Thursday, May 24, 2012

#5: Scariest Home Videos

Episode 1006: "Scariest Home Videos" a.k.a. "America's Scariest Home Video"

Original Airdate:  October 20, 1991

One-Sentence Synopsis:  Marshall and Simon get stuck babysitting Simon's little brother on Halloween and panic when he manages to switch places with the mummy from the movie playing on TV.

It's Halloween night and Marshall and Simon prepare for the worst.  Knowing Eerie, they expect anything is possible so they gear up with protection and a video camera before heading out to go trick or treating.  Meanwhile, Marylin is spending the night watching Simon's little brother Harley, but when she is called upon to rescue Edgar from a stalled car, she places the boys in charge of Harley until she returns.

Bummed that they may be missing out on the weirdest night Eerie has to offer, Marshall and Simon decide to set up their video camera to record Harley doing something funny so that they can send the tape in to America's Funniest Home Videos and win the $10,000 prize.  After Harley turns the tables on them and Marshall ends up with a lizard down his pants, the boys instead decide to watch a movie instead, Bloody Revenge of the Mummy's Curse.  While Marshall and Simon prepare the popcorn, young Harley plays with the video camera that is now hooked up to the television to tape the movie.  He then bites the remote control(!) and gets transported into the old black-and-white movie on TV.

The boys try to figure out how Harley ended up in the TV, but they get distracted when they find that the mummy from the movie has been transported into the house as a result.  The boys decide to keep the mummy trapped in the house, but Syndi, thinking it is a trick-or-treater, releases the mummy into the night.  When the mummy returns, Marshall and Simon are ready for it and knock it out with a shovel.

They tie the mummy to a chair and unravel it revealing Sir Boris Von Orloff, the actor.  Of course they didn't let a real mummy loose in Eerie.  It was just a movie!  Still, Von Orloff has been dead for 50 years, and he explains that despite his credibility as a well-respected auteur, the only movie people still care about is his stupid mummy movie.  He has been forced to relive the role over and over again forever.  He decides that he'd rather stay in Eerie for a change of pace.

As the movie draws to a close, Marshall realizes that the video camera has been recording the whole thing.  They rewind the tape to see what Harley did to enter the television and finally see the footage of him biting the remote.  Without a moment to lose*, Simon makes Von Orloff bite the remote and the transfer is made.  Marshall's parents return home none the wiser and Von Orloff finds himself on a Baywatch-esque surfing show, where he can live happily ever after.

*See "Review"

Evidence Locker Item:  The videotape, except the boys decide to cut up the actual tape so that Marshall's parents never learn about their poor babysitting.  Doesn't that defeat the purpose of an evidence locker?

America's Funniest Home Videos - The title of the episode and Marshall's initial idea to get money for the video of Harley references this show which is surprisingly still on the air to this day.  Starting in 1989, people could submit funny home movies for a chance to win $10,000.  Despite the change of sets, host, and relevancy, the basic format of the show has remained unchanged for over 20 years.  The only thing that dates this episode now is the bulky camcorder.

George Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev - The masks that Marshal and Simon don before trick-or-treating represent the then-current U.S. President and President of the Soviet Union.  Simon's cry of "Read my lips: no more candy!" parodies Bush's famous quote at the 1988 Republican National Convention as he accepted the nomination for president: "Read my lips: no new taxes!"

The Mummy (1932) - The awkwardly titled Bloody Revenge of the Mummy's Curse is based on the 1932 Universal classic starring Boris Karloff (see what they did there?).  Karloff, unlike Von Orloff, had actually made a name for himself through a variety of horror films and is best known for his role as Frankenstein's monster in 1935's Frankenstein.

"Anything good on the old boob tube?"  "You do not want to know."

As a child, this episode actually scared me.  Not because of the mummy.  The idea of getting trapped inside of the television was what bothered me.  For days I couldn't believe the story I had watched.  Yes, it was fictional, but it was very unsettling to me.  Now that I'm grown up, I've seen the plot redone countless times in other shows and movies and I see this as just a mediocre take on the concept.

For one thing, the episode is heavily padded and it shows.  The scene with the lizards goes on for way too long at it just delays the premise of getting Harley into the TV.  There are scenes that just go nowhere, like the mummy getting kicked out of the house by Syndi, only for it to come right back a moment later.  Once the trick with biting the remote is revealed to the boys, they decide to wait to do it for no reason other than to build dramatic tension.  We even have to endure a scene showing what's happening with Marshall's parents and the broken down car.  Sure, there is some light comedy with egg-throwing pranksters and getting frisky in the car, but neither set up goes anywhere.

The show sets up the idea that Eerie will be at it's weirdest on Halloween and then never follows through with it.  It would have been funny to get glimpses of the weirdness occurring outside the house, perhaps when they cut to Marshall's parents.  But the characters are so dreadfully normal that weirdness avoids them like the plague.  Instead we remain cooped up in the house for a minor weirdness mystery that can be quickly resolved.

And the movie Harley finds himself trapped in?  That has to be the most boring horror film ever to grace the screen.  From beginning to end, the mummy/Harley just slowly follows a screaming woman around ancient ruins.  This was the classic film that immortalized Von Orloff?  No wonder he wanted to escape.  Harley's set-destroying antics at least liven things up.

The episode does manage to get a few laughs in, but it moves at a snail's pace.  I'd still consider it worthy of the Eerie canon, since it was clever enough to remember that Harley switched places with a fake mummy and not an actual one.  That shows that some thought went into this episode.

Random Observations:
- You'll notice that the episode has two official titles and neither of them are "America's Scariest Home Videos."  I wonder what happened there.

- Marshall and Simon's trick-or-treating kit is pretty thorough.  The last items added are garlic, holy water, and a stake.  Are they preparing for the worst, or have they learned their lesson from a previous encounter?

- I originally watched these episodes in syndicated reruns on Fox Kids.  A scene from each episode was usually cut in syndication and I've been able to spot which scenes were cut despite having not watched the syndicated version in 15 years.  In this one, the entire lizard/America's Funniest Home Video set-up was removed and it actually helps the episode a lot.  Save for a brief mention of "I wonder if lizards like popcorn," nothing about the plot is altered.  When I watched this episode years later on the DVD, I was amazed at how long they were spending with the lizards.  I thought a whole new episode was going to occur.

- Speaking of lizards, Marshall's science experiment is testing the effects of neon-colored terrarium ornaments on the sanity of his lizards, Godzilla and Mothra.  Rodan or Gamera would have made more sense as a lizard name, though.

- I enjoy the makeshift ball-and-chain made out of a bowling ball and duct tape used to hold Harley down.

- Even though it is just padding, Syndi's scene is pretty funny.  For once, Marshall lets his sister in on the truth ("Where's Harley?" "He's in the TV."), but she'll have none of it.  She's got to get back to studying/comparing boys in her class to geometric shapes.

- I also really like the overabundance of fake fog that clouds the neighborhood and, eventually, the Teller residence.  It adds atmosphere.

- It would have been great to have the broken down car subplot take a turn into haunted house/Rocky Horror Picture Show territory.  You know, instead of just...nothing.

Conspiracy Theories:
- We never see the nearly-mute, bite-happy, troublemaking Harley Schwarzenegger Holmes again after this episode and Simon will later describe himself as an only child.  Who exactly was this kid?  Was he just a collective figment of the Teller family's imagination?  Or was he a spirit conjured by Eerie itself sent to distract the boys from the true weirdness taking effect on Halloween night?

Grade:  A Halloween episode that manages to provide some funny tricks and spooky treats, but it ultimately feels like a 10-minute story that's been stretched to fill 30 minutes.  B-

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