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Entries in Newlydeads/The [1987] (1)

Friday
Sep232011

The Newlydeads (1987)

Oatmeal Raisin'

Had I not been preparing to interview Doug Jones, I probably would've ever watched his first film, 1987's The Newlydeads.

Thank God for research.

You can't judge a movie like this on acting, directing, editing, or DVD cover art. The Newlydeads is like a forgotten sketch that someone in Hollywood needs to remake immediately. Hell, if you could tear the geniuses at ILM away from their forthcoming "Kermit-the-Frog-as-Luke-Skywalker" edit of Star Wars for a pristine digital restoration, I could easily see the film, as is, blowing up multiplexes from Bakersfield to Boston.

Our story begins in the early 70s, at a wooded lodge run by mustachioed horndog Lloyd Stone (Jim Williams). He tries to seduce an attractive blonde who's just checked in, only to find out that she's really a man in drag. A struggle ensues, and in a moment of (murderous) passion, Lloyd stabs her/him in the stomach and through the temple.

Fifteen years later, Lloyd has re-branded his lodge as a romantic getaway for honeymooners. It's so romantic that he convinces his own fiancée to get married on-site and spend their honeymoon in the forest (which, I imagine, is like an Arby's night manager treating his gal to a romantic drive-thru dinner). On the weekend of their wedding, Jackie (Scott Kaske), the ghost of the dead cross-dresser, springs up and begins murdering Lloyd's customers.

Jackie is one of the coolest, weirdest, most ridiculous movie killers I've ever seen. She's a teleporting shape-shifter who's not too high and mighty to impale a young man through the head with a lamp post. Bullets fly right through her, yet she gets her arm lopped off in the climax--not to worry, she picks up the limb and reattaches it like a fetid Lego brick. Jackie teases like a baritone Freddy Krueger in one scene, and executes with silent efficiency like Jason Voorhees in the next. And her look can best be described as "moldy porridge with strawberries under a cheap, blonde wig" (known in glamour circles as "The Kim Cattrall").

Oh, Kim, I kid because I love.

The Newlydeads isn't just a slasher/ghost story, it's also got a psychic! The movie's vacationing couples are typical for this kind of wacky, pseudo-haunted-house picture: the hick-ish southerners; the punk rockers; the wide-eyed, virgin innocents (Love the hair, Doug!); and the bickering, middle-aged couple. The female half of that last pairing has The Gift, which she uses to help Lloyd vanquish Jackie in the movie's bloody* climax. Her abilities are hilarious for three reasons:

A. They give her enough foresight to understand the threat Jackie poses, but not enough to clue her in to the fact that she's fighting the spirit of a man.

B. Her powers are a bit on the laid-back side. How else to explain...um, what happens to her at the end?

C. They're apparently too lame to impress her husband. Either that, or he's a complete stooge. He doesn't believe that his wife has psychic abilities, even though we learn that she once helped police locate the body of an eight-year-old boy buried in a neighbor's back yard (!).

Typically, I credit all the actors or crew that I mention in these reviews, rather than referring to them as "the wife" or "middle-aged couple". In this case, I can only remember the names of the two main characters. IMDb is no help because most of the actors don't have pictures associated with their characters' names. True, I could scrub through the movie again, jot down who's who, and play the matching game--but the disc is all the way across my desk, next to the dust-buster.

It's a shame, too, because I really liked the woman who plays the psychic (though, apparently not enough to learn her name; I'm pathetic). Most of the rest of the cast tries really hard--you can see it on their faces. Especially Williams, whose interpretation of absolute horror comes across as wide-eyed waiting. I never would've thought to play those scenes in that way, which is why he's a genius and I'm an Internet film critic.

But actors alone don't make a film. In this case, neither do the director, editor, or screenwriter. The Newlydeads is like a blurry compilation of deleted scenes from Fantasy Island, intercut with gruesome deaths and more boobs than the Republican primary. Sorry**. I have no idea how this movie looked when it first came out, but the DVD is fittingly atrocious. Presented in full frame with fuzzy imagery bordering on Impressionism, watching this took me right back to my youthful nights, wearing out VHS recordings of Cinemax After Dark.

I would love to know if co-writer/director Joseph Merhi and his scripting accomplice, Sean Dash, thought they were making a solid B-horror movie, or if The Newlydeads was the product of a dare or a coke debt. Don't get me wrong: I love the hell out of this picture, but I'd be remiss in not pointing out how spectacularly it fails on just about every level. It's irresponsible to put out a movie in which scenes either drag on for eternity or pop up out of nowhere, say "hello", and apologize for interrupting the main story (unless you're Terrence Malick, I guess). It's telling that even though Lloyd Kaufman was a producer on the film, The Newlydeads isn't even an official Troma release.

I hope I haven't discouraged you from giving this movie a chance. I sincerely think there are some fun ideas here (I'd rather see wedding lodge murders than a CGI remake of Don't Be Afraid of the Dark any day). The Newlydeads doesn't fit into the "so bad it's funny" category--or even "so bad it's just awful". This is its own thing entirely: a no-budget, supernatural slasher with no self-esteem but big enough balls to tease a sequel. Count me in.

* Read, "ketchup-y", "syrup-y".

** I mean, "Sorry".