Friday, November 10, 2017

Review: High Strung (and some info about the future of the Haunted Drive-in)

Now this is unusual, isn't it? I said I'd be back next month, and here I am! I'm sure anyone who's followed this blog for longer than a few days expected me to write my next post sometime in October 2018. I can't say I blame you, I've never been one for consistent updates.

The point is, I'm back, and I've got some news: The Haunted Drive-in is going to do a little remodeling. Since day one, we've tried to offer news, editorials, and videos that are horror and sci-fi flavored, to the point, and just fun to read/see. And while it's been a grand time building the fanbase on other platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (all pages I encourage you to visit and join, by the way), getting more interaction at the Drive-in itself would be totally tubular. So, this site is going to experience a bit of a creative overhaul.

I'm going to be borrowing (stealing) from other (better) sites who have been around much longer than I have, and are clearly doing something right. Our aesthetic will be much the same, and our core mission -celebrating the scary, the silly, and the cheesy- will go unchanged. I'm just going to lean a little more heavily into the nostalgic cul-de-sacs that occupy every one of our mental neighborhoods, taking time for whatever comes to mind: old toys, new toys, superhero flicks, superhero comics, holiday memories, obscure movies, and more. The Haunted Drive-in is still haunted, we're just introducing geeky ghosts of yesteryear to share space alongside the terrifying ones.

So! All that out of the way, let's focus on what's current. It's the month of Thanksgiving, and people always wonder what to watch for this oft-ignored holiday. Turkey Day just doesn't lend itself to cinematic magic quite like its seasonal bedfellows Halloween and Christmas do. Oh sure, there's the classic Planes, Trains, and Automobiles with John Candy and Steve Martin (unquestionably THE Thanksgiving movie), there's reliable specials from Garfield and the Peanuts gang, and there's loads of sitcom episodes celebrating the holiday, from Cheers to Friends and beyond. When all is said and done however, that's still a fraction of the output that October 31st and December 25th boast of. So the movie I'm talking about tonight is a bit of a deeper cut. It's not about Thanksgiving, no, but it does focus on the concept of gratitude, mostly by circling around a subject who isn't grateful for anything. This is the little-seen one man rant that is High Strung.

Thane Furrows is not what you'd call a happy man. He's dissatisfied with his work, his mother berates his choices, and his upstairs neighbor plays music seemingly designed to coax blood from his ears. Thane's only therapeutic exercise is a steady stream-of-consciousness, directed at the audience in an endless 4th wall break. We provide him with a sympathetic ear as he unleashes his fury on everything from watermelon seeds to insurance salesmen. Unsurprisingly, Thane's constant complaining has negative consequences, but it's much more serious than developing an ulcer. In fact, if he doesn't stop regretting his own birth so much, he may not be around to regret it at all.

This is one of those movies that almost no one has seen, but every time you talk to someone who has they immediately sing its praises. Incredibly quotable, filled with some great "I know the face, but not the name" actors, and disarmingly simple, High Strung is the kind of comedy that can be watched again and again, even after you know the central mystery and have all the lines memorized. Steve Oedekerk, better known for being a writer and director (Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, Jimmy Neutron, Kung Pow: Enter the Fist), is a perfect match for Thane's embittered existence, never making him too odious or too likable, but rather all too relatable. When he says early on "Why should I have to please other people with my work?" it practically feels like the rallying cry of most artists.

An hour and a half of a guy whining would not be very fun if the writing weren't strong, and thankfully, High Strung has a very smart script, with little annoyances that we've all encountered, perhaps even today: an unkillable fly, a stupid game show contestant botching a softball of a question, an aggravating neighbor, that call from Mom we keep avoiding. As Thane's day plows on and his life becomes more imperiled, the dialogue is never too ridiculous. We've all acted like this. We all act like this.

As you can see in any googled image, Jim Carrey is a part of the proceedings. While I don't want to spell it out here, the poster above makes it clear that he's a devilish figure (so it's still spooky enough for the Drive-in. Smooth transition for you all). Filmed before Carrey rose to mega-stardom with The Mask, the cast is rounded out by Denise Crosby of Star Trek: TNG fame, Tom "Biff" Wilson, and Fred Willard. Not to mention a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo from an exceptionally young Kirsten Dunst in a fantasy sequence. But it's really Oedekerk's show.

Never released on DVD or blu-ray, this film is exceptionally difficult to find through proper channels. You can spend an inordinate amount on ebay for a VHS, or just watch it on YouTube. As of this writing, the entire movie is available there, which I've embedded below. It's tough to tell how long this sort of thing will last before some lawyer gets it taken down though, so I'd get to watching it right quick. High Strung is short, sweet, and exceptionally funny, with that twinge of melancholy that makes good comedy so good. You'll be quoting it for the next month. "When is the last time you had your carpet cleaned, Almighty Ruler?"

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