Posts Tagged ‘cult classics’

Continuing Philadelphia’s grand tradition of outdoor movie fests, Awesomefest presented a double feature of Fright Night and Child’s play.  This was the first time I’ve seen either on the big screen since back in the day when you could take a family of four to the movies without having to take out a second mortgage, and it was a lot of fun.

So how have these two ’80s classics aged?  Well, surprisingly differently.  Fright Night is as flawless now as it was the day it was released, even allowing for the inevitable goofiness the 80s left behind on everything they touched.  (The dance scene in the club, oy.)  Child’s Play, not so much.

The problem is that once you get past the conceit of a killer doll – and let’s face it, after 25 years of the Chucky franchise, we’re all pretty over it – you’d better be able to fall back on the performances to make the movie worth watching.  And the performances in Child’s Play are just bad.  Oh, they are bad.  Chris Sarandon, who knocked the ball out of the park as the smirky and charismatic vampire in Fright Night three years earlier, here can’t get off a convincing line reading to save his life; he sounds (and acts) like he’d rather be doing drain cleaner commercials.  Catherine Hicks seems like she’s doing an okay job at first, but fails so singularly to differentiate her character in Child’s Play from her character in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home that I left the movie convinced that in a couple of years her son was going to die in a tragic accident, leaving her determined to make a new life for herself in California where she will pursue her lifelong interest in marine biology.

As for Alex Vincent, the child actor on whose shoulders and reactions half this movie is carried… well, he was like six years old.  The lesson here is: do not put your movie on the shoulders of a six-year-old.  They can’t actually act and it’s only going to be painful to watch them try.

Not, in fairness, that Fright Night gets away scot-free on the bad acting front.  Amanda Bearse, who did a perfectly good job on Married With Children, here can’t seem to figure out how to recite her lines in a way that won’t make her sound like she’s doing a cold read off cue cards, while Stephen Geoffreys, despite a number of inspired moments, works the Evil Ed schtick far too hard.  (Granted, his try-hardness is half the point of his character, but it’s so unrelentingly cringe-inducing that it distracts from the rest of the film.)  But Fright Night has so many other advantages in the casting department that it almost doesn’t matter: Roddy McDowall of blessed memory, who never met a scene he couldn’t steal; William Ragsdale, who should have had a much bigger career than he’s had, and whose only flaw here is that he doesn’t seem to actually like his girlfriend very much; and even Sarandon gives off sparks every time he’s on-camera.  The energy of the cast draws you in and charms you, where Child’s Play‘s unrelenting lack of energy, charm, or humor just made me tired.

Actually, in retrospect, I’m sort of surprised at how little humor I found in Child’s Play, since snarky black humor courtesy of Chucky is supposed to be the hallmark of the franchise.  It has its moments, and I wasn’t expecting it to actually be horror comedy a la Shaun of the Dead; but an awful lot of the humor seemed to depend on the situational absurdity of a doll doing things like screaming obscenities and stabbing people.  This is a lot like trying to build comedy from children screaming obscenities and stabbing people.  Sure, those things can be funny; but things aren’t inherently funny just because children do them, and they’re not inherently funny just because dolls do them either.  You have to work a little harder for it than that.

So what’s the verdict?  Fright Night gets four stars, and only misses five because it exists in the same universe as The Lost Boys.  Child’s Play gets three stars.  The internet appears confused as to whether or not a Child’s Play reboot is in the works; usually I take a dim view of reboots, but that’s one I’d like to see.  I think there was a lot of creativity in the movie that was hamstrung by a lackluster script and acting so bad that even Brad Dourif couldn’t bring up the average, and I’d like to see someone else give it another try.

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Last night, a film society in Philadelphia held an outdoor double feature amongst the graves of Laurel Hill Cemetery, one of the most hands-down impressive historic cemeteries outside of Père Lachaise.  First up was a home movie from the 1930s that randomly had footage of an exhumation at the cemetery.  (Sadly, this sounds more exciting than it was.  Maybe you had to watch it where you could really see what was going on, and without annoying color commentary from random people.)  The second movie?  Plan 9 From Outer Space.

Oh, Plan 9.  Is it even possible to rate?  On what basis is it even reviewable?  Zero stars for the epic failure in all elements belonging to a movie; five stars for the cult classic status and sheer whack-ass charm.  This is not merely a bad movie.  This is a movie that is so bad that it’s engaging in a way that escapes every schlock filmmaker currently in Hollywood.  Uwe Boll would slit his wrists over a cheap Pier One chalice and offer up six pints of blood to the devil if his movies could keep a mob of people uncomfortably seated on tombstones enthralled right up until the fade to black like this.

For those of you who know the movie exists but don’t actually know what it’s about, the plot (so to speak) is this.  An alien race decides that Earth has gotten too technologically advanced in their weaponry and is now at grave risk of destroying The! Entire! Universe!.  The Tallest of this alien race sends Alien Dude and Alien Chick, resplendent in their silver lamé pajamas, to… well, do something.  I can’t decide whether they want to destroy the Earth or convince every government official to be Facebook friends with them.  I think they tried peaceful contact first but the governments annoyed them so now they’re buzzing Los Angeles with UFOs.

They also have Plan 9.  No, we are not told what happened to plans 1 through 8.  Plan 9, as far as I can tell, consists of raising the dead and eventually having them march on the White House in a sort of Million Zombie March For Peace.  Fortunately, some woman has just died (Vampira, whose unfortunate turn here mostly makes you wonder who decided to bury her in that dress).  Her husband (Bela Lugosi) is grief-stricken for about thirty seconds until he walks in front of a car.

His funeral, by the way, is a comic tour de force rendered all the more sublime by its clear influence on such later film moments as the clown car full of atheists in Jesus Christ: Vampire Hunter and, I don’t know, probably something in The Godfather.  I would tell you about it but I don’t want to spoil it.  Ordinarily I don’t care much about spoilers, but Plan 9 is so full of awesome little gems like this that you really have to come to unawares for their full effect.

Anyway.  The aliens try to control Vampira, Bela Lugosi, and some huge pro-wrestler dude.  They are, um, not good at it.  Eventually they are tracked back to their lair by a posse consisting of Police Lieutenant, Pilot Dude, Idiot Cop, Random Army Guy, and Pilot Dude’s Wife, who is constantly referred to as “the girl” despite the fact that she’s got to be in her 30s.  In the expository scene to end all expository scenes, Alien Dude reveals that humanity is on the verge of building a super weapon that will somehow blow up the sun.  Because of particles.  Then that will destroy everything the sun’s light reaches, which is The! Entire! Universe!.  There was a metaphor about a tennis ball.  I don’t know, Alien Dude’s physics were kind of suspect.  Then he has sort of a nervous breakdown and the UFO randomly catches on fire.

There is not a single moment of this movie that is not staggeringly incompetent, and you will be entranced anyway.  I was genuinely invested in whether or not Idiot Cop was going to manage to get himself killed.  And what was going to befall the adorable tinfoil UFOs.  And whether Vampira would at any point have anything more to do than wandering around with her arms stuck out in front of her and “Do I need to pick up milk at the store?” written all over her face.  And how many times the footage of Bela Lugosi walking through a graveyard would be reused.

This movie is something everyone should experience at least once.  In a graveyard, if you can swing it, with gorgeous monuments towering against the sky all around and the threat of a storm overhead.  That just adds to the ambience.

So what’s the verdict?  Fuck it, I’m giving Plan 9 five stars.  Yes, you heard me.  It’s a jaw-droppingly atrocious movie but a rollicking good time, and I like to reserve the 0-star rating for movies that make me hate humanity.  See it; you won’t be sorry.