Since the squeaky sound of hand-cranked cameras and projectors, embryonic movie-makers discovered flicker gold by mixing funny with scary. Melies, Edison and others delved into the horror-comedy genre; hell – they invented it. And it just grew more elaborate and sophisticated as the industry progressed.
By the Golden Age of Hollywood and beyond, it was almost a rite of passage for successful screen comedians to do a spooky turn, and many of their efforts (from Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, Bob Hope, Abbott & Costello, Martin & Lewis…on) became some of the comics’ most beloved classics.
By the 1980s, the horror comedy had evolved to the point where buckets of gore/the gross-out factor became a prerequisite. Who wasn’t laughing at being slimed in Ghostbusters? Well, just a couple of years before that, Carl Reiner and Steve Martin, the director and star of The Jerk and Dead Men Wear No Plaid, teamed up again for what many consider their finest collaboration, 1983’s THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS.
Nine years later, John Landis took black comedy one step further, melding the sexiness of the Anne Rice vampire phenomenon with Animal House hijinks, plus a dash of Goodfellas, for the underrated 1992 undead-romp INNOCENT BLOOD (a misleading title, since no one is innocent in this splat-for-all).
Both titles proved extremely popular past their sell-by dates, garnering big ratings on TV and impressive sales on home video. Yet, they were never given the presentation they deserved. Each 1.85:1 entry was released in full-frame 1.33. Until now.
Just in time for Halloween, the Warner Archive Collection has gone the distance, finally getting it right with new spectacular widescreen transfers rendered onto 1080p High Definition Blu-Ray. And they’re sicker and wackier (or whackier, in the case of BLOOD) than ever.
“Get that cat out of here!” commands genius head specialist Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr (it’s pronounced like you say it), whose operating room is always in attendance of curious felines.
Conceited widower Hfuhruhurr is revered throughout the medical profession for his time-saving invention of zip-lock brain surgery. His life is brains, he’s devoted to brains (his favorite movie: Donovan’s Brain)…and now he LOVES brains.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, which is often embarrassing.
Across town from Hfuhruhurr is Dolores Benedict, a spectacularly anatomically arranged black widow (Kathleen Turner in a sizzling outrageous parody of her Body Heat character). She hooks up with sick or elderly mega-rich men and, literally, fucks them to death (or almost, as she frequently merely has to taunt them with coitus).
Escaping from her latest victim (the great George Furth), she and the doc have a meet-cute moment when he runs her over with his car. Fortunately, he’s the zip-lock go-to guy. He saves her life, she has her new mark, and the rest is a swirlie of marital diss (Hfuhruhurr’s asking dead wife Rebecca for her opinion sends his home into paranormal shambles, “Just give me any sign of disapproval,” he beseeches as the walls come tumbling down – the irony of the brain man thinking with somethin’ else).
The honeymoon is a nightmare, as Dolores denies horny Dr. H carnal knowledge, resulting in a French windows dilemma that is one of the funniest sound effect moments since the campfire scene in Blazing Saddles.
When the near-sexually deranged cuckold catches Dolores with a strange perv, who has paid 15K to touch her ass, wifey plays the misogyny card “You don’t want me to work!” That’s the last straw, the brief coupling has been unspliced.
Meanwhile, across the country and Europe, a serial murderer known as the Elevator Killer is on the loose. Victims are rendered comatose by an injection of window cleaner in their buttocks (including Estelle “I’ll have what she’s having” Reiner). Then, their brains go missing.
How the determined but certifiably mad doctor discovers the connection between the slayings and fellow looney scientist Dr. Alfred Necessiter (David Warner in a riotous role, living in papier mache Frankenstein castle co-op) paves the way for medicine’s Zip-Lock-invar’s finding true love again…unfortunately in the form of a disembodied medulla oblongata, floating in a jar of formaldehyde (it’s Sissy Spacek – well, her voice). A victim of the EK maniac, Anne Uumellmahaye (also pronounced like you spell it), converses telepathically with Michael, and while there are some obvious complications (“I CANT FUCK A GORILLA!,” bellows Hfuhruhurr in response to Necessiter’s suggestion of a female-simian transplant), cherished romance ensues (a montage featuring a rowboat is especially hilarious, and a bit poignant).
It all intertwines in a crazed climax that is in its own way kinda sweet; it also contains one of the greatest celebrity guest appearances in cinema as the Elevator Killer is revealed to be…
THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS doesn’t scrimp on anything even remotely connected to screwball. It’s pure Steve Martin (who cowrote the script with Reiner and George Gipe), and contains a plethora of comedic lines (“Into the mud, scum-queen!”) that have become movie-quote standards. Michael Chapman’s pop-color photography never looked better, while Joel Goldsmith’s score perfectly captures the hilarity and genre spooky spoofery. Adding this to your comedy/horror/Eighties collection is…well, a no-brainer.
As gorgeous transplanted (to 1992 Philadephia of all places!) French vampire Marie (c’est magnifique Anne Parillaud) tells us in her alluring narration, the undead live for one thing: the comfort of the sexes, that is the meeting (or meating) where food and sex merge. This is tres difficile for Marie, since she doesn’t like to mix business with pleasure (“Eeets not nice to play wiz za food”).
That said, her blood supply is low, and needs to be replenished. Picky eater that she is, the svelte predator ponders her options; after all, what’s a ghoul to do? Then she reads about the latest Mafia mob war that left an array of bodies strewn across every Rocky location imaginable. Problem solved: “I’ll eat Italian.”
And so she does. But there’s a caveat; her chosen victim Joe Gennaro (Anthony LaPaglia), actually an undercover detective, has “zee sad eyes,” an attribute the bloodsucker’s a sucker for. So off to another hitman, the very amenable Tony (Chazz Palminteri in a standout early role).
Aside from the award-winning international sensation Parillaud appearing in John Landis’ INNOCENT BLOOD, and frequently in full-frontal gloire, this movie had me hooked from the nocturnal aerial opening, featuring Jackie Wilson’s awesome rendition of Night.
And, indeed, while Parillaud is outstanding, as is the supporting cast (Angela Bassett, Tony Sirico, Kim Coates, Luiz Guzman and, in a standout role as a mob lawyer-turned-hockey-puck vampire, Don Rickles), the true star of this horror-com is Robert Loggia as Sal “The Shark” Macelli, grotesque head of the local goombas. In his Leslie Nielsen bid for comedic stardom, Loggia seems to be having a blast. Vulgar, disgusting, psychopathic BEFORE Parillaud “turns” him, Loggia becomes the ultimate gooddeadfella, gnashing pointy incisors, eating the competition, and uproariously coming to terms with a new aversion to garlic.
Landis, along with screenwriter Michael Wolk, pays visual fang service to a variety of genre faves, via some groovy clips from Horror of Dracula, Phantom of the Rue Morgue and even Strangers on a Train; there are also some wonderful cameos by the likes of Frank Oz, Michael Ritchie, Sam Raimi, Tom Savini, Forrest J. Ackerman, and, last but not least, Dario Argento.
The Blu-Ray of INNOCENT BLOOD is everything we freaks could hope for. Razor-sharp 1080p imagery in the proper 1.78:1 dimensions (doing justice at last to Mac Ahlberg’s cool, clean compositions), plus a great surround track (featuring Ira Newborn’s jazzy score) in 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Best of all, this is the uncensored, complete international version.
I must note that Parillaud and LaPaglia’s sex scene is hot as hell (where it is likely to be repeated eternally), and the lady’s tough choice on whether to eat or eat her lover certainly comprises a vampire conundrum. The resolution is (sort of) left up in the air, but, she’s French, so I assume it’s toujour, l’amour, toujour. A warm, fuzzy sendoff, to be sure, but, for me, nothing is more heartrending than a misty-eyed Palmanteri eyeing a TV broadcast of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, and tenderly remarking, upon Ray Harryhausen’s beloved Rhedosaurus devouring a cop, “I love that.”
THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS. Color. Widescreen [1.78:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. The Warner Archive Collection/Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. CAT # 1000648351. SRP: $21.99.
INNOCENT BLOOD. Color. Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 stereo-surround DTS-HD MA. The Warner Archive Collection/Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. CAT# 1000652649. SRP: $21.99.
Available from the Warner Archive Collection: http://www.wbshop.com/warnerarchive or online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays® are sold.