Saturday, October 2, 2010

Horror Movie Parodies

We've discussed comedy in horror before here on Weird Movie Village, but today we're going to focus on horror parodies—spoofs of horror films or genres. It's a hit-or-miss category with only a handful attaining "classic" status.

I was so stoked when I heard that Linda Blair was going to reprise her Exorcist role for the 1990 spoof Repossessed, and I was probably one of the few people to actually pay to see it at a theater. Leslie Nielsen, playing the exorcist, was riding high on his Naked Gun fame at the time, so all signs pointed to a good time.

Boy, was I wrong.

For legal reasons, I imagine, Blair is now known as Nancy Aglet (whatever that means), survivor of a childhood possession and exorcism by Nielsen's Father Jebediah Mayii (groan). Now an adult and with children of her own, she finds herself being pestered by that ol' devil again, ironically after watching a religious program, "The Ernest and Fanny Miracle Hour." Soon she's spewing made-up obscenities (the film is only rated PG-13), spinning her head around and exhibiting various demonic behaviors.

When Father Brophy (Anthony Starke) concludes that she is indeed possessed again, he goes to Father Mayii to ask him to perform the exorcism, and the opportunistic televangelist Ernest Weller (Ned Beatty) talks the Supreme Council for Exorcism Granting into letting him broadcast the ritual.

Blair is certainly game and Nielsen is in his full trademark goofy mode, but this film piles on the hit-and-miss gags that are unfortunately mostly misses. It opens with a spoof of the THX logo, announcing that it's being presented in BFD Sound, which is pretty funny, and seeing Blair do comedy is novel. But it wears down quickly. The televised exorcism is interminable, with the jokes coming fast and furious, but to no good end.

I haven't seen this in ages (for obvious reasons), but I imagine the gags are pretty stale. One inspired shot has Blair laying on the bed, dressed as an ice cream cone, snarling "Lick me! Lick me!" But the televangelism angle falls flat, and Nielsen's frantic efforts to inject humor into the proceedings get pretty desperate.

Ironically, the film was released on DVD last year as part of Lion's Gate's "Lost Films" Collection. Writer/director Bob Logan also made Blair's earlier foray into comedy, Up Your Alley (1988). Final judgment? If you want to see an Exorcist parody, just watch Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) instead. It's a riot!

What do you do when you're an Italian comedian who's unheard of in the United States? Why, you befriend Mel Brooks and Dom DeLuise, who will help you make Silence of the Hams (1997), a spoof that sends up both Demme's thriller and Hitchcock's Psycho.

Ezio Greggio has built a reputation as a popular comic in his native land, and he must have used some of his Neopolitan charm on Brooks and Deluise, because they helped him make this strange, strange comedy and even rounded up a pack of marginal-to-legendary celebrities to star in it. Billy Zane plays rookie FBI agent Jo Dee Fostar (oh, God) who is working on a case involving the Psycho Killer, and he enlists the aid of Dr. Animal Cannibal Pizza (Deluise). Meanwhile, his girlfriend, Jane Wine (Charlene Tilton) steals $400,000 from her boss so that she and Jo Dee can start a life together, but she ends up checking into the Cemetery Motel, run by Antonio Motel (more groans), who is dominated by his loony mother (Shelley Winters).

Sound like a train wreck? Well, it sort of is, but it's also so incredibly bizarre that you find yourself laughing anyhow. Check out this clip of the climactic unmasking scene. It's funny to hear Shelley Winters say "fuck"!

In addition to the previously mentioned stars (and those you see in the clip), Phyllis Diller, Joe Dante, John Carpenter, John Landis, Larry Storch, Henry Silva and even Brooks himself show up. Roger Corman's wife and producing partner Julie serves as one of the producers, and although it didn't cost a lot to make, it's a wonder it was made at all.

Everyone seems to be having a good time on the set, and their mood is infectious. Greggio seems to realize that his brand of humor will be perceived as strange by American audiences, so he lets loose with a series of groan-worthy gags that are just so freewheeling that you can't help but get caught up in this mess.

You get a newspaper headline that says "Psycho Killer Claims 120th Victim. Is He Serious?" Stuart Pankin emerges from a bathroom and behind him the toilet is ablaze. Silva plays his traditional tough cop, mowing down innocent people on the streets of Los Angeles. And an establishing shot of downtown L.A. has the helpful caption, "Downtown."

Zane isn't afraid to spoof his glamour-boy image, and he is funny. And you get to see Martin Balsam reprise his detective role from Psycho. As the knife-wielding killer approaches, he groans, "Not again!" Greggio himself is happily devoid of the Roberto Begnini style of mugging, and his deadpan delivery is pretty amusing.

Silence of the Hams isn't available on DVD, but you can watch it on YouTube.

The slasher movie boom initiated by Friday the 13th (1980) of course begged for a send-up, so it wasn't long before Student Bodies (1981) appeared. As with the prototypical slashers, the killer, here named The Breather, stalks high school teens who are having sex.

Since it's so early in the slasher game, the only films in the genre that existed for spoofing at the time were Friday, Halloween, When a Stranger Calls and Prom Night. There's also a nod to Carrie. A lot of fans who are far too young to have seen this theatrically caught it on home video and just love it, proclaiming it to be the pre-Scream Scream. I just remember it as being a rather dreary, hamfisted attempt with a lot of bad jokes.

Plus, the murders are too goofy and blood-free. I think even a slasher film parody should still have violent killings, but maybe that's just me. So clean is the film, as a matter of fact, that the "executive producer" pops up midway to say "fuck" and assure an "R" rating.

One of my favorite parodies isn't really a parody at all, but an official entry in the Friday series, Part 6: Jason Lives. With its invigorating James Bond-style opening and its tongue-in-cheek dialogue, it makes fun of the prequels while still delivering the violence that gorehounds seek. Plus, it's got Thom Matthews, fresh off Return of the Living Dead (another classic spoof) as the adult Tommy Jarvis, the kid played by Corey Feldman in Part 4.

I've never been a fan of the Scream series, finding them to be too self-satisfied, not scary and really talky. The Scary Movie series is far better, with Scary Movie 4 being the pick of the litter for me. With its sendups of The Grudge (with the creepy kid), M. Night Shyamalan's ridiculous The Village and Tom Cruise's macho posturing in the War of the Worlds remake, it hits its targets pretty frequently.

Most importantly, the Scary Movie series introduced us to Anna Faris, one of today's most appealing and hilarious screen comedians.


Russell Adams said...

Let us not forget that great stink bomb, "Dracula, Dead and Loving It."

Movie Mole said...

Great article and website. I have some friends that are really into weird movies and I will share your site with them. I am not too into them myself but I wanted to say great work on the blog.

The Goose said...

Thanks for the kind words, Movie Mole!

I didn't include "Dracula: Dead and Loving It" here because I'm saving it for a post on disaster movies. Ha!


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