Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Once Upon a Time in a Kingdom Known as the 80s...

Fairy tales were never meant to be Disneyfied: read Grimm’s original stories and you’ll find cannibalism, infanticide, and eye gouging. Not quite the setting for adorably dancing mice or Smashmouth covers. 

Maybe that makes a film like Deadtime Stories (aka Freaky Fairytales and The Griebels) perfectly apt for my childhood, as I definitely and inappropriately rented it once or twice as a wee lass. As the totally rocking opening rock ballad muses, “It’s no wonder why I turned out how I did/remembering my bedtime tales as a kid.” And that’s as good a place to start: something missing from modern horror is the personalized theme song. While Deadtime’s Stories’ original ditties don’t quite best Nightmare on Elm Street’s 3 Dreeeeeeeam Warriors tune, they’re still quite refreshing (note how ‘De Palma’ is used to rhyme with ‘drama’).

The rest of the movie is, well, cheap and odd. Anthology films tend to be mixed bags, but Deadtime Stories is just plain kooky. I’m guessing the filmmakers realized in pre-production that they lacked the resources to create genuine scares, so they went for comedy right from the start. Unfortunately, they also lacked a consistent sense of humor.

Three segments are framed by a little boy goading his drunken uncle into nighttime monster-warding storytelling so young BIlly can sleep (in broad daylight). The first tale is an original: in what seems to be enchanted woods where older characters are British and younger/not as good actors are American, two witches order their slave boy to kidnap a maiden so they may sacrifice her and resurrect their sister. The performances of the witches are actually quite good. I imagine director Jeffrey Delman abducted them from a local production of Macbeth then spent the better remainder of his entire budget on loading in some great effects.

Story 2 is the weakest, a modernization of Little Red Riding Hood that offers nothing new. The main conceit is that Red is a sexually curious teenager in a tracksuit and the Big Bad Wolf wears leather pants. 

The third and wackiest of the set is a slapstick-ridden take on Goldilocks and the Three Bears, notable mostly for featuring future Oscar nominee Melissa Leo as the matriarch of a savantish clan. After rescuing her menfolk from the Home for the Hopelessly Insane (although it's later referred to as Helplessly Insane), Mama Bear cruises to an abandoned house now occupied by a psychic and psychotic Goldilox and her bevy of dead and rotting failed suitors. Unlike that bratty little home intruder you judged harshly in your childhood, this Goldi makes an effort to help out her hosts, burying bodies and paying for pizza (okay, just making the waitress choke and die). Meanwhile, a pair of bumbling policemen lead manhunts to take down the new combined family. It’s a goofy segment, complete with over-the-top performances and violence that would embarrass the Three Stooges

High Points
Some decent dead effects, particularly in the first tale

The framing story is not without humor

Low Points
Aside from the ass kicking songs of the opening and closing credits, “Taj’s” soundtrack is devastatingly bad (particularly during the porno jazz of Red’s mild masturbation scene)

Some actors have more fun than others

Lessons Learned
To save time, always gather your ingredients before casting a resurrection spell

Chloroform works well, even in fairy tale era kingdoms

Eyeballs do not make solid weapons

A sleazy pharmacist is a sloppy pharmacist

Joggers did not wear sports bras in the 1980s

Maalox was once a prescription drug

Never insult a telekinetic psychopath

Hanging creepy frog puppets in your room is not a good idea if you’re prone to nightmares

And finally, seeing how these are tales made to teach deeper virtues, I give you the primary moral of each:

1-Question the loyalty of thy slave
2-Know thy priorities
3-Avoid Long Island at all costs

My enjoyment of this film was based more on nostalgia than anything else. As much as I appreciate its unique tone, it’s hard to see what a casual fan would get out of Deadtime Stories. The scares are mild and the humor is splotchy. Still, if you’re a fairy tale fan or anthology aficionado, it’s worth one viewing. Just remember: sometimes, when we find ourselves saying “They don’t make ‘em like they used to,” it’s with good reason.

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