has directed some above-ground stuff, like “The Chase” and “Detroit Rock City.” However, his cult movie credits include super weird shit like “The Dark Backward” and sleazy garbage like “The Invisible Maniac.” I don't know what inspired Rifkin to produce a sequel to “Psycho Cop” but he makes the film his own. The stale slasher antics of the original have been replaced with an incredibly doofy and juvenile horror/comedy. The characters are hugely exaggerated. The musical score is full of silly sound effects. The killer cracks multiple puns in every murder scene. Don't get the wrong idea though. “Psycho Cop Returns” is never actually funny, as its humor is too self-consciously corny.

Oh yeah, it's also basically softcore porn too. Rifkin's “The Invisible Maniac” was primarily devoted to showing off naked women. “Psycho Cop Returns” has a similar objective in mind. When the strippers come up-stairs, there's a gratuitously lengthy sequence devoted to them dancing and shaking their jiggly bits. It seriously goes on for about ten minutes. If that didn't get you off, there's also a steamy sex scenes soon afterwards. The women stay half-naked throughout the rest of the movie, even after Officer Vickers starts chasing everyone. Maybe Rifkin should've just made a Skinemax flick, as “Psycho Cop 2's” pace grinds to a halt once the nudity ceases. If the puerile intentions weren't immediately apparent, Julie Strain is credited as the Penthouse Playmate of 1991.

The sequel is available in an R-rated and unrated cut, suggesting that a lot of gore had to be cut. Maybe. There's definitely some red stuff in the movie. Such as a double impalement, a pencil to the eyes, and several goopy head shots. However, there's nothing epically explicit and over-the-top about the mayhem. Which leaves the horror-heads in the audience only one thing to cling to: Bobby Ray Shafer's ridiculous performance. Shafer's delivery has gotten a lot less wooden since the first movie. He delivers a lot of dumb one-liners and cackles mechanically fewer times. Though I would not go so far as to say Shafer gives a good performance, he's at least enjoying mugging for the camera.

Despite being incredibly dumb and sleazy throughout its entire run time, “Psycho Cop Returns” makes a hard turn towards political relevance in its final minutes. Vickers is defeated via a reversal of the Roddy King incident, a cop being videotaped beaten by a group of people. (One of which is black.) Of course, this extremely stupid movie in no way earns that. According to the IMDb trivia section, the entire movie was shot in a week. I bet it was written in a weekend. I'm guessing JD, and anyone else who claims to enjoy this movie, probably first saw it as a kid. That's the only mindset I can imagine enjoying this compilation of boobs, bad puns, half-ass slasher antics, and occasionally distracting gore effects. [4/10]

Tales from the Cryptkeeper: Nature

The simplistically entitled second episode of “Tales from the Cryptkeeper” revolves around brothers Rick and Teddy. Mom and Dad previously gifted the boys with a book about insects. While at a picnic with their parents, they head out to fry some ants with a magnifying glass. Through an unexplained act of magic, the two are shrunk down to minuscule size. The two are abducted into the same ant farm they were terrorizing. They end up following some ants on their quest to grab some sugary sweets. They soon have to brave other bugs, a rambunctious baby sister, and other perils of being as small as an ant.

The second episode of “Tales from the Cryptkeeper” is a lot more heavy-handed with the educational content. While the boys are bug sized, the book full of insect factoids ends up coming in handy. There's a second moral as, after living among the ants for a few hours, the boys learn to respect the natural world. (Plus a third moral, about admitting you love your siblings, is sneaked in as well.) There's also less obviously spooky stuff here. The ants are initially fearsome but the boys soon befriend them, leaving us only with encounters with a harvestman, a cockroach, and a spider to generate fear. It's mild stuff, and mildly amusing, though I guess a kid with a phobia of bugs would be freaked out by this. The Cryptkeeper host segments prove a little more entertaining, as it features plenty of bug-puns and a super cute sequence of a black widow wedding. [5/10]

Forever Knight: Dying for Fame

“Forever Knight” takes on the rock music scene with “Dying for Fame.” Hair-metal rocker Rebecca has courted controversy with her new single, “Fan Kill,” which is –go figure– about murdering her fans. After showing up drunk at a concert, a dead groupie is discovered in Rebecca's hotel, stabbed with the same sort of knife seen in the “Fan Kill” music video. When pressed by Nick and Schanke, she immediately confesses to the crime. Nick is not too sure though, forming a bond with the strung-out rock star. It soon becomes apparent that a conspiracy is circling around the troubled singer, by fans determined to murder her and impostors determined to take over her life.

“Dying for Fame” is a disjointed episode. Rebecca is not a likable character, played in bitchy fashion by Tracey Cook. She is disillusioned with the rock star lifestyle. Yet the audience never learns much about her artistic endeavors, making her seem petulant. What we hear of Rebecca's music is cheesy and mean-spirited. Which makes it difficult to believe she's a popular rock star. The plot surrounding the girl is convoluted. Instead of the traditional flashbacks, “Dying for Fame” has Nick getting swept up in bizarre fantasies. He freaks out in a dinner after mistaking ketchup for blood, sits in a jail cell and is mocked by Lacroix, imagines himself as a rock star, and other odd scenes. Obviously, the episode is trying to get at some deeper themes but the attempt comes off as pretentious and corny. About the only thing I liked about this episode was Schanke's inability to understand modern rock music. [4/10]

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