A Roundtable of 90s Horror
By Kristin Battestella
Some of the horror movies from twenty odd years ago are still slice and dice sardonic perfection – others…not so much! Here’s a quartet of nineties scares both sweet and sour.
Dr. Giggles – “I hope you have protection.” It took forever for this ominously absurd 1992 90-minute slasher written and directed by Manny Coto (Star Trek: Enterprise) to arrive from Netflix! From the bloody animations and over the top opening credits to psych ward fears, gore, campus mayhem, and teen sex dangers, ingénue with a heart condition Holly Marie Combs (Charmed) has her hands full thanks to Larry Drake’s (L.A. Law) titular mental patient cum surgeon. I hadn’t seen this in years, but the quips and camp add memorable twists to the strict revenge, deathly duty, and ghoulish ethics. Yes, the so early 90s its 80s styles and teen scene fluff are bad. The attempted somber, emotional moments are unevenly mixed with stupid, then hip dialogue and teens singing the local mad doctor legend. Brief, goofy 50s flashbacks explaining the history and rehashing old cops make for too much typical tell instead of show cliché. Fortunately, the butchery plays into our natural healthcare fears, and the body count, fun deaths, and sardonic slice and dice matches the quick editing cuts. Modern slasher films try this funny and scary blend, but they don’t seem to have the personality. Although the pace here goes off the rails with an overlong ending and one too many sassy phrases after another, the horror/humor parody is well done. Indeed this is the genre where we glee over Giggles, quote Freddy Krueger, and dress as Jason for Halloween when we ought to live in fear of these killers. While this could have been a serious scary period piece or a straight slasher sex fest, that’s not the point of the imperfect witty fun here. Watch with tongue firmly planted in cheek, and remember, “Physician, heal thyself.”
Tales from the Crypt presents Demon Knight – John Kassir and his Crypt Keeper debut on the big screen with Hollywood in jokes and a self-referential frame for this 1995 tale of mysticism, religion, and action. Old fashioned good versus evil supernatural trappings, turncoats, possessions, and a myriad cast of characters including the wonderful William Sadler (Die Hard 2), creepy Billy Zane (Dead Calm) , Jada Pinkett (before the Smith), CCH Pounder (The Shield), Thomas Haden Church (Wings), Dick Miller (A Bucket of Blood), and Charles Fleischer (Who Framed Roger Rabbit?) keep the siege suspense twisting and turning. Granted, the rules for the heroes versus the demons and the keys to end the world explanations get a little hokey near the end, and the same old Pinkett action goes on a little longer than it should. Some plot points are corny, the battle finale creates a few plot holes, and though tense, there aren’t a lot of scares. Fortunately, the gore, nudity, and effects are all good fun, and the pace builds in a fine, natural progression. There’s sarcasm and humor, but also a reluctance or anger and seriousness from the ensemble to balance any clichés. I’m surprised this super sized Tales from the Crypt macabre has a bad rep, for the demon concepts are intriguing entertainment.
Tales from the Crypt presents Bordello of Blood – Comedian Dennis Miller, Erika Eleniak (Baywatch), Corey Feldman (The Lost Boys), Chris Sarandon (Fright Night), and model Angie Everhart provide plenty of hammy and horny in this 1996 vampire romp. The bloody vamp make up, fiery effects, and gore are well done along with lots of T-n-A to match, and John Kassir voicing the Crypt Keeper is always a campy delight. The self-referential jokes are important, and this is a fun romp with all the bad innuendo one desires. There are even some history and religion plotlines amid the bad puns, too. Unfortunately, there’s some overreaching just for the thrills in the opening and closing bookends, nothing here is scary, and Miller always has time for just one more sardonic line – which misses most of the time. The balance between comedy and horror here just isn’t right – it should be better than it is, yet there is a trying too hard feeling adding to the confusion. Are we supposed to laugh with this or at it? Granted, the viewer should not expect to take this picture seriously with a cast like this, but most of the humor falls flat. I’d rather this had been a straight telling with the mood and wink of the Tales from the Crypt series and there isn’t a lot of repeat watch value. Although one should definitely not watch this edited on television, there’s enough sexy bad entertainment value here for late night frat party viewings.
The Haunting of Hell House – I wanted to like this 1999 doubly supernatural Victorian tale of murder, ghosts, and betrayal starring Michael York (Logan’s Run) and an underutilized Claudia Christian (Babylon 5), but almost everything about it falls flat. Admittedly, York is phoning it in a bit, but he’s still more classy and graceful then whippersnappers like Andrew Bowen (MADtv) and Jason Cottle (Cthulhu) putting on faux airs – modern dudes not using contractions does not equal old speaketh, sorry. Focusing on Bowen’s stupidity and guilt as the main story line was a mistake, for the viewer could care less about his dilemma thanks to the nonsensical dreams and haunting film work. Seriously, some of the herky jerky visions look like an unloaded GIF or bad Photoshop! Though obvious as to its outcome, York’s plot is more interesting and the picture should have focused entirely on his sickness, haunting, and inner demons. It’s also incredibly frustrating that there is no apparent connection between the two plots – what should be the entire crux of the movie is simply a wasted opportunity. I’m glad this doesn’t go for cheap nudity or gore – the period fashions and settings are nice, too – but the style, tone, and dark palette still look too modern. The flashy title doesn’t have much to do with the Henry James source, either, and I’m surprised Roger Corman (House of Usher) was the producer. This could have been a nice story, but we get twists we don’t want and none of the shock or delight we desire. Pity.