Frightful Films

Posted October 15, 2014, under Spokescritters

Most holidays are celebrations of one sort of love or another: Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving. Even St. Patrick’s Day as observed in the modern era is pretty much a celebration of our culture’s love of alcohol.

Halloween, though, is a celebration of fear. But just as importantly, it’s about learning to laugh at fear. That’s why horror and comedy have co-existed in pop culture for decades.

The “classic” monsters — like Dracula, the Wolf Man, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Mummy, and the Invisible Man — are based on 19th century stories, and as such are in the public domain. But Universal Studios has made so many movies about them, the characters have sort of become their spokescritters.

Which they now use to name parking garages.

Their broad recognition allows a sort of shorthand of horror — convenient when you want to bump back at the things that go bump in the night.

Cinematic Examples

(Click to see full posters.)

Abbott and Costello
Meet Frankenstein

This early ensemble film — they also met Dracula and the Wolf Man, as well as a cameo “appearance” by the Invisible Man — traded screams for laughs, and that’s probably why it’s been called the “end of the Golden Age” for the Universal Monsters.

Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)

Because you can’t have a list like this and not include the insanity of Bruce Campbell playing not-dead, aged Elvis Presley fighting ancient, be-gauzed evil (i.e., a Mummy). With the assistance of wheelchair-bound, but also not-dead JFK, who happens to be African-American.

Yes, yes — it all sounds completely insane. That’s what makes it so entertaining.

The Monster Squad (1987)

This was re-released about a year ago, and we are so happy it was. It’s basically The Goonies Meet All the Monsters, and gave the world such immortal phrases as “Wolf-Man’s got nards!”

For those of us who grew up in the ’80s, this movie had a lot to do with our abiding love for Halloween.

Young Frankenstein (1974)

The Mel Brooks film starring Gene Wilder is ridiculous, of course. But by satirizing the well-worn tropes of horror films — in some cases, doing it better than the originals — Young Frankenstein became a classic of the genre in its own right.

Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995)

Brooks went back to the classic monster well for his last (to date) film. Despite starring the late, great Leslie Nielsen, the movie was not well received. Critics of the time widely panned the film, apparently for crossing the line from the high-brow satire of Brooks’ previous efforts (dick jokes notwithstanding) to “mere parody.”

The Lost Boys (1987)

1987 also gave us the cult-favorite film The Lost Boys. While it doesn’t include the “classic” vampire — Dracula — the film leans heavily on earlier works in the genre.

But what really made it a classic was how perfectly it encapsulated the cognitive dissonance of being young in the late ’80s. You’ve got punk versus pop. Leather jackets and ripped jeans versus shoulder pads and linen slacks. The thrill of the edge versus the comfort of the center. All with an amazing soundtrack and featuring baby-faced badass Kiefer Sutherland and The Two Coreys (pre-drugs edition).

Where It Goes Wrong. So Very, Very Wrong.

But humorous movies with spokescritters don’t always work out as intended, and there’s no more horrifying example than the justly maligned computer-animated film Food Fight.

Now, we’ll be the first to admit that the concept is kind of cool: “The film tells the story of brand mascots (‘Ikes’ [short for ‘icons,’ apparently]) who come to life in a supermarket after closing time, and their struggles against the villainous forces of ‘Brand X’.” (Source: Wikipedia)

These are spokescritters we are all familiar with: Mr. Clean, Charlie Tuna, the Twinkie Cowboy, Aunt Jemima, Chester Cheetah, Chiquita Banana, and more. But the premise begins to fall apart when we discover these spokescritters aren’t actually the stars of the show.

“Featuring” applied to the poster only. The actual featured characters in the movie can be seen in the lower left-hand corner.

Despite having Big Name voice talent including the likes of pre-#winning Charlie Sheen, Eva Longoria, Hilary Duff, and Christopher Lloyd, Food Fight had probably the most troubled production in animation history. It cost $45 million to make and was plagued by disaster — most notably, the alleged mid-production theft of the animators’ hard disks, requiring the whole movie to be redone from scratch.

This “baby” is representative of the result.

The theft could be an excuse for the insanely bad animation — wait, haha, no. Sorry. There is no excuse for that insanely bad animation. Not in the 21st century. Work on this movie started in 2002. It was released in 2012. These graphics would send a mid-’80s video game developer into a fetal catatonia of shame.

Even apart from the animation, the film was roundly denounced for the poorly disguised sexual innuendo, Nazi imagery and, most of all, what was perceived as overly blatant product placement — none of which were deemed appropriate for young audiences.

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