Thursday, October 24, 2019

Double Review: Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark / The Banana Splits Movie

What’s more Halloweeny than a thorough overview of two genre movies you already forgot about months ago?

By: Jimbo X

I’ve been thinking about this for awhile, and I think I’m finally confident enough in my reasonin’ to come out and say it. Yes, I personally consider high school football to be a form of state-sanctioned child abuse.

It’s the most obvious thing in the world, really. I guarantee you 100 years from now people are gonna’ look back on high school football with the same sort of “what the fuck were they thinking?” bewilderment that we have for the 1950s, back when pregnant women used to smoke indoors and say colored people jokes a lot. Hell, even using contemporary community standards and logic, the concept of high school football still comes off as suspicious.

For example, let’s merely extrapolate the kind of school-sanctioned behavior deemed acceptable on the football field into the hallways of any junior high in America. Let’s say you’ve got little Donnie McGuffin, age 12, maybe 108 pounds soaking wet with bricks in his pockets. Out of the blue, Big Johnnie Clodbuckett the Third — 16, in the eighth grade for the fourth consecutive year, about 6’5, around 380 pounds — takes a running start at one end of the hallway and decides to slam head first into little Donnie’s skull at full blast, with the intent to cause as much physical discombobulation as possible. Well, under most circumstances, we’d consider something like that to constitute a form of battery, if not aggravated assault — maybe even attempted murder, considering the size differential and clear cut desire to cause physical harm.

But hold on one second here. All of a sudden, let’s take the EXACT same scenario and put it on a taxpayer-subsidized gridiron, with hundreds of parents hootin’ and hollerin’, with the schools themselves chargin’ spectators $10 a ticket for the underage youth violence extravaganza. Sure, they might have shoulder pads and helmets on, but that still ain’t stoppin’ 67,000 high school football players getting diagnosed with concussions each year in these United States.

And that’s not even considering the reality that, on average, at least 12 children a year die playing high school football. To put things in perspective, in 2015 at least 13 children died playing state-sanctioned football on the high school level; that same year, just ONE person died in any high school shooting in America, and even then the incident occurred after school hours

You can compare the data for yourself. From Columbine to Parkland, about 223 people — including adults and non-students — have been killed in incidents described as bona fide school shootings. The outrage, of course, has been hard to ignore, with some of our more liberal friends saying the carnage is rampant enough to cause a full rewrite of the Constitution.

Yet for some reason, there’s considerably LESS furor over the fact that over that SAME time frame, more than 250 children died playing football. So one form of mass death phenomena is considered the gravest social epidemic of our time — to the point it’s deemed worthy of an unprecedented rollback of residents’ civil liberties, if not a bona fide civil war — while the other is considered, at absolute best, simply an unfortunate aftereffect of “boys being boys,” which isn’t even remotely being legislated out of existence despite reams of scientific literature demonstrating the seeming obvious fact that making minority children clang one another’s skulls together for public education revenue might not be a good thing for civilization as a whole in the long-run.

Now, I know what some of you smarmy little pricks are thinking. “There goes old Jimbo, being another precious little snowflake pussy trying to take the fun out of everything.” Well, not to put a rain on your parade or nothing, but to be honest, I don’t really care how many kids have their medulla oblongatas turned into unflavored gelatin on kick returns, but what I would like to see is a little goddamn consistency in the moral outrage department. Come to think of it, in today’s hyper-woke society, you’d think that maybe, some liberal out there would take a look at the institution of high school football and say “golly gee, maybe this whole idea of making poor black children destroy their ligaments and spinal cord infrastructure for no personal financial gain and no long-term aftercare provided by the same entities that profit mightily from their physical destruction might be a smidge prejudiced.” But for some reason, it just ain’t happening. 

But you know, that’s not even half the story here. Let’s factor out all of the kids who get killed playing high school football, be it from sideline heat strokes or on the field heart attacks. Hell, let’s even factor out all of the kids who get severe brain injuries from playing taxpayer-subsidized high school sports, who inevitably wind up costing society at large bunches in the form of public health care or jail cells costs when they’re adults. Let’s just consider the tens of thousands of high school football players who sustain torn ACLs and ruptured tendons and dislocated shoulders each year, who then go on to have persistent health care needs for the rest of their lives, which in turn, prevents them from working normal jobs and inevitably puts them in a situation to siphon off even more public assistance monies. Indeed, I can’t tell you how many hardened drug addicts I’ve encountered over the years whose substance abuse struggles began with doctors giving them potent painkillers to combat — you guessed it — high school sports-related injuries. In fact, the nation’s ongoing opioid crisis, I firmly believe, has a LOT to do with mismanagement of prescriptions for children hurt while playing government-funded sports, and it’s undeniable just how much the total social burden would be lessened had such athletics competitions never been sanctioned in the first place.

Of course, even football on the high school level is a big money maker, with some programs raking in MILLIONS of dollars each season. And as long as our nation’s vaunted vestibules of public education can make a quick book off teenagers crippling each other, something tells me they’re going to keep doing it until some conclusive longitudinal study from the Mayo Clinic or Harvard comes out directly telling us what we already know: that kids with developing bodies, organs and grey matter probably shouldn’t be beating the shit out of each other for fun and profit like some sort of acne-pockmarked gladiator games.

Naturally, that would disrupt the college football pipeline, which in turn would royally fuck up the pro football pipeline. Indeed, billions — maybe even TRILLIONS — in revenue could be at stake if the mamas of American truly knew how dangerous football was and how likely it was to screw up their children for life, which probably explains why there haven’t been any wide scale, national studies conducted on the long-term health impacts of high-school football. 

It’s a phrase I utterly abhor, but I really do think we’re on the wrong side of history on this one. The people of 2100 are going to look back on this shit like some sort of sadistic Molochian sacrifice, a crude, callous spectacle comparable to bear-baiting and dog-fighting that contemporary society roundly criticizes as unabashed savagery. Hell, the entire concept of football may not even exist by then, relegated to the dustbin of history alongside such outmoded shames as bloodletting and electroshock therapy. 

I mean, really — how could any society think building a billion-dollar economic machine around THIS was a sane, rational practice to begin with?

"Oh no, Rodrigo, we have to get out of the house before the ball of CGI taffy with gingivitis eats us!"

Speaking of profiting off the bodily harm of children, our first flick in this week’s double feature mini-review-a-thon is Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark, this slightly harder-edged take on the Goosebumps formula that feels like the lite mayo version of It … and no, that’s not really a compliment.

If the namesake sounds familiar, that’s ‘cause the flick is based off those old books they used to sell at the Scholastic Book Fair back in the day. I never owned any of them, but I did flip through a couple of volumes, and from what I recollect, yeah, they were pretty gruesome, especially for something marketed explicitly to the preteen set. These things weren’t Are You Afraid of the Dark? PG-rated horror yarns, they were straight up Grand Guignol blood and gets literature like a motherfucker, and I am shocked they didn’t cause a national controversy a’la The Last Temptation of Christ and that one time the Baptists thought Mighty Mouse was teaching kids to sniff cocaine. I vividly recall one story being about this butcher who abducted all the kids in town and turned them into sausage, and this other one where a kid got killed by demonically-possessed tennis shoes or some shit like that. Needless to say, it was not light and frothy horror fare, and that’s really where this largely in-name-only big screen adaptation falters. It’s one of those baby’s first horror movies that tries to be darker and harder than the suits would allow, and ultimately, the whole thing comes off feeling like a SEVERELY compromised movie — which, yeah, is exactly what it is.

So apparently this one is set in Pennsylvania in 1968, which is obvious because there's campaign posters of Nixon with swastikas drawn on them all over the place. Then these kids start talking about fishing turds out of a toilet on their walkie-talkies while all of these high school ruffians who are about to get drafted take turns tossing empty beer bottles at scarecrows, because that's what people did before the Internet, apparently. Then these three dorky kids go trick-or-treating and start egging cars and throwing flaming dookie bags at greasers, which naturally leads to a chase through the wilderness and a drive-in theater showing Night of the Living Dead, and then this Hispanic-looking guy starts hitting on the nerdy jailbait in black lipstick and she convinces him to take her to the neighborhood haunted house and they break in and find a secret compartment and they find this book is supposedly written by this demonically-possessed girl who ate her entire family or something.

Then a bunch of jocks show up and the nerdy goth girl asks the book "to tell her a story" and I'm pretty sure the jocks spraypain "wetback" on the Hispanic guy's car but the scene is so dark it's kinda' hard to make out all of the writing. Then one of the jocks goes to a chicken coop while he's all drunk and the scarecrow from earlier in the movie comes to life and starts chasing his inebriated ass through a cornfield. So the kid gets poked with a pitchfork a couple of times, then he starts puking up leaves and turning into a werewolf, for some reason.

Then the book starts magically writing itself and this one kid starts eating a bowl of soup he found in the fridge, and yep, there's a severed toe in it. That's our cue for a zombie to break into his house  and start shambling around, getting dirt all in the carpet and trying to yank preteens into the netherworld and whatnot.

Then the kids decided to burn the book to stop it from killing everybody, but apparently it's immune to fire so they go down to the local newspaper and start brushing up on the microfiche. Then this one girl starts growing this pulsating zit on her cheek and then a whole buncha' spiders start jumping out of it and then the kids get really spooked so they go visit this one African voodoo queen who, conveniently enough, lives right down the street. Then they end up going to a mental hospital to get more records on the one girl that allegedly killed herself in the haunted house at the beginning of the movie and they steal some audio cassettes that's basically just a buncha' sounds of some broad getting electo-shock therapy.

That's when this big, fat Pillsbury Doughwoman who looks like she's made out of Play-Doh starts chasing 'em around the hallways, and one of the kids literally gets sucked into her fat rolls, which apparently is the gateway to some supernatural dimension. Meanwhile, the nerd goth and the 23-year-old-looking Hispanic guy get locked up in jail, because you could do that to kids back in the 1960s and nobody even thought about complaining about it. Then the power goes out and a zombie head falls out of nowhere and the cop starts shooting at it while all of the corpse meat reassembles itself and he gets his face clawed off. So the kids escape, steal a squad car and the bow-legged monster chases after them all the way up until they have a surprisingly non-violent head-on collision with a semi truck.

Well, don't ask me how, but the grand finale takes place in this time loop of sorts, complete with evil, aristocratic white people being mean to their slave children. Then this ghost bitch makes the nerd goth write an affidavit with her own blood and apparently, that's all you have to do to kill it. Of course, there’s a set-up for a sequel, but let’s face it — considering how badly this one bombed at the box office, More Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark ain’t liable to happen, in this lifetime or any other

Alright, let’s hit the highlights, why don’t we? We’ve got five dead bodies. No breasts — and if you’re looking for ‘em in a movie like this, congrats on the inevitable lifetime sex-offender registration. One zombie. One head-on motor vehicle collision. One death by fat roll submersion. Toes roll. Literal turd fishing. Gratuitous novelty erotic pen shaking. Gratuitous Donovan. Gratuitous references to the Vietnam War. Switchblade fu. Pitchfork fu. Baseball bat fu. Acne fu. And the thing more or less responsible for this movie existing in the first place — some serious puberty fu. 

Starring Zoe Colleti as Stella Nichols, the annoying female know-it-all lead who obviously wants the BHC something fierce; Michael Garza as Roman Morales, the prerequisite multicultural male lead who I’m pretty sure is supposed to be the first Hispanic person to ever live in Pittsburgh; Natalie Ganzhorn as Ruth Steinberg, the bitchy old sister who says “It’s a spider-bite, you butt pimple”; and Javier Botet Lopez as, and I quote, “The Big Toe Corpse,” which I am just sure makes his kids all kinds of proud of their daddy. 

Written by Dan and Kevin Hageman and directed by Andre Ovredal, who for some reason, thought this movie would really benefit from forced allusions to parallels between Trump and Nixon more than it would an actual ending. 

The best I can give it is TWO STARS OUT OF FOUR. It has maybe one or two promising moments, but let’s face it — as long as this thing was rated anything less than “R,” it was going to be a wash no matter who was directing it. 

And if you think this is fucked up, you ought to see what they wanted to do with Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels!

But if you’re looking for a horror-comedy larf that actually exceeds expectations, you could do a lot worse than giving The Banana Splits Movie a gander, the end-cap to this week’s genre-heavy double dipper. 

No, I’m still not sure how Hanna-Barbera was cajoled into forking over the licensing rights to the psychopaths who made this flick, but the end result is a thoroughly entertaining (and surprisingly gory) B-horror shlocker that’s pretty much the closest thing we’re gonna get to a live-action Five Nights at Freddy’s movie for the time being.

The movie starts off with this not-quite-a-MILF admonishing her NEET son who looks like he's 30 for trying to sneak out of the house at night. Then she bitches to her husband for a while about having to buy her other probably autistic son a cake, and then the NEET son buys his younger brother a literal impaling stick for his birthday and nobody thinks it unusual or anything. 

Then mom, dad, NEET son, autistic son and the half white/half black girl next door all take a trip to Taft Studios to watch the Banana Splits LIVE and there's this one multicultural millennial gang waiting in line livestreaming the whole thing because holy fuck, does this movie have its finger on the pulse of modernity. Then The Banana Splits almost run over the autistic kid in the parking lot and his parents take it surprisingly well, considering their kid was almost a vehicular homicide victim and all.

Then we meet this robotics engineer who programs The Banana Splits (which are actually highly complex cybernetic organisms, even though they REALLY look like random guys in furry costumes.) Then a network executive tells the producer the show's being cancelled for something edgier. And hey, wouldn't you know it, the robots have a secret "pure evil" mode that, all of a sudden, gets accidentally activated right around the time the show is getting cancelled. What are the odds. 

So then it's time for a million-billion subplots about guests going through Family Double Dare stunts and the kiddie host actually being an alcoholic scumbag backstage and this budding romance between the NEET son and the poor woman's Lupita Nyong'o working as the ticket-taker. Then one of the network exec gets karate-chopped to death by one of the animatronics, then The Banana Splits do a jam session and they play "The Tra La La Song" and everybody in the crowd goes apeshit, as expected.

Then the drunk-o piece of shit host spits some Sutter Home on one of the animatronics and he retaliates by jamming a candy cane down his throat and causing a blood volcano to spew out of his mouth. Then the autist and his biracial friend high-five the robots and the not quite a MILF finds a buncha' THOT porn on her husband's phone and then he and the NEET son almost get into it. Then the kinda' Moslem looking fella' and his Asian girlfriend start streaming themselves running all over the set for Periscope likes, then the dude gets his intestines vivisected by one of those old "watch me saw a nigga' in half"  magician's boxes.

Then the piece of shit dad gets run down by a robot in go-kart and a fat, Hispanic show-business dad literally has his face hairspray flame-throwered off. Then the robots start abducting the kids and locking them in the robo-engineer's closet, then he shows up and spooks him real good by showing him his hand, which is missing a couple of recently severed fingers, for some inexplicable reason. Then the robots make a couple of interns run the Double Dare obstacle course from earlier and one woman ends up getting her head squished like a watermelon at a Gallagher show, while another unlucky fella' literally has his spinal cord ripped out, Sub-Zero-style.

So the surviving adults find this one underground tunnel (just like Harriet Tubman!) and the Asian broad puts on this cybernetic owl suit and claws the robo-engineer to death for killing her boyfriend earlier in the movie. Which leads to our big denouement, where the robots set the corpse of the host on fire while forcing a buncha' kids to watch at gunpoint. Without giving away the ending, let's just the grand finale includes one of the best full-body dismemberment scenes in a B-movie in quite some time — aye, Lloyd Kaufman and Sam Raimi would both be proud of the carnage that concludes this 'un. And just when you think this movie can't possibly top itself? I've got eight words for you, folks: animatronics mascot kung-fu fight to the death.

Oh, and to recap the most pivotal plot points: We’ve got 21 dead bodies. No breasts. Five dead robots. Heads roll. Arms roll. Legs roll. Fingers roll. Intestines roll. Gratuitous hand-breaking. Gratuitous slime-traps. Gratuitous pies to the face. Kung fu. Candy cane fu. Flamethrower fu. Hammer fu. And the thing more or less responsible for this movie existing in the first place … some heavy duty furry fu

Starring Dani Kind as Beth Williams, the mother figure who has to go all Sarah Connor against a buncha’ Chuck E. Cheese characters gone haywire; Steve Lund as Mitch Williams, the philandering piece of shit husband who gets vehicularly homicided by an incompetent Asian driver to wrap up the movie; Finaly Wojtak-Hissong as Harley Williams, the hyper-Aspergered whiz kid who uses the power of the ‘tism to make the movie’s one good robot beat the shit out of all of the other ones; and Romeo Carere as Austin Williams, the 34-year-old-looking actor who plays a 16-year-old with jungle fever who obviously smokes a lot of weed, although the movie never explictly mentions it, for some indecipherable reason.

Written by Jed Elinoff and Scott Thomas and directed by Danishka Esterhazy, who proves that women actually CAN make good horror movies, just as long as it’s about autistic children and their cucked mothers almost getting killed by Country Bear Jamboree castoffs.

I might be a tad too generous here, but I feel comfortable enough giving this one a solid THREE STARS OUT OF FOUR rating. And considering how unexpectedly enjoyable this one turned out, I can only hope that the next Hanna-Barbera horror adaptation is an NC-17 rape-revenege thriller starring Jabberjaw.


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