A while ago, my friend Rob got his hands on a huge stack of absolutely terrible horror movies and, knowing our passion for such films, sent the entire collection to my sister and I because Rob is, quite truly, the best. The one that really called to me, though, the one that just begged to be watched, was Tales From the Darkside: The Movie, mostly because of this cast: Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, Christian Slater, Rae Dawn Chong, James Remar, and Deborah Harry.
It definitely seemed like a good candidate for Bloody Hearts, but when I realized that it was also an anthology film, just like V/H/S, it seemed like destiny.
Destiny is hilarious.
Here be spoilers. Sorry, folks. Can’t help myself.
To delay being thrown into an oven and promptly eaten, a boy (Matthew Lawrence) reads three short scary stories to the witch (Deborah Harry) who’s holding him captive.
1. Let’s begin by noting that I am a Blondie fan. Or, anyway, that I love “One Way or Another,” as all people should because it’s an awesome song. But as an actress? Deborah Harry is not so awesome. If this movie was being remade, I’d cast Michelle Pfeiffer in a hot second. Doesn’t even matter what time period. She could be late 80’s Michelle Pfeiffer ala The Witches of Eastwick or she could be mid-2000’s Michelle Pfeiffer ala Stardust. Either way, she’s clearly who this movie wanted to cast.
2. To be fair to Deborah Harry, though, Little Matthew Lawrence isn’t exactly Oscar material, either.
But he’s teeny, and I expect a little less from child actors. Also, he grew up to be Jack on Boy Meets World, and I will always have a little space in my heart for anyone from Boy Meets World. And for those of you snickering right now, the hell with you. I can like quality horror films, shitty horror films, and cheesy teenage romantic dramadies from the 90’s all at the same time. I am multi-faceted, people! I won’t be put in a box and LABELLED!
3. Anyway, so after watching both V/H/S and Tales from the Darkside: The Movie, I have come up with a hypothesis: for an anthology film to be successful, the narrative story can’t be the weakest in the bunch. Also, it probably shouldn’t suck monkeyballs.
For instance, if you’re going to
rip off pay homage to a fairy tale, you should be prepared to do something interesting with that fairy tale. Badly stitching “Hansel & Gretel” and One Thousand & One Nights together with some cheesy dialogue and Blondie does not qualify as doing something interesting. Especially when . . .
A. Young Timmy is distracting Blondie the Witch by reading stories out of her own book. Yes, I don’t remember every fairy tale I read as a child in exquisite detail, either, but she acts like she’s never heard any of them. Which makes no godamned sense.
B. Young Timmy gets free by narrating his own escape. Honest to God. He starts telling her “the best story,” which of course is his story. Blondie the Witch is not so stupid as to have forgotten how she stole a kid that morning, but she apparently is stupid enough to continue walking forward after he pulls a bunch of marbles out of his pocket, drops them on the floor, and then tells her about it. Blondie the Witch then slips on the marbles — I mean, seriously, why not a fucking banana peel — and manages to impale herself on some form of kitchen utensil, so that Young Timmy can easily push her into her own oven.
For Christ’s sake.
4. We might as well take this story by story.
In “Lot 249,” Bellingham (Steve Buscemi) is cheated out of a fellowship and framed for theft. Understandably pissed about this, he purchases a mummy to take revenge on Wyatt and Susan (Robert Klein and Julianne Moore), the yuppy students who framed him. However, Andy (Christian Slater) knows what Bellingham has done, and since he was Wyatt’s best friend and Susan’s brother, he takes revenge on Bellingham. Actually, he really just ties Bellingham up and threatens to torture him unless Bellingham gives up his Magic Resurrection Spell. Bellingham does, and Andy lets him go because, presumably, he can’t kill him and it’s not like the cops will believe any of this anyway. But Bellingham didn’t give Andy the real scroll, and the story ends with Dead Susan and Dead Wyatt coming for Andy . . . who, unfortunately, can’t dispatch them as easily as he destroyed the last mummy.
A. This story actually has a certain amount of potential — possibly because it’s based on a story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The idea of the deaths are fairly inspired, anyway — the mummy kills his victims like he’s making a guide for the Step by Step Process of Mummification — so Wyatt gets his brains ripped out through his nostrils with a wire hanger (NO WIRE HANGERS — look, it had to be said), and Susan gets stabbed in the back and stuffed full of chrysanthemums, which is a scene that desperately needs to be rewritten as creepy and awesome instead of just funny. (Seriously, look at Julianne Moore’s face when she sees the mummy and watch her have no expression at all. Also, look you guys, George Lucas ruined it for the rest of us, okay? Unless you’re making a Star Wars movie, you are not allowed to use a wipe transition. Honestly.)
B. But as much as I like a young, homicidal, crazypants Christian Slater . . . and, oh, I do . . . the transition from “Yuppie I-Don’t-Want-To-Touch-Your-Mummy” Andy —
— to “Psycho, I-Tear-Mummy-Arms-Off-With-My-Bare-Hands-And-Also-Cackle-While-I-Play-With-This-Handy-Electric-Carving-Knife” Andy is just way too quick.
I’m not saying losing your best friend and your sister to your mummy-wielding next door neighbor couldn’t turn you a little loopy, but you can’t just be the innocent nice boy in a sweater vest in one scene and the boy pouring lighter fluid over a hostage the next scene without some kind of transition.
(Apparently, the creators thought a costume change was all the transition that was required. When he’s scaring the shit out of Steve Buscemi, Christian Slater is wearing all black and nary a sweater vest in sight, proving once again that villains — or at least morally ambiguous protagonists — have a better fashion sense than stalwart heroes.)
C. Also, the twist at the end, where it’s the wrong scroll? Lame. Incredibly lame. Not quite as lame as slipping on marbles, I suppose, but it’s pretty close. This is the kind of story that would actually benefit from a (sort of) happy ending where Bellingham runs away or is killed and Slightly Disturbed Andy makes it out alive.
5. Our next story comes from the minds of Stephen King and George A. Romero. So, you’re thinking, Shit, this should be AWESOME SAUCE.
And maybe it would be . . . if it wasn’t about a killer cat.
“Cat From Hell” is about this old geezer who hires a professional assassin to kill this cat before the cat can kill him. The cat has already killed
half the supporting cast of Ace Ventura his sister and two friends, and now the cat is after him. The professional assassin doesn’t take this job very seriously, as you might expect, but he agrees to it anyway, getting progressively more and more obsessed as the cat keeps escaping him. At midnight, the cat kills the assassin by knocking him down and crawling into his mouth, all the way down into his belly. The cat then decides to chill there, in the assassin’s belly, until the old geezer comes home the next day. Then the cat climbs out and stares at the geezer until he has a heart attack and dies.
A. Look, it’s not that I haven’t wondered — from time to time — if my cats are going to be the death of me. If A equals my crazy kitten, B equals my only slightly less crazy kitten, C equals my natural klutziness, and D equals my staircase, I can only assume that the equation ends in my very sudden and comedically tragic death due to a broken neck.
But that’s still a far cry from making a cat the serial killer in a horror movie. Because when you have to watch an animatronic cat leap up and ridiculously cling to an old woman’s face, supposedly smothering her . . . terror isn’t really the reaction most people are going to have. Now, bursting out into laughter? That I can attest to.
If you’re really going to try and bring an avenging cat from Hell to the big screen, it’s gotta be animated. I might have bought this story as a Japanese anime. Tonally, that could have worked pretty well. At any rate, you wouldn’t have to worry about special effects, which are always going to suck when your monster is a fucking cat.
B. And yes, I said avenging cat from Hell. This isn’t just, like, an unhappy house pet, or an undead cat who’s pissed he didn’t get his morning bowl of Friskies. Our cat is really a supernatural beastie who is here to avenge the 5,000 cats killed by a pharmaceutical company that the old geezer runs. Which is, sadly, only the second most ridiculous supernatural cat related story I’ve ever seen — I think Halle Berry being brought back to life by an Egyptian goddess’s messenger cat so that she might avenge the night in skimpy bondage and a stupid mask still takes the cake here.
C. I’ve bitched quite a bit about likable characters in the past, and I imagine I’m going to bitch quite a bit about likable characters in the future. I certainly will be doing so here because this guy?
I hate this guy.
I don’t have to feel a lot of sympathy for the professional assassin hired to kill a cat, but what would be nice if I didn’t despise him so much that I wanted to jump into my television and beat him. It’s not that he’s so despicable — well, okay, he’s a wannabe cat killer, so of course he’s despicable — but I really hate him because he keeps making these lame little jokes and trying so, so hard to be, like, the cool mobster hit man dude, like, sorry, buddy, they’re full up on The Sopranos. Try again next year, okay?
Let me see Anton Chigurh versus the Cat from Hell, and then maybe you’ve got a movie.
6. Our final tale is a love story between Shitty Raiden and the Worst Looking Gargoyle Ever.
Okay, it’s not actually Raiden — but it is James Remar, who I like in everything I’ve ever seen him in that ISN’T Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. And seriously, would you look at that thing on the right and somehow come up with the word ‘gargoyle’? NO, you wouldn’t. That is not what a gargoyle looks like when it comes to life — that is what the mutant love child of Falcor and Stripe would look like after it had hatched:
I’m sure they’re very proud.
As to the actual story of “Lover’s Vow” . . . James Remar plays Preston, a failing artist who witnesses the not-gargoyle above kill one of his friends. The not-gargoyle promises to let Preston live, if Preston never tells anyone about what he saw. Preston quite hastily agrees. Very shortly afterwards, he runs into a beautiful woman, Carola (Rae Dawn Chong), who he drags along with him off the streets so that she doesn’t get eaten. They fall in love, get married, and have children. Thanks to Carola’s influence, James becomes fantastically successful and life is good again. . . but because he loves her so much, he wants to give Carola everything he can, and the only thing he has left to give her is THE TRUTH. So he tells her about the not-gargoyle, and of course it turns out that she is the not-gargoyle — and their children are not-gargoyle children — and she kills the hell out of Preston and flies off with her not-gargoyle babies.
A. I know I could never rock Rae Dawn Chong’s hair, but God, I really wish I could. I am so desperately envious of that volume.
B. Also, thank God that Carola was the not-gargoyle. I mean, it wasn’t exactly hard to call, but if she HAD just been some random woman on the streets? She would have to be the dumbest person alive. “Ohmygod, a creepy man out of nowhere just grabbed me. Now he wants me to go with him to his apartment because it’s, like, really dangerous out here. That makes sense — I should totally go with this clearly crazy person. Oh, and now that we’re in his apartment, and we can’t get through to the cab company because apparently it’s the only one in the ENTIRE FUCKING CITY . . . well, I guess there’s nothing left to do but have sex. Soul mates!”
C. Like “Lot 249,” this story has a certain amount of potential, but I think for it to actually work . . . well, it wouldn’t hurt if Carola’s reveal was even the slightest bit surprising. But more than that, I think we can’t just skip over the ten years of their relationship in the blink of an eye — we need a better look at Preston’s and Carola’s relationship. Because there’s something about the idea of giving someone the truth — as it’s the only thing you have left to give — that I kind of like, but the actual execution of said idea . . . well, it just comes off as Darwin Award time for Preston, honestly.
Some neat ideas here, actually, and a good pick for Bloody Hearts — go me — but yeeeeah. There are some serious, serious execution problems with this movie.
Hm, that’s hard. Steve Buscemi, maybe?
Don’t act like a dipshit? Don’t kill cats? Carry marbles wherever you go? Take your pick.