DVD Review: Puppet Monster Massacre

Hi all…

When I was in junior high and high school in the mid-1980s, it seemed there were new horror movies hitting theaters every week. I didn’t get to see many until they started showing up on video in high school and college, but I did see a few. And most of them involved teenagers doing dumb things and getting slaughtered by the monster or serial killer of the week.

From Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street and the haunted car in Christine to The Lost Boys and Friday the 13th, they all start with a group of clueless, usually good-looking teenagers with hormones raging out of control and end up with blood and dead bodies everywhere. Like Jeff Goldblum‘s character in The Lost World: Jurassic Park says – “Oh yeah. Oooh, ahhh, that’s how it always starts. Then later there’s running and screaming.”

What if I told you there was a new movie that took that basic plot and turned it on its head? The Puppet Monster Massacre is definitely one of the strangest mash-ups I’ve ever seen. Teenagers? Check. Evil mad scientist? Check. Monster? Check. Creepy old house? Check. Puppets? What the…?

That’s right – The Puppet Monster Massacre from writer/director/actor Dustin Mills takes aim at the classic teenage horror movie pattern, but uses puppets in all the roles. Don’t worry though, there’s still plenty of blood, gore, running, screaming, and sex – yes, I said sex – in this movie so be VERY aware this puppet show is NOT FOR THE KIDDIES. That said, I was laughing my butt off in more than a few places as the film pokes fun at the horror movie genre.

The story takes place in 1985 and starts with a hunter in the woods. He encounters a penguin and proceeds to get his butt kicked by said flightless bird. The poor old hunter wakes up in a mad scientist’s lair and is used as the incubator for a strange little black monster. I knew from the first blood splatter that this wasn’t going to be an average puppet horror film, though I had no idea what the “average puppet horror film” might be when I started…

After that we’re introduced to the rest of the characters – Charlie (voiced by Ethan Holey) is the main character. He lives with his perverted, swearing, gassy grandfather (voiced by Bart Flynn) in a small town. Charlie is in love with Gwen (voiced by Jessica Daniels) who lives nearby but has been chicken to ask her out. One day Charlie gets an invitation in the mail to spend the night at an old house near town. If he survives, he gets $1,000,000. Though his Gramps suggests that something seems hinky, Charlie is determined to go anyway. And when he finds out that Gwen got an invitation, he knows he has to go to prove that he wasn’t the wimp everybody thought he was.

We discover quickly that Gwen and Charlie aren’t the only “contestants” in this potential night of horrors. Also invited are Mona (voiced by Erica Kissenberth) and Iggy (also voiced by Flynn) – a couple of hardcore rockers who like to party and have sex frequently; and Raimi Campbell (voiced by Mills) – a horror movie buff who seems to live in his mother’s basement whose name has to be a combination of Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell.

Once this gang of five puppets arrives at the front door to the big old spooky house, they meet the mysterious Dr. Wolfgang Wagner (voiced by Steve Rimpici) – the strange benefactor who invited them all to participate. What they don’t know is that surviving until morning really isn’t in the plan. Dr. Wolfgang, his assistant Squiggums (the penguin), and the Monster have something else in mind. Revenge!

The absolutely hilarious thing to me is that if you decided to cast this film with real actors – it would still work. It’s almost as though Mills decided to take a thought experiment of “what if we used puppets instead of people?” to it’s conclusion and this movie is the result. Though seeing puppet sex was slightly disturbing, I have to say I enjoyed how wacky and well-written the film actually was. Some of the visuals alone had me in stitches such as when the monster is coming out of a door with “CLEARANCE 3 FT.” stenciled above it – or when Charlie falls into a room full of fluffy bunnies with the words “FOOD STORAGE” stenciled on the walls.

Of all the characters, Raimi was my favorite. With his buck teeth and puppet acne, he manages to narrate his way on a trek through the forest that had me laughing early on and then laughing even harder as he explored the house later. I think he had all the best lines and definitely the best chase scene in the whole film that evoked a very Scooby-Doo kind of feel from the music to the cartoon-like path they took through the house.

Don’t worry that there’s not enough blood… There is definitely plenty of mayhem and gore in this movie in addition to the comedy. I can truthfully say I’ve never seen puppets die in as many gruesome ways as they did here. Deaths varied from monsters eating heads to soldiers shooting holes in other soldiers to claws slicing halfway through a puppet’s face (with the requisite brains/gore inside)… every time I thought I’d seen them all, the crew came up with another one.

In addition to the film (about 70 minutes long), there are a couple of commentary tracks as well as a couple of monster designs they decided not to go with.

All in all if you’re looking for a violent, bloody, puppet-based horror flick with crude humor and language, The Puppet Monster Massacre should be right up your alley. Even if you’re just looking for something different in the horror/comedy genre, it fits that bill too. But either way, this has to be one of the more original concepts for a horror film I’ve seen in years and I’d love to see more from Dustin Mills and his crew. Who knows? Maybe this will kick off a whole new genre of horror!

For more about the movie, check out the film’s website at PuppetMonsterMassacre.com.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Look for this fun flick at Amazon!

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DVD Review: Dylan Dog: Dead of Night

Hi there…

Monsters. Undead creatures. Things from other worlds and dimensions. Each has held an appeal for me since childhood. At first they terrified me, but as I got older and started reading, writing, and playing roleplaying games, they became tools and fun thought experiments.

Add to that a healthy dose of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, War for the Oaks (by Emma Bull), and The Dresden Files books (by Jim Butcher) and you have a love for properties where creatures meet the modern world… These days it’s called “Urban Fantasy,” but in the past it was just horror, science fiction, or fantasy. Now with new urban fantasy titles coming out regularly, I have been in hog heaven…

Enter the 2011 film Dylan Dog: Dead of Night. Based on an Italian comic book series from creator Tiziano Sclavi, the story seemed to bring a few genres together into a unique whole. Generally it takes the idea of a Sherlock Holmes or Ichabod Crane (Sleepy Hollow-style, not the animated Disney version) investigator and gives him cases involving the supernatural world with vampires, werewolves, and zombies. Sounds right up my alley, doesn’t it?

Then, when it hit theaters, somehow none of my local theater chains were showing it. I thought that was a bit odd, but started to some very negative reviews coming out in the media, both online and in print. At that point I decided I would have to see it on DVD to figure out if the reviewers were right…

Unfortunately, they were. Dylan Dog is a movie set in a story-rich environment that somehow manages to be about characters I ultimately couldn’t bring myself to care about. How is that possible?

The story sounds good on paper. Dylan Dog (Brandon Routh) is a private eye who used to deal exclusively with supernatural cases. But after the death of his girlfriend/fiancee/wife has fallen on bad times. He and his friend Marcus (Sam Huntington) have been doing cases for cheating husbands and wives, getting footage or pictures of folks in compromising positions.

When a new case comes up and it turns out to have a supernatural angle, Dylan tries to back out of it. But some cases can’t be turned away. After Marcus gets killed by a giant zombie, Dylan is forced to dive back into the world he thought he’d left behind.

All the elements are in the story. A Romeo and Juliet romance between a werewolf girl and a vampire boy. A family of werewolves protecting an artifact for centuries. A group of monster hunters threatening to destroy all unnatural creatures. And a vampire leader (Taye Diggs) taking advantage of a power vacuum with no oversight from inside or outside the supernatural community.

It’s not the location (New Orleans). It’s not the setting, because the world is full of monsters both fun and foul. It has some fun slapstick elements courtesy of Huntington’s role. Even the story seems good at first glance. So is it the actors or the director (Kevin Munroe) who are to blame? Either way it should have been much more fun to watch than it turned out to be.

Beyond the movie on the DVD, there are no extras. This is a very bare-bones DVD release for a movie that totally bombed at the box office.

If you really must see Dylan Dog: Dead of Night, I recommend a rental on Red Box. But if you were looking forward to this flick, you might be better off spending some time reading some of the Dresden Files novels from Jim Butcher or re-watching old Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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DVD Review: Forget Me Not

Hi all!

As I get older, I realize more and more that my memory works in odd ways. For example, I’m great with faces but have to work at remembering names. I can remember song lyrics and melodies for years and years, but sometimes can’t remember why I came into a room… You know, the usual tricks memory plays with age.

The new film – Forget Me Not from Phase 4 Films – plays on some of those tricks of memory in an interesting combination of elements from the Final Destination series, The Ring, and I Know What You Did Last Summer. It’s a throwback in some respects to the older slasher movies where you have a group of clueless teenagers who end up paying a horrible price for something they may or may not have done in the first place.

Sandy Channing (Carly Schroeder from TV’s Lizzie McGuire, Law & Order: SVU, Ghost Whisperer) is graduating from high school with her brother Eli (Cody Linley from TV’s Hannah Montana) and all the rest of her friends. They seem to be your typical high school group – sexed up and ready to drink until they forget that they’re moving on with the rest of their lives. At a graduation party, they play an old game from their childhood in a graveyard and unwittingly catch the eye of a vengeful spirit. Can Sandy figure out what’s going on before it’s too late and she’s lost all her friends in the spirit’s twisted game?

Quite honestly, I wasn’t expecting much from Forget Me Not but was intrigued by the premise. As the film progresses, Sandy’s circle of friends continues to dwindle until… Never mind, I don’t want to spoil it for you. Let’s just say that once we got past the setup with this group of high school graduates ready to take on the world, things started moving nicely.

Considering that I haven’t paid much attention to many of the hip, young shows on the Disney Channel and in other places, I really didn’t know anybody in the cast. But I think all the actors had a chance to play their main role and then dress up in a scary mask once their character was taken out of the game, so that had to have been fun. I have to admit I was rooting for the “ghosts” in a few places just to see karma run its course… And it did, right up to the twist at the end.

Though the special effects were pretty basic, they were used pretty well. The shaking and fast-forwarded movement of the monsters always adds a nice touch. As more “ghosts” began appearing, the masks got a bit cheesy when seen close-up. The masks themselves seemed to be a combination of the Ice Cream Man from Legion with the expandable jaw and the creepy girl from The Ring. Definitely a combination that hadn’t been done before. And at a distance, the masks looked fine – especially in the dark – but in the light as things begin coming to a head, they get a bit unbelievable.

Beyond the film, there really weren’t any special features beyond a few deleted scenes, an alternate ending, and a photo gallery. None of the deleted scenes really added anything to the film, so I can definitely see why they left them out. And the alternative ending just expands on what was actually in the film. I preferred the short version without the exposition that they used in the film. The photo gallery is simply a collection of stills from the film and the original trailer was included.

If you’re looking for a new horror movie that takes a lot of inspiration from earlier movies in the genre, you can do a lot worse than Forget Me Not. I found it to be a fun film with a slow reveal that pays off in the end. Forget Me Not will be available on DVD and VOD on May 24, 2011. Be sure to check it out!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other horror on DVD below!

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