Batman: Mask of the Phantasm: An Overlooked Classic – Netflix Review (Day 29)

I take a look at what might be the best Batman film.

SUMMARY

A group of mob bosses, including Chuckie Sol (Dick Miller), are planning to launder a bunch of fake bills through a casino. They’re ambushed by Batman (Kevin Conroy), who takes out most of the thugs as Sol escapes to his car. He’s met in the parking garage by a different figure, the Phantasm (Stacy Keach), who appears to be an embodiment of Death itself. Sol tries to kill the Phantasm, but ends up driving off of the edge of the garage and dying. People at the scene see Batman looking out over the wreck and assume he was responsible. Local politician Arthur Reeves (Hart Bochner) tells the media that Batman is a menace, despite Commissioner Gordon (Bob Hastings) saying that Batman doesn’t kill people. Later, the Phantasm murders another mob boss, Buzz Bronski (John P. Ryan), and Bronski’s goons believe Batman did it. 

Your angel of death awaits.

At the same time, Andrea Beaumont (Dana “I was Lois Lane” Delaney), one of Bruce’s oldest flames, returns. We see in flashbacks that Andrea met Bruce when he was first trying to start his career as a crimefighter. The two grew close, to the point that Bruce even asked her to marry him and thought about abandoning his quest to be a vigilante. However, Andrea left the country with her father, Carl (Keach), and broke up with Bruce via a letter. Believing that he has lost his last chance at a happy life, Bruce finally becomes Batman. While investigating Bronski’s death as Batman, Andrea sees him next to the Wayne grave, leading her to realize that Bruce is Batman. Bruce later discovers a photo linking Andrea’s father to the two dead gangsters and a third mob boss, Sal “The Weezer” Valestra (Abe Vigoda).

Yes, Abe Vigoda plays a mobster who is on Oxygen. It’s great.

Valestra sees the reports of Batman killing the mobsters and goes to seek help from the Joker (Mark Hamill). The Joker tells Valestra that he’s going to help him, but when the Phantasm arrives at Valestra’s house, Joker has killed the aged mob boss and used his body as a bomb after strapping a camera to the corpse. When the building blows up, Batman meets the Phantasm, who escapes and leaves the police to chase Batman. He narrowly evades capture with the help of Andrea, who admits that she left with her father because he stole from the three mobsters. Batman now believes that Carl is the phantasm, but also discovers that there is one more target: the man who later became the Joker was Valestra’s chauffeur. Joker, now aware that the murderer isn’t Batman, goes to confront Reeves, who used to work for Carl Beaumont, and gasses him with Joker toxin after suspecting that Reeves might be the Phantasm. Batman confronts Reeves, who reveals that he leaked Andrea and Carl’s location to the mob after they refused to fund his first campaign. 

Why would you think asking the Joker for anything would work out well?

*** MASSIVE SPOILER. THIS IS ON NETFLIX, YOU MIGHT WANT TO JUST WATCH THE MOVIE, BUT IT’S STILL GREAT EVEN IF YOU KNOW THE TWIST***

The Phantasm tracks Joker to his hideout, where the Joker reveals he’s figured out the identity of the killer: Andrea. She intends to kill all of the mobsters as vengeance for killing her father, something that the Joker apparently did personally when he was still “normal.” Batman, who has also figured out that Andrea is the Phantasm, arrives as the Joker has her on the ropes. After saving her, Batman and the Joker fight to a stalemate, with the Joker revealing that his lair is wired to blow. Andrea grabs the Joker and holds him, telling Bruce goodbye as flames erupt around her. Later, Alfred (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) consoles Bruce, saying that he walks the edge of darkness, but hasn’t fallen in, while Andrea fell long ago. Bruce finds Andrea’s locket in the cave. Meanwhile, Andrea, who survived, leaves the country on a boat. 

END SUMMARY

I picked this one as my choice for “A Film Based on a TV Show” for three reasons. First, because this movie got screwed over and it needs to get all the respect and viewership it can get. Second, because Batman: The Animated Series was amazing. Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, the minds behind it, revolutionized superhero shows. Last, because most other films based on TV shows suck unless they’re comedies.  

The show gave us Harley Quinn using a bazooka against chauvinists. ‘Nuff said.

If you grew up in the 1990s, you probably remember Batman: The Animated Series. It was one of the darkest cartoons that was on TV at the time, both literally and figuratively. The animation was so dark that they frequently found it cheaper to buy black paper and draw the white parts over it. In terms of content, it frequently dealt with themes of mortality, loss, the nature of evil, and the general unfairness of life, things that children’s TV shows just flat-out didn’t address back then. It also had great action sequences, great writing, and an abundance of imagination in characters and plotlines. It still holds up as being one of the greatest animated series of all time, and I put one of the episodes on my list of the greatest television episodes of all time. This film was their attempt to bring that creativity to the big screen and it should have been the Batman movie of the decade. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite get its due, losing money at the box office.

Dark as it gets for a kids show.

When the team started making the film, it was supposed to be a direct-to-video release. Soon, Warner Brothers decided to make it a theatrical film. Moreover, they decided that it was going to be released on Christmas Day of that same year, 1993. This meant that they had eight months to make the movie. For perspective, Disney typically gives four years to make an animated film. Moreover, Warner Brothers decided, after dumping a ton of money into making the film to compensate for the short time frame, to save money by cutting the marketing budget for the film. This is generally considered a stupid, stupid move, especially when the movie already had been rushed so much that it hadn’t really had time to generate buzz. Despite the fact that it was a Batman movie based on a massive hit show right after the show’s first season ended, only a year after Batman Returns had been one of the biggest moneymakers of all time, this movie was promoted for less than two months at less than half the rate of other films. Coming from someone who was a Batman-obsessed kid at the time, I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW THIS MOVIE WAS COMING OUT. Hell, Siskel and Ebert missed it. Moreover, they rushed the toys from the film into development so fast that they accidentally released a figuring of the Phantasm in November… marketed with the secret identity on display. Yeah, they destroyed the great mystery of the movie a month before it even came out. Great job, WB. 

One of the best Batman suit-up sequences on film, and no one saw it.

The key to this movie is that it’s really the one threat that we never see Batman deal with: Happiness. Batman always is depicted as a dark, wounded soul who is trying to seek justice and vengeance upon the world as a way to deal with his pain. But, in this movie, we see him actually question his vow and whether it’s worthwhile because he actually finds himself being happy with Andrea. There’s a climactic scene in which he is at his parents’ grave, telling them that he can’t be Batman if there’s someone to go home to. He offers to help the city financially instead (gee, what an idea), but he can’t risk his life, and doesn’t want to, if he’s not miserable. It’s a great way to show that there are really layers between Bruce Wayne and Batman and that the interplay between them is part of what makes the character so strong.

She also is the only girl he dates with solid burns.

Possibly the greatest decision in the movie, though, was including the Joker. Mark Hamill’s Joker is usually considered to be the best iteration of the character, and adding him in during the second act, despite him originally seeming to be unconnected to the central conflict, was a master stroke. None of the mobsters or the Phantasm could possibly have justified the magnificent set piece of the “City of the Future” for the final fight sequences, and only the Joker could have provided the comic relief to off-set the violence. Plus, the final shot of the Joker laughing as he awaits his death by explosion is amazing, particularly since it’s accompanied by a powerful choir crescendo. 

Overall, this movie is amazing and I really wish it got the respect it’s due at the time, but you can at least relive your childhood with one of the few parts that will hold up well by watching this. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Evil Toons: The Greatest C-Movie Ever Made

First of all, the title to this movie is wrong. There is actually only one “toon” in the entire movie. Second, this movie is either A) The best parody film of 80s Haunted House B-movies or B) the worst Haunted House B-movie ever. It might also be C) a low-budget Skinemax movie, and, after looking at the director’s IMDB, it’s probably C. But it’s the best damned C of all time.

SUMMARY

EvilToonsIntroCard
Actual beginning of the movie. Really sets the tone.

The movie starts out with David Carradine trying to burn what is very clearly the Necronomicon. It’s a talking book bound with human skin. He fails to destroy it, and the book vanishes.

EvilToonsGideon2
Rest in Peace, Sir

 Flash forward, and a group of “teenage” girls who are clearly in their mid-20s (something the movie cheerfully jokes about multiple times) are planning on spending the night in a creepy house. Apparently, they’re a cleaning crew before the new owners inspect the house. The characters immediately introduce themselves through clunky, poorly-delivered, absolutely beautifully bad dialogue. There’s Roxanne, the really slutty one; Jan, the kinda slutty one; Terry, the mildly slutty one in charge; and Megan, the insecure nerd (Madison Stone, Barbara Dare, Suzanne Ager, Monique Gabrielle, and yes, they’ve all done porn). You can tell who Megan is because she wears glasses and has a ponytail, and definitely doesn’t have the kind of physique that would make a woman Penthouse Pet of the Month in December 1982 then allow her to portray famous erotic figure Emmanuelle.

EvilToonsMegan.jpg
Totally the nerd, right?

Again, I’d like to state, most of these girls are soft-core porn level actresses, because they are, and that’s pretty obvious in every line. The thing is, the movie clearly KNOWS they’re terrible, so it makes them as ridiculous as possible. I can’t tell if that’s a great thing or an awful one, but it amuses me. In addition to David Carradine, the movie features appearances by Dick “You know who I am, just look it up” Miller, and Arte “Veeeeerrrry Interesting” Johnson. I can only assume all three of them lost a bet to someone.

EvilToonsDickJohnson
Update: RIP, sirs.

The girls go into the basement to clean, at which time one of the girls mentions that these things all begin with four young girls going into a creepy basement. Then they see a trunk that has a language on it that Terry can’t understand, which intrigues her because “She’s seen a lot of odd languages.” The tag is actually in James Joyce’s language from Finnegan’s Wake. If you read it out loud as it appears, you’d get the message, even if you might not understand all of the words. However, the movie translates it for us: “In Gods’ [sic] name please! Never ever open this trunk! I swear you’re gonna be real sorry!”  They open it, because movie, and take the dagger within it. They even make the joke that “well, we might need it later.”

The next scene is probably the most hilariously exploitative thing in the movie. It’s literally Roxanne, apropos of nothing whatsoever, saying “do you want to see how I seduced [some guy, I didn’t want to rewind]?” This statement is followed by her stripteasing to a song that was clearly made for a B-grade movie. The dance is punctuated with some odd sound effects during her twerk (it’s the “boyoyoing” spring sound). Roxanne then tries to get Megan to join her, but Megan becomes uncomfortable when Roxanne opens Megan’s shirt and comments on her attractiveness. Megan runs away upstairs. Because, unlike Roxy, she’s insecure , get it?

EvilToonsRoxanne
The most clothed Roxy will be in the film.

David Carradine returns and delivers the book, filled with weird cartoons of a wolf demon, to the other three girls, for… some reason that isn’t obvious yet. They open the book and the girls say that Megan, of course, can read from it, because she speaks “Ancient Latin.” Also, there’s a joke about Roxanne being multilingual, but only if she’s answering the question “How much?” I laughed. Judge me.

We now follow Megan upstairs where she stands in front of the mirror and takes her clothes off to try and help her confidence in her appearance. This seems somewhat ridiculous because she has an absolutely amazing figure, but the film suggests that she still is upset, because it doesn’t matter what you look like, you can still have body issues based on your own perceptions and insecurities. Holy shit, did this movie just make a valid point about an important issue?

EvilToonsMegan2
A feminist picture.

Megan proceeds to read the book IN ENGLISH (she translates that fast), which apparently does not stop it from working. Also, apparently Megan goes to H.P. Lovecraft’s Miskatonic University. That’s not my joke, the film says that. She then reads the footnote to the incantation which basically reads “Don’t read the above incantation out loud.” Megan, Terry, and Jan all go upstairs to bed, with appropriate amounts of random nudity, while Roxanne waits for her boyfriend Biff (Don Dowe) to arrive. Yes, this movie actually named the boyfriend Biff.

So, the “toon” finally appears out of the book. Despite the relatively small period of time the toon is in the movie, it had 6 animators, and this is a crazy weird collection of people: 1 did nothing else. 1 went to work for Disney. 2 worked on Courage the Cowardly Dog, including John Dilworth, one of the creators of the show. 1 worked for Don Bluth. The last became animation director on The Venture Brothers. It appears that most of them were just starting out, and were working in modest capacities on other projects at the time, which I guess was a lucky break for the director.

EvilToonsToon1

The toon wolf demon stalks Roxanne, who gets naked in very natural “I’m erotically changing clothes while no one is around” poses in the middle of the room. She then hears the toon talk, but assumes that it’s Biff messing with her. The toon then attacks her. Roxanne screams, but the girls upstairs assume that it’s just sex with Biff. The toon proceeds to eat Roxanne, and then take on her appearance, because why would you want a toon in a movie called Evil Toons when you could have a naked girl covered in bloodstains? No, really, I think this was a good call.

EvilToonsRoxanneBiffMegan goes down to check on her, but, despite her being naked and covered in blood, Megan accepts Toon Roxanne’s explanation. Biff shows up, and he is wearing a wife beater and faded-washed jeans, because he’s named Biff. Roxanne proceeds to start grinding on Biff, then kills him by biting his throat out. David Carradine watches this, but does nothing. The girls upstairs hear Biff screaming, but, aside from Megan, they assume that it’s just Biff getting head. It’s becoming clear that these women either A) Don’t know what sex sounds like, or B) Have done a bunch of stuff I can’t conceive of, erotically. I fear it’s B.

Megan decides to go downstairs again, but asks the others to come with her, to which Terry responds with one of the best lines in the movie: “It’s a dark, stormy night, we’re four young, attractive girls in a big spooky house all alone. If we don’t go downstairs one at a time, how will we ever get bumped off without the others knowing about it?” She means it, ostensibly, as a joke, but it really is a nice shot at the formulaic nature of this kind of movie. When Megan says she’s going to the bathroom anyway, Terry jokingly says “I wouldn’t do that if I were you….” This weird level of self-awareness is amusing.

The movie then cuts to Dick Miller watching a movie scene featuring himself, and asking why he never won an Oscar. Fourth wall be damned. He gets a call from a neighbor complaining about screaming in the house. Since he is the girls’ employer, he has to go. He is stopped momentarily by his ridiculously hot wife who wants her “Friday Night Special,” something he seems very unenthused about. She then goes back to the bedroom and starts what sounds like a chainsaw and a jackhammer. Apparently, she needs a heavy-duty marital aid.

EvilToonsDick.jpgIt cuts back to Megan, who goes downstairs to find Biff’s corpse. The other two come down to join her, and Megan explains that Biff is under a “soul shroud” which is basically gift-wrapping for Satanic offerings. When asked how she knows this, she indicates that it’s on the tag for the shroud. Seriously, I cannot tell if this is the best or worst movie ever, but my first response was “makes as much sense as most movies.”

eviltoonsgideon.jpg
Still just creepin’.

Dick Miller arrives, and the girls try to clean up Biff’s body after determining that it’s better to be implicated in murder than to lose the $100 each that they’re getting paid for this. No, really, they make that comparison directly and, because they’re all poor and this is their alternative to prostitution or porn, they decide that they’d rather not lose the money, even at the risk of possible criminal charges. Again, is this movie making a point on an actual issue?

Toon Roxanne proceeds to meet Dick and convince him to come around to the basement. She then tries to seduce him, which, despite having a super-hot wife he doesn’t want to bang, works. Apparently, he’s just bored with his wife and wants something new. She proceeds to bite his penis off, because something something poetic justice.

EvilToonsRoxanne2
The total of what she does to “seduce him” is sit this way.

David Carradine continues to watch from the shadows. I can only assume that he isn’t actually scripted in these scenes, and is just screwing around on the set. The girls then run into Arte Johnson, who describes the book as a “Kandarian Spellbook,” and I can only assume Sam Raimi just decided not to sue at this point. Johnson proceeds to explain the history of the book before turning into Toon Roxanne again while they aren’t looking. Toon Roxanne convinces the girls that she was just playing a trick on them, so they should come back to the cellar to deal with Biff and Dick. It’s quickly apparent that they are both actually dead, and Toon Roxanne reveals her identity. She attacks Jan while Terry and Megan flee, and, in what is very clearly just a strange soft-core porn scene, struggles with her in such a way that her top comes off, then kills her. The other two make it inside, but Terry is attacked and, similarly, soft-core-porned to death.

Carradine finally enters dramatically, claiming that he’s here to destroy the book, and the Toon. When the Toon points out that he’s failed in the past, Carradine brandishes the dagger from the chest earlier. The Toon begins to overpower him while Megan watches and does nothing, until she grabs a bottle and hits Toon Roxanne over the head with it, allowing Carradine to stab her to death. The toon emerges from Roxanne and Megan throws the book in the fire. The toon then dies as the book burns. During this, the toon’s dialogue is hilarious: “You bitch, I’ll get you in the sequel for this,” “not the fire, that’s where hot is born,” and “oh, what a world, I’m melting.”

EvilToonsToon2

Carradine explains that he had to wait for the right time to act, which, apparently, was now. He explains that he’s a ghost of a wizard who brought the book back to America, and that he needed someone to make the cartoon demon real before he could destroy the book. As he fades, it’s revealed that all the victims from the movie are brought back to life with no memory of the events. Arte Johnson shows up with a TV for the girls, which causes Megan to scream when he suggests watching cartoons.

END SUMMARY

EvilToonsFredOlenRay.jpgAlright, so, this movie has one of the most interesting histories I’ve ever seen. The director/writer, Fred Olen Ray, is a big director in low-budget movies, including soft-core porn. His IMDB is hilarious, and I recommend checking out some of the titles. Apparently, he also got Quentin Tarantino his start, loaning him a camera to make My Best Friend’s Birthday, which is the basis for True Romance. What’s crazy is that this movie was pitched to the god of B-grade exploitation films Roger “I made the original Little Shop of Horrors” Corman. Ray said that he could make the movie for $250,000 to save Corman money. Corman refused, saying no one could make a good B-movie for so little money. To prove it, Ray made this movie for $140,000. He did this by filming the entire movie on the leftover film that was going to be thrown out from bigger movies at local studios, which he taped together to create a solid reel. The entire thing was shot in 8 days.

Since actresses wanted more money to appear nude, Ray just hired porn stars to do the movie, because the point of the characters WAS to be poor caricatures of bad horror tropes. And that’s the thing that really makes this movie kind of awesome: It’s so aware of how bad it is, but not in a way that really pisses you off. Yeah, there’s a lot of nudity and sexploitation, but that’s just an over-the-top version of what usually happens in 1980s horror films. It’s just taking it to its logical conclusion.

Honestly, I can’t tell if this is a parody, if it’s just a so-bad-it’s-good film that appears to be a parody, or if it’s really just a bunch of boobs and awkward lines. Whatever it is, if you love schlock horror films, this is a must-see.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.