(1997, SciFi/Religious-ish, color)
Monsters in the ‘Hood.
In a nutshell:
Features dinosaurs, cyborgs, an ex-prostitute drug dealer nun, and a shirtless kickboxer.
I have no idea what this movie is supposed to be about. To more closely simulate the confusion of watching it, I will separate the summary into five sections, delineated by whatever random object the filmmakers decided to clutter the set with that day.
Section I: “Dark, Rusty Pipes."
People we don’t know creep down dark, pipe-decorated hallways. The bare-armed one (later identified as Runaway) wields a flashlight as they skirt implied pits and subterranean barn lofts. He and the small blond (later identified as Sister Ann) go on ahead, leaving the rotund African-American behind. They eventually find tiny dinosaur puppets, which they taunt into giving chase. One of the dinosaurs takes rifle fire and falls into the implied pit. Another catches and eats the rotund African-American…
Section II: “Empty Cardboard Boxes.”
A spaceship made from joysticks, sound mixing equipment, and household trash meanders through a barrage of credits and backstory. It seems that cyborgs from the future have kidnapped humans from the present as slaves, and trained dinosaurs from the past as trackers. One of the slaves escapes—a lean, Swiss fellow with more than a passing resemblance to Jean-Claude Van Damme. He returns to present day Earth, pursued by cyborgs and tiny dinosaur puppets. They kickbox in an alley and then a warehouse filled with empty cardboard boxes. Then he gets run over by a nun in a truck.
Sister Ann takes him back to the halfway house that helped her work her way out of drug-dealing prostitution. Several grunts, an aborted strangling, and a “thank-you-for-not-killing-me” later, a dinosaur breaks through the window. Sister Ann and the alien runaway hop an empty-box-filled freight train to escape. They discuss the bible and have angst-filled, misty-eyed flashbacks to depressing scrapbooks. A new day dawns, during which dinosaurs eat random citizens in secluded, empty-box-filled locales. The cops pick up Sister Ann and Runaway and drag them to an empty-box-filled dinosaur warehouse for some reason. (While they run inside, a TV news crew takes footage of the carnage using a lens taped to—you guessed it—an empty cardboard box.) Runaway takes down another dinosaur tracker and gets arrested for his anti-reptile prowess.
Due to some confusing changes of command down at the empty-box-filled police station, Runaway must explain his situation (whatever that may be) to two sets of police detectives. (Were the second set supposed to be secret agents? I don’t know. After watching this film, you won’t either.) A big-haired forensic specialist works to identify something or other on her complicated Crime Science Computer (a.k.a. the film editing machine) when a cyborg bursts through her door to kill her and everyone else in the building. Everyone but Runaway, who stabs another dinosaur and disappears into the night.
Part III: “Firearms and Plaid Flannel.”
Meanwhile, Sister Ann takes matters into her own hands. She trades in her habit for a plaid flannel hunting outfit and arranges to meet the rotund African-American’s fat Mexican brother, who seems to be a gang member of some repute. She shames his gang into forming a semi-elite paramilitary force—i.e., when asked why she needs them, she says, “Monsters in the ‘hood,” which is a pretty shameful line of dialog to have to deliver no matter what kind of film you’re making—and then uses the street contacts she cultivated in her prostitute drug dealer days to find explosives, firearms, and enough plaid flannel hunting outfits for her whole crew. Runaway wanders in from Part II to explain that dinosaurs like water, so they all head towards a nearby irrigation canal, beneath which runs a deep labyrinth of pipe-infested tunnels.
Part IV: “Dark, Rusty Pipes Redux.”
Exactly the same footage as Part I, except we continue after the gratuitous death of the rotund African-American to the various successes of his fat Mexican brother, a curly-maned French revolutionary, and their three to six random homies. Soon, they garner the attention of the wide-faced, mustachioed master cyborg (Robert Z’Dar of Soultaker). The others stand back as Runaway engages him in a brief kickboxing duel, interrupted by the last surviving dinosaur and some plastic explosives. Our heroes escape the tunnels, which collapse behind them.
Part V: “Plywood Catholic Paraphernalia.”
Some time later, Sister Ann has decided to take her final vows to become a nun. (Wasn’t she a nun already? Maybe she’s ascending to the next level of nunhood—a super-duper-double-dog nun; a Level Five nun; an übernun or something.) She kneels before her Catholic superiors in a concrete cathedral filled with plywood crosses and unembroidered tablecloths, while Runaway and a random kid look on. Suddenly, the master cyborg bursts through the white wax-paned window. Another badly edited fight ensues, and Runaway’s shirt is punched clean off his body! Runaway activates the master cyborg’s exploding collar (why does he have one of those again?) and jumps clear before his antagonist bursts into flames.
Does Sister Ann ever take her final vows? Does Runaway ever find a shirt that won’t just slip from his overgreased chest? Who is that kid supposed to be? The depressing scrapbook epilogue doesn’t even pretend to answer any of these questions, which is just as well, because by this time we aren’t all that interested anyway.
Crow has made a spreadsheet to determine if Gypsy is once, twice, or perhaps even three times a lady. Using Senator Feinstein as a baseline (she is exactly one time a lady) he determines Gypsy to be 2.7 times a lady. Gypsy is a little disappointed, but Crow points out that even Gillian Anderson is only 2.9 times a lady. Surprisingly, Mike comes out at eight times a lady. He questions the accuracy of Crow’s spreadsheet while Tom asks what he’s doing tonight.
Host Segment One:
For her next mad experiment, Pearl plies the ‘Bots with an LSD-laced vegetable tray and then monitors their video feeds, while Bobo and Brain Guy play acid rock in the background. Tom sees a terrifying, distorted vision of a multi-armed Mike, but is not unduly alarmed—that’s how everything looks through his head-bubble. Crow mistakes Mike’s Milky Way bar for a Snickers bar and freaks out. Down in Castle Forrester, Pearl declares the experiment a success while Bobo and Brain Guy burn their guitars and roast marshmallows over the flames. Up in the Satellite of Love, Crow envisions Mike as a clown and laughs uproariously.
Host Segment Two:
Inspired by the shirtless Swiss alien, Tom has fashioned himself a crude pair of legs and casts about for someone to kickbox. Gypsy ignores his taunts at first, but finally agrees to a match. Tom cannot lift his useless legs from the desk, so Gypsy floors him with one kick from her single hose-mounted foot.
Host Segment Three:
Inspired by Sister Ann’s grateful declaration, Mike and the ‘Bots decide to thank Pearl for not killing them. Pearl accepts their gratitude while she works frantically to stop the rocket she just sent into orbit to kill them. She fails, and the rocket strikes the Satellite of Love. “Hey,” Mike cries. “You tried to kill us!” Pearl indignantly denies this as she sends them back into the theater.
Host Segment Four:
Inspired by the dinosaur’s apparent love of water (and by the short, A Case of Spring Fever, to be featured in Episode 1012) Crow appears as Droppy the Water Droplet, come to regale them with a few of the many thousand uses of this versatile fluid. He recommends it for use in snow, fish tanks, and icicles. Quoth he, “Use me to wash toxins from your body and then store me in your bladder.”
Host Segment Five:
Mike has a huge prosthetic chin, which he strokes thoughtfully. Down in Castle Forrester, Bobo and Brain Guy have decided to take their band, Narcotic Casserole, on the road. Pearl gives them her blessing, along with a pair of exploding collars. Bits of ape fur and purple hood rain down a few seconds later.
The master cyborg punches Runaway’s shirt right off his chest!
Future War is an incomprehensible train wreck, but at least the dinosaur miniatures look good. Someone obviously spent a lot of time building them; they don’t quite move naturally, but the close-ups reveal an admirable attention to detail. Properly used, they might even have been scary. Unfortunately, we see them most often in forced perspective. (Forced perspective: when you put a miniature object close to the camera and a normal-sized object far away from the camera, and then pretend they’re at the same depth. This is supposed to make the miniature look huge in comparison.) I guess has worked before in the movies, though, off-hand, I can’t think of when. In this one it looks like a distant plague of schnauzer-sized T-Rexes every single time.
The movie also manages to run afoul of one of my cinematic pet peeves. It is something of a Hollywood conceit that organized criminals have a strong sense of civic pride. I can think of at least half a dozen better films where the authorities fail to contain an encroaching menace, forcing the gangs to rise up and protect their embattled neighborhood. This is complete and utter fantasy. In every real-life “authorities fail to contain the encroaching menace” situation I can think of, the local gangsters have heard their embattled neighborhood’s cries of need and risen up to loot the living daylights out of it.
In many unsalvageable train wreck films, the folks at Best Brains tend to ignore the movie in favor of themed host segments (such as the waffle sketches of Episode 317 and the high school sketches of Episode 609). I wish they had done that for this film as well. Tom’s useless legs, the Satellite Crew’s gratitude for not being killed, and Droppy the Water Droplet are all vaguely based on the events of the preceding film segments, and all seem rather flat. The LSD test is amusing, but the brightest spot of the host segments is the psychedelic performance art of Narcotic Casserole. Between the name itself and Brain Guy’s Earth Child persona, I gave a spaced-out giggle every time they appeared on screen.
Mike leads off the film segments by calling Runaway, “Jean-Claude Gosh Darn,” while Crow follows up Sister Ann’s declaration that she will visit her aunt, by saying, “She lives in an aunt farm.” Throughout there are numerous comments on the decorating—regarding the pipes, the boxes, the plaid, and the underdecorated cathedral. At one point someone mentions Fred Burroughs, a name that floats unconnected to any character through the rest of the film. Near the end, Tom sums up the action with, “This isn’t a real movie—it’s more of a movie-loaf.” The lengthy closing credits are taken up by Mike menacing the ‘Bots with various forced perspective objects, including: a dinosaur, a wrench, pinking shears, a bunny, a Precious Moments figurine, a turtle, and a chew toy. One of Tom’s duplicates shows up in forced perspective to frighten them all away at the end. As a whole, it’s not an episode I can recommend. The Satellite crew remains at a loss for much of the film, and if they can’t keep up after at least nine viewings, how can we?
(1997, SciFi/Religious-ish, color)