Friday, April 10, 2015

Full Moon Fever: Demonic Toys

by Patrick Bromley
It worked for puppets, right?

This Full Moon Fever entry comes via request by Dennis Atherton (@denzbeanz). Thanks, Dennis!

Though made during Full Moon's golden age -- when the company's partnership deal with Paramount afforded them bigger budgets, bigger distribution and, often, better movies -- 1992's Demonic Toys more than any other effort of the period feels like the one that wrote the template for most modern Full Moon films. It's got a small cast (about 10 or fewer speaking parts), a single warehouse location and, of course, tiny puppets trying to kill people. It might as well have been made by Full Moon in 2012.

The puppet thing I get. After Puppet Master became a big hit as the studio's first film, it made sense to try to strike oil twice (and, if you look up Full Moon's filmography, a seventh, eighth, ninth and 15th time, too). There is an attempt to give each of the Demonic Toys an individual personality or memorable gimmick, just as there was the pint-sized monsters of Puppet Master. It sometimes works, like when Baby Oopsie Daisy opens its mouth and makes a wisecrack or when Grizzly Teddy grows six feet tall. It works less well when the toys just keep picking up guns and shooting people.
Tracy Scoggins plays pregnant cop Judith who, as the film opens, is staking out a toy warehouse with her partner/lover. He's shot and killed by the two criminals they're there to apprehend, both of whom flee into the warehouse. Judith gives chase, and once inside must fight off a bunch of killer toys that have come to life: Baby Oopsie Daisy (a potty-mouthed baby doll), Jack Attack (a clown jack in the box), teddy bear Grizzly Teddy and killer robot Mr. Static. Thankfully, the toys have more people to kill than just Judith and the two criminals, as a couple randoms make their way to the warehouse including a security guard, a delivery boy and a runaway.

Demonic Toys is, for me, among the weakest of the early Full Moon movies, though it's difficult to pin down exactly why. I suspect I'm in the minority on this, as the film (and its sequel and spin-offs) has a devoted fan base and was instrumental in building the company brand in its beginnings. There's nothing necessarily wrong with it that couldn't be said about other Full Moon titles I like better, and yet very little of it adds up to a movie I feel like revisiting. The characters aren't very compelling, probably because most of them pop up briefly only to be killed off. The world it sets up isn't interesting. The toys themselves are just ok; Jack Attack is a neat design and Baby Oopsie Daisy is an amusing personality, but it's hard to believe any of them caught on as fan favorites even among the Full Moon community.
Some of the ideas at work are cool, like the fact that Scoggins' character is pregnant and so much of the movie turns children's playthings into nightmares. These ideas are only half developed, though; had she been, say, unhappy or ambivalent about her upcoming baby, the toys (and the eventual incarnation of the devil as a little kid) would represent all of her dread about being a mother. Instead it's used as a plot device so she has her own little kid projection to fight the devil kid projection at the climax. The toys aren't the villains because they represent the fears of parenthood. They're the villains because Charles Band likes to use dolls in his movies and because Puppet Master was a success.

It's at its best when it embraces weirdness, like a scene in which characters hallucinate two girls riding around the warehouse on bikes wearing gas masks. It goes nowhere and is really the only moment like it in the movie, but it hints at a kind of creativity that might have transcended the four walls of the generic warehouse set. By the time we reach the climax and a little stop motion toy soldier turns into Judith's unborn son (still wearing a toy soldier costume!) so that he can fight a demon that is also taking the form of a little boy, Demonic Toys has finally gone crazy enough to excite me. It's not uncommon for Full Moon movies -- or any exploitation movie, really -- to only work in fits and starts, creating memorable sequences bookended by filler (it's one of the things Tarantino got so right in Death Proof). I don't hold that against Demonic Toys. I just wish the filler was less frequent and that the memorable sequences were more memorable.
At least Demonic Toys gets credit for stylish direction by Peter Manoogian, a filmmaker brought up through the ranks by Charles Band during the Empire days. He was an assistant director on Parasite and Metalstorm before directing his own segment of the 1984 anthology The Dungeonmaster (aka Ragewar) and, subsequently calling the shots on Eliminators, Enemy Territory and Arena. One needs look no further than the film's trailer (video below) to see that he does his best to compose interesting and sometimes beautiful shots that help compensate for the limitations of the location and the story. For as much as Demonic Toys helped create a template for future (and often lesser) Full Moon titles, Manoogian is at least sure to make it as cinematic as it can be.

The movie's biggest claim to fame is probably that it was written by David S. Goyer, who also wrote the Albert Pyun-directed Arcade for Full Moon and would go on to write all three Blade movies (and direct the third) as well as Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy and Man of Steel. Despite having seen a lot of movies he has written, I have no real sense of who Goyer is as a writer except that he writes a lot of superhero shit and doesn't always handle exposition dumps well. I guess that's on display here, too, since most of the exposition comes courtesy of "dream" scenes with imaginary future babies and demon souls looking to be born into the world via Judith's vagina. To be fair to Goyer, I don't know how to convey that information better.
The Demonic Toys themselves became a big part of the Full Moon universe despite the fact that they only got one proper sequel, and even that didn't come until 17 years later. They popped again in spin-off movies like Dollman vs. Demonic Toys and Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys, a no-brainer idea that was technically made for the Sci Fi Channel and is not an actual Full Moon release. Jack Attack even showed up during one of the limbo/killer strip club sequences in Evil Bong. It's a real chicken/egg situation, because I don't know if their longevity is a testament to their popularity with fans or if the fans eventually embraced them after being worn down by having them forced upon them in movie after movie. Ultimately, it doesn't matter. I like that Full Moon has created its own interconnected universe even if I don't love every element of that universe.

The real upside is this: now that I've written about both Dollman and Demonic Toys, I can finally do a FMF piece on the crossover Dollman vs. Demonic Toys! Or do I need to do Bad Channels first? My life is so hard.

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  1. Cheers Patrick

    know im gonna love this review, to comment better I will watch the film from my Puppetmaster Terror toys boxset this weekend and I'll comment and read later, ive got my homework assignment now sorted

  2. Before I read the review I read at the top "Thanks Dennis!"
    I had a feeling the exclamation point may be a hint of things to come, oh dear what have I made Patrick suffer? In my defence " Its been a while" all devoted podcasters will have sung that last phrase I hope, its certainly a nostalgic film from my favourite Era, era ;)

    I watched it last night from my Dvd boxset with Puppetmaster 1,2,3 and also Demonic toys, the best thing about the boxset is the tagline "Monsters, In your face gore, and Breast-focused Nudity" that's pretty amazing, the stakes just got upped.

    How can it live up to that tagline? it does have flashes of what it could have been, Tracy looks sweaty and tough, the toys are all cool, Like Patrick mentioned the Gasmasks scene for no reason is great, it has some really funny oneliners now and again, overall I still enjoyed it, 87 mins is perfect for this type of movie and it passed fairly quickly with just a slight lull in the middle, it's possibly ahead of its time as this film is just right for the stoner culture of more recent films like Evil bong, the only complaint I have is there is nowhere near as many breasts as promised but the one scene where the fantasy girl from the Playboy type magazine appears and strips is pretty funny

    Eventually Patrick will have to see the third to close the circle, how could you not? I promise I will watch it too

  3. Two other points of interest was the Toy Factory was called Arcadia, I just kept thinking of the club they frequent in American Psycho of the same name

    And Secondly why does an old toy factory need a security guard?
    He did have the best job in the world though, eating chicken and watching Puppetmaster on tv all night, I could do that job

  4. Im still thinking about WHY an old toy factory needs a Security guard? ;)

    At Least it wasent filmed in Charles Castle like so many of his movies

  5. Ah, an old childhood favourite probably best left to fond memories though I may have to check it out soon. My sister who was probably about 6 when I watched it with her (cuz I'm a good big brother) still quotes BOD's "I can walk, I can talk, I can even shit my pants" to this day! Possibly Goyer's best work?

  6. Yeah, I did not hate this movie but then again the first time I watched it was this past Halloween when Elvira hosted this movie. Maybe she made it a little more fun for me. But I must say you are right why the following for this it does get a lot of love from the fans.

  7. I believe Demonic Toys was David S. Goyer's first writing gig.