The October Diaries: The Willies

Illustration by Max Brown
Blurbs by Sean & Christof

October 1st, 2016:
The Willies

Year: 1990
Director: Brian Peck
Format: DVD
From Amazon: Two brothers camping with their cousin try to frighten each other by telling stories.
Tagline: You’ll Laugh, You’ll Cry, You’ll Puke, You’ll Die!


Jesse’s Take:

What I liked:

As the undisputed king of all horror fans, I was tasked with picking the first movie of October. Since my knowledge is vast, and my taste impeccable, I chose a little known made for TV flick, that coincidentally I had never even heard of. I chose it mainly because of Samwise Gamgee, and the nostalgia factor, as it came out right when I was in one of the many primes of my lost youth.

I quite enjoyed a clever little Goonies “in” joke, which lends some credence to the universe of this film, since we all know that The Goonies was based on actual events, even though they never said it, any kid growing up in Oregon knew that shit was REAL.

I was pleased that there were several stories in varying length, sometimes only a few moments of screen time were used to share an urban legend style story. I would have LOVED it if the movie kept this up, and had more scenes of the campfire kids and their goofy stories escalating on in their wackiness on as the movie progressed.

The bug boy story at the end, I feel like I’d caught parts of while aimlessly flipping through the channels as a kid, as several scenes felt WAY too familiar. This one was the juice of the picture, a truly creepy kid doing some seriously creepy shit. One of the few times I’d ever really been disturbed watching a scary movie. Seeing this kid have a very clear and detailed routine just made me think about how much trial and error this little lunatic had gone through before he must have mastered his craft.

What I didn’t like (AKA when a strength is a weakness):

While I loved the differing lengths of the handful of stories. The two stories that made up the bulk of the film were both too long. The overly long nature actually hurt the final bug boy story. There was an element about a crazy farmer and his manure that bookended the story, had this been removed the result would have been simply terrifying.

Final thoughts:

Glad I watched it, would’ve picked something different had I known in advance it would be my turn to pick the flick. While it had moments, it never put everything together into something that would make me watch it again.


Christof’s Take:

What I Liked:

The tone and framework of this anthology were both very Halloween-ish and made-for-TV-ish, which is a good combination (at least, in my book) — perhaps not for someone who is looking to get their horror fix, but definitely for someone looking to quench a thirst for the kind of mostly non-threatening “spooky” vibe that something like Are You Afraid of the Dark? abundantly offers.

The movie open with three kids in a tent, swapping little stories, trying to out-gross one another. Prior to the title-card we get three mini-stories, dipping our little tootsies into the anthology bathwater before we fully submerge. I wish more anthologies did this.

Beyond these charming attributes, there was a sequence in the final tale that produced genuine fear and unease within me. Michael Bower (Donkeylips of Salute Your Shorts fame) plays a troubled child who has a distinct preoccupation with flies. When this character comes home and enters the shangri-la of his parents basement, he puts on some classical music and methodically carries out the instruction of his filthy soul — things such as soaking a cotton ball in nail polish remover and putting it in a jar of flies to make them pass out so he can easily rip their wings off, but this somewhat standard-issue childhood torture tendency is only the beginning of this scene. It is followed by a slow-paced observation of his creation: a small village with dead flies where there would be people. This includes a church, inside of which a fly is upon the cross.

The pace, the music, and the wordlessness make this scene of the most disturbing sequences in any movie we’ve watched in recent October Memory. However, this is in the first act of this particular story, and unfortunately, that is where the terror stops. Then again, no terror was expected, so I’ll take what I can get — it was like eating a plain cookie and discovering a single chocolate morsel that somehow snuck into the batter. 

What I Didn’t Like:

The two primary stories were both very fatty. It would have been more appropriate to give us three primary stories that were each a little leaner, especially after setting the tone with three itty-bitties in the introduction. Apart from that, there was quite a bit to dislike about this movie, but given its made-for-TV-ness, and my personal tendency to find such cheesiness charming, I’m not convinced a “better” or more polished production would have been quite as enjoyable for a kids’ Halloween flick.

Final Thoughts:

I certainly did not expect that a movie called The Willies could actually give me the willies — an impressive feat! 

Even when The Willies was a slog, it was still kind of a delight. Among our “opening ceremonies” selections for Octobers passed, this felt like the most appropriate pick we’ve had. A lovely way to honor the month ahead. 


Sean’s Take:

What I liked:

The vibe seemed to match the intent and the intent was to tell some mostly-harmless spooky stories — the type of which you’d hear as a grade-school kid. This was a good primer for a month of horror. Training wheels, then bike.

There was an extended sequence in the last segment where a kid named Gordy (Michael Bower — A.K.A. Donkeylips from SALUTE DEM SHORTS) goes down to the basement to get some “work” done and this is when the Disney Channel-style horror gave way to a glimpse of the real deal. You see, Gordy is something of an artist and his medium is dead flies.

He is fascinated by them, going so far as to fish one out of his Dad’s drink with his fingers during dinner. He tears the wings off of some of them immediately — letting the wings dry out before adding them to his collection.

Other flies he releases into a lollipop-and-gum filled terrarium. We presume they live out their lives like death row inmates, buzzing with dread and anxiety while wondering when it will be their turn to lose their wings.

The least lucky flies are transplanted to one of his dioramas. In these dioramas he pins his flies down where you might think humans would go. There is one small version of a castle he had built and there was a long row flies storming the castle gate in attack.

He also pinned down several hundred in a miniature church set (a funeral is taking place). In the set, there is a fly minister, flies in all the pews and even a fly pinned to their crucifix like a fly-Christ.

I don’t know if my nerves are sensitive because it’s only October 1st, having not been dulled and calloused by weeks of these movies on end, but I was very creeped out by this scene’s shift from broad spookiness to disturbed psychiatric dread — even more creepy is Gordy’s refusal to wash his hands before dinner after manhandling so many fly corpses.

What I didn’t like:

Some of the acting was inexplicably expressive. At first I thought it was just the lead kid in the first extended segment because he always seemed to be indicating a little too much for whatever emotion he should’ve been feeling (and for some I don’t think his character was supposed to be feeling).

But then Michael Bower (Gordy/Donkeylips) showed up in the next extended segment and he seemed to prescribe to the same method of fill-every-quiet-space-with-exaggerated-gesturing.


Final thoughts:

We changed the rules of October this year. We are attempting to have people take turns selecting a movie. This should, in theory, cut down time on the selection process (we all been there) as well as giving each person the freedom to program exactly what they want to see on a given night — without having to persevere the more disapproving eye-brows of more scrutinizing living room attendees during the nomination process.

We’ve also relaxed our “everyone must not have seen the movie” into a more manageable “at least one person can not have seen the movie” stipulation. This led to Jesse (who drew short straw) to select THE WILLIES — which only Max has seen of those of us who watched. I’m glad we added this rule, as THE WILLIES carried the Halloween torch with pride and I’m very pleased it was this movie that lit-up our pumpkin on October 1st this year.




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