Monday, December 3, 2018

"I Thought Maybe You Were Stashing a Broad" - Twice Dead (1988)

Let's now discuss the classic exploration of doomed love and self-fulfilling prophecies, Twice Dead (1988), the first of many horror films to feature famed actor Todd Bridges.

Your universe's critics have been characteristically obtuse about Twice Dead. For example, reviewer AaronCapenBanner writes, "Film itself is shoddy, with a derivative, unappealing story about a vengeful ghost and a biker gang...and is directed without distinction, and looks amateurish. Dull and uninteresting film is a complete bust, with a lousy and unoriginal ending." Reviewer exocrine writes, "This movie is so horrid it is hard to put into words." Reviewer skutter-2 writes, "As a whole the movie doesn't work and the story and tone are all over the place." However, even a cursory exploration of the themes of Twice Dead will show that it is a top-notch haunted house film. Please read on...

The film begins with a man speaking over the titles, saying that he built a house for a woman, and that if their love is not fulfilled they will both die. An image fades in: a man and woman in formal dress dancing by spinning together in circles with no rhythm. Outside, the police arrive and break into the house. The man, being obsessive and crazy, stabs the woman—but we see that she is simply a mannequin, which explains the awkward spinning dance.

Outside, the police talk about the depression ruining people’s lives before they try the front door and find it unlocked. The crazy man, Tyler, is upstairs laughing, and when the police break into his bedroom, they find that he has hanged himself.

The film flashes forward to the present of 1988 as a family of four drives to Tyler’s house, which was turned into a funeral home after Tyler’s death. They pull up to the house only to find a tough gang in musical-theatre costumes on the front porch. The gang is led by a teen with a nice perm named Silk.

The police arrive, scaring off the gang, and the family enters the run-down mansion. The electricity is off due to financial difficulties, so the son, Scott, runs out to the car to find a flashlight. When he returns carrying a flashlight, he says, “I couldn’t find the—“ but he cuts himself off for no apparent reason. The filmmakers thus build a great deal of suspense. What couldn’t he find? The flashlight? Then why is he carrying a flashlight? The mystery and suspense deepen.

Ghostly occurrences begin to occur. Something thumps up on the third story. Eerily, the lighting in the house begins to resemble that of a 1980s direct-to-video movie. 

When Scott investigates the attic, it appears the way it did when Tyler committed suicide in the 1920s, complete with a noose rhythmically tapping against the phonograph console, not to mention the stabbed mannequin.

When Scott tells his sister Robin about the creepy attic, she says, apropos of nothing, “Sounds demented. Kinda ranks up there with Biology.”

Seconds later, the kids meet Petie, played by the Diff'rent Strokes survivor Todd Bridges, on a basketball court. While Scott plays with Mr. Bridges, Robin is assaulted by a gang member named Crip. The gang members try to get Scott and Robin to move out of their house by arbitrarily beating up Todd Bridges.

Back home, Scott finds a blue coffin in the basement. Rather than telling anyone about the coffin, he rides a dumbwaiter up from the basement to the kitchen.

Later, Scott spends more time in the attic, where in addition to the mannequin hangs a poster for a movie Tyler starred in called Dark Destiny. Scott’s father calls up to him: “I thought maybe you were stashing a broad.”

“Not quite,” Scott replies, though the mannequin stands behind him in the corner.

In the middle of the night, the noose rope attacks Scott in bed, nearly strangling him, but his father rescues him by turning on the light.

Investigating at the school library, where Todd Bridges works, Scott discovers that Tyler killed himself because his actress partner Myrna married Harry Cates—who happens to be Scott’s ancestor, the man breaking down the door in the opening. Coincidentally, Robin looks just like Myrna, which seems to give a motivation for Tyler’s ghost to want to kill Scott and Myrna and their family.

In a creepy shot, Tyler’s ghost appears in Robin’s mirror with a knife. Fortunately, the ghost just fades away.

Later at night, Robin gets up to look for her cat, cleverly named Meow. Oddly, she looks outside, though all the doors are closed and there is no way the cat could have gotten out of the house by itself. Unfortunately for Meow, Robin, and animal lovers everywhere, Meow has been killed, impaled with a knife and pinned to the outside of the door—the deed was done not by the ghost but by the gang, now dressed in Halloween masks, who aim to rape Robin. She is saved only by the intervention of Scott and his shotgun-wielding father, though there is an indication that a ghost woke Scott up.

Later, Scott attempts to get the hearse that came with the house to start. “Forget it,” Robin admonishes poetically. “That old thing’s gone the way of the dinosaurs.” Despite her doubts, the engine starts, apparently with the help of Tyler’s ghost.

In shorter order, there ensues a car chase, with Scott and Robin driving the hearse as it is chased by the gang members in their own car, accompanied by a rock n roll song initiated by the gang members inserting a cassette tape into their car stereo. Scott, of course, has an ingenious method for getting the gang members off his tail: kicking the hearse’s coffin out of the car.

It soon becomes clear that the gang member who attempted to rape Robin, the dead ringer for Myrna, is obsessed with her because he is a dead ringer for Tyler. He breaks into the house at night to assault her again, but he finds her apparently dead and bleeding.

Later, another gang member rides his motorcycle into the house, only to be knocked off by a well placed board across the hallway.

Soon the entire gang enters the house, splitting up to explore it. One of them finds the motorcycle-riding gang member’s head spinning on the phonograph in the attic.

After most of the gang members are rendered unconscious, we find out—not completely unexpectedly—that everything was a trick engineered because Scott is taking a special effects makeup class at school. Scott and Robin were able to make at least two fake, disembodied heads that looked convincing enough to fool the victims’ friends in a matter of minutes, not to mention creating an animatronic rubber monster, and the ruse proves successful, as the remaining gang members run away, though several are left in the house.

Of course, the gang members are not about to be defeated by an elaborate prank, so they fight back with a slightly less elaborate prank. They get a pizza delivery man to deliver a pizza and a quart of Coke—in a milk carton, for unknown reasons—so the delivery guy can press putty on the door lock, rendering it useless. Of course, Robin uses the chain lock anyway. The gang also runs over Todd Bridges with their car, killing him.

In the night, the gang members enter the house, using bolt cutters on the chain, and have a party in the house—a party in which Robin is kidnapped and Scott is held at shotgunpoint.

When the gang desecrates his mannequin, however, Tyler’s ghost bursts out of the mirror to wreak revenge.

When the lights go out, the filmmakers artistically show everyone in a colorful light, highlighting the fantasy aspects of the film.

The murderous pranks from earlier in the film now become real, as the ghost murders the gang members via dumbwaiter and motorcycle.

While killing the villains, Tyler’s ghost also appears to possess his lookalike, and possible descendent, Crip, who dances with Robin upstairs.

In another upstairs bedroom, where the lights have not gone out, two of the gang members make out on a bed. There is a sudden whooshing sound. “It’s like all of a sudden cold,” says the man. He grabs the controls for an electric blanket. “What say we turn this on and get nice and toasty?”

The woman replies, “Hey, baby, we don’t need no extra heat.”

As they make love, the ghost causes beer to spill on the sheets and then he activates the electric blanket, electrocuting the man. “Tina, I’m being shocked!” he says, his hand turning into a roasted claw for unknown reasons.

“Oh, yes, baby, yes,” she says, in the throes of ecstasy. Then they both die.

The ghost also forces the gang leader to confront the police with a shotgun in his hands, and then kill himself with the shotgun.

In the climax, Crip dances with Robin, but the ghost, who apparently has not possessed Crip, engineers a repeat of the opening sequence, complete with Crip hanging himself. Thus, Tyler and his surrogate are...twice dead!

In the coda, the family, now apparently wealthy, eats in the dining room. “I still don’t understand how it happened,” says Scott’s mother.

“Old Tyler’s ghost, Mom,” explains Scott.

The coda also includes a Phantasm-like dream sequence, set in the hearse, which implies that Crip’s ghost, like Tyler’s, is still interested in Robin.

What could one want from a film that is not included in Twice Dead? For fans of the theatre and silent film, it has the ghost of an obsessive actor from the early twentieth century. For fans of 1980s TV, it has Todd Bridges. While this Venn diagram includes approximately 99% of humanity, it also includes a large, bearded man riding a motorcycle inside a house, which should of course satisfy the other 1%. In other words, Twice Dead is a package that includes everything anyone could want from the cinema.

The only mystery unanswered by the film is Todd's cryptic line "I couldn't find the--" when he was searching for the flashlight. What could he not find? He was looking for the flashlight and he found the flashlight, so what could he not find? WHAT COULD HE NOT FIND?

Our only recourse, I suppose, is to start a petition to convince--no, force--writer/director Bert L. Dragin to develop a sequel to Twice Dead so that we may finally find the answer. (And, of course, the name of the sequel is obvious: Twice Dead Again. No offense to Mr. Dragin, but it practically writes itself.)