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Teach Me How To Die: MIKEY (1992) Review

For a type of horror film that’s been around for so long, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone with a deep respect for killer kid flicks. There are some decent flicks where the murderer(s)’s height barely reaches knee-level, like Children of the Corn and Child’s Play. The latter of those two seems to have been what really sparked intrigue in this kind of movie, with both killer doll movies (Dolly Dearest) and killer kid movies following in its wake to try and ride its coattails to fame. And if a name like Chucky could have mass-appeal, why couldn’t a name like…

MIKEY (1992) Review

A family is dead; the daughter drowned in the swimming pool, the mother fried in the bathtub with a plugged-in hair dryer, and the father brutally bludgeoned with a baseball bat. The lone survivor of the slaughter, 9-year old Mikey (Brian Bonsall), is adopted soon afterwards by the Trentons, a happy couple excited to be parents. Mikey’s eccentric behavior goes noticed by teacher and family friend Shawn (Ashley Laurence), who does some digging into Mikey’s past and discovers the horrifying truth behind the murders. Can the family be saved before they too are victims of the wrath of Mikey?

Of all the slashers I’ve seen, Mikey may rank up there with the likes of Chopping Mall and Blood Tracks for sheer absurdity. Okay, maybe it’s not as ridiculous as those two movies, but it’s still pretty unbelievable how stupid this movie can get. It opens up on a pretty disturbing note as Mikey makes his little sister drown in a swimming pool while looking on with a stone cold gaze like the cold-blooded mofo he is. The bathtub electrocution isn’t as bad, but the beating of the father is also quite brutal, if a tad unrealistic. It’s all played completely straight too and might trick people into thinking they’re in for a really disturbing ride. And at times, Mikey is disturbing. And other times, you won’t be able to stop laughing. The kills all vary throughout the movie and as stupid as some of them are (apparently, a marble in a slingshot is the equivalent of a bullet), you have to give the writer credit for creativity. The acting’s all solid with a lot of familiar faces from nineties TV, and even Ashley Laurence from Hellraiser as Shaun.

Let’s just dive right into the character of Mikey himself. If you’re looking for a horror villain to hate with a burning passion, look no further. Mikey is definitely one of the most unlikable antagonists in any movie I have ever seen. Mikey usually gets compared to The Stepfather a lot, so I’m going to use that comparison now. In The Stepfather, whenever the Terry O’Quinn character wasn’t being homicidal, he kind of seemed like an all right dude to invite to your Memorial Day barbecue. In Mikey, there isn’t a moment where you don’t want to throw Mikey into a furnace. When he’s not killing people, he’s doing some hardcore brown-nosing on everyone around him that will make you want to punch his lights out even if he wasn’t a murderer. he also cheats at a small in-class game and videotapes his next door neighbor stripping. In this regard, Brian Bonsall (most notable for being in Family Ties) gives a fantastic performance as Mikey (he’s certainly mastered the stone cold glare). There aren’t any really bad actors in this movie, given that some of the dialogue is very corny, especially in the scenes where Mikey attempts to romance his teenage neighbor. 

And the other noteworthy aspect to talk about are the characters, AKA the candidates for the stupidest individuals ever to be placed in a horror movie. Seriously, these people give the bimbos in Slumber Party Massacre III a run for their money. For the opening murders, it’s actually plausible that Mikey could have pulled them off because of how vulnerable everyone else was. For the murders that start around the last half-hour, the filmmakers stretch logic to its breaking point to make Mikey have the upper hand. Take the scene where Mikey’s new mom walks in on Mikey watching a video of him murdering his previous family, to which she responds by sitting on the couch and watching in disbelief. Then, Mikey picks up a hammer and slowly walks towards her as she calmly tells him to stop and put it down. I won’t spoil her fate, but it’s a riot. In fact, because of this, Mikey may be the only likable character in the movie (despite being a despicable little brat) because he’s the only one who’s not a complete moron. Why anyone doesn’t kick him in the ass and get a new shoe in the process is beyond me.

I may hate Mikey with a fury matched by no other, but I found Mikey to be an enjoyable movie. It’s your standard early nineties killer kid flick with a few fun touches, like the total brat of a killer, the inventive deaths, and some really dark moments. So dark, in fact, that Mikey remains banned in Britain! Now that is a winning reason to see this right there! Of course, you’ll also laugh yourself silly as the Darwin Awards pass themselves out on bloodstained platters left and right, but that’s what makes Mikey just that much more fun. And some lame one-liners (“Teach me how to die!”) that Bonsall spews help. Mikey received an OOP DVD release a while ago, and since prices on that could probably buy a new boat, the best chance anyone would have of snatching this minor gem up would be on VHS.

The Verdict: Mikey is a well-made movie, but I’m still unsure if it was meant to be taken seriously or all that laughing I did was intentional. Either way, if you get a kick out of tiny terrors, don’t you dare pass this one up.

Score: 7/10



There are a few reasons why I'm giving my thoughts on Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father, and not in the form of a full review. One, it's fairly recent, having just come from 2008. Two, it's not that obscure, with several people discovering it on Netflix and by simple word of mouth. And finally, simply put, this isn't a movie that can be discussed with a full review without giving key points away that are imperative to this movie's overall effect.

Dear Zachary is a documentary made by Kurt Kuenne, originally intended to be a memorial film about his friend, Andrew, who was killed in a parking lot. However, all that is changed when it is revealed that Andrew's ex-girlfriend, who was also the prime suspect in the murder investigation, is pregnant with Andrew's baby. Now, the documentary becomes a memorial film for the child, Zachary, so he can see what a great man his father was. Things do get complicated, but ruining this movie would be criminal.

Prior to a few days ago, I had never cried at a movie. There have been films that have gotten me emotional, and some have come close to opening the floodgates, but none have succeeded. Until now. Dear Zachary is what did it for me, and I'm not afraid to admit it, because frankly, I can't see anyone not crying by the time this movie ends. Most of this is because the events in this movie actually occured and are 10x more depressing than anything you're apt to see in fictional films. I'll try to talk about this movie without ruining anything, as a great portion of the movie's effect is derived from a one-two punch to the gut then to the balls a while into the film.

However, if you simply look at it from a critical perspective, it's not a terribly good documentary. Director Kuenne uses editing and narration to strongly support one side of the argument this movie is making (against the Canadian judicial system) instead of strictly presenting the information and letting the audience decide for themselves what they believe. However, this is where you stop looking at it as a critic and start looking at it as a human being. The reason Kuenne feverishly rubs the audeince's noses in one side of the argument is because after the beyond-atrocious events in this movie, that really is the only side that should be chosen for support. And when I say Kuenne rubs the viewer's nose in what happens, I definitely mean it. Most of the documentary is composed of home movies and videos made with Andrew in it, so it's not the flashiest or the cleanest documentary you'll ever see, but it doesn't need to be; the raw feel of the footage adds to the "this actually happened" vibe the movie's going for. 

Now here's the dilemma: do I recommend Dear Zachary or should I warn people away? Well, neither. Watch it if you want to. I feel this is a movie that needs to be seen, but actually watching it is far from pleasant. If you're up for a documentary that will leave you depressed, infuriated, and emotionally destroyed, go for it. No matter who you are, if you watch this movie, it will stay with you. I only watched it recently, but I'm fairly certain I'm not going to forget about this any time soon. If I were to rate it, Dear Zachary would get a 10 and nothing less. It's a shame that not too many people out there have discovered this, but with Netflix as popular as ever and how you can't not tell your friends about this movie after watching it, I don't think Dear Zachary's popularity will do anything but grow. If you're looking for a great documentary, look no further. But don't say I didn't warn you.


Caveat Emptor: NEEDFUL THINGS (1993) Review

Like most horror nuts, I am a fan of the works of Stephen King. The Shining and IT are two of the scariest books I’ve ever read, and while he does have a tendency to stretch plots beyond their stretching point and he can sometimes be a little too descriptive, I’m consistently entertained by his works, although in the King universe, his books are either really good or pretty mediocre. The general consensus on his 1991 conclusion to the “Castle Rock saga,” Needful Things, is that it’s one of the latter. However, after finally reading it, I must say it’s one of my favorites of his. It’s definitely not a scary book, but it’s a wildly entertaining one with some fantastic characters, unsettling moments, and a crazy finale. After reading it, I also thought, ‘Man, that would make one kick-ass miniseries!” Now, the same “either it’s great or it’s mediocre” policy can apply to King films, with, unfortunately, more falling in the latter than the former. So when Needful Things was made into a 2-hour movie, my heart sank a little. But hey, it stars Max Von Sydow and Ed Harris, plus Charlton Heston’s son directed it, so it shouldn’t be too bad…right?

NEEDFUL THINGS (1993) Review

The sleepy town of Castle Rock, Maine in the past has had to deal with such problems as a rabid dog, a murderous twin, a psychic teacher, and more, so no one bats an eye when a new shop opens in town called Needful Things and run by kindly old Leland Gaunt (Von Sydow). The shop is a curio shop of sorts, where the residents of the town seem to find exactly what they want. Even better, the items come at bargain basement prices, but with a catch. Each buyer must in turn play a “harmless” prank on another Castle Rock citizen. You see, Mr. Gaunt is not a man, and he’s using his wares to heighten pre-existing tensions in the town to explosive climaxes, resulting in a mounting body count and mass chaos. Only Sheriff Alan Pangborn (Harris) recognizes the danger and sets out to put a permanent “closed” sign on this demonic store.

Why is it that when an 800-page King novel such as The Tommyknockers is compacted into a 3-hour miniseries we get a less-than-desirable product, but when a similar 800-page novel like Needful Things is crammed into a 2-hour movie, we get one of the best King adaptations yet? Yes, Needful Things surpassed my expectations for a 1990’s Stephen King movie (What is this? A budget??? Production values???), all thanks to a long series of increasingly good decisions. One of the best choices was bringing in newcomer Fraser Clarke Heston as the director. Heston not only gives the film a much-needed polished look absent from lower-quality movies from this time period, but he also completely gets it. He knows the material isn’t anything scary, and he just has fun with it while also trying to keep some of the book’s unsettling parts. Another great part is the music selections. The composed music is rightfully ominous, while the other music selections fit perfectly (the film’s use of “In the Hall of the Mountain King” and “Ave Maria” is spot-on).

But the best choice of all was the casting. You see, this might be the only book adaptation I’ve seen where every character is cast impeccably. Needful Things is a character-driven novel, and the movie keeps all the best character traits and translates it very well to the screen. Max Von Sydow is astonishingly good as Gaunt, easily cementing him as one of the best King antagonists in memory. The dude’s so charming in the beginning that you can’t not trust him, even if you already know what he’s up to. I mean, look at this guy with his silver hair, glasses, and sweater! No way this guy’s going to end up destroying a town and stealing everyone’s souls. Ed Harris is equally good in the protagonist role who’s your average small town sheriff but isn’t afraid to go up against the forces of Hell. Everyone else is completely serviceable and succeeded in bringing some of the best characters in the book to life. And hey, William Morgan Sheppard, who played Alexandru in another great book adaptation, The Keep, is in it as the Catholic priest.

Several of the key scenes from the book, especially a catfight involving knives, play out surprisingly well off the page (even if that fight wasn’t nearly as bloody as it was described in the book) and writer W.D. Richter manages to bend details from scenes without losing the overall sense of fun. Speaking of, Richter, who also penned the wonderful Big Trouble in Little China, also throws in some great dialogue that wasn’t in the book, with it all culminating in a final verbal fight between Pangborn and Gaunt that may even be better than the infamous climax of the book. And Harris and Von Sydow really are something when they’re on screen together.

Ah, I can’t just talk about this movie without making comparisons to the book, and there are a lot of differences. I like how Heston didn’t try to cram every single character from the book and only used the really important ones, except for one. Ace Merrill. Yeah, the bully played by Kiefer Sutherland in Stand By Me played a huge role in the book and he got the shaft in the film. A shame; can you imagine Max Von Sydow, Ed Harris, and Kiefer Sutherland on screen together? Phew! Some other things changed that weren’t for the better is the scene in the book where a character commits suicide that I found really haunting. In the movie, it’s not as chilling because not only does the character survive the attempt, but the actor really overplays the scenes leading up to it. And then they make the death of the dog ten times more brutal, and that just wasn’t cool. Plus, while in the book Alan and Gaunt don’t meet until the end, here, they encounter each other almost immediately, which lessens the climax a bit. They also dumbed down the role of Norris Ridgewick, probably my favorite character in the story. But all in all, the amount of material that is in the movie is a good amount.

I don’t find myself really liking Stephen King movies too often, but this is a rare one that I find to be highly enjoyable. I know fans are just as split over this movie as they are over the book, but with my low expectations, I had a ton of fun with it. Maybe I’m just over-polishing a turd, but I found a lot of enjoyment within the film’s 2-hour runtime. Yes, the book’s well-handled messages about how greed distorts our views and good ol’ caveat emptor are pretty much lost, but this is still a very entertaining popcorn flick with some awesome actors, a good helping of gore, great characters, entertaining dialogue (“That’s not the devil! It’s those goddamned Baptists!”), an engaging villain and hero, and a whole lot of explosions. That works for me. MGM gave it a decent DVD release a while ago with nice picture and a trailer (which does a good job of encapsulating the feel of the movie). Another cut of it exists with another hour of footage that aired on TBS and TNT whiles back with some more character development and such. It’s a cut I’d like to see released, but even as it stands, this is still one fine film.

The Verdict: Comparisons to the novel aside, Needful Things is a nutty, entertaining, and highly explosive ride that you’re either on board with or not. It won’t hurt you to give it a shot…I mean, you won’t lose your soul over it or anything.

Score: 8/10


THE OUTING, THE VAGRANT, and More Coming to DVD Via Scream! Factory!

A while ago, I made my list of twenty horror films not available on any digital format that I'd love to see get released. I've done a very poor job of reporting on when these unreleased titles will get a relase, but it's good to start now, with TerrorVision and Prison already out and The Mutilator being slated for a Blu-Ray release. Now, Scream! Factory continues to please yet again with one of their 4-movie packs (the other one they've relased contained B-movie classics like Cyclone, Alienator, Eye of the Tiger, and Exterminator 2), and 3 movies have never seen the light of a DVD release.

There's the killer genie slasher movie The Outing (AKA The Lamp) from 1987, which made my list, and the fantastic Bill Paxton-starring horror/comedy The Vagrant from 1992, which didn't make the list only because I didn't see it at the time of writing. It also includes the never-before-released The Godsend (which I have yet to view) from 1980 and the Lucio Fulci cult classic Schizoid (more commonly known as Lizard in a Woman's Skin) from 1971. Scream has already stated that there will sadly be no bonus features, and The Outing and The Godsend will only receive full-frame transfers. However, this is still fantastic news to see these well-deserving movies get their due. 

The release date has been set for August 20 of this year, so keep your eye out for it!


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