Monday, February 22, 2021

Problem Child

As a child who grew up with a deep affection for, well, murderous cinematic children, Mikey was the kind of holy grail of new releases. The poster's tagline was nectar to my young ears:

Remember, Jason and Freddy were kids once, too.

I haven't seen Mikey since that early rental from that now long gone video store, but seeing it appear on Amazon Prime felt like a true gift and ideal finale for the Shortening.

Quick Plot: Third grader Mikey is fed up with his adopted family, so naturally, he takes the easy way out by luring his kid sister to a drowning death in her pool, electrocuting Mom in the bathtub with a hair dryer, and beating his father to death with a baseball bat.

This all goes down in the first five minutes of the movie.

Mikey is a dark evil child film, one that makes The Good Son look positively PG in comparison. Once he's relocated to a pleasant childless couple, Mikey seems to temper his homicidal tendencies, behaving well for his teacher (Hellraiser's Ashley Laurence) and charming his neighbor pal (Nightmare On Elm Street 5's actual dream child Whit Hertford) and his hot older teen sister Jessie (Josie Bissett!). But the quiet suburban life can only last so long when MIkey's jealousy kicks back in.

Before you can wish him a happy Bloody Birthday, Mikey is back to his old tricks. One archery lesson and the kid's a better shot than Robin Hood.

Why is it always the sociopaths who learn the fastest?

Directed by former television actor Dennis Dimster from fairly prolific television writer Jonathan Glassner's script, Mikey is kind of jaw-dropping in its violence, matching the extremity of the much earlier Bloody Birthday in an era where you weren't really seeing that kind of style on the big screen. By 1992, the Video Nasty era had ended but left a certain border around mainstream horror, and the taboo of children committing such horrible acts was generally played more for comedy than scares. Yes, Problem Child's Junior is an absolute amoral black hole who's simply a sound cue away from being truly evil, but Mikey would still eat him alive.

It's hard to say whether I enjoyed Mikey or not. There's something so black in its nature that you're almost forced to appreciate how dark it goes, but the flip is that you're watching fairly pleasant people meet terrible fates. Oddly enough, I was heavily reminded of 1990's Child's Play 2, which also followed a smaller creature violently murdering supportive foster parents and suspicious teachers.

Mikey plays as a sort of end to the era of harsher horror. By the mid-'90s, slashers were dormant and most of the more violent stuff was sent straight to video stores (and edited by the unjustly bemoaned Blockbuster). I don't know that we needed more films like Mikey, as it really does seem to embody all the kind of awful things a conservative parent might use to justify movie bans. But it's an interesting remnant, a truly dark thriller that doesn't shy away from creative murder methods and humor so black you have to chuckle after the shock drains from your face.

High Points
I keep referencing Problem Child because it really does feel like the fun house mirror version of Mikey, but at least Mikey has the heart to allow its characters to treat the title villain as a kid in need of friends and family, where Problem Child has dialogue edits on television today because of its weird anti-adoption rhetoric. Everyone who meets Mikey says, "hey, cool! Nice people adopted a nice boy!" and you know, that's nice (until he decides to kill them)

Low Points
I can't decide whether it's responsible or reprehensible in how Mikey's script drops hints that its title character was abused. On one hand, there's a layer of heft in suggesting that a boy like Mikey was irrevocably shaped into a monster by what his parents likely did to him. On the other, if the film wasn't going to spend any real investment in making Mikey into a human being, it just leaves us feeling conflicted.

Lessons Learned
If you keep an appliance of any sort plugged in in close proximity to a large tub of water, you're really just asking for a monster child to kill you

To stop your pulse, just stick a ball under your armpit

Drowned little girls must stay in the water for several hours as the police conduct thorough investigations

Mikey is streaming now on Amazon Prime, and evil children completists like me really have no choice but to watch it. Be warned this is a very mean film, but '90s enthusiasts will enjoy the wide headbands and terrible bathroom decor. I guess there's something for everybody after all?

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