Thursday, June 16, 2011

Ice Cream Man Review

Many of you may not know the names Paul Norman, David Dobkin, Clint Howard or even David Warner (though Warner is the most famous of the bunch) but every single one of these men share one thing in common…Ice Cream.

I have no idea if any or all of them even eat the stuff.  But I do know of a cult movie made in 1995 about a psychotic Ice Cream Man (Clint Howard) who butchers people for the purpose of harvesting their bodies and incorporating them into his tasty ice cream treats.  If that doesn’t sound like a party in the PM in your mouth, I don’t know what does.   

Paul Norman was the director/producer of this indie gemstone.  He is actually a pornographic director, having made such movies as “Intercourse with a Vampire” and “Edward Penishands” under the alias Norman Apstein.  One day in the early 90’s, Norman decided to try his hand at making a legitimate mainstream horror film, so he pulled all his connections together and made a film he believed would frighten audiences everywhere.  Unfortunately, what he though was to be an authentically frightening movie turned out to be so bad it was actually good.  Despite the flaws, though obvious and incredible, this film manages to salvage itself with its over the top attributes, an excellent cast and an amusing concept.  Who doesn’t want to watch a man rip the heads off of policemen and doctor said heads into puppets?  Not only would I buy tickets to see that puppet show, I’d be inspired to create one of my own.   In fact, I did once!  The tragedy of this movie is that no one remembers it.  This film is easily just as entertaining as such cult films as Troll 2, Howard the Duck, The Toxic Avenger and C.H.U.D.  Sure, we all remember those movies.  Hell, we even remember Plan 9 from Outer Space and Manos, the Hands of Fate, but nobody remembers the Ice Cream Man?  What the Hell?

Despite my gush, it’s more than fair to trash the writing of this movie.  To be blunt, it’s illogical and stilted.  Am I wrong for saying that good writing sucks you into the story and doesn’t pull you out of it?  Take the beginning for example.  A little boy watches the death of his favorite ice cream man as he is gunned down in the street by mobsters (why?)  So what does he do?  He sits down on the pavement to carelessly suck on his favorite flavored ice cream pop.    Such unrealistic events are peppered throughout the film.  Characters behave unrealistically, the police are completely incompetent (though personal experience dictates this is not too far from the truth) and clichés run rampant every 10 minutes or so.  There is a scene in which we learn that the inmates of an insane asylum have not only taken over but have been running the place for years.  Are you trying to tell me that for years, no one has ever bothered to keep tabs on this government owned facility to make sure the psychotic inmates are kept in check?  Sure, why not?  Because it is a completely nonsensical plot point that makes me laugh, not cover my eyes and scream in terror!  There’s an episode of Tales From The Crypt all about this idea.  How more tongue in cheek can one get?
Lumpy Adams from the Adams Family?  What are you doing in this movie?

This film has no define plot whatsoever.  I understand some movies solely thrive on the relationship of the characters, but to tell you the truth, even these characters were laugh out loud bad.  Is it a contradiction to say that the acting was good but the characters were horrible?  You’d think.  I don’t even know if I can explain my thoughts properly here.  While watching this movie, it is easy to tune out what the characters say; yet I can’t turn off the movie.  Clint Howard and David Warner are to blame for this.  They are very charismatic actors.  I bet anyone could think of a million bad movies both these men have performed in, but can anyone recall a performance of theirs that wasn’t captivating?  Maybe I’m a horrible monster who sucks the vital fluid from children for fun, but I just can’t think of any myself.  If they only played minor parts, I’d probably be singing a different tune.  But I’d say collectively, both these actors take up about 80% of the film.  That’s enough for me to watch it.  Thank you Paul Norman.

It’s time to talk about the star attraction of this film; Clint Howard.  For those of you who don’t know Clint Howard, you are missing out.  I have absolutely no idea what his acting training has consisted of, but if I were to guess, it probably was a couple of acting classes throughout his childhood.  Clint shines in all movies that are tongue in cheek.  He has the ability to bring a level of silliness and class to any film, especially with a micro budget (with an unfortunate exception to Uwe Bole films…not even Clint was able to save House of the Dead.  But his scenes were still worth watching).  Though Clint has worked on more movies than God (a very special shout out to his brother), he has never really had a decent opportunity to take the limelight, except for in this film.  I recall back in the 90’s Ice Cream Man getting a great deal of publicity mostly for the creepy smiling bald man playing the main character.  Given Clint's track record, I am probably wrong but I am pretty sure this is the only movie he has ever played the staring role in.  His range is surprisingly phenomenal.  He is able to play an awkward killer, and a passionate eccentric in the same movie.  I am a monster who hates to gush, but I feel obligated to in this case, given that this man has so much talent and no body seems to acknowledge it.  My favorite example scene of his is actually close to the end, at the 1:08:32 mark.  Clint is teaching this kid he kidnapped about the philosophy behind being an ice cream man.  The kid gives an analogy to him about how the ice cream man is like the pied piper and the look in Clint’s eye changes for about a split second.  We suddenly see Clint as a man who has a passion for something that no one in the world could ever understand.  Hearing this analogy from this kid makes him finally get the chance to share a conversation with someone who understands his passion for the first time.  Like I said, the writing is shit, but the performance is spot on…you gotta believe me!  I’m actually not making fun of this movie!

David Warner with stigmata is just too damn pretentiously classy for a movie called Ice Cream Man.

If you like cheesy horribly made, yet entertaining schlock made in the backwaters of Hollywood, and you like throwbacks of the 1980’s slasher genre, you will most definitely enjoy this film.  I don’t think you will have an easy time finding it on DVD at your local video store, but I bet you can find a copy no problem for under $10 on either Amazon or Ebay ( works nicely).  Check it out.

I have a wonderful time watching weird films with awkward unrealistic sequences, but I couldn’t ever manage to take any of them seriously.  I brought up earlier that the tragedy of The Ice Cream Man was that no one remembered it.  But there’s a lot more to it than that.  Paul Norman wanted to make an authentically scary movie; not a cult movie.  This is what makes me so critical of this film.  At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how much I enjoy watching it.  The director failed to move his audience the way he wished to, therefore failing to make a genuinely good film.  This basic fact is a real shame, because if he could only comprehend the happiness this movie brings people and monsters alike, he might have had a very successful career in the cult genre.  Imagine what other movies this man could have made; gyne-KILL-ogist, Nursery Ghoul, I Spit on Your Grave 2?  I bet he’d have made a mint with Lloyd Kauffman or Charles Band.  Unfortunately, Ice Cream Man would turn out to be the first and last attempt of Paul Norman to make a legitimate film.  For all anyone knows, he is still making pornography today. 

Good night Paul Norman, wherever you are.

Pssst...He's in here...Why don't you come inside and take a look?