Thursday, October 29, 2009

Review: Monster Mash

I don't think we'd have even heard of the movie if it weren't on a two-sided DVD that included Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet the Wolfman on it. Heck, I'm surprised it managed to get a stand-alone release last year at all.


Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

If Creature from the Black Lagoon: The Musical is any indication, Universal seems to want to milk the classic movie monsters for as long as possible, even after they stopped being scary sometime in the '50s. And what child wouldn't adore the madcap adventures of an undead man who drinks people's blood to live, a half-wolf who stalks and kills at night, and a giant made from sewn-together body parts from corpses? How did we manage to go from Nosferatu to Count Chocula anyway?

Excuse me, I seem to have lost my head there for a moment.

Our host for tonight is Yorick (GET IT CUZ HE'S A SKULL), some random skeleton dog with a Karloff impression deep English accent. He introduces himself and invites us into the creepy castle nearby, where he lives with "three of the most terrifying monsters of all time", but don't take that as any indication that his masters are at all terrifying, or even that he's at all important to the plot. In fact, I'm not even sure that our monster trio even knows he lives there, although I suppose Wolfy might bury him every now and then.

The odd thing about Yorick's voice, if you haven't guessed from the title, is that he's not so much a Karloff impression, but an impression of Bobby Pickett's Karloff impression from the hit "Monster Mash". Although listening to the guy, it's really more like a baritone Ed Wynn than anything. Like if the Mad Hatter took pills to keep himself calm or something. For some reason they have someone else sing the actual title song in a bad Russian accent.

Happenin' vampire party! Gourmet blood, 1889 vintage.

The whole song sequence is rather odd, actually. Yorick's riding around in a skull-shaped single-car roller coaster while singing (or whatever you want to call it), and the animators desperately try and fail to get the lip sync right for the beehive-sporting skeleton backup singers and still show scenes depicting the song's lyrics. And what's with all amusement park rides? Did they build some sort of carnival on the castle grounds or something?

Dracula's son, Freckles, glam rock keyboardist.

I suppose there must be a plot here somewhere, right? Apparently through the years our "heroes" lost their reputation for being truly frightening, eventually becoming more associated with "fun" than fear, as Yorick puts it. After a while, the trio becomes bored of their current life of doing stupid stunts on the David-Letterman-Parody Show, yearning for the old days when they could inspire terror in the local villagers.

But what's this? Somebody else isn't too thrilled with their wacky antics either, and-- wait, who could possibly be the villains in a movie where a vampire is a sympathetic character? (According to Twilight: New Moon, werewolves. Because vampires aren't evil, and the poor saps cursed with lycanthropy are, right?)

They think that the old generation looks ridiculous, if you can believe it.

Clearly showing the writers' viewpoints on modern horror, the bad guys are actually obvious parodies of Alien, Jason and Chucky. And that gets a great big thumbs up from us.

Jason-parody is made out of  spaghetti noodles (that's sauce, not blood there), which turn into nasty worm-things when thrown that proceed to eat whatever they come into contact with. Chucky-parody has an evil remote control that can "change the channel" on reality. Alien-parody... um, eats people, I guess. Personally I think all they did was just take the cartooniness of the originals up one notch.

All three of them think that our heroes are a disgrace to monsters, and have them summoned to trial for violating the monster code by failing to scare anybody. For some reason the judge ("his ogre", get it? no?) comes in dribbling his skull. God knows why. Maybe they just thought it'd be funny.

Giant shoes + Lakers colors + whistled theme music = epitome of generic basketball players.

Unfortunately, the bad guys have Death (wearing a snappy bowtie) for their lawyer, while our heroes get stuck with a nerdy mummy in a suit. The prosecution reveals some embarrassing details against their ability to frighten, such as Wolf's bald spots. (In case you were wondering, Wolf has grey fur only on his head because he's also going grey. They never do explicitly state this though, you have to infer it from the flashbacks.) As a final test, they bring out a baby for them to scare. And wouldn't ya know it, the baby just giggles and plays with them.

But they get one more chance: if they can scare a typical nuclear family before the end of Halloween. If not, they will be sentenced to an eternity of... WORKING CHILDREN'S BIRTHDAY PARTIES! *insert blood-curdling scream*

And so our heroes are sent to the suburban home of the Tinklemeisters, because vaguely German-sounding surnames are always hilarious. The squeaky-clean but eccentric family consists of Mom (neat freak), Dad (underappreciated dog groomer), older son Stella(?) (a young, overweight Paul Williams) and... Spike.

Whenever I encounter a bowl of unidentified sticky green goop, I automatically assume that it is meant to be eaten with the fingers. Don't you?

Let's talk about Spike, shall we? That quivering bowl of who-knows-what above is Spike's latest science experiment. I think he wanted to see what would happen if someone ate it, because I can't see any other reason to leave a possibly hazardous substance on the dining room table. But seriously, that's not the worst thing about Spike.

Years ago Spike was struck by lightning and hasn't spoken a word since then (they sing a big rock 'n' roll number about it and everything). He communicates only in whistles. Apparently it also seriously damaged his brain, because this kid is truly the most frightening thing in this movie. Just one look at his fat, rubbery cheeks, huge tongue-lolling, drooling smile and eyes that reveal a disturbed mind within and I think you'll agree.

I don't think I can express in words how creepy it is to watch this smile appear. Seriously, for about six seconds he just sits there and stares at you, his smile slowly getting wider and wider. That's how ****ed up this kid is.

You know, I'm pretty sure most of Yorick's narration shots had different dialogue at one point. The lip sync doesn't match at all.

So the monsters come to pay the Tinklemeisters a little visit. More of the writers' opinions on horror is revealed during the kids' reaction to Drac's hijacking of their satellite signal, replacing it with old footage of the trio in their heyday ("Whatever this is, it should be colorized."). Time for plan B.

Plan B is a prize giveaway. The gang dresses up in flashy suits and present the Tinklemeisters with a one-night vacation at a real-life European castle!


I guess plan B is relying on the hope that the atmosphere of the castle will be more suited to scaring. It's too bad they have to wear silly costumes to make it work. Random gags on the trip to Transylvania follow.

So far Dad (who was already known to get the willies from old monster movies) has been pretty easy to scare, but the rest of the family either doesn't notice or thinks that it's all special effects, especially the kids (durn kids today and their no-good flyin' machines!). To them, this place is the bee's knees!

After a while the family just seems to start wandering around the castle while the monsters continue their efforts. Maybe they wanted a tour around the place or something, but really, shouldn't they be in bed by now? And why is Dad still in uniform?

A visit to the Frankenstein lab turns into a video game session. I'm surprised they even know what to do with a joystick.

The next musical number is "The Heebie Jeebie", a tango that sounds like they really wished they could have gotten Tom Jones to sing it. Mom seems to think nothing of doing a tango with a living suit of armor; I guess she must go into some sort of trance when she does her habitual spring cleaning every day.

Look! I just happen to have a giant bar of soap and scrub-brush behind my back! (HAMMERSPACE FAIL)

I guess the kids picked up Dad's grooming skills.

MEANWHILE, Mr. Bowtied Lawyer of Death learns that the monster trio has actually succeeded at scaring the parents (Mom is apparently jumpier when the electricity goes out). This means he could lose the case, so being an evil lawyer, he hatches an evil lawyer plan. This could only mean BUREAUCRACY! AHHHHHHHH!!!

So Stella (seriously, that's what I heard) has been scared, so now it's time to get Spike next. He's just a little kid, so easy, right? Yeah, I don't think so either. I'm predicting that he'll just smile blankly and imitate maniacal laughter in whistles.

Well, he doesn't laugh or anything, but he certainly does smile like he's trying to lure bugs into his mouth. Somehow he manages to combine braindead obliviousness with smug confidence (what were the animators going for with this kid anyway??) and defeats and humiliates our heroes with barely any effort and proceeds to run off as if he intended to create havoc now that he's (presumably) the only one conscious around.

Turns out that he just ran off to rescue his family, who were apparently locked in a cabinet. I can't imagine how he knew they were there. I guess psychic powers are just one of his unnatural abilities.

We surrender, Spike! Spare us!

The monsters decide that it's time to give up. It's time for a song!

Get used to this shot. You're going to see it a lot.

They present the Tinklemeisters with an apparently already-prepared rock music video about the good old days called "It Was Good When We Were Bad". The song really rocks, and is really the highlight of the movie despite abysmal editing and awful green-screen.

After that's done, it's revealed that Spike isn't easily scared because he's used to modern gory monsters like Jason-parody. Could have fooled me.

Best line in the the movie, from Wolf: "Monsters created by toy companies, rather than arising spontaneously from folklore and mythology, reflecting Jungian archetypes filtered through the collective unconscious." Right on!

That's when the modern monsters burst in and we finally learn their names. Jason-parody is Freddy D. Spaghetti, Chucky-parody is Chicky (Chikki?), and Alien-parody is The Alienator. Not the best names, but I guess it's appropriate for their lameness. They've been sent by Mr. Bowtie of Death to kill them or something. Oh, and apparently Wolf is Jewish. I hope all those villagers are kosher.

CHASE SCENE! The cabinet turns out to be an elevator. CHASE SCENE! Chicky likes Indiana Jones. IT LOOKS LIKE THE END! But then Spike comes up with an idea! Spike brews up a formula that turns Drac's dentures into real teeth (it's a cartoon), Frank gets a recharge, and Dad gives Wolf a haircut and some hair restorer. With our heroes rejuvenated, Spike comes up with one more potion that rekindles the atmosphere of the castle (and by that they mean "everything turns black and white"). FIGHT SCENE!

But even though the bad guys are eventually defeated, the clock strikes midnight and Halloween is over. But there's still hope!

"They've got a new channel on cable" is their only excuse for this.

The trial resumes and the judge calls Spike up to the witness stand (how did the other Tinklemeisters not notice he was gone?). And SURPRISE! Spike can speak! He explains that in reading so many modern horror comics (is there such a thing?), he was too afraid to speak. But when the bad guys were defeated at the hands of the old generation, he wasn't scared anymore. Now he's our heroes' biggest fan! (So to speak.)

I don't know about you, but I don't believe a word of it. Are you sure that's Spike and not some normal, everyday kid impersonating him? He's been grinning practically non-stop throughout this whole adventure- how could he have been scared to speak? This new Spike isn't creepy at all.

So, happy ending! Our heroes are reinstated into the "Ghoul Guild" because while they didn't scare every member of an average family, they did even better by scaring their own kind. But wait! There's more! The monsters are awarded their own movie studio, and the Tinklemeisters become the caretakers of the castle. And... Yorick is called Bone-ji or something now? And whatever happened to Wolf's dye job? EVERYONE LAUGHS ENDING. And yes, they do build a theme park at the castle. I can't see how that would help their reputation, but whatever. The end credits are great, though.

Because old-school monsters are awesome.

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