Phillip's Horror Lists, Part Eight: The Rest of the Funny
In my last blog post, I gave you the 5-star horror-comedies. Here, then, are the 4-star ones. Just a notch lower in quality but still more than worthy of your respect and love. In alpha order, here they be:
Bad Taste (1988) – “Bad Taste” is probably my third-favorite Peter Jackson, after “Dead Alive” and “Meet the Feeble.” Since it’s also his first film, it’s pretty rough around the edges, although this ends up being one of its chief selling points by the end. Aliens come to earth on a mission of harvesting humans for intergalactic fast food fixin’s. It’s up to the usual motley crew of rebels and whiners to stop the insidious plan. As with “Dead Alive” and “Meet the Feebles,” “Bad Taste” comes jam-packed with more vomit, blood and mucus than most people should ever see in their lives. The film’s constantly funny but, as hinted at by its title, usually approximates the trash-culture feel of a Troma film. For Jackson completists, this one’s a must. For all others…tread carefully.
Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn (1987) – “Evil Dead II” is, as a rule, the film that everyone thinks about when they discuss “Evil Dead.” In fact, much of the oft-quoted material from the first film actually comes from its sequel/remake. Both films are essential viewing but it doesn’t necessarily lessen the sting: for all intents and purposes, “Evil Dead II” is just a more comical version of “Evil Dead.” That being said, this was also the film that leap-frogged Bruce Campbell to the head of the “badass-action-quipsters” class. “Evil Dead II” and “Army of Darkness” actually received so much play from me when younger that I haven’t seen either movie in several years: I think I got burned-out. If you’ve never seen the film, however, do not hesitate to bump it to the top of your “must-see” list. Even better, watch all three in a marathon that guarantees to be about the best four hours or so you’ve ever spent.
Ghostbusters (1984) – No list of horror-comedies would be complete without Peter Venkman and the boys. As a child, I must have watched this film at least once or twice a week for years. It got to the point where I not only had the dialogue memorized but all the blocking cues, as well. After not having seen it for close to a decade, I just re-watched the film a few months back. Unlike some of my childhood favorites, it actually holds up really well. All of the most famous set-pieces (the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man; Gozer’s temple in Dana’s fridge; the library ghost; Slimer) are still just as great as they ever were. Bill Murray is still a freakin’ riot and receives more than capable support from Ackroyd, Ramis, Hudson, Moranis and Potts. Some of the film comes across as a little dated almost 30 years down the road but that’s not really a knock against the film: very few movies are ever timeless. If you’ve got younguns, “Ghostbusters” may just be the gate-way drug that gets them into horror. At any rate, it beats the hell out of “Rugrats”!
Gremlins (1984) – Like “Ghostbusters,” this was another of my favorite movies growing up. Also, like “Ghostbusters,” the film hasn’t escaped the past 30 years unscathed. Nonetheless, it’s still a helluva film and one of my all-time favorite Joe Dante movies. A young boy receives a cute little fuzzball, called a Mogwai, from his father as a gift. Essentially a cross between a teddy bear and a koala, the Mogwai (named Gizmo) is super-cute but does come with some rather particular instructions: never get him wet…never feed him after midnight…never expose him to bright light. Of course, all three rules are broken in short order and that’s where all the fun kicks in. Gizmo pops out a bunch of scary, mischievous little monsters that proceed to wreck the Rockwellian town and threaten to ruin everyone’s Xmas. This is a great film and another one that’s pretty suitable for younger audiences. Just be warned, however, if you have tykes: Phoebe Cates’ famous Xmas story about Santa and the chimney has still stuck with me after all these years. The sequel, “Gremlins 2,” is actually pretty good but nowhere near the original.
Motel Hell (1980) – “It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent’s fritters!” Indeed…although the main ingredient is still good, old-fashioned long-pig. Farmer Vincent and his exceptionally odd sister, Ida, run a motel and a roadside sausage stand somewhere in the rural heartland of America. Seems that there are an undue amount of traffic accidents in the area, however, accidents where the people just seem to…disappear. Turns out, Vincent and Ida are collecting the folks, burying them up to their necks in the garden, fattening them up and turning them into delicious meat-in-a-sleeve. Everything rolls right along until Farmer Vincent ends up taking a shine to the girlfriend of one of their recent victims. He gets wedding bells in his eyes and his blissfully unaware beloved doesn’t know anything about his activities. Think this will all come out in the wash? Guess again, sucker! Rory Calhoun is outstanding as Farmer Vincent and the movie features a chainsaw duel that manages to be both hilarious and badass. May make you think twice about ever buying food from a road-side stand again!
Netherbeast Incorporated (2007) – This little jewel was actually made in sunny, ol’ Phoenix and was produced by the head of the film program I just graduated from. When I first sat down to watch this, I didn’t expect anything at all but was actually shocked: this is a really, really funny film! First off, take a look at the cast: Darrell Hammond, Judd Nelson, Dave Foley, Jason Mewes, Robert Wagner…that’s quite the eclectic little group there! The film is, essentially, about an office building staffed by the living dead. The president of the company is a vampire but, unfortunately, has grown so old and senile that he’s forgotten that fact. Problem is, he starts staking the other vampires…talk about a party foul! There are so many great elements to this film that listing them all would be pointless. Suffice to say that Hammond and Foley are comic gold, Nelson is hilariously idiotic and Mewes is actually tolerable. This is not a perfect film by any stretch (once you get away from the big names, the rest of the cast is hit or miss) but there are more than enough great moments to warrant adding this to your seasonal list.
Re-Animator (1985) – Featuring one of my favorite poster taglines of all time (Herbert West has a very good head on his shoulders…and another one in a dish on his desk.), “Re-Animator” is a loose (very loose…very, very, verrrry loose) adaptation of one of H.P. Lovecraft’s short stories. Directed by Stuart Gordon and featuring the guy who was Crispin Glover before there WAS Crispin Glover (Jeffrey Combs), “Re-Animator” dishes up one absurd, Grand Guignol sequence after another. Medical students become involved in experiments to re-animate the dead, with decidedly mixed results. The shit really hits the fan, however, when the villainous Dr. Hill is decapitated, only to have his head and body separately re-animated. This leads up to one of the most infamous scenes in modern genre films, a scene that I can only describe as “a head giving head.” The less said the better. Hyper-gory, hyper-sexual, deviant as hell and laugh-out-loud funny, “Re-Animator” has a little bit for everyone…providing your sensibilities aren’t too sensitive, of course.
The Return of the Living Dead (1985) – I almost included this gem in my zombie blog, but there’s a big, comic heart that beats in the center of this festering corpse. Another one of those films that I’ve probably seen between three and four dozen times, “ROTLD” never ceases to make me smile. Employees at a medical supply warehouse discover that the old horror chestnut, “Night of the Living Dead” was actually based on a true story. Even crazier, they have the zombie in cold-storage to prove it! As always happens in these films, however, the morons let the thing out, try to cover up their mistake, and start a citywide zombie plague. Unlike most other zombie films, however, the dismembered tongue is firmly planted in cheek for this one. From the oozing nastiness that is Tarman (perhaps one of the single most iconic zombies in the sub-genre’s history) to the Three Stooges-esque attempts to stop the plague from spreading to Linnea Quigley nude graveyard dance (va-va-voom!), there is just so much memorable stuff going on here. One of those rare films that can appeal equally to either zombie or comedy fans. Directed by Dan O’Bannon (screenwriter for Carpenter’s early “Dark Star” and Ridley’s classic “Alien”), this is one ride you definitely don’t want to miss. Just watch out for that rolling head, okay?
Two Thousand Maniacs (1964) – Yeehaw! In Herschell Gordon Lewis’ splatter classic, the South does rise again…from the grave! “Two Thousand Maniacs” could probably best be described as a blood-drenched, sicko combination of “Brigadoon” and “Hee-Haw.” A group of tourists are lured to a small town in the South for its Centennial celebration. The only problem is, this entire town was wiped off the face of the earth during the Civil War one hundred years earlier. Hmm…do ya suppose something is going on? Turns out…you’re right! These easy-goin’ Southern folk are actually bloodthirsty ghosts out for revenge on any Northerner they can get their hands on. Under the guise of showing the Yankees a good time, the “townspeople” subject them to any number of inventive, gory games, where the outcome is always the same: death to the Yankees! Lewis was a notoriously inept filmmaker (watch “Blood Feast” really closely some day…I’m pretty sure that middle-school kids could make a more professional film), so it’s difficult to say whether the humor in this film is intentional or just thy by-product of his shoddy workmanship. Whatever the case may be, I love this stupid little film like a crazy aunt in the attic: it’s actually the only one of Lewis’ copious gore efforts that I can stand. If you’ve never seen it before, grab a jug of moonshine and go to town, hoss! If I were you, though, I’d stay outta that barrel.