Thursday, March 12, 2015

Full Moon Fever: Evil Bong

by Patrick Bromley
There are times I wish I did drugs.

The 2006 horror comedy Evil Bong is Full Moon's first sitcom. Not really, of course; it's a feature film, but one that's constructed and plays exactly like a sitcom. From the single apartment setting to the cast of roommates who drop in and out of the proceedings to the broad humor the film embraces, it really does seem like Evil Bong has been stitched together from episodes of a situation comedy that never made it on the air.

Would that it were a better situation comedy. Somehow, the Evil Bong series has gone on to be one of Full Moon's biggest franchises of the 2000s, rivaled only by their own Gingerdead Man series -- meaning, of course, that the two franchises crossed over for 2013's Gingerdead Man vs. Evil Bong. It's probably because of the outrageousness of the concept and the fact that it appeals directly to a very specific audience -- the kind that would get very, very stoned, lay on a couch and giggle through a movie about a sentient killer bong with a sassy attitude. You've got to give it Charles Band: the guy knows how to come up with ideas that are either so wacky or so silly sounding that they've got to see them.
Nerdy Alistair McDowell (David Weidoff) answers a call for a roommate and moves into an apartment with dropout Larnell (John Patrick Jordan), surfer Bachman (Mitch Eakins) and jockish Brett (Brian Lloyd). Though Alistair doesn't partake in recreational drug use, his perpetually stoned friends invest in a giant bong that, according to its previous owner, is possessed. As the gang takes turns smoking from it, they are one by one sucked into the bong and find themselves in some sort of weird interdimensional strip club (populated by characters from past Full Moon movies) where the dancers invariably kill them, thereby killing them in the "real" world as well. It's up to drug-free Allistair and his new would-be girlfriend Janet (Kristyn Green) to stop the bong...with the help of Tommy Chong, of course. Who else?
Despite my affection for a lot of Full Moon movies -- it's been well-documented on this site, as there's a whole column devoted to them -- I know that I am not the audience for Evil Bong. Call me a nerd, call me a square, call me maybe, but I have never so much as taken a hit off a joint. I have no relationship to drugs other than total disinterest, so it stands to reason that I would also be completely disinterested in drug movies, too. I am not a fan of stoner humor, which consistently proves the theory that what is funny to a person that is high (you know, like EVERYTHING) is not necessarily funny to a person who is not. If I was baked as shit, maybe I would be laughing through all of Evil Bong. Because I was not, there were no laughs to found. That's a problem when the movie is essentially a comedy.

But being unfunny isn't the greatest of Evil Bong's sins. Its problem is that its far too limited by both budget (it's shot on essentially two sets) and imagination. The structure lends itself to fantasy sequences inside the bong that break up the sitcom monotony of the apartment scenes -- they would, in fact, make the apartment scenes seem deliberately static as an artistic choice by comparison. Instead, every trip into the bong is the exact same: dark strip club set, stripper with weird bra that ends up biting or attacking the victim in some way. Repeat. I get that these movies (in particular the more recent ones) are shot quickly and cheaply, but that doesn't mean they can't be more creative in realizing their supernatural elements. There was an opportunity here to transcend the movie's limitations by being weird or surreal (similar to something like Blood Dolls), and at least that might have supplemented -- or even surpassed -- the drug content. After all, as Roger Ebert says, movies are not what they are about but how they are about it. Evil Bong finds a disappointing way to be about an evil bong.
If there's an aspect of Evil Bong that I did enjoy, it's that the weirdo strip club to which the characters are transported after getting high is some kind of Full Moon limbo, with characters from Demonic Toys and Ooga Booga and Decadent Evil and Gingerdead Man making appearances. Hell, Tim Thomerson even shows up near the end playing Jack Deth from Trancers. It's fan service, sure, and not even fan service that makes a whole lot of sense, but there's little about a killer bong movie that's going to make a whole lot of sense. Might as well embrace the surreality of it all. Besides, as someone with no interest in stoner humor, a least the movie was still able to speak to the Full Moon fan in me.

That got me thinking: what if smoking from EeeBee (as in E.B./Evil Bong, as it eventually comes to be called) just sent the characters into the "real" world of Full Moon Studios? The creature cameos could all be retained and the movie would have taken on a much more 'meta' approach, one which offers the same kind of fan service but also combines an intelligence with all the stupid silly weed stuff. This could have been Full Moon's Charlie Kaufman movie.
Instead, it feels like so many of their more contemporary efforts: few locations, few characters, little ambition. It's got a great title and a killer hook of a premise but is unable to capitalize on any of it. Tommy Chong's participation is inspired, Robyn Sydney is sexy as always, but most everything else falls flat. I'm reminded of when I saw the third Evil Bong movie, The Wrath of Bong, at the Chicago stop of the Full Moon Roadshow a few years ago. It was a huge audience of Full Moon fans who had already sat through From Beyond and Castle Freak and Charles Band telling very entertaining stories for an hour. We were primed for something that sounded as fun as Evil Bong 3 did (at this point, I had not yet seen any films in the series). The movie was presented in 3-D and Smell-o-Vision, with scratch n' sniff cards handed out ahead of time that wreaked of fake weed and gradually made me sick over the course of the day. There couldn't have been better circumstances under which to see the movie, but the air was quickly sucked out of the room as a result of many of the same mistakes made by the original Evil Bong.

Part of me wishes the movie had been done as a sitcom instead, as I would probably be more forgiving of some of its problems. The central conceit would have to be changed -- EeeBee could be a wacky roommate or the show's ALF -- but with these characters, this cast and that apartment, the rest of the pieces are all in place. There could be regular crossovers with other characters from the Full Moon Universe; one week, the gang gets a telegram from the Head of the Family and has to go see him at his house, while another week someone brings home one of the toys from Puppet Master. I'm onto something here. If anyone from Full Moon is reading, my services are available. You know where to find me.

Full Moon will release the fourth installment in their incredibly popular Evil Bong series, Evil Bong 420, this April 20th. As it's their first feature film to premiere exclusively on the service (their series Trophy Heads debuted last year and was later edited into a feature, but it's not quite the same thing), it's kind of a big deal. My original plan was to watch and write about the first three Evil Bong movies -- and possibly even Gingerdead Man vs. Evil Bong -- before that date. I'm fairly confident I'm not going to make it.

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  1. I really need to give some of Full Moon's movies another chance. Over the years, I've tried watching a few of them, but never really dug in. As a total square, Evil Bong probably isn't the best choice for me. But I'm sure I'll find something in their back catalog that appeals to my tastes. Or lack thereof.

    1. This is definitely not the place to start, but stuff like Trancers and Dollman and Oblivion and Castle Freak might be more to your liking.

    2. Thanks for the recommendations. I'll add them to my watch list (which, these days, is pretty much entirely titles recommended by you guys).

  2. The first sentence of this review sums up the way I've felt about so many movies/albums/tv shows/conversations that I've taken part in over the course of my life. There are some things that just aren't meant to be enjoyed by the squares.

  3. They say don't judge a book by its cover, but I could pretty much tell this would be awful by the cover and title. And I'm even usually quite fond of stoner movies!

    Jeff | HTools

  4. haha I saw the cover for this film and I have to admit, I judged. After watching that clip I am not quite impressed, but I am pretty high so maybe I'll give it a ago.