Saturday, May 7, 2011

There's nothing out there

NetFlix (Not Available) 3/5
Amazon 2 Disc Anniversary DVD (4/5)
IMDB (6/10)
My Rating: 5/10

Various teens played by 30-somethings go into the woods to party and get eaten by a squishy green horseshoe crab in the first self-aware horror film.
I mentioned this in my previous review for Madhouse.  While Scream gets all the attention as being the movie that introduced self-parody to horror, in reality it was this little known flick from a few years earlier.  Sadly, Scream went on to become a major franchise under which we are still suffering, while TNOT's micro-budgeted makeup consigned it to the videostore horror box shelf and thence to the VHS $1 sellout.  And speaking of video stores, damn, but the opening scene of this movie will bring back memories!  A generic killer chases Young Blond Thing through the classic 1989 neighborhood video store, and we're treated to a great visual flashback of covers and titles amid the sound of clattering VHS clamshell boxes.

One has to get past the low rent look.  It's the equivalent of today's digicam projects, with homemade props and friends for actors, but there's a goodly amount of heart and wit in this thing that makes it worth seeing for any monster movie geek with an interest in the obscure.  Because the hook is that it's aware of what it is - In the film, we get two bouncy young couples and their understandably dateless friend Mike, and Mike knows what kind of movie he's in.  You see, Mike is a horror nut - Works in a video store, reads the film mags, and has seen everything ever made that involved bumpy things in the night.  Mike knows the signs.  When our group passes a mysteriously crashed car (with missing driver) on the way to their getaway cabin, Mike recognizes it immediately as The Warning.  The rest of the group laugh this off and the movie progresses, with Mike growing increasingly paranoid and frantic as he spots sign after sign that his Scooby gang has driven right into a horror movie.  While the rest of the group launches into drinking and illicit sex in the woods, Mike knows what to do:

For the first part of the film, Mike grates on the nerves - He's overdoing it and you just want him to hush, but as it progresses (and particularly after the first real LOL fight scene moment), you'll come to cheer for the guy as he rises to the occasion to become the hero.  Unlike that annoying "Rules" guy in Scream, Mike is never condescending of the genre - Scream's Rule Boy radiated smug "I'm cooler than this" snark in his movie-awareness scenes, but Mike is a fountain of both love-of-genre and understandable terror-of-genre.  He doesn't smirk while his friends are getting killed, he makes sure everyone stays together and doesn't walk backwards... and that the lights STAY ON.  In the process, he gets in a number of funny/exasperated comments about the cliches of horror movies:

In fact, the script is full of all sorts of quotable dialog, with most of the zingers going to Mike:

Doreen: You really think there's something out there trying to kill us?
[Something inside the house breaks]
Mike: No, now it may be inside. 

[Stacy is vulnerable to an attack from the creature]
Mike: Is someone paying you to stand by an open window? There are some razor blades in the corner you can play with if you like. 

Doreen: Where's Jim?
Mike: He's melting in the other room. 

The monster itself is a hilarious thing, a sort of stuffed green trash bag with tentacles and teeth, that scuttles around the ground like some carnivorous Roomba using its laser eyes to control victims' minds, its lethal saliva to dissolve them into Slurpies, and its apparent love of catfights to kick off one of the campiest cheesetastic moments as mind-controlled girl and bikini girl battle for the fate of the household. It's a $5 beastie straight out of a 50's Corman opus that's worth a whole popcorn bag to behold, because it has a ton of personality and its wrestling interactions with our characters keep us entertained through the whole second half of the film.  Captain Midnight would approve.

The movie careens through the second half right to one of the greatest endings in the history of horror films, a final moment that will make you laugh and cheer all at once as our survivors demonstrate that they're no longer those vapid slasher-movie characters you've shouted at over the years, splitting up in the woods, dropping their flashlights, and going down to check on that cellar noise alone.

My mid-level review is purely on the basis of things clearly not in the control of the filmmakers - The film quality, the wildly varying acting, and an amateurish unevenness dog down the movie even as its spirit, charm and wit buoy it up.  If you've ever enjoyed an 80's "Cabin in the woods" film or a 50's "Crawling brain on the loose" film, you'll probably find this pastiche of both to be an enjoyable evening's hoot.

Suggested Accompaniment:  I'm tempted to say cigars on this one, since it doesn't seem to be much of a pipe movie, but with one exception - It works as a straight billiard film, if you want to revel in the whole uber-serious drive-in Roger Corman scientist vibe.  You're going to sit there looking just like this:

BUT, if you're like me and have no worries about looking silly, go for it.  I'm also going to call this a cheap wine movie instead of a cheap beer movie - There's just something about it that makes it a good fit for wine-in-a-box, and the lubricating qualities of the alcohol will help ease you through the occasional dull spots and patchy dialog.