I really hadn’t intended to watch this movie. Honestly, I’ve hardly been able to watch any movie without the dog interrupting and whining for attention. But I do still watch movie review shows on YouTube, and as I was watching the John Campea show, he raved about “Husavik,” the final song from Eurovision. I decided to check it out. The song was pretty. I started watching other YouTube videos of Eurovision songs. Then I got curious. Eurovision was out on Netflix, it was free, and it was not a movie that required my undivided attention. At last, I decided to check it out.
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is a light comedy about Lars and Sigrit, a singing duo that go by the name Fire Saga who hail from a small town in Iceland. Lars (Will Ferrell) dreams of winning the Eurovision song contest in Europe and proving himself to his father. Sigrit (Rachel McAdams) supports his ambitions but would prefer to marry Lars and live a simple life in their hometown. When they find themselves unexpectedly representing Iceland in the Eurovision Song Contest, Sigrit meet a flirtatious Russian singer named Alexander Lemtov (Dan Stevens) who encourages her to find her voice. But Lars’ jealousy and ambition cause cracks to form in the group and may just cost Fire Saga their chance at winning.
As I said, I watched the movie mostly because of the songs, which are really catchy and surprisingly good. I ended up grooving to “Double Trouble,” Fire Saga’s official entry into the Eurovision Contest. I wanted a full version of “Volcano Man.” And even though Alexander Lemtov’s “Lion of Love” has some of the cheesiest, cringiest lyrics, I can’t stop listening to it, because let me tell you, the man can sing. Sprinkled in are glimpses of other country’s entries, and they sound like real songs you’d hear on the radio. I know it’s a comedy, but the only reflection of that genre are a couple of silly lyrics and a vague 80s or 90s over-the-top vibe. I’m no music critic, but I fell in love with the songs and binged on them hard.
But what was the movie like?
I found Eurovision amusing and pleasant. It was set in a world where you knew that nothing too horrible could ever happen, and that was nice. I enjoyed the fluffy escapism. I didn’t find it laugh-out-loud funny, but I grinned at a few gags involving a gaggle of American tourists, a bit of dark humor with a ghost, and some elves who may or may not have been extreme in their measures to ensure the couple got to Eurovision. There were some crude instances of sexual humor that I didn’t find funny, but these were few and far between.
For me, Eurovision was at its most sweet and heart-warming when it told the tale of a small town girl who finds her voice on the big stage. I connected to Rachel McAdam’s Sigrit early on, in a scene where she brings biscuits and alcohol to cute little houses in the green hills, where the elves live. Sigrit asks the elves to help them get into the Eurovision song contest, so that Lars can fulfill his ambition and they can hopefully have a life together. She is so earnest and adorable… and who doesn’t love elves? She won me over, and I was rooting for her.
The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra is an Example of (Intentionally) Bad Writing That is Very Good
The world is sort of crazy, I’m busy with my writing, and the movie theatres are closed. For these reasons, rather than seeking out new movies, I’ve been re-watching some of my old favorites, especially comedies. One such movie wearing out my DVD player right now is a very strange and obscure cult flick called, The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra.
The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra has the feel of a bad, black-and-white monster movie from the 1950s, though it was made in 2003. A scientist named Dr. Paul Armstrong (Larry Blamire) and his wife Betty Armstrong (Fay Masterson), the wife of a scientist, are searching for a meteor made of a rare metal known as atmospherum. Dr. Paul Armstrong, a scientist who studies rocks, hopes to use the meteor to do science and better all of mankind through science for the benefit of all. (This is an example of the kind of intentionally repetitive dialogue that riddles the movie.)
Meanwhile, evil scientist Dr. Roger Fleming (Brian Howe) hopes to find and revive the famed Lost Skeleton of Cadavra in order to rule the world. Meanwhile, a married pair of aliens named Kro-bar (Andrew Parks) and Lattis (Susan McConnell) crash land their rocket and can’t get home. Meanwhile, the aliens’ escaped mutant rampages through the woods. Roger learns he can only revive the skeleton through atmosphereum. The aliens learn they can only fix their ship through atmosphereum. Everyone collides on the atmosphereum and hijinks ensue.
The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra is a movie you can really only appreciate if you’ve seen lots of bad movies, particularly bad monster/ sci-fi movies from the 50s. I did not have this background the first time my uncle showed the movie to me, and as a result, I was perplexed and sort of bored. It just seemed like a bad movie. However, after watching several episodes of Mystery Science Theatre 3000, I came to truly understand what bad movies were, making The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra seem like a brilliant parody and also, surprisingly, a pretty good movie on its own merits.
Tucker & Dale Vs Evil: Crafting Characters You Care About Vs Characters You Hope Will Die
Reading The Snow and the Darkness put me in a bad mood, so I decided to watch Tucker & Dale Vs Evil to cheer myself up. It’s a comedic riff on a hillbilly slasher movie, and it’s available on Netflix right now. I’ve watched it before, and I really love it, because it's clever and funny and leaves me feeling good.
When a group of college kids travel deep into the Appalachian Mountains for a camping trip, they encounter a couple of hillbillies who occupy a creepy-looking cabin. It seems like the perfect set-up for a horror movie. However, the hillbillies turn out to be harmless. Pragmatic, beer-loving Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and hopeless romantic Dale (Tyler Labine) just want to renovate their “vacation home” and go fishing. When Dale rescues college student Allison (Katrina Bowden) from drowning, a series of misunderstandings lead the remaining college kids to believe that Tucker and Dale are psycho killers. Soon the bodies start piling up in violent, gory, and hilarious ways.
Tucker & Dale is a kind of a parody movie, and I, personally, love parodies. They play with the conventions of genre, which I’m always a fan of. But whereas some parody movies are content to rest on laughs and not really bother with a story (I’m looking at you Scary Movie), Tucker & Dale Vs Evil delivers a well-written tale with fleshed out characters and plenty of heart. Also, it’s funny. Really funny.
The humor, as I see it, comes from two major sources. The first is that the college kids, through a combination of misunderstanding, bad luck, and extreme stupidity, end up killing themselves and each other. This is played for laughs, and it works because the deaths are so extreme, they’re ridiculous. However, this humor is predicated on shock value, and it becomes less and less effective as the movie wears on.
Fortunately, the second kind of humor is more consistent, as it relies on the charms of Tucker and Dale. They’re pretty funny from the start, but it’s their reaction to the extreme circumstances that’s particularly hilarious. Tucker and Dale are horrified and confused by the profusion of college kids “killing themselves all over [their] property.” This humor never lessens because it is rooted in character. It also helps that the actors are funny, especially, Alan Tudyk, who has excellent comedic timing.
The humor peaks in the middle, during a brutally gory and hilarious scene, where two college kids manage to kill themselves right near Tucker and Dale. Our two heroes first react in shock and horror, and then come together to try and figure out what’s going on. They decide that the college kids must have some sort of suicide pact and realize that the dead bodies are going to make the two of them look pretty bad. Right in the middle of cleaning up, a cop arrives. It’s a scene that’s genuinely tense, and watching Tucker and Dale squirm is oh-so-delightful.
But even if the humor declines somewhat after that second act, the story continues strong. As the college kids decide to “fight back,” Tucker and Dale struggle to survive. One college kid, meanwhile, is morphing into the titular evil. Will Dale find the confidence to become the hero and win the affections of the girl? Will Tucker ever get to have a beer and enjoy his vacation home? I won’t spoil the ending, but it is a happy one.
Now as I was watching this flick for the hundredth time, I was thinking that, in order to be effective, Tucker & Dale has to make us care for the title characters very deeply and not care about the college kids at all--and it has to do both at the same time. As a writer, I find this a fascinating study. How do you make an audience care for certain characters? Likewise, what makes an audience stop caring to the degree that they actively root for the characters’ deaths? I have my theories.
I’ve been watching a lot of old episodes of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 (MST3K) on YouTube. It’s not a quarantine thing; I just like it. If you’ve never seen MST3K, it’s a T.V. show from the 90s that features a man sent up to space by villains who torture him by making him watch terrible old movies. The man and his robot friends keep their sanity by riffing and cracking jokes at the cheesiness on screen. (MST3K was revised briefly by Netflix; modern episodes can be seen there.)
The movies are well and truly awful. You really cannot watch them without the jokes; even then, they can be hard to get through. And yet this, ironically, makes it perfect viewing for when I’m doing something else, like typing or cooking or playing Candy Crush on my phone. Typically, I watch the same episodes over and over, until I have all the jokes memorized and can practically recite the bad movies word for word.
Sometime around the 20th viewing of an episode, I start to become oddly sympathetic to the bad movie. Once you get through the tedium, the confusion, the bad acting, the ugly visuals, and the lack of budget, there’s usually… something. An idea that went terribly wrong. What was it trying to be? What potential did it have? And why did it fail so miserably?
One of many problems I’ve noticed with these bad old movies--the one that’s been on my mind lately--is that these movies don’t seem to understand whose story it is, possibly due to sexism or racism. The main character has to be a white male lead, even when, as I examine the plot and character arcs, I realize that it is not that person’s story.
Writer. Critic. Dreamer.