As a man who teaches for a living, I qualify as an authority on school. And like so many horror fans of my generation, I have a great appreciation for old school. Toss out all these poorly made remakes; I want Betsy Palmer running around killing campers! Cast aside all these computer monsters; I want Savini or Rob Bottin making latex creatures in a garage! Fortunately for me, Ryan Schifrin has the same love of old school that I do.
Let me explain. As I was watching Schifrin’s Abominable, I realized that this flick should have come out not in 2006, but in 1986. After all, it has all the trappings of a Reagan era horror flick: isolated location; 5 nubile teenage girls with hot bodies; lots of bloody deaths; and a guy in a monster suit! And though not particularly scary, more often than not Abominable does it right.
The plot even screams nostalgia, though the main thrust of it goes even further back to Hitchcock’s Rear Window. Our hero Preston Rogers lost his wife and the use of his legs in a mountain climbing accident. Six months later, his doctor has ordered him to return to his vacation home to face his demons. Unfortunately, the doctor placed him in the care of a rather self-serving, annoying caretaker. The same day Rogers arrives, so does a group of five girls for a weekend getaway. Sensing a fresh food source, Bigfoot snatches one of the girls. Rogers tries to intervene, but both his wheelchair and a number of disbelievers hamper that idea.
Schifrin freely admits he copped the plot of Rear Window and turned it into a creature feature. Though I think Hitchcock is vastly overrated, I do love the Jimmy Stewart classic. Unfortunately, we don’t get Stewart here. In his stead, we get Matt McCoy, star of such terrifying flicks as The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and Police Academy 5! He does a decent job in conveying fright and tension, and let’s face it; overacting in a flick of this sort is forgivable. He does fare much better than his two main co-stars. The female lead is a fairly weak actress, and her name is Haley Joel (no, not that little twerp hiding under covers with a flash light and whispering about dead people; that’s Haley Joel Osment). Even worse is Christien Tinsley as the caretaker. Hired on as the special makeup effects guy, he asked Schifrin for a role, and the director cast him as one of the leads. His acting is so atrocious, his character so frustratingly annoying, that he almost brings down the whole movie. But hey, Schifrin makes up for it in spades. Who would’ve expected Abominable to boast performances from Smallville’s Martian Manhunter and Principal Vernon from The Breakfast Club? I can’t help but find this oddball casting quite a joy.
There are more intriguing casting choices. Unfortunately, Schifrin squanders performances of genre vets such as Jeffrey Combs, Lance Henriksen, and a personal favorite of mine, Dee Wallace Stone. Sure it’s great to see these stars and fondly remember them in classics such as Re-Animator, the Alien series, The Hills Have Eyes and The Howling, but they simply don’t garner much screen time. Combs’ character in particular, with his oxygen tank, wild spectacles and knowledge of Bigfoot, would have been a joy to have around more, if only because he’s so weird. Instead, these three stalwart horror pros end up as glorified cameos whose names may draw to Abominable fans who will be sorely disappointed.
But Schifrin does plenty right to satisfy throwback fans of my generation. Flying in the face of watered down PG-13 fare, he adheres to Joe Bob Briggs’ 3 B’s: Blood, Breasts and Beasts. There’s plenty of gore in this flick; particularly fun was watching a character get his face eaten off, and all with practical effects. Tiffany Shepis gets naked and takes a shower on film, and looks just fine in doing so. As for the beast, yes, it’s cheesy. The Bigfoot in the flick looks like the retarded brother of Harry from that John Lithgow classic Harry and the Hendersons. But even that fits the whole tone of the flick (after all, does anybody remember Jason’s potato sack head piece in Friday the 13th Part II?). Schifrin makes it clear both in the film’s documentary and the commentary that he is a fan of old school horror, but this is evident just by watching the movie.
The documentary and commentary make up the base of a rather extensive package of extras on the disc. Anchor Bay once again gives a low budget horror flick the royal treatment (though I really wish someone in that company would figure out how to encode subtitles!). “Back to Genre: Making Abominable” runs 37 minutes and proves what a labor of love this movie was for Schifrin. Oddly, he admits that the idea for Abominable came to him on a beach during his honeymoon (I wonder what that marriage is like). Schifrin chronicles the hassles of low budget filmmaking, but also ventures into interesting territory when he discusses how he called in all sorts of favors for the film; the son of famed movie composer Lalo Schifrin, Ryan was able to lean on all sorts of contacts within the film community. Most of the actors comment on how fun it was to make the film; and although that sounds like standard fluff for a making-of, I get the sense it’s true here. Sadly the doc reveals that director of photography Neal Fredericks died in a plane crash during post production; the movie is dedicated to him.
The commentary is a bit less of a joy. Schifrin’s compendium of film knowledge is impressive, and he discusses some entertaining topics. But McCoy is a bore, making jokes that fall flat and genuinely dull comments. Oddly, Combs shows up only to cover his two scenes, alongside editor Chris Conlee. Did McCoy lock them in the basement for the rest of the film? Listen to it if only to see just how many movies Schifrin references within his own film.
The deleted and extended scenes add nothing to the film, and deserved their place on the cutting room floor. Also easy to pass on are the outtakes and bloopers. I generally don’t like outtakes, but here they’re even worse than usual, as one scene takes up the bulk of the four minute running time. The two trailers are interesting, especially because of their contrast. Galleries of still sand storyboards round out the package, as well as a DVD Rom copy of the screenplay; I never bother with Rom screenplays, so let me know if you find anything interesting there.
One more extra of note appears. Schifrin’s student film “Shadows” from his days at SC is worth taking a peek at. It’s a nifty little piece that states that sometimes paranoia isn’t such a bad thing.
Had I watched Abominable on its own terms, I probably would have buried it in a darksome hole with so much Sci Fi channel fare. But with the entire decade of the 1980s behind it, Abominable gave me reason to rejoice. Ryan Schifrin loves the splatter fare I grew up on, and in imitating those movies, he certainly did not create a masterpiece (after all, those “run around a camp and slash up the teens” movies were never high art to begin with). But he did produce a fun little monster flick that has a sensibility nearly 20 years past due, and I dig that. And what better way to rock on with this 80s throwback than the inevitable… Abominable 2! Jason Vorhees should applaud.
–Phil Fasso

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