Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Maggie has bad dreams. Everyone has bad dreams, and normally this is no big deal. When Maggie sees her dreams projected up on a movie theater screen one afternoon, she knows things aren't quite right.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself.

Maggie (Jill Schoelen) belongs to the film class at her high school. They're your usual gang of Eighties multi-culti misfits, from the guy in the wheelchair, to the nerdy guy, to the trollop, to the ethnic girl. Their stature on campus seems well below that of the chess club and the marching band, though this may be due in part to having Tony Roberts as their teacher.

Mr. Davis and Toby (Tom Villard), his star pupil, have come up with a perfect plan for a fundraiser. They'll rent a local theater and hold an all-night horror-thon. It's a pretty cool idea, especially considering the films they have lined up: First, there's The Mosquito, a giant insect feature. That's followed by The Incredible Electrified Man, which is pretty self-explanatory. The final film is Japanese import The Stench, in Aroma-rama.

Also on hand is Dr. Mnesyne, Ray Walston playing a William Castle-type replete with bag of tricks, including electrified seats and a giant fog machine to pump the auditorium full of whatever stink is on cue during the feature. While setting up for the big show, the kids also stumble across another item in Mnesyne's possession: A mysterious reel of film. The class is immediately intrigued by their find.

When the film is spooled up and projected across the big screen, Maggie freaks out, falling catatonic by the end. The film is the exact stuff she's been seeing in her dreams. And what's that, you ask? A crazy hippy guy waving a sword around, stabbing people and chasing some little girl. (For a moment here, I thought this was going to be like The Ring and all these kids were suddenly cursed. Fortunately, it was just a tacky art film, of sorts. Admittedly, it's a tacky art film with a shady past.)

When Maggie comes to, Mr. Davis informs the class the film is the final work of Lanyard Gates. (What is it with people in horror films having such ridiculous names?) Gates was a hippie (as we've seen) who spent the Sixties dropping acid with his friends and filming psychotropic inspired movies. But his little exercises in experimental cinema were pretty much laughed at by the general public. (Uwe Boll, I hope you're paying attention.)

Gates didn't take this so well, and as a rebuttal he filmed Possessor. (Maybe he thought he was D.W. Griffith, but the end result ain't exactly Intolerance.) The thing about Possessor, its final reel was never completed. No, instead Gates acted that out himself at the end of the show. Unfortunately for the other cast members, the grand finale involved a human sacrifice. Needless to say this wasn't a box office smash either. In fact, the theater ended up burning down that night, leaving Gates dead.

None of this explains why Maggie's been dreaming about him.

But that doesn't really matter right now because there's a horror-thon to put on. The kids have somehow managed to pack the theater with 1000 of their classmates. And these kids have all come in costumes, like it was Halloween night. The whole affair actually looks really fun. I tell ya, I'd go to an all-night horror show if this was what was in store. Okay, sure, I could do without the murder. Who wouldn't? (I'd rather save that for a school night.)

Everything goes swimmingly until Gates shows up at the box office. Of course, no one believes Maggie when she tries to warn them, which hastens their demise somewhat. During the features, Gates finds clever ways to off the teens and their teacher, usually relating to whatever gimmick is lined up.

For example, during the climax of The Mosquito, Mr. Davis buzzes the crowd with a giant, remote-controlled model of the beast. The crowd goes nuts, though not from fear. They pelt the poor contraption with popcorn, screech and holler, and generally act like teenagers. But backstage, Gates takes control of the machine and skewers Mr. Davis. And when it comes to The Incredible Electrified Man, you can imagine what becomes of the poor jerk manning the controls of the Tinglomatic™ seats.

Gates' plan is to show Possessor and finally complete his third act, this time chopping up poor Maggie instead of his daughter. He never got to finish the job last time. But why would Gates want to chop up Maggie, unless... Don't ponder that too long. Not because it might be a bit far fetched but because a reggae band suddenly appears in the theater and starts jammin'. Seriously.

Gates eventually gets Possessor cued up, and the crowd doesn't react well to it all. (Uwe Boll, I hope you're paying attention.) Nevertheless, he gets his third act, with Maggie up on stage, bound and ready for his sacrifice. The crowd doesn't know this is real. They think it's just one more gimmick...

This is one strange movie. The films in the horror-thon are great though. They're clever recreations of Fifties and Sixties drive-in fare. The inexplicable cameo by Ray Walston, and Jamaica subbing for Southern California are real head scratchers. But overall it's a fun film, and you'll probably never guess who the real killer is.

Directed by Mark Harrier • R • 1989 • 91 minutes

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