Monday, August 15, 2011

My Review of the “Lost” Nickelodeon Movie Cry Baby Lane

Back in 2000, Nickelodeon aired the original TV movie Cry Baby Lane as part of its Halloween festivities. The introduction by Melissa Joan Hart encouraging viewers to hide under a blanket apparently little prepared Nick fans for what followed, because the movie was scary, at least by the standards of kids weaned on decidedly PG-related Are You Afraid of the Dark? episodes. As a result, Cry Baby Lane never again aired on the network and was never released on video. It remained a lost film, more or less, until an August 10 Reddit thread turned up someone who actually had a VHS copy of the film’s one and only broadcast. It was an internet miracle: By August 14, the film had been uploaded to YouTube in its entirety.

By 2000, I was enjoying my first college Halloween and way beyond the point at which I cared about Nickelodeon. Still, the prospect of a recovered film with the added enticement of it being deemed too scary for the youngins? That’s enough for me. So yeah — while I was doing work on Sunday night, I watched Cry Baby Lane in its entirety.


So is it scary? 

Well, no, although the look of it reminds me of Twin Peaks, even if it aired nearly ten years after. But it has its moments. The set-up: According to local legend, a man fathered had Siamese twins, one good, one evil. Ashamed of their conjoinedness, he locked them in their room — like you do — until they died. He buried the good twin in the cemetery and the bad twin the back yard. Kids being what they are, they hold a seance in the cemetery in an attempt to contact the good twin, but instead unleash the spirit of the evil one, which gradually possesses the townsfolk and compels them to raise hell. Cowardly twerp Andrew (Jase Blankfort) teams up with an area youth (Larc Spies — Jerri’s half-brother from Strangers With Candy) to break the ghost’s spell. Frank Langella and Jim Gaffigan are also there. 

Now, I’m jaded, but I’m not sure this movie would have truly scared the kiddies. For one, Cry Baby Lane opts for that too-red sort of movie blood that even a child can spot as fake. For example, when Andrew’s possessed mother opens her jugular at the dinner table in a hammy attempt to “scare” him, it’s hardly believable that the fruit punch-looking stuff spraying over the tablecloth — and, at one point, directly into Andrew’s mouth — could actually be blood, and I think young viewers would have realized that. Most of the special effects fall along the same lines. When Andrew is fleeing the crazed, tractor-driving man, it’s pretty obvious that the hand he looses in the machine is just a crude prosthetic. 

I’d imagine most viewers would have objected to the scene in which the women of the town ritualistically disembowel themselves in the cornfield to honor the evil spirit (which they’ve come to worship as a god), but I feel like anyone could easily pick out this segment as a tongue-in-cheek homage to the 1971 Italian supernatural thriller Night of the Hell Brides. It’s hardly new stuff. And again, the effects skew towards that winking sort of theatrical that gets more of a laugh than a gasp; Andrew’s love interest’s twilling “entrails” are clearly butcher shop leftovers, though I must admit the actress sells her character’s ecstatic agony especially well for a twelve-year-old. 

Finally, the movie’s conclusion breaks the fourth wall in a way that I feel dissipates and lingering scares. I mean, I can’t imagine any other reaction to something as over-the-top as the entire cast, fully done up in corpse-like demon make-up, turning to the camera and telling the audience that their parents have also become possessed by demons that can only be driven out if the parents are stabbed repeatedly in order to make a big enough wound for the ghosts to escape. As if to emphasize the hokeyness even more these instructions are repeated in a chanting style for nearly ten minutes while a hypnosis disc spins on the screen. It’s all very fun and campy — and in perfect synch with the macabre humor of the film. 

If any one aspect of Cry Baby Lane might have gotten to, say, the youngest and most impressionable of viewers, it would have to be the outro. As I mentioned, the broadcast begins with Melissa Joan Hart appearing as herself but who nonetheless conjures up her Sabrina the Teenage Witch co-star, Salem the talking cat, as a viewing buddy. Once Cry Baby Lane’s closing credits start rolling, however, the camera cuts back to the same Nickelodeon studio set, where Hart has been slathered with passably realistic gore which Salem is now feeding on. It’s the “trick” that follows up the “treat” the movie aimed to deliver, but I suppose some viewers might have found it objectionable — for being just a tad obvious, of course.

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