Monday, November 26, 2018

"Yeah, She's in Trouble! The Only Person Who's in Trouble Here Is You!" - Don't Panic (1987)

Our next classic is the supernatural thriller Don't Panic (1987), a Mexican-American production written and directed by Ruben Galindo, Jr., the auteur behind the equally classic Cemetery of Terror (1985).

Of course, your universe's critics are uncharitable about this classic. Reviewer poolandrews writes, "Overall there is very little I can recommend Don't Panic by as it's a pretty terrible film all round really....One to avoid unless it's VERY cheap & your [sic] VERY bored." Reviewer tikkin writes, "There are too many boring parts however to make this a good slasher film." Insomniac_moviefan writes dismissively, "Terrible make up, stupid situations, and a lame killer make this an avoidable film at all costs."

Let us correct these impressions with a thorough review of the film itself. Please read on...

The film opens with a title sure to thrill the discerning cinemagoer: “A Ruben Galindo Jr. Film.” Over the credits, the main character, Michael, explains, a la Rod Serling, “There’s a door that takes you to another dimension. Once you step through it, there’s no return. I’ve already crossed it.”

The narrative begins with Michael throwing a high school party at his mansion in Mexico City, after having moved from Beverly Hills. After the party is over, Michael turns off all the lights downstairs, but he hears something so he creeps through the dark house. Someone attacks him! The lights suddenly turn on by themselves! But this first scare is just a group of his friends surprising him on his seventeenth birthday.

It turns out, in a twist that was no doubt inappropriate even in Mexico City in the 1980s, that the birthday present his friends have gotten him is a girl named Alex from school.

Another present, which amuses everyone except Michael, is a ouija board. Michael tells his friends that he promised never to play with a ouija board again, but his friends pressure him into using it. “You don’t do it because your mommy does it too much?” asks one of the boys, cryptically.

Of course, the teens do use the ouija board, contacting a spirit named Virgil who doesn’t even know when their friend Debbie’s grandmother died.

“Shut up, everybody! Wait! Wait!” screams Tony. He tries again, also unsuccessfully.

Michael snaps, “Why don’t you tell them Virgil is the devil?” Then the party is broken up by Michael’s alcoholic mother.

Later, in a spooky scene, after everyone is gone, the planchette starts tapping out something that is either Morse code or a musical tune. The planchette then flies against the wall.

The next morning, Michael and Alex play hooky from school and ride together on Michael’s bike through the city.

In a park, Michael stares at Mylar balloons rising into the air as if it is the most magical thing in the world.

They also eat massive ice cream sundaes for breakfast.

After cycling around with Alex, Michael goes to his friend Tony’s apartment, where Tony gives Michael a “magic” rose to give to Alex. “If you really love her,” says Tony, “give it to her. And as long as love exists between you two, the rose will never wither.”

At night, Michael, who wears charming dinosaur pajamas designed for five-year-olds, has a dream about a bloody hand piercing his ceiling, so he takes some pills.

At school, Michael sees Alex kissing another boy, but Alex tells him the other boy is just a smartass and she loves Michael. He gives her the rose and they kiss. They go back to Michael’s mansion to make love. For a long time.

“Michael,” says Alex, “I want you to know that this is the first time—“

“Shhh.” He shushes her and tells her about the magic rose.

Later, Michael has a vision in which his friend Debbie is attacked with a knife in her bedroom. For unexplained reasons, Michael stumbles around his room, bouncing off the wardrobe and crawling along the floor. When he reaches the bathroom, he sees that his face is covered with blood, but it is just a hallucination.

The next morning, Michael watches a TV program in which a reporter talks about a computer. The reporter says, “I’m standing inside the Cray-1 computer, the most powerful computer in the world. It’s also very large and has millions of wires, as you can see.”

As the program continues, Michael has a vision of a face inside the TV. “Michael, I need you,” the face says. “Christy is going to die tonight.”

In the cafeteria, Michael snubs Alex because of his visions, and the sunglasses he wears, presumably to avoid the visions, so of course she calls him a filthy animal and tells him she will never see him again.

Michael and his mother see a doctor, who examines his eyes, though for some reason Michael’s shirt is completely open for the eye examination. The doctor concludes that Michael’s visions are psychological, due to some trauma. For no apparent reason, his mother tells the doctor, “There’s something you should know. I have a drinking problem.”

Later, like any normal seventeen-year-old boy, Michael is in his pajamas and tennis shoes doing a load of laundry when he hears his mother on the telephone saying that she is worried Michael is going crazy.

As a result of overhearing his mother’s concerns, Michael trashes his room by tearing up his posters and throwing things at the wallpaper. “I’m crazy!” he yells.

Through complex means, Michael learns that his friends are dying at midnight, so he must find his friend Christy and take her out of the city before midnight. Suspensefully, he learns this at 11:45 pm. In his pajamas, he cycles over to Christy’s house, only to find her confrontational brother John at the door.

“She’s in trouble, man,” says Michael.

“Yeah, she’s in trouble,” replies John. “The only person who’s in trouble here is you!” After calling Michael a “lousy maniac,” he locks the door.

It turns out that Michael knows Christy is not at home in any case, as she is working in a hospital. Michael bikes over to the hospital to find her. Unfortunately, Christy, who appears to be a nurse as well as a high school student, is attacked in a medical lab by an unknown assailant—a scene that Michael sees in one of his visions. Waylaid by hospital security, Michael is unable to save Christy from being stabbed by the dagger from the Evil Dead movies.

Michael—who appears occasionally to be blind during his visions because he bounces into walls—is stalked by the killer, who reveals himself to be Michael’s friend Tony. Michael, being quite resourceful, saves himself by leaping through a high window.

Later, Michael’s mother calls the doctor so he can sedate Michael, but Christy’s brother John breaks into Michael’s bedroom for unexplained reasons and carries the unconscious young man to his car, kidnapping him. In the morning, John threatens the pajama-wearing Michael with a shotgun, asking him how he knew Christy was going to be killed. Michael tells John it was Tony.

John and Michael go to Tony’s empty apartment to wait for him (and watch Ruben Galindo, Jr.’s earlier classic Cemetery of Terror on TV).

Then a face comes out of the TV to tell both Michael and John that Robert will be killed next because of the ouija board. “Find Virgil, take the dagger, and kill him,” says the face, who purports to be Tony.

The being in the TV proves himself to be Tony by making three roses float in midair.

Convinced, Michael and John kidnap a drunk Robert from his apartment, and we learn that Robert’s sleepwear—white briefs and a sleeveless tank top—is nearly as embarrassing as Michael’s. Michael, showing poor judgment, agrees to return to the apartment to get Robert’s pants. Unfortunately, before he can find a pair, he has a vision of Virgil the killer stalking Robert, who is sitting in John’s car. Robert’s throat is sliced. John is also killed by Virgil possessing Tony’s body, as Virgil asks, “Do you believe in Satan? Ha ha ha ha!”

In the climax, Michael runs from the possessed Tony while a catchy song called “Don’t Panic” plays on the soundtrack. He runs straight to Alex’s house, where her wealthy parents are having dinner with a Senator. Of course, Alex sits down to dinner with the group, though he is aware that Virgil/Tony is stalking him. Michael, without explanation, starts shooting up the house with a handgun he borrowed from the late John. Then he grabs Alex’s hand and drags her out of the house.

As he steals Alex’s family Rolls Royce and drives Alex away, Michael explains the situation, and why Tony is trying to kill them. “Remember the night we played with the ouija board?”


“Okay, well, he got possessed. He’s killing people and now he’s trying to kill you.”

“Why me?”

“Because you were there! Don’t you understand?”

They reach a place that appears to be both a bat-filled tomb and a boiler room. Michael manages to drop a heavy piece of equipment on Virgil/Tony, but the possessed boy is powerful enough to levitate Michael to the ceiling. Virgil/Tony is only defeated when Alex finds the magic knife and stabs Tony, which causes Michael to fall twenty feet to the floor, killing him.

In the coda at Michael’s funeral, Alex drops her rose onto the casket and her hair blows in the wind, accompanied by upbeat poppy music.

Don't Panic's many positive qualities make it a contender for the title of best film directed by Ruben Galindo, Jr., though I have not yet seen some of his later Spanish-language films such as Mutants from the Year 2000 (1992) or The Psycho Assassin (also 1992). Some superficial critics from your universe focus on certain aspects of Don't Panic that are unusual in your universe, such as Michael's somewhat childish dinosaur pajamas, but they ignore more serious and important aspects of the story, such as Michael's Jackie Chan-like ability to scale walls, or his physical prowess in bouncing off a leather seat to escape through a hospital window--when blind, no less. (Sometimes, I am forced to believe that film critics in your universe look for minor aspects of film to ridicule, rather than looking for the positive qualities that exist in all films, Don't Panic foremost among them.)

As is the case with many classic films, Don't Panic creates a cinematic world that was never explored again (as far as I can tell). Though the hero dies at the end, there is much more to discover about the demonic Virgil, who could have been a cinematic boogeyman to rival Freddy Krueger. It is truly a shame there was never a sequel, perhaps titled Don't Panic 2: Panic, or perhaps simply Don't Panic Too. Perhaps there is a universe in which this sequel exists. If so, I swear that I will never rest before I find that universe and watch the entire Don't Panic franchise.