So far I've managed to stay fairly determined towards my goal of watching a writing at least a small something about a horror film every day this month. Last night after the Abel Ferrara film I wasn't that tired so I did manage to get a fright flick in. This time it was Wes Craven's "Deadly Friend," another selection from the Twisted Terror box set. Honestly, I have to admit I sort of bought this set by accident. I was purchasing a couple of other DVDs online and considering the Twisted Terror set, but ultimately didn't plan to buy it because I just don't have all that much money to throw around on, y'know, DVDs of "Dr. Giggles." But I put it in my shopping cart with the intention of possibly taking it out later, then forgot to take it out, now I own it...but I'm actually pretty glad I wound up with this one. The good-to-bad ratio of films is pretty much 50/50, but the re-watchability factor of alot of these films is high. "Deadly Friend" is a good example of that. It's a really, really fucking goofy 80s horror flick, but it's goofy and stupid in a way that makes it immensely pleasurable, and actually it also has a few genuinely effective things going for it too...
"Deadly Friend" was one of several attempts Wes Craven made during the 1980s to recreate the success of of his "Nightmare on Elm Street." One of several failed attempts I should say. Of all the canonized horror filmmakers of the 1970s and 80s, Craven is probably my least favorite. He's obviously a smart guy and doesn't necessarily always play it safe in terms of the films he chooses to make, and of course "Nightmare on Elm Street" is great, and his early films like "Last House on the Left" and "the Hills Have Eyes" are challenging if not necessarily enjoyable (or particularly good), but the truth is, Craven has produced alot of crap in his time, and when not producing crap, he's produced alot of middle-of-the-road very blah blah films as well. He doesn't have the sociopolitical insight of George Romero, or the mind-body-media politics of David Cronenberg, the stylistic mastery of John Carpenter, nor the sheer mania of Tobe Hooper, nor the self-reflexive humor of Joe Dante, and so on and so forth. If anything, Craven's career can be seen as a series of attempts, with less successes than misfires.
"Deadly Friend" is about a teenaged science prodigy who uses his robotics skills to resurrect his girlfriend as a cyborg after she is killed by her abusive father (why were there so many movies about robotics and cybernetics in the mid-to-late 80s? There was this, "Short Circuit," "Robocop"...were they relating to something specific in the culture, or was it just advances in special effects, or what? I wanna know...). Child abuse is one reoccurring theme in Craven's work, certainly it's a significant aspect of "Nightmare on Elm Street" and "the People Under the Stairs", and that element of this film is handled well, if a bit too quickly.
"Deadly Friend" is really at its' best when the teenagers are just being teenagers. Kristy Swanson (the original "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") is excellent when she's just acting like a normal teenager, palling around with the boyfriend and their other friend, having a few pretty mild adolescent adventures. This makes it kind of perplexing why she is so unbelievably bad when she's playing the robot character. I would tend to blame Craven, who seems to have directed her to stick her arms out and lumber slowly forward with a blank look on her face in what's basically a child's impersonation of Karloff's Frankenstein monster. This immense awkward characterization inspires more than a few chuckles, as does the fairly misguided comic relief "cute" robot (shades of "Short Circuit") that's actually pretty annoying, and one of the most physiologically improbable gore scenes I've ever scene, in which crotchety old broad Anne Ramsey's head is crushed like a pumpkin or porcelain vase. But that's all part of the fun of "Deadly Friend." Although I guess there's a moral quandry about laughing at a film that's obstensively about child abuse, but whatever. It's a cold, hard world and sometimes you have to take your laughs where you can get them, or something.
Since I was already prepared to do a comics-related posting in lieu of a film today, I'm going to include that too, even if the guy who does the wonderful Branded in the 80s blog beat me to the punch on this one. The comic in question here is Plop, a DC comics title from the 1970s which attempted to combine humor and horror with pretty delightfully morbid results. I first encountered this comic when I was about 10 or 11, and my older cousins sent a big box of their old comics from the 70s, mostly DC stuff, which served as a great deal of my education on comics of the past and introduced me to the awesomeness of Jack Kirby's weird 70s work for DC like "Kamandi," "Omac," and "Sandman", among others. I have to admit as a kid I was really disturbed by "Plop" and it's attempt to combine a Mad Magazine humor aesthetic with the DC's creepy horror comics like "House of Mystery," "House of Secrets" and "The Witching Hour." "Plop" is even 'hosted' by Cain, Abel and the old witch who were the narrators of those comics, DC's version of EC Comics' Crypt Keeper, Vault Keeper and the Old Witch. Now that I'm older I find myself really enjoying it, even some of the cornier gags.
"Plop" combines comical horror and comeuppance stories with alot of gag panels, and a few assorted oddities. Many of the covers for the series were by the great Basil Wolverton, and much of the interior artwork was by "Mad" veteran and "Groo the Wanderer" creator Sergio Aragones. Several other great artists work is featured, including Wally Wood. I used to have more issues of this although I don't know where they've gone to, but here are a few choice pages and covers for the couple of issues I was able to dig up.
How cute are the talking dogs in the last Aragones story?
As long as this entry is already turning into kind of an epic, how about a few words on the Ferrara film? I really dug "Go Go Tales." To be honest, I really sort of love all of Abel Ferrara's films, sometimes in ways that might be difficult to articulate. "Go Go Tales" plays like Cassavetes' "Killing of a Chinese Bookie" by way of "His Girl Friday" or a Preston Sturges screwball comedy. The humor is decidedly off-kilter, it really doesn't conform to the rhythm of what we tend to think of as movie comedy, instead being delivered in a looser, improvised-feeling way, with alot of the laughs coming from people just acting like people. This is possibly the most humanistic of all of Ferrara's films, there's conflict but no threat of violence, and towards the end he really gives us a chance to see the humanity of many of the characters, and it's, I gotta say, kind of heartwarming. Not necessarily what you'd expect from the maker of "Ms. 45" and "Bad Lieutenant," but effective and welcome. My only complaint is the presence of Asia Argento in the film. I find her annoying. Not just annoying but kind of horrible, but alot of filmmakers seem to like her, so she may be a necessary evil if I'm going to keep watching movies by the likes of Ferrara or Catherine Breillat. But, man, can she play anything but a skanky, whining slut? The rest of the cast, including Willem Dafoe, Bob Hoskins, Sylvia Miles and Anita Pallenberg is excellent, as are several new Grace Jones songs on the soundtrack. Abel Ferrara (as was Defoe, and allegedly Grace Jones, though I didn't see her, unfortunately) was there at the screening and put on a bit of a show. After the film had screened, during the closing credits, he seemed to get in an argument with Sylvia Miles, then tripped and fell down, then ran out of the theatre, leaving a perplexed audience waiting for the promised q&a. Waiting, waiting, waiting. Unfortunately, my date for evening had to take off, so we didn't get find out if he ever showed up again or not. Ferrara is kind of a notorious maniac. I've met him a couple of times in a couple of different circumstances and always enjoyed his kookiness, although unlike some filmmakers I really like, I couldn't imagine having that much interaction with him, or god forbid actually working for him, which I imagine would be a nightmare. (If you want a taste of the sunnier side of Ferrara's mania, check out his audio commentary on the Cult Epics disc of his first film [well, his first non-porno film] "Driller Killer.").
Anyway, come back tomorrow for more horror and if you get a chance, check out my radio show, where I'm doing the 13 weeks of Halloween, on www.eastvillageradio.com from 4-6pm tomorrow (Sunday).