Simon Says

My original goal with Slasher Search was to find the ‘70s and ‘80s slasher gems that I (and maybe everybody) had been missing. That’s still my hope, but as the pickings get slimmer and the years move on I might as well open it up to a movie like this – it’s from 2006, but I never heard of it, and it seemed promising from the box. The premise sounded potentially fun (Crispin Glover killing campers in the woods with elaborate contraptions) and it was even by a known director, Bill Dear, the co-writer of T2.

Or that’s what I was thinking, but that’s William Wisher. Bill Dear is the director of HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS, IF LOOKS COULD KILL and ANGELS IN THE OUTFIELD. And in many ways this does live up to what you expect in a gory horror movie from a guy known for cheesy family movies. It’s about a vanload of horny youths going on a camping trip, and they’re about as broad as they come. They’re all complete assholes who are trying to cheat on their girlfriends or steal their friend’s boyfriends. They like to stick their junk in each others’ faces and trespass and act obnoxious to the locals. It seems like there’s a rule that any scene where the viewer went more than a minute without wanting to punch one of the characters in the face had to be excised.

Kate (Margo Harshman, SORORITY ROW) is a proper final girl – more likable than the others, more aware of her surroundings, less involved in fucking around. Vicky (Carrie Finklea, ELEPHANT) is the ho that’s trying to seduce Kate’s dumbass jock boyfriend Riff (Artie Baxter, GRID IRON GANG), who looks like an evil Paul Walker. Ashley (Kelly Vitz, SKY HIGH) is supposed to be uptight, and to her credit she thinks the others are idiots and abandons them to go jogging in the woods with her Discman. Obviously that’s dangerous in a movie like this, but it’s still the correct decision.

And finally there’s Zack (Greg Cipes, FAST & FURIOUS), total stoner and owner of the van, which is decorated with Grateful Dead stickers and other insignias of a previous generation’s hippie culture. I was going to say he talks like a human version of Michelangelo from TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES before I learned that he actually played Michelangelo in the Nickelodeon series (as well as Beast Boy on Teen Titans and Young Justice).

Another obvious cartoon character comparison is Shaggy. I mean, wouldn’t you believe me if I told you this was a still from a new Netflix series based on Scooby-Doo?

I really appreciate that Dear has a commentary track on the DVD, because this is the kind of movie that’s interesting to hear about. He seems to confirm my suspicion that he kinda just made it because the kids like horror movies and he’s a professional he knows how to make one of those. About the young characters who seem like they were written by a guy who hasn’t talked to a young person in 50 years he explains, “Some people might say ‘Well, wait, these characters are kind of cliche,’ but we thought, ‘No, these characters aren’t cliche because they represent a cross-section of the kids who might be the prime audience for what we’re doing,’ you know?”

His confidence in joke-writing is arguably as misplaced as his confidence that he knows what young horror fans are like. On the commentary he’s often saying things like, “Again, here’s the humor in the movie. You know, we like to make something crazy. Everything offbeat a little bit.” After a scene with the ol’ horror cliche of a character saying they’re gonna “kill” their friend who they don’t know has actually been murdered, he explains, “A little more irony here in the dialogue. And she doesn’t quite realize that she doesn’t quite have the chance to kill Ashley anymore.”

There’s a convoluted backstory including flashbacks, red herring flashbacks, and lots of reveals and expositional dialogue, and I don’t think I followed all of it but the important part is that there were twin brothers named Simon and Stanley and one beat the other one’s head in. Glover plays the weirdo who creeps them out at the general store and he’s the adult version of one of the twins, but we don’t know if there was a switcheroo or he has split personality or they are actually both alive. Nor do we care.

This is not one of the great Glover roles, but it’s certainly more fun to see him struggle with this dumb character(s) than most other actors. For one thing he goes way more Foghorn Leghorn with the accent than you’d expect. And there’s a part where he yells at a bunch of shriveled corpses sitting in chairs. That’s fun.

Oh, yeah, and there’s a bunch of “you didn’t say ‘Simon says'” stuff. None of it ever seems cool in any way.

The kills, when they come, are weakened by their obvious digital nature (lots of animated flying weapons), but they’re generally a good chuckle. He builds these crazy traps and machines with lots of giant gears that spin around and catapult swarms of spinning pick axes and what not. There’s some pretty gruesome practical stuff too, though, including the part where they find Discman-loving Ashley’s body and somehow/for some reason a CD ejects out of her mouth! Dear notes on the commentary that it makes no sense, and doesn’t seem upset about that, and neither am I.

There’s a pretty good couple of minutes when Simon runs into some soldiers playing paintball. He chops some of them up with a spinning barrel covered in axes. Then some lady’s bichon frise chews on a severed hand, so he stomps on it. Not the hand – the dog. Then he throws the dog and one of the soldiers jumps up and tries to catch it but gets impaled on a tree with a flying pick ax. I don’t get the logic of why any of this would happen or how the shots fit together, but I’m good with the end results.

A little later Simon strings one of them up by a noose, says, “You’re a lucky girl. Your. Ride. Is. HEAH!,” and that rope must be 50 feet long considering how well he’s able to swing her out into the road to smash into the windshield of the van as it passes.

Though I was impatient with much of this, the last act is an admirable improvement over the rest. There are some well made corpse dummies and a stylized look (I think from filming on a soundstage). Shots like this, with light coming through the fog coming through the trees, kinda remind me of THE EVIL DEAD and EVIL DEAD.

It’s basically a riff on the TEXAS CHAIN SAW dinner scene where he ties Kate to a picnic table with the mummified corpses of his family sitting at it and tries to make her eat a “hand sandwich” covered in green mold and meal worms. The way she executes the ol’ “make him think she’s sexually attracted to him to let his guard down” trick is not very convincing, but I guess “untie my hands so I can give you a hand job” is kind of a new move. I like when Zack tries to save her and ends up tied to a tree and forced to smoke his entire bag of weed rolled into one giant joint. The ashes from the joint light him on fire and he burns like Joan of Arc.

The best part is the climax, so don’t read this part if you plan to watch it, because this is the best you’re gonna get out of it. Kate has gotten away from Simon and is hiding somewhere. As he searches for her he stands next to Zack’s corpse, which is still smoking, little embers falling off of it (nice digital enhancement of practical effects).

And suddenly she bursts through the corpse to attack him with a pick axe! Pops right out of there like a CD out of a dead jogger’s mouth!

I don’t think it makes any logical sense. Where was she? Inside him? But it’s pretty fuckin cool. That’s more than I got out of the last couple Slasher Search movies.

But then, ah fuck. She earns this triumphant ending and it’s cruelly taken away. Off screen, in fact. Revealed in the epilogue. The funniest part of the commentary track is that Dear takes no time to acknowledge how completely fucked up the ending is (SPOILER: though Kate seemed to be victorious she’s now locked in a dark cellar raising presumably rape-induced mutant babies!) and instantly turns to “So anyway, I hope you enjoyed this…” and thanking everybody.

You may have noticed that the cover lists and shows Blake Lively as what looks like the lead. The part was filmed before she started to catch on from THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS and released after. I didn’t fall for it because her name was pretty far back in the credits, but I really dig her after SAVAGES, THE SHALLOWS and especially A SIMPLE FAVOR, so I kept looking for her.Wouldn’t you know it, her scene is the very last one, where the next group of potential victims come along and ask for directions.

I guess she and one of her half sisters, Lori Lynn Lively, ended up in it because their dad Ernie is the producer. But she’s at least the central focus of the scene and does get to briefly show some of the ol’ acting. And she kills Simon with his own trap and frees Kate and the babies in the non-existent part 2 in my heart.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019 at 11:26 am and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

13 Responses to “Simon Says”

  1. Oh right, this one. Remember that brief period when Crispin Glover was trying to become the new Brad Dourif? That didn’t really pan out. WILLARD is still pretty good but I rewatched the WIZARD OF GORE remake recently and man, that movie is terrible. Between it’s instantly dated Suicide Girls aesthetic, its obnoxious try-hard noir narration, and a story that switches reality rules so many times that there’s no conceivable way to give a shit about what you’re seeing, it’s functionally unwatchable. I’d call it the worst remake ever except a. Glover is pretty great in his small role and b. I’ve seen the POLTERGEIST remake.

    Anyway thanks for reminding me this one exists. I might need to watch it again just to see that barrel-and-ax gag.

  2. Surely, there are worse than the forgettable POLTERGEIST?

  3. Nope. Other remakes have lower lows but also higher highs. POLTERGEIST is the only remake without a single highlight.

  4. Guy who had William Dear trivia to share

    October 22nd, 2019 at 1:56 pm

    William Dear’s work with Michael Nesmith (Decade together with Northville Cemetery Massacre/Timerider/Elephant Parts/Television Parts) on PopClips (Out of an old mechanic’s garage) for Nickelodeon lead to the creation of MTV. You mentioned Evil Dead, Dear has some relationship (Free range cartoony camerasmiths?) with Sam Raimi as they have cameoed for each other in Darkman and Dear’s Journey to the Center of the Earth TV pilot.

  5. Oh come on, there is a lot to like about the POLTERGEIST remake, although it’s not a “good” good movie, but let’s not talk about that here. (I still hope that Vern reviews it at some point.)

    I’ve never seen this movie here, but I heard reports from its world premiere at a renowned fantasy filmfest (Sitges?). Apparently Dear not just wanted to make a horror movie because the kids like that, but also wanted to do something seriously shocking, apparently thinking that this was the most hardcore thing anybody ever put on film. And he was really pissed when the audience started laughing, until someone assured him that they were laughing with the movie and not at it.

    Anyway, I really like Dear’s AMAZING STORIES episode MUMMY DADDY, one of the few ones of the show that don’t suck. Also while watching it I was 100% sure that Joe Dante directed it. (I tuned in a few seconds too late.)

  6. I raise you a remake of THE FOG as potential worst remake.

  7. I never saw POLTERGEIST on principal but THE FOG with Tom Welling made the Platinum Dunes TCM seem like a masterpiece. Only one I could think of that was even worse was THE OMEN remake with Julia Stiles and Liev Schreiber or the Gus Van Sant PSYCHO but geoffrey definitely has a valid claim.

  8. *principle I don’t know why auto correct did that. Android phones are about as smart as C3P0.

  9. I concede defeat, as I have not seen the FOG remake. But seeing as how I just learned that its director got his start making NWA videos, I might have to change that for historical type research purposes.

  10. Ugh. I forgot about the existence of the remake of THE FOG. And I’ve even been on a Tom Welling diet lately. I’ve been binging the last few seasons of SMALLVILLE, since I gave up on it about halfway through its original run. I’m interested now, though, since Welling and Erica Durance will be appearing on the CW DC crossover episodes this season about Crisis on Infinite Earths.

  11. What’s good about the Poltergeist remake?

  12. In short form: That the remake seems to rely less on show-offy FX than the original. Some of the big spook moments rely more on shadows, sounds, ideas, stuff we know from our nightmares (like being unable to move when you try to run away) and obscuring things that other directors would show. Even the biggest effect scene is more about not showing clearly what’s going on. And not in a Paul Greengrass “I don’t give a shit” way, but more planned and precise.

    Also there is an interesting angle about male gender roles, that many people seem to miss out on.

    Plus: Serious good performances, even from the little boy.

    And all in all: It’s entertaining. Not a masterpiece and maybe I like it more because I never thought the original was an untouchable classic, but it’s okay. I wouldn’t put it on my list of “remakes that you must see”, but it beats THE FOG, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and 50% of Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN 1.

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