Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Laughing Dead

The Laughing Dead (1989)
music by,  written by , directed by S. P. Somtow (Somtow Sucharitkul)

Review by Herbert Strock

Erok/ Crankenstein here, just chipping in my 2 cents about this Aztec-ian clusterfuck that I watched along with the chat room lunatics of Creepy Kofy Movie time, led by the enigmatic Webberley Rattenkraft aka The Fact Rat. We both scratched our noggins repeatedly in wonder of how gory and nonsensical it all was. Look at that cover too, it looks like a rejected Nightbreed creature in a Cosby sweater! I was even gonna bring back the 70's SNL graphic for Point Counter/ Point Debate segment, even though as mentioned before we were both dumb struck and befuddled by The Laughing Dead. Then along comes Herb with his "That's my opinion, maybe yours differs" patented statement. Well he's right about that, mine does but I gotta respect anyone who sticks up for this mind explosion, so on with the review and thanks again Herbert!

The basic premise is Father Ezekial  'Zeke'  O' Sullivan Tim Sullivan), a priest with a scandalous past involving a love affair with a nun, heads a community college 'archaeology tour' to Todos Santos in Mexico to see Mayan ruins and visit  'the laughing dead'  festival.  Among those coming along on the trip are Clarisse (Krista Keim) and Wilbur (Larry Kagen), a married new age couple, the persnickety Mr. Frost ( Gregory Frost), the annoying Mr. Dozois (Raymond Ridenhour), and the runaway teenager Laurie (Premika Eaton, Somtow's sis).  They also pick up O' Sullivan's ex nun, ex lover Marie Therease / Tessie Smith (Wendy Webb) and a foul mouthed young boy named Ivan (Patrick Roskowick).

During a conversation with his old flame, in which the priest admits that he has lost his faith due to strange nightmares, he comes to find out that the boy is his offspring from the long ago tryst. Along the way they encounter a wrapped and tied bloody corpse of a young girl, and two strange Mayan priests.

you want it when?

Arriving to their destination, the tourists explore the town and the local population.  In an effort to get acquainted with his son, Father O' Sullivan takes the boy about town, but then he is lured away by a woman under the guise of helping exorcise a possessed girl. The supposedly 'possessed' girl rips open her shirt, and then her heart.  She proceeds to rip out Father O' Sullivan's heart, and then swaps his for hers.  Father O'Sullivan is now possessed by the 'Death God'.  Father O' Sullivan and his fellow travelers become caught in a plot involving the mysterious Dr. Um-tzek (director S. P. Somtow),  sacrificial killings including the sacrifice of one's own son, portals to other dimensions, zombie basketball and giant monster battles in the Kaiju tradition.     

This organ is lazy, I'll manually squeeze you back to life

S.P. Somtow (Somtow Sucharitkul) wrote, directed, acted in, and performed the music score for this film.  He is not only a filmmaker , but also, a musical composer, who has composed 5 symphonies and a ballet.  In addition he is a writer who has written many novels including the excellent Moon Dance, and the splatter punk classic Vampire Junction, and scripts for the animated TV series Dinosaucers, C.O.P.S., and Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers. Aside from the aforementioned Somtow, this film is notable for being filled with various writer's of the sci fi / horror genre.  Tim Sullivan,  like Somtow has been both a filmmaker and a novelist.  He wrote several great micro budget films such as Eyes Of The Werewolf (1999), Grave Vengeance a.k.a. Hunting Season (2000), V- world Matrix (1999), and wrote and directed the excellent Vampire Femmes (1999).  He also wrote novels including Lords Of Creations and Destiny's End.  Gregory Frost who played Mr. Frost is a novelist whose titles include Tain and The Pure Cold Light. The other writer's in the cast include Edward Bryant (the novel Phoenix Without Ashes),  Arthur Bryan Cover ( the novel Autumn Angels),  Tim Powers (the novels Last Call and Declare),  William F. Wu (the novel Masterplay), and Brynne Chandler- Stephens who wrote episodes of animated tv shows such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Gargoyles, and He Man: Masters Of The Universe.  Also other cast members of note include: Forrest J. Ackerman, Len Wein (creator of X-man's Wolverine), and Filmmaker Wyatt Weed ( Twilight Hunters a.k.a. Shadowland and Guardian Of The Realm) appear as zombies. The special effects were handled by John Carl Buechler and Magic Media Industries Inc. 

The mutant boy from Phenomena gets festive.

The film itself is an interesting and zany mixture of gore, humor, and mythology.  The gore effects were well executed by Mr. Buechler and his company, which include a beheading, heart ripping, a pregnant woman's abdomen sliced open, a fist is driven through a woman's head, and a man's arm torn off.  The gore is somewhat cartoonish fitting the almost comic book feel of the film.  An example of this would be in the aforementioned scene where a character's arm is torn asunder,  the limb is then forced down the man's throat, and we see the fingers of his hand wriggling beneath the skin of his throat.  The humor of the film is also present in this scene, as well,  with the killer cackling gleefully, while shoving the severed arm in a cartoonish fashion down the victim's gullet.  Humor is also expressed in some of the interactions of the characters, such as the 'new age' couple, who bicker after talking about inner peace, good will, etc.  Mythology plays a big part throughout, particularly Mayan mythology, with references to  quetzalcoatl (who makes a surprise appearance), ancient mayan ruins, rituals,  and human sacrifice to appease the gods.

Weird Science 2: The Wrath of Chet!

There is some nice atmospheric lighting, especially in the scene where Ivan,  the priest's son is playing basketball waiting for his father to show up.   The area where the basketball hoop hangs is etched with both light and shadow.  The cavernous crypt / pyramid near the conclusion of the film is filled with chiaroscuro lighting and fog, giving it a great ambience.   
The idea of letting beliefs get in the way of having good relationships with others is very much a theme throughout the picture.  Feeling guilty and ashamed, as well as rigid social expectations are at the heart of why Father O' Sullivan and Mary Therese / Tessie Smith went their seperate ways.   Also the 'new age' couple are more caught up with there, some would say, 'out there' beliefs, that they don't seem to be aware of the issues between each other.  It seems that Somtow was saying, "Don't allow rigid belief and adhereing to the status quo to get in the way of having a fulfilling and meaningful relationship with others."  This also pertains to the other theme of not running from your problems and take responsibilty for your life.  Father O' Sullivan and Mary Therese / Tessie come to realize that they have to face their past in order to continue on.  The 'new age' couple Clarisse and Wilbur also realize that they need to face certain things in order to have a harmonious existence.  Even though I think The Laughing Dead is a very good film, I realize it isn't everyone's cup of tea (as with all movies, I guess).
That's my opinion, yours may differ.  

John Carpenter style basketball.

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