The Cates family is thrilled to learn they have inherited the old mansion of the deranged, stage actor, Tyler Walker. They arrive to discover that the mansion has turned into a playground for a local street gang. But the gang is not all the Cates children have to worry about as Tyler’s ghost makes it known he is not pleased with their intrusion.
Directed by: Bert L. Dragin
Starring: Tom Bresnahan, Jill Whitlow, Jonathon Chapin, Christopher Borgard, Sam Melville, Brooke Bundy, Todd Bridges
Dragin pulls off a relatively complex story within a relatively short time frame. The plot moves along at a reasonable pace allowing us to relate to the protagonists without an over indulgence of exposition or unnecessary information. In true 80’s form there is of course copious quantities of cheese but we’ll digest that bit of lactose a little later.
The varying shots and use of cinematography subconsciously keeps the audience entertained and esthetically pleased. With varying indoor and outdoor shots we’re spared of the doom and gloom of grainy eighties scream-fare we’ve become tolerated to of the same era. While the golden era of the film has a lethargic pace it borderlines surrealism rendering the audience in anticipated suspense. Disturbing is the image of Tyler Walker’s feet dangling precariously as his body swirls around in the hangman’s noose. Flash-forward to the present scenes of the travelling Cates family and their solemn facial expressions captures emotions of uncertainty and despair allowing us as the viewer to empathise with the characters instantly.
The make-up and use of special effects is hit and miss with this nostalgic chiller. While numerous deaths are impressive in their originality, their application and execution is significantly flawed in the end result. While Scott (Bresnahna) and Robin (Whitlow) plot vengeance on the group of punk-thugs they find a great deal of Tyler Walker’s stage props and suddenly become graduates of special effects application. They strive to mock first their own deaths and then one by one each of the thugs to teach them a lesson. Its peculiar how they’re equipped with so much fake blood, guts and even a carbon copy of one of the band’s head. It’s the sort of stuff rotten tomatoes are made of really, but to truly enjoy the film, all sense of skepticism should be checked at the door.
Another notable use of suspended disbelief is the demise of one of the punk’s as his own dirt-bike repeatedly crashes into his generous frame time and again, bludgeoning him to a bloody pulp. One can only suspect it was a mythological ‘live by the sword, die by the sword’ metaphor the director was going for in this case. Regardless once executed the end result was absurd at best and difficult to justify to your date why you’d chosen this particular title. The coffin, a dumb-waiter and reportedly a fuse box had to be specifically constructed for use in the film. Best not let your date searching for these items on ebay.
Todd Bridges of Different Strokes fame makes a cameo appearance when he tries to warn his school friends of their impending fate. We almost expect Scott to utter “Whatchoo talkin’ ‘bout Willis?” which in hindsight may have added some much needed humor at the time.
Perhaps saving grace against the notion that you’re not entirely low-browed or dim-witted is the utilization of costumes and effects. Tyler Walker looks ominous and sinister in all decked out evil glory as his mirror image explodes into shards incapacitating yet another of his victims. Another memorable scene is the car chase between the trans-am and Hurst. We don’t expect the siblings Scott and Robin to go unscathed as they’re repeatedly bumped time and again from behind. Deploying his own sense of reckless abandon Scott unhinges a casket sending it plummeting before the grill of the hot rod, throwing them off their trail; just good old sophomoric, testosterone fuelled fun.
The contemporary use of current music (well for that era) makes for an effective musical score and we’re thankfully spared of all the synthesizers drones that seem only to be synonymous with bad p*rn and even worse horror. The sound-track is completely original. It won’t sudden topple the charts once again like the Bodyguard yet it is original and effective in rising tension throughout the film.
The skipping phonograph at the beginning of the film illustrates emotion trapped in perilous limbo and avid chiller fans, aren’t we all? As long as we’re keeping it light hearted and looking to pass some time I’d give it a two out of five tombstones.
Twice Dead (1988)