7/01/2009

DVD Review: Simon Says (2006)



Now Available on DVD



Presumably because “Jump Rope,” “Checkers,” and “Hopscotch” just weren't creepy enough-- the newest straight-to-disc ultra-violent horror show that reminds us once again to stay the hell out of the woods opted to turn the innocent childhood game of Simon Says into both the title and catch phrase of Barnholtz and Lionsgate Entertainment’s recent B-movie release.



The freak-fest is fairly similar to another “I see soon-to-be-dead people; they’re everywhere” horror sub-genre work I just finished with Haylie Duff’s turn as a screaming, running damsel in a tank-top movie Backwoods. And essentially, Simon Says is likewise hoping to cash in on the hotness of its young cast or more specifically one in particular via Gossip Girl’s Blake Lively who prominently appears on the film’s box with second billing nonetheless but is only present onscreen for the last few minutes of the movie itself.

In the film’s advertising and press release, Simon Says draws comparisons to everything from Texas Chainsaw Massacre to Evil Dead II to Friday the 13th with the subtextual bottom line being that it's a rehashed and recycled work of gore o'rama. Still, having recently reviewed parts 2 and 3 in the Friday the 13th Blu-ray releases from Paramount Home Entertainment which resulted in a more invincible version of Jason Voorhees and the introduction of elaborate booby traps—that inspiration was especially present in my mind when this film began.

And sure enough we’re presented with another group of pretty young things-- complete with the obligatory stoner (driving a Scooby-Doo like Mystery Machine for humorous effect), wicked skank, and other “types” who find themselves dispatched in the most gruesome of ways by the film’s truly sick puppy, Simon (Crispin Glover).

Nobody plays twisted camp better than Crispin Glover—and especially when he goes all twisted on a bunch of people trying to camp... with perhaps the exception of Alan Cumming as he proved in his recent directorial effort Ghost Writer. And in fact, having suffered through some truly weak B-movies lately, my mind began to wander as the gore flew during Simon Says and my writer mode took over as I imagined just how alternately terrifying yet thrilling it would be if someone were to cast Glover and Cumming as brothers in a dark thriller.

But enough about the hypothetical as it's time to follow the tagline to “do as you’re told” and move back to Simon Says wherein honestly, just seeing the mysterious Glover’s name in the press release was all the incentive I needed to take a chance on the film.



For, whether he’s keeping samples of Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu’s hair in Charlie’s Angels, being bullied to “Think, McFly, think” in Back to the Future or repeating Melville’s famous line “I would prefer not to” in Bartleby—I find that even when he’s in something this bad, he’s always good. Or, if that's not the case-- at the very least-- when he isn’t given enough to work with, he’s so over-the-top that he makes the film both memorable and worth your time.

And the only reason that Simon Says is of the most remote of interests to viewers is because of Glover who seems to have adopted a bizarre Southern accent that’s equal parts Tennessee Williams and equal parts just plain overly broad, extreme and crazy (think the clich├ęd Minnesota accents in Fargo) as he plays local dangerous twins Simon and Stanley.

While Glover’s titular threat of “Simon Says” isn’t used consistently throughout the film nor are you ever quite certain just what the deal is with the brothers (whom legend has it consists of one who has special needs and another who’s just plain evil and manipulative)—the poorly constructed screenplay from director William Dear knows that viewers aren’t exactly watching it to analyze the logic behind the events depicted. So ultimately he makes up for the confusion and absence of crafting protagonists with more than one dimension with an emphasis on gore and an unbelievably wicked sense of humor.

As sure enough, it's startling to see such a decidedly (and gleefully) bizarre side of the writer/director who just helmed Warner Brothers’ Mr. Troop Mom, Disney's Angels in the Outfield, and the family cult-classic Harry and the Hendersons via one character’s encounter with a giant sized joint, Glover stomping on a puppy, and the genre’s fixation on T&A.

However, it only becomes far more twisted when you realize that producer Ernie Lively essentially cast his entire family including three daughters, his son-in-law and Blake’s then boyfriend Kelly Blatz to take part in what could best be described as a Jerry Springer episode worthy “home movie.” And although it must be said that since the primary cast are basically just there to engage in petty disagreements, horny foreplay, and partying, Ernie Lively-- who worked so well with his daughter Blake in the Traveling Pants films-- used good taste in not involving his daughters in the film’s main set-up thereby as mentioned earlier saving Blake until the end when it’s left open for a possible sequel.

Yet soon we discover that the real stars of the film other than an unhinged, going-for-broke Crispin Glover are the gallons of fake blood, the makeup department's extensive handiwork of dismembered limbs as plentiful as the leaves on the trees, and an endless supply of shockingly inventive ways to slay the victims.



Par for the course of the movies in the genre and most notably in the Friday the 13th mode it’s going for-- Extreme Movie, College Road Trip and Fired Up! actress Margo Harshmen turns in a good performance as the likable heroine who must try and use her wits to outsmart Glover’s unrelenting madman who has the woods so ridiculously well rigged with weaponry that you’re fairly certain he could take on both Rambo and Die Hard’s John McClane combined.

Essentially it’s an eighty-seven minute example of torture porn that is sure to appeal to Saw devotees or gore buffs who think that Jason Voorhees’ booby traps were child’s play. And while it's definitely preferable to Backwoods, unfortunately overall there’s nothing remotely memorable about the idiotic screenplay and by-the-numbers characters suffice it to say that pleasant childhood memories of the game of Simon Says have all been ruined along with the affection I had for Dear’s Harry and the Hendersons as a young girl.

Yet, despite this-- the only thing that kept me watching in the genre's disturbingly effective odd can’t look away state of genuine shock (and slight amusement of just how extreme he was in retrospect now that the film has been ejected from my player) was seeing Glover once again master the art of playing a nonsensical nutbar who's more far-out there than any character he's played so far.