Twice Dead (1988)

AUGUST 11, 2011


The most surprising thing about Twice Dead wasn’t that it was actually pretty darn fun, but that I saw it on DVD at home instead of at one of Phil’s midnight screenings at the Bev. It’s totally the type of movie he would have showed and that I would have sadly slept through half of (indeed, The Evil, which was part of the last all-nighter, is on the same disc); where the occasional goofy moment as well as the strangely close brother-sister relationship would have provided large bursts of laughter and applause (and probably would have woke me back up, if only temporarily).

Like Deadly Friend or other 80s horror flicks, it’s half a sort of wish fulfillment type movie that should be rated PG, and half R rated typical horror tale, in this case a vengeful ghost taking down all of the asshole punks that are trashing his home. But it takes a while to get to that (if I had one issue with the movie, it would be the lengthy wait until any genuine horror stuff), as the first hour is about the new kid in town dealing with the town bullies while his parents are out of town and leaving him in charge. He even has a pizza-only diet and gets a free car, which are things that sort of only happen in 80s movies like this.

But it’s such a fun way to spend 80 minutes or so. The punks are an incredibly colorful lot, and I dig how they have two leaders in a way. One is Silk, who is the most “evil” of the bunch but also has the most laughable hair I’ve ever seen on ANY character in a movie, let alone one that’s supposed to be menacing. He gives a lot of orders to the other hoodlums, such as the permanently pissed-off Stoney (my personal favorite) and Melvin, the obligatory fat guy who rides a motorcycle (which he uses in a phallic manner unheard of outside of Jim Steinman songs). But then there’s Crip (not an actual Crip, far as I can tell), who of course has a switchblade and is played by the guy who played Tina’s boyfriend in Halloween 5. He doesn’t take shit from anyone, not even Silk, and also seems to be the one most obsessed with the house. It doesn’t take too much effort to figure out where his plot will take him, since he’s played by the same actor who appeared in the film’s opening prologue, but it’s actually less supernatural of an explanation than I expected, which was a nice minor surprise. And the sister is played by Jill Whitlow, who many a young man likely developed a crush on due to Weird Science or Night of the Creeps (yes, this means she worked with both of the “true” Rusty Griswolds, which is even funnier when you consider that the Twice Dead family is introduced in a very Griswold fashion, driving a station wagon to California).

And again, the hero and his sister are curiously close, something that always amuses me. I noted early on that they got along rather well for teenaged movie siblings, but anyone who came in halfway through might assume they were a couple – especially when he offers to take her for a ride in his new car. Man, when I got a car the last thing I wanted to do was drive my sister around, and I never got lucky enough to have my parents go out of town for two weeks while I was in high school. Go get laid, man! And it’s not just me; the actor even acknowledges it on the commentary (he also mutters at one point that it was “hard to play as just her brother”). But the family unit as a whole is kind of weird; the dad in particular is very gung ho about Scott knowing how to use a gun. Scott even protests, using legitimate excuses like “I don’t want to kill anyone”, but the dad insists that he keep a shotgun by his bed. And later, in the epilogue, he remarks that it’s “a good thing that they’re all dead!” (referring to the punks). It’s almost a shame he’s barely in the movie; I bet he would have turned Charles Bronson on them before the ghost got a chance.

I also dug that the hero was a budding FX artist, an attribute that exists solely to provide the logic for when they play the most elaborate prank of all time on the punks. Somehow he manages to make fake heads, fairly realistic prosthetic appliances, and even a “Penisaurus” (see the movie) in about 20 minutes, and does so just to do something that he should have realized would just make the punks hate him even more. Of course, it’s just something to pad the movie out a bit since the plot (and probably, budget) is pretty thin, but it’s at least entertaining padding, unlike yesterday’s endless carving scenes. And even with those few lapses it’s actually well-made for a Corman film of the period; I particularly enjoyed the cool lighting motif during the climax, where our characters are illuminated by one of those colored light disco ball things. So one guy is bathed in red light, another in blue, another in yellow... it’s not often you find anything visually interesting in one of these things.

But most importantly – there’s a theme song! A band called Poor Saint Christopher croons “Twice Dead” during the end credits, and it’s every bit as glorious as you could want from a late 80s cheesy horror flick. There are a couple other hair metal tunes in the movie, but not enough to drown out some occasionally awful dialogue. I can laugh at a bad line or two, but I do have my limits, especially when it comes to clunky foreshadowing. Early on the mother holds up a frayed cord for their electric blanket and comments about how someone can get hurt (and when reminded that they don’t even have electricity yet, she says “for future reference!” just in case anyone somehow missed the idea that this might be important later). Todd Bridges also pops up as a librarian’s assistant, giving some backstory on the house and seemingly refusing to put two and two together and realize that his new pal is the guy living in it (which results in a “comical” double take when he finally figures it out). Oh, and the family cat’s name is “Meow”, which is either awful or hilarious depending on your point of view – I went with the latter but on another day I might have broken the disc in half.

Shout has provided a couple of extras, which is nice as I wasn’t expecting anything. The aforementioned commentary has writer/director Bert L. Dragin and hero Tom Bresnahan, as well as a moderator who never bothers to introduce himself. It’s not a particularly good commentary; apart from Bresnahan’s repeated bemoaning about how he didn’t get to make out with any of the actresses in the movie (and when he gets fed up with Dragin for continually mistaking his movie Ski School with the far more successful Ski Patrol), it’s mostly just a lot of narrating and saying the name of whoever was on-screen followed by “he/she was a lot of fun”, with occasional “I ran into them a couple times since, great guy/gal” sentiment for good measure. And at one point they explain that Whitlow doesn’t have a nude scene because the movie was PG, even though A. it’s not and B. one of the other actresses disrobes, so I dunno, maybe they just don’t remember anything. They do point out that the guy who owned the house that they filmed in also owned the one across the street, which I am 99% sure is the one from People Under The Stairs (they mention that both are often used for movies). There’s also an interview with Whitlow, under-lit and curiously shot in front of a green-screen even though they don’t put anything behind her. She’s a bit bubbly, but I believe her when she says that she quit acting to raise her family (this was her final feature film, with only a few TV appearances after), as she was definitely a charming presence and not a bad actress – she definitely could have continued working steadily if she wanted to. The trailer is not included, which is a bummer as it was a (limited) theatrical release and thus should have one lying around (the one on Youtube, embedded below, cuts out before it says “Coming soon to (video or theaters)”, so I don’t know what it was cut for). Still, it’s nice to see some effort; the extras might not be memorable but it doesn’t change the fact that Twice Dead has a better special edition than (highest grossing horror film in the past 5 years) Paranormal Activity.

Now, someone find me a print of this thing! I want to see Meow in 35mm, dammit!

What say you?


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