Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Hubrisween 2017 :: M is for Monster High (1989)

Okay, stop me if you heard this one before: a mummy, a gargoyle, a giant sentient marijuana plant, two blundering aliens, a preppie zombie, a killer computer monitor, and an anthropomorphic doomsday device walk into a high school … Wait. Wait. Hold up. This joke is probably gonna need a lot more setup for the punchline to land properly, so let's back up and begin at the beginning in some hellish, pan-dimensional business office belonging to Spyridium Damianus Hectophantasmigon; but you can just call him the Monster in Charge. (And color me baffled because spellcheck just recognized all of that.) A shadowy figure from the Borscht Belt dimension (-- at least that’s my running theory), Hectophantasmigon’s currently in a foul mood because, according to his computer read out, the planet Earth’s scheduled destruction has been delayed indefinitely due to some technical glitch.

After vaporizing several underlings over insufficient answers as to how this happened, Hectophantasmigon (Cady) finally gets a non-punitive answer as to why Earth still exists from a video report filed by Slisa Beealzeberg (Stein), who will serve as our narratrix for the rest of the film -- with running commentary by the cosmic executive from hell. Here, we see all of this started when two bumbling aliens named -- wait for it, Dume and Glume (Lind, Haines), breach Hectophantasmigon’s lair, steal a crate whose markings label it as some kind of doomsday device, and manage to teleport away before being disintegrated by what passes for security in this dimension.

But in their haste to escape, Glume -- or maybe Dume, hard to tell ‘em apart, punched the wrong coordinates in the teleporter, explaining why they and the crate pull a Wile E. Coyote on the front lawn of Montgomery Sterling High School -- at the expense of some poor little yip-yip dog when they cratered in. Anyhoo, these two E.T.-idiots then open the crate, revealing this doomsday device resembles what we Earthers call a basketball. But! Turns out this was just some kind of genie-like prison for one of Hectophantasmigon’s most troublesome agents of mass destruction, Mr. Armageddon (Marriott), who escapes, scares his unwitting liberators off, and decides this Montgomery High will serve as ground zero for the end of this world -- once he’s done stretching his legs a bit, seducing and slaying the entire pep squad first.

Next, Beealzeberg’s video report segues into a recap of the current denizens of Montgomery High; the oddball students and wacky staff, who will all play a huge part in this after-action report, but focuses mostly on some schlub, Norm Median (Iandoli), and his constant mooning over the cute foreign exchange student, Candice Cain (Frank). 

Also of note are a dude named Mel Anoma (Fuhrer), who keeps waking up from a series of reoccurring and plot-specific nightmares; a computer nerd who goes by the handle, Eggbert Hoser, who gets decapitated by Armageddon and transformed into a homicidal automata with a computer monitor for a head; Todd Uppington Smythe III is some preppie wonk, who gets a face-full of Can O’ Condom (-- don’t ask, just watch), smothers to death, but is resurrected as a flesh-eating zombie; and then, the centerpiece of Paul Smith’s (Dominguez) history presentation, a life-sized mummy replica, is also zapped to life and goes on a rampage; also, exploiting a breakthrough on rapid plant growth by his kooky science professor, a stoner named Orson Dean -- but you can call him O.D. (Kerzner), with a little demonic help, grows a giant, mobile, human-devouring marijuana plant; and finally, we have the revered varsity basketball team and head coach, Otto Parts (Young), who's never met a point he couldn’t shave. Also, a Gargoyle named Art, who drives an ice cream truck, because why the hell not.

And while we contemplate -- between the rather blunt character names, references, and plot points, if perhaps this should’ve been called Do You Get It?! Hunh? Do ya?! The Movie instead, poor old hapless Norm does his best to confess his love to Candice; but whenever he tries to talk to her someone either interrupts or something bad seems to happen. And then things get even worse when Norm, while searching for the ever growing number of missing students, stumbles upon Armageddon in the teacher’s lounge when a sweep of the basement goes horribly awry. But instead of killing him or turning him into a minion like all the others, Armageddon chooses Norm to be his doomsday prophet. Of course, no one believes Norm’s crazy stories about some lounge lizard from hell or the impending apocalypse, despite the recent tectonic activity and all the monsters running loose in the halls devouring people. That is, no one believes him except for Candice. And together, these two hatch a cock-eyed plot that just might save the world -- if they survive long enough to implement it that is...

Now. To be fair, Monster High (1989) kinda spells it out upfront what kind of juvenile atrocity film you are about to encounter:

And it only goes downhill from there, folks. The jokes are cheap, and the punchlines even cheaper. Still, Monster High is a pretty good example of a genre offshoot that seldom gets studied and is rarely championed: the raunch-com. Trust me, when I say “raunch-com” we aren’t even in the same zip code as The Farrelly brothers or the Wayans. No. What I'm referring to are parodies that I’m not quite sure realized they were parodies. Thus, I’m talking about a specific period in home video history where the low-brow comedy of the Zuckers and the heavy special-effects of Troma Studios meet on the graph. 

At least that’s what I think director Rudy Poe and screenwriters Roy Langsdon and John Platt were shooting for; a wild mash-up of your grandpa’s favorite dirty limericks, a used copy of 101 Sex Jokes, the old Hustler mags you used to find in your older brother’s closet, and some Forest J. Ackerman levels of bad punnage, mixed with a slew of self-aware creature feature nods and a huge helping of grue and bodily fluids distilled through the usual body-count flick and high school rom-com nonsense capped off with the patented nerds vs. the jocks climax -- only this time it’s the nerds vs. the monsters with the fate of the world in the balance. Also, lots and lots of boob shots.

E’yup, this is what a 13 year old’s wet dream looked like in the late 1980s. And this movie is essentially Abbott and Costello Meet the Gang from Porky’s, which makes this film very corny, gross and juvenile with a capital J. Case in point: the video game resident computer nerd Eggbert plays right before he is killed and transformed, which is kinda like Space Invaders only if the control ship for Space Invaders looked like male genitalia that shoots sperm-like laser bolts at either falling bibles or female boobs that fire liquid back at it. 

And later, while Norm and Candice flee from Armageddon, who I think wants to make Candice his bride -- or at least have sex with the girl before killing her like all the others pep-squad members, find refuge in a room tricked out like a seedy No-Tell Motel; complete with a big, plush, heart-shaped bed and every piece of “equipment” imaginable, including a sign that says “Keep this room clean." This, of course, turns out to be the Advanced Sex Ed classroom. And since Candice doesn’t want to die a virgin, wham, bam, thank you ma’am.

Anyhoo, Armageddon eventually catches them after they do the deed, but before he dispatches Norm so he can finally have his way with Candice, our nominal hero challenges this “doomsday with legs” to a game of basketball. The stakes? If the Montgomery High varsity team wins, the Earth gets a thousand year reprieve. If Armageddon wins, everything goes boom. And in case of a tie, we go to sudden death -- which doesn’t sound like any overtime I’ve ever heard of before. So, essentially, a tie also goes boom.

Thus and so, while Norm and Candice talk Coach Parts into participating in the game of the millennium, Armageddon rounds himself up a team consisting of himself, Glume, Dume, Art the Gargoyle, the Macintosh Monster formerly known as Eggbert, and the preppie zombie. He also murders and reanimates one of the referees as another zombie -- seems only fair. And from the opening tip-off this quickly becomes a war of attrition as members of Armageddon's team keep drawing technical fouls and are booted from the game for murdering members of the opposing team. And while the score remains close, the good guys will never catch up with the bad guys because the MacMonster is programmed to never miss a shot.

Never fear, Norm has a plan and heads out of the gym with Candice right behind him. Seeing this, Armageddon sends his zombie after them, who finds the two in the computer lab along with Mel, which neatly wraps up his constantly ‘waking up from a nightmare’ plot thread rather hysterically, while Norm tries to write some new command codes for the malicious robot as Candice keeps the zombies at bay. 

And while Mel is lost, the others make it back the gym just in time as the home team is down to only one player left who still maintains the use of all his arms and legs. Here, down by four and outnumbered 3-1, Norm enters the game and manages to insert the floppy disc into the MacMonster, which causes it to make baskets for the home team, who quickly ties the game before Armageddon pulls the plug. And since one of the aliens just disintegrated the other player and got disqualified, the outcome of this tied game is now down to just Norm and Armageddon with only a few precious seconds left on the clock.

I believe I first saw Monster High on U.S.A.’s Up All Night back in the mid-1990s. Not all of it, but the last fifteen to twenty minutes, which consisted mostly of the basketball game segment and found it all to be quite hilarious. I had no idea how the movie got there, but I found it wonderfully absurd that the monsters kept murdering the other team. And I loved how they pulled off that robot -- from the suit itself, made mostly of wires and that monitor, to the beeping it constantly emitted, to the performance of Troy Fromin, who brought it to robotic life. Also a shout-out to David Bloch as the spastic zombie who was soooo happy in his work -- especially the “He’s got a gun” moment. And the fact the stoner wound up smoking the whole killer pot monster had me giggling to no end. And thus started an epic quest to find the film and watch it from the beginning. A quest that lasted almost twenty years. And there ya go, and here we are.

Sadly, the first hour of Monster High never quite lived up to the memory of those last twenty minutes -- and even those proved a bit … off. Still, the film was, well, not really charming but it had a relatively harmless goofiness to it as some of the comedy bits were genuinely funny, like when one of the dweebs nukes his shoes in a microwave to dry them out, not knowing Armageddon had futched with the machine. And so, when he puts them back on, his mutated shoes devour him wholesale in a volcano of gore and blood. (A very effective and well-executed kill.) 

This is topped off by a monster springing from his right shoe, who spits out one of his eyeballs, before growing into what looks like a midget in bad rubber suit, which I also found hilarious because it WAS a midget in a bad rubber suit. (He shows up later in the finale as the sole fan support for the monster squad.)

And there’s the rub. Again, all the F/X and realized monsters are actually pretty great, so kudos to David Domeyer, Richard Miranda and Matthew W. Mungle for the special makeup effects. (All had or went on to solid careers in Hollywood.) But the comedy of Poe, who would go on to direct a bunch of videos for the Playboy label, which explains AH-lot, and screenwriters Roy Langsdon and John Platt was more miss than hit. An inspired idea with a few funny interludes it was, sure, but most of those elements got lost while expanding it into a feature length film. Thus, despite the kitchen sink vibe, there just wasn’t quite enough there to hold what good bits there were together -- although Norm Median might be the best character name since Hiro Protagonist.

Add it all up and Monster High comes pretty darn close to being a fun dumb movie instead of something kinda stupid that’s only mildly amusing at times -- and the film’s only saving grace, for me, is a genuine earnestness to never, ever, take itself seriously for one second and be nothing more than the gross-out raunch-com it was intended to be. And while I kinda liked it, I just wish the comedy elements of Monster High were as effective and well-executed as the monster and mayhem bits, and then we really might’ve had something here. As is, well, I’d rather watch an interesting misfire from the 1980s like this than ever sit through a John Hughes movie from the same era again. So, there’s that at least.

What is Hubrisween? This is Hubrisween. And now, Boils and Ghouls, be sure to follow this linkage to keep track of the whole conglomeration of reviews for Hubrisween right here. Or you can always follow we collective head of knuckle on Letterboxd. And we officially reach the halfway point, with 13 down and 13 left to go. Up next: Keep watching the skies for a movie that didn't happen but, oh, how I wish it had.

Monster High (1989) Lightyear Entertainment :: RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video / EP: Arne Holland, Tom Kuhn, Annette Cirillo / P: Eric Bernt, Andrew Dean, Richard Gitelson / D: Rudy Poe / W: Roy Langsdon, John Platt / C: Eric J. Goldstein / E: Warren Chadwick / M: Richard Lyons / S: Dean Iandoli, Diana Frank, David Marriott, Robert Lind, Sean Haines, Doug Kerzner, Bob Cady, David Fuhrer, Margie Stein, Troy Fromin, Henry Young, Kevin Dominguez

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