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Wednesday 24 December 2008

Return from Witch Mountain (1978)

Escape to Witch Mountain was enough of a kit for Disney to come back for a sequel, and they had both the good sense to keep the same child actors as the first film and also bring in a couple of name stars to back them up. That means Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann as Tia and Tony, with no lesser names than Bette Davis and Christopher Lee as the villains of the piece, Letha Wedge and Victor Gammon. It doesn't take too long for them to tangle either because while these kids are aliens with superpowers, whose race is trying to hide from the rest of the world, they all suck at hiding anything.

They probably inherit that from Uncle Bene, played by a returning Denver Pyle, who drops the kids off in his flying saucer right on the 50 yard line of the Pasadena Rose Bowl, which has to be the single dumbest place anyone can pick if they're trying to hide from the rest of the world, even if it's off season. So Tia and Tony head off to experience the big city, but on a slight pause because the taxi runs out of gas they both end up in precisely the wrong company.

Tony 'sees' a man about to fall off a roof so goes to save him, not paying any attention to the villains of the piece who were standing in the otherwise deserted street trying to mind control him. Naturally the next step is to mind control Tony for nefarious ends. First up is an attempt to rob the museum of $3m in gold bars, in broad daylight, by wreaking bizarre chaos in front of all and sundry. Tia tries to come to the rescue but ends up in the middle of a suspiciously multiracial kiddie gang fight and wins the day for the Earthquake gang by levitating garbage cans up in the air and dropping on the heads of the opposing gang. So Rocky, Muscles, Dazzler and Crusher get to become her inept backup.

You can see part of the problem already, I'm sure. This is really dumb I mean really dumb. Tony and Tia don't do a bad job at all, especially given the material, but to even suggest the main stars are working more than a little beneath their level is a horrendous understatement. For someone of the calibre of Bette Davis to be reduced to spouting inane drivel like this is more than a mild insult. It doesn't help that she looks like a dwarf next to Christopher Lee. Now Lee has made a career habit of alternating great classics with utter garbage. This is far closer to the latter, and his role is as stereotypical a one dimensional megalomaniac as you've seen in a low budget Bond rip off. Bette Davis doesn't even get that much to play with.

And they're the big stars. There are others slumming it further down the cast list, like Anthony James, always a talented and sleazy henchman but just a moron here. On the other hand, the kids playing the Earthquake gang belong in something like this. The Earthquake gang are something like a Z-grade version of The Goonies. When it comes to a choice between Poindexter or the Feldmeister, there isn't even a contest. Don't get me started on a Jeffrey Jacquet against Jonathan Ke Quan battle. The best of the bunch is the little guy from The Apple Dumpling Gang and that doesn't say much.

There are so many holes in the story it's unreal but don't get me wrong, this may well be awesomely scary and suspenseful to an eight year old. I could imagine the chase scene especially being very effective to young audiences, and much of the rest of the film too. The catch is that anyone over the age of eight will think it's incredibly dumb and the older they are, the more dumb it will become. It's definitely one to watch young and keep fond memories of without ever actually watching it again.

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