“They told us there was a threat to America, but the weapons of mass destruction weren’t there.” I survived an endless difficult work day, and learned that Donald Rumsfeld had died, so this felt like the right movie to watch (though The Limits of Control was considered).

Thea Gill is a “constitutional scholar” (right-wing talking head) and Jon Tenney is a campaign reelection consultant whose boss is a conniving Robert Picardo (in his tenth Dante movie). When dead soldiers begin returning from the grave, seeking only to vote against the current administration, these three try to spin the news to their advantage, angering the soldier zombies. Our spin-artists’ buried family secrets rise along with the zombies, leading to panic and death for all. It’s all wickedly well written and blunt as hell, a quality I was attuned to having just discovered an intriguing letterboxd list called “Garish, Unpleasant &/or Heavy-Handed Movies: A Worthy 21st Century Approach.”

The first couple and last couple minutes of this doc are Sam Fuller’s descendants giving embarrassing performances. Everything in the middle is ace – a well-cast group of sympathetic actors and directors performing excerpts from Sam’s autobiography, illustrated with clips from Sam’s wartime film reels and photography and feature films. I’ve already read the autobio and seen all the pictures, and I think Sam’s just the coolest, so I was glad to review the highlights. Especially nice to see Constance Towers for the first time in decades.

Joe Dante:

It’s been thirty years, and I’ve got all but a few Joe Dante movies on the ol’ blog, so time for an Innerspace rewatch. I must’ve seen this more than once on cable – some scenes are clearly etched in my memory (The Cowboy singing “I’m an old cowhand from the rio grande,” for some reason) and most of the others felt awfully familiar as they unfolded. Besides the nostalgia value, it’s a tightly written, well-made studio comedy full of enjoyable performances and Bugs Bunny references.

The movie’s secret weapon: Robert Picardo as The Cowboy

Kevin McCarthy in his henchman lair:

Are the opening titles, exploring light beams inside a drink glass, a goof on Stan Brakhage? Probably not. The murdered scientist in charge of Dennis Quaid’s miniaturization experiment is John Hora, better known as Dante’s cinematographer on six movies. Evil Dr. Margaret is Fiona Lewis, the maid in Fearless Vampire Killers, and her false-armed henchman is Vernon Wells, lead villain in Circuitry Man. One of the movie’s writers did an unfrozen caveman drama, the other wrote The Dead Zone screenplay.

Quaid meets his host body:

Meg, right as Martin Short is jumping out the back of a truck:

Anton Yelchin (Ian in Only Lovers Left Alive) likes ice cream girl Olivia (Alexandra Daddario of Texas Chainsaw 3D), is tired of his vegan environmentalist girlfriend Evelyn (Ashley Greene of Butter) but before he can break up with Evelyn she’s killed by a truck (unconvincing death scene weirdly scored by a Phosphorescent song) and later comes back as a bitchy zombie.

Full of easy horror references, out-of-date gender politics and default-sounding movie-dialogue. Anton’s half-brother, the Ed to his Shaun, is Oliver Cooper (Project X) who I think gets nearly killed by Evelyn but comes back at the end, or wait, does he come back as a zombie? I’m trying not to give this too much thought and pretend it’s not by the same Joe Dante who made Gremlins and Matinee. Also: it’s another movie where someone is keeping a secret for no reason other than plot contrivance, and Anton is a massive horror movie fan but doesn’t know how to dispatch a zombie.

My sole SHOCKtober feature this year. Still upset that I missed this in its one-week, Atlanta-only theatrical run. It opened with no publicity on a week that I didn’t check the papers assuming nothing was playing. Anyway I was determined to watch Joe Dante’s newest, excited despite the average-ish reviews it got. And it’s a pretty average movie – imaginative, but still a gentle teen horror flick about growing up and overcoming your fears.

Gearing up to battle evil:

Bringing to mind The Gate and The Handsome Family, two boys with a hard-working mom (Teri Polo, Dan’s girlfriend in Sports Night) and violent, imprisoned dad team up with the hottie next door (Haley Bennett of Kaboom) and find a bottomless hole in the basement of their new rental house. This is where the 3D effect would shine – all the experimental lowering of things into the camera/hole.

Teri:

Killer Klown – good puppetry in this movie:

The kids’ darkest fears start following them around town (except older boy Dane who is afraid of nothing). Neighbor Julie is haunted by her best friend who died when they were younger. Little Lucas is just afraid of clowns. After Dick Miller’s wasted silent cameo as a pizza guy, the kids venture to the abandoned glove factory “Gloves by Orlac” to ask former homeowner (and holeowner) Bruce Dern (a couple decades after The ‘Burbs) what is up – but he’s little help and is soon silenced by the Hole.

Dick:

Bruce:

Dane has a fear after all, that his dad will come back and beat the hell out of his family, so the movie turns nightmarish as he battles his Danzig-looking father (played by “one of the tallest actors in Canada”) in a CG-assisted Caligari-house. Fears conquered, the hole becomes a simple crawlspace.

Dante’s version of kids today hasn’t changed much since Explorers – it’s definitely set in the present (The Killers and Jonas Bros are mentioned) but these boys’ ideas of fun include sketching, reading books (including the other Dante’s Divine Comedy) and throwing the ol’ baseball around (though they do have a Playstation).

Good gag: the kids turn away when mom comes home, missing the giant eyeball recorded by the camera they lowered into the hole:

Someting Dante and I have in common: Morristown!

From the nerdist interview:
“When you’re shooting for 3-D, do you feel a bit like John Goodman in Matinee?”
JD: “I always feel like John Goodman in Matinee.”

“So if there were a hole in Joe Dante’s basement, what would come out of it?”
JD: “Financing for my next picture!”

From skimming the extras, it sounds like this was a labor of love by American Cinematheque programming head Dennis Bartok, friend of Dante and Hellman, who wrote and produced. So on one hand, I respect the years spent assembling this, getting the help of excellent but underworked filmmakers, crafting an old-time hollywood-referencing haunted-house anthology story. On the other hand, it’s neither scary nor visually interesting nor creatively written – not exactly destined to be a horror classic.

Looks like the only non-Dante-directed films Dick Miller has been in since 1995 are a Lou Diamond Phillips thriller and a sci-fi comedy from the Lost Skeleton of Cadavra guy:
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In the wraparound story directed by Joe Dante, bunch of Hollywood residents have received free tickets to tour an abandoned studio. Henry Gibson drives them around, getting an ornery Dick Miller to open the spooky gate leading them to the haunted house set. Or is it a real haunted house?!? The bunch (eight or so) seem to be trapped, so Henry prompts them to each tell a personal scary story in hopes of coaxing the house to let them leave.

Cool model shot from the haunted house:
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GIRL WITH THE GOLDEN BREASTS

The latest work I’ve seen by Ken Russell since I wasn’t able to finish Whore. He’s still at it, making flamboyant, perverse little pictures. Girl gets breast implants to make herself more appealing to casting directors. It works, and soon she’s bonking some stud (both in a picture and behind the scenes), but her breasts have a tendency to bite, which is upsetting her man.

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She goes back to the plastic surgery joint, but her doctor is on ice so she’s confronted with these guys instead:

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The middle one is Mad Ken himself. Boobs, computer graphics and campy hilarity… it’s all downhill from here.

JIBAKU

Sean S. Cunningham (who hasn’t done anything I’ve heard of since Friday the 13th) immediately drags everything down after the blitz of fun provided by Ken a few minutes earlier. Julia and her husband are in Japan for some boring business. They run into a dead guy, so a monk (Ryo Ishibashi – warden in Big Bang Love, star of Suicide Circle and Audition) tries to comfort them.

He was also in Dream Cruise:
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Julia has an affair with a young dude named Seishin (is it the guy who killed himself earlier?), goes to some kinda sex-hell which awkwardly combines live-action and anime. Her husband saves her, whew. Key line: “I was sexually molested by a dead monk and dragged into the mouth of Buddhist hell.”

Hell looks like a Japanese cartoon; Why am I not surprised?
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STANLEY’S GIRLFRIEND

Monte Hellman, formerly known for such awesomeness as Two Lane Blacktop and The Shooting, now this is his first film since Silent Night, Deadly Night III. A shame. The movie itself is a shame, too…

John Saxon (Nightmare on Elm St., Mitchell), looking good for being in his seventies:
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This is a deadly dull segment (with some classic film references, including L’Atalante) about a young filmmaker (no longer played by John Saxon, alas) who hangs out with his talented friend Stanley, who stops going out one month after he gets a hot girlfriend. Stan suddenly disappears, leaving the hot girlfriend to our man Leo, who proceeds to have a torrid affair with her.

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But she ruins his life and sucks away his talent, leaving him a hollow shell of a failed Hollywood burnout for the rest of his life. While Stanley (last name withheld) moves to England, freed from the woman’s curse, and makes such classics as A Clockwork Yellow, Half Metal Jacket, Dr. Lovestrange and The Shinning, leaving Leo in his will a short film from the early 1900’s of the girlfriend, an ageless vampire!

Nice color for 1900:
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MY TWIN, THE WORM

John Gaeta, VFX guy from the Matrix series, shines here. Maybe it’s because he had more to prove, or because he’s had recent practice making decent films, but this is pretty good.

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The story is nothing much… woman is unable to get a tapeworm removed because she’s pregnant, so baby and worm develop together, and as girl grows up, she has a secret worm-sister who avenges her against evil babysitters. Some nice visual style almost makes up for the by-the-books plainness of the previous two episodes. The last three segments need visual style to survive, because they’re talky and the dialogue is boring (I have the feeling Ken did some uncredited writing on his bit).

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Back to our framing story and it turns out everyone here is… dead? Or damned? Or supposed to be dead but escaped Final Destination style and now being rounded up by grim reaper Henry Gibson?

Oh no, Henry Gibson (Magnolia, The ‘burbs, The Nutty Professor) died last month. I hadn’t heard. This was his second to last film.
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“Trapped Ashes is a reflection of Hollywood as a place that’s sort of between living and dying, between being famous and being forgotten.”

More of a kids movie than I’d expected, after Looney Tunes was more of an adult movie than I’d expected. Has the kids-in-charge feeling of Explorers, but the kids are more horny, troubled teens than young dreamers. The movie, with its innocent toy creatures threatening a whole town and all its makeshift inventions, references its own debt to Gremlins by throwing the word “gizmo” around as David Cross’s computer password.

Sets up a fight between the military-chip-implanted Commando Elite (voiced by Tommy Lee Jones, Bruce Dern and the cast of The Dirty Dozen) and the peaceful alien Gorgonites (Frank Langella and the cast of Spinal Tap), joined by a frankensteined group of mutant barbies (Sarah Michelle Gellar and Christina Ricci).

Purple whirling Gorgonite reminds of the Tazmanian Devil and one of the Twilight Zone creatures:
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I admit the barbies were my favorites:
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Dick Miller, making his umpteenth Dante film appearance, plays the twinkle-eyed adult who connects with our young protagonist (and gives him the devil toys).
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Robert Picardo doesn’t get mentioned enough in these pages. He’s appeared in nine Joe Dante movies, most memorably as the cowboy in Innerspace.
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Apparently it got somewhat-screwed with its PG-13 rating but still made a tidy profit, and probably helped get Dante Looney Tunes: Back In Action, which probably killed his career for a few years. Dedicated to the great Phil Hartman, murdered a month and a half before its release.

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I was expecting that this would be very bad, and was hoping to find a few inspired moments or some cool animation to pick out of the wreckage, but then I liked the whole movie so now I don’t know what to write. I don’t get why Brendan Fraser has to be in every single live/animation hybrid flick, but he and Jenna Elfman were just fine in this. Lotta jokes at the expense of movie studios, the Warner Brothers (played by Don & Dan Stanton from Terminator 2 and Gremlins 2), Brendan Fraser, product placement and movie conventions.

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Timothy Dalton plays the star of a suspiciously James-Bond-like franchise, and is just-fired studio security guard Fraser’s father. Fraser heads to Vegas with also-just-fired Daffy Duck while studio exec Elfman in league with Bugs looks for them. Note Dick Miller as Fraser’s security coworker.
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Tim Dalton turns out to be an actual spy, working against the evil Acme corporation (headed by Steve Martin, who is acting strangely Mike Myers-like in this screenshot.
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Good to see Joan Cusack as a secret government scientist (not to mention Robbie the Robot).
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Roger Corman cameos, believably enough, as a film director.
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Kevin McCarthy reprises his Body Snatchers role – in black and white!
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Of course the plot is a thin excuse for a thousand gags and highlight scenes for every major Looney Tunes character. Yosemite Sam and Wile E. Coyote work for Acme, Tweety and Sylvester are Fraser’s neighbors, Marvin Martian is captive in Cusack’s lab, Pepe Le Pew appears in a sidetrack to Paris (where there are Jerry Lewis movie posters all over). Super fun movie… I’m actually so impressed that this was so good, after I’d heard everywhere what a failure it was. Even Dante seems to be making excuses for it in recent interviews (I’m guessing the terrible Scooby/Shaggy cameo is one of the last-minute studio changes he complains about).

Some highlights: a split-screen phone call where the screen effect smashes Daffy:
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And a romp through famous paintings at the Louvre… here’s Elmer as Munch’s The Scream:
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Turns out the movie wasn’t as universally hated as I’d thought. According to Slate, writer and director were fed up with the studio by the time the movie came out, and neither them nor any of the stars participated in the DVD extras. The NY Times and AV Club sure disliked it, but good reviews were posted by J. Rosenbaum (“I had a ball”) and G. Kenny (“comedy of the year”). After reading a couple appreciations I am anxious to rewatch and look for some of the hundreds of gags I missed. I guess it comes down to how much fun you’re willing to have with it. For instance, some reviewers cringed at Steve Martin trying to be funny again, and called him out as a fraud (as if he’s Robert De Niro in Rocky & Bullwinkle), while others bothered to notice that Martin completely succeeded… David Edelstein:

Steve Martin, moreover, is a miracle. Determined not to be upstaged by his flamboyant Warner costars, he has concocted a “supertwit” that is at times at least their equal. His red hair parted in the middle, he staggers around the set in sneakers and an ill-fitting suit, jerking his torso, windmilling his arms—stopping his gyrations only to saunter up to one of several repulsed women, convinced that he is catnip to the ladies. This is the old Steve Martin, the whirligig genius of The Jerk (1979), The Man With Two Brains (1983), and All of Me (1984). To see him this way after at least a decade of domesticated dreck is to love all the more the liberating influence of Warner Bros. cartoons.

Katy and I each saw this movie when we were little. She has always hated it because it gave her nightmares, and I have always loved it because it seemed weird and awesome and had Corey Feldman in it. Watching it again, it seems neither love nor hate is appropriate… it’s a pretty good movie. Pretty well made, pretty funny, with pretty good acting and a pretty satisfying ending. As a Joe Dante fan I was cheering for another Matinee, but it seems I got another Explorers instead.

Tom Hanks (between Big and Joe vs. the Volcano, on his way to permanent movie-stardom) is a listless suburban dad with wife Carrie Fisher and nosy neighbors Bruce Dern (manic, scuzzy, Busey-esque – he should be in every movie), fat Canadian comic Rick Ducommun, and still-cool Corey Feldman (I don’t know if he lives on the block or has just been hired to paint somebody’s porch). They get into comic situations trying to spy on new neighbors the Klopeks, suspicious that they have kidnapped or murdered toupee-wearing little-dog-toting neighbor Walter (1960’s TV star Gale Gordon). Finally they break into the house when the Klopeks are away, accidentally blowing it sky high by activating the overpowered furnace in the basement. Hanks thinks they’ve proven nothing except how smallminded they’ve been, but in an incredibly unsurprising twist ending, it turns out the Klopeks were murderous evildoers after all and Hanks’ gang is off the hook.

Dante throws in some cartoonish visuals, has Feldman talk into camera at the end, but it’s not as stylish or fun as his other movies, feels more tied to the obvious script. The story seems like a mystery, then starts developing into a satire of suburbia, making the suspicious neighbors look crazy and the weird reclusive family seem like the victims, culminating in a speech by Hanks (who barely comes alive in the movie otherwise) – but this is undercut by the ending.

A good Jerry Goldsmith score – in fact that might have been the best thing about the film. Robert Picardo (theater manager in Matinee, lead in 976-EVIL) and the wonderful Dick Miller cameo as garbagemen. Besides the ever-hungry comic-relief Rick Ducommun and our blank lead Hanks and his wife, the other characters are all exciting and worth watching, especially gun nut Bruce Dern and the Klopeks. The diminutive doctor is Henry Gibson of Nashville, inbred-looking young Hans is Courtney Gains, five years after playing a lead corn kid in Children of the Corn, and horrible mean uncle Reuben is Brother Theodore, who I hear was “one of America’s most respected humorists and monologists.” Dante, or whoever was responsible for casting, put an excellent enough group together to compensate for any script problems.

I read that the ending of the script had Tom Hanks getting killed at the end, leading to the same studio-mandated rewrite that Gremlins got. Wasn’t until the Masters of Horror episodes that Joe could finally execute all his main characters at the end of the movie, just like he’s always wanted to.