A MAGIC PUPPY! [Woeful Worship]: From The Depths Of B-Movie Hell.
When we last left him, Eric Roberts had just been given back his children and released from Mary Crawford’s (David DeCocteau’s) basement, and given a map out through the mountains of the Pacific Northwest that hid the set of A Talking Cat!?! Only when he’d sobered up sufficiently did he realize… HA HA! SURPRISE! It was a trick! His children are mannequins, and the map he was given just led him right back to the set! And there, David DeCocteau, a case of whiskey, and a confused Kristine DeBell were waiting with a skeleton crew, a captured bulldog that had smelled their peanut butter trap, a pictogram script, and $50 to spend on the making of A Magic Puppy! (It says “A Magic Puppy” on the Netflix, where it can be found, but the title in the movie credits is “The Halloween Puppy“. Either title works well enough for our purposes, although chances are it will change throughout the writing of this column).
This time out, Eric Roberts plays not only a human, but also, thankfully, the voice of the Halloween Bulldog! The female Halloween bulldog! (???) Does THAT make any sense, fellow readers? Of course not, but thank you for answering anyway. But when you’re watching a movie whose opening credits feature MS-Paint style “spooky” images inter-cut with pictures of puppies that have absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the film (one dog has a Valentine’s Day heart, for crying out loud), and whose opening scene is a two minute-long POV shot intended to be “scary”, but it’s once again CLEARLY daytime, as filtered through neon blue, what were you expecting? Some of the creative decisions to actually be thought out? Seriously, this film (moreso than A Talking Cat!?!) is ridiculously lazy, which is a shame, because the actors here have at least a bit more chemistry, and there is an actual plot (and conflict!). You can sense that the actors have reserved themselves to the fact that until they actually make this movie, they won’t be let off the premises.
The two main young actors (Steven Crooks and Stephanie Shemanski) play Adam and Molly respectively. Adam is Linda’s (DeBell) son, and he is apparently obsessed with Halloween. We learn this because, once again, the characters just say it, rather than having us, the audience watching this motion picture, actually see it. Because what person watching a movie wants to see things happen? Why waste film when characters can just say facts? Film costs money, guys. This is as cost effective as it gets. What A/The Magic/Halloween Puppy gains in plot, it squanders in dumb, lazy decisions. Adam is bullied by two brothers (referred to, ominously as The Twins! Oh no! and played laxly by Lucas Adams and Ryan Greco) who couldn’t look any less alike if one was a car and the other a stuffed monkey, and who apparently have nothing better to do than wait slightly off-set until their cue to enter frame, steal a 1/4-full box of Halloween decorations, and spend 30 seconds going through them over and over, hoping to see something new within the box but, no, of course there isn’t anything new in there, guys. YOU JUST LOOKED. It is at this point that any parent would lay the smackdown, but no. Linda just stands there, watching her son get harassed, before making some vague sort of comeback, and then wanders off. And this happens more than once. Damn…even the characters don’t care.
And then there’s Molly, who is played as if she’d just downed a bottle of Nyquil, or had just been woken up after being assured that if she just goes to sleep, she’ll wake up in bed and not on the set of a gay erotica film series. She’s interesting enough to watch, if just to wonder what is up with her. Was Ms. Shemanski just bored, or is the character a legitimate stoner? Was someone lighting up the Northern Lights just slightly off-set? Did she accidentally drink the special coffee that was being fed to Eric Roberts? At least she and Adam have some sort of chemistry going, and it makes the idea of them being friends an easier sell…although…man, he is whiningly annoying in this thing, and annoyingly naive. Seriously, Molly, wake up. Did Eric Roberts put something in that box of donuts he’d brought into his first scene, the donuts that he poked his fingers into after licking them?
Anyway…what is The Magic Halloween actually about, anyway? After finding an ancient book of spells (*fart noise*), Molly and Adam accidentally recite a spell (*burp noise*), which Eric Roberts’ Ted accidentally completes, transferring the spell to him (*vomit noise*) and inexplicably turning him into a female bulldog that appears already wearing a collar (and it’s a good thing Adam and his mom already have dog food, a leash, and a travel crate already in their house, for just such an occasion!) As is par for the course, no one is surprised at all that both a dog just appeared, and Eric Roberts disappeared (and when Adam and Molly figure out what had happened, they get over it really easily and take it in stride, like this is a common Tuesday afternoon for them.) So then Linda takes Adam and Molly to a cabin in the woods (the same one featured in A Talking Cat!?!), where she and Ted were to have a romantic weekend? Wait a minute…so, they’re having problems with their relationship, and she suggests going away for the weekend will help that. And then she immediately invites her son and Molly as well, because it’s Halloween weekend and he might get “too excited thinking about ghouls and goblins” and watching scary movies? What the shit is this, movie? That’s not how you fix a relationship. I need to stop taking relationship advice from you.
At this point, some dumb shit happens, and there’s yet another Mary Crawford trope as we get yet ANOTHER four minute driving scene where we hear characters talk (about nothing), but never SEE them, just the car. And it just goes on and on. And at the cabin, Adam and Molly have to figure out how to reverse the spell, and Linda is left watching dog Ted, who just narrates whatever comes to his mind, and there is ANOTHER montage with her and the dog, which is rolling around in the grass, and then Linda, for no reason at all, eats the grass in which the dog just rolled. Why?! What hellish conditions prompted her to want to eat dog grass? Was the combined effort of making A Talking Cat!?! and Dog A Magic too much?
Anyway, spell gets reversed, Ted becomes himself again, there is shitty haunted house that the Twins put together for Adam and Molly to go through before they can get their spell-book back, and there are some truly terrifying transitional images in between the nearly 60 establishing shots (again, for the exact same two locations from A Talking Cat!?!). And this time, thankfully, after wrapping, Eric Roberts was indeed tranquilized and unceremoniously dumped along Mulholland Drive to find his own way back home.
There are two other Mary Crawford-directed talking animal movies I’d seen, but neither (The Easter Puppy, and A Talking Pony!?!) has any significant change or variation from this, The Scary Dog. Look, I understand that I’m not the target audience for these movies (unless you’re drinking!), but it’s hard to say these movies are directly targeted for children. The framing is boring, the plot is boring and plodding, and there are excessive scenes of characters just sitting and talking, or walking, stopping, and then talking. Whenever dialogue goes on for more than a minute, it just cuts to the dog. It’s boring stuff, even for a kid to watch. And it’s hard to tell whether it’s because the plot over-reached the resources (how fucking hard is it to tint or cover windows for day-for-night? Not very. I’m doing it right this second with newspaper), or whether because no one really cared.
And that’s what makes these series of films so annoying: no one cared. They seemed bored writing it, they were bored casting it, and everyone was bored shooting and acting in it. And here’s a fun game to play, boys and girls! Every time you see a part of the film crew, equipment, or the reflection of either in any shot, drink a beer!
Next week we’re going to get the giant elephant out of the way…