JUNE 29, 2009
Depending on how you look at it, Simon Says is either the worst you can do in the realm of decent movies, or the best you can do among the bad ones. There is JUST enough entertainment value to keep it from being completely abysmal, but at the same time I couldn’t really bring myself to care about a goddamn thing occurring on the screen. The film could have ended mid-scene and I wouldn’t have minded.
Let’s start with the good. The film stars Margo Harshman, whom I was quite taken with after a brief turn in From Within. The script doesn’t really give her a hell of a lot to do, but there IS a scene where she pretends to seduce Crispin Glover’s character, who is understandably smitten with her. And Glover is having fun, playing dual roles. One’s a retarded man-child, the other is a sort of southern-fried backwoods hostile type. Anyone who doesn’t spot the “twist” about his character from a mile away hasn’t seen enough movies (indeed, it's "revealed" in such a half-assed manner I have to assume the writer knew we all would have figured it out by then anyway), but it’s still fun watching him dive right into two roles and chew up the scenery, as opposed to the more introverted performance he gave in Willard, which was the last time I can recall him having so much screen-time.
I also liked the batshit crazy kills. Simon/Stanley has set up a bunch of contraptions around the forest, most of which, when triggered, will send a pickaxe (or several pickaxes) directly into someone’s skull or chest. There’s a hilarious bit where the resident stoner character sets one off and then rolls out of the way, dodging dozens of the damn things while continuing to smoke his fatty. Unfortunately, just about all of them are done nearly completely with terrible CGI, which severely lessens their impact. I understand that the film had a low budget and thus ILM probably wasn’t returning their calls, but still - it’s a shame to see so many cool kills wasted due to poor effects. Even if they were done right by someone else, they would lose their novelty a 2nd time around.
Also, the movie is strangely a slasher version of Scooby-Doo. The stoner guy (who looks like a young Dana Carvey) is obviously Shaggy, and there’s a dumb blond guy and an even dumber blond girl to stand in for Fred and Daphne. Harshman, as the final girl, I guess can be Velma, since she’s smarter than the others. There’s even a dog! Except it gets kicked to death, a fate that Scrappy unfortunately never suffered.
Bringing the movie down a few notches is the interminable first half hour or so (until the first kill, and actually a bit beyond since the first kill makes no goddamn sense). All of the characters are introduced as dipshits, to the extent that I couldn’t even tell which one was the Final Girl until I recognized Harshman. I’m not sure why so many modern slasher films go back to the generic stoner stereotype (Why not a heroin addict? Mix it up a little), but it wore thin years ago, and by now it’s just excruciating. And this guy is the absolute worst; I actually begin to long for Jack Black’s character in I Still Know What You Did Last Summer. Worse, since modern slashers always kill the Final Girl’s boyfriend off early on, we are stuck with him until almost the end of the movie. And to be fair, he does have his moments (the aforementioned stoner acrobatics), but the annoying ones all but completely obliterate them.
There are also some appalling jump cuts in the narrative. In the middle of the woods, stoner dude says (apropos of nothing) “do you know how long I can hold my breath?”, and then BAM! We cut to everyone on the shore of a lake, really concerned at how long the stoner guy has been under the water. Also, Simon stumbles upon a group of paintball players and then other campers (in case your déjà vu alarm just went off, yes - there are a number of moments in the film ripped off from Fridays 4-7), none of whom were introduced properly. Instead they are just suddenly in the scene as if they were always there. And then they get killed. It gives the film a sort of slapped together, careless feel, and coupled with the shitty effects, overshadows the film’s stronger points.
Also the movie uses “Zoot Suit Riot” TWICE. Good god. Nothing should bring back memories of that one summer when everyone was into swing/ska before coming back to their senses in the fall thanks to, well, Creed. Not really a lot better, but at least I never had trouble getting through Faneuil Hall due to a bunch of folks bouncing around like jackasses to the tune of “What’s This Life For?”.
Now, as I watched this online, I have no access to the extra features, which I understand is limited to a still gallery (which I wouldn’t bother with anyway) and a director commentary. Since the director is none other than William Dear, who directed Harry and the Hendersons, I would actually like to listen to him explain why he is now directing mediocre direct to video slasher movies. I would also like to hear why the entire Lively acting clan (Robyn, Blake, etc; though Jason must still be on his European Tour, as he’s MIA) shows up for a random cameo at the end of the film. Blake Lively’s appearance is actually prominently touted on the box, so Gossip Girl fans and/or pervy middle-aged masturbators will probably be disappointed that she appears only in the film’s final minute (and doesn’t even die). So if anyone has the disc and listened the commentary, let me know if it’s worth a listen. If he is under the impression that his film is a masterpiece and spends the whole time praising everyone including himself, then I’m not interested. If he’s candid and honest and knows exactly the kind of movie he made, then I will rent the disc proper and give it a listen. Deal?
What say you?