Archive for April, 2010

Oh ho, dear reader! Films of High Adventure has been picked up by Fantasy Magazine once a month, and today is our debut where we run roughshod over Legend while admitting the effect the Black Dress Scene had on our young hearts and minds. Hope you like it!

Jesse Bullington and I have (perhaps foolishly) decided to embark upon a quest: watching “classic” adventure movies that informed one or both of our childhoods. This week we tackle prolly the first for-grownups anime I ever watched and thus love even though. . . well, moving on!

The Film: Vampire Hunter D (1985)

Also Known AsKyûketsuki hantâ D (1985)

WHOSE RESPONSIBLE THIS??? Original series of novels by Hideyuki Kikuchi, which feature illustrations by certifiably badass artist Yoshitaka Amano (http://www.amanosworld.com/), who in turn did the character design for the film. Japanese script by Yasushi Hirano (the Dirty Pair tv series) and direction by Toyoo Ashida (Fist of the North Star), English script by Tom Wyner (better known for his voice acting in both video games and various English dubs of anime) and direction by Carl Macek (founder of Streamline who passed away last Saturday—the patron saint of some 80s American otaku and the hated whipping boy of others).  Voice acting in the English dub by Michael McConnohie (the Lich King in World of Warcraft [Molly says: OMG REALLY?! FTW!!], countless other video game and anime roles) as D, Barbara Goodson (again, lots of anime, such as Naruto, and video games, only here it’s Everquest instead of WoW) as Doris, Lara Cody—hell, you get the idea, people you’ve probably never heard of but whose work you might vaguely recognize. Head over to imdb if you’re still curious. To recreate the Small Times experience we watched it in English so we won’t bother digging up the Japanese voice actors, and we’re happy to report that the dubbing is not as atrocious as many a Streamline production.

Quote: “You and your kind should go back to where you belong! Back to the abyss! Of oblivion!”

Alternate quote: “My father was a werewolf hunter. ‘Want to know about vampires?’ he’d say, ‘ask a vampire hunter.’”

First viewing by Jesse: Early middle school—in other words, the perfect time for a budding anime nerd to experience the bugfuck insanity that is this movie.

First viewing by Molly: About the same. After I discovered—maybe Sailor Moon?—I went lookin for anime at Blockbuster. They had this, and Baoh, and some Slayers, and some other stuff as well as Wizards, which nobody hold their breath about because there’s no way I’m watching that turd-burgle again for posterity.

Most recent viewing by both: Last week.

Impact on Jesse’s childhood development: I keep saying moderate for everything so I won’t say that here—embarrassing an admission though it is, this was fairly formative for young Jesse. This wasn’t the first anime I watched, nor was it the best, but it was pretty goddamn awesome for a horror and fantasy buff who was in the midst of “the change.”

Impact on Molly’s childhood development: I feel like an echo this week, but yeah. This blew my mind when I saw it. The sexy violence, the sexy shower scene (Jesse says: ask anyone about this movie who saw it as a kid and they’ll mention this, even though it’s all of one and a half seconds long), the 2001-style psychedelic ending, the design of the D character (shut up!), omg. Reared on Disney/Rankin-Bass (ok, so we will do The Hobbit/The Last Unicorn fo’ sho’) this was beyond sortakinda yeahmaybe formative films like, say, Ghost in the Shell.

Random youtube clip that hasn’t been taken down for copyright infringement:



Jesse’s thoughts prior to re-watching: Less than optimistic.  Spotty as my taste is now, twelve year old Jesse was far less discerning, especially in those cold, barren days of the early 90s when anime fans took whatever they could find and said thank you. If you only got into anime post-Princess Mononoke or so you have no idea how bad it was back then, dudes all throwing down twenty bucks at a con for a badly copied vhs of the first Ranma movie without so much as fan subs, just the straight Japanese when the extent of their vocabulary was otaku, kawaii, and ecchi. And that was the early 90s—I don’t even want to imagine what things were like in the 70s and 80s, but I’ve heard stories, dark, weird, sweaty stories of desperation and Captain Harlock.

But I digress. I knew there would be a lot of monsters to keep me occupied, and maybe even enough epic silliness to blot out the memory that in a roleplaying game I was running at the time of my first viewing I quickly had Doris show up as an NPC and exit stage left with the Jesse-stand-in NPC. I was a pretty bad GM, and maybe just a bad person in general. Oh sweet internet, the confessions you draw forth from my sordid breast—next you’ll be having me admit my undying 11 year old love for Kahm from Outlanders. I issue my profuse apologies to any of my fellow middle schoolers who participated in that particular session, and to any and all Films of High Adventure readers while I’m at it. So yeah, a little nervous going in.

Molly’s thoughts prior to re-watching: I dunno. I remembered the mechano-horses and thinking the movie would’ve been better without the wisecracking demon hand (also I remember that shower scene) but other than that I’d forgotten a bunch, so I was pretty enthusiastic. “Come on,” I said, “let’s do Vampire Hunter D!” “Waaaaahhhhh” said Jesse, but I was the one to insist.

Jesse’s thoughts post-viewing: Hey, not as bad as I had feared! This is the real shit, vintage 80s fantasy by way of vintage 80s anime, and I’m ok with that. Sure, there’s a lot of stupidity going on, but overall it was fairly painless, and in some spots a lot of fun.

That said, I think that as with a lot of the movies we’re taking on the ability to extract enjoyment from the picture is relative to having seen it earlier in life. That’s just a theory, of course, but I think it’s a decent one—the animation, while competent, is certainly dated, and the simplicity of the plot doesn’t leave a lot of room for charity unless one already has a soft spot for D. Then again, it is one stylistic beast, with the titular vampire hunter looking like Solomon Kane at a Bauhaus concert and everyone else looking equally weird/awesome—where’s the rest of Doris’s skirt? What is up with Lamika’s head? What is up with Greco, period?

Part of what makes this hold up is how different it is from the bulk of vampire stories—I tend to award a lot of points for originality where things like vampires and ghosts are concerned, and D has originality in spades. Granted, much of it is the kind of originality that consists of taking pre-existing ideas and jumbling them all together, but it’s still better than the bulk of boring, rehashed bullshit you too often see in vampire films. Rather than being a pseudo-Gothic vampire story, or worse, Anne Rice-wannabe nosfopatus agonizing over how tough it is to be a super-being, Vampire Hunter D is a post-apocalyptic western homage with hordes of mutants and other monsters filling in the vampire gaps, and bizarre flourishes like D’s talking left hand and mechanical horse.

Molly’s thoughts post-viewing: I thought this movie was OK even when Jesse was insisting I was insane to think so (prior to re-watching), and I think it’s pretty OK now. There are weak points—the hand is annoying; the end makes no sense; the characters’ actions make even less sense (Why does Doris’s dad hunt werewolves but know nothing about vampires? Why does the dude who wants to mack on Doris try to kill vampires when he’s obviously incompetent? Why does Lamika act/feel the way she does? What is her obsession with nobility? After her dad’s a d-bag to her why would she rather die than live elsewhere? Why was she even hanging out with “Greco” (?) at all? WTF). But, still, even so, this movie holds a certain charm. The design is neat, even with the dated anime-girl hair on Doris and the stock Adorable Kid Brother Who Needs A Father Figure (Jesse says: Shane!), and the monsters are cool! Mutants are pretty rad always, and I think the cattle-eating mist-monsters were actually new and interesting, as well as some of the other little things like, say, Magnus Lee’s. . . basement o’ horrors? Because he has one?

But at the same time, I gotta say. . . I think most of my “well, what the fuck, why not?” attitude was due to (1) the childhood affection thing Jesse talked about, and (2) that essentially this movie inspired, sorta, one of the most ridiculous/fun role playing games I’ve been in. So. . . yeah! I dunno? Sure!

High Points: The overall aesthetic. The sheer insanity that governs much of the film. All them crazy lookin mutants:

Final Verdict: Molly Says: Pretty OK, especially as compared to most of what I grew up watching. Except for Sailor Moon, which I still love unconditionally. Jesse Says: Pretty OK, indeed, and better we not go into further detail regarding things from Japan I loved unconditionally when I was in middle school.

Next Week: We’ll link to Films of High Adventure up on Fantasy Magazine, woo! Check as we’ll be deconstructing Legend. I anticipate making everyone uncomfortable with what I’m sure will be a rousing discussion of certain scenes in that film that were incredibly formative for oh-so-young me.

So a million years ago when I was just a wee Tanz I watched The Princess Bride and I knew then forevermore my heart belonged to Cary Elwes and eventually my life would turn out like this:

except with photoshop, i guess

Well, that didn’t happen, but that’s OK because I am in love with this new project in that gibbering head-over-heels sort of manner that people affect when they’ve met that new someone (you know, when you can’t shut up about your new squeeze and no one cares but your friends humor you and agree that every stupid insignificant moment between you and your new person does indeed bear repeating and is significant). Perhaps it’s not quite akin to what I felt for Cary Elwes all those years ago, but damn near close.

And for what I specifically imagined I’d have with Mr. Elwes, well, that turned out lovely as well.

Well! News! OMG! “Films of High Adventure” has been picked up by Fantasy Magazine! Now, on the last Wednesday of each month, Jesse and I will run roughshod over the childhoods of many a film-watcher for the Fantasy audience. Our first go-round for FM will be Legend, so fear not, we will indeed deal with the devil soon enough. We’ll still be running the column weekly on our blogs, but our more fantasy-movie fodder will be over there, and our fantasy/sci-fi/adventure/whatever movies will be right here where you’re used to, save we’ll be doing this nonsense on Wednesdays to match up with the Fantasy slot. Anyways: ONWARD!

The Film: Tank Girl (1995)

Also Known AsLori Petty, Lori Petty, Oh Lori Petty (2010)

Also AKA as: The Film that Ended Multiple Hollywood Careers (1995)

WHOSE RESPONSIBLE THIS??? Original comic book by Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin, screenplay by Tedi Sarafian (the Christopher Lambert/David Arquette picture The Road Killers). Direction by Rachel Talalay, who has done nothing but television since—a waste of cinematic talent, as her previous two films, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare and Ghost in the Machine, were nothing short of. . . well, two films that got made in the early 90s. Tank Girl also marked the last real starring cinematic role for Lori Petty—surely it must be a coincidence that the director, screenwriter, and star didn’t work in pictures much after this. Awesome soundtrack by a mid-90s teenager’s compact disc collection—L7, Veruca Salt, Hole, Bush, Bjork, Belly (Molly still owns both albums to this day), Portishead, Stomp (!). Oh, and also Ice-T, Devo, Joan Jett, Iggy Pop, Isaac Hayes, and on and on and on—definitely from an era where the runtime of the soundtrack was roughly the same length as the movie itself. Not-at-all-hammy acting from Lori Petty (A League of Their Own), Malcolm McDowell (more of a Star Trek: Generations performance than A Clockwork Orange here), Ice-T (uh, Johnny Mnemonic, Law and Order: SVU), Iggy Pop as a pedophile listed in the credits as “Rat Face,” and an adorably earnest Naomi Watts (Mulholland Drive, I <3 Huckabees).

Quote: “Lock up your sons!”

Alternate quote: “What the hell is that?!” “I think it’s Cole Porter, sir.”

First viewing by Molly: Gawd. I saw a spot with Lori Petty on some crap morning news-lite program wherein she recounted how she got the part: she was, allegedly, sent the script but instead of calling to say she’d take the role she shaved her head and burst into the office of the casting director and screeched “I am Tank Girl!” I fell promptly in love. My parents, however, refused to take me to a rated-R movie in the theater, but the moment it came out on VHS I rented it, so, what? 1995? 1996? Better question: why do I remember this chain of events so vividly? Oh, because Tank Girl is, in all seriousness, probably the most influential film I saw as a teenager. Feel free to take from that what you will.

First viewing by Jesse: I missed it in theatres but ordered it on pay-per-view.

Most recent viewing by both: Two weeks ago.

Impact on Molly’s childhood development: Severe. As I said, this was probably number one for Teenage Molly. (Number one for Small Times Molly will be our first spot over at Fantasy Magazine, incidentally.) But anyways: this film—nay, to young Molly, this was no mere film, but a cinematic masterpiece. I was enchanted from the very first moments, when the credits open with stills from the comic book; the first lines where Lori Petty is riding a weird post-apocalyptic ox or something, omg. Rapture! Her punky, homemade style; her shaved head (which it took me until college to imitate, but I was not a bold teenager); her attitude! Her filthy mouth! Her willingness (and ability) to use her sexuality to defeat opponents! Her remorseless inclination to just straight-up murder bad dudes; her really bizarre relationship with Booga the kangaroo-man! I loved Jet Girl, too (in subsequent viewings Jet became not the dark horse in the running but the Star of the Show for me, incidentally); actually, I loved everything. To be perhaps too serious about this, it was a model of femininity I had not encountered previously, and it fucked my mind in the tender, loving way a sheltered 14-15 year old girl should have her mind fucked [Jesse says: . . . Jesse doesn’t really have anything to say to that, actually]. I actually watched it the first time in two separate viewings as I started it with my parents when I rented it; they turned it off with the quickness, but I finished it the next day and there was no turning back. Thus I became the lone champion of this film in high school (or perhaps the one person who’d seen it) and showed it to all my bestest friends (one friend and I had a Malcolm McDowell double-feature as she’d never seen A Clockwork Orange, either; another loved it so much that we both went dressed as Tank Girl for Halloween one year). I also, and I just now remembered this, used Tank Girl for an art project I had in like, maybe 8th grade, wherein I had to design a movie poster for an existing film. So, yeah.

Impact on Jesse’s childhood development: Moderate. It got me into Bjork and L7, and I was deeply in love with both Tank and Jet for some time afterward. I remember thinking there could have been more animation (I was that kind of youth).

Random youtube clip that hasn’t been taken down for copyright infringement:

Molly’s thoughts prior to re-watching: I was super-excited, as I always am when I dig this movie out of my closet or wherever it lives (yes, I own it on DVD). I had mentioned a few of my favorite parts to Jesse and his baffled “that happens?!” reaction made me happy because it was clear he’d be experiencing the wonder all over again for the first time.

Jesse’s thoughts prior to re-watching: Molly’s played the soundtrack on roadtrips before, so I knew that would be going on—“Army of Me” is still one of my favorite Bjork songs, so I knew it would have that going for it, at least. And hey, I remembered enjoying it, and between Malcolm McDowell gobbling scenery and Ice-T dressed up as a kangaroo monster I assumed it would be good for a dopey dose of camp shenanigans. I was also, truth be told, curious to see the objects of my teenage double-crush again.

Molly’s thoughts post-viewing: I vowed to be as critical as any other film we’ve done else with this movie, and I will, even though it is a rather bittersweet experience for me. I had very mixed feelings this time. I really can’t watch Tank Girl without part of me reverting to the utterly enchanted, socially-awkward, bespectacled, acne-riddled, shy, Pern-obsessed kid I was, and experiencing that sort of regression makes it difficult to be truly objective. But here it is: this movie is terrible. I understand more now why my parents turned it off, honestly. To young Molly, Tank Girl herself had a transgressive attitude and a bad-ass personality; as an adult, I am increasingly able to tear away the veil of childhood and realize that Tank’s personality is essentially a collection of one-liners and mid-90s outfits. Not that I don’t love one-liners and mid-90s outfits, but watching this movie these days leaves me wanting more—wanting to see what I saw as a kid. I type this, listening to the soundtrack (which has bridged the gap from CD to iTunes; in fact, it was one of the first I transferred over back in the day), getting, truth be told, a little sentimental. But as an adult, I see more of this movie’s flaws, I guess. Primary offense: the amount of attention the film pays to Tank’s physical body as an object of sexual desire works to strip her agency in certain ways; she is both subject and object, and while I believe that is OK for films to do, this film handles it badly most of the time. Counter-argument: I still harbor an unalloyed love of the scene (not on YouTube, unfortunately), where Tank is in the dressing room of Liquid Silver, the whorehouse, and a hologram is telling her how best to dress to be alluring to men. Tank, of course, ignores the advice to stroll out of the experience with a ton of earrings in her cartilage, wearing filthy combat boots and a slinky black negligee as a dress, holding a giant gun and smoking a cigarette whereupon she intones, “lock up your sons!” OMG. Secondary offences include, just to name a few, the sorta-kinda rape-revenge plot hovering around Jet (snooze), having Jet’s kangaroo love interest (an interesting statement in and of itself) make many sexually-inappropriate remarks and then actually hump her [Jesse says: seconded. I fucking hated that d-bag ‘roo, and not just cause he was macking on Jet], giving Tank a name (she doesn’t have one in the comic book, which I read so often it pretty much fell apart), other things.

But you know what? FUCK THAT NOISE. This film is awesome! I retract my earlier statement. Jesus! The scene where the adorable moppet uses her “danger ball” to send a host of spikes through Iggy Pop’s pedophile hands! The scene where Malcolm McDowell makes an unsatisfactory general walk across a floor filled with broken glass particles and then it is revealed HE HIMSELF IS BAREFOOT OMG HE IS SUCH A VILLIAN! The montage where Jet and Tank re-paint their vehicles to fit the mid-90s aesthetic of the film! The scene where Tank Girl tells the aforementioned moppet not to call people “butt smear” because “it’s not becoming; say asshole, or dickwad, instead”! The celebration sequence where the head kangaroo-dude (who is, incomprehensibly, a reincarnation of Jack Kerouac) plays the saxophone and recites the following poem:

Laugh, you butterfly

That dances in the mud

Laugh, you piece of dental floss

You burn, me toast.

Laugh, you pig that flies in the sky

With rainbow twinky fluid

And three litres of high-octane petrol.

AAAAHHHH! YES! YES! I AM TANK GIRL!

Jesse’s  thoughts post-viewing: Welllll, this was one that didn’t hold up as much as I had hoped, and I doubt I’ll be able to match Molly’s enthusiastic response, but here goes. The plot, when it periodically pokes its head out of the sand, is terminally stupid—why does Malcolm McDowell do what he does? Why does anyone do what they do? Baffling. Perhaps it’s a good thing, then, that the plot spends most of the film hibernating and we are instead treated to a kaleidoscopic series of random episodes and inappropriate sexual humor (sample dialogue: “You gotta think about it like the first time you got laid. You gotta go: ‘Daddy, are you sure this is right?’”) As a kid I wanted more animation but upon re-watching it I think a good balance was struck between stills from the comic, live action footage, and the animated bits:

Director Talalay apparently did not get final cut—word on the desert is that the original cut didn’t have quite so much Tankgirl-as-sexual-object stuff, but the footage that’s there speaks for itself. There’s also no getting around the fact that the movie stars Lori Petty in full-on Lori Petty mode, and while I’m down with that some people will most certainly not be. Then there’s Ice-T in kangaroo makeup, which seems suitable punishment for his tricking me into watching the execrable Alyssa Milano vehicle Body Count—it had the same name as his metal band and starred the bastard, so I had every right to expect something more than a dull Alyssa Milano vehicle…right? Hey, say what you will about the ice man, he did good in New Jack City, though he was no Pookie.

Although I didn’t remember much of Tank Girl I at least knew what I was getting into—I cannot begin to imagine the effect it might have on someone who had made it to the year 2010 without being exposed. Incredulity would be a word that might come to mind. Perhaps the most damning element of the film is how good it could have been. I’m not really familiar with the source comic but given what’s on display here stylistically something could have been cobbled together plot-wise beyond the brain-dead chain of events that propels the action and offensive jokes. And this is coming from a fan of the Cannonball Run. Still, it has some amazing scenes and a fun atmosphere, and the exact dopey campiness I was anticipating. Plus it has Naomi Watts and Lori Petty changing outfits every two minutes, which is good news if you’re into crazy fashion or post-apocalyptic bombshells.

High Points: The costumes. The soundtrack. The willingness of the cast to participate in the silliest scenes imaginable. Case in point:

Final Verdict: 15-year old Molly votes this Best Film of the Millennium. 28-year old Jesse shakes his head and laments what could have been.

Next Week (Wednesday): Not sure yet. Feel free to make suggestions!

It’s been a while, so I feel like it’s time for a reasonably thorough update! Fascinating, I’m sure, are the following bullet points, but if you’d rather see pretty pictures, scroll to the bottom for some nature.

  • I am heading down to Tampa soon, to be with my family. I’m very happy about this, as I haven’t seen them since we heard the news. Though going there/being there will not yield the control I wish I had over this situation, it will be nice to be present.
  • I have decided, on the advice of folks far wiser than I, to let my Big Project rest a while. I was getting incredibly frustrated with the edits, and ignoring advice to take a break, step away, because I wanted to power through it and get it out to beta-readers, but I felt like I was twiddling my thumbs and maybe making mistakes. I have the first volume wrapped up and tidy, and it’s staying like that for a while. I broke when I realized I was most enthusiastic about the stuff I’d written months and months ago, which needed the most work but felt the freshest, and I was like– oh, well, duh. I haven’t even looked at this section since, when? October? November? So came the self-knowledge (γνῶθι σεαυτόν, Molly) of burnout. At first I was afraid if I left off before it was done enough to show to friends I’d never come back to it, but I know that’s not true because I still catch myself thinking about it and wanting to work on it, but I’m not letting myself.
  • In lieu of working on the Big Resting Project (BRP), I am tearing ass through the planning stages/beginning writing of a Smaller but still Big Project (SBP) I’ve been itching to work on for months now. I realized I was shooting myself in the foot by not tackling it right goddamn now because the major part of it will take place in Colorado in the spring/summer, which, OMG! I just looked out my window and indeed, it is springtime. Now I get to write from life, which is incredibly fun and rewarding, and I can already tell this project will be leaner, tighter, and infinitely more ridiculous than the BRP. I’ve learned a lot from said BRP and am not rushing into this one headlong without proper planning, proper thoughts on entryways into the novelette, proper understanding of What I Want, length, etc. Unlike other projects, I’ve mapped this out completely, I know where I’m going, I know the wordcount I’m going for, etc. I’m also, as a sort of mental exercise, not doing much book-related research beyond knowing the exact year so it makes sense, knowing a little bit about the premises, that sort of thing. Most of the “research” will be watching movies, actually, since I’m going for a sort of cinematic feel for this project. At any rate, babbling aside, I’ve been having a goddamn blast doing it so far and I’m more in love with it than I’ve maybe ever been with anything I’ve done. Likely this also has to do with the fact that the BRP is on Serious Matters and the SBP is–well, it’s pretty fucking ridiculous. Lulz.
  • Sooner, rather than later, I’ll be announcing something pretty cool here! So “watch this space” if you care to.
  • Running with the Pack is coming out sooooooooooooon omg!!
  • Fucking magnets, how do they work? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Google that shit. Also, here is this inspirational cartoon on the same subject, for your inspiration of the day:

  • To round out this post, pictures from my last visit to Estes Park, which was amazing. We went there with friends David and Luke from Tallahassee, and ahhhhhh. Delightful.

me knee-deep in snow standing in the middle of a still iced-over lake

coyote!!

you know you wish you lived AN HOUR FROM THIS LIKE I DO OMG

some other lake I can't recall the name of

Wooooo! Love to everyone.

The lovely and talented S.J. Chambers invited me to participate in a round table discussion on zombies (Mr. Bullington was also tapped, as well!). The article is now up over at Strange Horizons, and it’s a fun read. Go check it out!

Odd things have been springing to mind, unbidden, the past few days. I’m pretty sure I know the reason; I’ve been feeling queer in general ever since I got the news. I’ve been really tired, I want to sleep in and go to bed early. I’ve been more on edge emotionally, as well as feeling pretty reclusive. I’ve also felt drained, creatively speaking. I know it will return. Right now I’m more down with cooking meals and cleaning my house and snugging my cats than writing stuff. It’s OK.

But yeah, things springing to mind. I remembered today this weird dream I had while living in Turkey. One afternoon, I’d dozed off doing my Turkish homework, and I dreamed I was at home. My dad was making pizza. When I was a kid, Saturday nights were pizza nights at my house. My dad home-made his own dough, sauce (my job was to find the Bay leaf and pick it out), and it was awesome. We’d watch PBS while he made food, cooking shows and then This Old House. Honestly, to this day, I cannot hear the This Old House theme song without smelling pizza (paging Dr. Pavlov!). In my dream, we were all assembled, John was there, the show was on. When the buzzer went off, I woke up, frightened and disoriented. It was such a real dream, I was shocked to find myself elsewhere.

I don’t know why I remembered this today, but I did.

Jesse Bullington and I have (perhaps foolishly) decided to embark upon a quest: watching “classic” adventure movies that informed one or both of our childhoods. This week we honor a birthday girl (Jesse’s wife Raechel, who I would like to say here, on the internet, IS NOT MY SISTER SO EVERYONE STOP ASKING*) by watching a favorite film from her childhood. And, as usual, I am too much of a curmudgeon to be nice to stuff made for kids.

The Film: The Witches (1990)

WHOSE RESPONSIBLE THIS??? Good screenplay—until the end, at least—by Allan Scott (D.A.R.Y.L.) from the brilliant children’s book by Roald Dahl. Perfectly adequate—if surprisingly flat—direction by acclaimed director and cinematographer Nicolas Roeg (Don’t Look NowWalkaboutThe Man Who Fell to Earth). Jim Henson executively produced—is that even right? Acting by Mai Zetterling (nothing we’re familiar with) as the grandmother and Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean) as a hotel manager, hackting by child actors Jasen Fisher and Charlie Potter, juicy bit parts for Jane Horrocks (Bubble on Absolutely Fabulous) and Brenda Blethyn (Saving Grace, Mrs. Bennett in the ‘05 Pride and Prejudice film), and scenery-chewing awesomeness by Anjelica Huston (The GriftersThe Addams Family).

Quote: “I smell… dogs’ droppings?!”

Alternate quote: “Witches spend their time plotting to kill children, stalking the wretched child like a hunter stalks a bird in the forest.”

Quote that Molly’s husband John imitates to terrify/infuriate Molly“Vitches verk only vith magic!”

First viewing by Raechel: As a young child at my grandmother’s house.

First viewing by Jesse: In the theatre, which would put me at 8 years old.

First viewing by Molly: Days of goddamned yore, I tell you. On VHS/Cable. Not sure if I saw the whole thing, but I’m sure I saw the ending scene where they destroy the dining room of the hotel, and the terrifying rat thing the Grand High Witch becomes.

Most recent viewing by all concerned: Last week.

Impact on Raechel’s childhood development: Crucial. Before I was old enough to stay home by myself, my dad would drop me off at my grandmother’s house every Saturday on his way to work. And every Saturday, we would rent a movie to watch together. I chose this one pretty much every time it was my turn to pick. Oddly enough, I was never really into witches. They never struck me as particularly threatening. Likewise, I’ve never been into films that feature talking animals. But god, did I love this movie, and to this day I have no idea why.

Impact on Jesse’s childhood development: Moderate. Like all of Dahl’s children’s stories, The Witches informed my worldview pretty heavily, and the film was a good adaptation in my book. It wasn’t my favorite story of his, however, and in the result I somehow never re-watched the movie over the years even though I did keep my eyes out for square-shoed women.

Impact on Molly’s childhood development: Moderate. The book was incredibly influential, but the movie I found entrancing yet pandering by virtue of the ending (yes, even as a kid). I never re-watched it.

Random youtube clip that hasn’t been taken down for copyright infringement:


Raechel’s thoughts prior to re-watching: I was a little worried about this one, as I usually am when gearing up to re-watch something that I haven’t seen since the 90’s. The last time I did this the film in question was Con Air, and I have yet to live that one down. I’m also typically not into children’s movies, probably because I’m the least imaginative person ever, so I was concerned I might be bored.

Jesse’s thoughts prior to re-watching: I honestly wasn’t quite sure what to expect, it being so long since I had seen it that all I could recall was the basic story and my childhood fondness for it. As this project is fast confirming, that is quite often a recipe for pain. I knew Huston would be game for some camp, at least, and as it was expressly a children’s film I was willing to cut it a little more slack than some of the other films.

Molly’s thoughts prior to re-watching: I wasn’t sure what to expect, either. My memories of watching it are so limited. . . I remember asking my mom if the mice puppets were real mice, and if so, why they were cuter than regular mice. I also remember being alarmed by the nudity of the boy-child at the end. I was worried that, as with, say, The Dark Crystal, or, better (in that we’ll actually be doing it for Films of High Adventure) The Last Unicorn film, what was engaging enough for me as a kid would seem not as grand as a grown-up-ish person.

Raechel’s thoughts post-viewing: Holy Shit. Talking animals notwithstanding, The Witches is still pretty friggin’ rad. I had forgotten a few of the highlights of this film, most of which revolve around Anjelica Huston being batshit insane. I think my new favorite thing in the world is the scene wherein, after feeding a horrible, gluttonous child some candy infused with her transform-you-into-a-mouse potion, she gyrates sexily for far longer than anyone could ever be comfortable with. I’m also not sure what’s more disgusting: the scene wherein all of the witches eat the poisoned soup and turn into mice themselves, or the previous scene, wherein the child-turned-mouse hero runs around the hotel kitchen getting his ratty germs all over the food. Both are Grossout City as far as I’m concerned, and I am concerned, because The Witches is pretty much awesome.

Jesse’s thoughts post-viewing: A solid children’s movie, with enough weird shit and adventure to satisfy even the most discerning ten year old. Aside from the weak-out ending, I was impressed by the faithfulness to Dahl’s dark tone and humor—qualities that will endear it to actual children instead of frightening them away. Dahl understood that kids can handle, and indeed, often desire, a stronger brew than is usually offered their way when it comes to entertainment, and it seems the filmmakers were on Dahl’s page for much of the film.

For non-kiddie viewers who won’t be as enthralled by the endless fat jokes directed at old Bruno Jenkins there’s still Anjelica Huston, who is having the time of her life. Like a lot of actors who earned their chops in serious roles, Huston seems to really relish the opportunity to go over the top in front of the camera for a children’s film—even the Addams Family movies featured her in a restrained role, whereas here she’s able to camp out like Tim Curry crossed with Cabaret.

In the reading-too-much-into-things department, I got a kick out of the fact that Dahl named one of the kids who is turned into a mouse Bruno Jenkins—Bruno being “Brown,” and “Brown Jenkin” being the terrible human-faced rat-thing that serves as a familiar in Lovecraft’s “The Dreams in the Witch House.” Synchronicity or was Dahl a fan? We’ll never know, just as most will never care.

Molly’s thoughts post-viewing: Well, I dunno. Part of me says back off, this is a kids’ movie. The rest of me says, what the fuck, I always poop on people’s childhoods in these, so who cares?

I think it’s fair to say I’m more acquainted with the book than either Jesse or Raech. It was second only to Matilda during my childhood Dahl obsession and I read it a million times; I think that sort of crippled my enjoyment at times. Where the film stayed faithful I thought it did a good-to-serviceable job; where it deviated, it kinda annoyed me. For example, the beginning, where they’re in Norway and the grandma tells the story of the girl who was put into a painting by a witch, yes yes yes. Good stuff, that. Completely spooky and taken directly from Dahl’s text.

Later on, though, I got all nerd-nettled when whoever wrote the script clearly wasn’t paying attention to the beginning part of the film. To wit: we learn that witches are quite stealthy and never get caught because they are subtle and demonic creatures. Cool, makes sense, right? But then, when all the witches get together and have their annual meeting, instead of having an orderly and quietly sinister meeting where they decide to dispatch all the children in England with sweets that turn kids into mice, we go irrevocably into Kids’ Movie Territory. And, fine, I KNOW THIS IS A KIDS’ MOVIE, but still! A chase sequence involving the Grand High Witch pushing a baby in a pram down a hillside? It makes no sense within the world of the film! Subtle and stealthy? No one will notice pram-pushing, for sure! Then there’s the completely destroyed conference room left by the witches in the wake of their meeting in a big, famous seaside hotel. Well! I suppose most of the meetings of organizations with names like The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children usually leave their meeting halls looking like it’s been hard day at WWE’s Chair-Testing Laboratory. Sure! No further investigation needed.

My quibbles with The Witches are essentially my quibbles with all books-turned-film. I am fine with deviations from source texts as long as they are sensible and apropos. Also, if you’re going to make characters different, make them more awesome, not less. In the book, the Grandma character is an ex-witch hunter and fucking rad: she smokes cigars, tells kids terrifying stories, and in her youth apparently went around the world murdering demons. Why why why was the decision made to make her, instead, “somebody’s grandma?” Why not exploit her witch-hunter past? I loved the horrifying sub-plot where Mr. Bean the hotel manager is having an affair with a maid (only to dump her when he discovers patches of mouse fur growing on her body—awesome). That’s the sort of inappropriately risqué humor Dahl would’ve appreciated. All the other stuff mentioned above comes across to me as curiously lifeless “hilarity.” Like, you know, the difference between all the scenes in LOTR where the hobbits are hobbiting out—knocking down Boromir while he teaches them to fight, cool. Cooking bacon on Weathertop and thus attracting the ring wraiths? Awesome. Having Aragorn knocked off a hilltop by a raging hyena so that his horse can make out with him and Liv Tyler can breathe heavy and look weepy some more? NOT AWESOME.

So yeah, I just took a kids’ movie to task. I just. . . like I said, all I remembered was the ending with all the gross witches turning into gross mice, and that was awesome. We started out in Norway, and it was awesome. But the middle of the film just killed it for me. I think it’s because Dahl did not write idiot-plot books, and the scriptwriter kinda turned this into an idiot-plot movie.

High Points: The parts that are faithful to the book, such the witchy backstory at the beginning. The Grand High Witch’s makeup. Anjelica Huston having the time of her life. Check her out in this clip, where she manages to be even more over the top when she drops the witch make-up and vamps out on old Bruno Jenkins:

Final Verdict: A mixed bag for Molly, who is maybe grumpier about this than it really warrants, and a fun time out for Jesse and Raechel.

Next Week: After hating on everyone else’s childhood Molly gets to hate on her own with Tank Girl.

*I’m sure Raechel would be a pretty awesome sister to have; she’s simply not mine. But we literally cannot leave the house together without being asked by at least one person if we’re related.