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Still Not Dead Enough
ORIGINALLY POSTED ON DECEMBER 21ST, 2014
Released to video in 1988 by Roger Corman’s Concorde Pictures, Twice Dead is another in the immeasurably long line of low-rent horror films shopped directly to video stores of the late-80’s. The film is directed by Bert L Dragin (Summer Camp Massacre) and stars a sizable cast of faces that you may have seen before, especially if you grew up watching all those 1980’s late-night cable classics like I did. However, is actor recognition enough of a reason to give this one a watch?
The film opens in the 1930’s at the home of stage actor Tyler Walker. When we first meet Walker, he is seen dancing with Myrna, the leading lady in the plays that Walker has staged. As they dance, 3 men arrive at the house and start banging on the front door. One of these men is Harry Cates Sr., the new owner of Walker’s home and the fiance of Myrna, with whom Walker is deeply in love. Burdened by the loss of his home and fortune, and distraught with losing the woman that he loves to another man, Walker has clearly gone off the deep end.
Walker pulls out a knife and stabs Myrna in the back. However, as the camera cuts back to her, we see that instead of a real woman, Walker has been dancing with a mannequin replica of Myrna. While this scene is intended to show that Walker has lost his grip on reality, it just comes off as somewhat confusing as the events leading up to this will not be fully explained until later in the film. Walker decides to take his own life and is found hanging from a noose as the men enter his bedroom.
It’s now the 1980’s. We find the “modern-day” Cates family preparing to move into the Walker mansion after inheriting it, presumably from Cates Sr. While I can not say that I recognized the actor playing “Dad”, horror fans may recognize the other family members. “Mom” is played by Brooke Bundy, who starred as “Kristen’s mom” in both A Nightmare On Elm St Parts 3 & 4. The son, “Scott”, is played by Tom Bresnahan (Ski School, The Brain – 1988). 80’s horror fans should recognize Night of the Creeps co-star Jill Whitlow as “Robin”, the daughter. Whitlow also plays the role of “Myrna”, the resemblance of the two characters a factor in the plot.
This iteration of the Cates family have been forced to move into the California mansion after losing their previous home in Iowa due to bankruptcy. While being forced to live in a mansion might not normally be a bad thing, a lot has changed in 50 years. The home, now in shambles, is located in what has become the “slums”. As the family car pulls up to the house, they find that an all-white gang are now using the house, or at least it’s porch, as their new base of operations. After exchanging a few words, the police arrive to run off the gang members. Both of these cops are psychics. It’s never said that they are psychics. I just assume that they are since they show up on the scene just in time to prevent any trouble without having actually been called out by anyone.
The gang is led by “Silk”, as portrayed by Christopher Burgard. I can’t say that I’ve seen Burgard in anything else, but I was a big fan of his hair back when it was the drummer for White Lion. Also among the gang members is “Crip”, played by Johnathan Chapin (Halloween 5, Sixteen Candles). Crip quickly develops an infatuation with Robin. Chapin takes on double duty, also handling the role of “Tyler Walker”. While he gets significantly more screen time as “Walker” than Whitlow does as “Myrna”, the reason for his playing dual roles feels more “tacked on” that it does with Robin/Myrna. I can only assume that this was a move to keep the budget down. Why pay multiple actors, right?
On the first night in the house, Scott finds Walker’s attic bedroom. Even after 50 years, the room is still decorated the same as it was on the night that Walker died. The Myrna doll is even still in the closet. Now, I could be in the minority here, but if I were to find a doll like this in a place that I had just moved into, I don’t think I’d keep it. Then again, maybe I would. Might be useful on those nights when the wife has a “headache”. Of course, I’d have to clean it first. Don’t judge.
While walking home from school, Scott tells Robin of what he found the night before. Walking through the park, they meet a few guys playing a pick-up game of basketball. The only member of this group to have any dialog is Petie, played by former Diff’rent Strokes co-star Todd Bridges. Petie and Scott later become friends, but there really isn’t much to the part. We are all aware of the troubles that would befall Bridges in just a few short years. I like to believe that starring in this movie played a role in those troubles.
The guys ask Scott to join their game. As the game progresses, the gang members show up. When Crip decides to get uncomfortably close to Robin, Scott steps in to defend her, but is stopped in his tracks when Silk blasts him in the face with the basketball. The gang members then beat up Petie and the other guys from the court. This gives Scott and Robin a chance to escape on a gang member’s motorcycle. It’s not bad enough that the gang members know where Scott and Robin live, but Scott’s decision to just leave the bike sitting on the sidewalk in front of their house is only inviting trouble.
Scott starts spending a lot of time in what was Walker’s room, digging through the actor’s tattered belongings. While sleeping that night, Scott is attacked in bed by the same rope that Walker hung himself with. The rope wraps around his neck and legs and pulls him out of the bed. Hearing his son’s scream, Dad barges into the room and flips on the lights. In the first in a series of horror movie clichés to follow, the rope immediately becomes inactive. What is never explained is why Scott chose to sleep with the rope in his bed in the first place.
Scott goes to the campus library, where Petie so conveniently is interning, to do some research on Walker. It is at this time that Scott learns just what happened in his home on that night those many years ago. It is also about this time that I started asking myself when this movie was going to start being a “fun watch”. I appreciate plot development as much as the next person, but I also like it when that plot leads somewhere.
Later, Robin is awoken when she hears her cat, Meow, screeching outside. She goes outside to find the cat, but instead finds the gang members waiting for her. She is pinned to a wall by Crip, who tries to undress her. Meow is also pinned to a wall, but no one tries to undress him.
Walker is not pleased to see these goons harassing his love, or at least the girl that looks like her, and wakes Scott by shaking his bed. Scott runs out to help his sister, but is quickly stomped down by the goons. It isn’t until Dad comes out blasting shotgun fire that the gang members disperse.
2 months pass without incident. Scott and Robin are left home alone when Mom & Dad are forced to go out of town for a bankruptcy hearing. This presents the gang with an opportunity to harass the kids yet again. Why this leads to a car chase, I don’t know. This is just part of the “kitchen sink” approach that appears to be going on in this film. “We need to pad out this movie. What can we do to add some excitement? Car chase? It doesn’t fit with anything else in this flick, but screw it!!!!” At least it didn’t feel the need to bring in some random martial artist to throw a couple kicks in a scene that has nothing to do with anything. Looking at you, Pieces!!!!
The remainder of the film consists of the gang’s multiple attempts to “get even” with the Cates kids. The film provides us with some false carnage soon after. This move proves to be a mistake as it is more effective than the actual climax of the film. When we find out that what we believe to be the “payoff” is anything but, it actually detracts from the events of the film’s true ending. The film further muddles things by throwing in a couple of fake endings.
That’s not to say that the final scenes aren’t worth watching. If nothing else, there is one very grim scene of death by shotgun that is highly effective. And actress Charlie Spradling (Puppet Master 2, Meridian) shows up just long enough to get naked and die, the basis of most of her roles. So, yeah, that’s worth checking out.
Twice Dead‘s biggest flaw is that it takes far too long for anything of interest to happen. When the movie finally gets moving, it becomes too riddled with plot contrivances that are just excused away. Also unclear are the motivations of Walker’s ghost. While marginally malevolent in the early part of the film, the spirit soon becomes more of a protector of the family in the second half.
While not poorly made, the film is buried under its own quicksand pacing. The film spends too much time building the “gang violence” aspect, yet forgetting to provide the viewer with any scares. While viewers may briefly enjoy the novelty of seeing actors that they recognize, it is just not enough to save Twice Dead from being ultimately forgettable.
Fun Fact: Quite a few of the scenes shown in the trailer do not actually appear in the film.
TWICE DEAD was actually released to cinemas, at least in New York – I still have my ticket stub. For what it’s worth.