Rated R version of the ’80s TV show, divided into three segments. The wraparound story involves little Timmy (Matthew Lawrence), who’s trying to avoid being cooked for a dinner party by Betty (Deborah Harry) and is distracting her with tales. “Lot 249,” adapted from an Arthur Conan Doyle story, involves poor college student Bellingham (Steve Buscemi), who takes revenge on his wealthy tormentors with a mummy. “Cat from Hell,” adapted from a Stephen King story, deals with Halston (David Johansen), a hitman hired by an eccentric billionaire (William Hickey) to kill a cat that’s apparently murdering everyone in his household. “Lover’s Vow” shows Preston (James Remar), a starving artist who in the same night narrowly avoids being killed by a monster and falls in love with Carola (Rae Dawn Chong)—but the monster isn’t done with him yet.
One theme in the film, at least in “Lot 249” and “Cat from Hell” is that of rich people exploiting the poor—and paying for it. Bellingham is prompted to get revenge after the evil Lee and Susan (Julianne Moore) screw him out of a scholarship (Lee wants to travel Europe and buy a Maserati instead) and his hard-won education by getting him expelled. The rich are also poked fun at, as Lee tries to fight the mummy with a tennis racket. They’re also really, really evil. villains are a bit overdone. Drogan in “Cat from Hell” is responsible for the deaths of 5,000 cats in testing his pharmaceutical products, which are expensive, addictive, and unhealthy—Halston compares him to a drug dealer. Though Halston has no room to point fingers, as his lifestyle is enhanced by killing people for a living. He’s enraged when he bleeds on his $100 shirt, and scoffs at Drogan’s cheap alcohol, preferring “nothing but the best.”
“Lover’s Vow” seems more to reflect on modern people not caring about each other (as Preston’s agent states, after hearing sirens, “I don’t want to know”) than the corruption of being rich; Preston eventually becomes wealthy, but he’s still a loving husband and father (he also comes by his money because he works hard and doesn’t give up on his dream of being an artist). The wraparound story seems to indicate that appearances aren’t what they seem; Betty is hailed by a minister, who shouts, “See you in the choir on Sunday!” and she greets her mailman by name. There’s an easy comparison to “Hansel and Gretel”; although Betty’s not a supernatural or hag-like being, she does have a broom strategically placed to equate her with a storybook witch.
As per usual for the early ‘90s, the makeup is amazing and the puppetry is terrible. The scene when the cat from hell latches itself onto Halston’s face reminds me of nothing so much as those old “Toonces the driving cat” sketches on Saturday Night Live, which, if you’ve never seen, I’ve included below–do yourself a favor and check it out.
There are some terrifically gory scenes; this is the first time I’ve ever seen the movie not edited for TV, and I was a bit taken aback by things like a human brain in a bowl of fruit. Not to mention the subject matter of a woman planning to eat a child; as Betty casually muses, “Evisceration takes at least an hour.”
I have loved the movie since I was a teenager, but I avoid the show because it always seems to be cutesy-poo rather than scary. On the whole, I like the underdog winning theme, and the actors (oh Rae Dawn Chong, where did you go?), and the nostalgia it evokes. Check it out if you’re in the mood for campy violence. Breaking Bad fans, watch for a young(er) Mark Margolis.