Friday, October 16, 2015

B-Movie Review: "Cry Baby Lane" (2000)

A decade and a half after it's one-and-done airing, does the (allegedly) banned made-for-Nickelodeon movie still have some ... or any ... bite?

By: Jimbo X

The year 2000 is an extraordinarily weird one in terms of pop culture. Socioeconomically, times were about as good as they've ever been in the States, with a roaring stock market and record low unemployment. Wedged snug between Columbine and Monica Lewinsky and the dot com bust and 9/11, it's culturally something of a lost era. I mean, I was totally cognizant of the year, but I struggle to recall anything truly memorable about it. Sure, you had the presidential election and Survivor and Elian Gonzalez, but beyond that? Really, it's nothing more than a hazy, barely recognizable fog of WWF wrestling and Sega Dreamcast.

As a 14-year-old making the oh-so-awkward leap from middle school to high school at that point in time, I could relate to the growing pains experienced by Nickelodeon circa 2000. I was part of an entire generation weaned on Doug and Salute Your Shorts, but now? I -- and everybody else in what we would now call the "tween" demographic -- were just too cool for that kind of stuff. I was a year away from getting my learner's license, and I even had a few friends who had already lost their virginity and tried hard drugs. You really think we're going to risk our popularity by spending our Saturday nights at home watching Keenan and Kel reruns? 

Aye, it was a problem the suits at Nickelodeon were well aware of. With newer fare like SpongeBob and Drake and Josh, the network still had a chokehold on junior high America, but it was losing favor with teenagers fast. So, how do you reel in ninth-graders, who had already began eschewing Rugrats for weed and makeout parties?

Simple -- you start producing your own really shitty horror comedy TV movies. 

The backstory behind Cry Baby Lane really overshadows the movie itself. Originally broadcast in October 2000, the made-for-cable fright flick was never re-aired (a fate comparable to Internet Is In America USA "original" favorite Beer Money.) At the time, no one really cared, but over the years, its obscurity has given it an almost mythic status among today's aficionados of off-the-beaten-path pop culture.

"Hi, I am an early 1990s junk culture throwaway here to talk to
 you  about an early 2000s junk culture throwaway..."
Legend has it, the film was deemed "too scary" for the core Nick demographic, so Viacom decided to yank it from the tape library. And for almost a dozen years, the alleged "lost movie" went unseen ... that is, until somebody who had taped it the night of its original airing posted it on YouTube. (Interestingly -- and ironically -- enough, the Interwebs hearsay about the movie actually goaded Nickelodeon into rebroadcasting it shortly thereafter on one of their 15 million-bazillion channels, complete with advertisements claiming it was "banned" from the airwaves.)

Of course, the movie was never banned, and Viacom most likely never gave a shit even if it gave eighth-graders nightmares, anyway. It was just a fleeting piece of ephemeral, late Clinton era kiddo junk, which was already woefully dated by the time 9/11 rolled around. There is no way the could have possibly had the foggiest idea that, a decade later, there would be an entire subculture out there of overly-nostalgic saps desperately in pursuit of -- and demanding -- rare crap culture. In that, Cry Baby Lane went from being a casualty of modernity to being an unexpected beneficiary of later modernity.

All right, so what is this Cry Baby Lane I keep yammering on and on about? Well, I am glad you asked -- and so is Melissa Joan Hart (at the time, star of ABC's Sabrina the Teenage Witch), who serves as our celebrity intro and outro host. Right from the beginning, Clarissa makes a cheap appeal to the "tween" demographic, saying the film -- loaded with gross-out special effects and toilet humor -- was precisely the type of highly discriminate entertainment "us teens" have such a fondness for. Keep in mind, the average age of those actually watching the movie that night couldn't have been older than 12, and that MJH was damn near 30.

Once that pandering is over and done with, we hop right into the feature presentation. The credits was over some black and white farmhouse footage, while a disembodied narrator tells a yarn about a pair of conjoined twins -- one of whom was a downright evil little sucker. The gist of the backstory (which is based on some sort of weird Rust Belt folklore) is that the Siamese twins were severed, Basketcase style, and the titular Cry Baby Lane is where the demonic one is buried ... or is he

Frank Langella is the best thing about this movie. In fact,
he's the best thing about any movie he is in.
From there, we jump to Frank "Skeletor" Langella, who plays an undertaker talking to two kids about swallowing spiders in one's sleep. We are introduced to his budding taxidermist nephew, who makes the hilarious quip that "it's dead here." Get it, because it's a funeral home and shit!

So, the credits wrap up and we watch those two kids from earlier riding their bikes through a very Pete & Pete-ish small town at night while this funky surfy-rock music plays. The younger of the two has a nightmare about glowing worms and hacksaws, so he asks his mama and daddy if he can sleep with them (the kid, by the way, looks nearly old enough to be in high school.) Mom, ever the in-tuned sort she is, tells her kids to stop going to that goddamn funeral home and visiting that creepy old undertaker ... but not for any of the reasons any sane parent would issue such a diktat. For extra giggles, the assholish older brother is a big pro wrestling fan (can you tell this thing was made in 2000?), complete with a poster in his bedroom wall of a certain iconic, undead grappler (hint: it's The Undertaker.)

The younger brother, named Andrew visits his best pal Hall, a diminutive African-American lad who has a "Hobbit hole" playhouse and is utterly obsessed with Tolkien (an interesting little subplot, seeing as how the first LOTR movie didn't come out until a year after this one aired.) Oh, and he likes playing with a toy lightsaber, too. Because pop cultural reference, that's why.

As the music alternates between happy-crappy wobbly surf rock and cheesy, spooky piano music, we encounter the two brothers setting up a prank in a graveyard. They invite three local girls over for a seance, complete with a really out of left field Princess Di joke. The older boy, Carl, recounts the Siamese twin tale and we get up-close images of those radioactive glowing worms and then real crying sounds emerge from the hinterlands. Andrew suggests the seance "worked," to which Carl ripostes "and maybe I'm Stone Cold Steve Austin." Man, this shit is more 2000 than dial-up AOL and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 on the Nintendo 64. 

Next up, there's a scene where Frank talks to a Hispanic grave digger who sleeps in a backhoe about a Price is Right dream he keeps having. They uncover the kids candles and
Don't let the black and white cinematography fool you: this
thing is still more All That than Night of the Living Dead
cassette player from the seance and uh-oh! We have a wild dog attack, for absolutely no reason whatsoever. The two siblings fart on each other (there's that mature, teen humor we were promised!) and their mom chides Frank for stirring up their imaginations and also messing up her mom's embalming. Well hell, that's kind of dark.

The glowing worms possess a Girl Scout, and Andrew argues with his overprotective ma. Meanwhile, Hall asks Andrew to marry his mom, which leads to this "action sequence" in which Andrew and his older brother try to outrun a train on their bicycles. 

As Carl gloats, he's dragged off into a grove by three demonic girs, only to reappear seconds later "all normal" to his younger sibling (not that I really need to tell you this, but the editing in these "fantasy sequences" is pretty gosh-darn bad.) This leads to an argument between mom and dad about the father not caring that the kids are missing, which dovetails into a scene in which Andrew is stripped down to his skivvies and gets pegged with water balloons. Uh ... did the same dude who directed Clownhouse direct this one under a pseudonym or something?

Following a wild bull attack (no, really), Andrews runs halfway across town in his underwear like Arthur in Ghosts N Goblins, accosting a bunch of demon hillbillies who set boats on fire for kicks and giggles. This leads to Andy telling Frank about what really happened at the seance, and oh shit, there appears to have been a burial mix-up. You see, the evil kid was buried in the cemetery, while the good twin was buried at Cry Baby Lane, and now, all sorts of wacky demonic shit has been unleashed on Ohio (just overlook the kids playing around with Minnesota Vikings helmets, naturally.) Just before he can figure out how to reverse the curse, his mom shows up and drags him away from the funeral home. 

At home, the demonically possessed Carl pretends to not be possessed (you see, all the demons have to do is touch you and you become a demon, too.) Not that this is really integral to the plot or anything, but man, does it bring a nostalgic tear to my eyes to see so many generic VHS tapes just sprawled out on that kid's bedroom floor. 

Get it! Because it harkens back to the part at the beginning of
the  movie when the undertaker was talking about swallowing
spiders in  your sleep!  Eh, that's probably giving the producers
too much credit. 
And back to the saga of Frank and he gravedigger, who is anxiously awaiting a hot date that never arrives. As it turns out, cutting grass to close to a headstone unleashes the hounds of hell, and that's the cue for the little black kid -- now a demon possessed little pipsqueak himself -- to enter the fray, beat the crap out of Frank and steal his ring, Gollum style

Carl tries to set Andrew up in the shower so he can possess him (fuck it, Victor Salva directed this) but Andrew outsmarts him and uses the downtime to get an early head start on fleeing town. Then, we learn that the ONLY way to stop the curse is to find a root growing out of the evil twin's heart and slice it in two. So, Andrew and Frank's nephew hop inside a hearse, and get involved in a low-speed police chase with a demonic cop. Once that is over and done with, Andrew has to evade his evil brother in a corn field plus a possessed farmer trying to chew him up in a mechanical combine. Andrew then finds himself in an open field, surrounded by the evil girls. The girl he has a crush on almost beckons him with a soul-stealing kiss, but she freaks him out with the arachnid hanging off her tonsils. This embroils Andrew in a chase against Chee-Chee (the towering, manliest of the demonic lasses) until he gets sucked inside the evil twin's grave, who is now a fully grown, pasty-faced, worm-chewing teenager. Eventually, he fumbles his way through the darkness and finds the infant's skeleton, the corresponding "heart root," and severs it.

Immediately, Andrew wakes up to a brand new, sunny day, with the spell broken and nobody having any recollections of what happened the night before. After Andrew and his new gal pal visit Frank at the funeral home, the movie concludes with Carl and that little black kid 'rasslin in a club house ... because, yet again, this thing is 2000 as fuck. The credits roll, with MJH in a sidescreen recapping the "lessons" learned from the movie, like don't consort with the undead and don't stick your tongue inside the mouth of people who eat spiders. And once Clarissa is done dispensing her sage advice, this one is all over, amigos y amigas.

Well, you don't really need me to tell you this, but Cry Baby Lane really isn't that good a movie. The acting is unremarkable, the characters are uninteresting, the special effects are blah and the "horror" sequences are about as thrilling as the first five minutes of a game of Monopoly. Indeed, the only reason this utterly forgettable piece of late Clinton era fluff is even remembered nowadays is because of its needless vaunting (and overvaluing) on sites like CreepyPasta and Reddit. Oh, and all those back stories you've heard about the movie being "banned" by Nickelodeon? All a bunch of hogwash, as the executives merely shelved it because a.) the audience numbers were so low, and b.) nobody in the general public clamored for its release until a bunch of nostalgia-obsessed Gen Y dweebs got on the Interwebs and started bellyaching. 

The movie was directed by Peter Lauer, a dude with an extensive background in television whose credits include The Adventures of Pete & Pete and Strangers with Candy. He co-write the script alongside Robert Mittenthal, who, in addition to penning a few Pete & Pete episodes, also wrote most of the old, animated sketch-comedy show KaBlam! 

Unsurprisingly, the movie does feel quite a bit like an episode of Pete & Pete at times, albeit deprived of the show's wit, warmth and way-ahead-of-its-time post-post-modern humor. These fellows might be pretty good at writing kids comedies, but they sure as heck don't know how to write engaging juvenile horror, that's for damn sure.

Outside of Frank Langella and Jim Gaffigan (who has a twenty second cameo as an irate dad), nobody in the film has really gone on to stardom. Lead actor Jase Blankfort doesn't have an IMDB credit past 2003, while the actor who played his older brother had a nine-year break in between acting gigs after filming Cry Baby Lane (and per the IMDB, his only doing shorts these days.) Interestingly enough, the actor who played Hall appears to have had the most post-Cry Baby Lane success, having garnered bit parts in Monsters, Inc., Spider-Man 2, Get Rich or Die Tryin'. There is also a photograph of him on his IMDB page with Hulk Hogan, which -- in hilariously, tragically ironic hindsight -- is all shades of foreboding. 

So, at the end of the day, what are we to make of this antiquated, bygone piece of veritable nothingness from 15 years earlier? Other than expose the fact that our memories mislead us and we had poor tastes in entertainment choices before 9/11, precious little. It's not an out-right terrible film, but is is nonetheless a rather dull, laborious experience, a film that tries desperately to work outside its meager aspirations but just winds up coming off more inept and half-assed than anything. The manufactured Internet interest aside, this is about as value-less a throwback to the early 2000s as I can imagine; although I am sure SOMEBODY on the Web will remember another piece of long-forgotten ephemera from the era and drum up inflated support for its return to the public spotlight, too. 

Of course, they will go on to be sorely disappointed, as the case with Cry Baby Lane. That's the rub with 'nostalgia,' folks: once that forgotten thing exists beyond your memories, it suddenly loses its retroactive value -- and with it, almost all of its appeal. 


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