Monday, February 28, 2011

And on the 28th day, the little people were good

I know, I know. How can I end February’s Month of the Vertically Challenged Villains by NOT writing about a film in which vertically challenged characters are villains? I can, because it’s MY month of the vertically challenged and just like any tyrant with a smidgen of power, I can change the rules when I please.
Plus, Sven Unterwaldt Jr’s German children’s(????) film 7 Dwarfs is simply bizarre enough that it’d be a crime against dwarfdom to not give it its place.
Quick Plot: A long time ago in a fairyland far far away, the world was divided by a quaint little bridge between the bright and dark. All that really happens on the dark side, however, is that a bunch of ‘dwarfs’ (they’re much taller than you think) live without the company of women following personal tragedies fueled by estrogen (losing wives in childbirth, being kicked out of school plays, tossed out of hot air balloons, having a magic lamp stolen, the usual).

Enter a silly brunette to turn it all upside down. Young 17 year old Snow White must flee the light kingdom when the drag queenish (but not) queen learns from her sassy mirror that the young lass is considered far more attractive. Over the bridge she runs and into the grumbling, but eventually accommodating home of seven hyperactive, easily identifiable little people.

There's Bubi the doofus, Cooky the, yeah, cook, and a whole lot more silly named little(ish) people who pass the time by singing, riverdancing, and playing pun-ish ‘board’ games that involve hitting each other in the face with, yup, boards.
Also thrown into the mix are a court jester bearing a frightening likeness to Andy Dick and a hunter who's far prouder of the sticks his dog fetches than any actual slaughtered game. As you probably figured out, 7 Dwarfs is an incredibly odd film that somehow fits right at home here at the Doll's House (and not just because it’s short enough to pass under the bar). On one hand, it’s a simple children’s film that gives you everything your 8-year-old pigtails want from a Snow White yarn. On the other, there’s bizarre adult humor mixed in through clever language, including a prolonged diatribe on the excitement of wieners and being on top.

High Points
The idea of tickle torture has always seemed far more effective to me than waterboarding or the rack. 7 Dwarfs gets this
Low Points
Some of the slapstick humor feels, you know, silly and annoying (which isn’t necessarily a surprise, but when watching a children’s movie, one should be aware)
Lessons Learned
Why use a glass coffin to transport a princess when you have a perfectly good life-size tupperwear container?
Wieners don’t have to be boring, you know
It took one spunky brunette to show the world that it’s actually blonds who lack intelligence

I would never have thought to watch 7 Dwarves without the power of Instant Watch, and as long as it's streaming, it's certainly a unique 90 minutes. Even though it's rife with tongue-in-cheek innuendo, the film is actually quite innocent and would be the perfect watch-with-your-imaginative-children's film if it were in English. But hey, maybe your kids speak fluent German or don't mind reading rapid fire subtitles whilst enjoying visual gags. 
In other words, I have no idea who will enjoy this movie. It has a similar spirit to Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,with adult humor that's far too sly to raise the little eyebrows of kids under 10. At the same time, it shares that sometimes-annoying sense of making just about every moment a walking or shouting joke. You won't laugh at all of them, but that could generally be said about most comedies and this one has dwarfs.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Good, The Bad, & the Tiny

Ahh, long-term expectation. Bundles and bundles of gleeful hope just waiting to be crushed into a sandwich topping and choked on by some dull but physically superior bully. Such is the sad truth of our lives.
The Terror of Tiny Town is a film that’s been on my radar since, at the rosy-cheeked acned age of 13, I read about its existence in one of many books I owned detailing the making of The Wizard of Oz. An all midget (as they were then called, and also, apparently owned) Western, with SONGS? Heaven, I never knew you could exist on earth!

Because you can’t, of course, and no amount of future Munchkins riding Shetland ponies and singing “I’m gonna make love to you/ you’d better look out” could prove otherwise. Still, may I extend a bigger-than-a-bunch-of-little-people-stacked-in-a-pyramid thanks to the one, the only, the T.L. Bugg of The Lightning Bug's Lair for recommending The Terror of Tiny Town for our monthly swap. Head over to his site for my pick, the bizarre and killer-toy-featuring Brotherhood of Satan.
Quick Plot: There’s an endless feud brewing between two families out in Tiny Town, where for no explained reason, everybody is of mixed nationality and under 5’ tall. Buck Lawson (the White Hat clad Billy Curtis) attempts to mediate between his pops and longterm foe Tex Preston, but the situation gets complicated with the arrival of Tex’s lovely niece and the increasingly surly Black Hattedness of “The Villain” Bat Haines.

Or something. Really it’s not that important, because really, it’s the plot of just about any Western made between 1930 and 1965. The bad guy is bad. The good guy is good (and has an inexplicable, but entertaining New York accent). The good girl is plucky.  A bar wench is bitchy. And Russian. Shots are fired. Horses run. So it goes, so it goes.
In case you hadn’t caught on, I’m not necessarily the biggest fan of the American Western. The Terror of Tiny Town was clearly not made to break any cinematic barriers, but the complete void of a single interesting plot point doesn’t help its case in the least. Sure, it’s chuckleworthy to watch two little guys wrestle and a petite bartender guzzle a beer, but I guess I just prefer my little people western musicals with more...I don’t know...anything.

High Points
Though the acting mostly comes off as stiff and/or just barely being audible, the romantic leads played by Curtis and Yvonne Moray are actually quite likable and charming

I ain’t gonna argue with a little person barbershop quartet!
Low Points
There’s absolutely no visual style whatsoever going on in Sam Newfield’s camera. Sure, this was early filmmaking, but considering a mere 365 days later would yield The Wizard of Oz, you’d think Newfield could at least try to summon some form of energy in composition or art direction. Sometimes the set is bigger than the cast. Most times it’s adjusted with steps and small furniture. None of which makes it interesting. Heck, at a certain point, you might even forget you’re watching “The only Western with an All-Midget Cast!” which in today’s PC world, might be appropriate. But it’s also more boring
Lessons Learned (of Little People Dynamics)
Little people dynamite takes about 31 minutes to explode
It’s incredibly easy to frame an innocent man for murder: simply accuse him, then proceed to drop gigantic hints that you’re lying about his guilt in front of all forms of law officials
The populace of Tiny Town is of Eastern European or New Yawkian descent

Low down kai-oats are responsible for most problems in the world
The Winning Line
“Maybe you’d rather ride on top with me?”
Ladies, this is spoken by a man who cares about YOU
You know those Happy Little Elves characters Maggie Simpson finds incredibly amusing? Think of The Terror of Tiny Town as them, but with squeakier voices, worse direction, and more camp value. This is, without any qualms about it, not a good movie, but at about 60 minutes long, at least you can get through it in less time than it will take to do your laundry. And hey, it’s a cult classic coated in pungent cheese, so many a fan will owe it to him or herself to take the plunge. Just don’t expect, say, the joyous badness of Matthew McConoughy shouting “He’s a dwarf!” over and over again as found in the Gary Oldman Oscar bid, Tiptoes.

And now I send you on your Shetland pony to head on over to The Lightning Bugg's Lair for old people, sacrificed children, face melting dolls and more!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Bette Davis has an open invitation here at the Doll’s House, so it should surprise no one that her 1965 maybe-killer-kid outing, The Nanny, would take its place during the Month of the Vertically Challenged Villains. Without further adieu, I give you the grand dame of cinema (who isn’t Joan Crawford).
Quick Plot: A wealthy British family has been torn apart by the accidental (or cue dramatic sound cue, WAS IT?) bathtub drowning of its youngest member. Ten-year-old big brother Joey was sent to an institution of sorts for two years after he went on a hunger strike/massive jerk attack on his nanny following the tragedy. He returns home with the same bratty attitude while sickly mom sighs and stuffy dad leaves town for a business trip.
You know what that means. It’s up to supernanny Bette Davis to bring a spoonful of sugar into the house, but that’s quite a challenge when the spoiled juvenile delinquent wants nothing more than to make her life hell.

The Nanny is a Hammer production, but you won’t find any naked vampiric breasts or crimson blood in its black and white frames. The story unwinds slowly, inviting its audience into this unhappy WASP family and giving us plenty of time to wonder where the truth lies. Joey is a horrid little boy, but we also know enough about Bette Davis to expect a director to milk her craziness and give us the goods. But Nanny is soooo calming and surely can’t be evil. Or maybe--

I won’t spoil The Nanny, an underseen but strong little thriller that keeps you guessing and cursing at children for most of its 90 minute running time. The film doesn't break any molds, but it's a high quality hidden gem that if nothing else, lets you wonder how much better the world could have been had Bette Davis been cast as Mary Poppins.
High Points
Bette Davis is, as expected, quite magnificent, but much also must be said for child actor William Dix who toes a fine line between sadistic brattiness and sympathetic misunderstood little boy

I always appreciate smart casting and Jill Bennett and Wendy Craig are absolutely believable as flaky rich sisters, both in visual likeness and performance
Low Points
Yes it’s only 90 minutes, but there does come a point when The Nanny starts to drag, something perhaps inevitable (for me) when it comes to the mystery genre
Lessons Learned
Most grownups are balmy
Expensive juvenile facilities might put on a good show, but that doesn’t mean they’ll cure your son of silly hijinks like staging a fake suicide for laughs
Small children shouldn’t have pillows

The Nanny isn’t the most exciting film I’ve watched this month (c’mon: we kicked it off with Bloody Birthday!) but it’s a classy piece of genre fare that should keep Davis fans satisfied. I only learned of its existence from Fangoria’s recent 300th anniversary issue a superb piece with hundreds--literally, three of them--of movie recommendations. The Nanny is slow and not as macabre or campy as some of its era’s colleagues, but pop it on the queue for one of those slower, wine-infused days where the classy can meet the horror.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

She-Devil Shortie of the Month: Dolly Dearest

“If Chucky from Child’s Play weren’t already taken, he might go for this demonic she-devil.”

That one sentence is Netflix’s description of Dolly Dearest, and that makes me happier than a thousand Golden Retriever puppies rolling on their backsides at once. Dolly Dearest, for those who don’t know, was a quickie cash-in on the commercial hit that played on repeat in my nightmares throughout the early '90s. Though the films isn't particularly frightening, the idea of Dolly was enough to send my already doll-phobic childhood mind into overdrive, a terrible speed wherein the lass would prowl through my home with Chucky on one side and Pet Sematary's Gage on the other in search of my flesh.

Odd when really, we're talking about a quickie C-grade horror movie in which the villain takes fashion tips from Peanuts' Lucy

(But clearly not ladylike manners)
For the full dolltastic experience, I'll be sending you shorties on a field trip over to the one, the only, the best named blog in existence run by one of the coolest cats in the business (even if his height disqualifies him from ever truly understanding the plight of the wee), Chuck Norris Ate My Baby. The incredibl(y tall)  Mattsuzaka has a full and funky review of Dolly Dearest, so hop in your go-cart, Miatta, or Power Wheels and head on over to CNAMB for a ramba with an ancient Mayan demon possessed mass market produced children's toy with a wily tongue and giant head.

No ex-girlfriend jokes, please.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Star Is Unborn

*Note: I had every thrilling intention of littering this review with screenshots, but sadly, my computer seemed allergic to the DVD. That’s probably a good thing. In place, I’ve decided to have a few of my Puppet Master and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves action figures, promotional toys from baseball games, creepy nun dolls found at thrift stores, Russian matryoshkas, and cats reenact some of the film’s key scenes. *

No month of the Vertically Challenged Villains! would be complete without the presence of at least ONE angry spirit of an aborted fetus. In full disclosure, I actually planned to screen two but even I--who as you’ll see, can handle a whole lot of bad cinema--couldn’t get through the dull grossness that was Hanger. Instead, we’ll cut the budget to about a buck fifty for today’s very special, very bad, and weirdly lovable feature, 
Quick Plot: An afterschool counselor or teacher or something (don’t worry) brings over two lovely little girls to her boyfriend’s house for him to babysit while she runs errands. How else does a total stranger entertain new kids? Why, with a ghost story of course!

Now here’s the thing: The framing device of Unborn Sins is actually promising. The two child actresses are perfectly natural and charming, and the very idea of an irresponsible babysitter filling their little heads with awful tales of abortion and vengeance is neatly twisted.
Don’t get your hopes up.
So the real ‘story’ of Unborn Sins follows Theresa, a pretty young woman on her way to a sad, eh, whatever abortion. 45 minutes later, she’s done, mildly depressed (though I hesitate to call her such as the actress only displays one emotion for the entire film, so she may actually be constipated or cranky, who knows?). More importantly, the guy who drove her to the clinic (who may or may not have been the baby daddy, I don’t remember/didn’t pay attention) is about to begin the least sexy love scene in cinema history with the most unenthusiastic booty call of all time when the gods of eyesight step in to spare us from their nudity.

I’ve never been happier to see a short man with a painted white face carrying Halloween store knives.
So this creature, later dubbed Bowlegg, turns out to be the angry spirit of Theresa’s aborted fetus. We know this because someone, at some point, for some reason, narrates the mythology of how such creatures are born and live for 24 hours to get vengeance on any person involved in the procedure.
So why does the film seem to span what feels like years?
Wally Backman before and after watching Unborn Sins

Anyway, Bowleggs hunts a doctor, nurse, and other people that I guess had something to do with Theresa’s decision. It's mildly tense.

I wish I could say this with confidence, but there are three things that forbids this:
1-The audio, which varies from zero to eleven throughout the film and is never easy to understand (and of course, not aided by the absence of subtitles)
2-The video quality, which makes me suspect the lens came with some little strip of plastic protection that the cameraman never thought to remove

3-The fact that it’s really hard to stay focused on such a bad movie.
Now don’t get me wrong: I kind of enjoyed Unborn Sins in a way akin to Black Devil Doll From Hell. It’s an atrocious movie, made by amateurs who didn’t even think a framing narrative needed to return to know, frame the narrative. It’s shot by a person I assume is slowly going to a Bjork in Dancer In the Dark style blindness.  Acted in an impressive variety of awful styles of acting (they range from trying reallllly hard to stumbling over every line). In other words, it’s awful. Feeders awful. Feeders 2: Slay Bells awful. 
Except for the fact that for some reason, the Feeders series made me want to poke my eyes out and eat them with barbeque sauce while Unborn Sins simply kept me in giggles. 

A few reasons why:

-There’s a 3 minute dancing sequence by a chubby dude. Alone. For no reason other than...I don’t know, maybe, in the way a lot of ‘80s horror films HAD to incorporate zombies, modern urban horror REQUIRES solo dance sequences, even if it's by a man with considerable girth?

-In what may be the best director cameo of all time, writer/director Elliot Eddie inserts a scene in which a newswoman announces the success of ‘superstar director and producer Elliot Eddie.’ Good on him.
-Chubby Solo Dance Guy’s death note:
Player Player
What a Slut
(f)Or Being An ass
You got to get cut
(Note: I didn’t see the ‘f’--probably because it wasn’t in frame--and was very confused trying to figure out how the word ‘or’ fit in. It makes SO MUCH MORE sense now)
-During Chubby Solo Dance Guy’s big scene, he picks up two plastic guns to hunt Bowleggs. This goes on for about a minute (less than the amount of time for his solo dance) and then he gets bored, goes to the fridge to grab a bottle of water, and gets killed

-The time cards that appear throughout the film gradually start to do more work, filling in plot holes and reading much like script notes
I don’t know what else to say. The high point? Perhaps the fact that a scene involving a mirror did NOT show any cameras? Or the fact that a character describes the villain as “the spirit of my child turned into a midget freak with homicidal tendencies?” The entire film is a low point, know, a low point in which the main villain is a midget freak with homicidal tendencies. So there’s that.
Lessons Learned
Abortion is a very touchy subject (this is directed primarily towards the doctors that perform them, in case they forgot)

Always get two purses in the same design (make one beige) so you can sneak out the window when scared of midgets

Stone, it ain’t your fault. It ain’t your fault Stone. I know that because your friend has just repeated this line more than Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting

So. How do I say this without incurring the wrath of the viewers who actually rent this, only to despise me later for daring to recommend it? Unborn Sins is a terrible movie. Deadly Little Christmas terrible. Santa Claws terrible. Made by those guys that sniffed a lot of White-Out in fifth grade terrible. And yet...and yet...I found it hilarious. Especially as it gets progressively worse with each reel. At the end of the day, I don’t know who lived, who died, where the midget with homicidal tendencies evaporated to, or what the heck it meant. But...I had fun.
Sometimes I’m convinced that I really am a bad person.