Have You Ever Seen...
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988)
I am both happy and angry that there will be a new Criterion release of this coming out in Jan 2023. Big yay, but I don't need another upgrade temptation. And while the cover art does look nice, I can't help but be disappointed that it's not this beautiful alternate poster made by Jeff Soto.
This is one of those movies that I usually feel is well known enough that I don't need to talk about it, but then I bring it up and a surprising amount of people only vaguely know of it. It's also one of those movies that I don't re-watch often enough, and after a chunk of time has passed I often think my nostalgia might be painting too nice of a memory of it. Then I watch it though and I usually find new reasons to appreciate it. Although not the trauma part for Sarah Polley, that's like the only reason I'm not giving this a 10/10. And perhaps I should give it less due to that, but......it's still a really good movie.
As an example of new takeaways, I never had an appreciation for Oliver Reed when I saw this years ago. After seeing him in The Devils and then realizing he was Vulcan in this, it just felt like a completely different experience. I also didn't really have the same appreciation for the sheer whimsy and charm when I was younger, and the strengths of the films design work and practical effects just stand out so much more to me now. The way in which it all comes together is just not something you really see anymore, and you can just sit back and appreciate the ingenuity and creativity a little more with each passing year as we settle into more hollow trends in cinema.
If you've never seen it and need a good excuse, just wait another month and do yourself a favor and get a copy with all the extra goodies from Criterion.
I have a soft spot for the sequel, but I felt like I needed to revisit this even though you really don't need to watch it for any type of continuity or anything. While it's not as memorable and odd as House II, and while the main character and some of the plotting leave a little to be desired, there's still some nuggets that make it worth checking out.
The main character is a writer who is A) in the process of a divorce, B) has to write a new book per an agreement with his publisher, C) inherits a creepy house from his aunt who committed suicide in the house, and D) is still reeling from the disappearance of his son who vanished one day from the same house. At no point do you have a solid idea how close these events are all to each other, and at no point do you really feel like the main character is feeling the right amount of emotion towards any of them. But hey, they all need to happen I guess, and it's written by Fred Dekker who worked on Monster Squad and Demolition Man so it ain't all bad.
The interesting part is that the house is sort of a nexus of realities, most of them leaning harder into horror with a slight Lovecraftian tinge and a slight dash of Evil Dead. It is a horror comedy though, and as I mentioned they have some trouble settling down on their tone. It bounces around for a bit and tosses in some Vietnam 'War is Hell' mini themes along the way, which is all sort of meh but you do get Richard Moll as a zombified GI so there is that.
The highlights are the various monster effects, some of them looking pretty good and others....well, they look ok for the time. There's creativity here, although it gets bogged down by the main character's convoluted drama. It needed to go a little deeper into the horror, or deeper into the nexus of realities, which leads us to......
House II: The Second Story (1987)
I'll start by saying that this is not a good movie per se, but it is a memorable movie and I still love it. And yes, this is the one with the caterpillar puppy.
There is literally no connective tissue to the first film, it's simply a different house that also happens to be a nexus of realities where weird shit goes down. The main characters are couple of young idiots who have less going on for them than the character in the original, to the point where the movie chucks out their initial love interests at light speed because we ain't got time for romance. We've got time for two dudes to make bad decisions and collect weirdos along the way and the movie doubles down on that very quickly. And I would argue that works for the best because I'm here for the random weirdness and creature features.
Said weirdness includes a crystal skull that basically powers the house's portals, a good cowboy mummy, an evil cowboy zombie, a baby pterodactyl, the aforementioned caterpillar puppy, Aztec warriors, and more. It also features one of my favorite characters in anything ever, the electrician and part-time adventurer Bill Towner (played by John Ratzenberger).
Seriously, there needed to be a Bill Towner spin-off because he's the single greatest thing to come out of this franchise. Which I know isn't saying much but when his part hits in the film it really hits for me. Hey, Ratzenberger is still kicking, he can be setting up his grandson Bill Towner III to fill his electrician boots and save the universe between home renovation jobs. I am ready to write this script.
It's a stupid movie, but it's a stupid movie that has fun with its core concept.