Monster Mashington DC


The American President.  He (or she, just hang on) is committed to protecting the nation from all enemies foreign, domestic or supernatural, right?  We are assured that the Pentagon has considered plans for a Zombie Apocalypse, but if the movies are to be believed (and why wouldn't they be?) this is not the first time that the President has had to deal with the Undead Un-American Activities.  Many of our greatest presidents have faced down some of our most classic monsters already, and they did not shirk their responsibilities.

What with the internet being the hotbed for "This + That" nerdistry and wannamemes that it is, there are as many spawns of this idea as a hot bed is wont to bring forth, especially with zombies.  There is zombie every-damn-thing on the internet.  Go on, think of a word, add zombie to it and Google.  Yup, there it is.  Zombie Pool, both billiards and swimming.  Zombie Ice Cream.  Zombie Pope.  As such, I'm not addressing every damn variation on this theme, but simply hitting some of the bigger cinematic moments in American Presidents versus Classic Monsters.  Fanfic (and there's puh-lenty) need not apply.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter - 2012

Abraham Lincoln vs Vampires

I was surprised to discover that this was a June release, because it has the key ingredients of a May movie; specifically traditional monsters, a forgettable story, B-list effects and double cheese.  That's not to say that it's bad, mind you.  I often have more fun with May movies than I do with, say, the July ones.  They're frequently more fun, and AL:VH is certainly that.

The film doesn't so much posit an alternate timeline as a secret history.  Lincoln, in his youth, had a run in with some pretty vicious vampires, which led him to a night job as a slayer of the undead while he pursued his legal and political career by day.  He trains with a mentor hunter in the finer points of axe-handling, which you just know is gonna end poorly for the mentor yet motivationally for Honest Abe.  This comes in handy, since there is a much larger vampire threat with endangers the future of American freedom... or something.

The movie makes more than a token effort to fit the vampires in around the events of Lincoln's life.  Sure, whenever you shake a tree like this, four score and seven history nerds fall out to tell why nuh-uh, but for a movie that tell you in its title that it gives not one shit about such fussbudgets, it's more faithful than it needs to be.

The action is slick and cool.  Lincoln is a reluctant badass, much as history holds him to be... plus, you know, the axe.  Lincoln wields it like a kung fu artist and it provides a unique visual profile to what might otherwise have been some pretty rote violence.  The not-terribly-memorable villain is played by an Englishman, because ALL the villains are played by Englishmen nowadays.  The narrative takes itself seriously internally, but it is fully aware that you won't.

Really, the weakest thing about it is that I've seen it twice and I still don't remember the full core story.  I think that's probably because it was pulled along more by the chronology of Lincoln's life (lives being less tightly structured than stories) rather than by A-to-B narrative tropes.

It's good mindless fun that won't fill you up or weigh you down.

FDR: American Badass! - 2012

Franklin Roosevelt vs Werewolves

This movie has every excuse to be terrible, and there's certainly no denying the bargain basement production values, but despite all the obvious shortcomings, it's really rather funny thanks to its script and performers.  I can only assume it was conceived as a low-budget satire on the idea of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, being released straight-to-video within months of the bigger-budgeted film.  Where Lincoln takes itself remarkably seriously, FDR takes absolutely NOTHING seriously, and that is its trump card.

As a younger man, Franklin Roosevelt was good at everything and so beloved by everyone that his massive ego was merely another beloved characteristic.  And then he was attacked by a werewolf, and werewolf bites cause polio, dontcha know?  In a sight gag that will recur throughout the movie, FDR's legs are reduced to wildly quivering children's legs.  That sets the "story" into motion, and establishes the level and premise for much of the movie's humor.  As FDR, Barry "Brad" Bostwick is an over-the-top caricature of the manly man of bygone days.  He drinks hard, he laughs hard at his own jokes, and he's predominantly concerned with how the polio will affect his "cack."  After the werewolf attack, he's more determined than ever to become President.

Little does he know at the time, but the werewolf was a German agent.  It seems that all the Axis powers are werewolves, and werewolves Hitler, Hirohito and Mussolini chat with each other on the phone like teenage girls while making their plans for world conquest.  Fortunately, FDR is a take-charge kind of leader, and takes point on the D-day invasion with his armored and machine gun-enabled wheelchair.

In case I've been too subtle, this is not a delicate comedy of manners.  It's crude in as many ways as possible, but there's an ounce of brain under the hood of it all, as opposed to, say, just another Wayans movie.  My personal favorite joke comes from a left-field cribbing of Bon Jovi lyrics in a campaign meeting FDR has with a struggling constituent.  Some people will be put off by some of the humor which comes across as racist or sexist, but there are enough instances that expose enough awareness to suggest that what they are really mocking is not races and sexes, but racists and sexists.

For a movie that didn't need to accomplish much to attain "so bad it's good" low-low-budget and expectations status, it really seemed to me that FDR: American Badass! delivered more than it needed to, and much more cleverly than is likely to be appreciated.

Bubba Ho-Tep - 2002

John F Kennedy vs a Mummy

Bruce Campbell is a sad old man in a nursing home.  He drifts in and out of awareness, and isn't sure he cares.  He also may or may not be Elvis.

Ossie Davis is his best friend in the nursing home.  He also may or may not be JFK.

Together they become aware of an entity that haunts the nursing home by night, sucking the life energy out of the home's defenseless residents.  He definitely IS an Egyptian mummy!

Jack and Elvis have to push themselves to their limits to confront the mummy and free the souls of their friends.  While it takes the obvious guise of a monster movie, much of what makes Bubba Ho-Tep so good is the way it uses these recontextualized horror tropes to consider issues of age, ability and respect.  The majority of monster movies are about impulsive young people who don't think about what they're doing.  Jack and Elvis aren't like that.  They don't run screaming like a bunch of ninnies.  They face their enemy fully accepting that they will likely die.  It's not about survival for them.  They're past that point.  It's about being useful, having value, and dedicating their lives to doing something with meaning.  They continue to EARN respect, even if no one gives it to them anymore.

Must-see if you appreciate the way that Bruce Campbell can turn just about any line into something hilarious and cool.  Easily one of the best mummy movies ever, which isn't really saying that much.

See also: JFK vs zombies in Call of Duty: Black Ops.

Mars Attacks! - 1996

The President vs Martians

Yeah, you could just as easily put Independence Day in this slot, but Mars Attacks! is the better movie by far.  They're essentially the same movie, but ID takes itself completely seriously, which makes it all the more ridiculous.  Mars Attacks! however, is based on a fan favorite trading card series from the 1960s and takes very little seriously.  ID wants you to care about the outcome.  MA! gives you credit for already knowing that the human have to win in the end, so it doesn't really matter if it's a silly victory.  That approach is woven throughout the movie.  ID teases you with its aliens and insists that they're badass and scary even after it's been revealed that they're cheesy and dopey.  MA!'s aliens fully embrace their anachronistic origins and simply play their required role.  This all frees up MA! to be more creative and fun while essentially doing the same things.

It's an ensemble cast, and just happens to include Jack Nicholson in two roles, one of whom is the President.  While one might initially question the judgment of casting Nicholson in two roles when he is always so clearly Nicholson, Mars Attacks! reminds you that it couldn't possibly matter.  The film is full of recognizable faces and at no point does it matter if they embody the role with transcendent gravitas.  It's more like an episode of the Love Boat.  It's just fun to have them there because they're them, and them being them is a convenient shorthand to who they're playing.  There's no extra exposition required, which again, frees up MA! to be the silly fun that it is.

Nicholson's President oozes with transparent people-pleasing charm.  His triteness is summed up with the go-to refrain for late 20th century naivete, "Can't we all just... get along?" shortly before he learned the hard way that the Martians have not come all this way to... get along.

See also: President Colbert vs aliens in Monsters vs. Aliens

Death Race 2000 - 1975

"Frankenstein" vs the President

Death Race 2000 is one of that select class of 70s exploitation films that manages to have it both ways.  It's a brutal satire that gets away with just being brutal if that's the way you watch it.  The premise presages the like of The Running Man, The Hunger Games or CBS's Survivor, where a cross-country race in which hapless victims of automotive homicide are scored for points, all of this in a bread-and-circuses effort to distract from the corruption of the government.  The racers are all over-the-top personalities a la Hanna Barbera's Wacky Races, professional fake wrestling or "Real" "Housewives."

Under the surface of all these goings-on there's the political machinations of the president, and the underground movement to overthrow him.  One of the most successful racers, Frankenstein played by David Carradine, is sympathetic to the cause.  He's seen and been the worst of the best and the best of the worst.

In the interest of full disclosure, Frankenstein is not a Frankenstein's monster.  He's just a man who survived a disfiguring accident and earned the moniker for his appearance.  Nevertheless, it was too golden an opportunity to round out the roster of classic monsters faced by presidents.

Death Race 2000 was a midnight movie classic that has now attained the status of just plain classic.  The satire is still bitingly timely, which says a whole lot of bad things about the ground we've covered in the past 40 years.

Obama vs Zombie image from the internet, no rights or credit claimed

No comments:

Post a Comment