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Thursday, April 22, 2010

EVIL TOONS: 20TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION -- DVD review by porfle

The story behind EVIL TOONS (1990) is probably more interesting than the movie itself--famed exploitation filmmaker Fred Olen Ray was asked to come in and do some nude scenes to punch up another film that was nearing completion, and when he saw all the locations and equipment right there for the taking, with the rental still paid up for several days, he figured it would be the perfect opportunity to do another project he was currently trying to finance. So he teamed up with producer Victoria Till and in eight days shot the "naked girls terrorized by a cartoon monster in a haunted house" flick he'd been wanting to make.

Whether or not it's very good is a matter that each individual viewer must judge. When four good-looking babes are hired to spend the weekend in an old mansion and clean it up for the new owners, only to find an EVIL DEAD-type book that produces a hellish creature after the wrong incantation is read aloud (when will people learn?), it seems as though we'll be in for a whole heap of rip-snortin', blouse-rippin' fun.

As it turns out, the movie is pretty bland--I found it much less lively than, for example, that old "USA Up All Night" staple H.O.T.S. But it does have its own low-budget charms. The lead actresses are mostly former and future "adult" stars who aren't exactly the most talented comediennes in Hollywood. Monique Gabrielle (AMAZON WOMEN ON THE MOON, BACHELOR PARTY) is probably the best of the bunch as brainy nerd Megan, who manages a few funny moments and is a really good screamer. Suzanne Ager (THE BIKINI CARWASH COMPANY), also a first-class screamer, is appealing as Terry and gets better when her character has more action-oriented stuff to do.


Porn star Barbara Dare, here billed as "Stacey Nix", is the weakest of the bunch. Not bad, really, just not very memorable. The most energetic performance comes from Madison Stone as Roxanne, who not only does a bouncy striptease but later gets possessed by the monster from the book and goes on a bloody rampage. (Her "creature" voice is dubbed by none other than Count Yorga himself, Robert Quarry.) Madison plays the monster role to the hilt, and always manages to rip her victims' tops off before sinking her big, pointy teeth into them.

The "evil toon" himself is interesting simply because the presence of a cartoon monster interacting with live actors is pretty rare for a film with such a low budget. The fact that he's very crudely animated and appears for only a short time is to be expected in these pre-CGI times when such effects were more costly and difficult to achieve. He does have a few amusingly horny reactions to Roxanne (a la the wolf character in the old MGM cartoon "Red Hot Riding Hood") and the scene in which he attacks her is relatively complex. His voice is dubbed by Fred Olen Ray himself, who is a much better director than he is a voice actor. He does get the film's best line: "You little bitch--I'll get you for this in the sequel!"


Probably the most interesting and disturbing thing about this movie occurs in the opening minutes when, in an extremely ironic coincidence, David Carradine's character hangs himself. (Yikes.) As Gideon Fisk, the man responsible for discovering the book and unwittingly unleashing its evil upon the world, Carradine obviously has a bit of a struggle taking the part seriously, yet seems to enjoy playing his mysterious caped character. His scenes were all shot in one day but are well-distributed throughout the film, and he has a major role in the semi-exciting finale.

Also adding a little name value to the cast are perennial fave Dick Miller and "Laugh-In" alumnus Arte Johnson. Dick plays Burt, the owner of the cleaning company the girls work for, and as always he's fun to watch even though he doesn't really have much to do. The scene in which he watches himself on TV during a late-night airing of BUCKET OF BLOOD provides the film with one of its best moments. Arte Johnson, as creepy neighbor Mr. Hinchlow, is strangely reserved and manages to come off as more genuinely creepy than funny (although he relishes delivering the film's closing zinger).

America's sweetheart Michelle Bauer (HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW HOOKERS, SORORITY BABES IN THE SLIMEBALL BOWL-A-RAMA, BIKINI DRIVE-IN, etc., etc.) makes a cameo appearance as Burt's wife which lasts all of twenty seconds. She does manage to get topless in that brief amount of time, and looks about as sweet as ever here, but I was sorely disappointed that she wasn't in the rest of the movie.


The DVD from Retromedia and Infinity Entertainment Group is in anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital. Extras include the original trailer, a "making of" featurette which consists mainly of Ray enthusiastically addressing the camera, a "workprint" clip that shows one of the later scenes in its unfinished form, a lengthy suite composed of themes from Chuck Cirino's synth score, and a "Nite Owl Theater" segment starring Ray, his wife, and various other lovely ladies, which is probably the funniest thing on the DVD.

Most interesting of all, I think, is Ray's commentary track which was recently recorded for this 20th anniversary edition. While many of his comments are scene-specific, he also delivers quite an informative monologue on the joys and hardships of independent filmmaking on a tiny budget, and laments the fact that, unlike the old days, the market for small but decent product is pretty much gone and he doesn't know where it went. We learn about fascinating things such as gate weave, short ends, and lens flare, how the cartoon effects were achieved, and how doing a small film such as EVIL TOONS just the way he wanted to is like a vacation compared to taking orders from some bean counter on a larger production.

I'm sure that some will find EVIL TOONS unbearably dull and lacking in entertainment value of any kind. Admittedly, it's a bit on the boring side at times and even when it goes into high gear near the end it's kind of like a Three Stooges comedy without the comedy. But darn it, there's just something endearing about this earnest little flick and I like it. I guess the magic of movies is a strange and unpredictable thing.

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