Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Willies, The (1990)

Directed by:
Brian Peck

Director Peck, perhaps best known to horror fans for playing the punk 'Scuz' (the one killed by the skeleton lady zombie) in THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985), directed, wrote and even partially financed this four-part horror - comedy anthology, which is geared toward a younger audience. Peck also brought along James Karen and Clu Gulager (two of the highlights of Return) for roles, so that's good. The framework involves three boys telling gross or scary stories at night while camping out. The oldest of the boys, Michael, is played by Sean Astin. Astin, the son of actress Patty "The Miracle Worker" Duke, was a popular teen actor at the time (he starred in THE GOONIES amongst other things) whose career was on the downslide when he made this. Astin would later get a career boost when he appeared in Peter Jackson's LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy a decade later. The youngest of the boys is played by Joshua Jon Miller, not the same Josh Miller who's the son of EXORCIST star Jason Miller as I've frequently seen misprinted online. They boys tell "What's Grosser Than Gross?" jokes (ha... talk about some nostalgia right there!), before our tales begin.

In "Tennessee Frickasee" a fat woman (Marilyn Pitzer) goes to a fast food joint, orders a whole bucket of chicken just for herself and discovers she's accidentally been served a deep fried rat. Dana Ashbrook (one of the stars of RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, PART II [1988], which Peck also had a small role in) pops in for a second. Then in "Haunted Estate," a grumpy old man (veteran character actor Bill Erwin) has a heart attack on a zombie-themed funhouse ride (which has an announcer imitating Boris Karloff). Both of these last for just a few minutes.

Our next tale, "Bad Apples," is much longer (28 minutes) and better. In the small town of Greeley, nerdy little Danny Hollister (Ian Fried) is being tormented by three bullies at school. They push him around, make fun of him, rip up his drawing, string him up with a fire hose and shoot spit wads at him in class. Custodian Mr. Jenkins (Karen) becomes the boy's ally and tells him "I have a feeling they'll get what's coming to them sooner or later." And he is correct. A skinny monster with sharp claws and big teeth materializes in the vents above a toilet stall in the boy's bathroom and starts killing people. Well, only mean people, such as bitchy schoolteacher Miss Titmarsh (Kathleen Freeman) and the three aforementioned bullies. This is pretty predictable but it's fun and the monster design is pretty cool. Gulager cameos as the school principal (he has just one line of dialogue).

Next up is "Flyboy," which runs over 40 minutes and is actually pretty sick and demented for a kid-targeted movie such as this. Obnoxious, thieving, asthmatic "lard ass" loner Gordy Belcher (Michael Bower) isn't quite right in the head. He's mean, disrespectful, a shoplifter and spends most of his time down in the basement playing with bugs. Gordy's favorite pastime is capturing flies, pulling off their wings and then gluing the dead bugs to various small scale sets he designs. He also uses the dead flies to perform cruel pranks on other people, such as hiding them in a container of raisins in hopes that his parents will eat them and making cookies filled with dead flies and tricking a classmate into eating one. When we meet Gordy's parents it's no wonder he's so "messed up in the head." His mother (Suzanne Goddard) tries to be understanding and supportive but his awful father (Michael Pniewski) loves to point out what a freak his son is compared to other boys his age and calls him things like "sick" and a "fruitcake."

To help lure the flies, Gordy has been sneaking onto a farm owned by Horace Spivey (Ralph Drischell) and stealing some of the old farmer's patented, top secret "Miracle Manure." Said manure creates giant-sized vegetables, so you know when Spivey - who generally has to chase Gordy off with a shotgun - finally offers up a "special" batch to the antisocial delinquent, no good can come of it. There's a nightmare sequence with Gordy finding himself dead in a refrigerator and being covered with maggots while he sleeps, and a pretty nasty ending. The framing footage finally comes circle, connecting the stories.

Strangely, Kirk Cameron, Tracey Gold and Jeremy Miller, all three of the kids from the TV series "Growing Pains," have small roles in this. Miller plays one of the bullies in the first segment and Cameron and Gold both appear as their Pains characters (on a TV set) in the second. Cameron would later become a horrid, sanctimonious born-again evangelical Christian who threatened eternal damnation to all Bloody Pit of Horror readers and pretty much everyone else who doesn't stop by his website to purchase junk from him. Cameron's wife, Chelsea Noble, who came on the Pains series to play Cameron's love interest after he got cute Julie McCullough kicked off because she posed nude for Playboy Magazine, shows up on a TV set playing a news reporter.

It's amazing what you can get away with for a PG-13 rating just as long as you cast a lot of kids in your movie, play goofy music and make light of most of the content. This features zombies (one getting its arm ripped off), a woman having her throat cut by Jack the Ripper, a face pulled off, a young child luring his classmates to their death, a boy getting his arms ripped off and other such things that would have landed this an R-rating if not for "tone." Either way, this is an enjoyable enough little movie (much more fun than the current 3.8 rating on IMDb would indicate) and above average as far as these anthologies go.

Prism was the initial VHS distributor; Platinum and Echo Bridge offer it on DVD.


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