Writer: Tod Hackett
From a story by Mitchell Smith
Director: Mark Herrier
Maggie: Jill Schoelen
Toby: Tom Villard
Suzanne: Dee Wallace Stone
Mr. Davis: Tony Roberts
Malcom Mnesyne: Ray Walston
Assorted others not worth mentioning
Synopsis: A struggling film class decides to throw a horror movie marathon at a local rundown theatre in order to make up for recent budget cuts at their college. When they find an obscure avant garde film known as "Possessor" that contains imagery eerily reminscient of one of the student's recurring nightmares. When bodies start piling up during the marathon, it's only a matter of time before the past catches up with all of them.
Here we are, the first review of Triskaidekafiles! It's about film students, bad movies, bad plots, and has one of the most absurdly brilliant twists I've ever seen. It's perfect to be our inaugural review.
The movie kicks off with a pretty cheesy logo that looks like it is ripped straight off a 1950's car name. Which is actually oddly appropriate. It's strangely juxtaposed over several facial masks. The weird combination of slightly disturbing with the slightly corny pretty much sums this movie up to a t.
This movie has a lot in common with a movie that came out several years later, and was a game changer for the horror genre, Scream. It's post-modern, it has film students being hunted by a killer, and they both comment on the genres they're wallowing in. However, Scream is the better film. The characters in this movie know the tropes, but they never get around to using them to their advantage. The references never get much further than just that; references. This was almost a dry run for the later film, that came along and got the post modern examination right. This film could have been just as important to the genre, but it's lack of really examining the genre, small budget, and general quality, as well as obscurity, kept it from ever coming close.
The movie kicks off with meeting our lead female, Maggie. She's a film student, having nightmares, and using them as inspiration. She heads to class, and on the way meets Woody McBoyfriend...er, Mark. This poor schlub has zero personality. He is boyfriend, hear him whine. In a lot of ways, turnabout is fair play, though, since that is little more than what a girlfriend of the hero gets in these films, so equal opportunity strikes, I suppose.
The lack of acting is a constant problem with this film. Besides the leads, the characters are pretty much paper thin, or utterly devoid of personality. If not for my notes, I couldn't even tell you have their names, outside of Boyfriend, Class Slut, Tough Black Girl, and Guy in a Wheelchair. I'm still unclear as to just why Bud needed to be in a wheelchair, but whatever.
Anyways, Maggie meets the Class from Central Casting, and Mr. Davis, their teacher, informs them that they need to raise money or there goes the class. He introduces Toby, who sounds like he swallowed Matt Frewer with a cold. See, Toby has an idea, and it's actually not a bad one. He wants to reopen a theatre downtown, and put on a film festival of gimmicky 1950s paranoia horror films. Nostalgia, cheese, and a good cause, that's usually enough to put butts in seats.
So the gang heads down to their new HQ, the old Dreamland theatre, where they meet Mister Mnesyne, played by Ray Walston.
Ray is one of the treats of this film. He knows it is cheesy and dives right in. He's playing the part of someone who used to run an old theatre just like this one, and is still the caretaker of many of those old gimmicky tricks they used with the movies the class plans to show. Yes, to sweeten the deal, they won't just be showing these bad movies, but actually incorporating some of the gimmicks the films used back then.
There's Mosquito in Projecto-Vision, that is basically 3-D with the added fun of a remote controlled giant mosquito on guide wires that will buzz the audience at pre-planned intervals.
Second is the Amazing Electrified Man that uses a classic gag of electrifying the seats to distribute gentle shocks to the audience at just the right moments during the film.
Finally, there's The Stench, filmed in Aroma-rama, that will have tablets of odors dropped into a fog machine and basically gas the audience at the appropriate times.
Mr. Mnesyne has a brilliant line, that almost feels like it should be the motto for this site, "I'm here to teach you how to turn those turkeys into a memorable, movie-going feast!" Isn't that wonderful? With the right gimmickry and marketing, you can fill up any theatre, no matter how bad the movie is.
Sadly, after he passes on his gimmicks, Ray is out of the movie. Which is a shame, since he was probably the best part of it.
Amidst all the junk in the trunks left behind from setting up their gimmicks, Toby comes across an old film reel, and they decide to check it out. Maggie is quite disturbed to find that this avant-garde film of bizarre imagery echos her dreams far more than they should by coincidence.
Mr. Davis explains that the film is known as "Possessor" and is by Lanyard Gates, a man who had formed an almost cultlike group based around their attraction to films. His first movie was a laughing stock, and so he made Possessor as a rebuttal to that response. The film is some weird cross between art house bizarreness and the film from The Ring. One of the better comments is the fear that he's going to do a tracking shot up his own nostril.
The movie was unfinished, because he planned to complete it live in front of the audience watching. Once the film ran out, he would murder his wife and child. However, something went wrong, and the theatre burned down, leaving no survivors.
Maggie heads home to rest up for the big day tomorrow, tells her mom about the film, and she's visibly shaken by this news. Well, not visibly to Maggie, since she just pops off to bed. Meanwhile, her mother Suzanne heads off to the theatre, armed and dangerous. When she arrives, she calls out to Lanyard, wanting to finish things from years ago. Instead, in a truly bizarre and unexplained sequence, the letters on the marquee come blasting off and raining down upon Suzanne. The letters don't just fall down upon her, they launch off like they have teeny rockets attached to each one. They almost all land right around her, and that takes some aiming I bet.
Once they have all fallen off, the name Possessor suddenly appears in spectral lettering.
Now, I could probably come up with some means by which someone could pulls this off semi-realistically, but when the movie is playing it up as some bizarre, supernatural occurance, they really ought to go back to it and explain just how the protagonist pulled off this rather large feat.
Anyways, back in Sanityville, Maggie wakes up to a homemade breakfast and note from her mom, which I can only assume was left there by the killer. I could see making the breakfast so she's not suspicious, but the note is a bit much. Either the killer is able to fake Suzanne's handwriting, Maggie is seriously oblivious, or he forced Suzanne to write the note under duress. Because I can't see her making the note and breakfast in the middle of the night than jollily bopping down to the theatre to confront Gates.
But never mind that, it's showtime! Everyone is dressed up in costume for the theatre, most of the girls in usherette type outfits to take tickets and make sure things run smoothly. Oh, and they scored a band to play outside the theatre. And since this movie was filmed entirely in Jamaica, it's a reggae band. Understandable to grab what you need from what you got available, but it's still an odd fit.
Maggie's at the ticket booth, collecting money and letting people in, when she sees someone whom she thinks is Gates. He even calls her Sarah, the name of the girl in her nightmares/film. She chases this cloaked figure around the theatre, never quite finding him, and eventually gives up. I would to, frankly. The film could really use some better lighting. I know it's backstage at a theatre, and it's supposed to be dark, but most films fake it somehow so the audience can tell what's going on, not trudge along as the film decides to show everything in glorious Dark-O-Vision.
Woody McBoyfriend comes to the film festival, but apparently not to support his girlfriend, as he brings another generic girl with no personality beyond "Blonde" on his arm. Is this how people in California break up with their girlfriends? That's cold dude, really cold.
But Scumbag Can'tactforcrap...I mean, Mark gets his, at least. The poor schlub gets hit in the face not once, not twice, but three times! It actually becomes a running gag. On top of that, he gets chased by a dog, and falls down the stairs. Talk about your role reversals.
The movies finally get underway with Mosquito, and Mr. Davis is ably controlling the bug and scaring the audience. They don't do a whole lot with it sadly. I suspect there were budget and effects issues that limited their actual use of the thing. Or they deliberately kept it cheap, since a film class wouldn't be able to do much anyways, even with the tech handed to them.
Which leads me for a moment to comment on the movies within the movies themselves. These things are just wonderfully done. They are spot on perfect. Corny dialogue, bad effects, they get the whole paranoia of nuclear fallout and science run amok. For the longest time I thought these were real movies from the 50s being used as stock footage, but no, they actually made these excerpts. Perfect homages to the era. I could probably do mini reviews on each of those films alone, they're so goofy.
Finally, the bodies start to fall, beginning with Mr. Davis, which is a shame, since after Walston, this guy had the best acted role. It may not have had much meat, but he did a good job at the part. I will say, death by mechanical mosquito, is a pretty cool way to go out, though.
Maggie's once again noticing weird things, and the disappearing cast, and starts to realise that maybe she's right about Lanyard Gates coming after her, maybe she's his daughter, and her nightmares are actually memories of that horrific night.
And she gives a line that has to be the utter height of hubris, "What a great movie this would make!" Oh, no. No dear. No. I'm watching the movie this plot makes. It's not great. Points for trying, though.
While she's bumbling about backstage trying to find Lanyard, whomever it is lurking around continues killing people, including Wheels during the Amazing Electrified Man, wiring him into the shock control board so the big electrical shock coming soon goes all into him, instead of spread out amongst the crowd.
Oh, and to do this, the killer takes the clothes of one of the girls he previously offed, her wig, and even alters his voice while he does the deed. Not that it was necessary, Bud never turns to even look at the killer. The killer just likes to play dress up, I guess. And in fairness, he does play around with costumes a lot, and at least if he's seen while looking like someone else, it'll be confusing. Still, an odd choice to make.
Then again, the guy is utterly batshit insane, but I'll get to that in a moment.
Eventually, Maggie gets captured, and the killer is revealed; Toby!
Yes, this was all Toby's evil master plan. He was the one who wanted to throw the festival, remember. Am I the only one that has trouble with the idea that our killer is named TOBY? I'd be taunting the guy as he stabbed me with a giant mosquito.
And now comes the absurdest twist ever.
Toby's family was part of Lanyard's cult, and they were there the night of Possessor. Suzanne, who is really Maggie's aunt, stopped Lanyard by shooting him, and accidentally causing the fire that burned down the theatre, and trapped Toby.
He lost most of his skin, and pretty much all of his mind.
No sane person would spend the next fifteen years plotting to go to college, finding the daughter of the man his parents followed, who is also the niece of the woman arguably responsible for his condition, learn how to make near perfect masks and wigs of people he meets, learn to mimic their voices with the aid of some voice alteration technology, get into the same film classes the girl just so happens to take, all so you can stage a film marathon and recreate Gates' film all in the name of revenge.
That right there? That is high grade insanity, my friends.
I mean, what if Maggie hadn't just happened to go into film classes? What if she decided she wanted to go into cooking? Would this movie then had taken place backstage of Iron Chef?
And yet, there's some sort of brilliance behind it. Sure, the plan is convoluted to the point of ludicrousness, but a killer who's all burnt up and puts on different masks to confuse his chasers, play with their heads, and remain unknown? Back then, it wasn't a wildly overdone plot, and arguably clever.
To top it off, the makeup effects on Toby are pretty good. When he applies his mask, they kept the actor's head, and applied the floppy ears, and it really did look like a single facial appliance, and not loose ears tacked onto the side of his head. The added back part of his scarred head really helped sell it to, and it really looked like crazily exceptional masks, and not inverted makeup effects like it was. When he applied different faces, including the girl's, it was a really freaky effect as each of the respective actors stepped into Toby's clothes and yet kept their own face. Really well done for the time.
Although I'm sure it's because of the loads of makeup piled upon his face to look all charred and scarred, why is it that Toby can speak normally (Albeit strangely) when he has a mask on, but once he takes it off, and there wouldn't be any obstructions, or stuff sticking to his skin, it sounds like his mouth is full of cotton? He becomes a mumbly thing that's barely audible. They really should have redubbed those lines. He should not be harder to hear, and sound more weird when the masks are off.
Anyways, back to the nuts.
Toby wheels out Suzanne, whom he has encased in casting strips from neck to toe, even with an oustretched arm, and her gun! She can't pull the trigger, but it's amazingly crazy that he let her keep it even like that. It never comes into play, but he wanted to recreate the end of the original Possessor as much as possible. Minus the fire, of course. So, Suzanne had to be there, ready to shoot Toby-as-Lanyard. He looks at her and says, "I am so glad I CAST you in this part." I'm a sucker for bad puns, but even that made me wince.
But before we get to the grand finale, Toby still has a few more bodies to add to his rap sheet though, and goes off in search of Leon, the guy dressed up like the madman in the cage from earlier. His character is so genericly bland, I don't even have a clever nickname for him.
Toby shows up dressed exactly like Leon, shoves him into a bathroom stall, and drops some tablets into the toilet. Yes, this happens during The Stench, naturally. No clue why Leon dies from a cloud, I guess the tablets tossed in the toilet must have been poisonous gas. That also made the light above him explode. I think logic wandered out of the movie in disgust at this point.
With his theme killings done, Toby gets everyone setup backstage to reenact Possessor as the film overtakes The Stench, which inexplicably kept jumping from B&W to colour, so good riddance.
The audience voiciferously despises Possessor, as people tend to do with such bizarre films. Once the reel winds down to where it stopped and the live portion takes over, the screen rises up, revealing Toby standing over a mockup of the scene, ready to kill Sarah/Maggie.
And I love that when Sarah cries out for help, that he's going to kill her, the audience thinks it is all part of the show and cheers. Better yet, they cheer even louder when Toby asks for their approval to kill her! Ladies and gentlement, I give you the birth of reality tv.
But never fear, Mark the Tool will save the day! He heroically loops his belt over the mosquito guidewires, slides down and...
Crashes into a pile of boxes, being absolutley ineffectual. And yet, it somehow manages to knock the mosquito loose, and it comes zooming down, impaling Toby and ending the threat. I think that's one of my big problems. This guy is a tool, he brings a date to his girlfriend's charity event, he gets beaten up at every turn, he has zero personality, and yet he still somehow takes down the killer. That honour should have gone to Maggie. It was a personal thing between the two characters, since her father caused all this suffering. To bring in this wishy washy character to do the deed just fails on any sort of structure. Maggie was otherwise shown as a smart, female character, and sadly falls into the trap of having to be saved by her boyfriend. I give that a big meh.
Anyways, secrets are out, Toby is dead, and the credits roll.
Huh, directed by...Mark Herrier? Wait, Mark? The boyfriend's name was Mark! It all makes sense now! Too much sense. At least they didn't make the guy a totally awesome hero, and made him pretty useless and a joke.
And I love it when the end credits music to a film is so obviously made for the film, and nothing else. How can you tell? When it mentions things that are pretty unique to the movie you just watched, you've got a commissioned song, my friends.
Video: Pretty standard for a disc of a film from 1991. The colours are dull, and there's grain. Pretty much what you're used to seeing on any 1980s film. But at least it's in a proper 16x9 format.
Audio: Stereo mix, nothing to right home about.
Special Features: Not available on my disc, since it won't play them for some reason. But the list on the back of the box is short, so again, everything about this movie is pretty basic, and what you would expect to see on a disc rushed out there to sell a few copies.
First Kill: A whopping 35 minutes in when Mr. Davis gets impaled by the mosquito, over a third of the film. They really took their time to build these people up, and aside from three or four characters, I could care less about them. That's a long time to wait for a kill in a movie like this, and the wait wasn't worth it.
Best Kill: Has to be Bud's electrocution. Toby took the time to tie the guy to his wheelchair, shave his head, and wire him up to the board. All while wearing a skirt. That's attention to detail.
Best Line: There's a number of good ones here, but the absolute best, that made me laugh at the incoherence of it, goes to Toby. "Here's my plan, I've thought it out with geometric logic." I don't think that even means anything!
Gore: Pretty much none to speak of. There's a little blood in Lanyard Gate's film, but that's about it. Most of the ickyness comes from Toby's scarred head, and a ewww scene where he's wearing Mister Davis' face and kisses the girl he later impersonates, and the mask gets stuck to her face, peeling off.
Nudity/Sex Appeal: Again, pretty tame. Everyone keeps their clothes on, there's no sex. There's some kissing, and some innuendo, but that's as far as it goes.
Rating: It's bizarre, it's cheesy, and yet it's kinda clever, and fun to watch. I give it a four out of five face masks.