6WH: Week 4 – Before They Were Famous

One of the funny things about digging through the annals of obscure horror cinema is when you stumble on an A-list superstar making an early career appearance before they were famous. Of course, I’ve already seen most of the biggest examples of this: Johnny Depp in A Nightmare on Elm Street, Kevin Bacon in Friday the 13th, Tom Hanks in He Knows You’re Alone, Jennifer Aniston in Leprechaun, Jason Alexander and Holly Hunter in The Burning; the examples are numerous. But I haven’t seen them all, in part because some of these aren’t particularly any good. I should perhaps stop intentionally watching bad movies this year, but maybe these will be fun?

  • Jack Chop (short)
  • The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror V: Nightmare Cafeteria
  • Slaughter High (trailer)
  • Return to Horror High (George Clooney) – The trouble with “before they were famous” movies is that, often, the person who will go on to be famous is only in the movie for a short time, and this movie is a pretty good example of that. George Clooney shows up for the first ten minutes or so of this movie, but then he’s unceremoniously killed off. During his short time onscreen, he does actually display some sense of charisma… that, or I’m just really suggestible. But seriously, there’s a moment where he’s walking up steps in a police officer uniform and messing with the film crew that feels like an ad lib that they kept in the movie because Clooney’s a likable dude.
    George Clooney in Return to Horror High

    Anyway, the other thing about this movie is that I sorta assumed it was a sequel (to a film called Horror High?), but as it turns out, that’s not the case. There was some sort of massacre at a high school a while back, and now a low-budget horror movie crew is retelling the story at the very location in which the tragedy happens. There’s actually a lot going on here. The film opens with the police trying to piece together what happened with the film production (apparently they’re all dead). The lone survivor relays what happened, which we see in flashback. Then the film production itself is retelling the original tragedy… which are also portrayed as seamless flashbacks. It’s flashbacks within flashbacks; we have to go deeper. An interesting idea, if not exactly well executed and rather confusing at the end. That ending has some cooky twists that don’t make sense at all, but are kinda fun anyway and along the way, there’s lots to enjoy here. There’s plenty of humor on display (even if all of it doesn’t land) and while Clooney is offed at the beginning, there’s lots of other lower-tier faces that you might recognize. Alex Rocco, he actor who played Moe Greene in The Godfather, is hamming it up as the sleazy Hollywood producer. Maureen McCormick, of Brady Bunch fame, is having a good time as a police officer. And there are a couple other folks I recognized too. Look, it’s not a good movie, and I don’t think anyone would be watching this if it weren’t for the Clooney bit part, but it’s kinda fun. **

  • American Pickers Texas (Robot Chicken)
  • Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers (NSFW Trailer)
  • The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (trailer)
  • Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (Renée Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey) – Two for the price of one! Both Renée Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey play major roles in this rote retread featuring a quartet of kids on prom night getting lost and running afoul of (what one must assume is) the next generation of chainsaw wielding cannibals.
    Renée Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey in Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation

    This is clearly the worst movie of the weekend, with a plot that’s just a mashup of Texas Chainsaw tropes and a few baffling non-sequiturs (Why is McConaughey’s character… bionic? Who the hell is that businessman?) That being said, McConaughey brings a real villainous energy to the role. It’s a shame that he mostly disowns the movie because his performance really does keep things lively, no matter how bad the rest of the movie is. Zellweger, too, is doing pretty well given the crappy material. Ultimately, this is another situation where I’m guessing that the movie would be forgotten if not for the before-they-were-stars component, though some of those bonkers decisions might garner enough of a cult following, I guess. *1/2

  • “Gremlins 2” Brainstorm (Key & Peele)
  • Critters (trailer)
  • Critters 2 (trailer)
  • Critters 3 (Leonardo DiCaprio) – A family on a road trip inadvertently picks up some Critter eggs and transports them to the big city, where they hatch and start wreaking havoc on an apartment building in the slums. I can kinda see what they were trying to do here – take the Critter threat away from the rural town setting and set them loose in a big city… but they clearly didn’t have anywhere near the budget needed for the requisite mayhem. Heck, they don’t seem to have enough budget to equal the first two installments, which had throngs (packs? herds? hordes?) of critters, while this one has exactly five. They still look great, and the movie does a reasonable job differentiating them (one is scarred by bleach and becomes the sorta unofficial leader; another is called “Blackie” for presumably racist reasons), giving them new powers (they have a Sonic-like ability to spin in place before launching an attack now), and coming up with creative ways of killing them.
    Leonardo DiCaprio in Critters 3

    A larval Leonardo DiCaprio shows up as the stepson of the apartment’s scumbag owner. Unlike the other stars in this post, he doesn’t get to show much of his starpower here. He’s not bad, to be sure, but it’s not like you’d watch this and think “That kid’s going places!” (like you might with McConaughey, Zellweger, or Clooney in the other movies). So this isn’t as fun as the first two entries in the series (which I should probably revisit, since I really enjoyed them when I was a kid), but it’s not unwatchable or anything. The very end of the film is a pretty blatant setup for a sequel, but it’s actually kinda funny and so obvious that it works and… I kinda want to watch Critters 4 now (the two films were apparently greenlit and produced concurrently). You could do worse, but you really shouldn’t be trying to do worse – just watch the first two and you’ll probably be fine. **

So I had fun this weekend, but I think I’m ready for some actually decent movies, so hopefully we’ll figure something out for next week’s theme that will work a little better.

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