Thursday, February 02, 2006

Cruelty to Animals, Moonbeam Style!: PET SHOP (1994)

Do you feel gross and cheap after watching a Full Moon Entertainment horror movie? That's nothing compared to how you feel after watching a film from Charles Band's spin-off kidvid company Moonbeam Entertainment!

Your reaction to the wonders of Pet Shop will be similar.

In the least-magical swipe at the E.T. template possible, aliens disguised as cowboys (Jeff Michalski & real life spouse Jane Morris, straining the limits of their Second City training) take over a small town pet shop. They give away magical creatures disguised as normal pets to local children. When the creatures start dying from lack of Martian nutrients, the kids will have to bring them back to the Pet Shop, at which point the cowboy-aliens will kidnap them. And sell them as pets on their home planet. The plan gets foiled by the magical fuzzies themselves, and convoluted complications because one of the children, Dena (Leigh Ann Orsi), has been relocated to Arizona with the Witness Protection Program, and hit men are coming to murder her father.

Why do the alien cowboys not just abduct the kids in the first place? Why do the magic pets turn on their masters and protect the children? Will we get to see Cody Burger, retarded cousin Rocky from Christmas Vacation, sitting naked in a bathtub and talking to a puppet?

Only one of these questions has a good answer!

Good Burger? GREAT Burger!
God bless Mark Bridge's costume design!

Howling VI director Hope Perello follows all the classic Moonbeam Entertainment traditions, from mysteriously dingy cinematography (why do no other company's movies look like this?!), obsessive reworking of the Munchie scenario, and bragging in a making-of featurette (included on the VHS tape!) about the complexities of the creature effects.

Also in this insightful documentary short, Perello says the style she was aiming for was an attempt to make a live action cartoon. The elements of cartoons Perello tries to capture are apparently rows of tract housing with pastel paint jobs, and constant shouting from every character.

Should you be viewing the VHS edition, be absolutely glued to your seat for a special offer from personal pet-peeve, Mr. Courtland Mead himself (who does NOT appear in Pet Shop but does appear in Hellraiser: Bloodline), about how you can join some sort of Moonbeam fan society. Sadly, should one dial hotline number young Courtland lisps out, one is only offered "telephone sex," and not "a Moonbeam Entertainment sweatshirt."

This is your romantic lead, folks.

There's some preadolescent romantic weirdness between young local Mike (Spencer Vrooman, known around the Kinetoscope parlor for being in Boys) and fake-Brooklyn-accented Dena. He certainly feels comfortable crawling into the girl's bedroom window after having met her earlier that day, but it's only to A) tell her he knows her dog is really a mogwai, and B) trick her brother Charlie into trying to have sex with his fat sister by the pool (what? why?).

This is all more confusing than it needs to be (let's not get into the overwrought mob-informant subplot), especially for a film existing solely for 8 year olds to laugh at cute puppet creatures.

Oh my, that's adorable.

A little digging on the inter-web machine has turned up these creature designs by Mr. Pete Von Sholly. Suffice to say they are wishful thinking. "Wishful thinking" like how you wish you were watching Theodore Rex instead of Prehysteria!. Also some of these designs don't appear in the movie. Don't worry: the one that looks exactly like a Furby with spindly, greasy wings is very, very much in the movie.

The creatures basically look like stretched-out, patchy-furred versions of normal animals. Dena's mutated dog is the star beast, a puppy who, in transformed state, has bulging eyes surrounded by a patch of shaved flesh, and a toothless mouth with a gigantic overbite which doesn't allow said mouth to close. Dena happily stretches across her bed, clutching the pet to her chest, at which point it slyly looks down at her boobs. I do not exaggerate. Mike gets a turtle which knows how to play computer chess.

The original web-cam girls!

The film's grand entrance for its creature stars is a tilt-up reveal of one of the beasts clutching to the spaceship ceiling and pooping rainbow-colored droppings on its captor's face. And thus, Pet Shop never really decides if it's going for Gremlins mischief or E.T. schmaltz, not that it has the competence to pull off either. The comic highlight by far is a sped-up-motion montage (I trust all readers share an abiding fascination with sped-up-motion comedy: such a rich history, and always, every-time funny). In this scene, the town's children totally mess up the kitchen trying to whip up dinner for their pets, which they've apparently not even been trying to feed.

After that, the Pet Shop puppets play baseball (why do they know how to play baseball?) with a wooden spoon and a raw egg. The egg inevitably smashes over the beak of the space-turtle, the gooey mess is spread into the creature's eyes since the eyelids are immobile. Just as the slime drips slowly off the puppet's barely-articulated face, thus does Pet Shop critique itself.

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