Sunday 3 August 2008

Satan's Storybook (1989)

This is a Ginger Lynn film, made in her mainstream Ginger Lynn Allen days, though I'm watching it as half of a Scarlet Fry double bill. Fry is way down the cast list in a tiny role but probably has about as much screen time as the one name anyone has ever heard of. Actually there's another name I've heard of too, one that I was highly interested in seeing on the big screen. Gary Brandner is not known as an actor in the slightest: he's really a writer, with many horror novels to his name, the most famous of which is The Howling. I was very interested to see what he looked like and how he acted. It turns out that he's not known as an actor for a good reason: he isn't that great in this, his only screen role, but sadly he's still possibly the best actor in this film.

This is an amateurish production through and through. A long, very long, text only credit sequence leads us into what becomes a framing story, with Ginger Lynn, Leslie Deutsch and Ray Robert. Deutsch plays Queen Elonite, wife to Robert's Satan, who is apparently going to be the victim in some pagan sacrifice. Lynn is a ninja (yep, a ninja, all dressed in white, and no, this isn't a Godfrey Ho movie), who takes five full minutes to explain the back story that we don't get to see. Apparently she's called Christeeth and she's really Elonite's sister. She wasn't really murdered in the cradle by Satan, that was some other sister, and she was really rescued by a priest who trained her for an entire lifetime to be able to save Elonite and piss off the Dark Lord, something she utterly fails to do.

This is an awesomely bad and very long explanation scene that feels like it was thrown in there to replace an entire film that never got made, and that's what this seems to be: a feature length story that for some reason didn't happen, so one time writer/director Michael Rider turned it into a framing story for an anthology called Satan's Storybook, the segments themselves being told to Satan to calm him down from whining about where his queen is. I'm still trying to decide whether it was a good thing that it was never finished or not. If it had been finished, at least we'd have only one story to complain about instead of three, but I have honestly seen Ginger Lynn porn movies that had better plots, better acting and a bigger budget.

Then again, if it had been finished we'd have to put up with Satan for much longer. This Satan is roughly akin to Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequels, merely in one of those masks they used to advertise on the back page of Fangoria. He's a whiny little bitch who flounces about on an obvious set disguised with way too much dry ice, being pandered to by his jester. Yep, this Satan has a jester, a jester with a puppet no less, and it's the jester, played by Michael Daevid, who tells our stories. Daevid used to be a dancer and backing vocalist for Debbie Gibson, which explains why he feels the urge to leap around in between saying anything.

He tells two stories, instead of the conventional three, the first being about a serial killer called the Demon of Death. The Demon of Death is played by Steven K Arthur, who also wrote and produced, which explains how he got such a big part, though he's one of those few actors who I can look at and seriously say that I would have done a better job. Of all the many serial killers in movie history, he's apparently the one with the least background. All we know is that he's a serial killer who owns a radio and who picks his victims at random from the phonebook.

There's a great and very representative moment here: the radio newscaster tells us to hold on for a new report any second, but the new report is that there's nothing to report: no leads, no new victims. Just like the radio, this film continually tells us something's going to happen, at which point nothing does. Anyway, the Demon of Death picks Jezebell Jones as his next victim. She's apparently a 20 year old metalhead witch living with mom and dad, though she's the least convincing 20 year old I've ever seen. She survives, though mom and dad don't, and so does the Demon of Death, even though he's been repeatedly blasted by two cops.

There's something else going on here, but the way the demon voices are synthesised means that I can't understand what they're talking about, making them about as coherent as the plot. Anyway, Jezebell summons her clairvoyant grandmother in some sort of seance, who tells her how she can get her revenge. At the moment he fries in the electric chair, she can recite the very same chant she used to summon granny to make the Demon of Death burn for ever in a lake of eternal fire. Except it doesn't work but I can't tell you why because it's all incoherent, the voice and the script and everything. Did I mention this was six years later but everyone looks precisely the same?

This whole thing is awful, really awful. The acting is really bad, pull people off the street at random bad. Nobody seems to have ever appeared in anything else again, which is understandable. The dialogue is definitively awful and could be used as a textbook for a 'here's how not to write a movie' class. My favourite lines: 'I may be scum, but I'm legal scum!' and 'If I fail now I will become even more powerful!' Yeah. The sets are cheap and stunningly unbelievable. Jezebell's house has a huge white canvas hanging above the fireplace, as if the prop department didn't realise they were supposed to buy one with something painted on it. The story is incomprehensible, apparently as much so to the actors as to us, who seem so confused that there's a gap between every line spoken as if they're trying to decide if it's the right one to use.

Story number two is better, if only because Brandner's bad acting is better than everyone else's bad acting, because most of it involves only two people and because it's linear enough to at least make sense. He's a clown called Charlie, who has been hitting the sauce again, something that has plagued him for years. He can't juggle any more, let alone be ready on time, but his hands are steady enough to apply his makeup perfectly. Anyway, Charlie gets fired and hangs himself, only to come face to face with Mickey the Mort, who is basically Death to clowns, who points out how bad he was in life. The end.

While it's a better story, it's still a bad one and it's painful to watch because Charlie gets nothing except awesomely cheesy cliched lines and Mickey the Mort squeaks when he talks. Squeaking gets old after about two lines but it goes on and on here until we want to do what Charlie does to make it stop. Of course it doesn't work for him either. Oh, and then there's more framing story with Satan whining it up and Ginger Lynn getting thrown about a hundred plot twists at once, collapsing under the weight of them and giving up the ghost entirely by saying something defiant.

The third story is... oh yeah, there isn't a third story. This thing just ends. It doesn't seem to end in any way other than there isn't any more and the credits run, but it appears to just run out of time. The framing story suggests that there will be a third story, which never comes, and that it will continue itself. Queen Elonite comes back to see her Dark Lord, only to go back to the Dark Forest to catch her sister, and... well, that's it.

I've seen a lot of bad horror movies in my time, but this one takes the cake. It delivers on precisely no counts, and everything about it is painful. It would have improved no end if someone had got topless. After all this is an eighties horror movie starring a porn star in the lead, and there's absolutely no sexual element at all. There's very little gore and nothing else to appeal to the horror crowd. Nobody else would have even picked it up to watch in the first place and horror fans may even find it a little offensive to see Satan himself as a little whiny bitch. This is another film to add to the ever growing 'worse than Plan 9 from Outer Space' list.

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