Winter Horror-Thon 2016

Part Two - Daddy would've gotten us Uzis...

So coming down from all those eye gags and scenes of oozing madness, it's time to take a look at something a little different, where comedy is at the forefront and in some cases things are surprisingly tame for the horror genre. Of course this is often a genre which merges into the realm of sci-fi b-movie type stories, so you're always going to find a few cases where they focus on those aspects. But the main recurring factor here is mostly dumb laughs, silly dialogue and special effects that are all relatively bloodless.

Night of the Comet is one of those films which smacks you right in the face with a whole load of 80s flavour as soon as it starts. From the music, the colours and the outfits, it's all eye watering stuff to look at. The lead characters are two sisters, and the younger one wears a really garish cheerleader outfit for a long stretch of the movie. Check out that hair, it's typical stuff. There's also a bright red filter over the camera lens in a lot of the outdoor shots; it takes up almost half the screen at times to give the effect of dust particles from the titular comet being in the air. It could be too much but thankfully this is all adds up to an entertaining piece of film.

In an opening narration the comet is explained as causing extinction as it passes through our solar system, leaving deadly red dust in its wake. Now from the artwork this would seem at first to be a zombie movie of some kind, but in reality it's a doomsday story like Day of the Triffids where the survivors wake to a world where people have mysteriously vanished. While at first it's apparent that a lot of them have been turned into more of this red dust after watching the previous night's cosmic light show, there are others left alive who didn't get at full dose, and as a result may be less than sane. There are plenty of post apocalypse style clich├ęs like bands of thugs roaming the local stores, scientists trying to solve the problem who may have shady methods of doing so, and a lot of neat cityscapes where everything is abandoned. A couple of sequences showing the reality of the comet's side effects are creepy enough and the make-up is great, but on the whole it's a light hearted movie for the end of civilisation.

TerrorVision on the other hand continues the fashion nightmare and the comedy tone, but takes both to new extremes. At first I assumed this was set in some kind of near future with it's ridiculous set design and television control gadgets covered with buttons and moving parts. The dish they are installing is a gigantic 'DIY 100' model and early on somebody talks about eating lizard tails (a renewable food source!). But after a while it sunk in this is more of a parody of the period, both in terms of the dress sense and technology of the time. Rooms are decorated with bizarre erotic paintings that I guess are making fun of Patrick Nagel - pop art scenes of nudity and bondage appear in the background of many shots. Costumes that resemble ridiculous takes on the likes of Cyndi Lauper and 80s metal groups also feature. This kind of excess is everywhere including bizarre subplots about the parents of the household being swingers and the grandfather being a gun hoarding conspiracy nut. The house has pleasure room and an armoury.

The title hints at what is going to happen, after all TV is bad for you right? However nobody expects their new receiver to pick up alien energy beams, particularly ones that contain mutations designated for waste disposal on other planets. But rather than reducing the monster into harmless energy, an accident causes it to travel through space and allow it to materialise through an Earth TV screen. The monster itself is like a cartoon character, with a lot of eyes and teeth, dripping goo, and a mouth that never stops moving. Soon enough people are eaten and as usual the youngest child is the witness nobody believes - it plays to the expected tropes despite all this madness. The Empire Pictures logo features but this isn't Re-Animator, and while the monster kills are pretty gross there's green slime in place of blood. There are some body morphing effects but it's very tame outside the lewd antics and those set decorations. The whole thing is silly beyond further description - the other tangents in this story best left to be discovered.

Moving on to something that never quite gets to full speed, House (1986) is basically a riff on Poltergeist done with extra comedy. A horror novelist planning to move on to more personal projects and sits down to write about his Vietnam war experiences. The war has left its mark, but recent events including the disappearance of his son, a divorce, and the death of his Aunt are not helping. He thinks moving into her house will help for some reason, but of course things there are not as they seem. He soon discovers monsters in the closet amongst other places, and starts to see things including flying garden tools and moving taxidermy fish. This sounds like standard fare but there is never enough focus on either horror or the main plot.

To be sure this is a comedy we are soon introduced to a prying neighbour played by George Wendt from Cheers. He gets all the funniest scenes and gives the best performance, particularly in his introduction where he talks about the late Aunt being crazy. The problem is that the haunted house isn't give enough focus, or enough explanation. Why are there creatures? What did the Aunt discover? How does this tie in with the war memories if they aren't the cause? It's hard to say because unlike Poltergeist this isn't executed that well. It jumps between writing sessions and monster hunt scenes, and the atmosphere is very lacking for a story with one character living alone for so long. There's fun to be had along the way, but it seems like a series of jokes that interrupt the writing stuff; some that work and others that fall flat. A ghoul here, an annoying visitor there. The war flashbacks eventually pay off in the best sequence, but overall this is a mixed bag of tricks.

To end this with something just as PG rated as the others, let's take a quick look a The Monster Squad. Mixing the old school Universal horror villains with the a typical 80s teen adventure, it's got the usual amount of comedy foul language but otherwise lacks teeth as you'd expect. One surprising moment sees werewolf meet hand grenade, but elsewhere there's little in terms of violence. But this is a movie that combines Shane Black sarcasm with Stan Winston effects, you've got to give it credit where it's due even if the target audience is an odd consideration. Those Goonies fans who were also into James Whales? I guess it's a possibility.

It shares writers with House and again the storyline is a pretty uneven. There's something about Dracula trying to get an amulet to take over the world, but it will destroy him if found by the heroes, and he enlists other movie monsters like the Wolfman and the Mummy to help. Apparently this crystal can shift the balance of good and evil in their favour but in the right hands will create an Evil Dead II style portal to suck them away. It's fun to see Tom Noonan as Frankenstein's monster but how they all come together to team up and what they want once the crystal is destroyed is is pretty vague. It has to split the running time between goofy kids club house scenes and domestic drama as well as the evil scheme. For some reason the kids of the Monster Squad end up in possession of Dr. Van Helsing's diary, and they head off to find both a translator and eventually someone who can open the portal. There's plenty of silly chases and sillier dialogue to be found so it's not without a certain charm, even it's pretty bizarre to see Dracula using dynamite at one point. Most of his cohorts cause mayhem along the way, although Creature from the Black Lagoon doesn't really do much at all. The Count's three brides also make an appearance later on, only to walk about slowly in the streets. Like the central idea itself this is an oddity, but it's likeable enough on the whole.