Wednesday, May 22, 2013

B-Movie Review: “Mikey” (1992)

The movie the nanny state (still) doesn't want you to see!

In 1993, two-year-old James Bulger was brutally murdered by two 10-year-old boys outside of Liverpool. The shocking case rattled U.K. society to its very core, with plenty of concerned folks pointing the finger of blame at violent media. Of all things, “Child’s Play 3” became the immediate scapegoat, seeing as how one of the kids that committed the murder had rented the film prior to the slaying. Never a peoples to freak out over isolated social incidents and invoke sweeping legislative measures as a result, the killings lead directly to a revision to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, making England’s already restrictive-as-a-set-of-tight-undies Video Recordings Act even stricter.

In the aftermath of the Bulger homicide, the British Board of Film Classification (who, even now, bars films like “Murder Set Pieces" and “Grotesque” from public screenings) clamped down on American imports, censoring the poop out of flicks like “Natural Born Killers” and “The Good Son.” While almost all of the films heavily cut by the BBFC back in the mid ‘90s have been granted certificates since, one film from the era, in particular, stands out.

“Mikey,” a 1992 offering from Warner Brothers, was a direct-to-video cheapie in the States, that seemed like it was destined for late night Showtime screenings and then, eternal irrelevancy. While nobody in the U.S. gave two shakes of a rat’s Johnson about the flick, the censors in the U.K. were downright HORRIFIED by the film’s premise, and with the Bulger murder still firmly embedded in the national consciousness, the BBFC decided to ban the film outright in the parts of the United Kingdom that weren’t called “Northern Ireland.

But, here’s the really interesting thing: the film was never re-granted certification after being initially pulled, and as a result? For all intents and purposes, “Mikey” remains a verboten film in the U.K. to this very day. That’s right, muchachos: the film we’ll be looking at today is more or less STILL ILLEGAL in jolly old England.

Let me start off by saying that this movies wastes absolutely ZERO time at all before things get all murdery and stuff. The film begins with a kid playing with fire, who is subsequently bitch-slapped by his adopted mama for his reckless behavior. Exacting revenge, the murderous moppet proceeds to drown his adopted sister in a swimming pool and electrocute his state-appointed mother via the old “hair dryer in the bathtub” routine. His adopted pa ambles in after a busy day at the office, and the main character greets him by sending him through a plate glass window (he got “Home Alone-d” by some conveniently scattered marbles -- as it turns out, marbles serve as a more prominent plot point in this film than in “Marble Madness,” ultimately.) After that, the kid breaks out a metal baseball bat and pummels his guardian to a bloody pulp, all the while recording his onslaught on one of those early ‘90s camcorders that, back then, cost more than a Chevy Tahoe. All this, and we haven’t even reached the 10 minute mark of the movie yet!

On the silver screen, he's a murderous moppet that periodically defrauds millions from the FBI. Is it any wonder he ended up with a rap sheet like this one in real life?
Afterwards, we have the obligatory “detectives investigate the crime scene”, uh, scene, in which the main character -- the eponymous Mikey -- tells a whopper of a lie to the Lorenzo-Lamas coiffed homicide investigator about what “really happened” that fateful day in the suburbs. Garnering an automatic nomination for worst forensics team in the history of motion pictures, nobody in the damn unit questions the kids’ accusations that everyone was killed in a robbery -- especially since nothing was stolen, and there were no signs, whatsoever, of a break-in.

Next, Mikey does some play therapy with a guidance counselor, who totally buys into his façade of innocence. Following a totally irrelevant scene where Mikey’s leather-clad foster aunt refuses to take custody of him (seriously, it’s the only scene in the film where she makes an appearance), we witness Mikey meeting his new adoptive family -- a disgustingly, early 1990s late-phase yuppie couple -- at an Arizona airport.

In the next scene, we learn a little bit more about Rachel and Neil, Mikey’s new guardians. Subsequently, we’re introduced to half the damn neighborhood, who show up to congratulate the family on their latest acquisition. Mikey rummages through his new toys, and his dad -- while dressed up, not at all insensitively, in Native American regalia -- teaches his new son how to use a bow and arrow. And as Nancy Lanza so perfectly illustrated for us last winter, perhaps teaching your child how to be better at a decisively deadly skill may or may not have been this Neil fellow’s moment of parental excellence.

In the next scene, Mikey is in class for the first time, and the teacher just so happens to be that one chick from “Hellraiser.” All the kids hoot and holler as she places another marble -- told you about those things being a prominent plot point -- in this weird-ass Rube Goldberg machine. After that, Mikey and one of his school chums take a short cut through a cemetery, where Mikey -- channeling the spirit of Morrissey, it seems -- remarks that his friend should be worried about living people, not the dead ones. Not like that’s eerily ominous as a statement or anything.

While Mikey’s new parents -- who I am convinced are anthropomorphic versions of Tommy Pickles’ folks from “Rugrats” -- discuss how happy they are to be moms and dads, Mikey sits in class, in utter awe of this electricity generating contraption. Hmm. He attempts to cheat at the marble-prize-contraption thing from earlier by placing a few marbles from home in the device, but his teacher catches him. She said she won’t tell his parents -- whom are her neighbors -- but she fully expects Mikey to tell his ma and pa himself about the incident. Mikey and his new parents then take a day off at the zoo, where Mikey returns a purse to an elderly couple without asking for a reward. Then, the teacher procures a gun from Mikey’s mom, because that’s certainly not going to be relevant at any point later on in the movie.

Call it a warning sign if you must, but if you ask me, this thing would just make for an AWESOME Troma movie. 

In class, Mikey draws a picture of a mutant turkey bloodily mutilating a pilgrim -- could it be that this entire film is an allegory for the colonialization of the Americas, with a hyper-lethal Caucasian invading the homeland of a naively receptive peoples and spreading death and misery around like smallpox-coated blankets? A little freaked out by the art project, the teacher decides to show it to some of her superiors, who really don’t give much of an eff. Afterwards, Mikey daydreams about beaning Major League Baseball batters, and his coach -- a dead ringer for George Hardy, he of “Troll 2” fame -- shows him a real-life child skeleton in science class. Spoiler: that’s not the last time we see that skeleton, either.

From there, we’re introduced to the older sister of Mikey’s friend-next-door, who scores some mouth-to-mouth after faking his own death (ever the way to endear yourself to potential romantic partners, clearly.) Later that evening, Mikey SNEAKS INTO HER BEDROOM and then he records a video of a fish eating its offspring in an aquarium. In class the next day -- I think, the chronology in this one is  a little difficult to pinpoint -- the “grand prize” within that Rube Goldberg thing is revealed, which I think is just your standard watch -- you know, something second graders are REALLY into at that age. Then, Mikey goes on a boat ride with his outside-the-statutory-limits crush, who praises him for his kissing abilities. Man, this homicidal elementary school student would NEVER misinterpret that innocuous statement as an invitation to stalk her and ruin her life, step-by-step, right?

After a brief chat with his new dad about what love is (awesome how he never asks any questions about that video his kid is watching, which just so happens to be a RECORDING of his former guardian’s murder), Mikey tries to film his crush undress, but her boyfriend shows up and they start making out. Infuriated, Mikey strikes back by killing her cat and placing it behind her boyfriend’s car, so that when he backs out of the driveway…a-ha! In class the next day (probably), the teacher takes note of Mikey poking himself with push pins, and starts lobbing around the term “unattached syndrome,” which apparently, isn’t a real disorder, whatsoever. Mikey then walks in own his new mama taking a bath (which should be warning sign number one that, as the great child psychologist Henry Hill oft remarked, “that boy ain’t right.”) offers her some flowers, and then starts talking about how he could potentially electrocute her with a hair curler. The hyper white person she is, she doesn’t think anything is, you know, peculiar about any of this.

Mikey is once again scarred, when his crush and her boyfriend make up after a brief falling out over the whole cat-squishing thing. The teacher -- over the course of the film, doing some lite sleuthing on this Mikey character -- ends up learning about Mikey’s former family getting Chris Benoit’d, and says its finally time shit got real. Meanwhile, Mikey decides to crash a Jacuzzi party being thrown by his crush and her BF, which concludes with Mikey showing us all why you should NEVER, EVER leave a ghetto blaster right next to a hot tub.

The teacher contacts the almost-mulleted homicide detective we haven’t seen since the movie began, and Mikey sees some indelibly creepy shit to his crush. After making a joke about her boyfriend recently receiving “a huge shock,” his crush finally starts thinking, “you know, this little kid might be a little messed up.” And then, the teacher gets a fax about Mikey’s former mom getting electrocuted and…well, you can almost smell the dénouement a-brewin’.

My favorite part is how he's watching a video cassette without their being anything remotely resembling a VCR in the shot.
Anyway, Rachel walks in on Mikey, who claims to be watching “Mikey’s Funniest Home Videos” -- i.e.,  some footage of his recent murderous antics. He then picks up a hammer and goes after his mama (who is absolutely, unbelievably calm about the fact that someone is trying to kill her) like a barrel in Donkey Kong. Cue the “Halloween” chase section of the movie, that concludes with a stairwell tumble and some glass shards jammed into some highly vital organs. The teacher (with handgun en tow) and the coach from earlier decide to break into Mikey’s parents’ house, and uncover the “bodies” of Mikey and Rachel. Of course, Mikey survived the fall, and he quickly unloads the bullets from the gun his teacher picked up from his mom earlier in the picture. For his intervention efforts, the coach quickly receives an arrow through the gizzards. Yes, I guess it would’ve been easier had the kid just SHOT the dude with the handgun, but even in the pre-Columbine world, movie makers were more than a little concerned about depicting youngsters popping caps in the asses of others.

With his teacher cornered, Mikey whips out a sling shot, places a metal marble in it, and asks his instructor to teach him one last subject (and I swear, this is the actual, DIRECT quote from the movie): “How to diiiiiiiiiie!” Cue slow-motion, Raimi-cam headshot, and we are quickly running out of people to kill in this picture.

Mikey’s dad calls, and anticipating his arrival, Mikey begins fiddling with some gas lines. He then saunters over to his neighbor’s house, and is quickly rebuffed by his crush. Dad comes home, and uncovers a ghastly “dinner” waiting for him, which includes his recently butchered wife and neighbors. One Molotov cocktail later, and the property value in that subdivision gets lowered in a hurry.

The film concludes with Mikey’s crush asking if Mikey really did die in the explosion. The police say they uncovered an eight year old skeleton from the charred ruins, but what do you know, it was actually the skeleton of that kid from science class! And our ultimate, ultimate image of the movie is another yuppie WASP couple meeting with a child welfare agent, who are so excited to pick up “Josh,” whom family services allegedly found ambling around in the desert, apparently addled by amnesia. And what do you know, this “Josh” kid is actually “Mikey,” and his new guardians have no idea that he’s a psychopath that’s going to systematically kill them and everyone they love! And on that upbeat note, the film fades to black, and the credits start rolling.

Admittedly, I had some pretty low expectations heading into the movie, but dabnabbit, I actually kinda’ enjoyed it. Granted, it’s not a great film by any stretch of the imagination, but as disposable piece of cornball cinema, it’s actually way better than it probably should’ve been. It’s got some tense moments, the pacing is pretty good, and the acting -- while occasionally cheesy -- is quite a bit better than what you’d see in most straight-to-video offerings from the era.

Probably the only time you could say "flying silver death ball" and "horror movie" in the same sentence and NOT be referencing one of the "Phantasm" movies. 

The film was directed by a guy named Dennis Dimster, who, judging from his IMBD page, must’ve been a child actor himself at one point. Maybe the entire film is a metaphor for the rigors of being an underage thespian, in a Hollywood climate that treats youngsters like slabs of meat as opposed to children, then? The teacher, as noted above, was played by Ashley Laurence -- aka, the early ‘90s scream queen that starred in the first two “Hellraiser” movies before fading away into B-moviedom (but by all means, if you haven’t seen her in “Lightning Bug,” it’s probably worth catching on Hulu or something.) But the PREMIER mind-eff of the entire picture is that the psychotic kid in the movie is played by THE KID FROM “BLANK CHECK!” As soon as I made that connection, my skull almost exploded, I tell you what.

As far as the subtext of the film goes, I’m not really sure if there’s supposed to be some sort of deeper message here about child psychology or WASP culture. I mean, you could possibly chalk up all of the brazen ignorance of the counselors and parents in the film as indicative of an anti-psychiatry or anti-yuppie ideology, but I kinda’ doubt it. And hey, what the hell: if “The Shining” can furtively be about ethnic genocide, then why can’t this movie be an even subtler allegory about the plight of Native Americans?

The ultimate question, I suppose, is whether or not “Mikey” lives up to its legendary banned status. To be fair, there are a lot of uncomfortable scenes, but it’s not really all that explicit a movie, and I figure unless your kid is the most impressionable moron on the planet, this film likely WON’T turn them into the next Jeffery Dahmer. There are thousands upon thousands of movies “worse” than this out there, and why it remains verboten in the U.K. today is simply perplexing -- well, until you remember that the BBFC is operated by a bunch of twits, anyway.

All in all, I kinda’ dug “Mikey.” As before, it’s not a truly great B-movie, but for a boring weekday screening, you could really do worlds worse. And if you are a young couple contemplating childrearing, this is the perfect method of cooling those loins if you are trying to avoid a trip to insemination-town, ostensibly.

Two and three quarter stars. Jimbo says check it out.

1 comment:

  1. Near the end of Mikey, how did Mikey escape after burning down the house?


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