Friday, November 24, 2023

Worth Mentioning - Jolly Friends Forever More

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning. 

Full Moon, Tom Hanks, and Tom Cruise.


Back in 1992, Full Moon introduced horror fans to the Demonic Toys. Four tiny terrors that look like something you’d find in a kid’s playroom, but are actually homicidal servants to demonic masters. There was Jack Attack, a clown jack-in-the-box with a maniacal laugh, sharp teeth, and a tentacle tail; Grizzly Teddy, a vicious teddy bear; Mister Static, a robot that rolls on tank treads and fires deadly lazers from its gun arms; and mouthy baby doll Baby Oopsie. The Demonic Toys never gained as much popularity as the puppets from Full Moon’s Puppet Master series, but they did get a franchise of their own. They battled a miniature Tim Thomerson in Dollman vs. Demonic Toys (where Grizzly Teddy was replaced by a soldier action figure called Zombietoid), they tried to ruin Christmas in the Sci-Fi Channel production Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys, and after those “vs.” movies it was time for Demonic Toys 2. Then Full Moon decided to start making solo toy spin-offs, as they have done with the Puppet Master franchise and the recent entries Blade: The Iron Cross and Puppet Master: Doktor Death. The first solo spin-off was Baby Oopsie, which was divided up into multiple chapters, all written and directed by Demonic Toys 2 writer/director William Butler. Now Butler has returned to the toy box to bring us Demonic Toys: Jack Attack.

If you haven’t been keeping up with the Demonic Toys franchise, don’t worry, it won’t have an impact on your Jack Attack viewing experience. While there are glimpses of TV news reports that acknowledge the events of Baby Oopsie, the movie’s story is self-contained and any questions that arise along the way are answered in the end.

The film centers on 16-year-old Lily (Sofia Castellanos), first seen while in the midst of a terrifying situation where she and her foster mother Mrs. Benson (Tari Lyn Bergoine) are being tormented by Jack Attack and its new full-bodied clown sidekick Dimples (Xavier Dellinger). This situation does not have a happy ending, leaving Mrs. Benson dead and Lily so traumatized that she stops speaking and spends all her time doodling images of evil clowns. Going against the advice of orphanage head Mrs. Culver (Donna Steele), who believes Lily is a lost cause who was “born into darkness”, Audrey Haines (Mabel Thomas) of Child Protective Services has Lily placed in a new home, where she joins the Yost family: Tyler and Kate (Sean Ramey and Christine Brunner) and teenage kids Mike and Dewey (Carson Polish and Taylor Abigail Rice). Lily barely has time to settle in before Jack Attack and Dimples show up and start wiping out her new family members – in fact, most of the movie takes place during Lily’s first night in the Yost home. Handyman Clinton (Timothy Novotny) and Mike’s girlfriend Starr (Maddie Small) are also around to add more potential victims into the mix.

Demonic Toys: Jack Attack moves at an accelerated pace, wrapping up in just 59 minutes. There isn’t much time spent on letting the viewer get to know or like the characters, with most of them being presented in fast, broad strokes. Kate is nice, Tyler is questionable, Dewey is obsessed with live-streaming, Starr is jealous and worried that Lily is going to try to take Mike from her, Clinton is a creep. There’s not much to these people, but the actors do a fine job with the material they’re given to work with. Castellanos makes the silent Lily an intriguing presence, and Thomas really stands out as the helpful-but-troubled Audrey. I can’t say I was totally on board with everything Butler wrote for Lily and Audrey, but the fact that I feel conflicted about what happens with them shows that Castellanos and Thomas were able to get me invested in their characters.

But we’re not drawn to a movie like this by the promise of getting to know new human characters. We’re here for the killer jack-in-the-box, the scares, the suspenseful stalking sequences, and the death scenes. The movie does pack plenty of that into its short running time. There’s a scene in a barn that gave me unexpected flashbacks to the first Critters movie. There are some fun, satisfying kills. And there are some freaky, nightmarish visuals.

Horror fans, and particularly Full Moon fans, will probably have some fun watching Demonic Toys: Jack Attack. There’s not much substance, but this short and simple movie’s hour of supernatural stalking and slashing is entertaining. And it gives us a chance to spend a little more time with an iconic member of the Demonic Toys troupe. As for ranking the film within the overall franchise… It’s not on the level of the first Demonic Toys, and I would put it below both “vs.” movies (even though the Puppet Master crossover isn’t considered canon, since it wasn’t a Full Moon production), because I really enjoy both of those. But I would pick Jack Attack over Demonic Toys 2 and Baby Oopsie.

A bit of an aside: as a native of the area where this movie was made, I really loved seeing the countryside scenery. It was a glimpse of home for me. The end credits reveal that the primary location was the Sugarbush Inn in Mansfield, Ohio. If you’d like to stay in the place where Demonic Toys: Jack Attack was filmed, the property can be booked on Airbnb.

The review of Demonic Toys: Jack Attack originally appeared on


Being staked and decapitated at the end of the first Subspecies movie was just a minor inconvenience for the evil vampire Radu (Anders Hove), so it was obvious that being staked and stabbed with a dagger at the end of Bloodstone: Subspecies II wasn’t going to do much to stop him. Especially since the movie ended with the promise that Bloodlust: Subspecies III would be coming soon.

This sequel, filmed back-to-back with its predecessor, picks up at the very moment when the previous movie ended. Radu and his fledgling Michelle (Denice Duff) are in the care of his rotting mummy of a sorceress mother, a character fitting credited as Mummy and played by Pamela Gordon. Within minutes, Mummy has used Michelle’s blood to resurrect Radu. Meanwhile, Michelle’s sister Becky (Melanie Shatner) uses the daylight hours to try to figure out how to save Michelle from this vampire business. She has the help of Mel Thompson (Kevin Blair, credited these days as Kevin Spirtas) of the US Embassy and disbelieving Romanian policeman Lieutenant Marin (Ion Haiduc), but dealing with this situation is exceptionally difficult... especially since their knowledge of sorcery even gives Radu and Mummy the ability to teleport between locations. As Radu’s reluctant plaything, Michelle is dragged deeper and deeper into the vampire existence. When Radu isn’t around, she’s threatened by Mummy, who is just waiting for her son to get tired of his girlfriend so she can do even more terrible things to her.

The stuff with Michelle, Radu, and Mummy is interesting and somewhat reminiscent of the sort of vampire story you might find in an Anne Rice novel. The Becky side of the story is a bit lacking, as she and her pals spend most of the movie plotting to infiltrate Castle Vladislav, where the villains have holed up with Michelle. There’s not much to it – but along the way we do learn that the castle originally belonged to a family of sorcerers... until Radu’s father came along, seduced the sorcerer’s daughter (Mummy), killed off most of her family, drove the rest away, and took possession of their castle. It takes a rock climbing CIA agent played by Michael Della Femina to get our heroes into the castle, but climbing rocks and walls is the only impressive thing he does.

The vampire half of the story told in Bloodlust: Subspecies III is strong enough to make it a good viewing experience, and it wraps the trilogy up nicely... But wait, this didn’t turn out to be a trilogy. Although this feels like the end, and was intended to be for a while, there was more story to be told! You can’t keep a character like Radu down after only three movies.


One of the last books I read in 2022 was A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, which was originally written in Swedish but thankfully received an English translation, which is how I was able to understand what I was reading. As I said at the time, “A Man Called Ove deals with some very dark subject material, but it does so in a matter-of-fact way, so it never feels too heavy. The book is actually a heartwarming comedy that will also tug on your heartstrings while warming them up. It’s the kind of story that’s just crying out to be given a film adaptation that racks up awards nominations, and it makes for a pleasant, amusing, touching read.” As it turns out, there was a film adaptation in Sweden that was released in 2015 and went on to rack up the awards nominations (and a couple wins), including at the Guldbagge Awards, which are the Swedish equivalent to the Oscars, and at the Oscars, where it was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. Seven years later, the book got an English-language adaptation which changes the lead character’s name from Ove to Otto... and this adaptation was the reason why I heard about the book in the first place.

Directed by Marc Forster from a screenplay by David Magee, A Man Called Otto has the perfect casting choice of Tom Hanks as the title character, a grumpy old man who has just reluctantly retired and is mourning the loss of his wife. So throughout the movie, he makes different attempts at ending his own life. But somehow each attempt either gets wrong, or gets interrupted by somebody – usually his pregnant neighbor Marisol (Mariana Treviño), who seems determined to work her way into Otto’s life from the moment she and her family move into his neighborhood. This is where the heartwarming aspect of the story comes in, as a man who felt there was nothing left for him in this world gradually comes to care about Marisol and her young kids. He also ends up taking in a cat that has been hanging out around his house, and the longer he has to stick around, the more people he ends up helping.

While we watch Otto make his way through what he hopes are his final days, there are flashbacks to his younger years to fill out his back story. In these flashbacks, where we see Otto meet, fall in love with, and start building a life with his late wife (Rachel Keller as Sonya), the character of Otto is played by Hanks’ real-life son Truman Hanks... and unfortunately, it occurred to me while watching the movie that Truman did not inherit his dad’s acting abilities. I didn’t like his performance as young Otto very much, so I was always eager to get beyond the flashbacks and back to Tom as old man Otto.

A Man Called Otto didn’t end up receiving the awards nominations I envisioned for it while reading A Man Called Ove, which is a shame. The source material certainly gave the filmmakers the potential to make something award-worthy (as evident from the accolades earned by the Swedish adaptation, which I haven’t seen yet). But I can understand why Otto didn’t end up being in the running for Oscar gold, because the film isn’t quite as emotionally involving as it could have been. It could have been a great movie, but it falls a little short of being great. It did turn out to be a good movie, though, and it’s definitely worth a watch.

LOSIN’ IT (1982)

The quest for sex has been the subject of many a teen comedy, including 1982’s Losin’ It, a film most notable for its cast and the director. The story, crafted by Bill L. Norton, is set in the 1960s and centers on a trio of teen boys from California who head into Mexico with the intention of losing their virginities (thus the title) to Tijuana prostitutes. Those boys are Dave, Spider, and Woody, played by Jackie Earle Haley, John Stockwell, and Tom Cruise. They’re joined on their road trip by a younger boy named Wendell, played by John P. Navin Jr., who goes to Mexico so he can score some fireworks. Their trip has only just begun when they get an extra passenger in their convertible: Shelley Long as Kathy, an unhappy wife who plans to get “a Tijuana divorce”.

The director who brought this to the screen was Curtis Hanson, just fifteen years before he racked up the accolades (and won an Oscar) with his noir movie L.A. Confidential. 

Despite the talent behind and in front of the camera, Losin’ It is not one of the best sex comedies out there. It wasn’t well received when it was first released and didn’t do much at the box office... and yet it still lingers more than forty years later because of the names attached to it. As expected, the teens’ trip into Mexico doesn’t go as they imagined and they have to endure a series of mishaps, which don’t end up being as funny to watch as anyone involved probably hoped they would be. At least the acting is always good, even when the scenes are underwhelming.

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