Endless Bummer: Meatballs 4 (1992)

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Before we get going, this entire review, and any future watching of this movie, ought to have a layer of sadness on top of it. Co-star Jack Nance (“Eraserhead”, “Twin Peaks”) married Kelly Jean Van Dyke (part of the acting Van Dyke family) in May 1991…actually, let’s hand this over to Wikipedia:

On November 17, 1991, Nance, who was in Bass Lake, California, filming Meatballs 4 at the time, called Van Dyke to end the relationship. He attempted to console her on the phone as she threatened suicide, telling Nance that if he hung up the phone, she would take her own life. At that point, a lightning storm knocked out the phone lines in Bass Lake.

In the pouring rain, Nance went to the nearby lodgings of the film’s director, Bobby Logan, seeking help. Logan recalls in I Don’t Know Jack, ‘He says, “I think my wife just killed herself.” Jack and I had a relationship on the set where we were always playing practical jokes on one another. I figured he was doing that to me. So I said, “Being married to you, who could blame her?” And when I said that, suddenly a little tear trickled down his cheek, and I realised it wasn’t the rain that had hit him in the face…'[4]

With most of the phones in the area still out, it took Nance and Logan 45 minutes of driving around to find a deputy sheriff who contacted Los Angeles police and the apartment manager. They broke into her apartment and found that she had hanged herself.

Nance, who died himself in “suspicious circumstances” a few years later, will have filmed at least some of this movie while blaming himself for the death of his wife – there’s really no better introduction for a light-hearted summer-raunch movie about water-skiing!

“Meatballs 4” does not mess around. We get the fat nerd slapstick and a group of horny dudes spying on naked women in the shower in the first 8 minutes of the movie, then quickly discover, via him parachuting in holding a boombox, that Lakeside (Nance’s camp) has hired Ricky Wade (Corey Feldman) from Twin Oaks (the rich kids’ camp across the lake). A rich kids camp across the lake? Where do they get these insane ideas from? Next thing is, you’ll be telling me there’s some competition where winner takes all!

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So, there’s a water competition. If Lakeside loses, Nance gives up the camp, if they win, Twin Oaks pays off his mortgage and leaves him alone forever. Feldman rubs up Lakeside’s best water-skier the wrong way, who then defects to Twin Oaks’ side; there’s romance with Nance’s granddaughter; and the fat comic relief guy Victor (who goes by the name “Johnny Cocktails”, despite being the brother of Greg Grunberg) inexplicably ends up with the insanely beautiful Asian eye candy, despite showing zero personality or anything else that might impress a person. The usual. That everyone at this camp appears to be in their mid 20s, and are the same age or older than the “camp counsellors”, is only like the fifth stupidest thing about this movie.

In 1992, Feldman was still Michael Jackson’s best friend, and while he doesn’t dress like him (as he did in the first “Dream A Little Dream”), what we do get is an extremely long Jacksonesque dance sequence, set to a song which is just different enough to “Black Or White” to avoid getting sued – best guess, Feldman just played that song on the set, and convinced the producers he’d be able to get the rights to it. One gets the feeling that several of Feldman’s sequences were him going to the director “seriously, let me do this, it’ll be brilliant”.

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This film is a miserable failure, though, and not just because Nance was dealing with the death of his wife, and the director was dealing with a Michael Jackson-obsessed star. The jokes, if you can call them that, are unbearably lame, like the writer found a 50 year old “after dinner speech jokes” book and just used the worst ones from that. There’s a “pull my finger” joke to amuse the kids, too. The good guys win a tournament halfway through the movie, which makes absolutely no sense in terms of building drama for the ending. No-one wonders why Victor (the clumsy guy), who shows zero aptitude for water-skiiing, paid to go to a water-skiing camp.

The awfulness goes deeper, though. There’s an angry ex-lovers conversation between Feldman and Nance’s granddaughter, and it’s the worst-written thing I could possibly imagine being in a finished movie. Getting more technical, about half the movie is shot from underneath, as if the cameraman was only 4 feet tall, and the lighting is subdued and naturalistic. This might work better if it were a drama, but the thing about broad comedy is it needs to look a little cartoony – everything ought to be bright, and the camerawork ought to be as unobtrusive as possible, to not distract from the performances, where all the comedy should be.

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This still isn’t the worst thing, though. The big ending centres around a “triple flip”, an almost impossible jump that only Nance, as a younger man, ever made. Feldman tries and fails, but then Nance is brought out of retirement to win it all with the last jump of the movie. They shoot this particular super-jump by…filming someone doing a single flip and just repeating the footage three times. WHAT? By the end of the first flip, he’s already on his way back down to earth…it’s just an insult to anyone who bothered spending money to see this movie. Heck, even the Triple Lindy from “Back To School”, performed by an elderly, grinning, not-taking-it-seriously Rodney Dangerfield, was better than this garbage.

So there we have it. If you’re following these reviews for some summer-movie recommendations, I’d probably watch parts 1 and 3 of the Meatballs franchise. 1 because it has Bill Murray in it, 3 because it’s one of the stupidest comedy movies ever. This is just an embarrassment.

Rating: thumbs down

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Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)

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If you wanted evidence that the Friday the 13th franchise was horrible, cynical, money-grabbing garbage from its early days, look no further than this. Part 3 was intended as the end to the series – Jason has an axe in his forehead, the lake is calm, it’s all over. Of course, that one made enough money that the producers decided part 4 was the way to go, and this time they’d definitely call it “the final chapter” to entice people who wanted to see the end of Jason, for real (after thinking they’d seen the end of him before). Of course, we know how well that stuck, and they decided on the same trick for part 9, subtitled “The Final Friday”; there were only two more movies after that, I suppose.

 

So what’s the second of the franchise’s three endings like? Well, the first character we meet is a morgue attendant who make a few too many jokes about being a necrophile; luckily he’s found a nurse who’s as big a freak as he is, so they have sex next to the freshly delivered corpse of Jason Voorhees. Now, IMDB says in their plot summary that he “spontaneously revives” (literally no-one could be bothered to think of a reason, it seems) but I think it was the illicit sex. He’s got a “people having fun” detector, and it’s so strong it can bring him back from death! Anyway, there’s a couple of well-done deaths, and Jason is on his way to…Crystal Lake, probably?…to do his thing one more time.

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This would be the strongest movie of the series, if only for its cast. As a car full of people in their early 20s drives up to a rented house for a weekend of partying, we see in the back seat having a debate about women, Lawrence Monoson and Crispin Glover. Glover is an oddball superstar, with roles in “Back To The Future”, “Hot Tub Time Machine” and some of the weirdest chat show appearances of all time; Monoson was the star of the bleakest teen raunch film ever, “The Last American Virgin”. Plus, when they get to the house, living in the place across the road is Corey Feldman! Of course, being 13, you know he’s going to survive, but it’s still fun to see him.

 

We get lots of nudity, thanks to a bit of middle-of-the-afternoon skinny-dipping; and if you’re keeping track of the number of fake-outs and jump scares there are in this one, you’ll need some sort of five-bar gate system, because there’s loads (I got bored and stopped counting at 10). Those two things and a psychotic killer are pretty much all you need for a slasher movie, right?

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The mind wanders in the middle of these movies, so I’d like to talk about the hitch-hiker. While driving to the house, they pass a woman holding up a sign for “Canada and Love”. They drive past, Monoson loudly mocks her, and she flips round the sign to reveal “Fuck You”. Jason, on his way to the same place, kills her a few seconds later and she’s now part of bad movie history. But look at the road they’re on. Not a turn for miles, no houses anywhere nearby, absolutely the middle of nowhere. What scumbag dropped her off there? She doesn’t look like the sort of woman who’d already walked 20 miles that day. Tell you what, see for yourself.

So, the slutty girls and asshole guys get killed, but it all seems a little more fun than the previous chapters. Only a little. It’s not particularly bloody, but Jason does love posing a corpse, being sure to leave them in places designed to scare the crap out of the survivors. He’s also a super-ninja, as despite being a hefty guy he’s never heard sneaking up on someone, ever, and manages to virtually teleport himself from place to place (he kills a guy in the bathroom, then evidently hops out of a window to get himself round to the front door to kill the person he’s accurately predicted will be going there next).

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It looks a lot nicer than parts 2 and 3, so congrats to the technical people, and with the fun actor choices, it’s easily the best of the series so far (not a ringing endorsement). The use of Corey Feldman at the end is a surprisingly bold choice too…and Jason is definitely, honest, no fooling, dead this time. One story about the filming makes me unusually well-disposed to it, though. Judie Aronson filmed a scene on the lake in the middle of a freezing cold December night, and was so cold she started crying. The scumbag director didn’t care, naturally, but Ted White, the guy playing Jason, threatened to quit on the spot if she wasn’t given breaks from the extreme cold (she actually caught hypothermia). Good work Mr White! And look at that face above, she’d clearly stopped caring by that point.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Puppet Master v. Demonic Toys (2004)

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If there’s anything that should strike fear into the heart of a film-watcher, it’s the slowly dawning realisation that the film you’re watching ripped its central plotline from “Halloween 3: Season of the Witch”. Still, I suppose, it can’t be that bad, can it? 

Well, it tries its hardest. Apparently, Full Moon have said this is a “non-canon” film, due to it being produced by the Sci-Fi Channel (aaarrrghhh it’s a SyFy Channel movie, I thought I’d escaped you), although with their laughably lax relationship with continuity, I’m surprised they care. Due to its non-official nature, all the puppets look slightly different, and we’re down to four – Blade, Six-Shooter, Pinhead and Jester. Pinhead looks much more normal – either his head is bigger or his body is smaller, which surprisingly disappointed me.

The new puppet master is the great-grand-nephew of ol’ Andre Toulon, Robert, played by Corey Feldman. Growing up, I was a huge fan of his, but it looks like at some point in his past, he sadly forgot how to act and now just gestures wildly and speaks in an exaggerated whisper / growl the entire time (my favourite post-fame film of his is still “Tales From The Crypt Presents Bordello of Blood”). After finding the puppets at a French flea market, and along with his sassy but loving daughter, he’s trying to bring the puppets back to life… and he also has the diary which was burned in the last film? After a brief bit of them rewriting the backstory again (who cares by this point? Also, non-canon, I guess) we’re introduced to the film’s villain, Vanessa Angel. She’s now the boss of Sharpe Toys, after her Dad died. He was so devoted to her that he sold his soul to the demon Baal to give her what she wanted (toys that were really alive), and now she’s making another pact with Baal, where she sells (or gives away) toys to millions of kids, and he animates them with his demonic power, so they can kill just about everyone and she can rule the world.

Vanessa Angel knows all about the Toulon legacy and spies on the Toulons, while they’re experimenting with how to bring the puppets to life. They succeed, obviously, Angel tries to steal the puppets (for kind-of a lame reason) all the while having the weird habit of sacrificing her receptionists to Baal. After the robbery attempt, the policewoman who comes to check it out gets involved in the plot. She firstly seems extremely suspicious, then flirtatious, and I couldn’t tell if she was a suspicious sort or just a really terrible actress (it’s the latter). While you’re pondering that question yourselves, you can also wonder why the film never says the words “Christmas Eve”. A news report says “less than one shopping day til Christmas” and an occasionally appearing inter-title counts down “24 hours til Christmas morning”, “12 hours til Christmas morning”, and so on. Answers on a postcard, please.

I’ve not really mentioned the Demonic Toys yet, have I? As I want to maintain some mystery for when / if I review their films, and definitely not because I’m lazy, I’ve not done too much research into them. Baby Oopsy Daisy is clearly the star of the trio we see, a Noo Joisey-sounding baby who loves sex and murder, and the film is building up to the climactic fight between them and the Puppets. Luckily, after getting damaged in a fire, Toulon is able to upgrade the puppets with metal attachments, and in the case of Six-Shooter, lasers, and…I was about to say “they don’t disappoint”, but that would reflect entirely wrongly on my opinion of the film.

It would have been fun if Baal, during one of his appearances, had made reference to the puppets killing another demon, Sutekh, back in Puppet Master 5. Him being frightened of them could have helped push the second half of the film along…sorry, no-one wants to read stuff from an armchair director, and I’m slightly bummed out that I’ve remembered as much stuff about these films as I have.

This film has, maybe, the stupidest bit of plot-advancement in the entire history of cinema. I have to spoil it in order to tell you about it…the Toulons have packed up the puppets and are ready to leave to go to the final battle. Suddenly, Corey decides he needs to go to the toilet, and as he disappears round one corner Vanessa Angel appears round another, kidnaps the daughter and takes the box containing the puppets. A few seconds after they leave, Corey, not remembering what’s happened to him up to this point, strolls round the corner going “what’s all the commotion here?” It feels like a stage farce, not a crucial bit of a horror film, and is even dumber than I’ve described it. I remember a pro wrestling TV show where a guy won a championship belt by finding it in a bin…that was smarter than this was.

The ending is stupid, although I kind-of enjoyed the fight between the toys and the puppets (the poster, at the top of this review, is the funniest thing about the film), and Baby Oopsy Daisy’s method of propulsion round the room is an eye-opener. But the film overall, just didn’t quite work. A surprising amount of stuff happened, as I discovered when trying to put a mini re-cap of it in here – I kept thinking of new things to put in, which would have made the review way too long…the problem it had was it wanted to be funny, and had two capable comedy actors in Feldman and Angel, but they just didn’t click. Weak script, poor direction, the two of them realising this was a TV movie and no-one cared? We may never know the answer to these questions.

Rating: Thumbs down

(still not the worst Puppet Master film though)

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