Archive for the Morgue Hijinks Category

Transmissions to Earth: DEADLY FRIEND (1986)

Posted in 1980s Horror, 2013, Cyborgs, Family Secrets, LL Soares Reviews, Medical Experiments!, Morgue Hijinks, ROBOTS!, Trasmissions to Earth, Twist Endings, Wes Craven Movies with tags , , , , , , on May 30, 2013 by knifefighter

TRANSMISSIONS TO EARTH Presents:

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DEADLY FRIEND (1986)
Review by L.L. Soares
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It’s no secret that I’m not much of a fan of the SCREAM movies by director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson. And I think their collaboration, CURSED (2005), is even worse. But I wasn’t always down of Craven’s films. There was a time when I was actually a fan. Just not lately.

He started out his career with one of the most intense and disturbing horror flicks ever made, LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972), which remains one of my favorite horror films ever. This one had a real edge to it that made it one of the high points of 1970s horror. And after that, Craven made some other solid movies, like the original THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977) and the first A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984), which isn’t perfect, but was, as we now know, influential as hell. It gave the world Freddy Krueger.

But once Craven drifted into the mid-to-late 1980s and the 90s, his output wasn’t that impressive. This was the time of movies like SHOCKER (1989), THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS (1991), and NEW NIGHTMARE (1994), which a lot of people thought reinvigorated the Freddy series, but which I didn’t care for, and then, of course SCREAM (1996) and its sequels.

I can’t say all of his output from this period was awful. I am a big fan of his 1988 voodoo movie THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW. But for the most part, I just stopped being that interested in what Wes Craven was putting out anymore.

Somehow, I completely missed DEADLY FRIEND (1986), when it first came out. And rediscovering it now, so many years later, I find that it is pretty dated, especially since its plot has a lot to do with computers and robotics. And yet, it has a kind of creative spark and charm to it that is lacking in most of his later films.

Based on the novel “Friend” by Diana Henstell, DEADLY FRIEND is the story of computer nerd Paul Conway (Matthew Labyorteaux, probably most famous before this as Albert Ingalls on the TV series LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRARIE), who moves into a new neighborhood with his single mom, Jeannie (Anne Twomey). Even though he’s the age when he should be in high school, Paul is a genius who has skipped a bunch of grades and has just enrolled in the local Polytechnic Institute. And he has already built his first robot, a clunky, goofy bucket of bolts named BB, which he claims has the power to learn. He even calls it an “A.I.” which is pretty amazing, since he’s a kid who built a robot in his basement, and major experts in the field of computer science have not figured out how to give a computerized brain the ability to think on its own.

But hey, that just goes to show you how smart Paul is. Not only has he built a fully functioning robot – which is an achievement on its own – but his can think!

Loveable robot "BB" is fun, playful, and he has a fully functioning mind!

Loveable robot “BB” is fun, playful, and has a fully functioning brain!

Right away, moving into their new house, Paul makes a friend: the local paper boy Tom Toomey (Michael Sharrett), who sees the robot and asks what it is. So much for computer nerds not being social. Paul and Tom hit it off right away, and Tom tells Paul all about the neighborhood he’s just moved into. Other local highlights include the spooky, gated house of the reclusive Elvira Parker (Anne Ramsey, who also played Mama in THROW MAMA FROM THE TRAIN, 1987) who clearly doesn’t want any visitors, and Samantha Pringle (Kristy Swanson, also in FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF, 1986), who goes by Sam, and who lives next door to Paul with her drunken, abusive father, Harry (Richard Marcus).

So Paul seems to fit in right off the bat. Not only does he immediately find a buddy, but he gets the pretty girl, too. Sam comes over with a housewarming gift of store-bought donuts (explaining that her father wouldn’t let her bake something), and you just know where that’s headed. Paul spends a lot of time with Tom and Sam, but it’s clearly Sam he’s most interested in, and who can blame him. She is the original BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (1992) after all. And Sam seems more than eager to spend a lot of time hanging out at Paul’s house, since it gets her away from her creepy dad, who’s always drinking and shouting, and who comes into her room late at night (we never really see him do anything to her, and she tells him to get out when she wakes to find him hovering over her bed, but, well…).

Then things start to go bad. It begins on Halloween night when they get BB to open the gate to Mrs. Parker’s house, so they can play a prank on her. She comes out with a shotgun and blasts poor BB to kingdom come. So much for Paul’s revolutionary robot. Maybe he should take better care of his toys! Especially if they are scientific marvels!

Then, during an especially drunken binge, Harry Pringle berates Sam for sneaking out of the house on Thanksgiving (imagine that! She would rather have a normal Thanksgiving dinner with Paul and his mom than cower in her room while Daddy drinks and shouts at the television!). He slaps her, and she falls down the stairs, hitting her head against a wall, and dies. Harry tells the police that she tripped.

Paul can’t accept that she’s dead. So when she is taken off of life support, he sneaks into the hospital and performs some quick surgery on her corpse, imbedding the memory chip from good old BB into her brain. He and Tom take her away and put her in the shed behind Tom’s house.

Sam comes back to “life,” but at first she’s little more than a zombie, with big circles around her eyes and limited responsiveness. She has to learn to sit up, stand, and walk around, all over again. Then she sees her father through the shed’s window and learns something new – the desire for revenge. It’s not long before people start turning up dead, starting with dear old Dad and moving on to that cranky old bitch, Mrs. Parker (the scene where Sam kills Elvira Parker by throwing a basketball at her head, and squashing it like a melon, has become a classic). The police are baffled as to who is doing these things, and Tom threatens to go to the cops (he can’t live with the knowledge anymore), but it’s not long after that that the secret is out, and the police are tracking down the resurrected Sam in a parking lot.

You can tell she's the evil reanimated Sam because of the dark circles around her eyes.

You can tell she’s the evil reanimated Sam because of the dark circles around her eyes… oh and the stiff robotic movements!

There’s a lot about this movie that is pretty goofy, from the robot BB in the beginning (it’s so cutesy-looking, it looks like a refugee from the movie SHORT CIRCUIT, 1986) to the fact that Sam’s abusive father, Harry, seems more quirky than scary. He almost seems like a comic relief character until you realize exactly what he’s doing to his daughter when the lights are off. Imagine how much more effective this movie could have been if his character was played by an actor who could actually make him as serious and disturbing as he should have been?  You think that maybe the filmmakers here were too uncomfortable to show Harry for what he really was – and then you realize – this is the guy who directed LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT!!

The science in this movie is pretty laughable, and the computer talk is outdated and just plain silly at this point. But somehow, the movie is still very watchable. The acting, for the most part, is pretty good in this one. Matthew Labyorteaux is goofy but likable as Paul, and he’s believable as some boy genius who’s emotionally stunted. Anne Towmey is equally likable as Paul’s mom, and Michael Sharrett is fine as Tom Toomey.

The real reason to see this one, though, for me anyway, is Kristy Swanson. I’ve always liked her, and her character Sam is extremely likable here, with an awkwardness that comes from constantly hiding family secrets from the outside world. When Paul first meets Sam, he notices a bruise on her arm, which immediately defines her for us, and I was actually bummed out that Sam and Paul never really get to go “all the way” before Sam’s untimely death. Their relationship maintains a kind of odd innocence throughout.

I just wish that the rest of the movie was up to the performances. The script by Bruce Joel Rubin (who also wrote the incredibly sentimental GHOST, and the much more interesting JACOB’S LADDER, both from 1990) is lighter and a bit sillier than it should have been. A little bit darker, and more serious, take on this this subject matter would have helped this become a much more substantial movie. And the light touch Wes Craven uses with the direction doesn’t help. You can tell that this was made during the same decade as THE GOONIES, 1986, and E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL). By this point in time, too, you could already tell that Craven was much more interested in making easily-accessible commercial films than the hard-edged movies of his youth (that harder edge would have actually made DEADLY FRIEND much more effective).

I liked DEADLY FRIEND much more than I expected to, and I recommend that fans of 80s movies seek this one out, but I’m also disappointed that it wasn’t handled better. It just seems like a missed opportunity, which happened a lot in Wes Craven movies around this time (which makes THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW all the more fascinating, because it stands out so much from his other films of this period).

Oh, this one also has a “shock ending” which was pretty typical of horror movies from the 1980s. I almost hate to spoil it here, but it’s so damn silly, I have to mention it. After poor Sam dies a second time, Paul goes to find her in the morgue. He pulls out the drawer she’s in and looks down at her, and she grabs him. But it is then revealed that an evil version of the robot BB is underneath her skin and pops out.

Evil BB makes a shocking appearance at the end...

Evil BB makes a shocking appearance at the end…

What the hell?? There is absolutely no logical reason for this ending. I would say it was a crazy dream, but there is nothing to show us Paul is dreaming. How would imbedding a microchip into a corpse’s skull transform it into a complete robot underneath its human skin? This has to be one of the stupidest endings of all time.

But it sure did make me laugh out loud.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

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Bill’s Bizarre Bijou goes to THE BONEYARD (1991)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 1990s Horror, 2012, Animals Attack, B-Movies, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Evil Kids!, Just Plain Fun, Morgue Hijinks with tags , , , , , , , on October 11, 2012 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

THE BONEYARD (1991)

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes!

It’s beginning to look a lot like Halloween at the Bijou.  In honor of my favorite holiday (really, a whole day built around dressing up, horror movies, and candy?  What could be better?), I am digging through the forgotten film vaults to come up with a couple of terrific little movies that need to be watched in observance of the season.  The first one I discovered was a fun little B-picture that combines actual horror with some truly inspired and whacked-out comedy, a TV sitcom star, a recently deceased trend-setting comedienne, zombie children, a few rather gory scares, and some truly silly special effects.  When released on VHS, this movie had two boxes, one which stressed the horror and one that stressed the comedic aspects of the film, both of which demonstrated the true schizophrenic nature of the flick.  Altogether, it makes for an inspired night at the Bizarre Bijou.  Ladies and germs, I bring you, THE BONEYARD (1991).

The film begins with a cop, Jersey Callum (played by a tired-looking Ed Nelson, former AIP superstar, who appeared in INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN (1957), ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS (1957) and A BUCKET OF BLOOD (1959), amongst others) arriving at a decrepit, rundown old house.  He pokes around inside with his much younger partner, Gordon Mullen, played by James Eustermann.  Inside, he finds the woman he is looking for, Alley Oates, a psychic who has helped the police find dead children for years until she couldn’t take it any longer.  Now, she has retreated into her rather gross house and eaten everything in sight until she weighs at least 325 pounds.  Alley is very well-played by Deborah Rose (TROOP BEVERLY HILLS, 1989 and SKI SCHOOL, 1990), an actress who truly seems consumed with grief and horror of the world.  Jersey tells her he has a case for her, three children whose remains have been partially mummified and discovered in an old mortuary.  The mortician, Mr. Chen, had kept them alive by feeding them human remains and parts of cadavers, and he claimed they were ghouls, kyoshi, Asian demon children or something.  Chen’s family is cursed, and he had to feed these undead demons, and they were getting out of control. Or is he just crazy?.  Alley is required to find out who these children were, to help identify the decaying bodies.  But, she is haunted by memories of dead children who accuse her of not finding them in time, and she has horrific nightmares about them needing comfort.  In order to purge her newest set of nightmares, she decides to head to the city morgue, where the three children’s corpses are located, and she will put them to rest.

Alley Oates (Deborah Rose) is a psychic who helps the police find dead children in THE BONEYARD.

So far, THE BONEYARD is a rather somber, eerie affair, but that all changes once we get to the county morgue!  There’s a skeleton crew working there, as the morgue is in the process of changing locations and most of the staff is in the new spot.  Leftover, however, is the night clerk, Mrs. Poopinplatz(!) played without a wig(!!) by great comedienne Phyllis Diller.  She works there with her white beribboned poodle Floofsoms, and she’s pretty scary with her trademark laugh (Ha haaa haaaaaaaaa) and her real gray hair sticking out every which way.  When she looks at Alley’s ID, she says “Porked out, didn’t ya?”  There’s also the coroner, Shepherd, played by a pony-tailed Norman Fell (Mr. Roper on THREE’S COMPANY), who shows Alley the three kids.  The makeup on these desiccated corpses is gruesome and truly disgusting.  Alley touches a lock of hair from one of them, and BAM! She gets flashbacks of the kyoshi demons being fed human remains, and she realizes they aren’t dead!  They’re awakening at that moment.  It’s a really creepy scene, one of the best in the film, as the ghouls creep from their tables and into the dark corners of the place.

Meanwhile, in another part of the morgue, the body of a young girl, Dana, an apparent suicide, is admitted, but she wakes up on the autopsy table.   Alley rushes down to the morgue, Poopinplatz right behind her, screaming “Floofsoms, sic her!  Bite her!”  When Alley arrives, she finds a massacre, the kyoshi devouring one of the coroners and the others tucking into other available corpses.  The survivors, Dana, Jersey, Gordon, and Shepherd are hiding in another room down the hall.  The group discovers that even shooting them in the head won’t kill the ghouls.  From here, the film turns into a cat and mouse game with the survivors being chased all over the half-empty building (the phones are out and the electricity is spotty!) by the little bastards.  Thank goodness the evidence storage room is full of everything from axes to machine guns to a pipe bomb!

Shepherd gets bitten by one of the monsters, and one force-feeds part of its brain to a struggling Poopinplatz.  Gordon shoots the crap out of one of the demons, firing several hundred bullets into it, finally killing it but destroying the elevator.  Poopinplatz mutates into a giant monster that looks a little like Big Daddy Kane meets Bette Davis meets a muppet.  Floofsoms also becomes a nine foot tall white poodle monster with six inch fangs and a ribbon in its hair.  Soon, our little group of survivors is fleeing from the ghouls, the giant poodle, and a slobbering laughing Phyllis Diller beast.  Will any of them make it out alive?

Phyllis Diller as the “Poopinplatz Monster” in THE BONEYARD.

Run for your lives! It’s a killer Floofsoms in THE BONEYARD.

A special mention should be made of the terrific music by John Lee Whitener, whose only other credit seems to be 1991’s RAGIN’ CAJUN’.  It’s an orchestral score reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann, and it’s a perfect mixture of action adventure thrills and eerie horror melodies.  Just a great score I could listen to (especially those whips lashing out) without the movie.

The atmosphere of THE BONEYARD is very autumnal, with falling leaves everywhere.  You can almost smell the crispness in the air.  When the action moves inside, the claustrophobic metal rooms of the morgue intensify the viewing experience.  I chalk it up to director James Cummins, who was a special effects man on projects such as THE BEAST WITHIN (1982) JAWS 3-D (1983), ENEMY MINE (1985) and DEEPSTAR SIX (1989).  The effects work on THE BONEYARD can be cheesy and scary at the same time.  At one point, there’s a brilliant scene when Dana first sees the Floofsoms monster, and the only thing she can do is giggle.  Then, it roars and bares its huge fangs, and the screaming starts.  The film is funny but turns scary in seconds, setting just the right balance between the hilarious and the macabre.

THE BONEYARD had an obviously low budget; it’s often too dark, the sound design is iffy at best, the love song at the end really sucks, and some of the acting is rather stagy.  But it manages to overcome its budgetary limitations with a wildly unpredictable script, likable characters, outrageous monsters, plenty of gore, and two solid performances from Ed Nelson and Deborah Rose that anchor the screwy events in a sort of reality.  It’s a real hoot, and quite a nice discovery if you can find it anywhere.

I give THE BONEYARD three mutant poodles out of four.

© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl