Monday, June 20, 2011

RETURN OF THE FAMILY MAN (1989) - Father's Day fun with an obscure South African slasher about a dad that kills his family and hits the teen market

Here's the cover of the rare ass VHS. Notice the similarity to the Sorority House Massacre poster:

Alden has one of those "shitty lives" many of us can sympathize with. His pizza delivery job entails that he has to drive around in a pizza themed Jeep Wrangler, desperately attempting to secure a piping hot pie into the hands of some asshole within a 30 minute time frame. He is also forced to dress like a Men Without Hats video dancer, his stereo stuck on the same 3rd rate Fishbone song. This doesn't exactly scream "upward momentum".

However, his fortune turns when he delivers a pizza to some hot girls, no doubt ready for…oh wait, some guys are shooting the place up with uzis. It looks like a coke deal gone wrong (or maybe a pizza deal gone really really really wrong), and poor Alden is in the wrong place at the wrong time; namely, with a machine gun pressed against his head. Maybe it’s his lucky day after all, as the clip turns out to be empty, and he promptly gets the balls out of dodge.

Well, it looks like Alden’s ex- girlfriend Vickie and her current boyfriend are about to embark on a trip to an abandoned mansion. Alden witnesses news footage of the shooting on TV, and, for some reason, assumes the cops are after him, the pizza dude, for the Scarface-style coke massacre. Vickie lets Alden tag along as the most awkward of third wheels, that is, he who is on the lam for a crime no one suspects him of. Vickie’s television is thankfully set to the exposition channel, and we learn that “The Family Man”, a notorious murderer with an ironic moniker, is being transferred to a different prison.

Apparently, a carful of misfits is also visiting the same mansion, located in a town called Borden (probably named after Lizzy Borden, the heavy metal band, or maybe that chick with the axe). At the wheel is Libby, the bitchy blonde American; Weasel, the British punker covered in buttons; the token Indian asshole Marty; Sylvie, the French Girl; and Evelyn, from South Africa. Libby provides a scenic tour for these cosmopolitan schmucks, showcasing the best of small town Americana. In reality, they find themselves somewhere in South Africa, in an area dressed up to look like the U.S. of A. At least it’s convincing enough for these characters to constantly point out stuff like “hey, it’s all so American!”, and “let’s grab one of those ‘hamburgers’!”, and, of course, “look at all these xenophobes who can’t even watch a slasher movie set in a country different from theirs!”.

One of the local customs involves the townsfolk performing a ceremony in the middle of the street, celebrating the installation of a new cable TV satellite. Unfortunately for them, the sight seeing schmucks collide their car into the dish. The locals are none too happy (even flipping their open/closed business signs when they see them coming) as their dreams of being able to watch bass fishing on ESPN2 are tossed into the proverbial paper shredder. This gives everyone in town a reasonable motive for murder, although my money is still on that Family Man guy. Lo and behold, he escapes the funny bus, not only blowing away the guards, but the other inmates too. I guess you can’t leave any witnesses during a prison transfer escape.

Alden and the couple drive into town eating pork rinds, nearly colliding with a station wagon. Arriving at the mansion, they discover it’s a dilapidated shithole. Trash is strewn everywhere, and there’s even a wall missing. The other schnooks arrive, and most everyone is upset at the rickety living conditions. Not Weasel. He’s stoked that he can wreak havoc in the house without any noticeable consequences. They used the same dynamic with Vivian in The Young Ones, which just goes to show that destructive punk rockers live in garbage dumps not out of necessity, but rather, because it fits a lifestyle choice. Also, they’re broke.

Some random family of assholes is seen having a poolside barbecue, where dad has concocted a 3 foot wall of flame, as he apparently intends to serve his family cow ash. The Family Man shows up, and the smartass kid asks him if he wants a burnt hamburger. He kills the family and then sits them down to dinner, as if re-living a meal with his previously slaughtered family.

Meanwhile, the group recants stories of other murderous “family men”. Sylvie tells of a French version that would steal your toes when you’re asleep. Marty tells about an Indian guy also named The Family Man, who would kill his family, change his identity, marry again, hack them up, ad inifitium. The difference between the American and the Indian family man is that the Indian guy would grind his victim’s faces down with rocks. Apparently it’s one of those Hindu deals. Either way, I find it pretty interesting that, not only is the Family Man legend universal, the physical manifestations of this boogeyman are also universal. I guess that's less a series of boogeyman than the sad simple fact that once in a while, a father will murder his own family and go on a killing spree, regardless of ethnic background.

Regardless of the stories, various news reports, and dire warnings, they decide to fix the place up while some fidgety synth slop curls the collective toe. They celebrate their colossal achievement by cooking some marshmallows over the fireplace before pairing off to have sex. The only pair left out of the exchange are Weasel and Evelyn, she of the South African chaste morals. Weasel, depressed, tries to alleviate his pain by sticking a Twinkie in a mouse trap and waiting for some action. Lucky ass Marty even hooks up with Sylvie by explaining Hinduism to her, which amounts to “we are all part of the collective universe, so if we screw each other, we’re really just screwing ourselves”. Christ I need to try that one.

The next morning David finds a secret room with a dead family, a dead dog, a hand in a music box, and a foot locker full of money. I guess the party the night before really got out of hand. Regardless, the Family Man shows up and plants a sledgehammer in the back of David's head. This kicks things off, as the characters stumble around the house while the Family Man kills them off. You’d think they would just drive away, but the killer drove both their cars into the lake without anyone noticing. This forces them to fight back, resulting in some MacGyver-esque shenanigans when they each create a weapon. There’s the blow dart, the molotov cocktail, the spray can flame thrower, and, most impressive of all, the Polaroid camera/hairspray can trigger nail bomb. They decide to use Libby as bait, and manage to set the Family Man on fire. This doesn’t curtail him very much, though. He just says “you made me angry!” and sticks her head in a Cuisenart.

They decide to try Plan B (get the fuck outta dodge), but this quickly hits a snag. Evelyn has to go to the bathroom, so she and Weasel head back into the house. Naturally, the Family Man shows up and lynches her with her fanny pack. This leads to the trap frenzy finale (a la A Nightmare on Elm Street), eventually resulting in the Family Man getting his family ass blown sky high with a propane tank.

Reveling in his new lease on life, Weasel says he’s gonna take a vacation in El Salvador (I’m pretty sure that’s a Dead Kennedy’s song). The survivors walk away victorious, hitching a ride with a truck as the credits roll; the smooth rock synth and occasional guitar chords hammering home the victory.

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