Sunday, August 26, 2012

... With An Eyeball On Top : A Tasty Look At The History Of Ice Cream Horror!

I'm gonna try and keep this introduction as short as possible, because I've got a lot of text to post here as it is.  But first, a little backstory is needed...

Long story short, I wrote an article for Mad Monster Magazine prior to last summer about the various ice cream themed horror films & television episodes that have been released over the years, everything from the 1995 film Ice Cream Man to the Tales From The Crypt episode People Who Live In Brass Hearses.  I spent a solid week ingesting all those goodies and writing about them, and I in fact even had a nice little half hour long phone chat with Clint Howard, which was going to be printed within the article as a little exclusive interview with the Ice Cream Man himself.  I worked really hard on the piece and I was incredibly excited about the fact that my writing was going to at long last appear in an actual magazine, in print.  
 
Long story short once again, Mad Monster Magazine went under, and the article sat in the 'Documents' file on my desktop, collecting dust.  The magazine was set to start back up sometime this year, in time for the article to finally be posted this summer, but since that never came to fruition, I've decided to just post the article in full here on the blog.  It was written specifically for Mad Monster, and I hate to put it out there in a way it wasn't intended to be, but since I put so much work into it, I just want to get it out there already.  So I contacted my buddy Frank Browning, had him whip up some graphic support for the article, and I'm ready to do just that.

So here it is.  My ice cream horror article for Mad Monster Magazine, which never made it to print and now can be exclusively read here on Freddy In Space, Clint Howard interview and all.  Enjoy!

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Like many of you who are probably reading this right now, I grew up with a love for two things that trumped all others; ice cream and horror.  Though my young self initially thought the marriage of the two began and ended with simply eating ice cream while watching horror movies, all of that changed with a trip to my local Blockbuster one fine summer day back in the 90's.  Staring back at me on the shelf, amongst a myriad of beautifully crafted VHS art boxes, was the image of a hellish looking ice cream man holding a blood covered cone of vanilla ice cream.  It was love at first sight.

With summer now upon us and the familiar jingle of the ice cream truck once again filling the air, I thought it the perfect time to take a look back at one of my favorite bad horror movies ever made (I say that in the most loving way possible), as well as some of the other ice cream themed horror movies and genre television episodes that have come before and after it.  So come take a journey with me through the good, the bad and the downright inedible world of ice cream horror, where the blood flows as heavily as the strawberry syrup and I scream, you scream, we all scream ....

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ICE CREAM MAN (1995)

The first horror movie ever released to feature a homicidal ice cream man, this guiltiest of guilty pleasures from 1995 had a very interesting writing/directing team behind it, which undoubtedly was responsible for much of its oddball charm.  Director Paul Norman (aka Norman Apstein, as he's credited on this, his only legit production) was a porn director before directing this film which featured a cast comprised mostly of children (funny how things work out, eh?), a profession that he continued plugging away at until the early 2000's.  His claim to fame?  The infamous Edward Penishands trilogy.  Yep.  On the writing front, the duties were shared between Sven Davison and David Dobkin, two men who have no other writing credits to their resumes.  The big difference however between the two is that while Davison never quite made it in Hollywood, Dobkin soon after became a big time player in the game, with directing credits including Clay Pigeons, Wedding Crashers and Fred Claus.  If that's not the perfect set-up for the perfect awesomely bad horror movie, I just don't know what is.

Ice Cream Man is just that; an ultimate guilty pleasure that I personally consider to be one of the best worst horror movies ever made.  Much like with the film that is the current holder of that title, Troll 2, it is the flaws, strange and nonsensical qualities, continuity goofs and the overall badness of Ice Cream Man that make it so gosh darn charming.  Some of those charmingly bad qualities, you ask?  Well, for starters, one of the child actors is stuffed with a clearly noticeable fat suit through the whole movie, which reveals its purpose in the final moments when we realize the child's character arc from fat kid to skinny kid, a positive life change made after his terrifying ordeal.  The ice cream truck alternately reads "Watch Out For Children" and the brilliantly modified "Watch Out Children", depending on whether or not the script supervisor made it to set.  A throwaway character inexplicably believes that she can channel the spirit of the archangel Gabriel, which is shown in one scene then never mentioned again.  It's a veritable rocky road of bad ingredients that, when jam packed together into one great big waffle cone, manage to create a pretty tasty little treat.

Beginning with a paper thin villain backstory, we find out that Gregory Tudor witnessed the gang murder of the local ice cream man, 'The Ice Cream King', when he was but a small child.  Obviously, this being a horror movie and all, this snapped something in Tudor's brain and he made up his mind in that very moment that he would grow up to be a killer ice cream man.  When the image on the screen turns from black and white to color, movie shorthand for "that was then, this is now", Tudor is just that; a super creepy ice cream man who calls himself "The Ice Cream Prince" and who has more bugs and eyeballs in his truck than he does sprinkles and cherries.  In the role he was perhaps born to play, Clint Howard totally steals the show as the fully grown Tudor, a mentally unstable man who teeters on the brink of evil and affable, a blend as dangerous to the neighborhood children in the film as the confectionary concoctions stored in his freezer.  Utilizing everything from ice cream scoops to waffle presses to knives hidden inside of push pops, Tudor stops at nothing to turn the entire town (pets included) into edible treats, all while training a new protege, 'Small Paul', to take over the throne.  Though it is suggested that Small Paul does take over that throne after he pushes Tudor into his own mixer at the end of the film, a sequel unfortunately never followed.

Joining Howard on the cast are a few other familiar faces to genre fans, including Black Christmas' Olivia Hussey (who plays Tudor's former mental hospital nurse) and American Werewolf's David Naughton (whose decapitated head ends up being used as the filling for a mega sized ice cream cone), as well as a nipped and tucked Jan Michael Vincent as the super cool nonchalant detective who is on the hunt for Tudor throughout the film, bravely venturing towards the end into the mental hospital Tudor used to reside in, calmy making his way through a crowd of really happy nutjobs like only a badass washed up star can.  Rounding out the cast are several pairs of Converse Chuck Taylors, which get more screentime than a lot of the actors.  Story goes that the film was partially funded by Converse (and of course partially by porn money), which is why nearly every character wears Chuck Taylors, a fact the director reminds us of with many gratuitous shoe shots throughout.

There are bad horror movies, there are good horror movies and then there are those rare horror movies that are so delightfully unique and charmingly bad that they transcend good or bad, almost forcing you to love them.  For me, Ice Cream Man belongs high atop that latter category.  The stars truly aligned to create a real gem with this one, for my money the most delicious ice cream themed horror flick to date. It's the kind of movie you invite people over to watch, recite the dialogue along with and create drinking games for.  Just don't take a drink every time a pair of Chuck Taylors are shown if you want to remain conscious through the whole thing.  If ya ask me, Ice Cream Man is a cult classic that is just begging for more of a following.

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TALES FROM THE CRYPT : PEOPLE WHO LIVE IN BRASS HEARSES (1993)

It should probably come as to no surprise to you that this episode of Tales From The Crypt is one of my favorites from the entire television series.  Introduced by a football gear clad Cryptkeeper, 'People Who Live In Brass Hearses' is an adaptation of a tale from the Vault of Horror comic book series that premiered as episode 5 of season 5 of the show back in October of 1993.  Starring genre vets Bill Paxton as Billy, a hardened ex-con with a serious butter fetish (you'll never look at a stick the same way again), and Brad 'Chucky' Dourif as his dim-witted brother Virgil, the episode was directed by Russell Mulcahy (Resident Evil : Extinction), who was nicknamed "Buckets of Blood" on the set of the show due to his proclivity for serious bloodshed in the episodes he directed (four in total).  One need only watch this particularly gory episode to know that the moniker was more than well earned.

In the story, Billy, fresh out of prison, enlists the help of his brother to get revenge on the local ice cream man, Mr. Byrd, who is the one who turned Billy in to the police after he caught him shaving off profits from the ice cream company.  They hatch a plan to steal Byrd's nest egg (har har) and ensure he never delivers a cone of ice cream again, a plan that goes horribly wrong from the word go thanks to Virgil's ineptitude.  Moving on to plan B, Billy decides to abandon a clever plot and simply break into Byrd's home in an effort to find out where his money is hidden (in the freezer stuffed in ice cream boxes, duh!), at which point Virgil delivers a seemingly fatal shotgun blast to the ice cream man's skull.  This is when the gleefully silly twist of the episode rears its ugly head, literally.  Turns out Byrd is connected to his more evil siamese twin brother at the rear end and it was the nicer brother who Virgil killed with the shotgun, allowing the remaining half of the ice cream man team to exact his bloody revenge on the opposing set of brothers.  Can't make this stuff up.  In a hilarious little touch, Byrd's ice cream is advertised as being 1/2 off after the death of his siamese brother, whose lifeless body remains affixed to his dairy-aire.  Now that's what I call good humor!

'People Who Live In Brass Hearses' fires on all cylinders from start to finish and is packed with all of the elements that make the best episodes of Tales so good, making it one of the more fun webs the keeper of the crypt spun during the show's seven year run.

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MR. ICE CREAM MAN (1996)

If Ice Cream Man is a decadent super thick Cold Stone Creamery milkshake with a cherry nestled on top, Mr. Ice Cream Man is a watery homemade version gone wrong, a super low budget affair that manages to make the former look like Citizen Kane.  Though IMDb dates it as being released in 1996, Mr. Ice Cream Man was apparently shot in the early 90's, even before Ice Cream Man was, and not released on DVD or VHS until the early 2000's.  So while there are a few glaring similarities between the two at times, I guess you can't say this one ripped off its far superior and more well known brother in ice cream horror, as would seem to be the case.  That being said, regardless of when this one was made, and I honestly don't know when that was, Mr. Ice Cream Man possesses little to none of the charm that Ice Cream Man does and it serves as a reminder that there is a big difference between so bad it's good and so bad it's just plain bad.

There's really not much to say in terms of plot with this one.  Creepy robotic ice cream man, played by writer/director Mack Hail (a far cry from Clint Howard), kills people (all off screen) and then reveals himself in the final moments to be the father of one of the kids he's been stalking.  Whoopee.  Mr. Ice Cream Man is the kind of movie that makes you feel embarrassed for everyone involved, though it's not without its shot on video 'we can't afford a second take' charms, which mostly come in the form of a thoroughly watchable kid named Roland who seems to be the only actor in the whole thing who knows he's in a bad movie, hamming it up as much as he possibly can so that he stands out.  Hell, even when he's killed off he still manages to move his eyeballs around underneath his closed eyelids, still hamming it up in ice cream heaven.  Aside from him, a few scenes deliver some unintentional hilarity, most notably one where the killer ice cream man stands up inside of his truck to give a menacing glare at the camera, a scene which is rendered more awkward than terrifying when Hail has to keep his head bent to avoid bonking it on the roof of the truck.  It's because of stuff like this that the film is oddly watchable and amusing at times, but eventually reality sets in and you realize you're wasting your time watching someone else's home movies.  Ultimately, even at just over an hour, Mr. Ice Cream Man amounts to nothing more than an ice cream headache, a headache that can only be cured by swapping out the DVD in your player with the one that doesn't have the 'Mr.' in the title.

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MASTERS OF HORROR : WE ALL SCREAM FOR ICE CREAM (2007)

The unfortunate thing about the Masters of Horror series is that the majority of the episodes just aren't that good, coming off more like the work of amateurs than the work of seasoned veterans who have brought us some of the best horror films in recent memory.  Season 2's 'We All Scream For Ice Cream' is a bit of an exception, managing to be a fairly entertaining installment that's more enjoyable than most.  Directed by Child's Play/Fright Night's Tom Holland and starring William Forsythe as a killer ice cream man who also happens to be a clown, this take on John Farris' short story is in my opinion worth a watch, a fun little throwback to the days when horror was allowed to be cheesy and filled with poor dialogue without being criticized or analyzed too much.  Oh, those were the days.

The campy premise, at times reminiscent of Stephen King's IT, is totally off the wall and fun.  Story goes that many years prior to the events of the episode, a group of friends accidentally killed the stuttering and slightly mentally challenged neighborhood ice cream man (Buster), the result of a prank (masterminded by a bully who grows up to be a reject from a Rob Zombie movie) gone horribly wrong.  Years later, when the only member of the group who had moved away from home returns back to town, the men begin dropping like flies, which eventually leads to the revelation that the chilly spirit of the ice cream man has driven back into town for several big ole scoops of revenge.  Not satisfied with merely stalking and slashing his victims, Buster instead uses human shaped ice cream pops as voodoo dolls of sorts which, when consumed by the town's children, melt the parents who wronged him into sticky and gooey piles of ice cream gore.  Me gusto.  As usual, William Forsythe is highly impressive as the sympathetic and evil clown. Despite some pretty generic and somewhat lame killer clown makeup that looks more like a cheap Halloween mask than the work of KNB (perhaps that was the idea?), Forsythe's talents shine through the grease paint and elevate the episode to a much higher level than it would've ever reached without him.

All in all, 'We All Scream For Ice Cream' rises past its shortcomings and ultimately ends up being an entertaining time killer thanks to the talents of its director and star, the former of which seems to thankfully for us remain stuck in the more fun and carefree decade that he made his greatest films in.

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ICE SCREAM : THE REMIX (2008)

Alternatively titled Hot Blood Sundae when it's actually putting forth some effort to get you to want to watch it, Ice Scream : The Remix is a remake of a 1997 Conrad Brooks (he played a cop in Plan 9 From Outer Space) film titled, naturally, Ice Scream.  The original is long out of print and seems to be pretty difficult to track down so I've never been able to see it but from the clips I've checked out, it doesn't look like I'm missing much.  In any event, The Remix has exactly the same plot as its original, focusing on a sleazy ice cream shop owner who exploits his sexy female employees and makes them shill ice cream with salacious names like Orgasm Orange and Peppermint Panties.  The girls begin to get killed off one by one, yadda yadda.  Hoping to coast by on nothing more than the good looks of its porn star cast, the flick attempts to deliver sex appeal alongside horror and humor but manages to fail miserably at delivering all three.  Quite frankly, the only reason I'm even mentioning this movie is because I wanted this article to be as complete as possible and to show that even a combination of two of the best things on earth, horror and ice cream, can be totally inedible.  This one most certainly is.
 
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 1) Now that over 15 years have passed since the release of Ice Cream Man, what are your thoughts on the film looking back?

CLINT : Well listen, it's a classic B movie.  Even while we were making it, we had our tongues firmly planted in our cheeks.  We knew that we were not playing for keeps, that it was kooky.  It's certainly not my best work, but it's certainly not my worst.  In many areas it's really awful, but I certainly enjoy it and I understand why people get a kick out of it.  So for that I'm grateful that I had the opportunity and I'm proud that I was the ice cream man, no bullshit.  I really truly did have a blast making the movie.  There were so many wonderful memories about making it that, regardless of the reality of it being another Clint Howard B-movie, it ranks right up there in my top experiences of being in the industry. It honestly does.

2) Did you know that Paul Norman was a porno director when you signed onto the project and did you have any hesitation about doing the film due to that?

CLINT : No, I didn't know, but that doesn't matter to me.  Norman and I became friends, he's a really nice guy.  As it turned out, they had already hired somebody to play ice cream man.  But when they realized I was available, they ultimately had to pay the guy that they had hired and then pay me.

3) Do you have any idea whatever happened to the awesome prop you hold up in the film of David Naughton's head on a giant ice cream cone?

CLINT : The guy who did the David Naughton head on the ice cream cone, his name is Mark Garbarino.  He's the man who had David Naughton's head the last time I saw it.  He doesn't get credit on IMDb, but I know he was the guy.  But yes I did see it and it was holding up just fine as of about 8 or 10 years ago.

4) What's the deal with the cover art for the film?  Why did it go from you holding a bloody ice cream cone to you holding one with a skull shaped ice cream scoop on it?  Did the bloody one get censored?

CLINT : No, I think they (the studio) just made the decision to tone it down a little, that's all.  We actually did lots of versions on the same theme, multiple tries. 
 
5) The ending of Ice Cream Man leaves ample ground for sequel potential.  Was a sequel ever discussed or planned?

CLINT : No, the sequel was never discussed.  The financiers of the movie, which included Norman, took it in the shorts pretty good.  A sequel never crossed my ears.  These people were not addicted to losing money and they lost money on Ice Cream Man. 
 
6) Are there any plans that you know of to ever re-release Ice Cream Man on DVD, perhaps with some special features?

CLINT : Somebody might have plans, but I don't know anything about it.  It becomes a business decision, so I don't think it's anything anyone wants to jump on.

7) What's your favorite flavor of ice cream?

CLINT : I like mocha or coffee flavored ice cream, but I'm sort of old school.  I'm a chocolate guy, love chocolate.  And nothing beats a scoop of vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup or hot fudge on it.  I'm not an exotic guy.

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- Though not technically an ice cream themed horror film, I simply wouldn't feel right not giving a brief shout out to The Stuff right about now, a 1985 Larry Cohen cult classic about a delicious and highly addictive new ice cream-esque dessert treat that controls the minds of its consumers and proceeds to eat them after they eat it.  While the ingredients of said Stuff are as closely guarded as Coca Cola's secret formula, it's no mystery that the mixture of great old school practical effects, a highly entertaining Michael Moriarty in the lead and smart social commentaries abound combine to make this one absolutely irresistible treat, the kind that can only be a product of the 80's.  Seek this one out.

- Some of horror cinema's most famous ice cream men are featured in the films Phantasm and Killer Klowns From Outer Space, though neither film deals with ice cream as a central theme.

- Still hungry for more blood covered ice cream?  Check out the Grindhouse style trailer for the latest installment in this themed sub-genre of horror, Killer Ice Cream Men And The Untimely Waffle, Zombies and Cat!  I assume it's a faux trailer rather than an actual movie, but it's pretty funny either way!

7 comments:

Bjornabo said...

Great article, shame it did not go into print.

veggiemacabre said...

WoW! Really well written piece. It's a shame that magazine went under. Though it seems at home here. Thanks for sharing!

Johnny said...

If I had originally planned on writing it on the blog rather than for the magazine, I probably would've turned it into a whole Ice Cream Week, where I could've focused more time on each movie. But oh well, glad to finally get this out there!

Michele (TheGirlWhoLovesHorror) said...

This was a really cool idea for an article, and you nailed it, man! Awesome work!

Johnny said...

Thank you so much for the kind words, Michele. Glad you liked it! =)

Crystal said...

So many friends i gotta share this link with..great article!

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