Thursday, April 30, 2009

Phantasm II

Note: Despite the fact that “Phantasm” I, III, and IV are out on DVD, you cannot purchase Phantasm II on DVD in the United States. I guess because Universal doesn’t like making money.

So as you read this, realize that I watched it on video in pan and scan on a VCR that hadn’t been used in at least two years. Oh, and the tape was about 20 years old as well. And my remote was dead because of a leaky battery, so to pause and take notes I had to get out of my chair and press buttons by hand.

If Universal sees fit to provide me with a DVD, I will happily take another look at the movie.

For that matter, if Don Coscarelli, easily one of my favorite filmmakers, would like to stop by my house, watch the movie with me, and describe what was missing from each shot when he lost 40% of the screen space, I will provide him with muffins and Strawberry Quick.

Now, on with the show.

The cover of “Phantasm II” boldly declares that “The ball is back!” Which is not unlike selling “Caddyshack II” with the tag line, “Kenny Loggins is back!” It’s accurate, sure, but it’s not the point.

Because The Ball is not the villain. The villain is The Tall Man, and he is cutting a swath of destruction across the country. Or something.

It’s easy to make fun of the way villains often seem to go to ridiculous lengths to achieve mostly undefined goals, but The Tall Man takes the cake. And also several corpses. But we’ll come back to that.

“Phantasm II” sorta-kinda starts back up where “Phantasm” left off. And I say sorta-kinda because it starts off with a blonde girl waking up all of a sudden.

Her first impulse is to check the stove, though it’s unclear what her reasoning is. Perhaps she was concerned she left it on. Or maybe she was hoping that she had made some soup while sleepwalking.

After noting the lack of soup, she opens up a notebook, and we’re treated to a drawing of Reggie and Mike, and also a whooole lot of voiceover. I wrote some of it down, but typing it up isn’t going to help you or me to understand the plot. So we’ll just go with, “This girl has a psychic connection to Mike, and it’ll all make sense later.”

Then we cut back to the closing five minutes of “Phantasm,” as Reggie explains to Mike that Jody is dead, and that they should totally go on a road trip. Mike heads upstairs, encounters The Tall Man, and gets pulled into his mirror.

The movie cuts back downstairs to Reggie, who now looks ten years older, because the actor is ten years older and there is only so much that makeup can do to hide that fact.

Reggie hears the sounds of a struggle upstairs, and runs up to check things out. He sees Mike being pulled out of the closet by a robed and hooded dwarf, and he runs downstairs to get some sort of weapon.

A note before moving on, however. So, apparently, The Tall Man decided to stand in Mike’s room, waiting for him to walk in, having stuffed a couple of his dwarves in the closet just so they could smash through the door and the mirror and pull him in.

Am I the only one who finds this plan astonishingly complicated? We’re approaching sharks-with-lasers-on-their-foreheads territory here.

Back to Reggie, who grabs a shotgun, and tries to load it. Only he’s attacked by one of the dwarves. At this juncture, we learn that “Phantasm II” had an actual makeup budget, because we get to see what the dwarves’ faces look like.

Reggie, it seems, hasn’t quite figured out the best way to use a shotgun yet, so instead of shooting the dwarf, he beats it to death.

He then runs to the kitchen, where he’s confronted by more dwarves than he can beat to death with a stick. He notes that the fireplace is burning away in the living room, and comes up with a cunning plan.

This cunning plan involves him snuffing out all the pilot lights on the stove, then turning the stove on, and waiting for the gas to hit the fireplace.

Then he runs past various and sundry things that want him dead, grabs Mike, and jumps out a window.

At which point the house explodes.

Don’t worry about The Tall Man, though. He’s outside the flaming house, and ready for action.

Only we cut back to the blonde girl again, who is still narrating. Her name is Liz, by the way. So we’ll call her that, because referring to her as The Blonde Girl is going to get irritating.

Either way, she helpfully lets us know, still through voiceover, that The Tall Man has started crossing the country, stealing the dead from graveyards.

Instead of what? Taco Bell?

So now it’s seven years later (um… well, let’s try that again… since that last bit was mostly flashback, as far as Liz is concerned it’s now, and for Reggie and Mike it’s seven years later) and Mike is at Morningside Psychiatric Hospital, noting in voiceover that he’s totally not going to talk crazy while his doctor checks him out.

Out loud, it’s all, “Yeah, I dreamed the whole thing.” In his head, it’s all, “The Tall Man! He’s evil! And Reggie blowed up my house!” He does not say, “And now I’m totally played by a different actor, even though The Tall Man and Reggie are played by the same people!” But he should’ve, because he is.

The doctor lets Mike go, and Mike immediately goes to the graveyard and starts digging up graves. Hopefully this is not typical behavior for the doctor’s patients after he deems them “cured.”

Reggie shows up and reminds Mike that the whole house blowing up thing was only a dream. Mike counters this argument with the fact that he’s already dug up a few graves, which are all empty. He also throws in the fact that he wants to stop The Tall Man, and mentions Liz as well.

Despite all this, Reggie opts not to take Mike back to the hospital. Instead, they get in Reggie’s car and start tooling back to Reggie’s house, while Reggie talks about how all his relatives can’t wait to meet Mike. They’re all currently at Reggie’s house.

Which is too bad for them, as moments later Mike has a vision that the house is going to blow up. And then it does.

At the funeral of every single relative Reggie had, Reggie decides that Mike is right after all, and they head out across the country to find The Tall Man. This means we get even more voiceover, but this time from Reggie.

We get a weapons montage, where the boys break into a hardware store and take a bunch of things. Only they don’t really take them, because Mike pays for them before they leave.

There’s also a strange Do It Yourself component, as Reggie opts to make a four-barreled shotgun, and Mike makes a small but elaborate flamethrower. These will be their primary weapons. Oh, and also a small chainsaw.

Reggie does some more voiceover, noting that The Tall Man is easy to track, because he leaves ghost towns in his wake.

This means that Mike and Reggie are the worst trackers ever, because every time they get to a town it’s been emptied of people, which has to take a while.

They stop at a graveyard that has been totally emptied of bodies. It’s kind of hilarious, because all the graves are empty, but there are no nearby dirt piles. Which means that The Tall Man must have had all the dirt trucked somewhere else after his minions emptied out the graves. He’s clean and organized, I’ll grant him that. Not very efficient, but clean and organized.

Mike and Reggie break into the funeral home with a chainsaw, and split up. Because that’s how you deal with an unstoppable monster – you divide up your forces.

Mike goes to the embalming room, where he finds a dead, naked girl on a table. He turns away, turns back, and the girl is gone.

Reggie calls to him, and he and Mike enter another room where The Tall Man has left a person behind. Mike thinks it’s Liz at first, because he is an idiot. But it turns out to be some other blonde, who has a wormlike creature in her back with a head that looks like The Tall Man’s.

The Tall Man taunts Mike with his very special worm head, telling him, “Come East, if you dare.”

Meanwhile, somewhere in what I guess is the East, Liz, her sister, and her grandmother attend her grandfather’s funeral.

They are the only three people at the funeral who are not the priest or the dudes hauling the coffin around. And Liz’s sister takes off about four seconds after the priest says a few words over the body.

What do you have to do in life to end up with such a sparsely attended funeral? Hardened criminals have more attendants when they get shucked underground. One can only make assumptions about Grandpa’s shadowy past, but you’ve got to figure livestock was involved.

And probably a video camera.

Anyway, the sister takes off, and Liz gets up and goes after her, tracking her through the mausoleum. She sees a dwarf, panics a little bit, and pulls a pin out of her dress.

Through a slightly confusing series of events, she ends up stabbing The Tall Man through the finger. Then she runs away, leaving the pin behind.

Back at the “funeral,” grandma has walked out, so the priest takes a moment to stab grandpa through the heart to keep him from coming back to life. Or something. He’s a little vague about what he hopes to accomplish.

Either way, grandma comes in just in time to see her dead husband take one in the ticker. This will not be important later.

Later that night, the priest sits around drinking, until he hears a noise. He looks out the window, and sees grandpa standing there with a knife in his chest. This is also not important.

Then grandma goes to bed, only to wake up at 3 AM with grandpa in bed next to her. This is semi-important, inasmuch as we never see grandma at full size again.

Back with Mike and Reggie, Mike falls asleep in the car and dreams that he saw the dead girl from the autopsy room hitchhiking. Only when he wakes up, Reggie has picked up a hitchhiker who is, of course, the dead girl. Only she’s less dead. And named Alchemy.

Mike and Reggie stop the car to empty their bladders, and as they do so, Mike explains to Reggie that it’s not safe for Alchemy to be with them. Reggie argues that he’s really lonely. He also throws something in there about how the girl is in danger whether they’re there or not, but at least if she’s with them they can protect her.

But his primary argument is the loneliness. And by loneliness, I mean the loneliness in his pants. Oh, Reggie. Things will not end well for you.

Reggie and Mike and Alchemy keep on driving, and arrive in another ghost town.

Back with Liz, things are not going well. She finds out that grandma has gone missing. The pin she rammed through The Tall Man’s hand is on grandma’s bedside table. Then she goes to grandpa’s grave and finds it empty. So she goes to the funeral home.

Probably to give The Tall Man a thank-you note for returning her pin.

Elsewhere in town, Alchemy leads the boys to her uncle’s bed and breakfast, then can’t figure out why there’s no one there, and the building is boarded up. This despite the fact that every other building in the town in empty. Alchemy is clearly not hitchhiking home from a stint at an Ivy League school.

Reggie chainsaws them into the B and B, and Mike booby-traps it.

Over at the funeral home, Liz appears to wander around aimlessly. This allows her the chance to see a person get embalmed.

Back in the graveyard, Reggie and Michael check out the lay of the land. By which I mean, the dude digging up graves.

Inside the funeral home, Liz has now progressed to the mausoleum, where she passes by the hiding priest. Who I guess saw a living dead guy, freaked out, and opted to go where there were lots more dead guys.

The priest takes a walk down a hallway, tossing blessings at people, when The Tall Man appears, and informs the priest that no one there needs his services. The priest’s rosary then slips around his neck and lifts him into the air, choking him.

Eventually, The Tall Man lets the priest go, and the priest runs.

Behind the priest, a tiny coffin opens up, revealing two silver balls, and one gold ball.

The priest runs into Liz, and explains that The Tall Man has been harvesting the people of the town. This might explain why grandpa’s funeral was so sparsely attended, but I choose to stick with my livestock theory.

But while I’m at it, so, what, Liz didn’t notice that, for example, every single store in the city was closed? How much of a shut-in is this girl? Is she the Emily Dickinson of psychics?

The priest hears a noise, and goes to investigate. The investigation is brought to a close when a ball cuts off his ear, comes back for another pass, sticks in his head, and drains his blood.

The Tall Man grabs Liz, and throws her against a wall.

She lands in a heap on the floor, where she encounters a dwarf. She refers to the dwarf as grandma, but it doesn’t really look like her grandma, so maybe it’s one of those things where her parents had her refer to some old woman as Grandma So-and-So.

Wisely, she opts to run, eventually getting outside and falling into a grave. Where Mike is. There is kissing, despite the fact that they a) are in a grave and b) just met.

So apparently, Reggie is not the only one giving more thought to “loneliness” than survival.

Speaking of Reggie, he shows up, and the three of them head back to the B and B. Once they’re there, Mike lights the fire with his little flamethrower. Minutes later, everyone heads upstairs to get some sleep. Or rather, Mike and Liz head upstairs to get some sleep, and Reggie and Alchemy head upstairs to get some “sleep.”

Mike and Liz engage in some psychic dream talk, which lasts right until there’s an explosion downstairs. A booby-trap has gone off.

Reggie and Mike head downstairs, where they learn that cats can set off booby-traps just as easily as an evil being from another dimension.

Mike undergoes a crisis of faith, which probably isn’t helped by the fact that upstairs, Liz is being snatched from her room by The Tall Man.

The Tall Man throws Liz in the back of the hearse and takes off, and Reggie and Mike give chase in their car. This lasts right up until The Tall Man opts to bump them, and their car flips and explodes, with Reggie and Mike just barely escaping in time.

Back at the funeral home, Liz is strapped to a gurney and taken to the cremation room, where she eventually turns the tables on the minion who has been charged to burn her. I’d feel bad for him, but his inability to, say, shoot Liz in the head before attempting to cremate her is his own fault.

It just goes to show that there’s more than one way that sloppy work can end up with you getting fired. (I’m so sorry about that pun. Really.)

While all that is going on, Reggie and Mike head to the funeral home, where they find the embalming room. Reggie fills the embalming fluid machine with hydrochloric acid, and Mike notes that a nearby “keyhole” looks like it needs a ball to open it.

Which is like saying that all you need to win a million dollars is to survive a headshot with a shotgun.

So the boys split up, because they’ve totally failed to learn to watch each other’s backs over the course of two movies.

Mike locates Liz just as she finishes torching her captor in the crematorium, and they run off, with another minion close behind them. Oh, and a ball. A silver one. Which ends up embedded in the minion’s hand, pinning it to a door.

At which point the gold ball comes out and the minion cuts off his own hand to escape and the ball goes after Mike and Liz.

Mike and Liz run, and the gold ball demonstrates that it has laser powers, can stop and track people, and can sprout teeth all around itself and become a massive saw-drill, which will totally hit you in the back and burrow all through your body.

If you’re a minion, that is. If you’re the hero and there’s still ten minutes to go in a movie, then it can’t hit to you save its life.

Reggie ends up on adventure of his own, which starts with him chainsaw-sword fighting a grave-digging minion, and ends with him using the four-barrel shotgun on four dwarves. Yes, it does hit all of them, and yes, it is pretty awesome.

Reggie, Mike, and Liz all meet up, and Mike take the ball and the minion’s hand out of the door, mumbling something about flesh keeping the spikes out, while preventing the ball from attacking.

Because this is the point where the movie needs some logic, right? Not back with all the grave holes but no dirt to fill them. We need the ball explained.

Elsewhere, the completely forgotten about Alchemy’s car breaks down. So she hotwires and steals The Tall Man’s hearse.

Back with our bumbling heroes, the ball is used as a key, and we get to see barrels with dwarves in them, and a magical gate, just like in the last movie. And just like in the last movie, Mike falls in. As a slight variation on a theme, however, Reggie goes to rescue him, instead of Jody. Because Jody is still dead.

Liz, who was smart enough not to get sucked into the gate, is instead captured by The Tall Man and is strapped to a table for embalming.

Except that Mike and Reggie have escaped from the gate. So Mike throws the “key” ball at The Tall Man, who gets a couple of spikes to the head, and gets to bleed some yellow blood.

This does not kill him. Nor does the worm that pops out of his head.

However, Liz stabbing him with the embalming needle that fills him with a bunch of hydrochloric acid seems to do the trick.

Reggie sets fire to everything.

Liz, Reggie, and Mike all run outside, where they are picked up by Alchemy in the hearse. Convenient, no?

Well, no. Reggie gets up front, and Alchemy starts twirling her hair, which is pretty hot until she pulls off her scalp.

And then the car comes to a stop.

Mike and Liz, who are in the back, get to watch Reggie pound on the window and expire by the side of the road.

At which point, Mike says, “It’s a dream.”

And The Tall Man appears and says, “No, it’s not.”

But what does that guy know? Because seriously, Reggie blew up his house at the start of the movie, and THAT was a dream. I guess. Possibly.

Maybe we’ll find out in Part III.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


The thing about “Phantasm” is, most people only remember little bits and pieces of it.

There’s the ball, of course. And The Tall Man. And that’s about it.

Most people, including myself, remember it as being dreamlike, and somewhat confusing. And that there wasn’t a whole lot of plot, and what was there doesn’t really make a lot of sense.

These things are all lies, at least as far as the first “Phantasm” goes. Unlike, say, most Asian Horror, which just keeps throwing crazy stuff at you until the writer runs out of ideas and the movie comes to an abrupt end, “Phantasm,” more often than not, presents you with explanations of what you’ve been watching.

It’s just that the explanations are kind of goofy. More of an “Ooookaaay,” than an “Oh!”

So let’s go back to the beginning. Erase everything you think you know about Phantasm from your mind. So, yeah, the ball, and The Tall Man.

The Tall Man isn’t in the opening seconds of the movie. No, no. First, we’ve got the word “Phantasm” in big red letters, so that all the people who show up know what they were watching. Which makes sense, because the opening scene is two people having some adult time in a graveyard.

Moments later, they’re done, and the man says, “That was great, baby.” Only I guess it wasn’t so much that way for her, because she stabs him in the heart.

Then we get a few shots where you see the face of the woman doing the stabbing, and then suddenly her face is replaced by The Tall Man. Which I imagine is the last thing you would want to see before you die.

Anyway, the man with the knife through his heart was named Tommy, which is important. So remember that. Think of the rock opera if you have to. Just remember that the pinball wizard got it in the heart.

Next scene.

Tommy’s funeral. We meet Jody and Reggie. Who are both dudes. Who also have names that end in an e sound. Not quite sure what to make of that.

There’s some dialogue, wherein we learn that Tommy’s friends think he killed himself. And also, Jody’s parents are dead, and his brother Michael is really broken up about it, even after two years, which is why he’s not at Tommy’s funeral.

Only he is, because he totally road to the graveyard on his… motorcycle? Dirt bike? I dunno. It’s smaller than a motorcycle, but it has an engine. I’m just going to say bike from now on.

Anyway, both Michael and Jody hear funny noises in the graveyard and mausoleum respectively.

Eventually, the funeral comes to an end, and everyone except Michael leaves. So he’s the lucky boy who gets to see The Tall Man pick up Tommy’s casket and shove it into the back of the hearse.

So Michael goes to visit a psychic. Really. With a sign hanging up outside that has a red palm on it. This is the part I’m talking about that no one remembers.

Michael goes in, and talks with the psychic and her granddaughter. By which I mean he talks out loud, and the granddaughter answers his questions. We get a flashback to Jody saying he was planning on taking off and leaving Michael, and then we get a flashback to The Tall Man picking up the coffin and stuffing it in the back of the hearse. Because it’s been nearly three minutes since we’ve seen that.

Then a box appears on the table and Michael is told to put his hand into it. He goes, and he notes that it hurts, and we get a whole thing about how the fear is in Michael’s mind, and he must not fear. What he’s not supposed to fear is up for grabs, but I’m guessing it’s the box.

So Michael stops being afraid of magically appearing boxes, and the box lets him go free, and we all learn a valuable lesson about not trusting psychics. And that the guy who wrote “Dune” must not be all that litigious.

Elsewhere, Jody and Reggie jam on some guitars.

Come to think of it, they’re remarkably chipper for a couple of guys who lost a good friend recently.

Later that evening, the psychic’s granddaughter heads on over to the funeral home. She wanders through the mausoleum for a bit, and then opens a door, sees a light, and screams.

And we never see that character ever again.

Or her grandma. So I hope you weren’t too attached.

Jody heads out to a bar, with Michael following along behind him. This is a running theme. We’re kind of given explanations about how Michael follows Jody around, but interestingly we never get a direct statement about why he’s doing it. I suppose it could be he’s afraid of losing Jody, or that Jody is just going to take off and leave him in the care of child protection services, but really… what is Jody’s deal?

I mean, his friend just died, right? Why isn’t he more upset? For that matter, why is he taking the line that it was a suicide?

“Oh yeah, we found your friend in the graveyard with his pants around his ankles, and a hole in his chest, but we couldn’t find a knife. We’re ruling it a suicide.”

“He always said he wanted to go out that way…”

Maybe that’s a deleted scene.

Jody meets a blonde at the bar, they share a beer, and then she leads him towards the graveyard to drown his troubles in… um… you know.

Michael continues to watch from behind a tree. Icky.

This lasts right up until Michael hears a noise in the bushes behind him, and a dwarf wearing a brown hooded robe appears and chases Michael.

Michael runs away, in the process zipping past Jody, who has the girl’s underwear in his mouth. Jody apologizes and goes to chase after Michael, leaving the girl only slightly more disappointed than she would have been had things continued.

Jody sends Michael home, where Michael dreams that his bed has been transplanted to the graveyard, The Tall Man is standing over him, and hands are reaching up from the ground to grab him. I’m sure it’s a metaphor of some kind, but you know how dreams are.

After dealing with Michael, Jody heads back to the graveyard, where he finds that the girl is no longer there. Which prevents him from being ruled a suicide who had his pants around his ankles, underpants in his mouth, and a hole in his sternum.

The next day, Michael goes for a talk downtown, where he sees The Tall Man walking along. The Tall Man stops by Reggie’s ice cream truck and sniffs the air. Creepy? Sure! But I have no idea if he was smelling Reggie, Michael, or fifteen pounds of frostbitten vanilla.

Later, Michael lying under his brother’s car, doing… some sort of maintenance thing. He sees dwarf legs go scampering by, and the car is dropped off of its supports, trapping Michael.

Until the next scene, wherein Jody frees Michael.

Michael tells Jody how he ended up stuck under a car, but Jody doesn’t buy it.

So Michael, who can fix cars but is not smart enough to keep away from places you could easily be killed, heads back to the cemetery. Which is called Morningside, by the way.

Michael breaks a window and sneaks into the funeral home, and then goes on a sneaking around tour of the building. He’s almost caught by a minion of The Tall Man, only he escapes by hiding in a casket.

A smarter kid would take this as a clue to run to safety, but not our Michael. Instead, he goes for a walk in the mausoleum, which is going great right up until a shiny silver ball comes flying through the air.

Michael makes a run for it, only he’s caught by the minion. So Michael bites him, escapes from his grasp, and the audience gets to see what happens when a shining metal object with spikes on the front of it plunges right into a minion’s head.

Did I mention that a drill comes out of the ball once it’s stuck on the minion’s head? And that it bores right into his skull? At which point blood comes flowing out of a hole in the back of the ball? No?

I’ll remember to mention that next time.

The minion becomes dead. Or more dead. Or possibly a different kind of dead. Who knows? Death is kind of a fast and loose thing in the “Phantasm” universe.

The Tall Man appears in the hallway and Michael leads him on a merry chase. That is, until Michael runs through a door, slams the door on The Tall Man’s fingers, hacks off those fingers with a hunting knife, and then takes one of the yellow-blood-bleeding, still-moving fingers and runs off with it.

Michael escapes through the window he broke earlier, but loses a shoe to an angry dwarf in a robe. As far as I can tell, the lost shoe is not important.

The next morning, Jody finds Michael sleeping on the stairs with a loaded shotgun. His sole reaction is to carefully take the shotgun away and unload it. He is probably the worst brother ever.

Michael shows Jody his brand new “box-o-finger,” which contains the still-moving finger and some yellow blood. This finally convinces Jody that something strange is going on. Michael tells him the whole story, including the bit about the fact that The Tall Man can lift an entire not-empty coffin all on his own.

Finally, someone in the movie makes a smart decision, and Jody tells Michael to get the severed finger – they’re going to take it to the cops.

Michael goes to his room to get the “box-o-finger,” only it’s stopped moving. So he opens the box, not realizing that this is a very bad idea.

A giant bug leaps out.

There is running and screaming and Jody and Michael stuff the bug down the garbage disposal.

Then Reggie shows up, the bug pops out of the disposal, and there’s some more running and screaming and the bug is stuffed down the disposal again.

Reggie demands an explanation.

Then I guess he figures, you know, whatever, and leaves. Because the next scene is Jody loading a shotgun and handing it to Michael, with the advice: “Don’t shoot a man unless you intend to kill him.”

I was going to make a snide remark here about how maybe he should give his brother some more generally practical advice. Maybe about how to properly treat women. But then I thought better of it. This is clearly all Jody has to give.

Then Jody heads to the funeral home alone. He sneaks into the still-broken window, and is pretty much immediately attacked by a dwarf. He shoots the dwarf four times and makes a run for it.

As he escapes the front gate of the cemetery, The Tall Man’s hearse races up behind him. He gets out of the way, and the hearse goes screaming past him.

Then another set of headlights appears, and comes towards him. It’s Michael, who is driving Jody’s car.

They race off, with the hearse in hot pursuit. There is some gunfire, and the hearse rides off the road and crashes into a tree.

The boys walk over to check out who was driving the hearse, and they discover it was a dwarf. In a hooded robe. Like all the other dwarves. Only this time, they pull the hood back and reveal that the hooded dwarf is Tommy!

You remember Tommy, right? Stabbed in the heart at the start of the movie? Yeah. Him. Only he’s about three feet tall now. And he bleeds yellow.

Reggie shows up. I guess they called him on their 1979-era cell phone. No matter. They stick Tommy’s body into the ice cream truck. Because Tommy loved ice cream. He would have wanted it that way.

They all drive back to Jody and Michael’s house, and Reggie is startled by Myrtle the housekeeper. Who either works really late nights or really early in the morning. Regardless, I’d be suspicious of her, even if her existence does explain how two teenage boys can keep such a clean household. In real life, there would probably be a bucket in the living room so they could poop there if they felt the urge to go during a particularly exciting TV program.

The three guys discuss the dwarves, and wonder aloud if Michael and Jody’s parents are dwarves now. This culminates in the two older guys taking Michael to visit their friend Sally, who runs an antiques place.

At the antiques place, Michael finds an old photo of Morningside. A photo with The Tall Man in it. A photo with The Tall Man in it where the picture moves, and also he’s driving a horse and buggy, so you know how old the picture is.

Michael demands to be taken back to his brother.

Jody, meanwhile, falls asleep and dreams he’s in the mausoleum being attacked by dwarves. This dream is, of course, about his inability to commit to a relationship.

Reggie, also meanwhile, is driving his ice cream truck along when he hears thumping in the back that is likely his dead dwarf friend coming back to life and preparing to lay the smack down on someone.

Michael, Sally, and another girl, also also meanwhile, are driving along the road, when they see Reggie’s overturned ice cream truck. Michael investigates, and the girls don’t stop him, because they figure if he wants to approach an overturned ice cream truck, well, that’s his problem.

Michael gets back in the car, and the dwarves attack. After much fighting, Michael is shoved out the back window, and he runs home. He tells Jody that the two girls and Reggie are missing, and Jody decides to lock Michael in his room.

Then Jody heads out to Morningside. Again. Because things went so well the last time he tried that alone.

Michael escapes from his room using a hammer, a tack, some tape, and a shotgun shell, and runs downstairs. Upon throwing open the front door, he discovers The Tall Man, who says, “I’ve been waiting for you.”

Then he grabs Michael and throws him in the back of the hearse.

They go to Morningside. As they pull into the gate, Michael pulls a loaded gun out of his pocket, shoots out the back window, and then shoots out the hearse’s back tire.

He jumps out the window and the hearse explodes.

Jody, who is down in the mausoleum, pulls his dad’s coffin out of the wall. Then we get a shot of the room with a red filter, which can only mean one thing: Ball Cam.

Michael also enters the mausoleum, and also finds his dad’s casket, and he opens it up and discovers that his dad is missing. This will have no repercussions later in the movie.

Jody shows up and shoots a ball out of the air.

Reggie shows up and says he found their female friends and a bunch of other girls and led them to safety.

They all head down the hall to the door where the gypsy woman’s granddaughter (Remember her? Doesn’t that seems like two movies ago?) was last seen.

They go in, and they find a bunch of barrels with dwarves in them, and also two metal poles in the middle of the floor. The metal poles make a whining sound, and if you’re like Michael (curious, and not real bright) you’ll discover that if you walk between them you can enter another dimension, where a bunch of dwarves are wandering the desert.

And this is where the exposition comes in, as Michael explains that he dwarves are slaves, and that the reason they’re short is they’ve been crushed down to handle the gravity on the other planet he just got a peek-see of.

Michael also mentions “the heat,” because as we all know, shorter people have a special cooling mechanism that isn’t found in the DNA of tall folks.

At this point, the lights go out.

Jody ends up outside.

Michael also ends up outside, but out of eye and earshot of Jody.

Reggie is still in the room. He decides to play with the two metal poles, and he discovers that by pressing on the top of them, the noise they make stops. At which point the room becomes a wind tunnel which attempts to suck you between the bars and into another dimension.

Reggie escapes and gets outside, where he is stabbed through the heart by the girl who killed Tommy. Sadly, he doesn’t get to underwhelm her with his bedside manner first.

Jody locates Michael, and they both locate Reggie, figure he’s dead, and make a run for it.

Back at the house, Jody talks about an old mine shaft, and figures that perhaps they can lure The Tall Man into it. Despite the fact that the last time he left Michael alone in the house, Michael was captured by The Tall Man, Jody opts to leave Michael in the house again so that Jody can go disguise the old mine shaft.

As a lemonade stand, perhaps?

No matter. The minute Jody is out of the house, The Tall Man appears and starts chasing Michael. There’s a bunch of running, and a lot of Michael talking about not fearing, but the long and short of it is that Michael tricks The Tall Man into falling down a mineshaft. At which point Jody drops a bunch of rocks on top of it, so The Tall Man can’t get out.

Then Michael wakes up, and we find out that Jody died in a car wreck, and Reggie is taking care of him. Man, I would hate to be Michael’s social worker.

Or maybe it wouldn’t bother me that much, because in the next scene Michael walks into his room, and we see The Tall Man reflected in his mirror. Or rather, we see The Tall Man’s reflection for about a second, and then a pair of hands break through the mirror and pull Michael into the dark.

Which officially makes Reggie the worst babysitter/guardian ever.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Return to Sleepaway Camp

And here we are at the end, once again faced with a dilemma.

When we last left Angela, she was standing on a beach in the buff looking all crazy… unless, of course, you watched “Sleepaway Camp 2” and “Sleepaway Camp 3.” In which case we left Angela in the back of an ambulance. Oh, and also, she really was a she, having gone through elective surgery to make it so.

But forget all that, because yes indeed kids – as far as “Return to Sleepaway Camp” is concerned, parts 2 and 3 never happened.

In one way, this is a good thing. It means that instead of being a movie wherein a lot of random teenagers with loose morals die, instead we get an element of mystery.

That element of mystery is, of course, WHO is killing people, and why?

Which brings us back to our dilemma.

Discussing the ending of the original movie is, ultimately, more or less okay now. After all, it’s been more than twenty years and two major video formats since it came out. So if you haven’t seen it, the onus is pretty much on you.

On the other hand, “Return to Sleepaway Camp” is a fairly recent film. So revealing who the killer is, their motivation for killing, and whether or not we’ve met the killer before feels somewhat unfair to me.

So I’m going to sidestep the problem. Once again, if you wanna see this movie, walk away now, because I’m going to reveal who does the killing. What I’m not going to do, however, is explain the big reveal.

Okay, ready? Here we go. No turning back: Angela did it.

Trust me. You think you know everything now, but you know nothing. Nothing!

(And I’ll totally revise this if they make another sequel, and tell all.)

All right. Here’s how “Return to Sleepaway Camp” goes.

The movie fires up with a credit sequence that features various newspaper headlines, which bring you up to speed. Don’t worry about reading them too closely, though, because everything gets handled in exposition later.

Then the movie fires up literally as (yes, really) we start off at camp with a bunch of boys who are torching their own methane.

Moments later, Alan walks into the cabin. Alan is a rather large boy who is also kind of bully. Oh, and he’s also a total martyr, who whines and cries whenever someone hassles him.

This is our hero, folks. Hope you like him, ‘cause he’s all you get.

He wants to play too, only the other guys start hassling him, at which point he takes a lighter and a can of hairspray and gets ready to go to town.

At the moment, however, a British counselor, Randy, shows up and disarms Alan. Why mention that he’s British? Because the dude is British. It’s weird, frankly. I went to a lot of camps as a kid, and I have to say that the closest I ever got to an exotic accent were a couple of Canadian counselors. And I live in Wisconsin.

Plus, I think if you’re from the U.K. you need a special work permit in the States, which says that you’re an expert in something, and you can only work in that one thing. So this fellow had to write that he was an expert camp counselor on his paperwork.

Probably not the best use of government resources, filling out this guy’s work VISA.

Alan runs off, and Randy says, ominously, “He’ll get his boys, he’ll get his.”

So maybe that was meant to be a red herring? Or is it foreshadowing a later scene, where… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Okay, it’s morning, and at the main eatin’ place, and Frank, who owns the place, stands up, gets everyone’s attention, and then tells them a cop is going to talk to them about the dangers of smoking.

The cop is actually Sheriff Jerry, who talks using one of those things you jam up against your throat when cancer has rotted your talking bits away. There’s some laughter and derision, though it’s all pointed at the cop’s voice, instead of his astonishingly fake beard.

Back at the breakfast table, we learn that Alan has a brother and a crush on a girl. Oh, and he doesn’t like the food, which leads to a knock-down, drag-out fight with Randy.

Alan is escorted to the kitchen, where he asks the Chef if he can have something else to eat. The Chef says he’s headed out, and directs Alan to talk to Mickey, the other cook. Heated words are exchanged. Alan takes some ice cream, and in a fit of rage Mickey eggs him.

Yep. He throws an egg and hits Alan. Really.

Then Alan throws a pan. Followed by a pretty large kitchen knife, which sticks into the wall.

The fight is brought to an abrupt halt, and in a running theme (pardon the upcoming pun) Alan runs away (I said I was sorry! Leave me alone!).

Michael, Alan’s brother, is sent to find Alan. Michael, it should be noted, goes out of his way to state that Alan is just his step-brother. Which is guess it what makes it possible for him to take a mallet and… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Michael confronts Alan, and angry words fly back and forth. Alan notes that, “They don’t care that I was sick once…” which I suppose could be a red herring, or possibly a plot point, but if that information is important later, I didn’t notice.

Alan and Michael fight. Michael’s knife comes out, and ends up in Alan’s hand. Michael looks wary for a moment, then grabs the knife from Alan.

By the by, somewhere in the whole argument/conversation, Alan reveals that he really loves the frogs by the lake, and considers them his friends.

Back in the kitchen, the cook is making himself a burger and some fries for dinner. He stands, cleaning the fryer, and guess what? First victim.

Long, suspenseful sequence, too, with a black-clad assailant lifting the cook up higher and higher, suspending him over the fryer, not quite getting him into the hot oil. It’s pretty brutal. A complete 180 from the last two films.

And then: Ronnie is back! Yes, the meathead from the original who had the privilege of seeing Angela’s man-bits is working for the camp, and we’ll discover later that he’s also part owner. This information doesn’t lead to anything.

Subsequently, at first I was going to say that the scene had no purpose – it’s essentially Ronnie, Frank, and The Chef talking about the fact that Mickey needs to be let go – but then I remembered that after Mickey got boiled in oil, he was also bagged up and thrown into a dumpster.

So really, this scene is explaining why no on goes looking for Mickey later. It does not, however, explain where The Chef goes after this. The Chef, by the way, is played by Isaac Hayes, and I will pause for a moment here so that you may come up with your own joke.

Either way, movie, you used your scenes in a logical manner. I’m sorry I doubted you.

The next night finds everyone in the gymnasium which, it must be mentioned, also has a large stage on one side of it that’s usually hidden behind a curtain. I’m telling you this now because it plays into some later sequences, and I don’t want to have to explain it then.

Just remember: Gym. Stage. Behind curtain. Lock that down in your brain.


Behind the curtain, two stoners are making a “joint” using cow manure. They are not smoking it. No, indeed. They are intending to use it for a hilarious practical joke which will most certainly not end up with one of them being dead.

In the gym, Alan shows up, he tries to hit on the girl he likes, and we learn that he smells bad and hasn’t changed his shirt since the night before.

As near as I can tell, he never changes his shirt during most or all of the course of this film. So let’s just add that to things to remember. Gym. Stage. Behind curtain. Dirty shirt.

Eventually, Alan gets into a fight with one of the other boys, which ends with Alan being thrown out. So Alan goes backstage, encounters the stoners, and is given a very special joint to take a few pulls from.

Alan smokes, then does some retching. More kids head backstage where they give Alan a hard time and a very special nickname, which I’m just not going to get into. Really. It’s not worth your time. Moving on.

A counselor named Petey shows up to rescue Alan, with Ronnie tagging along for moral support. Or something. It’s not important. Just remember, Petey and then Ronnie. Add that to the list above.

We’ve building a clue list here, people. Keep your head in the game.

Later, we encounter the two stoners and a couple of girls on the beach, where they’re sitting down while lighting up. The two girls decide to take off, as does one of the stoners, who feels like abandoning his buddy to a hideous fate.

The remaining stoner passes out, more or less, and here comes our friend all dressed in black. The man in black ties the stoner to the chair, forces him to drink a bunch of gasoline, and then makes him take a toke.

The stoner explodes, something I am sure is impossible, but what do I know? It’s not like I’ve had a lot of experience with stoners and pyrotechnics.

At this point, Ronnie, Frank, and cancer-cop show up. Ronnie explains that he has a bad feeling about the exploding stoner, because if there’s another reaction to have to something like that, I don’t know what it is.

No, I’m sorry. What I mean to say is that it reminds him of when dude-girl killed a bunch of people years ago.

The three stooges then chew through a quick explanation of what happened in the first movie, for all the people who rented “Return to Sleepaway Camp” who are juuust starting to suspect that it is not a sequel to the Disney Sunday Movie they saw back in the early 90s.

We do get one interesting bit of information, however – Angela’s cousin Ricky is still alive, and living nearby.

But we’re going to ignore that for the moment, and cut to the next day, where the girls are all playing croquet.

Alan runs up and starts kicking everyone’s balls around (joke to be filled in later goes here). He refuses to stop until Karen says she’ll meet him at his “secret” spot, which she later finds without, say, getting directions from Alan. Who obviously doesn’t understand what the word “secret” means.

Karen finally agrees to meet up with him, but she wants to bring a friend.

You might be thinking, “I’ll bet that’s important later.” Nope.

Alan then runs off to catch up with the boys, who are all playing paintball. This ends with everyone on both teams shooting him. What the movie is trying to convey is that he has a popularity problem.

Also worth mentioning: Still hasn’t changed his shirt.

Cancer-cop goes to visit Ricky. Exposition happens, mostly revolving around whether or not Angela is girl or a guy, and we learn that Ricky is a surprisingly good actor, seeing as how he only had one role between “Sleepaway Camp” and “Return to Sleepaway Camp.”

Long story short, Angela has been locked up since the end of the first movie. This must be one of those alternate timelines they talk about in “Back to the Future Part II.”

By the lake, Karen and pal go to visit Alan, who still hasn’t changed his now paint-covered shirt. Things are going poorly when, suddenly, dead skinned frogs start to appear.

Karen figures there’s something wrong with Alan (er… wrong-er) and she runs. A couple of dudes come out of the woods brandishing a knife and talking about frog-skinning. Alan says, “I hate you so bad…” and takes off after Karen.

He catches up to her on the dock, and after some yelling, Randy shows up and has a bunch of boys give Alan a wedgie that ends with his underwear being ripped in half and Alan flying into the lake.

Petey comes to his rescue again. And they run into Ronnie again.

Later, all the kids try to get Karen to pull a prank on Alan, because the fact that the stoner guy is WAY dead will never deter them from continuing their hijinks. Karen thinks this is a bad idea. It does not prevent her from doing it anyway.

On the other side of camp, Frank, camp owner, has discovered that his talking bird now says bad things that only Alan says. So he goes to confront Alan.

Over at the canteen, Alan hassles some geeks so he can get through the candy line faster, and a girl spitballs him. Alan throws a cup of soda on her. Frank shows up in the nick of time, and prevents Alan taking a beating from a girl.

Alan runs away. Again.

He runs out the door and sees Karen, who says that a bunch of girls are playing spin the bottle and that he’s been invited to join what until this moment was apparently a gathering of hedonistic Sapphic love.

Alan says yes, and ends up backstage. Remember that place? Just a curtain separating it from the gym?

Results: Alan on the stage in his underpants.

Petey saves him again. Ronnie shows up moments later, again.

This finally pays off with Ronnie yelling that, “It’s not Petey, it’s PETER!” Because he figures Petey is the artist formerly known as Angela back when she was a boy.

Cancer-cop shows up again, because they probably just have buttons all over the camp that someone presses when they need an officer of the law, like, right now.

A bunch of kids in the woods taunt Alan, who opts to try the “running and screaming,” method of escape. Ronnie goes after him. (Why does Ronnie never catch him? The dude is buff. Freaky buff. And Alan, as previously mentioned, is a little on the heavy side. Plus he leaves behind that miasma, which you could probably follow…)

Back at Frank’s, things aren’t looking too good for old Frankie. By which I mean his bird is pulled out of its cage, Frank is tied to a chair, the cage is bolted around his head, and some rats are shoved into the cage.

Meanwhile, all the girls go out for ice cream, to help Karen feel better about pushing Alan over the edge of the cliffs of insanity. As the girls head out, the scene culminates in a menacing shot of the black-clad killer. Things are going to end badly for someone.

Randy the counselor takes his special lady, Linda, out into the woods for some pine-needles-in-a-bad-place action, only first he makes her go get some blankets and beer while he relieves himself.

One minute later, he ends up tied to a tree with fishing wire looped about his manly bits. Oh, and the other end is tied to his jeep, which Linda, once frightened, drives away. There’s some suspense but, assuming Randy wants to live after what happens to him, he’ll probably need some reconstructive surgery. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

Oh, and Linda runs the jeep into some barbed wire. Bad things happen to her.

Back at his cabin, one of the boys opts to keep looking through a hole in the floor, despite the fact that a large pointed stick popped up through it mere moments ago. Let us say he kind of gets what he deserves. Not for being mean, but for being dumb enough to keep sticking his eye over the hole like that.

Ronnie finds Frank. Or rather, he finds the bits the rat hasn’t eaten.

Over in the girl’s cabin, the girl who shot spitballs at Alan comes in, lies down in bed, and then discovers that the bunk above her has been replaced with a board of nails, spiky side down.

At which point our black-clad assailant leaps from the rafters and shoves the board down on her.

You know what, though? This sounds like an impossible amount of work. I mean, first, you need to have a TON of nails, which you then have to nail through a board that has to be perfectly suspended over another bed, but which won’t fall with minor rocking.

Then you’ve gotta hide in the rafters, and hope no one spots you.

Then you’ve gotta hope that whoever is on the top bunk doesn’t show up first, or they’re going to go to bed, the bed will collapse, and there’s still a dude just standing in the rafters, biding his time, waiting for the right victim to come along.

All in all, way too much complication. Probably would have been better off, say, wiring a bomb to her mattress. A little more pre-work, sure, but a much better chance that it would have succeeded.

Only it did succeed, so I guess the point is moot.

Karen and her buddy find the dead girl, and Karen figures that Alan is the killer and that she’s pretty much got a death notice pinned to her head.

All of our main players gather together – Ronnie. Karen. Cancer-cop. The kids are all ordered back to their cabins. For safety. Or something.

Oh, and Ricky shows up, because the cop called him. Only the cop didn’t.

Karen runs off into the woods, where she eventually bumps into Randy and Linda, who are both still alive.

She ends up unconscious, and when she wakes up she’s in a noose hooked to a basketball hoop, and the black-clad killer is pressing the switch to raise the hoop. Only she’s saved at the last minute by Michael, Alan’s half-brother.

(Remember him? Sure you do.)

Oh, and the black-clad killer runs out, and moments later, cancer-cop walks in.

Michael grabs a croquet mallet and goes to “talk” to Alan rather harshly. Alan claims he doesn’t know what’s going on. Which as it turns out, is true. Based on the black-clad hand that grabs the mallet in the middle of Alan’s beat-down.

Everyone else finally catches up to Alan and there, in the shadows is… Angela. Which I already told you.

And Angela, who really needs an awesome closing line, says, “Michael though skinning frogs was cool. Ask him how cool it is now.”

As you might have guessed, Michael has been skinned.

At this point, the movie ends, except for a tag after the credits that explains how Angela… well… that’s another story, isn’t it?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland

I suppose there’s something to be said for laying all your cards out on the table in the first five minutes of any movie.

“Sleepaway Camp III” does this by coming up with what may well be the world’s most implausible scenario for getting Angela back to camp.

We start off with a teenage girl who has what I’m going to call exceptional hair. She gets up, listens to some screaming through her door, and then prepares to go to camp.

In the next scene, she’s walking down the street with a sleeping bag and a very small bag which, I guess, contains six cans of hairspray, a toothbrush, and possibly one half of a pair of clean underpants. Just in case.

And it’s at this point that a garbage truck starts chasing her down the street.

Let’s break this down, for just two seconds:

We’re somewhere in the middle of what appears to be a reasonably sized city. And yet, not only is there no one on the street itself, but it also appears that no one has, say, glanced out their window and noticed that a garbage truck is driving towards a screaming teenage girl.

But it gets better.

The truck chases the girl into a nearby alley, where it finally catches up and runs into her.

At which point, Angela, who has a hairstyle identical to the now-dead girl, steps out of the truck, picks up her victim number one, and tosses her into the back of the truck. Angela follows this action by putting on some sunglasses and taking the girl’s sleeping bag and her other bag with its six cans of hairspray and hopefully only slightly used toothbrush.

This means that Angela 1) Located a person who was going to be going to a camp soon. More importantly, a person who was going to the exact same camp Angela was at last year. 2) She then grew her hair out and replicated this other person’s general took. 3) She waited until the girl was headed to the bus station, at which point she 4) Stole a garbage truck, waited until the girl was on a deserted street, and ran her down.

I genuinely suspect that the opening five minutes of the movie are designed to act as an opt-out clause.

“Look,” the movie is saying to you, “I realize that this is completely ridiculous. So are you in or out?”

And I went, “Well, okaaay…”

I forgot to mention the graffiti on the wall as the bus pulls away – “Angela is back!”


With that, we’re off to camp. The same camp as last year, only it’s under new management, as the folks running the joint have decided to start a camp where boys and girls from the wrong side of the tracks and the right side of the tracks can come together and learn about each other. They even have a slogan: “An experience in sharing.”

There’s a nice reporter-type-female there, and she makes everyone state their name and where they’re from, which is clearly a way for the writer and director of the flick to get through everyone’s name and toss out a personality trait so you might possibly care when Angela starts a-killin’.

Though I have a hard time imagining people watching this movie, getting to the end and going, “You know, when that girl was dropped from a flag pole? I felt that impact. Not on my head, like she did, but in my heart. Poor kid.”

We also get to meet the counselors, which is sort of exciting because for the first time in “Sleepaway” history, they’ve got an actor you might recognize. Michael J. Pollard is one of those guys who has been in pretty much everything, and here he plays Herman, co-counselor with and husband to Lily. The year before this movie came out, he played a hobo in “Scrooged,” and shared screen time with Bill Murray. And now, here he is, stepping up to the plate with Pamela Springsteen.

And also making out with a girl about thirty years his junior. One wonders if he reached that page of the script and told his agent that THIS, yes, THIS would be his next project.

Sorry. I digress.

The reporter figures that Angela looks like a dope fiend, and asks Angela to score her some coke. Note the small c. Angela scores her some drain cleaning powder, which ends with the reporter snorting a line and then watching blood gush out of her face.

At which point, of course, she dies.

Back at the camp, the counselors are giving a spiel about how the campers will be broken up into three groups, and then a bunch of other rules and explanations happen, none of which matter because everyone is dead before they make a lick of difference.

They also introduce Officer Barney. For those taking notes in part II, this is the guy who arrested Angela in Part I. Oh, and also in part II, Angela cut off Barney’s son’s head. On a continuity level, this is important. On a story level, well… I suppose I should leave a little suspense.

Okay, now it’s morning. Everyone gets their camp t-shirts, and we learn some of the female campers care not for female undergarments.

Then everyone is divided up into groups. Angela is put in Herman’s group, along with another girl and two guys.

Angela and the two guys head off the fish, and in another odd and pointless stroke of continuity, Angela catches the Jason mask used in part II. At which point we get a joke about Saturday the 14th, one of the dudes decides to stick a firecracker in a fish’s mouth, and Angela runs off.

These things may or may not be related.

Back at the camp, Herman is spending some special time with his nubile female charge. This comes to an end when Angela starts hitting him with a stick. Eventually, she discovers this isn’t killing him very quickly, and she moves to stabbing him to death with the aforementioned stick. Then she does the same to Herman’s buddy.

Meanwhile, at another camp site, a girl named Marcia needs to go potty, and she heads off into the woods with Tony. Where we get a fake scare which I suppose is meant to serve as a meet cute. Eh.

Back at Angela’s camp, Angela jams firecrackers up the nose of the guy who was firecrackering fish, and his head sort of blows up. For an encore, she knocks the last guy in her group unconscious, puts everyone in a large tent, and torches it, so you can hear the not-quite-dead guy do some screaming.

Angela breaks out the marshmallows. (Yes, she really does.)

The next day, Angela wanders over to another group and says that she was told to swap with one of their campers. She then leads her “trade” back to camp, has her crawl into a tent, and when the girl crawls back out, Angela cuts off her head with an axe.

Over at Officer Barney’s campsite, everyone is chewing through some exposition in an attempt to make this movie seem even remotely plausible. They attempt to accomplish this by having Barney say that Angela’s juvenile record was destroyed when she turned 18, which is why no one knows what she looks like.

Back in Angela’s group, it’s time for trust games! Which means first Angela gets tied up and blindfolded and then led around. After which her partner gets tied up, blindfolded, led around, tied to a flag pole rope, hoisted in the air, and dropped to her death.

Angela heads back to camp, where the counselor-whose-husband-is-charcoal sends her to take the trash to the garbage pit.

This prompts a long sequence where Angela wanders around having what first appears to be a flashback to the last movie, until we realize that the footage seems to be all wrong. So it’s either some sort of alternate cut, or perhaps newly shot footage. Either way, Angela gets to sing “I’m a Happy Camper,” again.

Angela goes back to her camp site, and she’s tied together with a dude named Bobby, so they can learn to “work together” catching fish.

Bobby reveals that he REALLY, REALLY likes being tied to Angela. Angela says they’ll do something about this later. Bobby does not realize this is bad news.

Back at the camp again, an attempt to made to get another camper to clean and cook the fish, only he pulls a gun on Angela.

Elsewhere, Marcia and Tony are hitting it off. And by hitting it off, I mean Tony makes a move and Marcia demonstrates that she’s always prepared to have an intimate moment in the woods with someone she met two days ago.

Angela convinces Lily-the-counselor to play a trust game with her, which ends with Lily buried in dirt and garbage up to her neck. And then Angela fires up a lawnmower and runs it over her head.

Angela and Bobby meet up for their special rendezvous and Angela, wanting to give the man what he wants, ties him to a tree. Then she ties his arms to her car with rope and drives away. With the expected results.

Man, I would kill for a plot point right now.

Only I’m not getting one, because Angela has to go back to camp and kill the dude who has spent the entire movie listening to loud rap music. She accomplishes this by giving him a special tape wherein she raps, and then nailing his hands to the ground with tent spikes and beating him to death with a hammer.

Angela goes to the final group and tries to pull her “swap” routine again, only when she tries to walk her swap-mate back to her old camp site to kill her, Barney the cop comes along.

Angela twists her ankle, though whether she really did so is something of a mystery, and Barney patches her up.

Angela takes this opportunity to whine about the other counselors, and at the end of her story she sends her new swap-mate outside to look at Lily, who Angela notes is lazy. Also, Lily has no head.

Angela’s swap-mate runs off, and now, here it is. The big showdown between Barney and Angela. The confrontation to end all confrontations. Angela vs. the man who put her away.

No, wait. I’m sorry. I’m thinking of a good movie. Instead, we get a reminder that Angela killed the cop’s kid, and then Angela shoots him dead.

Let’s recap:

Plot of the movie: Angela kills a bunch of random people because they are somewhat mean, or take drugs, or engage in marital relations outside of marriage. Sometimes we get to follow Marcia and Tony around for a bit, in hopes of maybe generating some sympathy for them when Angela gives them the axe. And the one interesting subplot, about the man who arrested Angela, is resolved as lamely as possible.

I don’t understand, movie. Why do you hate your audience so much? They just want something to happen.

Having shot Barney, Angela runs out, hops in her jeep, and chases down Marsha. But Marsha’s fate is not yet decided.

Angela returns to her camp site (how many times have I said that already!) and convinces the three remaining campers that Barney wants them to participate in a trust game. So they head back to the main camp.

Angela ties to three people left together, with Tony in the middle. Then she cuts a rope so that Barney can swing down from a tree dramatically.

She relates the rules: The three remaining campers have exactly two minutes to locate Marsha in one of the three cabins.

Consequences aren’t really discussed, but one assumes it’s a live-or-die scenario.

The campers, naturally, select the wrong cabin the first two times, so that we, the audience can see how Angela has artfully posed the many dead campers.

Finally, they enter the right cabin and find Marsha, only the game is rigged and two of the campers are killed by axe booby-traps.

Angela says adios and heads out, only Marsha decides that she must be avenged and she runs out and attacks Angela. There’s a scuffle. Marsha stabs Angela, and Angela dies.

Later, the cops arrive, and Tony and Marsha chat in the back of a cruiser. He’s decided to escape his wrong-side-of-the-tracks ways and come be with Marsha, only it seems that Marsha already has a boyfriend back home.

Which means, if you’re paying attention, and I was, that even the final surviving characters are kind of hateful.

Angela is put onto a stretcher and ambulanced out of the camp. The cop and EMT in the back of the ambulance debate killing her, but Angela gets the drop on them and kills them both with a syringe.

A voice from up front asks what’s going on, and Angela replies: “Just taking care of business.”

And this version of Angela is never heard from again.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers

When we last left “Sleepaway Camp,” a bunch of people were dead, and Angela was a dude.

Oh, how things have changed. Only they haven’t, really.

“Sleepaway Camp II: Big Money for a Small Investment,” was shot back-to-back with part III. They used the same camp location for both movies, to save a little money, and frankly that’s not where the cost-cutting stops.

They also forgot to buy a little thing I like to call “a plot.” Or rather, they replaced it with a long string of people getting killed.

Yes, I recognize that people love watching these films for what people like to call “creative kills,” but a just a touch of a storyline might have a been nice.

No matter.

“Sleepaway Camp II: We Hired Pamela Springsteen, Sister of Bruce” starts off with a couple of ghost stories told around a campfire, followed by a group of campers doing a quick recounting of what happened in part one. Because I’m sure that at least four or five people in the world have opted to skip part uno and jump to part dos.


At which point we realize that all the people around the campfire are dudes, except for one of the storytellers. Moments later, her camp counselor shows up and says she’s not supposed to be out with the boys at this late hour.

That counselor’s name? No, no. Guess. I’ll wait.

Yes, it’s Angela.

Naturally, the next question is, “Hey, is it THAT Angela?” Then Angela beats the girl to death with a tree branch, so you would assume that the answer is probably.

And that’s what passes for a plot for most of the movie. Someone makes Angela mad, and then Angela finds a way to kill them.

Oh, right. There are also naked people, which I guess constitutes the other part of the plot.

This starts right up in the next scene, wherein Angela goes to wake up her campers, while dutifully informing them that the girl who took a log to the head last night was “sent home.”

One of Angela’s charges sleeps in the nude. Because camp is, of course, a great place to do this. Angela notes that “Nice girls don’t have to show it off,” to which the shirtless camper retorts: “Who’s gonna see me?”

In a film like this, there are no rhetorical questions. The answer is the two guys standing by the cabin window with a camera. I’m sure they have names, but let’s just go ahead and call them “Third Act Meat.”

Everyone goes to breakfast, some exposition which isn’t remotely important to the plot occurs, and Angela is made counselor of the week. So she sings a song called “I’m a Happy Camper,” which features hand motions. And the secure knowledge that Pamela Springsteen does not have the song-delivery chops of her brother.

Then we zip over to an extended pool sequence, where we get to see Molly, the requisite good girl, flirt with Sean, who may or may not be a good boy. “Who’s Gonna See Me,” whose name is Ally, is wearing a white t-shirt, under which is a bikini top.

She removes the bikini top, and then warns a nearby teenaged boy not to throw her into the pool. Wet t-shirt-arity ensues, and Ally clambers out of the water near Sean.

Elsewhere, Angela heads out into the woods and finds a couple of sisters getting drunk and high. So in a plan that makes no sense whatsoever, she goes back to camp and asks another counselor if he’s seen the sisters. The other counselor says that, no, he hasn’t seen the sisters, and that he doesn’t know where one of his own campers is.

Good job, counselor-dude. Good job.

Angela goes back out to the woods, where she finds one passed-out sister, and anther sister making out with the aforementioned missing camper. So she makes him leave. Then we cut to a while later, when the passed-out sister wakes up, and discovers that she is tied to what appears to be a grill.

Tied to the other side of the grill are the charred skeletal remains of her sister. Angela then tosses something flammable over the top of the remaining sister and lights a match. All this happens in broad daylight in an area that someone in the movie later describes as “about a mile from the camp.”

We have a realism problem, people.

In the next exciting sequence, Angela confronts a little girl who doesn’t want to do arts and crafts – she wants to go home. So four seconds later, her parents are there, and Uncle John, who created a fine bathroom reader series and also runs the camp, laments that they’re down to 38 campers.

Angela notes that it’s 36, because she had to send the two sisters “home.”

To which Uncle John states that Angela really, really needs to talk to him before sending anyone home. Although, since no parents called to complain about it happening, and he therefore shouldn’t have to issue refunds, this should work out great for him financially.

That night, we get the stalker point of view outside of the girl’s cabin, which is meant to… what? Throw us off guard? Maybe just break up the shot list a little. Whatever.

Long story short, it’s a panty raid, which ends with Angela doing some chastising of all parties involved.

But she’s especially upset with Mary, who took the opportunity presented and flashed the guys.

Mary, it seems, is unhappy with being hassled. Also, she wants to be called Mare. Because being called a female horse is much better than having a slightly outdated name. Mare has determined that she’d rather die than stay at the camp.

Angela begins rooting in the back of her car, to which Mary spits: “What are you looking for, a gun?”

Angela replies, “No. A drill.” Then she pulls a drill on Mare(y).

I admit it. I smirked. And in that moment, I saw why people liked parts II and III – because they are insane.

(Er… the movies. Not the people who like the movies.)

The next morning, at breakfast, the mullet-clad counselor T.C. recounts a list of items that have gone missing, including 50 feet of rope and his car battery. These are important later.

Molly finds and talks to Angela, who is hanging around outside a boarded-up, abandoned cabin which, naturally, has all the bodies inside it. Molly laments that she’s worried Ally will steal Sean away from her.

Angel tells Molly not to worry, and that Ally is probably diseased.

Later, the kids all gather for a scary night of fun, as they design scary costumes and go through one of those “haunted houses” where they blindfold you, stick your hands in a bowl of peeled grapes and tell you it’s eyeballs. Only when you get to Angela’s table, she tells you that it’s, “Dead teenager’s brains.”

Worth noting: She is not kidding.

Following this is a pair of scenes wherein Angela finally locates the two kids taking naked photos of various campers, and confisticates their pictures. She shows the pictures to T.C., who says that he’ll handle it, only it’s 1988 and the whole boys-will-be-boys thing was still in full swing, so he doesn’t do anything.

Today, T.C. would probably put them in some sort of harassment counseling, which would have been much better for them than what happens to them later.

A couple of boys head out into the woods, dressed up as Freddy and Jason. They are planning on scaring Angela, but are mostly just causing legal hassles for the people releasing this movie.

Freddy discovers that his glove is missing, which leads to an ironic moment where he’s slashed by his own claws. Or maybe that’s not irony. Who cares? Certainly not the people who made this movie.

Then Angela, dressed as Leatherface, kills “Jason” with a chainsaw. And I ask you: These folks can make this movie, and definitively determine who would win a major fight between Freddy, Jason, and Leatherface, but New Line can’t get it together to make “Freddy Vs. Jason Part II?”

Angela locates her girl campers, who inform her that Ally has run off to the bathroom because she has cramps. But Ally, of course, does not have cramps. What she has is a gentleman caller. In the restroom. In the woods.


Angela shows up, and tries to fire up her chainsaw, but it doesn’t work. So she resorts to yelling, and complaining about the bathroom door being locked. To which Ally replies: “I didn’t want some crazy person to attack me…”

The next day, Molly goes seeking Angela’s advice again, which leads to further mocking of Ally’s, um… footloose ways. Or as Angela puts it, Ally is “probably fornicating.”

As it turns out, this is correct, though one pointless scene later, Ally has moved on and located a note from “Sean,” who wants to meet her up at Angela’s special place.

Of course, Angela was the person who sent the note, and Ally gets stabbed, then dunked in a latrine, and then is forced to get into a latrine that contains urine, feces, and leaches. Because this is a horror movie, where urine and feces just aren’t going to cut it. Ally dies of humiliation.

Angela goes back to the cabin, where a lone camper who is wondering just where all her cabin-sisters went starts recounting how she’s been calling up all the campers who “went home” and found none of them had actually gone home.

While this monologue rages on, Angela locks all the exits. Then she yanks a guitar string off her guitar and uses it to garrote the camper. Which, considering Pamela Springsteen’s lack of singing and playing ability, is probably for the best.

As Angela tries to get rid of the body, another camper shows up, and whines about the fact that the door was locked. So Angela stabs and kills her.

Once the bodies are gone, Molly shows up, and Angela notes that she had to send all the other campers home.

Angela goes to sleep, and has a dream sequence that helpfully recounts all the murders up to this point. If I had known it was in there, I probably would have just started the movie up at this point and saved myself 54 minutes of viewing time.

Angela awakens the next day and is fired by Uncle John for sending a bunch of kids home. T.C. backs him up, for some reason. Perhaps he sits in on all firings, stopping instances of violence with his mullet?

Angela is told to be gone by noon, so Angela heads back up to her special crying place. This is not a girl who colors insides the lines.

Molly asks Sean to help her comfort Angela, which to me indicates that Molly ate a lot of paint chips as a kid. When everyone from your cabin is missing except you and one other person, THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH THE OTHER PERSON.

They head up to Angela’s secret spot, and Sean, who has a death wish, decides to break into the “abandoned” cabin on the hill, which of course contains several corpses. Angela beats him down with a stick. Molly freaks, and Angela gives her some hot stick action.

When Molly and Sean awaken, they are both tied up with the fifty feet of missing rope.

T.C. finally figures out that something must be very wrong with Angela, and heads up to Angela’s laughing place, only he gets a cup full of acid in the face for his troubles. Acid… from his own car battery! See that exposition up there? Totally important.

It’s at this point that Sean finally figures out that Angela was the girl who killed all those people a few years back. It turns out that his dad was the cop who arrested Angela. This will be important in part III. So make sure you’re taking careful notes.

Oh, and then Angela cuts off his head. And leaves the cabin to go kill someone else. So that the writer of this motion picture has a chance to let Molly escape. Only Angela sees her and gives chase, and Molly falls off a very small cliff and dies… or DOES SHE? (She doesn’t. Yet.)

Angela notes: “If it’s any consolation, you almost made it.” Because she is insane.

And because there are still a few dozen people to kill, the filmmakers get it over with as quickly as possible. We get a few random shots of the other female counselor, who was probably in the movie all along, but maybe not, as she discovers the photographers posed to take a photo through a window. Only they are dead.

So she runs to Uncle John’s office, where Uncle John is dead. It would be awesome if he was on the toilet at the time, but this is not the case.

The other female counselor is, more or less, the last one dead. At the camp. There’s a little bit more movie to go.

In which:

Molly wakes up.

We get to see Angela hitching a ride with a woman who enjoys smoking and swearing, and wearing a cowboy hat. So Angela kills her. It was probably the hat that pushed her over the edge.

And finally, Molly makes it to the road, and flags down a truck, being driven by Angela, who says, “Howdy partner!” And the movie ends. Except for the credits, which must be noted, contain the line, “Thank you for reading the credits.”

Plus after the credits, we get a “Coming Soon: Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland.” It’s up in the air as to whether that’s a promise, dare, or threat.

Sleepaway Camp

The problem with going four rounds with the “Sleepaway Camp” series is the last sixty seconds of “Sleepaway Camp” itself. In the final minute of movie one, we get a massive reveal, both of the person who has been doing all the killing and their motivation for doing so.

So we’ve got two options – we can be painfully coy through the course of four write-ups, or we can give away the big secret right off the bat.

I’m choosing the latter. So consider this your bailout point. If you want to be shocked and amazed (or at least let out a little “Huh… didn’t see THAT coming”) at the end of “Sleepaway Camp,” turn away now.

Okay? Okay.

Here’s the big reveal, part one: Angela, the creepy big-eyed girl we’ve been following for the whole movie, is the killer.

The big reveal, part two: Angela is a boy. This is not remotely in question at the end of the film. Trust me. There are man-bits.

The second reveal is the primary (and possibly the only) reason that this movie continues to be remembered by fans years later, and I’m about 99% certain it’s the reason this movies has three sequels (and almost had four). Up until that moment, the movie is fairly standard stalk-and-kill fare.

Though I will give the film extra credit for having actual kids in it – a true rarity for movies like this, which more often than not feature people in their twenties playing people in their teens.

Back to the movie.

“Sleepaway Camp” opens with the words, “In fond memory of Mom, a doer,” burned into the screen. Now, granted, I’m sure we’d all love to be remembered in the afterlife, but I suspect that most of us aren’t really looking to be memorialized at the head of a film that sets transgender politics back a decade or two.

As the movie continues to unspool, we’re treated to three straight minutes of credits, all laid over pictures of a closed campground. I suppose this is meant to build questions in the viewer’s mind – “What camp is this? Why are there no kids here? Is it the end of the summer? Did I remember to turn off the stove?” – but since there’s no context for the camp, we’re mostly left wondering when the movie is going to start.

This leads into the prologue, which I could spend pages explaining, but you wouldn’t get much out of it. Suffice to say we’ve got two groups of people we’re watching.

The first is a dad and his two kids, a boy and a girl. There’s also another guy on the shore. We’ll get back to him at a later time.

The second group is a boy and a girl and their waterskiing passenger. The girl wants to drive the boat, but the boy won’t let her until he realizes that he’s a teenaged boy and this may be he only chance to find love in the arms of a woman. Or something.

Either way, the teenage girl runs the boat over the dad and the two kids, killing the dad and implying that the son has been killed. Only, of course, he hasn’t. The daughter has.

Then it’s eight years later, and a woman who is clearly out of her mind calls Richard and Angela downstairs. We’ve already covered Angela and his/her big secret, so let’s talk about Richard and the crazy lady. The crazy lady is Richard’s mom, and Angela’s aunt. Angela lives with them now.

The woman who is out of her mind demonstrates this by being unable to use an inner monologue, touching her chin when she should be talking in her head, and presenting the kids with copies of their physicals, because after all she’s a doctor and can do that kind of thing. She does note, however, that the neither of the kids should tell anyone who performed their physicals.

That right there, folks. Hint number one that something is up with Angela. Doctors aren’t allowed to examine her.

This means that crazy Aunt Martha performed Richard’s physical. I bet the “turn your head and cough” bit was awkward.

The kids get to camp, and we meet Judy, Richard’s “ex” from last year at camp. Judy has grown up a bit since then, and by “grown up” I do not mean emotionally matured. Subsequently, older boys want to talk to her now, and Richard is left out in the cold.

Angela goes to her cabin, where she creeps Judy out by staring at Judy while Judy unpacks, and we get to meet Angela’s second nemesis: Meg. Meg has no previous relationship with Richard that I’m aware of.

On a side note, at camp, Richard is mostly called Ricky. Just FYI.

Cut to three days later, and Angela isn’t eating. Possibly because she’s a dude who must maintain a girlish figure. But also, possibly, so the writer/director can have a kindly counselor bring Angela to meet the cook to “find something she likes.”

This presents certain problems, as the cook is a bad, bad man who brings Angela into another room and begins undoing his belt.

Luckily, Ricky walks in before things go too far. Though knowing what we know about Angela, you gotta wonder just exactly how that scenario would have concluded.

In the next sequence, the cook is making a massive pot of boiling water for corn. And then we’ve in the killer’s POV. You know the one. The one that doesn’t allow for name usage. “Oh, it’s YOU! What are YOU doing here? YOU shouldn’t be here.”

Ultimately, YOU manages to get the cook tossed under a huge pot of boiling water.

An ambulance comes. The cook, who is alive, and still screaming, is taken away.

Which leads to an interesting thought – the dude is clearly alive. If it were me, I’d implicate the person who scalded 100% of my body with boiling water. But maybe the guy doesn’t want to be a tattletale.

At any rate, the head of the camp, Mel, throws some extra money to the other camp staff to keep quiet.

So the movie heads over to a softball game, so that we can be treated to a bunch of kids demonstrating the use of bad language. And so we can see a buff male counselor in a belly shirt. In a film filled with disturbing images, this ranks right up there.

Later that night, a bunch of boys try to convince a bunch of girls to go skinny-dipping, and one of the boys dares another to ask Angela to join them. This leads to more creepy staring from Angela, and eventually Ricky comes in and tells everyone to stop picking on his cousin.

A fight breaks out, probably because Angela is being teased, but possibly because Ricky is wearing a straw cowboy hat and needs to prove he’s a man.

Post-right, Ricky’s friend Paul talks to Angela and says he’s sorry about what happened to her family. And about how he and Ricky have been friends for three years. And about how he’d rather have his head cut off than kiss a dude.

No, no. Kidding. Just a little foreshadowing there, folks.

Paul finally leaves, prompting Angela to open up her mouth and deliver her first line of the movie: “Good night.”

Meanwhile, out on the shore, the boys try to convince the girls to drop trou and take a swim. The girls refuse, because teenage boys are bumpy and gross. However, one of the girls takes a canoe ride with one of the boys.

The boy tips the canoe, because he thinks this is hilarious.

The girl then swims away, and the boy swims under the canoe, where he encounters, yes, a mystery POV person. To which he says, naturally, “What are YOU doing here?”

(Actual quote right there.)

YOU shoves him under the water and drowns him.

The next morning, while a counselor is locating drowned guy’s body, the girls are off playing volleyball. Except for Angela, who doesn’t want to use her secret maleness as a tactical advantage in the game.

Paul stops and asks her if she wants to go to the movie in the rec hall with him that night. She says yes. Then a counselor comes over and hassles Angela, when it’s pretty apparent that making her mad with just lead to some sort of painful water death for you.

Post-movie-at-the-rec-hall, Paul walks Angela back to her cabin, steals one kiss, asks for another, and then gets shot down.

So Judy hits on Paul. Bad move.

The next day, Angela is watching everyone swim because she can’t get her man-parts to stay in her one-piece, and Paul comes up behind her and does a little “Guess who” humor, which leads to more hassling from Judy.

Judy continues to be difficult later on, giving Angela a hard time for not showering with the rest of the girls, and being built like a teenage boy. Judy gets slapped by a counselor, and Angela goes for a walk.

On her walk, Angela is hit with a water balloon thrown by the same boys who a) hassled her about coming skinny-dipping with them and b) don’t seem to be terribly worried about their dead friend.

The kid who threw the water balloon (Bobby. Like you care.) heads into the bathroom, which is then latched from the outside with an arrow so a pair of mystery hands can cut open the window screens over his head and drop a wasp nest on him.

He expires.

Mel, the fellow running the camp, has now decided he knows who is killing off various and sundry kids, and is “going to get him.”

So he’s clearly half-right. He knows it’s a guy. That’s some solid detective work, right there.

Angela and Paul have a late-night rendezvous, which begins with Paul sneaking up on Angela and Angela declaring, “I thought you were the killer,” which indicates that Angela has a short memory. Or that the writer/director wanted to throw us off the trail. One or the other.

Paul and Angela go to fool around on the beach, and Angela has a flashback, wherein we get to see her dad and the guy on the beach at the beginning of the movie in bed together. Followed by the brother and sister sitting on the bed, about to engage in a game of doctor.

Which is super-disturbing, now that I’m typing this out.

Angela shoves Paul away. This saddens Paul, who doesn’t know how lucky he is.

The next day, the remaining 25 campers (everyone else has gone home, because their parents love them, and want them to live) play capture the flag.

There are some logistics involved, but the only important thing that happens is that Judy drags Paul into the woods and tries to make out with him. Which Angela sees. Will there be blood? Oh yes. And a curling iron.

Then it’s “encounter by the lake” time, wherein Paul tries to tell Angela he’s sorry for what happened.

This ends with Judy and Meg throwing Angela in the lake.

During the same span of time, and on the same beach, Mel accuses Ricky of causing all of his problems. I would generally accuse someone of murder in a more remote location, but that’s me.

Later, counselors are given their marching orders for the night, and Meg is rewarded for almost drowning a camper by getting the night off. So she reminds Mel, who is about 30 years here senior, that he promised her dinner. She goes to take a shower, while all the audience members cry on the inside.

Meg, mid-shower, gets a knife in the back, through the shower stall wall. Try saying that five times fast. Then the killer shut off the water, because being a serial killer doesn’t mean that you don’t care about the environment.

Paul encounters Angela, and once again begs for forgiveness. Angela tells him to meet her down by the shore after the camp social is over.

Meanwhile, in another part of the woods, Eddie (don’t bother to remember his name, either) takes five boys into the woods to camp, only two of them are really whiny. So he drives them back and leaves the other three young boys out in the woods alone, at night, with a psychotic killer on the loose.

Back at the camp, Judy has slipped away from the camp social with a boy, but when Mel, seeking Meg, walks into the girl’s cabin, the boy flees, leaving Judy all alone to curl her hair.

Mel goes to the next cabin and finds Meg, who falls out of the shower just as he walks in. This is the last straw for Mel, and he heads off to find Ricky and have his revenge.

Judy, mid-hair-curling, gets to have an “oh, it’s YOU” moment, after which Judy is shoved down on the bed and her hair curler is put someone hair curlers really, really, really don’t belong. Seriously. Don’t think about it. Just keep reading.

Eddie (remember Eddie?) heads back to his camp site and finds what looks like a bunch of cotton kind of spread around, which is supposed to represent the fact that someone has taken a hatchet to three kids. Eddie throws up, because he knows this is going to look terrible on his resume.

Mel finds Ricky, who is walking around alone in the dark. Mel then beats and chokes Ricky until Ricky appears to be quite dead.

Mel is then immediately punished, when an arrow which is apparently THROWN by “Not YOU,” goes through his neck.

A cop shows up. A search of the camp ensues. Dead bodies are found. We discover that Ricky is still alive.

(Yes, I said A COP. If there’s more than one I didn’t see them.)

Angela meets Paul down by the shore. Clothes start to come off. Paul is in for a surprise.

Counselors hear singing. They find Angela and Paul, naked on the beach. Also, Paul’s head has been cut off. Also, Angela is a…

Wait, wait… first we get a flashback where the crazy aunt we kind of forgot about goes through a long monologue that ends with her informing a little boy named Peter than he’s now a little girl named Angela.

And then we get to see Angela make a face that will haunt your dreams, assuming his/her bits and pieces don’t already.

This is a totally “Whoa, dude!” ending, until you think about it for five minutes. Because in this ending:

Dad’s man friend never sees Peter/Angela again, nor questions what happened after Peter/Angela went to live with his/her aunt.

The onset of puberty and health class did not cause Angela to lose it a looong time ago.

Angela hasn’t had to attend gym class for eight years.

None of the cops/judges/whatever involved in Angel’s casework (because Angela couldn’t just be dropped off somewhere after her sister and father went through the blades of a motorboat) ever checked in on him/her.

Ricky never accidentally walked in on his cousin in any bathroom scenario.

Angela’s mom, who we can only assume is dead, has no relatives that want to see their beloved Peter after all the trauma he’s gone through.

And on and on and on.

Only in the movies, folks.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive

“It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive” is a flick that’s full of good (or at least interesting) ideas, but doesn’t manage to do much of anything with any of them.

Rather than the logical conclusion of a trilogy, the movie feels like a trilogy in and of itself, which was then edited down into a feature length movie. It feels like the conversation went something like this:

Warner Brothers: Okay, Mr. Cohen. We’ve asked you here today to get your take on writing a new trilogy of “It’s Alive” movies.

Larry Cohen: All right, well, I think the first one should be a courtroom drama kind of thing. You know, a real Lifetime movie, only the twist is that they’re fighting for the rights of these so-called monster kids. Make it kind of a weeper, you know? Really get on the side of the monsters.

WB: Interesting. And what would part two be?

LC: Well, you see, at the end of the first movie, the dad, let’s call him Stephen, he secures the rights for all these kids to go live on some remote island. So it’s a happy ending. Only now, the people who manufactured the drug that caused all the mutant babies wants the island hushed up, so they send over a hunting expedition to kill off the kids before some kind of connection can be made. But the dad finds out and also goes to the island, and it’s a big stand-off, y’know? Between the kids, and the dad, and the evil drug manufacturer. Lotta conflict and drama and such.

WB: How does it end?

LC: Well, I haven’t worked out all the details yet, but I think dad ends up trapped on the island with his kids. So, you know, semi-happy ending.

WB: Intriguing. Okay, and what’s the third part of the trilogy?

LC: Glad you asked. Well, in that one, Dad becomes a grandpa, which makes him kind of happy. Only the kids seem to be getting sick. So he finds a way to get back to civilization, and bring the kids with, but they get separated somehow. So it’s a monsters on the loose movie, only really they’re trying to explain that they’re sick and need help.

WB: What happens to the dad during this time?

LC: Oh, um… he falls off the boat and ends up in Cuba. Keeps him off the stage until the finale, when the dying monsters hand over the baby to the baby’s Grandma.

WB: Okay, well, that sounds great. Here’s your check.

LC: Um…

WB: Yes?

LC: There’s a slight problem here.

WB: Which is?

LC: This isn’t enough money for a trilogy. It’s barely enough for one movie. And we’re talking about a man-in-suit monster movie.

WB: Okay, well, just make one movie. Maybe you can sort of combine all that stuff you talked about. Take out some of the boring bits…

LC: I’ll see what I can do.

“It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive” fires up with the first big kick start of the trilogy, as a cop helps some woman give birth in the back of the cab. There’s lots of screaming, plenty of gore, and the cop yells out, “It’s one of them!” dramatically as the kiddo is born.

We get a short scene with Perry, the cop who’s been chasing killer babies through three movies now, and then we’re thrust into the courtroom drama.

A lot of talking happens which gets us up to speed – there are five living “babies,” and the father of one of them, Stephen Jarvis, is petitioning the court to keep them alive. I’d go into the drama of the courtroom, but it’s much ado about nothing until Stephen’s son is brought into the courtroom in a cage, which the baby breaks out of.

The baby doesn’t hurt anyone, however, and the kindhearted judge decides to give the babies a remote island where they can live peacefully, doing whatever it is murderous babies do when they have no one to murder.

Stephen, happy with the outcome of the case, heads down to Florida to talk to his ex-wife Ellen and let her know what’s going on. It seems that their marriage fell apart, and she slunk off to where no one knew her name to get away from the notoriety of what happened to them. She’s even taken steps to ensure she can never get pregnant again.

We also get a little hint of exposition that there haven’t been any new babies in two months, and that doctors suspect there won’t be any more. Which Ellen points out is kind of stupid, because clearly the doctors don’t know what caused the creatures in the first place.

The movie kills a few minutes by having Stephen flirt with and then spend a romantic few moments with a lady of the evening, which goes great until she figures out he’s the father of a mutant. Then there’s some screaming. But I guess the good news is she didn’t want her money, so Stephen saved himself a few bucks.

Meanwhile, in what appears to be an entirely different movie, a couple of helicopters land on a remote island, and a bunch of talking occurs. The gist of the talking is this: The head hunter, Cabot, owns the company that manufactured the drug responsible for the killer babies. So he wants to kill off all the kids to prevent any doctors from making some sort of connection between the rubber monsters on the island and his company.

He also makes mention of eventually putting the drug back on the market. So we know he’s evil. Helpful.

At any rate, even giving the guy a name is pointless, because about five minutes after we meet the hunting party, they’re all dead. Including the helicopter pilot, who manages to get into the air before he’s attacked and killed.

Somehow, this causes the helicopter to explode in midair. Maybe the copter had a self-destruct button?

Time passes. Stephen is told he needs to pay his lawyer bill, and also that his lawyer is going to publish a book about the case, whether he participates or not. So he’d be wise to participate.

The book comes out. Stephen’s ex-wife reads it, and throws it into the fireplace about halfway through. It’s wonderfully convenient that she not only has a fireplace in her apartment in Florida, but that it happened to be burning when she was reading the book. A happy coincidence? Forethought? We’ll never know.

What we do know is that Ellen’s friends don’t read, as she goes another five years before someone brings up the book in her presence.

We cut back to Stephen, who is selling shoes to children to make ends meet. This will be important for roughly a second, at which point Perry-the-cop shows up and says that a) it’s been four years now, with no new babies, and b) the judge who sent all the kids to the island is now dead, so a bunch of scientists are going find the kids and run some tests on them.

Of course, they want Perry the monster-hunter and Stephen the dad to come along. Instead of, say, a cadre of ninjas, which on the whole would be a lot more useful.

We’re treated to some banter as Stephen and Perry talk to a handful of scientists about their plans, and then several long scenes on the boat they all take to get to the island of the alive. These scenes take either ten minutes to go by, or about twenty years if your tolerance for randomly sung sea shanties and whining about sunscreen is fairly low.

They all get to the island, and for a movie with the word island in the actual title, there just isn’t a lot of island footage to be seen. The scientists are all knocked off pretty quick, Perry ends up trapped on the island alone, and Stephen ends up on the boat with all of the creatures and a bunch of dead crew.

So he does the only logical thing and, using a map and what appears to be a psychic link with his son, they head to Florida at the behest of the creatures.

This goes great until the monsters run out of crew members to eat. Stephen’s son flings Stephen over the side of the boat to prevent him from becoming dinner, and a few short sequences later Stephen is being imprisoned in Cuba.

This is, of course, where things are supposed to get exciting. The kids crash-land their boat (something we hear about, but never see) and now, of course, the movie should become a story about a city under siege by monsters. But that doesn’t happen.

Here’s what happens instead:

Ellen, who doesn’t feel well for some reason, leaves work and heads home. Only she’s stopped by a person we’ve never seen before, who states that he JUST ran across her husband’s book which, of course, reveals who Ellen is. He threatens to tell all her friends unless she gives him certain favors whenever he commands them.

This uncomfortable subplot is resolved by Ellen throwing up in the guy’s car, then escaping to her apartment. Dude is then slaughtered by a monster on the sidewalk in front of the apartment, which I guess goes unnoticed for a while, because it’s a long time before the cops show up.

Meanwhile, near the ocean, a woman is being beat up and possibly about to be assaulted in a nonconsensual manner, only a monster walks out of the ocean and takes out her attackers. At which point a bunch of cops show up and shoot the monster to death.

Later, we discover that the monster has a rash, which turns out to be measles.

Finally, Stephen is dropped off on the shore by a bunch of Cubans, and he eventually tracks down Ellen, who has been dragged to the roof of the apartment complex by her son.

Then about a billion cops swarm into the complex.

Things begin to resolve themselves. It seems that all the monsters are dying of the measles, and that Ellen’s son really wanted to present Ellen with her grandchild. Instead of, say, giving the kid to Stephen, which would have saved a lot of time and wouldn’t have involved the slaughter of a few dozen innocent people.

Two of the monsters on the roof die from the measles.

Another is shot and killed by cops.

And Stephen and Ellen grab their kid and steal a car.

As they drive away, they note that neither of them have any money, that Ellen is in her nightdress, and that they must talk quietly so as not the wake the baby. Which will probably die at any moment from the measles.

With that, the trilogy that began with a brilliant metaphor and emotional wringer of a first film ends with the dull thud of trying to do too much and accomplishing too little.