Thursday, May 2, 2013

This Is A Thing That Exists!: Ooga Booga

If you would like to hear my podcast exclusively about this awful movie, CLICK HERE!

I’ve already touched upon the work of Charles Band on this site a few times before, and featured his film The Haunted Dollhouse in a segment of This Is A Thing That Exists, a section of my blog I reserve for movies so strange that they have to be seen to be believed. I hesitate to talk about the current film Ooga Booga in the same way, because while it is definitely insane enough to qualify, it is not one that I would recommend seeing, even in order to confirm its existence. This movie is so unnecessarily, and I would guess intentionally bad that I have come to believe that Mr. Band at some point became aware of my past praise of his work, and out of some contrarian impulse decided to make a movie solely for the purpose of making me personally regret being a fan. I almost want to just let it go and go back to a simpler time when I could pretend that it was not the case, but as much as I do not wish it to be so, I must admit that this, is a thing…that exists.

Ooga Booga is about an African American man gunned down in a convenience store by a racist cop whose soul is transferred via the electrical charge of a faulty slushy machine into the body of a comically racist doll built to resemble a tribal African stereotype with a spear and a bone through its nose. And a joint in its mouth. Now I’m just going to stop right here for a second and let you process all of that before I continue. You good? Okay, moving on. Now, for the record, I don’t even think the fact that someone had an idea to make a movie this horrifyingly racist is in and of itself all that remarkable. I can totally see this as some idiot screenwriter’s incredibly misguided passion project. He probably didn’t even think of it as racist when he was writing it, justifying the effort by clinging to some imagined thread of irony that to him made the whole concept workable. For me, it’s the fact that enough people were willing to be a part of this production and be associated with it that perplexes me.

Stacey Keach is in this movie. Now, I know Stacy Keach isn’t necessarily on the A list pulling in the big bucks nowadays, so you’d have to expect that he might take on some low-budget work, but I’d also like to think that A.) he’s not racist enough to be into this kind of movie, and B.) he’s not so hard-up for cash after a fairly successful career that he can’t say no to the racist killer doll revenge movie. Or maybe it’s just me. In the age of torture porn and shitty remakes, I’ve been out of touch with modern horror sensibilities, so maybe I’ve just missed out on this new burgeoning sub-genre of horror movies employing racist iconography, and can’t appreciate it like others might. Perhaps watching 42 affected me more than I realized, and I’m just oversensitive to this sort of thing at the moment. It’s possible that I just can’t see what everyone involved saw when they were making it, that thing that led all of them to think this was such a worthwhile endeavor. Let’s go ahead and delve a little deeper into this mire of shit and find out, shall we?

The movie opens with what I can only describe as something like the non-hardcore comedy bits in bad 80’s porn movies too cheap to hire Ron Jeremy to actually be funny, except there isn’t any sex afterwards to justify me watching it. We start on a pig-nosed TV clown named Hambo who gets fired from his job after showing up late and drunk, prompting him to pursue his lifelong dream of selling a line of offensive stereotype themed action figures. We get all the classics, from the Crack Whore to the Butt Pirate, and of course the Asian doll carries a steering wheel, “because they can’t drive for shit.” I want to point out that those quotation marks are completely accurate. That wasn’t just me sapping out all of the subtlety from a much more clever line for comic effect. That’s a direct fucking quote from this movie. The guy keeps insisting that his new toys are a potential gold mine, and while in any other movie this might be a joke, in this skewed world, I am forced to accept his claim at face value that there is in fact a market for his product.

Gotta Collect 'Em All! Then Kill Yourself

As a gift to our main character, who despite being black is for some reason this unapologetic racist’s biggest fan, Hambo gives him a slightly larger prototype of one of these dolls, the titular Ooga Booga, which he keeps in his backpack on his way home. Stopping at a convenience store, our hero is witness to a robbery that leaves the clerk dead, only to be accused of the crime by an outrageously racist cop and shot dead in cold blood. Of course the cop (Officer White, naturally) makes sure to take the time to point out that he's killing him pretty much solely on the basis of him being black, just in case we might be under the illusion that there will be any moral complexity in this movie. It is here that the electrified broken slushy machine comes into play, employing the magic of Tesla to transfer this dying youth's spirit into the doll he just happens to have in his possession, which just happens to be a ridiculous racist caricature of a black person.

Now, I wanna stop here for a second just to talk about the implications of this. When I watched another Full Moon Movie a while back, the infinitely better Puppet Master 3: Toulan's Revenge, I noted how strange it was that they would introduce a puppet with the likeness of Adolph Hitler only to not bring it to life at some point. When I brought this up to a colleague of mine, he pointed out the obvious problem with my objection, namely that since the other puppets in the movie are being animated by the souls of dead Jews, bringing one back with Hitler's face would be the ultimate indignity. That this simple concept is not even addressed in this film, even as a joke in horrible taste, is the mark of poor writing. In fact, the racial element isn't even explored beyond the fact that all the victims are racists. That this creature's visage reflects a dark history of racist popular culture is never even pointed out after the first scene he's introduced. Why even do this if you weren't even going to follow through with it?

Anyway, moving on, after Ooga Booga comes to life, he seeks out his old girlfriend and convinces her to help him exact vengeance against those who wronged him and complete his unfinished business. To do this, she goes out on the town only to be immediately raped in full public view by the same robbers from the convenience store, in what might have been a shocking display of vulgar abuse and violence, if I was not completely de-sensitized to any degree of shock by this point. Or at least I thought I was, until we get to the next scene, where this character's rape is used as a flimsy excuse for a nude scene as she lovingly showers the smell of rapist off of her naked body, while her doll sized dead boyfriend looks on, masturbating. No, I didn't make that up as some sort of disgusting joke to punctuate a paragraph about rape, that shit actually happens!

Why does the doll have a dick, let alone a working one? Does it cum? It certainly appears as though he reaches climax, which even if I accept that there are no physical limitations to a living puppet's self gratification, I imagine it might be kinda hard to get it done psychologically knowing that your girlfriend had only moments earlier been the victim of rape, and was currently washing the stink of it off of her. Oh, and the reason he wasn't there to protect her? He stayed home to smoke weed. Yes, not only is the joint that was in his mouth as a toy prototype real and smoke-able, but apparently his mission to find justified revenge so as to pass on to the next life is not so imperative that you can't get a little baked while your girlfriend goes out to help you and gets raped for her trouble. Fuck this movie with infinity dicks.

Oh, I'm not even done yet. We eventually learn that Officer White is actually taking orders from a corrupt and even more racist Judge played by Stacey Keach, who is only there to spout off an escalating list of racial slurs until he too is murdered like the rest of the bad guys. In a movie as completely and utterly pointless as Ooga Booga is in its entirety, it is probably redundant to even focus on any specific elements that are themselves individually pointless, but given that this is a quality actor we're talking about, it behooves me to ask why they would sully someone like Keach, when his character is completely unnecessary to the plot. Oh, and he also oversees the three robber rapists, who also run the city's drug and prostitution centers, meaning effectively that these three white guys commit basically all the crime in the city, all of which is then arbitrarily blamed on innocent black people.

And speaking of pointless, before we make the connection between the web of entirely white racist crime, we get a weird little excursion into the house of Karen Black, which serves only to provide an opportunity to re-enact the famous doll chase scene from Trilogy of Terror. And yes, I absolutely call bullshit on this. Hanging a lampshade on the fact that your whole plot rips off one segment of a much better movie does not alter the fact that you are ripping it off. In the same vein, the fact that the racist doll line presented in the beginning of the film is called out as racist at the time does not mitigates the fact that it is racist, which wouldn't be as big a problem if any of this were funny or engaging, which it isn't. And the fact that all the racists and rapists get their comeuppance doesn't excuse it either.

And you know, for me, the worst thing about all of this has nothing to do with racism or insensitivity. For me, just as a fan of Full Moon movies past and living puppet movies in particular, what insults me is that this movie comes out only one year after the latest Puppet Master movie, and the effects work done to make the puppet look alive is so much better in this one. That last Puppet Master movie barely moved the puppets at all, while this one looks relatively good by low budget standards. That the tent pole Full Moon franchise, the latest installment in the series that made Charles Band's career and cemented him as the "living puppet guy" is treated so shabbily while this film is even made let alone given more attention to detail is an insult to every fan of this once beloved company.

Truth be told, I don't even think racist humor is necessarily inherently unfunny, even if most of the time it happens to be unfunny. I'm a "no sacred cows" guy, and I can envision a well constructed racist joke just as well as I can a joke about rape or incest or any topic. Hell, I even laughed at the last time this company did a racist puppet in the last Puppet Master movie, Kamikaze the Japanese Nazi puppet with the Mr. Yuniyoshi buck teeth, mostly due to just how insane and out of place it was with the rest of the movie. I am an unapologetic fan of both Leprechaun in the Hood movies for goodness sakes. What I'm saying is, I'm not just condemning this movie for being politically incorrect, which in and of itself is no sin in my book; the problem is, that's all it is.

Ooga Booga is all about racism as humor in the same way the movie references in a Friedberg Seltzer movie are inserted in place of actual jokes, in a context where you are expected to laugh anyway. This movie is Carlos Mencia's career in cinematic form. While a funny racist joke can disarm its potential to be offensive, a racist joke that is not only unfunny, but doesn't even try to be funny, can only be offensive, and that's this movie in a nutshell. Like I said, I can't recommend this movie, except perhaps as validation for what I'm saying about it, and even then, probably not. I haven't checked to see if its available on Netflix streaming, and I hope its not. The less people see this, the better, quite frankly. Hopefully it will be enough that they learn how small the audience is for this sort of thing so they will make better movies, and not too large that it proves there actually is an audience for this sort of thing.

Then again, if they double down and make a sequel, bringing back the other offensive action figures to do a full-on racist version of the Puppet Master movies, that might be over the top enough to get me. I know I probably just destroyed my whole argument with that, but so be it. The gay one can shoot gerbils out of his ass. See, that's a well constructed offensive joke. Okay, not that well constructed, but I hope you see my point.

Oh, and I know I usually try to have pictures after every chunk of text to make these posts more visually exciting, but I thought that considering how long this one turned out, amassing that many pictures of Ooga Booga might just constitute a hate crime, so sorry if this wasn't as fun to look at. 
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