There once was a time when monster movies were all that horror had to offer. Since the genre is cyclical in nature to begin with, this is not surprising. Slasher films will rise up and die off, only to make a comeback a couple of generations later. What is alarming is the lack of really good creature features in today's violence porn macabre mentality. Back in the '50s, fear of nuclear eradication produced hundreds of bad-ass beast films, and in the '80s, when home video and the VCR made movie distribution a tad more equitable, all manner of make believe brutes once again stormed the terror hit list. But since the '90s, when fear went through a kind of awkward artistic drought, fright filmmakers haven't focused on the ferocious fiend. Instead, the serial killer and the mass murderer have become the villains of choice. Gone are the demonic toys, the insane oversized insects and grotty little gremlins. In their place is an Achilles Heel slicing sentiment that has man, once again, as the most malevolent entity on the planet. Until now. Thanks to Retromedia, we may be seeing the start of a whole new creature revolution. If the terrific Tiki has anything to do with it, the long lost monster movie will be making a comeback P.D.Q.
During a typical day in the local loony bin, Dr. Widesworth seeks a consultation with Dr. Godwin on a patient of his. Seems the girl, named Julie, has been diagnosed as a "cutter", a self-mutilator. Hoping she can help, Widesworth wants Godwin's professional opinion. Meeting with the decidedly non-disturbed gal, the docs become privy to Julie's strange, surreal saga. Seems she once attended a local college with a group of her best friends. One day, a new girl from the Hawaiian Islands showed up. Her name was Amy and she was shy and withdrawn. Naturally, she was instantly classified as a 'loser' by Julie's catty clique. When it becomes obvious that the introverted newbie had eyes for drama teacher Mark Bernardi, the gang decided to play a practical joke on the Pacific princess. Unfortunately, it resulted in Amy going into a coma. When her Aunt Maylea arrived to care for her, she brought along her ability to throw an ancient Polynesia cure. She then used an enchanted Tiki doll to avenge Amy. She believed that, only through the systematic killing of everyone involved, could her niece's soul be saved - supposedly. And thus the slaughter began…
Good God, but you've gotta love Tiki! Oh sure, it's a lame throwback to the Charles Band school of scares, with just a smidgen of Dan Curtis's Trilogy of Terror thrown in for bloody good measure. Writer/director Ron Ford obviously suckled on the Zuni Fetish Doll's Movie of the Week teat one too many times, resulting in this Polynesian prank that's more magnificently cheesy than a steaming bowl of fetid poi. All the characters are creeps, barely able to rouse our interest, and the storyline is so fabulously formulaic that we keep waiting for the creepy old guy to turn up and tell the rest of the potential victim's pool that they are, indeed, "all doomed!" But thanks to a perfectly acceptable puppet killer, as well as the unbridled joy of seeing said toy stalk and slay a bunch of buffoons, this unquestionably non-scary homage to horror's brazen b-movie ideals is a jaundiced joy to behold. You'll laugh at all the logical leaps and piss-poor plotting, while simultaneously cheering for a little island icon with an insatiable thirst for bad actor's body parts.
It goes without saying that our lead, someone known as Jolene Smith, is dreadfully unattractive. Even when she's gussied up to be Eliza Doolittle in preparation for her starring role in Pygmalion (emphasis on the first syllable, please), those howls you hear aren't supernatural creatures baying at the moon. It's audiences around the world wondering how this beauty addled actress ever landed the part. While it may seem unfair to point out such an obvious aesthetic element within the movie, it goes toward the homemade spirit that helps make Tiki what it is. In the hands of some seasoned pros and overloaded with onscreen CGI stupidity, we'd be groaning at all the dopey dialogue, retarded line readings and clear continuity errors. But somehow, our title terror makes it all okay. Perhaps it's the retro remembrance of Karen Black taking on that nasty little knife wielder with a mouth full of fangs, or the current model who scampers across the frame, little wooden feet pattering away in full sonic psycho mode. Whatever the reason, Ford has found a way to make the monster movie fun again. And he does it by concentrating almost exclusively on the cad.
Indeed, without our new scare symbol, Tiki would tank quicker than a post-millennial Robin Williams comedy. The little wooden wonder is the gratuitous glue that holds this otherwise average fright flick together. The nudity is nauseating (especially a Gross Girls Gone Wild style Sappho sequence – ew!) and the gore is great, but limited to just a few memorable moments. Some of the set-ups are absolutely hilarious (one obese boytoy and his equally elephantine woman make bile-producing whoopee in a hayloft before Tiki performs his serial public service = GO! TIKI! GO!) and the finale lays the foundation for a possible sequel, which means more of our featured fright figurine. While one lone element doesn't usually save a sinking genre effort, Tiki's title treat has enough cinematic charisma to salvage several subpar scare films. Ron Ford deserves oodles of fright fan French kisses for delivering on what could have been a major macabre stumble. If you want a wonderful reminder to the diabolical doll era of terror, this talented little island idol will definitely deliver the terrific Tiki goodness.
Obviously made on a slim shoestring budget, the image offered up by Retromedia is actually pretty good. The transfer appears to be taken from an analogy source and given a full blown cinematic makeover. The attempted recreation of a 'film' feel is more or less successful, with only the outdoor and night scenes suffering any digital defects (grain, blurriness). Overall, the 1.33:1 full screen print is presentable. It surely rivals the rather hackneyed visuals of the '80s monster movies it so readily mimics.
Aside from a score that seems stuck on a mediocre muzak channel, the audio elements here are equally satisfactory. The Dolby Digital Stereo is rather flat when it comes to atmosphere and ambience, but the good natured mood inherent in much of what direct Ford is doing comes across loud and clear. Dialogue, when not garbled by the cast, is easily discernible and Tiki himself has a nice, nonsensical 'Cousin Itt' quality to his ramblings.
Thankfully, Retromedia fleshes out this frightmare with a few decent DVD extras. The added content includes a profile of director Ford from a Pacific Northwest TV show and a four part feautrette on the making of the film. As for the Q&A, it is quaint, and paints Ford in a very flattering light. In essence, he comes across as a hard worker whose love of horror has translated into dozens of off-title terrors. As for the Behind the Scenes peek, it is actually divided into four separate sections. They include "An Introduction" (a look at the Tiki's cinematic birth), "What It Takes to Kill a Kid" (an F/X exposé), "Controlling the Monster" (a how-to on rod puppetry) and a montage of moments from the "Final Day of Shooting". Unlike many no-budget productions, Tiki tells us many of its secrets. It makes for some excellent bonus context. Add in a terrific trailer and you've got a rather plump digital package.
By no means a masterpiece, Tiki is still a wonderfully wacky, strangely appealing application of the "killer creature" concept that once ruled motion picture macabre. Easily Recommended for it's spirit of pure fun and its multiple levels of intentional/unintentional humor, anyone willing to give this little wooden god 85 minutes of their movie viewing time will be reasonable rewarded. Let's face it, when an otherwise craptacular, financially faulty excuse for so-called cinema can make you giddy with adolescent glee, when your inner action figure collector demands a Tiki toy of your very own…HECK, when you wish you could call up your own little Polynesian hitman and send it off to do your unholy bidding, you know a film has hit your horror sweet spot. If you're looking for abject terror and undeniable dread, set your fear phaser to some other protocol and keep on searching. But if you want a good guttural laugh at the expense of a terrific terror toy, Tiki is all you'll ever need. It's a remarkable piece of creature feature schlock.
Want more Gibron Goodness?
Come to Bill's TINSEL TORN REBORN Blog (Updated Frequently) and Enjoy! Click Here