A Movie a Day #280: Mikey (1992, directed by Dennis Dimister)


Dumb.  Just dumb.

Mikey (Brian Bonsall) is a little boy who kills people.  Over the course of this movie, he kills eight people.  He gets away with it because everyone that he meets is extremely stupid.  When his teacher notices that Mikey is drawing pictures based on his previous murders, no one thinks anything of it.  When she sees that Mikey is now pushing thumbtacks into his arm, no one is too concerned.  When the principal goes looking for Mikey, he takes a gun which he then leaves unattended on the kitchen counter.  When Mikey tells his teacher that he wants her to teach him “how to die,” everyone figures out that something’s wrong with Mikey but, by then, it’s too late.

For a few years, Mikey had a strong cult following because of the killer kid theme and a few scenes of Josie Bissett in a hot tub.  But it really is a dumb movie and Brian Bonsall gave a lousy performance as Mikey.  Bonsall has a good psycho stare going but whenever he has to speak, he is so wooden that it is impossible to take him seriously.  It takes a good deal of stupidity for an adult to get murdered by a ten-year old and this movie proves it.

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A Movie A Day #279: The Ambulance (1990, directed by Larry Cohen)


Josh Baker (Eric Roberts) is an extroverted artist for Marvel Comics who meets Cheryl (Janine Turner) while walking around New York City.  Josh and Cheryl hit it off but when Cheryl suddenly collapses, she is picked up by a mysterious ambulance.  When Josh goes to the hospital to check on her, he is told that Cheryl was never brought in.  Soon, Josh discovers that people all over New York have been put into back of the ambulance and have never been seen again.  Unfortunately, nobody believes Josh.  Not the veteran NYPD detective (James Earl Jones) who Josh approaches with his suspicions.  Not the staff of the hospital.  Not even Stan Lee!  The only people willing to support Josh are an elderly investigative reporter (Red Buttons) and an inexperienced detective (Megan Gallagher).

Yes, Stan Lee does play himself.  While he had made a few cameo appearances on television and had previously narrated a French film, The Ambulance was Stan Lee’s first real film role.  Josh works at an idealized version of Marvel Comics, where the artists are well-paid, no one is pressured into producing substandard work, and Lee is an avuncular father figure.  It is the Marvel Comics that I used to imagine working at when I was growing up, before I found out about what actually happened to artists like Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, and Steve Ditko.

Idealized though it may be, the Marvel connection is appropriate because The Ambulance is essentially a comic book adventure.  It does not matter how many times Josh gets hit by a car or falls out of a window, he always recovers in time for the next scene.  When Josh does discover who is behind the ambulance, it turns out to be a villain who would not be out-of-place in a Ditko-era Spider-Man story.

The Ambulance is another one of Larry Cohen’s New York horror stories.  Like most of Cohen’s films, it is pulpy, cheap, and entertaining.  Eric Roberts is as crazy as ever and the movie is full of good character actors like James Earl Jones, Red Buttons, Richard Bright, and Eric Braeden.  The Ambulance may be dumb but it is always entertaining.

 

 

A Movie A Day #278: The Power (1968, directed by Byron Haskin)


Who is Adam Hart?

That is the mystery that Professors Jim Tanner (George Hamilton) and Margery Lansing (Suzanne Pleshette) have to solve.  Someone is using psychic powers to kill their co-workers in a research laboratory.  The police think that Tanner is guilty but Tanner knows that one of his colleagues is actually a super human named Adam Hart.  Hart is planning on using his super powers to control the world and, because Tanner is the only person who has proof of his existence, Hart is methodically framing Tanner for every murder that he commits.

The Power is underrated by entertaining movie, a mix of mystery and science fiction with a pop art twist.  It was also one of the first attempts to portray telekinesis on film.  Similar films, like Scanners, may be better known but all of them are directly descended from The Power.  George Hamilton may seem like an unlikely research scientist but he and Suzanne Pleshette are a good team and The Power makes good use of Pleshette’s way with a one liner.  Also keep an eye out for familiar faces like Arthur O’Connell, Nehemiah Persoff, Michael Rennie, Gary Merrill, Yvonne DeCarlo, Vaughn Taylor, Aldo Ray, and even Forrest J. Ackerman as a hotel clerk.

 

A Movie A Day #277: Deadly Friend (1986, directed by Wes Craven)


Things I learned from watching Deadly Friend:

Girls love nerds who build robots.

In 1986, nerds could build robots that displayed human feelings.

Angry old neighbors hate robots.

If a nerd can build a robot that displays human feelings, then he can also bring his girlfriend back to life by putting a computer chip from the robot in her brain.

Once brought back to life, the girlfriend will start to behave just like the robot.

Basketballs can be used to do anything.

Deadly Friend is best remembered for the scene where the newly revived Samantha (Kristy Swanson) throws a basketball with such force that it causes the head of her neighbor (Anne Ramsey) to explode.  It is also remembered for BB, the big yellow robot that was built by Paul (Matthew Laborteaux).  Deadly Friend starts out as the ultimate nerd fantasy: a beautiful girlfriend. a big robot, and a killer basketball.  By the end of the movie, the fantasy has turned into a nightmare.

Deadly Friend was Wes Craven’s follow-up to A Nightmare on Elm Street.  Craven intended for the film to be a dark love story between a teenage outcast and his zombie girlfriend, with a strong emphasis on the hypocrisy of the adults around them.  Craven said that, in his version of Deadly Friend, people like Samantha’s abusive father were meant to be scarier than Zombie Samantha With A Microchip In Her Brain.  Warner Bros. wanted a film that would appeal to teenage horror fans and demanded Elm Street-stlye nightmares and buckets of more blood.  As a result, Craven practically disowned the finished movie and Deadly Friend is a tonally inconsistent, with sentimental first love scenes competing for space with heads exploding and necks being snapped.  Despite good performances from Laborteaux and Swanson, the final film is too much of a mess to work.  However, I know that I will never look at a basketball the same way again.

A Movie A Day #276: Bad Dreams (1988, directed by Andrew Fleming)


When she was a young girl, Cynthia (Jennifer Rubin) was a member of Unity Fields, a group of hippies led by the insane Franklin Harris (Richard Lynch).  When Harris ordered the cult to join him in a fiery suicide pact, Cynthia was the only one to refuse.  While all of the cult members when up in flames, Cynthia ended up spending 13 years in a coma.  When she wakes up, she has no memory of the incident and finds herself as a patient in a psych ward.  She has a support group to provide therapy.  She has two doctors (Bruce Abbott and Harris Yulin) watching her every move.  And she still has nightmares and visions of the long-dead Harris, appearing around the hospital, sometimes burned and sometimes not.  When the members of her therapy group start to die, Cynthia is convinced that Harris has returned to claim her.

A year before starring in Bad Dreams, Jennifer Rubin made her film debut in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.  That seems appropriate because Bad Dreams would never have existed if not for A Nightmare on Elm Street.  Franklin Harris is only a few bad jokes and a razor blade glove away from being Freddy Krueger’s older brother.  However, if you can see past the movie’s derivative nature, Bad Dreams is not bad.  Some of the deaths are inventive and Jennifer Rubin shows why she should have become a bigger star than she did.  Though Franklin Harris may have been developed as stand-in for Freddy, Richard Lynch is memorably menacing and makes the role his own.  Bad Dreams may have been a clone of another film but not all clones are bad.

A Movie A Day #275: The Awakening (1980, directed by Mike Newell)


Charlton Heston is Matthew Cormbeck, a driven archaeologist.  (Could an archaeologist played by Charlton Heston by anything other than driven?)  In 1961, he discovers the long-lost tomb of an Egyptian queen named Kara.  Ignoring both the birth of his daughter and the warning inscribed over the doorway, Matthew enters the tomb and discovers the mummified Kara.  At the same time, his stillborn daughter, Margaret, comes back to life.

18 years later, Cormbeck is a teacher at a British university.  He has since divorced Margaret’s mother and has married his longtime assistant, Jane (Susannah York).  Matthew is still obsessed with whether or not the Egyptians are taking proper care of the mummy and wants to bring it to England.  At the same time, Margaret (Stephanie Zimbalist) defies her mother and comes to England to meet her father.

Like Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb, The Awakening was based on Bram Stoker’s The Jewel of Seven Stars.  Unfortunately, The Awakening is never as good as Blood from Mummy’s Tomb and gets bogged down in the lengthy Egyptian prologue.  (Blood from The Mummy’s Tomb skipped over the first part of Stoker’s novel and started with Margaret already 18 and possessed.)  The Awakening tries to take a more cerebral approach than the Hammer adaptation but both Heston and Zimbalist are fatally miscast.  Especially in the Egyptian scenes, Heston grits his teeth and lets his ascot do most of the work.

When it comes to Heston in Egypt, stick with The Ten Commandments.  When it comes to mummies in England, stick with Hammer.

A Movie A Day #274: The Dentist (1996, directed by Brian Yuzna)


Alan (Corbin Bernsen) may be a wealthy dentist in Malibu but he still has problems.  He has got an IRS agent (Earl Boen) breathing down his neck.  His assistant, Jessica (Molly Hagan), has no respect for him.  His demanding patients don’t take care of their teeth.  His wife (Linda Hoffman) is fucking the pool guy (Michael Stadvec).  When Alan feels up a beauty queen while she’s passed out from the nitrous oxide, her manager (Mark “yes, the Hulk” Ruffalo) punches him and then goes to the police.  Under pressure from all sides, Alan loses his mind and a crazy dentist with a drill means a lot of missing teeth.

“You’re a rabid anti-dentite!” Kramer once yelled at Jerry Seinfeld and even people who were not already uneasy about going to dentist will be after watching Corbin Bernsen stick his drill in Earl Boen’s mouth.  The scene where Alan tells a group of dental students to yank out their patients’ teeth represents everyone’s worst fear of what dentists talk about when there aren’t any innocent bystanders around.  The Dentist may be predictable but Corbin Bernsen gives the performance of his career, playing the nightmare of anyone who has ever had a toothache.

Of course, good health begins with healthy teeth and real-life dentists provide a valuable service.  Take it from Robert Wagner: