Friday, October 31, 2014

Review: Monster in the Closet (1986)

What has Paul Walker, Fergie, Kevin Peter Hall, Henry Gibson, Paul Dooley, Howard Duff, and John Carradine? One particular movie that exists has all of them, that's what. A movie that, while still very much a more comedic take on horror, scared the living shit out of me as a kid. That's right, a Troma movie scared me when I was a little bugger. If you're reading this, Mr. Kaufman, I want you to know that your company actually scared me with one of your films, even though I was a kid who once dreamed about playing with Freddy Krueger in my backyard.

I played alone a lot, so dreaming of Freddy hanging out with me was cooler than cool.

Monster in the Closet is one of three films that scared me immensely as a child. One of those films I will not be talking about here as it related directly to a severe phobia of mine in its title. The other movie though, I actually have talked about before and may go over again when I buy it on Blu-Ray. Now, for Horrorfest this year I wanted to step back into the past and confront this childhood fear. We all remember being spooked by things when we were kids, most of which were similar ideas. The boogeyman, the toe-devouring monster under the bed, and the monster hiding out in the place where my family kept a ton of VHS tapes. Yeah, we all remember the idea of the monster in the closet. I'm not sure why we did though, as closets tend to be awesome hiding places. Just ask Laurie Strode. But me, I can peg this movie for making me afraid of them...at least for a little while. I hear Laurie also got turned off of the idea of closets.


She now spends her days eating yogurt & avoiding people who look like William Shatner.
Our picture begins with sinister music and a narrator describing the "mysteriously inexplicable" occurrences going on in Chestnut Hills, California. A place that he describes as being small quiet college town. I wonder if John Blutarsky goes there? I mean, it seems like his kind of place, since this is a Troma picture. But no, there's not Bluto, just a creature killing a blonde teenage sorority girl, tossing her clothes out of the closet afterwards because it finds her fashion sense to be appalling. Then we find a blind John Carradine searching for his seeing eye dog in a rather aggressive manner but the dog seems to have found death in the closet. But don't worry, John does find something. He finds the monster. It kills him in a similar manner to the girl from before and we exit the scene to find young Fergie at a point in her life when her sex appeal was rather illegal. She seems to be looking for someone while playing hide and seek, but while we don't know the fate of her playmate, Fergie quickly meets the same end as the previous two victims. Someone call Superman!

Whoa, movie! I was only kidding!
Yes, it seems our hero here is a dead ringer for Clark Kent. What is his name? Clark. Richard Clark. I can't decide if that's a clever joke regarding Superman's alter ego or a jab at Dick Clark, but either way this guy is out lead. Much like the Big S's alter ego, Richard here is rather quiet and often treated like a doormat. He tries to confront the chief of the paper her works at, The Daily Globe, and gets interrupted by the charming (if you find cliche 80s douches charming) reporter, Scoop. Scoop talks Richard into taking a story about the murders in Chestnut Hills, hoping it will get him out of their hair, and our hero goes off to get to the bottom of the crimes. There he begins working with the local sheriff as another murder occurs. This murder is particularly amusing, plays up the classic shower death scenes in films like Psycho. Richard finds a claw-like object at the scene and gives it to the lady who earlier scolded him for giving her son a Crunch bar. Who is this candy bar nazi? Why, she's a teacher at the university and works directly with Dr. Pennyworth, played by Henry Gibson in a performance straight out of old 50s films about rubber suited monsters.

"I really hope I never have to make a movie with Pauly Shore."
Pennyworth examines the claw and invites Robert to dinner at candy nazi's house, which looks about like what you'd expect it to look like. During dinner, Richard removes his glasses though and Diane's candy hating heart seems to melt as she realizes that Richard is actually Superm...I mean, he's handsome. Dumbfoundingly handsome, apparently, as she goes into a trance-like state until he puts them back on. I wish I had that power. All that happens when my glasses come off is that I can't see anything. Richard ends up going upstair to see her son's room. Her son, Professor, shows him an invention  he created as an obvious weapon against the monster in the final act of the film, and the monster rears its head again across the street before coming out to confront the cops outside. Finally, we get to see this beast for ourselves.

Man, the 1980s really were rough on Rick James.
The sheriff tries to kill it, but it just saunters over and kills him instead and everyone decides it's time to run away faster than me at a screening of Transformers 5: Optimus Prime's Exploding Dick Sword. So, of course, the world now realizes that there actually is a monster on the loose and the military is brought in to take it on. Scoop shows up to try and steal the story from Richard, but Diane chases him off because she's grown accustomed to Dick's chocolate loving heathen ways. He gives her some flowers and she invites him for tea with Pennyworth and Father Finnegan as they discuss the fate of the creature. They both agree that they don't want the thing to die, as it deserves to be understood and possibly studied. After hearing Professor's recording of the creature's noises, he thinks he's figured out how to communicate with it. The walk around, attempting to lure the creature out with the tones he thinks it will understand but all they find is Scoop. Also, a cat and a soldier pop in. Yeah, after that last one, it turns out they're under arrest for trespassing in the quarantine zone. Oops. But not to worry, because they're figured out where the creature is likely to appear next...the grammar school where Professor currently is. Yeah, I remember when they let me just stay in the empty school when I was a kid....oh wait.

Don't look now, but I think there's a rubber poop monster sneaking around back there.

So yeah, they race to get there, the monster grabs the kid, and they make it just in time for Richard to save Professor. The military then shows up but Pennyworth has began approaching the thing to try and communicate with it, which honestly seems to be working rather well...until it kills him. Oh well, better shoot it. But it turns that its immune to bullets, RPGs, grenades, and cannon shells. Well, shit. Now everyone is panicking like crazy and the entire area begins to be evacuated. Diane believes that Pennyworth was able to give her a clue to how to kill the creature with his last words so she and Dick stay behind to do just that. They build a trap to suck its energy out, killing it, but when it shows up the trap doesn't work and they discover that Professor stayed behind too so he could finish creating his deus ex machina. Surely it will stop the creature, right?

Nope. He just sticks his tongue out and flips a table.

Diane knocks Richard's glasses off and the creature then falls in love with him, carrying him off as it heads toward San Francisco. Professor tells her that he thinks the doctor was actually saying that the only way to kill it was to destroy closets, as it seems to use those for most things. She goes on the news, telling people all over the world to destroy their closets.

Which they take to doing with remarkable gusto.

Now closetless, the creature seems to be on its last legs as it goes into a building that has the world's last existing closet but the creature cannot fit into it while carrying Richard, so it chooses to leave the building, dying in the street outside soon afterward. Diane runs out to tell him she loves him, becoming once more entranced by Dick, and the world breathes a sigh of relief as it is said we can now all rebuild our closets. Thus ends the story of how Dick Clark saved the world from the menace lurking in our closets. Wait...things hiding in the closet that scare society...it couldn't be that this movie is actually a thinly veiled commentary on homosexuality?

If by "thinly veiled" you mean "incredibly obvious", then yes.
Yes, hiding in this beautiful schlocky film is a subtext about how gay people are misunderstood and feared. Hell, the entire closing act of the film is essentially the creature marching on San Francisco while holding the man it loves close. As for the movie itself, I really enjoyed it a lot more now than I ever did as a kid. Probably because now the creature is a lot less scary to me and I can observe a lot of the humour more without it being overshadowed by primal childhood fears. Like many Troma features, this movie revels in its schlock, owning it and making it something quite endearing. The actors all handle the work well, many times all reflecting classic monster movies with their performances. Donald Grant especially does a great job as Richard, where he genuinely seems fit the role of Clark Kent look-a-like to a tee. And yes, that is Paul Walker playing the role of Professor, long before he ever dreamed of driving fast or being furious alongside Vin Diesel.

Looks about right to me.
Then, of course, we have to talk about the creature. The monster itself actually looks really good, which just goes to show you that the 80s was a great time for practical monster effects. The effect of its tongue mouth coming out was suitably silly, appearing to simply be a stationary shot of the suit with someone just thrusting their puppet covered arm out of the mouth. As far as the performance goes, Kevin Peter Hall shines once more playing the role of an imposing monster so well. It's clear to see why he made a career out of it, because man is her good at being big scary monsters. Looking at the creature, it does have a fakeness to it, but I feel that was intentional to a point as the entire film really does feel like its trying to poke fun at the campy old monster movies of the 1950s while also being a bit of a send up of the popular 80s slasher films.

Of course, it pokes fun at certain other famous horror films too. Or, rather, sticks its tongue out at them.

Credit must go to Bob Dahlin, the director and writer of this film, as he handled the entire project perfectly. It could've easily just been another forgettable 80s film piled up with all the others, but it honestly stands out as a movie that should be talked about a lot more for how clever it is. Overall, I think this a fine film that honestly feels like one of Troma's best and I do see why it scared me a s child. I think the fact that here was a creature that was seen actually going after kids and never once talking or being snarky, it really pounded home that I should fear it. If you love old monster movies and clever humour, check this movie out. So, until Lloyd Kaufman asks me to star in a Monster in the Closet remake, I'll be here making sure not to g jamming my head into any. Later days, bleeders.

"I knocked, but nobody answered."

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