1/30/07

907 Hobgoblins

(1988, Horror-ish/Comedy-esque, color)

Can you catch venereal disease from a movie?

Rating: ***

In a nutshell:

An assistant security guard must save the world from extraterrestrial plush toys.

Summary:

Four people with every reason in the world to avoid one another.The initial scenes take place at a Hollywood studio in the middle of the night. An elderly security guard (McCreedy) rambles about his days in the military while his young assistant (name unknown, I will call him Mr. Expendable) turns up his walkman and plays air guitar. McCreedy is called away, leaving Mr. Expendable to continue the rounds alone. He happens upon a previously unknown film vault and decides to peek inside. (It’s behind three heavy doors, one of which is more than a foot thick, but none of them are locked.) Inside he hears the scuffling and chattering of unseen creatures. Suddenly, he’s on stage in front of millions of adoring sound effects. He poses, struts, and dances to a Hard Rock anthem. Then he falls over dead. McCreedy rushes in, sees Mr. Expendable’s bloodstained corpse, and backs out again, shutting all three doors behind him. The opening credits roll...

...and McCreedy has hired a new assistant. The eager young Kevin tours the empty studio with him, and receives an emphatic warning against entering a certain film vault. Kevin agrees and finishes his shift. He goes home to meet his frigid, uptight girlfriend Amy, her promiscuous, spandex-clad friend Daphne, and a spazzy young man in pink hot pants named Kyle. The fifth member of this disparate group arrives shortly thereafter—the libidinous, chunk-headed Nick. He’s just returned from a two-month tour of duty, and is eager to impress the young ladies with his newly acquired combat skills. Amy forces Kevin to accept Nick’s challenge, so he and Nick spar on the front lawn with garden implements. Nick predictably wins; he takes Daphne into his van for a vehicle-shaking post-fight celebration while Amy berates Kevin for his inability to defeat an Army veteran with a hoe. The dispirited Kevin returns to work.

At the studio guardhouse, McCreedy’s useless, rambling advice on Kevin’s situation is interrupted by a cartoonishly stealthy prowler. McCreedy goes in first, only to be taken captive by the knife-wielding ne’er-do-well. Kevin follows and drives the interloper away with a starter pistol. They split up to make sure the trespasser has left the premises, and Kevin somehow wanders through all three (still unlocked) heavy doors that guard the forbidden film vault. McCreedy stops him before he can go inside, but an undetermined number of ugly, hairy little creatures escape. Four of the eponymous hobgoblins seize control of a golf cart and try to run them down. (Hobgoblins will die by the dozen in later scenes, but we will never see more than four of them at once, and there will always, always be at least four of them left. I suspect this is due to a limited supply of sinister hand puppets.) The hobgoblins escape the studio lot to wreak havoc on the unsuspecting city.

When pressed for an explanation, McCreedy reluctantly flashes back to thirty years ago, when the little monsters first arrived from outer space. Near the beginning of his security guard career at that time, McCreedy allowed them to live in the film vault, only to discover these creatures can destroy people by making their wildest fantasies come true. No one would believe his warnings, so he shut them in the vault and dedicated himself to guarding the creatures for ever after. He charges Kevin to find and destroy them before sunrise, or else...something vague will happen.

Of course, out of all possible destinations in the Los Angeles area, the monsters head directly to Kevin’s house, where Amy, Daphne, and Kyle dance the night away. One of the creatures imitates the distinctive horn of Nick’s van. Daphne runs outside to meet him, and the hobgoblin attacks. She wrestles with the plush monster, rolling around on the dead front lawn until she can throw it off and kill it with a hoe. She runs back inside, but the monsters attack her there as well. Nick arrives and sees them struggling for their very lives, and assumes that they’re doing a kinky new dance. Eventually they convince him to help defeat the monsters and they all flee the house, shutting the little fiends inside. Nick is about to blow them all up with a handy grenade (the Army Reserve apparently lets you take them home) when Kevin arrives to stop him. He somehow locks them all in Nick’s van. Everyone heads into the house for a well-deserved rest.

While they’re resting, Kyle begins to feel a certain urge, so he sneaks into the back room to call his favorite phone sex operator. And, wouldn’t you know it, the hobgoblins have opposable thumbs, and are thus able to unlock and open the van doors from inside. One of them creeps up next to Kyle and summons a fantasy version of the phone sex operator. She, in turn, lures Kyle out to a make-out spot near the top of a cliff. Fortunately for him, Kevin has followed him out and destroyed the hobgoblin before the ersatz operator can push his car all the way over. The car falls over anyway, and inexplicably turns into a different make of car before it explodes in an obligatory fireball. Kevin and Kyle (who got out before his car took the plunge) return to Kevin’s house to wrestle another hobgoblin before they go back inside.

Inside, they find Nick and Daphne, but no Amy. Fortunately, she told Daphne where she was going. Unfortunately, the place in question is one Club Scum, an elementary school cafeteria decorated rather unconvincingly to look like a beatnik club/biker bar/strip lounge. The main denizens seem to be the hairy doorman Road Rash, the beehive-coiffed waitress Pixie, and the Cabaret-refugee M.C. A loud band sings about a Pig Licker (Pig Liquor?), and then Amy comes on stage to strip. Yes, this is her deadly fantasy, made possible by the ugly plush hand puppets from outer space. Kevin tries to snap her out of it, but his efforts are fruitless until another hobgoblin takes over Nick. Apparently, Nick’s fantasy is to open fire on innocent civilians. Kevin and Kyle take advantage of the confusion to kill hobgoblins left and right while Daphne tries to convince an imaginary drill sergeant to make Nick stop his rampage. Eventually all but four (at least) of the hobgoblins die, Amy snaps out of her partially clothed delusion, and Nick blows himself up with one of his own grenades.

The survivors follow the remaining creatures back to the studio vault, where Kevin meets his own fantasy—to beat someone up in front of his girlfriend. He spars with an imaginary version of the prowler from the beginning. The fantasy thug pulls a gun but promptly vanishes when McCreedy kills the hobgoblin who summoned him into being. McCreedy blows up the vault with the remaining hobgoblins inside.

In the denouement, Amy decides to go “all the way” with Kevin while Kyle makes overtures to Daphne. Daphne seems receptive at first, but rejects Kyle upon the arrival of Nick, who survived the grenade incident with a minor sunburn. He and Daphne make the van shake again while McCreedy calls up his boss to gloat. Kyle interrupts the call to ask if he can use the phone.

Introduction:

Those warning labels aren't strongly worded enough.Following the lead of singer/songwriter Robert Palmer, Mike and the ‘Bots accidentally turn each other on. They agree that, in the future, they must be much more careful to avoid involuntary on-turning.

Host Segment One:

Out of spite, Tom turns on Crow on purpose. Down in Castle Forrester, Pearl says, “You couldn’t turn me on if you were a dozen Girardos and Fabios in tight leather pants.” She pauses to savor this mental image before she sends the Satellite crew a couch, with the admonition not to jump on it or get it dirty. Mike and the ‘Bots don pajamas and jump to their hearts’ content, squirting juice boxes while Crow turns upside down to kick his legs. Pearl gets mad at them and sends a movie.

Host Segment Two:

To counteract the film’s misogynist tone, Crow has made a documentary called Let’s Talk Women. Turns out he has very little experience with women, and the documentary spends most of its time wondering whether or not they really exist. Much is made of footage portraying a sandwich-eating Mike, “who, experts believe, is not a woman.”

Host Segment Three:

Crow has set up a crisis hotline for people who have suffered while watching the movie Hobgoblins. His first caller is Professor Bobo, who seeks support for a forbidden love outside his species. Careful over-the-shoulder shots seem to imply he means Pearl, but at the end of his confession he holds up a picture of a chimpanzee named Emily. By that time, Crow has long since hung up in disgust.

Host Segment Four:

This one actually starts at the end of the preceding film segment. Mike and the ‘Bots sneak out of the theater early, replacing themselves with cardboard cutouts that make generic prerecorded comments. Out at the desk, other cardboard cutouts sing a lame, repetitive song about the movie. Pearl recognizes something is wrong, but can’t quite put her finger on it. She calls in Bobo and Brain Guy to help. Bobo thinks the song is great, while Brain Guy instantly sees through the ruse. One of the cutouts falls over, forcing Mike and his cohorts to return. Pearl sends them back into the theater.

Host Segment Five:

Tom uses the time machine to go back to 1988 and kick Hobgoblins auteur Rick Sloane in the shins, thereby preventing the movie from being made. Reading from Rick Sloane’s autobiography, however, Crow discovers Tom’s actions in fact had the opposite effect; Rick Sloane describes his inspiration for the film as a “stout red automaton kicking me in the shins.” Tom wants to kill Sloane for calling him stout, but Mike restrains him. Quoth he, “Time to get a child lock on the time machine.” Down in Castle Forrester, Pearl continues to scold Mike and the ‘Bots about her newly recovered couch while Bobo and Brain Guy jump on it with buckets full of grape juice and seal coat. Pearl blows them up.

Stinger:

Four ugly hand puppets drive a golf cart.

Thoughts:

$0.99 for the set of four at a local thrift store.Auteur Rick Sloane didn’t just ignore the application of logic and continuity to his film; it seems as if he actively avoided common sense. Not once does a character ever do anything for any reason other than “the script told me to,” and we are left to invent more plausible motivations ourselves. How, exactly, did Mr. Expendable die? My guess: the microphone stand was electrified. Given the wildly disparate temperaments of the protagonists, and the fact that they all clearly loathe each other, why do they all hang around Kevin’s house twenty-four hours a day? My guess: an eccentric millionaire has willed them each a small fortune, provided they never leave each other’s company for a whole year. Why on earth would McCreedy have wasted thirty years of his life guarding an unlocked vault filled with murderous aliens if he had the means to destroy them all along? My guess: having discovered his own immunity to the creatures’ mind-powers early on, he plans to unleash them on the world at large and thus induce an alien hand puppet Armageddon if his demands are not met. Their accidental release came ahead of schedule (before he could think of any demands) and he was forced to have them hunted down. The explosion at the end was a ruse; he actually stashed the remaining four creatures in a different vault, to save them for another day. The car bomb he installed in Nick’s van will kill Kevin in his friends when they try to go home. The newly liberated Amy will die a virgin to protect his secret until he is ready to show the world he means business... Or maybe McCreedy is just a poor, stupid old jerk who never thought of just killing the creatures until now. This is the same poor, stupid jerk to whom it never occurs to lock any of the three heavy doors that guard his most dangerous secret, so either explanation is equally plausible.

I’ve never heard the song Mike and the ‘Bots reference in the introductory host segment, but I assume it’s popular. The funniest thing about the sketch is that no one ever treats “turning someone on” as sexual act until Pearl’s shuddering eye-roll at the end. The couch sequences and the cardboard cutout sketch are amusing, and Bobo’s confession is odd but funny, but my favorite sketch is Crow’s documentary on women. It’s like every speculative documentary you ever saw about Bigfoot, but with a blurry photograph of a human female in a fur coat standing in for the standard photographic non-evidence of Sasquatch.

The movie depicted in the film segments is completely confident that it is hilarious and sexy, but is largely scuttled by the forced attempts at comedy and constant, quease-inducing innuendo. Mike and the ‘Bots gamely attempt to mock the material given them, and actually succeed for several sequences late in the film, but even they can’t manage to drag Hobgoblins entirely out of the gutter. Grossed out by the innuendo early in the film, Tom makes heaving noises and says, “Mike, if I run out of vomit, can I use some of yours?” Club Scum has a very funny sequence where all three Satellite crew members try to identify the words sung by visiting band—ideas include Pig Sticker, Pig Kicker, Kid Snicker, and Fish Picker. Another good bit comes when Tom sets up a cardboard head during the closing credits to represent Rick Sloane, and gets him to admit that he a) was high on crack when he made the film, b) is a total idiot, and c) has replaced his brains with rat droppings. Near the end, Crow sums up the film by noting, “Daphne is a slut, and Amy wasn’t any fun until she became a slut.” In spite of the good parts, this message will stick to your tongue like an oily, nauseous aftertaste for hours after the closing credits finish. I wouldn’t recommend seeing this episode more than once.