Monday, February 8, 2010

Issue #12: Drive Thru (2007)

I know this will sound odd coming from a man who loves creepy clown movies, but in general I don't like my horror mixed with comedy. I am not generally in Sam Raimi's cheering section, for example, and find that otherwise excellent films such as Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow are lessened by effects meant to make us chuckle. (In the case of the Burton film the literally eye-popping moments are unnecessary and, for me, spoil the mood of the picture.) Freddy Kreuger scared the Jujubes out of me in the original Nightmare on Elm Street, but as with each sequel he became campier and campier and his killing methods became more and more ridiculous, I stopped being afraid of him and started seeing him as Jerry Lewis with press-on nails.

This is not to say that Raimi's films are not well-made, that Tim Burton can't direct, or that Freddy Kreuger isn't one of the greatest horror movie figures of all time. None of these statements is accurate by any stretch of the imagination. I'm just saying that for me horror + comedy = not good.

But for every rule there is an exception, and Drive Thru is one of those exceptions. It is also a thoroughly pleasant surprise. I fully expected it to be yet another badly-done copy of a better 80's slasher pic. And in many ways it is a copy of an 80's slasher pic. Only instead of being a badly-done copy it takes some familiar elements of those slasher pics and makes something fresh and fun out of them.

The surprises start with the cast. Although the writers/directors of Drive Thru (Shane Kuhn & Brendan Cowles) have resumes about as long as Paris Hilton's attention span in a room full of sparkly things, the cast of the movie is chock full of familiar names and faces. Main character Mackenzie Carpenter is played by Leighton Meester of Gossip Girl fame, and her parents are Melora Hardin (Jan from The Office) and Paul Ganus (a familiar name to fans of daytime soaps, particularly The Bold and the Beautiful). Mackenzie's boyfriend, Fisher, is Nicholas D'Agosto, most recently seen on Heroes, and her friend Van is played by none other than Meester's Gossip Girls costar Penn Badgley.

Okay, there are no Oscar nominees in this group. Still, you don't usually expect to see anyone you recognize in this kind of film. Here even the supporting characters are played by actors such as Lola Glaudini (Criminal Minds) and Larry Joe Campbell (According to Jim). Oh, and there's a very special surprise guest, but we'll get to him later.

Mackenzie and her friends live in the Southern California town of Blanca Carne. Yes, that means "white meat" in Spanish. You can call it juvenile if you want to, but I think it perfectly sums up the atmosphere of SoCal, and I lived there so I should know. So step back, fool.

That's something the characters we meet as the movie opens might say. That's because they're rich white kids who like to act like gangbangers. They call each other "nigga" and "dumb ass cracka" while they drive along in their SUV. One of them wears his hair in cornrows. They can't die soon enough.

Which they do. They stop of at Hellaburger, a popular local fast food restaurant, and place an order at the drive thru window. Hence the name, although really it doesn't make a lot of sense because the drive thru only features prominently twice in the whole movie. But I can't think of a better name myself right now, so I'll let it go.

Naturally the two boys get into a fight with the mechanical clown head that takes their order, and naturally they decide to go inside and give someone a beat down. Because that's what gangbangers do. Only if you remember, these guys aren't gangbangers. So they get killed. By a clown.

Not just any clown, mind you. This is no Ronald McDonald or Bozo. This clown wears a leather suit that looks like something a motocross cyclist would wear. Also, his boots have some nasty spikes coming off them. And then there's the mask. It's pretty nifty, resembling a demented version of the restaurant's drive thru clown head.

The restaurant mascot, by the way, is Horny the Clown. Stop it. He's called that because he has horns. Tiny ones, but they're horns.

Oh, all right. He's called Horny because the movie is directed at grown men who still think like 9-year-old boys. Which is most of us. Deal with it. It's part of our charm.

So Horny does in the morons, one by pushing his face into a deep fryer and the other by chopping him up with a really nasty cleaver. He also does in their dates, who somehow have managed to fall asleep in the SUV and wake up just in time to become windshield splatters.

While all this is going on Mackenzie is throwing a party at her house because 1. her parents are out of town and 2. graduation is coming up. Also coming up is Mackenzie's 18th birthday. This is a big deal because 1. turning 18 is a big deal and 2. she's decided to give it up to her boyfriend on the big day. That's right, she still has her v-card.

Did I mention that Mackenzie and her two girlfriends are a band? They are. Mackenzie sings and plays guitar, Starfire (I know, but they call her Star, so it's not so bad) plays bass, and Val plays drums. It's very Josie and the Pussycats. Also, there seems to be absolutely no point to it, as once they finish their song they never take up instruments again in the movie.

The party is going well. Too well. The cops come and break it up, which means that Mack (they all call her that so we will too) and her friends go inside to smoke pot and drink beer and talk about how Mack is a virgin and how her boyfriend is super horny. They also decide to play with a Ouija board that is in the house "back from when [my mom] and my dad were weirdo hippies."

Comments like this come up a lot in Drive Thru. See, it's supposed to be something of a commentary on suburban American life and how people start off good and then become obsessed with things like money and George Bush and then bad things happen. Which is true.

Everyone thinks using the board is a great idea, particularly Val, who informs them that she "saw one of these in The Exorcist. Linda Blair used it. You know, right before she diddled herself with that crucifix." This is not entirely true, as Blair's Regan uses the board to communicate with Captain Howdy long before she makes carnal use of her Jesus on the cross. However, props to young Val for knowing the classics.

The Ouija board turns out to be a bust, mostly because Van farts and spoils the mood. He, Val, and Star leave Mack and Fisher to linger in the cloud of bumfog and we discover that Mack is upset because Fisher is going to be going to school in New York and she isn't. I don't know why. Maybe she doesn't test well and got suckage on her SAT's. All I know is she isn't going and she tries to make Fisher feel guilty by saying, "You're going to abandon me when we graduate, and I'll die fat, alone, and Republican in Orange County, which is pretty much worse than death." Again, this is true. Sometimes Drive Thru feels like a documentary.

While we're on the subject, I have to say something about this whole going to college with your boyfriend thing. You're 18. I know it's all romantical and stuff to think your high school boyfriend is the love of your life, but I have news. You're not going to end up with this guy. You might not end up with any guy, especially if you go to one of the Seven Sisters schools where you automatically get tutoring in lesbian action along with Survey of English Lit.  Besides, you both need to see what else is out there. So stop the boo-hooing.

Actually, Mack doesn't whine all that much. But she does decide to ask the Ouija board what's going to happen to her and Fisher. To their horror it goes bonkers, dragging their hands all over the board before the planchette flies off the board and into the wall. And what did it spell before it took off? N1KLPL8. Which is way better than N1KLBCK, but still makes no sense to them.

But we know (because the next shot is a close-up of it) that N1KLPL8 is the license plate of the SUV of Death that carried the four morons to Hellaburger earlier in the evening. The police have found it, although they haven't figured out much about what's going on because they're too busy arguing about whether the song "Highway to Hell" (which was playing on the van's stereo when they found it) is by AC/DC or Styx.

The two detectives assigned to the case are named Chase and Crockers, so you can imagine what people call them and no, it isn't really all that funny but it kind of is because it makes you snicker every time someone says cheese and crackers. Cheese, I mean Chase, is the girl cop and Crockers is the boy cop. She's on the ball, but he couldn't win a spelling bee on Three-Letter Word Day.

Mack and her friends see the news about the murders on TV while they're having a barbecue in Mack's backyard. Her super-hot DILF father is making hamburgers and her uptight mother is freaking out about the $400 noise citation Mack got for having the party. They all get a little sad when they see the news report, but then they forget it because now Mack's mom is angry that Mack has apparently lost a camera, which is the first time we find out she's into photography and which will be important later so keep it in mind.

At school the next day Mack and Fisher for some reason have a Magic 8 Ball, only it's pink and I don't know why except that maybe the Magic 8 Ball people didn't want their product used in a scene where a character asks it if he's going to get to "tap Mack's ass" anytime soon. Which is what Fisher asks it. Then he goes to class and Mack asks the ball if she should go to class or get high. The conversation goes like this.

Mack: Should I got to class or go to the bathroom and get baked?
Magic 8 Ball: Hi, Mackenzie.
Mack: Who are you?
Magic 8 Ball: You'll see.
Mack: Why are you doing this?
Magic 8 Ball: A broken heart.

You can see how this might be upsetting. I mean how would someone get your Magic 8 Ball, open it up, and replace the answer thingy inside with a new thingy that has creepy answers written on it? And then how would they make sure it answered in the correct order? OMG, there are so many questions I have and there are no good answers to them.

Mack thinks maybe Val will know, so she calls her and they make plans to get together later so that Mack can see Val's new tattoo, which happens to be a broken heart and so that can't be good. Only Mack never gets a gander at Val's fresh ink because Horny the Clown shows up and grabs Val while she's walking around the locker room in her underpants. He ends up doing something fairly clever with her, but that comes later.

First we need to visit Mack in the office of the school paper. This is when we find out that 1. she writes for the school paper 2. she's a vegan (maybe we knew that earlier, but I can't remember) and 3. the editors of the paper are all Republican bastards who edit her liberal articles down to nothing--NOTHING. Oh, and the creepy but sweet school handyman, Lenny, comes in and has found her camera. Yay!

But not for long. See, while Mack is busy developing the film from her stolen camera because nobody would use a digital camera in 2007 don't be ridiculous she discovers that not only are there shots from her party on there, there are shots of the girls in the van being killed. Also, a shot of her clearly being watched by someone.

As it turns out, that someone is still watching her. Because it's Horny the Clown! And he's in the darkroom! And he wants to kill Mack!

He almost does, too, but she kicks him in the McNuggets and runs. And where she runs is into the school's gymnasium, where she's reunited with Val. Only this is not good at all, as Val is tied up with her head poking through the bottom of a microwave oven.

I'm sure that at some point you've cooked microwave popcorn, so you know what happens. The bag swells up as the corn pops. Sometimes it swells so much it bursts. Now put a frizzy wig on that popcorn bag and give it the ability to scream and you have a pretty good idea of what Val's big scene is like. Only bloodier.

Now Mack runs some more and the clown chases her some more and somehow at the same time his voice comes over the intercom informing her that he knows she wants his corndog in her hot little buns, which is an exact quote so don't be pointing any fingers my way.

By the way, in this scene Mack is standing in front of one of those doors that has a window with chicken wire running through it. Then we cut away for a second and when we come back Horny is busting his way through that glass only now there's no chicken wire in it and I think someone wasn't doing his or her job very well and has some 'splaining to do.

Mack gets away from Horny again and runs runs runs some more, right into a bathroom where she finds Lenny hanging from a light fixture. Then you think Horny is going to get her but no, a policeman has magically shown up and he takes her downtown to talk to Chase and Crockers. In the police station all the cops are sitting around watching a Hellaburger commercial where two women make out and someone off screen shoots geysers of blue cheese dressing all over a hamburger. Snicker.

Chase tells Mack that there's no sign of a microwave anywhere in the school and that as far as they're concerned Lenny killed Val. Oh, and Crockers suggests that Mack is on drugs after she says something about the Ouija board and the Magic 8 Ball and Mack tells him to go to hell and her parents get snippy too and they all leave. Then they go home, Mack decides to take a nap in the back yard while listening to her iPod and holding a butcher knife, and Fisher almost gets stabbed when he startles her awake so that they can chat with Van and Star about how tragic everything is.

Chase and Crockers, meanwhile, pay a visit to Jack Benjamin, the owner of Hellaburger. Mostly their conversation is boring, but we learn that Jack's son Archie was the original Horny the Clown and that he's dead now. Chase and Crockers say they're sorry about that and oh, by the way, can we see the security camera footage from the night those four kids were killed. Jack says there is no footage because he never turns the cameras on, which we know is a total lie. And sure enough, as soon as C&C leave Jack calls up the camera footage on his computer and we see Horny walk into the Hellaburger and look right at the camera as if to say, "Hi, Dad. Miss me?"

Back in Mack's bedroom Fisher has learned nothing from his close call with the knife and scares Mack again, only this time she almost blinds herself with the eyeliner pencil she's using. She's also listening to "Highway to Hell" backwards (no, I don't know how) because there are supposedly Satanic chants on it.

Now, I can tell you from experience that this does not work, because my roommate Chris and I tried the same thing when we were in college, after our school pastor told us the Devil was hiding in AC/DC records. You know what we heard? "Gubba boon wawa ibbidy foop." So that's how much he knew about backward masking. Anyway, he was fired not long after because it turned out he was making it with the girl half of a student couple who came to him for marriage counseling, and he was replaced by a really nice pastor everyone liked but then he left to become pastor of a church that needed a new pastor because theirs had recently run off with a married woman from the congregation and that woman happened to be my mother. But that's a whole other story.

What's important is that Mack has decided to lose her virginity RIGHT NOW, even though it's not her birthday yet and technically Fisher would be guilty of statutory rape because he's already 18. But because there is less than a three-year age difference between them it would only be a misdemeanor, so he might not be worried about it. Anyway, I don't think Mack would turn him in.

But her mother might because she's a little uptight as we know, so Mack locks the bedroom door and she and Fisher get busy. And it's a good thing she locked the door because Mom does come up to see what's going on and it could have been awkward. Instead she believes Mack when Mack says she's getting dressed for the carnival they're apparently going to later that night, even though Mack's panties are on the floor and Fisher is touching her under the sheets and this is the first we've heard about any carnival.

Something else is on the floor too. It's an Etch A Sketch. And while Mack is losing it to Fisher something writes an interesting message on the Etch A Sketch. It looks like this:

As you may have guessed by the whole Magic 8 Ball/Val's tattoo thing, this might be a clue. Your suspicion would be confirmed a moment later when we see a couple walking up to the ticket counter of the aforementioned carnival and the girl half is wearing a t-shirt with that very slogan on it, which is a bit of foreshadowing but is also funny because we're supposed to assume that the girl doesn't understand that the Bush she hearts could be George but it could also be the kind of bush that her liking of would make her something most people who live in Orange County aren't all that fond of.

The girl's name is Tina and the boy's name is Chad but Mack and Fisher call them Abercrombie and Bitch, which hits them where it hurts and they get all pouty and go into the haunted house, where they promptly have sex and Tina gets mad because Chad doesn't put her pleasure first and thinks only of himself. But they're there, so she figures she might as well enjoy at least one ride and they get in a car and go through the house.

Did I mention that Fisher has followed them, and that he sees everything when Horny kills the happy couple when he shows up in the room of mirrors? Because he has, and he does, and it freaks him out.

Mack is a little freaked out herself because she's watching her dad eat a Hellaburger (remember, she's a vegan) and all of a sudden a DILF comes along who isn't her dad and he seems to be acquainted with Mack's mom in some special way. His name is Bert, and he happens to be Tina's father. He mentions to Marcia (that's Mack's mom's non-mom name) that the kids who were killed recently were all children of people he and Marcia went to school with. Marcia is all "what do you know about that" but Mack senses Something More is being said.

She doesn't have time to ask because Star runs up in a Bride of Frankenstein wig and says something bad has happened at the haunted house and she and Mack go there and find Fisher all freaked out and an ambulance comes for him and Mack goes home and finds the Etch A Sketch and freaks and makes her mom take her to the hospital to see Fisher but the cops won't let her in because she's not a relative, wife, or registered domestic partner and Chase is there being all suspicious and accusatory and they get into it and Chase says that if she's going to be any help to Mack she needs to know what's really going on and no one will say anything and Mack throws herself down on a couch in the waiting room and says things to her mother that she might regret later.

Chase, who has returned to the police station, finally gets some answers when she talks to Bert about why someone might want to kill his daughter besides the simple reason that she was a total bitch and must have taken after her mother because Bert is not only hot, he's nice, even if he's a little short with Chase because of his recent unpleasant experience. But we don't hear any of what he tells her because it's too early in the film and they want to keep us in suspense. It does, however, make us wonder if there's a Mrs. Bert around because there doesn't seem to be and someone should be holding Bert in their arms and saying, "There, there, Tina wasn't so great and we can always adopt another one or maybe get a pair of French bulldogs instead."

Instead we see Fisher emptying the contents of one of his sedatives over a hamburger and tricking Crockers (who is guarding his room) into eating it. We also see Mack, who is still at the hospital hoping to see Fisher, going to get a soda. Near the soda machine is one of those supersized gumball machine things that dispenses little plastic balls filled with toys of one kind and another. When I was a kid it was things like super bouncy balls, fake gold jewelery, and little plastic monkeys that smoked tiny fake cigarettes. I don't know why there would be such a thing in a hospital, but there is. And sure enough, one of those plastic ball container things rolls out and Mack opens it. Inside is a tiny clown head and a piece of paper on which is written "See you at 4:20"

Mack knows, based on past experiences, that this note is not random. She runs to her car, where she finds Fisher hiding. He deduces that 4:20 refers to a group of diehard stoners from their school, and suggests that they find them before it's too late.

But it already is too late. The stoners--two guys and a girl--are already super high and have the munchies. So where do they go? Hellaburger? Are you serious?

Well, you're right. But they don't just go there and order food, they go there and start playing in the kiddy section. Actually, they start pissing in the kiddy section, which makes them not as lovable as lovable stoners usually are in movies. Also, they make the girl go get them food, which is really sexist but not as big a deal as it might be because the girl has no manners at all. She even rolls her eyes when the Hellaburger manager who takes her order gives her a Horny the Clown doll for free. So she kind of needs an attitude adjustment.

The manager, by the howdy doody, is played by Morgan Spurlock. You know, the guy who made the documentary Super Size Me where he lived on nothing but McDonald's food for 30 days and didn't want to have sex with his girlfriend because he was filled with trans fats. This is supposed to be ironic. And yes, he's the special guest star I promised you earlier. Try not to get too excited.

While Morgan is chatting up the stoner girl, Horny the Clown rises from the pit of little plastic balls in the kiddy room and metes out clown vengeance on the boys. This results in lots of blood and Morgan passing out when he sees it. But the stoner girl should totally be relieved because, well, she's not dead and now maybe she'll see that drugs are bad and that she should think about junior college or maybe cosmetology school.

Mack, now more determined than ever to know what secrets her mother is hiding, demands answers. Because we're nearing the end of the film, Mom spills it. When she was Mack's age she hung around with the parents of the dead kids. They were a wacky, fun-loving bunch. Also, they smoked a lot of pot in someone's van and Marcia slept with Chuck Taylor, who is the father of the black boy stoner Horny just stubbed out--and that was a big deal for a girl from Orange County in the 70's and because of what happened next may be what turned made her so edgy about the past.

You see, Archie Benjamin was the same age as Marcia and her wacky friends, but he was awkward and his father made him spend all of his free time dressed as Horny the Clown and shilling for the restaurant. This made Archie a little weird.

Archie had a thing for Marcia, who was a little hottie in her day, and he sent her an invitation to his 18th birthday party. Marcia and her friends used the invite to roll joints, but the guys told Marcia to say yeah, she'd come, so she did. Given that the movie Carrie would have come out right around this time, you would think that Marcia might have thought about Carrie and the pig blood business and been suspicious. But no.

She showed up at the restaurant the night of Archie's big day and he had the place decorated with balloons and streamers. He'd also baked himself a cake, which is sad. He was really happy when he saw Marcia at the door. But this didn't last long because the boys had snuck in the back and now Chuck scared the frosting out of him by sneaking up on him wearing the Horny mask.

The rest is too awful. They fought. The boys wrecked the cake. Archie fell down. The candles on the cake started a fire. You can guess the rest.

Note: Although Horny isn't all that pleasant a fellow, Archie seems sweet. So does Van De La Plante, who plays both Archie and Horny. See how nicely he cleans up? I bet he wouldn't hurt a fly.

Now it all makes sense to Mack. The children of the people who caused Archie's death are being picked off one by one as revenge for the prank. Marcia says she thinks it's Jack Benjamin doing the killing, but Mack has seen more horror movies than her mom has and she knows it's Archie come back from the dead.

She decides to end things once and for all by getting Fisher, Van, and Star and going to the Benjamin mansion. She brings a gun and a flask of whiskey. Wouldn't you?

Also, wouldn't you split up when you got to the mansion? Because that's what they do. Van and Star go to check out the garage, while Mack and Fisher go inside.

In the house, Jack Benjamin is asleep. He hears a noise and wakes up. His television is on and there's a video of Horny telling him that it's time to party. By which he means kill a bunch of kids.

Mack and Fisher have stumbled into Archie's childhood room, which looks like it did the day he died. They're amazed at the lava lamps and Magic 8 Ball and other 70's stuff. They're even more amazed when a Horny the Clown doll announces happy birthday to Mackenzie and she checks her watch and sees that it's midnight and she is now 18. But she's in no mood to celebrate and besides Fisher already gave her her big present, if you know what I mean, and that's something you can't open twice.

We're close to the end now, and things clip along at a good speed. Here's the condensed version. The lights go out. Someone screams. Van finds a freezer filled with frozen broccoli and Star's body parts (now we know who screamed). Marcia calls Chase and tells her she thinks Mack is at the Benjamin place. Horny kills Van. Mack and Fisher are about to go through a door when Horny breaks through it. Mack drops the gun. Chase and Crockers arrive. Horny chases Mack and Fisher. Fisher pulls Horny's mask off. Horny puts his face really close to Fisher's and something weird happens to Fisher's eye and it turns red. Horny throws Fisher through a window. Crockers almost shoots his own foot off. Chase finds Jack hiding in his bedroom.

The two most interesting parts of all this are Fisher's eye turning red and Jack being scared of Archie. The eye thing gets explained (sort of) later. And we could easily assume that Jack is afraid of Archie because, well, he's a creepy clown with a cleaver. But it could also imply that Archie never really died and has been living with Jack all along and only now has gone totally cheese and crackers. That would at least explain where Archie has been all these years, which would be nice because no one offers any other explanation.

Now we get to the big scene. Mack, who was knocked out during the fight in the dining room, wakes up. She's tied up and sitting at a table. In front of her is a birthday cake. Around the table are the bodies of some of the dead kids.

Now I know what you're going to say. "This is a ripoff of Happy Birthday to Me." No, it isn't. I'm sure it's meant to resemble the famous scene from that movie, but that's because Drive Thru is an homage to horror films of that time. But the stories aren't really all that similar. Also, Mack isn't Ginny or Ann and there's no clown in HPTM, so just shut up and enjoy it.

This isn't the birthday party Mack imagined she would be having on her Big Day, so she's a little upset. And she's really not keen on Archie's gift for her--a can of gasoline. Personally, I think it's a very thoughtful gift, gas prices being what they are and all, but that's just me. I like getting socks, too.

Archie is disappointed by Mack's lack of enthusiasm for his present so he dumps it over her head. Then he picks up a lit birthday candle and prepares to make a wish.

Only right then Marcia shows up! Go Mom! She shoots Archie and he tackles her and throws her to the ground. So close, Marcia. So close.

Now Archie goes back to Mack, whose mood hasn't improved any. Again he picks up the candle. But this time Mack has a surprise for him. Remember her flask of whiskey? Well, it wasn't such a stupid idea after all. Because Mack has managed to swig a mouthful of it, and now she spits it at Horny.

Poor Archie. His parties never end happily, do they?

With Archie dead (again) Chase arrives and tells Mack that Fisher has been taken to the hospital (again) in critical condition. Mack rushes to see him (again) but before she gets there Fisher wakes up and his eyes are all red (again). When Mack finally does arrive she finds Fisher's room empty and the window open. Below them, on the ground, are Fisher's clothes. "It's not over," Mack tells her mother, which is a little pessimistic of her.

But she's right. It's not over. Somehow Horny Archie transferred his madness to Fisher when they were eye-to-eye. Now it's taken over Fisher's mind. And it's not long before he makes his next (or I guess it would be first) appearance. Crockers, famished after a day of ineptitude, decides to stop by Hellaburger for a late dinner. While he's waiting at the giant talking clown head to place his order, someone jumps on the hood of his car. Want to guess who it is?

Listen. I'm not going to worry about how Archie's evil got into Fisher or whatever. Nor am I going to worry about how Fisher found another Horny suit. I don't care. I'm just glad Horny is back.

I'm also pleased to hear that Drive Thru 2: It's Just the Beginning recently finished shooting. I don't know when it's going to hit theaters (or if it even will) but I'm looking forward to it. More of Horny the Clown?

Hella yes.

Favorite Line: "Have you seen your ass? How's a young hormone junkie like me supposed to be patient?"

Rating (Out of 5):

4.5 Clowns