DVD Review: Hideous! (1997)

By Keri O’Shea

Ah, ‘Grindhouse Classics’ from 88 Films – how I love that you are so defiantly, so delightfully neither of those things; but truth be told, I just can’t turn down your screeners for long.

Perhaps it’s the fact that I am such a sucker for punishment, or perhaps it’s the fact that I still find myself drawn towards the Full Moon label which makes up the bulk of the Grindhouse Classics releases, no matter how many times I get burned by various reconfigurations of hordes of little bastards – puppets, toys, vertically-challenged takes on the Universal monsters, even trouble dolls – plodding their way through their ninety minutes. Whatever the case, I sat down to watch Hideous! with the usual blend of curiosity and dread: curiosity as to the type of little bastard which I was about to see, and dread about what the hell they were going to get up to. Well, my presentiments were correct.

We begin our tale here with a band of heavily-redubbed modern day toshers – that’s someone who makes their living fishing things out of sewers, folks – undertaking the very labour-intensive and you’d assume ineffectual job of standing, peering down into a sewage processing plant, and jabbing at it pre-emptively with nets. Our head honcho says otherwise, though, and is just in the process of confidently announcing that he’s ‘seen it all’ when of course it turns out he hasn’t, and he pulls out a thingy. That’s as much as we’re shown at this time – but no doubt about it, it’s an interesting thingy, judging by what he does next…

Which is to get on the blower to a woman, name of Belinda Yost (Tracie May) who makes a handsome living selling medical oddities; you know the sort of thing, two-headed foetuses and such. She seems to be doing well at this, judging by her glass of Scotch and her pearl necklace (heh). Our sewage guy offers her the thingy and she’s delighted, immediately offering it to one of her wealthiest clients, a nice bloke called Napoleon. She pushes a hard deal but he acquiesces, happily leaving with the thingy which he cannot wait to add to his collection. But oh no! Someone else in the local area also collects medical curios, and this man, Lorca (Michael Citriniti), will stop at nothing to intervene, taking the thingy from Napoleon with force. Force in the form of a topless woman wearing a gorilla mask. Nine-tenths of any battle is won through surprise, and by fuck does Lorca’s assistant Sheila have that on her side – so she takes the thingy, now revealed to be a vaguely foetal thingy, back to Lorca’s castle (common enough in America) where he adds it to a rack of other foetal thingies. But it ain’t over there, and an entire mêlée of FBI agents, irate salespeople and of course the thingies themselves are soon battling for supremacy.

Usually you’d say, ‘you couldn’t make this shit up’; someone did, however, and that man is Charles Band, albeit alongside writer Benjamin Carr, who has a lot of Full Moon form. Likewise, I’d ordinarily feel bad about revealing quite so much of the storyline – but this is a Charles Band film. You know what’s going to go on, in a vague sense, and all that remains is to fathom what the inevitable critters will look like. To answer that question, our li’l monsters here are inexplicable possibly alien babies of some kind – sentient enough to write crude notes like ‘we hurt bad’ and strong enough to use crowbars, marginally uglier than regular foetuses and also occasionally malign, although for the most part (and Band is sane enough to not have them on-screen a tremendous amount) they just hide in wall spaces, looking. I had no idea what was going on. Meanwhile the adults squabble and deliver achingly bad lines in each other’s general direction, doing their best perhaps, but typically over-acting and looking confused. Most of the dialogue feels like ballast to pad the film out to feature-length, and for the most part, thanks to the rival collectors angle and their various scraps over the contested thingies, this felt like a really aggressive edition of the gentle, pointless British antiques programme Bargain Hunters.

It doesn’t quite stop there, though; in common with a lot of Charles Band films, things are ambling along as per usual when he will decide to throw in a scene which is unsavoury on so many levels that it jolts you out of your torpor. Hideous! has one such scene and, oh my, there was a hell of a lot of grot to unpack out of that one. Wrong on so many levels. Eww. The film soon drifts back to its regular pace, however…

That’s the thing with this movie, see; yes, it has a half-naked woman in a gorilla mask and yes, it has a scene involving one of the baby thingies which even the most militant attachment parenting people would retreat from, but for the most part, it’s just a bit dull. Band knows his creature FX here aren’t quite up to a lot of screen-time and the back-story is non-existent, so none of this can form part of the plot. He wants a feature, and isn’t quite sure how to get there – hence a couple of startling scenes, but not all that much in-between. It’s just not quite there as a so-bad-it’s-good film thanks to that factor, which, to be fair, several of the better Full Moon films have managed to be. Daft and oddly laborious, Hideous! derives most of its impact from the shock of finding out it was made as late as 1997…even less reason to swallow the ‘Grindhouse’ tag and visual style of the cover art, but there you go.

Hideous is available to buy now from 88 Films.