President Evil (2018)

OCTOBER 30, 2018


I'm not sure how often I've mentioned Trump here, but just to make sure we're all on the same page: I hate the guy. I barely tolerated him when he was a cartoon reality host, so the fact that he's in charge of the country (and left totally unchecked by the people around him) it's downright terrifying - and I'm a white American male! I can't imagine the horrors faced every day by... well, pretty much everyone that ISN'T a white American (or Russian) male, as they all seem to be on his enemy list. However, I know for a fact that I've mentioned quite a few times here how much I love Halloween, so it's no surprise that President Evil caught my eye, as it's a Halloween parody with a guy in a Trump mask in the place of Michael Myers, stalking minority women (a Muslim, a Mexican, and a Haitian) on the eve of the mid-term elections. The trailer hit a few weeks ago and I assumed it was a gag, but no - it's a legit feature film, running 81 minutes.

Even more surprising, it's not played for laughs as often as you might think from the concept of a slasher starring Trump. Given the serious threat he poses to minorities, it makes sense that the filmmakers don't play their deaths for laughs, so this is not a Scary Movie kind of spoof - it's often played so straight that it might be more fitting to label it a ripoff like Offerings or whatever, but of course it's hard to ever take the killer seriously when he's wearing a deformed mask of our even uglier Commander in Chief. There are some gags at his expense, sometimes even in the "scary" scenes (I particularly liked when he tried to do the classic "sit back up" move from Halloween but struggled, rolling on his sides and making several attempts before finally rising), but for the most part, the jokes are confined to the early scenes. When people start actually dying, the filmmakers seem to be of the opinion that we're not quite ready to laugh at this asshole again.

As for those early gags, they're hit or miss. For every funny bit, like the graveyard keeper rattling off the names on the tombstones as he tries to find "Stormy's" (the stand-in for Judith) grave, all of which are the names of people who have been fired or have quit his administration, there's a pretty dumb one, like a creeper priest named Rudy (as in Giuliani). A good rule of thumb: if they're cribbing from something in Halloween, it tends to be pretty funny - it's when they go off Carpenter's track that your eyes will probably roll. That said, there are occasional tips of the hat to other movies; one character dies like Marty Balsam in Psycho, and there's an out of nowhere nod to Cuckoo's Nest that killed me because it was so random. But again, this sort of stuff is fairly front-loaded, and the film's final lines makes their intentions perfectly clear: it's OK to have a few laughs at the absurd premise, but ultimately, we need to fight back.

If you choose to ignore the political messaging and just enjoy a Halloween parody, I trust you'll be as impressed as I was at how much they clearly studied Carpenter's film. In addition to nabbing a number of the same shooting locations (including the Myers house, albeit in a different context that's befitting of its current state), director Richard Lowry (who acted as his own DP) even nailed the shots and timing of several key sequences - I half expected him to go all out and blow some smoke into the shot when they do the "behind the bushes" scene, since it's otherwise an exact match (and again, shot in the same spot). He even occasionally uses this familiarity to pull a surprise on the audience; every now and then there will be a scene playing out as you know it, and then something different will happen, or he'll do things in a different order, which keeps it more engaging than it otherwise would have been. The music is also close enough to be worthy of potential legal action, though given Carpenter's dislike of the guy I'm sure he'll give it a pass (they also "homage" the Suspiria music at one point, which is another "Oh these guys have done their homework" kind of moment that I assume JC would appreciate).

Less successful is the Russian subplot. Pretty much all of Trump's famous scandals are accounted for, so obviously there would be something about the fact that the killer (named David) is a Russian puppet, but the way they go about it is just plain dumb. Our Loomis counterpart is actually another bad guy, a Russian named "Lutin" who dabbles in black magic as well, allowing the film some brief, unnecessary nods to The Omen on top of everything else. It would have been funnier - and more in the spirit of Halloween - to have Loomis be a Michael Cohen stand-in, someone who was once on his side and now sees him for what he really is, but they go with this nonsense instead and it never really clicks. Worse, they even dip their toes into the "Trump and Putin are lovers" stuff, a joke that has been rightfully decried as homophobic. It's a weird movie to judge on this or that element, but when so much of it was more entertaining than I had any reason to expect, it was a shame on those occasions where it turned into the sub-Friedberg and Seltzer kind of movie I assumed it'd be in the first place.

Otherwise, it's entertaining enough to warrant a look as long as you fall into that same category as me (someone who loves Halloween/hates Trump), and if you're an Amazon Prime member you can watch it for free so there's no risk there. Die-hard Halloween fans - especially those who don't live around Los Angeles - will probably find some amusement regardless of their political leanings just because they stick so close to that film's structure, and you get to see what a lot of the shooting locations look like now, but I assume they will be fast forwarding over anything that's of Lowry's own design, and I can't even say I'd blame them for the most part. But the commitment to a very niche gag kind of won me over, and gave me a few laughs on what's been a very trying day*, so I give it my endorsement, albeit with caveats. Hopefully, the real evil will be gone soon (2020 at the very latest) and the movie can serve as a unique footnote about a very dark time in our history, one we watch with a sense of relief that America was able to survive him after all.

What say you?

*For those who don't follow me on Twitter where I've been posting updates: my cat had to be rushed into the emergency animal hospital this morning after he became so weak that he couldn't even stand up. Turns out his blood count was so low that they had to give him a transfusion right away before he went into cardiac arrest, and they still do not know what is wrong with him. He's still there while they monitor and run more tests (and possibly give another transfusion), and since he's getting a bit old - crazily, I've had him for 15 years *today* - I'm not sure if any treatment they can give is something that will be worth doing. Needless to say, it's very upsetting, and very expensive (feel free to "buy me a coffee" here if you wish to help offset a bill that will likely amount to a month's pay even if they decide there's nothing they can do for him), so I'm stressed and sad and trying to figure out how to possibly tell my four year old that his occasional bed-mate isn't coming back (and not ruin his Halloween since he's been asking how many days until he could go trick r treating since early September). So, thanks, you weird little movie, for keeping my mind off all of that for 80 minutes.

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