No matter the genre, though, the “Fred Olen Ray Effect” always applies. This cinematic principal clearly states that no matter what emotional response Ray attempts to get from his audience, the opposite response will occur. So, if he is attempting to make you laugh, you will frown; if he attempts to frighten you, you will feel very relaxed; if he attempts to excite you, you will be bored, etc.
Having established that the house is
In his hands he is carrying a book that is not yet named, but which has clearly been designed as a nod to The Evil Dead's Necronomicon Ex Mortis:
But unlike the book in Sam Raimi's much, much, much (emphasis here on the much) better film, this book-with-a-face can actually talk and proceeds to do so in the most unconvincing manner possible! For reasons not explained (ever), Carradine's unnamed character decides that the only way to defeat the book (from, we are left to assume, doing something evil--the movie is kinda vague here) is to hang himself with a noose he conveniently finds in the garage behind the house,
His suicidal scheme apparently works, since the book then vanishes in the kind of cheap optical effect that Ray loves to pass off as high class production values. But before it goes the book insists that it will back. Since we still have no idea what the book actually does, it is kinda hard to take this threat seriously.
At this point, the credits begin to roll. They are cheap and unremarkable, notable only because its credited screenwriter:
Is actually a pseudonym for the director, who apparently was too modest to have his own name appear so many times in the credits (Hey, if Soderbergh can use that excuse, than there's no reason a much less-talented director can't as well). Ray likes pseudonyms and has directed many of his movies under different names. I'm guessing this has more to do with arcane union issues than anything else, but it does suggest the frightening idea that there are movies so bad, even Fred Olen Ray doesn't want his name attached to them. Here's one more piece of trivia regarding our director du jour: he moonlights as a professional wrestler named Freddie Valentine (a name, one must assume, that he came up with by imagining what the offspring of "Classy" Freddie Blasse and Greg "The Hammer" Valentine would be like) and is the champion of his own promotion, AVW, which holds its matches in the back of not very upscale drinking establishments (aka dive bars). Now you know. Share this information with a stranger and you might make a friend!
Meanwhile, the plot starts to begin as we return to the house from the pre-credit sequence, only we know it's now the present day because the for sale sign is tagged with satanic grafitti.
Having clearly established that this is the setting of our tale, we see a white van drive up towards the house. It stops and out comes Burt (popular character actor Dick Miller, who you will recognize even if you've only seen one movie or tv show in your entire life), who takes a--oddly long--moment to stop and stare at the house:
Following his bizarre moment of reflection, he returns to the van and reveals his cargo: he's transporting
Apparently these four young women have been hired by Burt to clean the
Burt then leaves and the girls enter the large mansion, armed only with their cleaning supplies and
Here in order we have Jan (Stacey Nix), Terry (Suzanne Agar), Roxanne (Madison Stone) and Megan (Monique Gabrielle)2. While the other three look around the house and see what work lies ahead of them, Megan goes back outside to get the rest of their stuff, where she is surprised by a diminutive stranger:
It's Mr. Hinchlow, the next-door neighbor Burt mentioned earlier and he's played by that "wer-ry in-ter-esting..." dude! I'm assuming Ruth Buzzi wasn't available. Megan invites him inside to meet the other girls, where he proceeds to behave like any normal middle-aged man would when confronted with a roomful of attractive
In the next scene we learn that what they call a "basement" in California, would be called a garage in many other parts of the world, in so far as it is above ground and not connected to the house in any visible way. Another sure sign of a Fred Olen Ray film is this kind of devotion to the script. He knew that Roxanne's line quoted above would lack the same humorous jolt if she said garage instead of basement, so he has the characters continually refer to the structure as a basement even when it clearly isn't one. As a writer I truly appreciate this dedication to the written text.
Once inside the
Which Ray courteously interprets for us onscreen as:
The girls open the trunk and find that it contains a serpentine dagger and a
It's David Carradine's nameless character from before! What's he doing here? Who the fuck knows? What we do know is that he doesn't come alone:
Back in the house, Roxanne--whose character has clearly been defined as "the slutty one"--asks her friends if they want to see "How [she] got [her] hooks into Biff Bullet, the football captain?" "Again?" responds Terry, but sweet, shy, "ugly" Megan is intrigued by Roxanne's
During the course of Roxanne's exhibitionistic routine, our director supplies us with one of his trademarked auteur touches--namely adding "whacky" sound effects to her movements. Even during scenes of completely nonsensical and gratuitous nudity, he attempts to tickle our funny bones! Megan is so moved by Roxanne's dancing that she feels compelled to awkwardly join in. Roxanne unbuttons her shirt and reveals a shocking surprise:
Shy, smart, virginal, "ugly" Megan is rocking a killer bod!
Oh, okay this isn't much of a surprise, since anyone who is willingly sitting down and watching a Fred Olen Ray movie called Evil Toons has definitely seen Bachelor Party at least a dozen times in the course of their life. And the reason they have sat down and watched this Tom Hanks classic so many times is almost entirely due to the scene where Monique Gabrielle (our very own Megan) exposes herself in front of the future two-time Oscar winner. It is because of this that one might consider casting the actress in the role of the "homely" co-ed a bit insulting to our intelligence, were it not for a fact that said casting virtually guarantees a scene that is soon to come in the near future.
When Roxanne and the other two girls express amazement over the enormous charms of Megan's hithertoo unknown pulchritude, the shy "ugly" girl is embarassed and runs upstairs to be alone.
Before they can go up and apologize, a knock comes from the front door:
It's that guy! The one who--for lack of better name at this point--I shall henceforth refer to as Strangey McStranger. He tells the girls that he has "a delivery" for them. Terry attempts to get him to go away by explaining that they don't own the house, but he forces her to accept his (inexplicably wrapped) package.
Without any further explanation, Mr. McStranger disappears and leaves the girls with the where-the-hell-did-he-get-the-materials-to-wrap-it package. He then proceeds to do what he will continue to do until the final 5 minutes of the film:
That's right. For virtually the entire movie David Carradine's performance will consist of random inserts of him standing somewhere on the house's property looking extremely unconcerned as the shit goes down. This is a very economical way to have your lead actor appear throughout the entire film, even though you only paid him for one day's worth of work. Ed Wood would be proud.
Back at Porn Star Manor, the girls have taken the package into the living room where they follow its written instructions and open it up, revealing the shitty talking book from the beginning. But at this point the book stays quiet as they thumb through its pages, revealing a drawing of our soon to be unleashed monster.
As they look through the book, the action moves upstairs, where the scene I alluded to earlier is finally beginning. Y'see with the character of Megan, Ray decided to get ambitious. Instead of simply making her the movie's Final Girl (read Scary Movies or--better yet--Carol J. Clover's Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in Modern Horror Movies for a description of this important horror movie archetype), he also threatens to turn her into a Chrysalis character--a less frequently seen, but still very cliche character in the b-movie pantheon. The Chrysalis character is a person of either gender who has kept their true self hidden from the world, but who will--as the film progresses--gradually transform into who they really are (it's also fair to refer to these characters as Ugly Duckling or Cinderella characters, but I like my phrase better). While there are different rules for male versions of these characters, it is de rigeur for their female counterpoints to have a scene in their respective movies where they stare at themselves in a mirror, revealing to us the hidden selves they have yet to share with the world. These moments are very popular in b-movies, because they allow us a chance to look at a naked actress
Unfortunately Ray is only willing to go so far with this archetypal duality and essentially abandons the Chrysalis arc before it even has a chance to begin. It's almost as if all he wanted was a shot of the actress' lovely bosom and nothing more.
Anyway, as Megan finishes taking in the gloriousity of her cans, she puts on a shapeless nightgown and Roxanne appears to tell her about the book, which is written in a language they hope Megan--with all her fancy shy "ugly" girl booklearnin'--can interpret.
Since this is a bad movie, it's a lock that Megan has taken all the right classes and recognizes the text as having been composed in ancient Latin. She admits that her interpretation is "kinda rough," but that doesn't stop her from reading it aloud:
"Demons of the mind...hear this summons...give of our energy to that...of the unliving...for that which lives not...may never die," reads the first part of the text. "We the devoted slaves...give of our bodies...that thou may live...but a life and a death...we beg of you...answer our pleas," reads the rest. Megan than admits that she can't read the rest since "Ancient demon incantations aren't covered until next semester," but that doesn't stop her from reading a footnote. "In the name of God...if you value your immortal soul...never, ever, ever, ever, read the above incantation aloud...and I mean don't never."
Luckily this warning comes just as the girls--who have the attention spans of infant fruit flies--lose interest in the book and decide to head to bed. Megan, Terry and Jan go upstairs where they have set up their sleeping blankets, while Roxanne stays downstairs, since she is expecting a visit from Biff, the football captain she mentioned earlier.
For reasons best left unconsidered, Jan and Terry proceed, once they have made it upstairs, to change out of their comfortable looking pajamas into far less comfortable looking lingerie:
Meanwhile, back downstairs Ms. Stone is about to give an epic comic tour de force performance in which she attempts to open a bottle of alcohol:
Unfortunately for Roxanne, her many attempts to open the bottle serve to distract her from the
Now I know what you're thinking--this movie is called Evil Toons, so it should contain more than one evil cartoon character.
And rich people should care about poor people.
You folks are so naive.
Yes, this is the lone "toon" of Evil Toons and as cheap as he looks, he was apparently too expensive to appear in the film for longer than 80 seconds.
Call me crazy, but I think the first rule of low budget filmmaking should be "Don't make a film whose concept depends on an animated monster, when you can only afford 80 seconds of cheap animation." But Fred Olen Ray doesn't play by the rules and he finds a way to work around this seemingly insurmountable limitation.
Finally having gotten the bottle open, Roxanne enters the living room and is spied upon by the
Following the example set by Jan and Terry, Roxanne then proceeds to take off her perfectly sensible bedtime ensemble in favour of a much more
This gives the cartoon beast a chance to pull some of his best Tex Avery moves:
Once Roxanne has gotten "dressed", Ray wastes precious seconds of his monster's screentime teasing us before the inevitable attack finally occurs:
Roxanne's screams echo through the house as she fights against the monster, waking her friends from their slumber. But instead of assuming that she is being attacked, they mistake her cries for shouts of ecstacy, believing that she is at that moment enjoying
Even though Roxanne had just managed to get her bra on, the monster licks it off and she is once again topless. This isn't enough to keep him entertained, so he goes in for the kill:
For a moment Ray teases us with the suggestion that Strangey McStranger is about to become relevent to the plot when we see him inside the house watching Roxanne being killed:
Upstairs Megan decides to investigate Roxanne's screaming, as she grows concerned that they sounded a little too frightened to be just plain old climaxes.
Anticipating this the monster makes his next move--the one that will save Ray a buttload of cash:
And thus for the rest of the movie, the part of the monster will be played by a porn star. And you know what? I don't mind a bit. Truth be told I probably would have made an effort to see this movie a lot sooner than I did if it was called Evil Porn Star, which just goes to show that sometimes a lack of a good budget can lead a filmmaker to come up with even better ideas than the ones they started out with.
So instead of finding a cartoon monster, Megan finds her friend standing at the bottom of the stairs topless and covered in blood. This causes Megan to ask all of the relevent questions, which Evil Roxanne answers by telling her that she cut herself opening a bottle of wine and had to take off her shirt before it got ruined.
Now since the monster is evil and wants to kill everyone, you think it would take this opportunity to kill Megan, but you forget that the shy "ugly" girl with the centerfold chasis is the movie's Final Girl, which means she can't die. So instead of killing her Evil Roxanne tells her to go back to bed, which she does, allowing the killer porn star to greet her next victim:
Evil Roxanne makes quick work of the dimbulb football captain, showing him what big teeth she has:
And once again Strangey McStranger watches it happen and does nothing:
At this point, for the first and only time in the film, the action switches from the house to another location. We're now in Burt's (remember Burt? scroll up a long ways if you don't) appartment where he is watching--in another
The movie, for all of you non-geeks, is Roger Corman's classic quickie A Bucket of Blood, in which a young Mr. Miller played the murderous wannabe-beatnik Walter Paisley. Burt spends a loooooooonnnnnnggggggggggg time watching the clip (at one point wondering aloud why "...this guy never got an Oscar?" Finally, the tedium of watching someone else watch television is interrupted when his phone rings.
A brief digression if you will. One of my pet peeves are scenes where characters allow their telephone to ring for far longer than anyone would reasonably wait before they hung up, even though they are sitting right next to the phone. Dude, your phone is ringing! You don't have an answering machine or caller ID, so pick the motherfucker up!
When Burt finally answers his phone, he discovers that its Mr. Hinchlow calling to tell him that he's heard screams coming from the mansion and he is worried about the safety of the girls. One may wonder why Hinchlow is calling Burt with this information, rather than the police, who might be better equipped to deal with it, but if you do you probably shouldn't be watching movies like this. You have much better things to do with your amazing gifts of insight.
Reluctantly, Burt decides to leave his apartment to check on the girls, but before he can go he is stopped by his attractive young wife, who reminds him that it's Friday night and time to
Much mirth is had in the fact that Burt is unimpressed with this gesture and laments the frequency of Friday nights. Get it? He's an old dude who doesn't want to have sex with his hot young wife! Isn't that totally the opposite of what you would expect? There, my friends, lies the heart of true comedy.
Able to resist his wife's amplitude, Burt leaves to check on the girls, while back at the house Megan has once again been awoken by the sound of screaming, this time from Biff. She goes downstairs to investigate and is horrified by what she finds:
Megan's screams finally alert Terry and Jan to the reality that a-doings are transpirin' (to steal a favourite phrase from The Simpsons). They arrive downstairs just in time to see Biff's dead body and hear a knock at the door. It's Burt, who apparently lives very close by. Not wanting to risk losing their jobs (and thus the $100 they've each been promised) they try to stall him at the door:
Leaving Burt standing outside, the frightened trio work at hiding Biff's body. But unbeknowst to them, Evil Roxanne has gone outside to meet him. She tells him that the explanation for what's been happening in the house is in the
He is and he gets some. He goes over to her, she pulls down his pants and then gets all teethy with it:
Back in the house, the girls have successfully hidden Biff's body. Back in the living room they find Roxanne's bloody bra and the shitty book. Megan notes that the page with the drawing of the cartoonish beast is now blank. This almost seems like some kind of clue! This spurs her to read some more of the book, where she learns that the only way to kill the monster she released by having previously read aloud from the book is by stabbing it with the dagger they discovered earlier. Having read this, they then proceed to do what any trio of attractive young women would do in a movie like this: they leave the dagger on the living room table and go investigate the
At first they find nothing
Luckily her friends are quick to point out her faux pas:
In the chaos that follows they also find Roxanne's body before they adios it back to the house. They run into the kitchen looking for potential weapons, but find only empty cupboards. Megan, the smart "ugly" one, then remembers that they left the dagger on the coffee table in the living room, but before they can get it they are startled by an intruder:
Mr. Hinchlow tells them that he came in to check on them after seeing their boss's van in front of the house. They tell him about the three murders and ask to use his phone. He agrees to lead the way, asking them if they want to go outside in the rainy weather dressed only in their nighties. "Buddy, we'd go out naked if we had to," Jan tells him, but--in an unusual show of restraint from the director--they don't. They get the dagger and Megan shows him the shitty book. "Well," he says as he holds it in his hands, "it's a wild guess, but I'd say that this is an ancient Kantarian warlock's demon spells book from late 17th centurty England, brought here by Gideon Fisk in the early 1930s and the source of all the problems in this house." Before we can start to wonder how Hinchlow is able to make such a specific and accurate guess, we learn the truth when it turns out that this isn't Hinchlow at all--it's Evil Roxanne!
The girls are all too willing to accept Evil Roxanne's explanation that Mr. Hinchlow just went away and that she, Biff and Burt were just playing a practical joke on them. Hungry for revenge, Terry decides to head to the place the Evil Roxanne is now refering to as the cellar, even though it's still a garage. Once there they discover that Biff and Burt are still dead and that they have been set up for a trap and have left their only defense back on the coffee table in the living room. The girls make a run for it, but Jan doesn't make it and pays the ultimate price:
The last two survivors run back to the living room, but discover that the dagger is missing. Megan attempts to find another way to kill the evil porn star in the shitty book, but is too scared to do any more translating. Terry picks up a fire poker and decides that it will have to do instead. She then goes upstairs, where the slutty monster is and is killed, leaving Megan the Final Girl her "ugliness" destined her to be.
In her attempt to escape from the killer, she falls down the stairs and injures her leg, leaving her unable to walk. This gives the evil porn star all the time she needs to
She picks up the
And then, finally, something amazing happens:
Strangey McStranger does something!
Namely, he makes a dramatic entrance and confronts the evil porn star.
During their uber-dramatic dialogue exchange, the evil porn star reveals that Strangey's real name is Gideon Fisk and he reveals that he has the dagger:
After a brief struggle, he manages to plunge the dagger into the evil porn star, causing her to--very briefly--revert back to form of the evil toon:
The evil toon attempts to grab the shitty book, but Megan--who can now miraculously walk again--grabs it before he does and--at Fisk's urging--throws it into the fire, where it bleeds white Alien robot blood out of its eyes:
Wounded by the dagger and with the book destroyed, the evil toon vanishes back to Hell:
Fisk also throws the ratty blanket onto the fire and sits down on the couch so he can explain to Megan what the hell the movie was about. I suppose his explanation makes sense if you think about it, but I have no interest in making that sort of effort. Namely it comes down to this--he brought the book to the house thinking it held big time knowledge, but instead he got cursed by it and had to wait for someone like Megan to show up who could read the book and turn the demon into a living thing that could be killed and badda-boom, badda-bing that's the plot.
And though Megan would be justified in calling him a mega-fuckwad for causing the trouble that killed her friends and made sure she wasn't even going to get paid for her troubles, she instead allows him to vanish in a cheap optical effect, presumably on his way to Heaven:
Megan, exhausted by her travails, falls asleep on the couch. Morning comes.
Could it all have just been a dream?
No. Even Ray wouldn't do something that lame (in this movie at least, I wouldn't doubt it if he pulled the worst of all possible endings in another one of his films), but he still manages to end the movie in the second lamest way possible.
First it turns out that her friends aren't really dead and we see them stagger back into the house, confused about how they ended up in the
Mr. Hinchlow then arrives with a portable TV set and a thermos:
The thermos has some nice hot coffee in it, but what is the TV set for?
(Imagine this line delivered with all the subtlety you would expect from the last line of a movie about a killer cartoon character starring a bunch of porn stars as it would be delivered by a comedian who wasn't all that funny when he was actually funny)
"Hell," he tells them, "it's Saturday morning. Don't tell me you kids don't enjoy a GOOD CARTOON!"
But don't take my word for it, watch the ending for yourself:
That said, just as it's true that even the best directors will make at least one or two bad films during the course of their careers, a bad director is just as likely to accidently make at least one good film before someone stops giving them money. In Ray's case I would nominate his similar 1988 horror/comedy hybrid, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, which almost comes close to being a genuinely funny and entertaining movie, unlike Evil Toons. which is only entertaining to people as twisted and awful as I am.
Well, this has been a long one hasn't it? Hey, I had fun, so that's something.
Next up I have a choice between writing about an Italian Star Wars rip-off featuring one of my favourite scream queens in a series of wonderful Barbarella-esque outfits or about the single lamest rock star movie to not star Jon Mikl Thor. Either way, I'm looking forward to it.
3 Ha! Get it? A full four years before Kevin Williamson wrote the postmodern horror classic Scream, Fred Olen Ray was pulling the same meta-textual stunts that those Wes Craven-directed films would make famous. But, unfortunately just because a film recognizes and acknowledges its own cliches, is not enough to redeem its use of them. The essential difference between Evil Toons and Scream is that the latter film used its postmodern touches to create a funny satiric horror film that was also frightening, while Ray's film fails in both its satirical and visceral intentions.