Friday, October 23, 2009

Munchie Strikes Back! (1994, Jim Wynorski)

Roger Corman certainly deserves both praise as well as condemnation. I've praised him a lot lately and must now mention one of his biggest stinkers, the career of Jim Wynorski. His oeuvre is not offensively bad, yet there's something cloying about every film being self-aware and campy to compensate for lack of budget. That's what killed the Troma epoch too quickly. Wynorski's greatest accomplishment was the direct to video "special" Scream Queen Hot Tub Party for obvious reasons. Today Wynorski continues to enjoy directing implants and hangin' naturals on dvd every now and then with softcore titles like The Breastford Wives.

Corman kicked off Wynorski's b-movie period (which includes the sub-cult favorite Deathstalker II) by producing 1985's Chopping Mall. Wynorski appreciably shoved as many Corman insider references as he could, including cameos from Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov reprising their roles from Eating Raoul. A couple Corman sequels and official remakes later, Wynorski was turned loose by Corman's new kidvid label with the first Munchie. The target demo was essentially undiscriminating kindergardeners and possibly bored elementary schoolers. The Munchie puppet was almost completely unconvincing without somone's powers of perception still developing in their skulls.

That puppet was one of two draws for the kids who made the film a a video hit, the other being Dom DeLuise as the voice of Munchie. His distinctive chords had recently become a staple of animated movies and automatically gave Munchie some kind of credibility to get onto video shelves. Credibility for a kid's movie, anyway. Lonnie Anderson and Arte Johnson alone weren't going to hold the attention of any child born in the 80s. Deluise's performance was not synched to the movements of Munchie the puppet in any way. The giant head rocked and rolled around the neck hole as the lips wriggled open and shut, revealing hideous teeth while his useless little forearms gesticulated generic borscht belt poses and his face frozen in a blank, permanent leer. As if Corman calculated the exact minimum special effects budget needed to satisfy a child's imagination and cut off the line of credit there.

Literally not one aspect of the original film's story was original. Munchie grants wishes to a young boy with a hot single mom lovingly photographed by Wynorski, the wishes go wrong, lessons are learned and villainous adult buffoons are humiliated. Munchie Strikes Back! is more of what you've seen a million times before and this time they didn't even splurge for Dom Deluise. The new voice isn't anyone distinguished. The puppet doesn't look any better, cheaper if anything. There's one motor vehicle chase with flip and crash at the end, so maybe that's where the budget went.The sneering, mugging evil principal from the first film is now Lonnie Anderson's sneering, evil boss who wants to capture Munchie. He's an extremely irritating man. Jim Wynorski's sense of humor is basically the same as if he were directing Scream Queen Hot Tub Party except he doesn't have breasts to fall back on.

The first few minutes of Munchie feature Munchie blowing up some other kid's school in a prologue, then being accosted by head angel Angus Scrimm - the Tall Man from Don Coscarelli's Phantasm series - in heaven. This was sort of promising as far as b-grade kids movie lunacy goes, but things became so deadly dull immediately after the opening credits that I don't think I could've lasted through this one as a kid, only a masochistic adult. This is worse than the first Munchie and that's an accomplishment, especially from the same director. The first one even had Jennifer Love Hewitt's film debut, and Munchie Strikes Back! can't even claim anything that impressive. I can't even believe this movie was made in 1994. It looks at least ten years older.

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