Facts of the Case
We've got six '80s-era horror/comedies to pour through here:
• Elvira, Mistress of the Dark
A somewhat famous
horror TV host suddenly finds herself out of a job. Fortunately, she learns she
has an enormous inheritance to go along with her enormous…well, you know.
Now she's living in small town USA, surrounded by moralistic adults and
fun-loving teens. But a mysterious "cookbook" could spell doom for
• Return to Horror High
A group of filmmakers takes
over an abandoned high school that was once the site of some brutal murders. But
as the crew reenacts the killings before the cameras, someone else is lurking in
the shadows reenacting them for real.
• Return of the Killer Tomatoes
After the title
beasties were driven off in the first film, it's now a different world, as all
tomatoes have been outlawed. But one sinister scientist has a plan to create his
own master race of tomato people. Now the fate of the world is up to two
buddies, a sexy female stranger, and the world's most adorable piece of mutated
• Sleepaway Camp
Everyone's having an ideal summer
at Camp Arawak, with games, swimming, socials, romances, cliques, bullies, and
more. Too bad someone's sneaking around committing murders behind everyone's
backs. The ending must be seen to be believed.
• Transylvania 6-5000
After hearing reports that
Frankenstein's Monster is real, a pair of dim-bulb reporters head off to
Transylvania. Their investigation leads them not just to the monster, but also
to vampires, werewolves, and the world's wackiest butler.
In order to get into a prestigious
fraternity, two buddies must hire a stripper for an upcoming party. Visiting a
club in the seedy part of town, our hapless heroes find more than they bargained
for: vicious gangs, bloodsucking monsters, and a mostly-naked Grace Jones (Conan the Destroyer), all out to
So Anchor Bay took six dust-gatherers and bundled them together in a nifty
case that looks like a six-pack of beer, complete with a little handle on the
top. Cute, but one end of the box is left wide open, so when you're carrying it
around your living room, all six movies are in danger of sliding out at any
time. Also, there's no way of knowing which movie is which without removing all
six of them at once. Sure, the box is amusing—but I'd rather it be both
amusing and practical.
Now it's time to take a look at the movies themselves. The question is what
order to watch them in? Alphabetical? By year? No, I'll do what most people who
buy this set are likely to do, and watch them in a completely arbitrary
Sleepaway Camp is often considered a genuine
classic among '80s horror, so that's as good place as any to begin. Everyone
talks about the ending, but how's the rest of the movie? The plot just creeps
along, with a lot of high school angst keeping it moving between murders. In a
movie like this the tension should increase after every death scene, but in this
case there's an almost-invisible subplot about the camp's owners keeping them
covered up in order to prevent panic and stay in business. So instead, it's
almost like this is two movies—a slasher movie mixed with a teen soap
Ah, here's Sleepaway Camp's famous ending.
It's certainly one of the greatest "Oh, my God!" moments in movie
history. And yet, I find myself wondering what happened next. I kind of want to
see the chaos and madness that followed. On the other hand, leaving that up the
to the audience's imagination is probably a lot scarier than any craziness they
could have filmed.
Now I'm about halfway through Sleepaway Camp's
commentary track. It's a very funny one, with the director and actors making
plenty of jokes and pointing out continuity problems, fake mustaches, et cetera.
They also hint at a possible fourth movie in the series. I say they should go
for it. Freddy and Jason got to duke it out, and Chucky spread his Seed all over
movie screens, so why not breathe some new life into this franchise? I think the
world is ready.
Two of the movies in this set feature a pre-fame George
Clooney (Ocean's 11), so I'll watch
those next. Return to Horror High barely made a blip on the radar screen
when it was released in 1987, but today it gets a lot of praise for being ahead
of its time. Wes Craven's Scream blew the
lid off the horror genre years later by adding a self-aware tone and pop
culture-laced humor to a scary, whodunit plot. But Horror High can boast that it did this
first, and its killer even looks just like the one in Scream.
Whereas Sleepaway Camp's ending is a real
baseball bat to the face, Horror High piles on the surprise endings, one
after another after another. It gets ludicrous after a while. To say any more
would mean spoiling the film, but know that nit-pickers will get plenty of
mileage trying to figure out the various inconsistencies of the plot. There are
very few extras on this one, but I really like the trailer with the creepy
cheerleader. She could have become a horror icon all by herself.
Although George Clooney is only in the last movie for a
few scenes, that's not the case in Return of the Killer Tomatoes. Clooney
has a much bigger part this time around, as the hero's horny best friend. As the
title suggests, this one's a flat-out comedy, with no attempts at actual horror,
action, or even story. It's one of those really wacky comedies, the kind where
characters break the fourth wall and complain about having to add product
placement to their scripts. A product of its time, the movie begins with a false
start, as if to trick viewers into thinking they're watching a TV show. This
suggests that the filmmakers knew the movie's future would be home video, not
I can't believe Return of the Killer Tomatoes
hasn't ended yet. This "anything for a laugh" mentality gets to be a
little too much after a while. Take, for example, one of the flick's most
celebrated scenes, in which a serious discussion is interrupted for no reason by
a lengthy fistfight between a group of cowboys and a gang of ninjas. The message
here from the filmmakers is, "Look at how silly we are! Look at how much we
can get away with!" Gore lovers will want to shy away from this one,
because with its PG rating, the filmmakers have made the whole thing somewhat
family friendly, complete with a cute, fuzzy puppet tomato. Fans of juvenile
jokes and cheap gags will be in heaven, though.
I'm about halfway through the set, watching
Transylvania 6-5000. I like the concept—two dim-witted reporters
tracking down the truth about famous monsters. And I like the cast—Jeff
Goldblum (Jurassic Park), Ed
Begley Jr. (Meet the Applegates), Geena Davis (The Long Kiss Goodnight), Jeffrey Jones (Ed Wood), Carol Kane (The Princess Bride), and Michael
Richards (Seinfeld), among others. With all that talent, it's a shame the
movie is so bland. There are a number of exceptionally long takes with the
camera capturing two characters in one shot while they rattle off pages of
script at once. It's kind of like watching Clerks, but without the wonderfully whacked
dialogue. So much of the movie is plot and exposition that the only humor is a
few bits of slapstick here and there. It's just an unfunny comedy. Even its
title is a dated joke. Back in the '80s, most kids had never heard of the song
"Pennsylvania 6-5000," so I wonder how many of them know it today.
This movie could have used some of Return of the Killer Tomatoes's madcap
sensibilities, while that one could have used just a little bit more of this
Now I'm going through all the extras on Transylvania
6-5000. The commentary shows just how much of a labor of love the movie was
for everyone involved. There's also a lot of talk about how the movie was made
in an actual castle on location in Yugoslavia. That has me thinking about
another problem I have with the film. There's just no sense of atmosphere.
Here's a movie with vampires, werewolves, and Frankenstein's Monster, and yet
it's all brightly lit and shot like an ordinary sitcom. Even on a low budget
film there are ways to add a little gloom and doom, which would have better
helped the laughs. The trailers make the movie look a lot funnier than it is,
and the cartoon-like storyboards are quite charming.
I don't think I'm going to make it. I just started
watching Vamp. It begins as yet another "horny college buddies out
for a good time" comedy. You know, I went to college for a total of five
years, and I never acted like college guys in movies. I was too busy doing stuff
like studying. Wait, where was I? Oh, yeah, reviewing six movies at once. Like
Return to Like Horror High, Vamp alternates between scares and
laughs, rather than all-out comedy. Grace Jones is just naturally creepy. She's
even creepier when she's naked except for a red fright wig, a chrome wire
bikini, and some sort of tribal body paint. There are some pretty effective gore
effects here, too, and the slapstick humor on this one isn't too painful. On the
minus side, the movie's green and pink lighting scheme starts to sting the eyes
after a while. And for a movie that has all the action taking place in one
night, there are quite a few subplots to keep track of. But despite the
sometimes-meandering script, it's a strange but not terrible vampire
Even though it's the same hour and a half length as the
other films in this set, Vamp feels a lot longer. Every time I think it's
reached the climax, suddenly there's more movie. Also, a subplot featuring Billy
Drago (The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.) as a gang leader is amusing,
but could have been excised easily without losing any of the story.
Now it's time for the extras on Vamp, and
there are quite a few. The outtakes and behind-the-scenes footage are quite
dull, and the short film, "Dracula Bites the Big Apple," is amusing
yet amateurish. The commentary, on the other hand, is great. The director and
three of the actors take the movie apart, going into detail about what works and
what doesn't, while having fun and kidding around at the same time. This is one
of those rare cases in which the commentary is almost better than the movie.
I've been up all night, the sun is rising, but I must
nonetheless watch the sixth and final film, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.
This movie just doesn't know what it wants to be. In some scenes, Elvira
(Cassandra Peterson, Elvira's Haunted
Hills) is a tough-talking rock and roll chick, shocking the small-town
conservatives around her. But at other times, she's a role model, befriending
the local white-bread teenagers and teaching them important life lessons.
Elvira's usual shtick of raunchy jokes and groan-inducing puns is often at odds
with the family-movie plot and setting. Basically, all of the comedy has to come
from Elvira herself, because everyone around her is so bland and uninteresting.
In Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, another comedy
based on a pseudo-celebrity, the filmmakers surrounded Pee-Wee with all sorts of
crazy characters to play off of. This established a bizarre fantasy world for
the film, such that the entire movie didn't hinge on one performer's shoulders.
Elvira doesn't benefit from this sense of invention, sadly; instead, it
hopes to generate laughs by having the title character interact with normal
folks. As a result, the movie comes across like a five-minute comedy skit
stretched out into a full-length movie.
Tell me I'm not seeing what I'm seeing. At the end of
her movie, Elvira indulges in an elaborate song and dance number. She's
surrounded herself with half-naked guys dressed like devils wearing those
novelty "eyeballs on dangly springs" glasses, and everybody's all
happy and jumping all over the place. Perhaps the combined might of these movies
has overwhelmed me, and banished me to some sort of nightmarish dream world,
because no way can something this psycho possibly be on my TV screen. And
now…is Elvira rapping? My ears! My ears! Then, it ends with what is
arguably the most famous shot in the movie. Just think: If this were made today,
those swinging tassels would be all CGI.
Is that it? Am I done? I have survived. I am now able
to step outside into the fresh air and the sunlight. I have endured the trials
of the '80s low budget horror comedy genre. I've seen a dead guy covered with
bees. I've seen Geena Davis as a half-naked vampire with a bowtie. I've seen the
world's shortest chase scene. I've seen not one, but two people, in two separate
movies, stabbed with high heeled shoes. I've seen a Brady sibling eat a hot dog
while covered with blood. I've seen all this and more, and yet I live to tell
I'm going to go lie down for a while.