A while back I reviewed a very independent movie called Scary
Tales and even harassed . . . I mean 'interviewed' it's creator, Michael
Hoffman. In Scary Tales, likable schlub Dennis Frye went to Mr. Longfellow's
employment agency, and found that it was 'a little bit different' than the rest,
in that while most employment agencies just try to find you a job, Mr. Longfellow
told Dennis three stories about how his life would turn out if he took each
possible job, and, well, it's not spoiling things to say that in each situation,
things don't turn out so good for Dennis. Longfellow's definition of different
puts Arby's to shame.
Now comes Scary Tales: The Return of Longfellow. After watching it, I
have to say that SCARY TALES: THE RETURN OF LONGFELLOW IS THE SECOND
BEST MOVIE EVER MADE with the word 'scary' in the title. The Return
put up a good fight against Scary Movie, but ultimately lost by several
laughs. However, The Return kicked Scary
Movie 2 squarely in the shins, and sent the original Scary Tales
running away with its scary tales between its legs.
Of course, the other thing that The Return did was make me look back
with increasing fondness on the original Scary Tales. As much as I hate
to admit it, I actually missed Mr. Longfellow and Dennis Frye. Perhaps because,
back in ye olde college days, Scary Tales' combination of silliness and
total obscurity would have virtually guaranteed that it became an inside joke.
This time around, Mr. Longfellow is running a used car dealership, and
he can't just let somebody buy a car. Oh no. He's got to tell them about what
happened to the vehicle's previous owner.
The first story is notable because it bears a . . . um . . . scary resemblance
to April's John Cusack movie Identity. The knee-jerk reaction would be
to call the low-budget version a rip-off, but given that Hoffman was filming
The Return in June of 2002, and has been talking about his script even
before that, I'm sure that the truth is much more interesting. The Return,
by the way, credits a psychiatrist named Dr. Jason Finder for the idea. Whether
the separated at birth nature of the two movies is coincidence or not is, frankly,
a far more compelling mystery than the one set forth in either Identity
or The Return.
The second segment in The Return is the story of how some dumb toughs
with their gang name spray-painted on their T-shirts vandalized a convenience
store, ate some magical PowerBars (which they didn't pay for) and became mixed
up zombies. Of course, Dennis Frye opens a can of Bruce Campbell's soup on their
Romero-fied buttocks. There's also a perfectly silly falling-in-love sequence
that's followed by Dennis Frye looking dreamily into his sweetheart's eyes and
saying, 'Too bad you're not single.'
The final segment mixes deadpan humor with a few moments of actual creepiness,
and it features Martin Sheen's doppelganger/brother, Joe Estevez.
While I found the first Scary Tales's wraparound to be kinda flat, the
used car lot sequences are the highlight of The Return. There's this
odd character named Wesley, who, with his giant white smile, plaid outfit and
rouged cheeks, looks like a breathing ventriloquist's dummy. Mr. Longfellow
has a lot more fun this time around, and so did I. Jason Daly (who also co-wrote
and directed) plays Longfellow's potential customer Don Leifert, and the two
of them spar hilariously over Longfellow's stories:
Leifert: 'You can't just introduce a character in the middle of a story.'
Longfellow: 'Oh yes I can.'
Overall, The Return is snappier, funnier, and much better filmed than
the first movie. But it's far from perfect. While Joel Winkoop (Longfellow),
Jason Daly (Leifert), Bill Cassinelli (Frye), Joe Estevez (the desk clerk),
and George Randol (Wesley) are all marvelous, most of the other actors are just
bad, bad, bad. And I mean that in the 'opposite of good' sense of the word.
Also, the film-makers are still trying to scare us with their scary tales, and
without better locations, better effects, and better actors, that just ain't
going to happen. Still, I'm honestly looking forward to Scary Tales: The
Revenge of Dennis Frye, which was teased in the closing credits. Long live
Dennis Frye . . . even though he's dead.
Not much here. Three versions of the trailer, production notes, and cast filmographies.
Not that I was expecting any extras at all, but I'd love to see how Hoffman
and his cohorts would do a 'making of' or 'director's commentary.' In fact,
I hereby beg for a 'director's commentary', if not for The Return than
at least for Scary Tales: The Revenge of Dennis Frye.
One other thing: Stick around through the end credits.