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The Bottom Shelf #127

09.27.2007

This has been a banner year in the old Awesome house, what with the two titles at the top of my "Hurry Up and Release It on DVD" list getting put out within weeks of each other. If you haven't seen these movies before, buy them, watch them, share them with others. If you have seen them before, I hope you enjoy watching them again as much as I did.

THE MONSTER SQUAD (1986)
Directed by: Fred Dekker
Starring: Andre Gower, Ryan Lambert

-- click here to buy this DVD at Amazon.com --
-- click here to rent this movie at NetFlix.com --

Who says that Fergie is the only former member of Kids Incorporated to continue their musical career? Oddly enough, Ryan Lambert is in a band called Elephone with a man named Terry Ashkinos who happens to be the brother of Jay Ashkinos, my college buddy and writing idol. I didn't know this fact (even though I've listened to Elephone many a time) until I received my special edition 2-disc copy of MONSTER SQUAD in the mail. I eagerly tore into it, looking forward to be doused in cheese. My youngest sister was a baby at the time that it was released and was too scared to watch it on VHS even years later. Watching it as an adult made her wrinkle her face and wonder why the hell she had such an issue with a tongue-in-cheek movie dusted with a touch of the Ed Wood syndrome.

A bunch of kids are the world's only hope against being taken over by evil. At least, that's what the movie purports as it shows some of cinema's most memorable creatures, from Dracula to Frankenstein's monster to The Mummy to The Wolfman (oh, I can hear you saying "Nards!" right now) to The Creature from the Black Lagoon (referred to as "Gil Man" in the special features). If these kids can't manage to get a hold of a magical amulet comprised of concentrated "good" and have a virgin recite some German, everyone's going to hell in the proverbial hand basket. The only problem seems to be that the drag-queen like Dracula can't manage to get his cohorts to see eye-to-eye with his evilness. You've got the Wolfman begging to be locked up, Frank making nice with the annoying little sister and Gil not showing up until his presence is inconsequential.

None of this matters. The movie has this power to it, being one of the few cultish movies from my younger years (I was 12 at the time of its release, the same age as the characters in the flick) which I consider to be just as powerful as the silly monster movies revered from the 1950's. The lines are said with conviction and the kids seem to honestly be both having fun and trying to kill the creatures. After watching many of the special features (I highly recommend getting the second disc and watching them if you've never seen the movie before) you get an even clearer picture that while they thought that some "campiness" was going to shine through, they had no idea just how much. See, real campiness relies on one thing: the people involved have to really BELIEVE in what they're doing. It can't be them mocking the characters or the situations. That's not campy, that's spoof and there's a HUGE difference between the two. The classic lines from this movie would not sound the same if they had been approached with a completely comedic angle. And a movie like THE MONSTER SQUAD, with its taunts of "faggot" and mention of "wolfman dork" wouldn't be included in a movie these days. So eat it up and stop trying to tell me that Steve doesn't count.

Favorite Scene:

My favorite scene was actually cut from the movie and I just recently discovered it in the deleted scenes section of the 2-disc special edition. Let's just say that I understand why Gil Man's death didn't go how they originally wanted it to.

Favorite Line

"Scary German guy is bitchin'!"
(Just to avoid listing the most obvious line. And credit to the late Brent Chalem who as Horace had the best lines in the movie.)

Trivia Tidbit:

Liam Neeson was considered for the role of Dracula. Schindler would have been proud.

See if you liked:

THE GOONIES, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, NIGHT OF THE COMET

THE DARK BACKWARD (1991)
Directed by: Adam Rifkin
Starring: Judd Nelson, Bill Paxton

-- click here to buy this DVD at Amazon.com --
-- click here to rent this movie at NetFlix.com --

There is a point in the lifespan of the average fanboy or girl when they believe everything that's off the beaten path has to be a masterpiece. They look for actors that the suburban housewives wouldn't be able to place by name, directors that would get the mallrats to shrug and walk away at the mention of, and would diligently hunt down limited edition prints of VHS-only low-budget films that some executive had to be drunk or high to have approved. Back in 1991 when I was a budding fangirl, one of the movies that I frequently sung the praises of and subjected all of my inferior minded friends to was THE DARK BACKWARD. A movie about a comedian that isn't funny who starts to grow an arm out of the middle of his back? Sheer fangirl heaven, especially when it stars the former Brat Packer icon that she had her first steamy dreams about.

I used to have a copy of this movie on VHS which mysteriously disappeared. Considering that I tortured too many people with it and the purported suspects are plenty, I just wrote it off and searched for it whenever I had a free moment of late-night cable time on my hands. But thanks to a resurgence in "what's weird makes it superior" thinking, the movie was recently granted a 15th Anniversary Edition DVD release. Watching it again with a different set of eyes, as an adult who has expanded her viewing tactics by watching a little bit of everything to create the illusion of balance in my critiquing, I see the movie in a far different light. While I previously adored it for being a film that was in-your-face loud and bizarre (best highlighted by the obnoxious performance of Paxton, taking the outrageous nature of his role as Chet in WEIRD SCIENCE to a whole other level) I can now appreciate the movie for the metaphor that it represents.

Written and directed by Adam Rifkin, a former art school geek, when he was only 19 years old, the movie is untainted by the boorish nature of the major film studios and their unenlightened, profits-driven ideologies. The main character of Marty Malt, a tiny, simpering, insignificant man who for some reason believes that he might be good at comedy is representative of the majority of people who are in the independent movie business. Telling jokes that no one gets or wants to listen to, it isn't until he grows an arm out of the center of his back that people jump at the chance to capitalize on his physical anomaly (something defined in the commentary when Rifkin explains that the company who financed the film was the same one that had lucked out with the success of SEX, LIES & VIDEOTAPE the year before and most likely approved the money for this film without even reading the script). When the bigger names come in, Marty doesn't get any funnier, they just keep spinning his malformed angle to get the waiting hordes to buy into it. In the end, once Marty sees that it wasn't his personality and delivery keeping him down but the material, he's able to successfully navigate the comedy world, all the more happy to be unburdened by the crap that goes along with selling out. Personally, I could go on and on about the movie and its underlying message. Really, this is a movie that has a strong message, a brilliant veneer of color and sweat that conveys the ugly underbelly of what's going on, and motherf*cking Wayne Newton. You know you can't pass up the Newton, baby.

Favorite Scene:

The symbolism of Paxton licking the corpse really drives home what Hollywood films are all about.

Favorite Line:

"It's all over between the two of us. I can't love a man with three hands."

Trivia Tidbit:

Wayne Newton was originally asked to participate in the movie as a cameo role, but after reading the script Newton chose to play the talent agent, Jackie Chrome, one of the three main leads. He turned down a paycheck for the role and also fronted the cost for his trailer and traveling expenses from Las Vegas to Los Angeles out of his own pocket.

See if you liked:

REPO MAN, SWIMMING WITH SHARKS, BAD TASTE

The extras on the BACKWARD disc are such an incredible addition to the movie, while you have to suffer through a little bit of pompousness (something that I think Rifkin alludes to with his mentioning of being 19 and untainted at the time that he made the movie) make the movie watching experience all that much more full. I'm not always an extras watcher myself because most of them are so lacking, but in this case it's more than worth the time investment.

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