Monday, September 26, 2011

'Gingerdead Man 3' travels back in time and quality

Gingerdead Man 3: Saturday Night Cleaver (2011)
Starring: John Carl Buechler, Paris Wagner, Travis Walck, Kimberly Pfeffer, Kent Fuher, Muffy Bolden, Steve-Michael McLure, Laura Kachergus, Brendan Lamb, Tiffany Danielle, and Steffinnie Phrommany
Directors: William Butler and Sylvia St. Croix
Producers: Charles Band, William Butler, and John Acalo
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

The most evil cookie to ever plague the world, the Gingerdead Man (voiced by Buechler) escapes confined in a research lab and time travels back to 1976 where he proceeds to murder the skaters and employees at a roller rink.

I had high hopes for this one, which is perhaps why I was so disappointed with it. I thought after the very entertaining "Gingerdead Man 2: Passion of the Crust" that Band & Co. were hitting a Gingerdead Man stride. Well, if they were, they stumbled with this one, delivering a film that is far below the quality found in "Gingerdead Man 2" and even a little worse than the original "Gingerdead Man" film.

Like the second film in the series, "Saturday Night Cleaver" offers up an endless stream of references to other movies. While the second film in the series was an excersize in Full Moon/Charles Band self-mockery, this installment pokes fun at a range of films and popular genres from the 1970s with "Carrie", "Porky's", and "Silence of the Lambs" being the most obvious ones, but there are literally over a dozen more references to other movies, pop culture figures, and general 1970s America. Trying to catch all the references makes the film more fun to watch than it might otherwise be. And a good number of them are actually quite funny... with the "Silence of the Lambs" riff that opens the film being the best of them and my favorite sequence in the entire film.

By the way, the references here actually all make sense in context of the story and grow organically either out of a gag or character interactions. Even when not at his best, Charles Band and the creatives he works with produce better spoof-heavy comedies than the cinematic weapons of mass-destruction Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. Yet, somehow, they continue to have access to funding at ten times the level than Band. There is no justice in the movie business....

As has been the case in most Band productions for the past decade, the special effects range from weak to awful, with a massacre-by-nail gun and a death-by-acid sequences being perhaps the most embarrassing parts of the film. They goes on for too long and both put the bad CGI too prominently on display. In the acid scene, the gags also fall flat and are then crushed by the bad CGI. (A small clip from the scene I talk about above is featured in the preview; if that was all they'd included CGI-wise and otherwise have scraped together the time and money for practical gore effects, it would have been a far stronger sequence.)

A similar ongoing issue with Band struggling to meet the standards his films set in the 1980s and 1990s is the animation of the Gingerdead Man. While the killer cookie is better executed and animated than he was in "Gingerdead Man 2", the illusion of him actually being a living creature is broken by the fact that the puppetry is so low budget that he has to only be seen peeking around corners so the puppeteer can be out of view of the camera. It also doesn't help that the CGI clip of him running across the floor is the same bit of animation of him from the waste down used over and over in slightly different environments. In fact, every time I saw those legs again, I couldn't help but wonder if I was looking at a cropped and re-skinned version of that digital baby that kept showing up in "Ally McBeal" back in the day.

As for the acting, it ranges from community theater-like delivery to pretty good. Paris Wagner and Kent Fuher (as two generations of "roller skater prodigies") are particularly good in their parts, but John Carl Buechler almost manages to rise to the level of Gary Busey in the original film.

Sadly, though, the bad once again overwhelms the good in a modern Full Moon production. "Gingerdead Man 3" is better than many bigger budgeted spoofs and satires out there, but it's not a great effort, and it pales in comparison to many of Band's classic productions.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A ghost story that feels both padded and rushed

Vengeance of Dead (aka "Sleepwalker") (2001)
Starring: Michael Galvin, Mark Vollmers, and Susan Karsnick
Director: Don Adams and Harry James Picardi
Producers: Don Adams, Harry James Picardi, Charles Band, and
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

When college student Eric (Galvin) comes to spend the summer with his grandfather (Vollmers), he becomes the unwitting tool of vengeance for a pair of restless spirits.

"Vengeance of the Dead" was not the best choice for my return to regular (I hope) postings here at the Charles Band Collection, as it's not a typical Band film and it dates from the years when his output was at its weakest. But, it was on the top of the stack, so I went with it.

This was the first of Band's collaborations with Wisconsin-based filmmakers Adams & Picardi, and like the other of their joint efforts I've watched so far ("Jigsaw", which I review here) has some great ideas at its foundation, but they aren't brought to their full potential because of a half-baked script that both feels padded and rushed.

The sense that the film is padded is illusion. There is actually very little fat on this body, but the territory is so familiar and the characters so thinly developed that you keep wanting the film to move onto the next predictable turn of events. It also doesn't help that most of the dialogue feels stilted and is being delivered by actors who might be okay in whatever community theaters they came out of, but who don't have a feel for screen acting.

However, the fact that the story provides far too few answers regarding the why of the haunting and the tragic events that brought it about, why the ghosts waited so long to seek revenge, and/or what awoke them. On one hand, Eric discovering an old spoon kicks the haunting in to high gear and locks the film's characters onto a path of doom and destruction, but he was targeted by the ghosts even before that. Unless I missed something, there's not even a hint as to why. (Well, there is a faint hint, but even that leaves the question as to why the ghosts waited.)

It's a shame that a little more time and effort wasn't spent on the script, because Adams & James manage to create several good scares and some genuinely creepy moments as the film unfolds. The little girl cheerfully riding a swing in mid-air and other ghostly manifestations, and the sequence of a perverted old man spying on his granddaughter taking a shower are all great moments that show this film could have been a lot better than the final product. While a bigger budget certainly would have helped--with the better actors and special effects that come with that--more polished dialogue and a more fleshed out story would have made an even bigger difference. You don't need a lot of money to do a good ghost movie, but you do need a solid script.

Despite glimmers of potential, "Vengeance of the Dead" is just another film that drives home the point that the first half of the 2000s were perhaps the lowest point in Charles Band's career as a producer.

(Here's a little trivia for you: The Sneaky Pete's Bar featured in this film is the main location for "Jigsaw". There's a small part of me that is interested in seeking out other Adams & Picardi films to see if there are other such cute internal cross-references. It's something to do when my stacks of unwatched DVDs gets much, much smaller.)