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  Willies, The What's grosser than gross?
Year: 1990
Director: Brian Peck
Stars: Sean Astin, Jason Horst, Joshua John Miller, James Karen, Kathleen Freeman, Ian Fried, Clu Gulager, Jeremy Miller, Michael Bower, Ralph Drischell, Suzanne Goddard-Smythe, Mike Pniewski, Ari Smith, Kirk Cameron, Tracey Gold, Chelsea Noble
Genre: Horror, ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: Teenage Michael (Sean Astin) and his younger cousins Kyle (Jason Horst) and Josh (Joshua John Miller) are camped out in a tent late at night, swapping scary stories. In response to Josh’s insistent requests to hear something “grosser than gross”, Michael tells a story about young Danny Hollister (Ian Fried), a poor, put-upon elementary school kid tormented by mullet-adorned bullies. Danny’s only friend, avuncular school janitor Mr. Jenkins (James Karen), assures him the mean kids will get what is coming to them. Shortly after that Danny stumbles upon a terrifying, bloodthirsty monster lurking in the bathroom next to the grisly remains of Mr. Jenkins. Of course nobody believes Danny until it’s too late... Next up Josh and Kyle entertain Michael with the strange story of Gordy Belcher (Michael Bower), a portly, asthmatic yet thoroughly obnoxious and unsympathetic young misfit obsessed with collecting flies to glue into his weird dioramas. Between shoplifting, feeding fly-laced cookies to innocent schoolgirls and verbally abusing his long-suffering mom, Gordy makes time to steal Old Farmer Spivey’s (Ralph Drischell) "miracle growth" manure. Which turns out to work only too well when fed to Gordy’s flies with disastrous consequences.

For British viewers likely to giggle over the unintentionally phallic nature of that title, The Willies (titter) is an American colloquialism along the lines of "the shivers" or "the creeps." Seemingly skewed towards a younger audience this juvenile horror anthology, the lone writer-director outing for actor Brian Peck (who played Scuz in fan-favourite Return of the Living Dead (1985)), sports the same garish, semi-comical tone found in the later Nineties run of creepy kids TV shows such as Goosebumps, Are You Afraid of the Dark? and Eerie, Indiana. Firmly in line with an adolescent’s concept of horror The Willies (chuckle) foregrounds goofy monsters, cartoon grue and a slightly sadistic sense of humour. It is essentially Creepshow (1982) for the juvenile set. Yet one imagines children with the stomach for horror would glean more entertainment from the George Romero-Stephen King classic. Peck’s offering falls uncomfortably between two stools: too scary and mean-spirited for kids, too childish for horror fans.

The stories, prefigured by two brief early anecdotes about a fast-food restaurant that serves fried rats and an old man trapped in a zombie infested theme park, touch on childhood neuroses but are strictly one-dimensional. They come across like skits spotlighting an eclectic cast (a post-Goonies, pre-Lord of the Rings Sean Astin, cult child actor Joshua John Miller of River’s Edge (1986) and Near Dark (1987) fame (later screenwriter of excellent slasher parody The Final Girls (2015)), veteran comedy actress Kathleen Freeman (as Danny’s grouchy schoolteacher, doing the same welcome shtick she did in all those vintage Jerry Lewis movies) and Peck’s Return of the Living Dead co-star Clu Gulager in a cameo so brief you wonder why he bothered. For reasons all its own The Willies (hee-hee) also features multiple cast members from the American sitcom Growing Pains including Kirk Cameron, Tracy Gold (both seemingly reprising their characters from the show!), Jeremy Miller and Chelsea Noble (later a staple presence, along with husband Kirk Cameron, in the Evangelical Christian-themed Left Behind movies).

Peck’s stilted direction fails to imbue them with the right E.C. comic verve. The film ambles interminably where it really needed to zip by, shredding kids’ nerves. In particular the pacing during the monster sequences is painfully slow, highlighting the goofy nature of the creature effects. More problematic though is the muddled morality inherent in the stories themselves. One of them ends with an ostensible innocent more or less assisting a murderer before walking away unscathed. The second tale, with its introverted yet curiously irredeemable, misanthropic child protagonist behaving nasty even to those trying to be nice to him, is even stranger in that it has no discernible point. Gordy Belcher is a gross, obnoxious jerk who meets a gross, obnoxious fate yet comes away seemingly having learned nothing. Eventually the wraparound segment reaches its own laboured nonsensical punchline.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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