Sunday, March 20, 2022

Evil Toons (1992) [copyright 1990]

... aka: Gonoszk√°k (Wicked)
... aka: Magias do Mal (Evil Spells)
... aka: Qui a peur du diable? (Who's Afraid of the Devil?)

Directed by:
Fred Olen Ray

This has a lot in common with Jim Wynorski's Sorority House Massacre II. They were both filmed at around the same time on a budget of around 150,000 dollars, have a (very good) Chuck Cirino score and have the same basic plot about a handful of busty, nightie-clad babes trapped in an large old house where one becomes possessed by an evil spirit and starts killing off all the others. Both films are also filled with tongue-in-cheek humor and endless in-jokes that you can only appreciate if you've seen your fair share of exploitation / horror / trash movies, as well as a weird next door neighbor character who's always lurking around outside and appears to be stalking the girls. Oh yeah, and let's not forget a generous helping of T&A, as that's one of the chief reasons these movies were made in the first place and why they excelled on both the home video market and late night cable. In my opinion, Wynorski's film (despite being less ambitious) is the better of the two because the dialogue is consistently funnier and it somehow works as both a slasher flick (with plenty of the expected bloodshed) as well as a send-up of exploitation films, whereas this one doesn't work very well as a horror film and is more straight-up camp. Still, if you know what you're getting yourself into and are familiar with the director and cast, Toons is a silly, upbeat and pleasant enough way to kill 83 minutes of your time.

The home where sorcerer Gideon Fisk (a somnambulistic David Carradine) hung himself because of an evil, talking book many years earlier is now being sold by Burt Wentworth (Dick Miller), who's in need of a clean-up crew pronto before the new owners can move in. Enter Terry (Suzanne Ager, Ray's girlfriend at the time), Megan (Monique Gabrielle), Roxanne (Madison Stone) and Jan ("Stacey Nix" aka Barbara Dare), who apparently all work for some cleaning company but show up for work dressed like Hollywood Blvd hookers in cut-off Daisy Dukes and spandex. The girls are paid a whopping 100 bucks apiece to spend the weekend there and tidy the place up, but after some exploring around and an impromptu strip-tease, Carradine's character shows up at the front door to deliver a special package. Inside is the evil book and the nerdy Megan picks the wrong passage to translate; unleashing a wolf-like cartoon demon in the process. It promptly possesses Roxanne and she begins killing everyone off with eventual plans on releasing other demons from the book after she's harvested a few souls for Satan.

While this was heavily-promoted as a Roger Rabbit-style merging of cartoon and live action in a horror-comedy context, you'll be extremely disappointed if you expect too much. There are only two toon sequences in the film lasting just a few minutes apiece and only in one of them does the Chas Balun-designed demon really interact with one of the actors. That said, the fact they were even able to pull off that much for so little is impressive for the time and budget. There's not much plot to speak of but in lieu of that we get some spirited bad acting, lots of corny dialogue (only some of which is funny), a few semi-famous stars in small roles (Arte Johnson is also on hand as the pervert neighbor) and nude scenes provided by each of the female stars. Miller ends up with the most amusing bit and has a very funny scene watching himself in A BUCKET OF BLOOD on TV ("How come this guy never won an Academy Award?") and then spurning the sexual advances of his sexpot wife ("Special Guest Star" Michelle Bauer), who then is forced to retreat to her bedroom alone with her chainsaw!

The biggest surprise of the cast is certainly hardcore porn actress Madison, who's extremely lively and, eh, animated (may as well use a bad pun myself since this film is full of 'em!) in her role. Her over-the-top, eye-rolling facial expressions and bizarre Valley Girl dialogue delivery make for a welcome contrast next to the more wooden performances from many of her co-stars and it's actually kind of a shame she didn't end up in more of these. Madison appeared in both this and the R-rated NAKED OBSESSION (also 1990) very early on in her career so it's possible that at one point she was attempting a "legit" career in B movies before transitioning over to adult. Same can not be said for fellow adult actress Dare, who acted in this right as she was exiting the adult industry for good. While not a great actress, this may also be Gabrielle at her very best. She's oddly endearing playing a shy / innocent character for a change, plus her 'mirror scene' reveal is probably the most memorable moment in the entire film.

Ray, who also scripted under the alias "Sherman Scott" and co-produced, had initially attempted to get financing for this project from Roger Corman, but his request for 250,000 dollars was rejected because Corman felt it couldn't properly be done on such a small budget. Instead, Ray ended up mostly financing the film himself... and for 100K less! While the animation is minimal, it's fairly well-executed under the circumstances. Ray also provided a distorted voice over for the monster and book, while an uncredited Robert Quarry voiced the demon. As per his usual, Gary Graver did a fine job shooting it, though the mostly-subdued use of colorful lighting (this would have been the perfect time to go all-out!) feels somewhat like a missed opportunity.

After it made its VHS debut via Prism in 1992, Ray's company Retromedia handled subsequent distribution. There was a 2002 DVD release, a 2010 "20th Anniversary Special Edition" DVD release, which comes with a Ray commentary track, and a 2017 "25th Silver Anniversary Edition" Blu-ray release, which is a marked quality improvement over all previous releases, features a new Ray commentary track and lots of other extras.

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