Halloween Special: The Straight to Video Extravaganza

It’s Halloween. The day everyone seems to go nuts for, but only because everyone else seems to be doing it. I mean, all Halloween really is is a trumped-up excuse to go out drinking. What do we actually celebrate on Halloween? Does anybody care? Of course not, but we pretend to because, fuck, everyone else is doing it and we don’t want to appear un-festive. The one thing that we can take from this bizarre obsession with dressing up as slutty nurses and zombies in Primark t-shirts is the fact that said obsession also puts the spotlight on some bloody good horror movies. Of course, now my embittered but roguishly funny opening paragraph has turned you against the very notion of giving money to The Man for some big-budget Halloween classic, allow me to turn your attention towards the slightly smaller Man, namely The Man Who Sells Straight-To-Video Horror Movies. I know, I know, paying for anything is so passé these days, but if you just want to spend Halloween solemnly chugging beer, ignoring the probably fat kids begging for chocolate at your door, and watching some low-budget horror movie, please avail yourself of the following straight-to-video classics that really didn’t deserve to be, well, straight to video.

 

Bad Biology

 

 

To begin our list of bargain basement horror movies, it’s only fair that we go back to the subject that brought us all into the world in the first place: sex. Specifically, sex between two mutant sex addicts who have innumerable clitorises (clitori?) and a detachable, vagina-addicted penis with a mind of its own. Guess they glossed over those minor details in sex ed lessons back at school, but luckily you can get the education you deserve with Bad Biology.

 

That’s basically all there is to this movie, but needless to say it is certifiably batshit and not afraid to show it. To say too much is to spoil some of the more entertaining shocks, although it’s safe to say this is far from the scariest movie on this list and one that you need to be firmly under the influence in the company of like-minded friends to appreciate fully. It’s as well-acted as you’d expect, with the tone set somewhere between ’11-year olds re-enacting a famous tragedy’ and ‘Willem Dafoe screaming FINISH IT at Aunt May in Spider-Man only much, much camper’. If you can put up with that, and the constant nudge-wink ironic humour of the shoddy special effects, Bad Biology is a memorable, fun ride, which is all you can ask for from a Halloween movie.

 

Splinter

 

 

If you’re after something a bit more serious than that film, you could watch Gamera, the Godzilla knock-off about a giant monster turtle with rocket boosters. In fact, just watch Gamera anyway, but forget I mentioned it for the rest of this article and focus on something that manages to successfully be altogether more spooky than the pair of them: Splinter. This is actually one of my favourite horror movies ever, and one I always encourage people to watch whenever possible. It’s the tale of a couple who are taken hostage by a pair of fugitives, and end up trapped in that horror movie staple, a deserted gas station, as they’re besieged by carnivorous spores.

 

Unlike Bad Biology, there is no camp in Splinter. It’s low-budget but extremely efficiently made, with top drawer cinematography, special effects and acting throughout. The splinters themselves are a surprisingly effective monster, and are creatively used throughout for some brutal, sickening scares. It’s reminiscent of The Thing in all the right ways, with an intense, claustrophobic atmosphere and a small but likable group of main characters who are virtually the only characters in this movie. A common failing of a low-budget horror movie is to make you actively root against the obnoxious characters, but Splinter effortlessly sidesteps this by making the characters actually, well, not pricks. However, “doesn’t contain pricks” is not really a good tagline to put on a DVD case, so I’ll just tell you to bloody watch Splinter instead.

 

Batman: Under The Red Hood

 

 

Probably the most well-known of the films on this list, Batman: Under the Red Hood holds this honour partly because it’s Batman but mostly because it’s absolutely flipping incredible. The signs aren’t good from the start, with none of the cast from the classic Batman: The Animated Series reprising their roles, but push that inner fanboy to one side and you’ll be treated to a gripping tale of loss and the quest for revenge that follows. If that sounds a bit heavy, it’s for good reason; this movie is certainly not for kids and is considerably darker in tone than the TV show. The opening scene feature Joker beating the shit out of Robin with a metal pipe, then blowing him up, for example.

 

To go into any much more detail about the plot is to spoil the journey of Under The Red Hood, so I’ll simply gush about it some more until you relent and watch it. The voice acting is top drawer, the animation is sumptuous, the plot is mature and gripping to the end, and why are you still reading this and not watching it right now?

 

Pumpkinhead

 

 

If, after Splinter and Under the Red Hood, you need something a bit lighter (you’re probably quite drunk by now and I’d love it if you didn’t break down in tears) you can always pop in another campy gem, only this one’s even more appealing because it has a hilarious title. Pumpkinhead is actually far better than any movie called Pumpkinhead has any right on Earth to be,  and it makes good use of a fairy rigid adherence to well known horror tropes. The main lesson Pumpkinhead teaches us is that you shouldn’t screw with hillbillies, particularly not when one of them is Lance Henriksen and he might literally summon a demon from Hell to chew on your face.

 

Such is the plot of Pumpkinhead, which sees your common-or-garden teenage horror movie fodder accidentally run over Lance’s son while drunk driving (you know, for kicks), leading Lance to turn to the local witch for help. From there, it’s pretty standard stuff, but alarmingly well-acted and certainly much better than the many sequels in the franchise would have you believe. Ignore them, watch this.

 

Bubba Ho-Tep

 

 

To round off our list, we need something a bit weird. I mean, all these movies are pretty weird in their own way, but none of them feature a retired old Elvis living in a care home with black JFK. For those of you yearning for that oddly specific niche to be filled, yearn no more, and pick up a copy of Bubba Ho-Tep as soon as possible. It’s a pitch black comedy horror, starring Bruce Campbell as a decrepit Elvis. And, if you need more than that to tempt you into buying it (although you really shouldn’t) you can add in some delightfully icky monster effects that makes the film fun for all the family – at least, the members of your family with exceptional taste. Unlike many comedy horrors, Bubba Ho-Tep never feels like it’s unfairly targeting the horror genre or its fans for cheap laughs, and as such it manages to work as both a horror and a comedy, without feeling like some weird, ironic in-joke half-measure. It’s a film that absolutely has to be tried at least once – it certainly won’t be for everyone, but a film such as this deserves your time even if you end up not liking it.

 

That concludes our journey of the straight-to-video dungeon. There’s plenty more down here, such as my entire collection of Captain Simian and the Space Monekys, but that’s for another day. In fact, no it’s not. Captain Simian is all mine. At any rate, I’ll be sure to dip into my collection of video nasties again at some point, so stay tuned for more. Or don’t. Whatever. It’s your life, you sheep. End of article.

 

The Highlight Reel Feature: Terrible Comic Book Movies from the 1990’s.

As you may know, I recently joined The Highlight Reel team (well, technically I made it a team, because before there was only one person doing it, but shh!) and because I’m new, we thought we would like to bring something else new to the blog too: Our own YouTube videos!

However as we were too scared to release moving pictures of our actual faces onto the internet for the sake of humanity, what we decided to do instead was to take the feature from this week’s episode of our radio show The Highlight Reel and put it on YouTube for you all to enjoy instead.

So we now present to you, cut straight from our latest episode of our radio show, our discussion about the terrible Comic Book Movies of the 1990’s. In it we take a look at some utterly awful movies like Batman & Robin, Steel and Tank Girl.

Enjoy! (…hopefully):

Batman And Robin: “Buy This, You Simpletons!”

I’ve gone on record many, many times about how much I enjoy bad movies. Many of my favourite films of all time are famously awful train wrecks. Troll 2, The Wicker Man (Nic Cage’s Woman-Beating Extravaganza, not the original one) and The Happening are all films I heartily recommend to anyone, even you, who I would almost certainly despise if I ever met. There’s something admirable about them. Maybe there’s something remarkably human about a pathetic, incompetent effort of a bad film. Maybe I appreciate that it actually was an effort. Maybe I’m just insane and, shortly after writing this blog post, am going to shit into my own hands and hurl it at the moon, but the point is there’s a soul to the bad movie that I just find really endearing. Well, not quite every bad movie.

You see, on the latest edition of The Highlight Reel we discuss bad comic book movies, specifically ones from that faraway land of the 90s, and while films like Steel, The Phantom and Tank Girl are laughably bad, and miles away from what your average comic book movie today is, there at least seems to be some value to them. A picture drawn with human shit is still art to some people, after all.  You’ll notice I’m referencing excrement more than I usually do in this article, a theme which is appropriate given the final film we talk about on The Highlight Reel: Batman and Robin.

If you squint slightly, it looks sort of like the cast are emerging from a cavernous, brightly coloured, torn anus. Or maybe I’m just projecting again.

Now, it’s hardly a revelation on my part to suggest that Batman and Robin is a bad movie. The film has been universally panned by anyone who has so much as caught a glimpse of a frame in their peripheral vision, not least by the entire cast and crew who spent much of the promotional featurette that went out on the DVD apologising while looking sheepish and profusely ashamed of themselves. The cast refers to the film in much the same tone as that rehab group leader in Breaking Bad recounting how he accidentally killed his daughter. Director Joel Schumacher apologised to the fans for making such a gaudy, horrible light show instead of thinking about what the hell he was doing for more than 5 seconds. And honestly, I don’t like this kind of senseless rage that this film brings out of me. I like to have a bit more poise about my criticisms. While I love film, I don’t like to take it too seriously. I like to separate my passion from my inner Youtube commenter. Rarely will I flip out and let a film get under my skin so much that I fly into a Tazmanian Devil-esque rage at the mere mention of it, over fifteen years after its release, with a desire to write a lengthy, ranty blog post about it before shoving blunt sticks into my eyes to make the nightmares go away. But holy fucking shit, this film is terrible.

After Tim Burton made things too dark and weird with the vastly overrated Batman Returns, a shift into lighter territory wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. So, when they turned to Joel Schumacher to make Batman Forever with the instruction to make the Dark Knight that little bit brighter, it was pretty successful. That film isn’t without its faults, but it’s a decent watch. Of course, in typical Hollywood fashion, following the success of Batman Forever they immediately decided that, hey, the lighter tone worked so well, so that means going several hundred miles further in that direction is the only logical course of action! Let’s have everything daubed in gaudy, horrible neon. Let’s have every other line of dialogue be some crushingly awful pun, let’s have the costumes based on what a five-year old would find cool, and let’s turn the entire relationship between Batman and Robin into some bickering nonsense that would make even the worst buddy cop movies cringe (assuming a film could cringe, of course, which they can’t unless you live in Peewee’s Playhouse where everything has eyes and a mouth or something).

Batman and Robin is so bad because it’s a slap in the face not just to Batman fans, but to film fans in general. It’s so obviously toyetic, geared to sell action figures and theme park rides and horrible little collector cups. It’s corporate bullshit being poured into your eyes, and if you try to blink and look away you can’t because the horrible ice puns and frantic editing and screechy children and bat-nipples all surround you until it swallows you up, swallows you up in gloopy brown filth, the rotten hands of Chris O’Donnell grabbing at your ankles as he pulls you down to whine about how he hasn’t got his own shit little car, and all this steamy shit roars up your nostrils and into your ears and into your brain and it’s whirling, whirling around the inside of your mind and oh god it just won’t ever stop because it’s Batman and Robin, fuck me it’s Batman and Robin and they’re in your brain forever screeching BUY THIS, BUY THIS SHIT PLASTIC TOY FOR YOUR MORONIC OFFSPRING until you eventually relent and begin convulsing, naked and sweaty, on your bathroom floor at 3am as the last wisp of your soul evaporates through your red withered eyeballs and you live out your days as a shrivelled husk, not quite dead yet not really alive.

What I’m getting at is: this film has no soul. It was made to sell crap to you and your kids by people who think you are incredibly stupid. It was made by the kind of people who only exist in episodes of Scooby-Doo, cartoonishly evil folks who sit around working out how they can stab each other in the back for a 0.0000001% increase in their Christmas bonus, if they even believe in Christmas, which they don’t because they spend their holidays kicking orphans and hacking up baby animals with a rusty cleaver. I hate this film and everything it stands for. I hate the sheer, sneering contempt it shows towards people like me. There was no artistic endeavour whatsoever from anyone involved. Everything resembling character, or setting, or atmosphere, was reduced into some horrible neon sludge that SM:TV Live would consider tacky and lowbrow. I know Batman’s reinvention into some badass, dark crimefighter is a relatively recent thing, and I’m by no means denying the history of the franchise here, but during post-production of Batman and Robin someone made the decision to insert comedy sound effects when people fall over. Someone actively made a decision to turn Mr. Freeze into a big blue pun machine who only ever talks about ice. Someone threw out all that great, rich history that Batman had by this point because they wanted to make toys with George Clooney’s nipples on them. They wanted to make this lowest-common-denominator pap that they thought would get little kids to pester their parents into buying the toys, and the obvious, blatant cynicism of this is what really gets me. I know it wasn’t the first or last film to do this, but few have done it so blatantly at the expense of absolutely everything else in the movie. Not only is Batman and Robin completely without any artistry whatsoever, there was a conscious effort on the part of the filmmakers to avoid it altogether.

And no, bat nipples do not count as ‘artistry’.

As I stated earlier, there’s something weirdly likable about an incompetently put together movie – like Steel – that shambles along, put together by a bunch of people who had no clue what they were doing, as evidenced by the fact they cast Shaquille O’Neal as a superhero. You can’t be mad at it any more than you can be mad at a baby for soiling itself every day. With Batman and Robin, there’s a callous, almost malicious disregard for the audience on show. You are an idiot, and you will buy what we tell you to, it says, more loudly and more clearly than almost any other movie I care to remember. Whenever anyone whines about how bad movies are today compared to “back in the day” (when “back in the day” actually was varies on when the cretin using it was born. For my generation, it usually means the 90s), I often like to hold up Batman and Robin as a counter-example. After Earth sucks and I’d never tell anyone to go and watch it, but at least it doesn’t insult you while it steals your time and money. It’s for precisely that reason why Batman and Robin is one of the worst films ever made. It’s underpinned by this seething ocean of greed, made by suits of the kind only previously thought to exist in Wayne’s World, and it’s inescapable. It’s as if the film was written by feeding a bunch of sales figures into some monolithic supercomputer, which then churned out the script for this film before becoming self-aware and threatening to release dirty bombs all over the world unless it was made exactly as it thought it should be. It’s this forced, artificial version of cool that nobody in the world actually thinks is cool, and in the end, looked horribly out of place both “back in the day”, and even more so in the cold, harsh light of 2013.

In short: I don’t mind if your movie is shit. As long as it has a bit of soul.

Batman & Robin: The Extended Apology

This is fantastic. While ostensibly a making of featurette, this video gathers all the members of the cast together to give some unusually frank views on what many consider to be one of the worst movies of all time. Batman & Robin seems even more hilarious these days following the Nolan trilogy, which were incredibly dark, and, you know, actually kind of good, so that makes watching the (obviously deeply ashamed) cast lay into their movie all the more satisfying.

Highlights include:

  • Chris O’Donnell stating they felt like they were “making a toy commercial”
  • In fact, any part with O’Donnell, who seems all too eager to completely bury the film
  • Val Kilmer smugly revealing a schedule conflict stopped him from reprising his role as Bats in the manner of someone who narrowly avoided being hit by a train
  • George Clooney openly stating he didn’t feel there was anything he could do with the role, that he didn’t think it would help his career and that he only wanted to be part of “a big event” (code for “a paycheck”)
  • Joel Schumacher’s directing style: “REMEMBER EVERYBODY, IT’S A CARTOON!”
  • A frank discussion of the infamous bat-nipples. “Anatomically erotic”, says Schumacher
  • George Clooney’s demands for a larger codpiece
  • Schumacher basically admitting he knew the film was so bad that he refused to make another one when the studio asked him to

and, best of all:

  • Schumacher literally directly apologising to the audience for the film.

It’s absolutely worth a watch, and bear in mind, this was something made to promote the film. They spend half of the video effectively apologising for the way the movie turned out, and at no point does anyone say something that suggest they’re proud of what they did. See, there is some honesty still left in Hollywood.