Wednesday, July 14, 2010

TWICE DEAD (1988) - a helpful ghost assists a ragtag pair of kids in conquering some unruly rivetheads

Here is a still from Charlie Spradling's memorable turn in David Lynch's Wild at Heart. Pay special attention to her ability to convey the dual nature of femininity.

The film opens sometime in the 1930's, with a fancy pants couple in a fancy pants house (oh wait, houses don’t wear pants…never mind). They’re dancing away to a wonderful ballad that beautifully emulates the time period (played on a synthesizer). Three heavies show up to the mansion, and the dude (Tyler) stabs his female companion for some reason, and she promptly turns into a mannequin. I guess it’s like the opposite of the movie Mannequin, where instead of a mannequin coming alive in human form, she transforms into mannequin form when killed. Well, he cackles maniacally, and then hangs himself. Boy…rich people are weird.

We flash forward to modern day (1988), and a family of four knuckleheads move into the fancy house. They start becoming nervous about the neighborhood when they see some decaying, graffiti covered buildings, but the dad assures everyone that the area is under "urban renewal" (i.e. gentrification). Further problems arise when they find a group of heavy metal squatters already living in their new house. However, the pork patrol promptly show up and actually does their fucking job, clearing out these poseur dregs of society. It looks like the normally blasé cops crack down hard on these headbanger types (and the blacks too).

The family marvels at what a shithole the place is. In the middle of the night, the son hears a noise and decides to explore, carrying a candleholder (they don’t have electricity yet). He finds the noose in the room where Tyler hung himself, and also finds a stabbed mannequin. I guess not a single detective (or real estate agent, or anyone) ever bothered to clean up the crime scene in the intervening fifty odd years.

The next morning, the two siblings are immediately welcomed into their new school when they are invited to play a game of pick-up basketball with Todd Bridges. While Gary Coleman has recently joined Dana Plato in the great sitcom set in the sky, it is Todd, surprisingly, that continues to live on, despite his previous drug addictions. Look no further than When the Laughter Stopped, the dramatized T.V. movie going behind the scenes of Diff’rent Strokes. Corey Parker plays superstar crackhead Todd Bridges in the movie, buying crack at one point from a drug dealer, who is played Bridges. I think if you start selling crack to yourself, it’s time to reevaluate your life. Well, this spirited athletic competition is interrupted by those damn metal poseur hooligans. The leader with the Kajagoogoo hair (that’s pretty hard rockin’ right there) steals the ball and instigates a scuffle, but the brother and sister manage to escape their uncomformist grasp.

The brother finds a dumbwaiter (yet I can never find a waiter when I need one), and also develops an interest in this Tyler fellow, rummaging through his effects and what not. I guess Tyler takes umbrage with this sort of snoopiness, so his spirit tries to strangle the brother with a rope while he's sleeping. Undeterred by getting almost lynched by a ghost, he investigates further, heading to the local library. Lo and behold, basketball stud and crackhead extraordinaire Todd Bridges works at the library (ironically wearing a Cosby sweater). He finds out that his great aunt was once in love with Tyler. Interesting.

The sister sees Tyler in the mirror, and later that night, she investigates a strange noise coming from her cat (well, it’s meowing, but it’s an unusual meow), wearing a tasty nightie (her, not the cat). Unfortunately, somebody impaled her little pussy. What a shame. The hooligans, wearing scary masks, attempt to rape her, but brother comes to the rescue, helped out by dad and his trusty shotgun. The sister draws her own composite sketches of the gang members, helping the police by eliminating a step for them, but the cops say they can’t do. I take back that earlier statement about the oinkers being helpful. I think it was just an isolated incident where they hoped to be able to beat the shit out of some young knuckleheads. Regardless, the family remains undeterred by these ruthless schmucks, refusing to be driven out of this shitty cesspool of a neighborhood.

The parents have to go out of town for some legal whatever, so the siblings are left to fix up a hearse they inherited. Immediately, the gang shows up again to harass them, kicking off a sweet car chase between a hearse and a T-Bird. The gang blasts the metal song “Born to Rock”, thinking this extra juice will take them over the top, but the brother wisely dumps the coffin out of the back of the hearse, crushing the poor muscle car. Later, a gang member invades the house, trying to rape the sister yet again, but surprisingly finds her with a knife stuck in her throat. He gets accosted, and the other gang members come looking for him.

This sets up the convoluted final showdown, where the good guys and bad guys run around the house playing tricks on one another, rather than using brute force like most home invasion flicks. Tyler’s ghost joins in the fun, helping to even out the odds against this sizable gang (especially Travis McKenna, the very sizable actor of Cheerleader Camp and Roadhouse infamy). Amusingly, whenever the gang is about to do something antisocial or rebellious (like the earlier chase), they blast some metal on their boombox. I guess we know where to put the blame for all of this juvenile delinquency . Either way, it’s all much more clever and imaginative then your typical horror trash showdown from the period, sort of a gimmicky magic show version of the ending of Straw Dogs.

More importantly though, Charlie Spradling, the uber hot b-movie starlet of Puppet Master II fame (and Unexpected Encounters, a shot on VHS series of erotic shorts) joins the showdown party to hook up with one of the gang members. She’s wearing jeans held up by a bullet belt, and a truly metal denim jacket with nothing else underneath (except her tits of course). I guess I doubted these guys, painting them as angry poseurs, but I can’t think of anything that’s more metal than having this ravishing rivethead under your arm, stacked and decked for moshing and fist pumping (and other stuff too).

Here's a little clip of Charlie's "performance".

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