Bonus Points: DVD Reviews
It Came From the DVD Bin
Tuesday, August 15, 2006; 12:00 AM
Nearly everything about the upcoming action-thriller "Snakes on a Plane" suggests a film destined for the dusty DVD bargain bin, except for: star Samuel L. Jackson, a budget in the $30 million range and a barrage of Internet hype. With "Snakes" a few days away from slithering into theaters, all the hype may have you itching for an early dose of summer horror-camp. If so, you'll be happy to know that a slew of recently released creature features await in DVD-land. Most are downright horrible, but fortunately, I've spent countless hours separating the absurd and amusing selections from the insipid and moronic majority.
Anyone who has visited popular "Snakes on a Plane" Web sites like snakesonablog.com knows that the movie contains a line of dialogue originally demanded by Internet fans: "I've had it with these mother [bleeping] snakes on this mother [bleeping] plane!" In the spirit of that already famous line, I also highlighted the memorable one-liners in each of the following films, quips that could easily sneak their way into the mainstream if enough people check out these DVDs. Trust me: Even the B-movie-watching wisenheimers at Mystery Science Theater 3000 couldn't squeeze more camp value out of some of these stellar sentences.
Monster High (R, $14.94): Originally released in 1989 and now on DVD for the first time, this hilarious high school spoof takes all the conventional trappings of the tired genre and turns them on their head with a quick, wry wit. The normal lives of jocks, stoners, nerds and all the other teen horror archetypes are disrupted when a metallic-sequin-sporting, cocktail-sipping "Mr. Armageddon" comes to town with orders to end Earth's existence. As the opening theme makes clear, this doomsday with legs has "got a taste for making human bouillabaisse." Get past the first 10 shaky minutes and you'll be enthralled as "completely average" student Norm Median convinces Mr. Armageddon to rest Earth's fate on the outcome of a high school basketball game in which the school squad challenges a crew of bumbling zombies, mutants and mummies. Meanwhile, Norm and Mr. Armageddon scramble for the favor of a French exchange student, which leads to the protagonist's pitch-perfect delivery of the film's best Cult One-Liner: "He's not only ending the world, he's hitting on girls, too; I've got to stop him."
Tales from the Crypt: The Complete Fourth Season (Not Rated, $39.98): The fourth season of HBO's comic book-based half-hour horror series features Brad Pitt as a drag racer, Timothy Dalton as a werewolf hunter and contributions from directorial heavyweights such as Tom Hanks, Richard Donner and William Freidkin. Freidkin's throwaway episode, about a rock singer who gets inked with a killer tattoo, should have been destroyed. Still, the season, which originally aired in 1992, contains slightly more hits than misses among its 14 episodes, and the Crypt Keeper's pun stockpile hasn't diminished. The highlight is the campy yet creepy "What's Cookin'?"-- which features the surprising one-two-three acting punch of Christopher Reeve, Judd Nelson and Meat Loaf. Channeling "Sweeney Todd" with a side of "Soylent Green," Reeve's all-squid restaurant fails until it finds a new menu option that turns Meat Loaf into meat loaf. Judd Nelson's waiter character rationalizes the disgusting new entree with this gem of a Cult One-Liner: "It's a dog-eat-dog world out there, and we're all just different flavors of Alpo."
Homecoming (Not Rated, $16.98): Made for Showtime's "Masters of Horror" series, Joe Dante ("Gremlins," "The Howling") directs this unabashedly leftist, controversial propaganda pic wrapped in zombie romp packaging. In "Homecoming," military men rise from the grave with one goal: to vote for anyone who will end an unpopular war. Dante definitely thumps his anti-combat drum to the point where one is inclined to yell, "I get it" at the DVD player. However, "Homecoming" is delightfully subversive when coyly skewering the hypocrisies of radical right-wing pundits; a thinly-veiled Ann Coulter replica is all for letting undead soldiers vote until it becomes clear that dead men don't vote Republican. Wielding a shotgun, the Coulter-esque character delivers the movie's most memorable Cult One-Liner: "We are definitely not giving up to a bunch of crippled, stinkin', maggot-infested, brain-dead zombie dissidents!"
The Best of Tromadance, Vol. 4 (Not Rated, $14.98): For the past seven years, Tromadance has dwelled in the shadows of Park City, Utah, taking place at the same time as the more "respectable" Sundance Film Festival. Tromadance falls under the direction of Lloyd Kaufman, who founded Troma Studios in 1974 with Michael Herz and has served as an inspiration to indie directors worldwide. Best known for 1985's "The Toxic Avenger" and Trey Parker's pre-South Park "Cannibal! The Musical," Troma has been turning out low-budget, cult horror-satires for more than 30 years. Many supplant story with blood and boobs, a tough sell for general audiences. Having said that, "The Best of Tromadance, Vol. 4" suggests that the offbeat Troma style may be best suited to the short form. Among the 14 brief films are fatuous vignettes ("Violin" features a CGI musician playing the "butt violin"), mindless gore fests ("Le Bagman" is essentially an extended killing spree), and the occasional thought-provoker (the loneliness of being a "freak" is wonderfully explored in the black and white, silent "Nosferatu: The Friendly Vampire" and reprised in "976-LARS," in which a desperate man falls for a prostitute). The most intriguing Cult One-Liner comes not from the DVD itself, but from the contest entry form that accompanies it: "Enter to Be a Chicken Zombie in the new Troma movie 'Poultrygeist: Attack of the Chicken Zombies!'"
Harry Knuckles and the Pearl Necklace (Not Rated, $14.95): While many viewers may find it hard to make it through this entire film in one sitting, the latest installment in the Harry Knuckles saga from Odessa Filmworks ("Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter") is the perfect cult party movie. One can tune in for just about any five-minute portion of this Canadian oddity and find something to laugh at. The plot is borderline incoherent: Harry Knuckles, whose jumpsuit and sweatband combo is reminiscent of old-school Beastie Boys, is hired to regain a necklace from the legendary Bigfoot. But Harry and his sidekick, Santos (part luchador, part casanova) eventually realize the necklace is best kept with the rather friendly Sasquatch (which is actually some kind of bionic yeti that requires the necklace to power its computer mainframe -- yeah, it's best not to think too much about it). There's also a cameo from the aforementioned Lloyd Kaufman. "Plot" aside, the real fun lies in all the characters Harry and Santos encounter along the way, including a virtual reality leopard woman, killer nuns and heavy metal hooligans. The completely ludicrous action sequences are rife with (intentionally) poorly-dubbed dialogue. In one such scene, Harry uses a pair of fish to take out a villain, which leads to the film's best Cult One-Liner: "Smells like fish. Tastes like pain."
The Naked Monster (Not Rated, $19.99): With "The Naked Monster," writer/producer/co-director Ted Newsom wanted to build a '50s-style B-movie in 2005. He succeeded. This monster movie homage borrows a heaping handful of schlock-laced '50s and '60s film footage with little care for continuity while the titular monster (so non-threatening it could be a child's stuffed animal) wanders around in a world it doesn't understand. The cast knows just how far into their cheeks to stick their tongues, especially the late Kenneth Tobey, whose cult credentials trace back to the 1951 B-movie classic, "The Thing." Tobey reprises his old tough guy shtick with relish in this, the last credit of his long career. The best sequence features a torrent of Tobey's B-movie peers suggesting how humans might kill the big green monster, with a chuckle of a Cult One-Liner from the late Les Tremayne, who rehashes his "Gen. Mann" role from the original "War of the Worlds" here. "I know how to stop your monster," he says. "Poke sticks at it!" He then adds: "It worked for the slime people in '62." No matter how much money "Snakes on a Plane" rakes in, don't be surprised if it eventually finds its proper resting place on a shelf near these low-budget, high-camp creature features of yesteryear -- movies that "The Naked Monster" proves are gone, but not wholly forgotten.