With the passing of the seasons, a young man’s thoughts turn to the eldritch and the arcane. Autumn is here, and what better way to celebrate than by watching a horror film at the close of every week, in preparation for the Halloween festivities. The first of Major Spoilers’ Friday Night Frights is here, with the horror/comedy entry Bad Milo!
One of my first pop culture loves was horror. When my parents left me home alone for the first time, I realized I was taking my initial steps on the path to adulthood. I was fascinated by horror movies for as long as I can remember. The TV commercials terrified me, well before I ever saw any sort of horror film; I was convinced that Freddy Krueger lived in my closet and Chucky lived under my bed, even as I barely understood what those characters even were. Those brief flashes of something unknown, repellent, yet interesting, whetted my appetite. So what better way to prove I could stay up, alone, than to face down those weird, strange movies?
The midwife to my birth into this world of blood and guts was the flickering glow of TNT’s sadly departed Monstervision, hosted by the wonderful Joe Bob Briggs. I learned at his feet about The Night of the Living Dead, The Exorcist, and various Phantasm sequels. I learned to appreciate the horror genre for all its ridiculous excesses, for going places perhaps best unexplored, and when its at its best, for being able to reach that little kid still somewhere inside. Every fall, I up my intake of the weird, the macabre and the grotesque, and this year I’d like to share a random assortment of horror films with you, the Major Spoilers reading public. So prepare yourself for… Friday. Night. Frights!
Duncan: Ken Marino
Sarah: Gillian Jacobs
Beatrice: Mary Kay Place
Phil: Patrick Warburton
Highsmith: Peter Stormare
Bad Milo! is a throwback to the golden age of horror film-making. I speak, of course, of the 1980s, when practical effects reigned and an anything goes sensibility allowed for the realization of some of the most bonkers concepts put down on celluloid. Bad Milo! has a good, if disgusting, idea at the core. Ken Marino’s Duncan is a sadsack, emasculated by his mother, abandoned by his father and beset by overwhelming pressure both at work and at home. The strain has given him no small measure of bowel dysfunction, resulting in further embarrassment. Searching for an answer, he turns to a probable quack hypnotherapist (played by Peter Stormare). The resulting therapy, and all his repressed stress, causes a strangely cute (yet horrifying) monster to emerge from his bowels which then goes on to kill. Duncan tries to bond with the creature, but it’s not long before the bowel monster known as Milo starts killing Duncan’s antagonists. Which might not be so bad, but it begins to get jealous of his loved ones too.
What drew my attention to Bad Milo! was the ridiculously talented comedic cast. Ken Marino is an alum of seminal improve troupe The State, and has killed it on work as various as Wet Hot American Summer, Party Down and Childrens Hospital. The rest of the cast includes Gillian Jacobs, Patrick Warburton, Stephen Root, Kumail Nanjiani, and Toby Huss, which is a murderer’s row of comedic talent. Throw in the wildcard of Stormare, whose strange Nordic presence is such that I’d watch him read a description of paint drying, and it’s practically my ideal film cast.
Unfortunately, Bad Milo! is a film that is not scary enough to work as a horror movie and it’s not funny enough to function as a comedy. Some films have a problem where a wealth of comedic talent is enlisted, but then someone seemingly forget to write actual jokes for the actors to deliver. In these types of films, it’s as if the production is hoping that just having funny people on camera will redeem flat lines, or that the actors can improv their way out of an underwritten script. Unfortunately, that did not happen with Bad Milo! There are some fairly funny scenes – Kumail Nanjiani gets the best laughs as Duncan’s mother’s superciliously amorous lover – but the pacing is all wrong. Unless you find Ken Marino straining and grunting for minutes at a time to be inherently humorous, which I didn’t. The laughs are much too few and far between for this film to be a successful comedy, and the horror elements aren’t particularly scary or novel. The film has a lot of slack, which is weird when it’s clocking in under 90 minutes. The cast does sell the drama elements, but the message, that stress is bad and repression can be a killer,is too obvious to be meaningful.
What I did like was the puppet used for Milo. The character design is menacing, but still capable of being cute. It looked great as it moved, due to excellent puppeteering. Writer/director Jacob Vaughn clearly had his heart in the right place on this project, as the movie tries to recapture the vibe of those great 80s horror pieces, but ultimately it’s a misfire.
BOTTOM LINE: FALSE START
Bad Milo! is an inauspicious beginning to the Friday Night Frights. A bit of comedic horror that neither nails the laughs nor the scares, it does not deliver on the promise of its talented cast. Bad Milo! features three and-a-half deaths, three severed limbs, one endoscopy, one fountain of blood, one instance of Peter Stormare playing the harmonica, Axe Fu, Letter Opener Fu and a whole lotta grunts and straining. Check it out.
If there are any films you might want to see covered for Friday Night Frights, let us know in the comments!