Tuesday, 27 August 2019

The Banana Splits Movie



One Banana, Two Banana,
Three Banana, Gore!


The Banana Splits Movie
2019 USA Directed by Danishka Esterhazy
Screening at FrightFest on Monday 26th August


For the last 35 years or so I’ve wanted to write, draw and publish a series of alternative, adult themed Mr. Men books. So stuff like ‘Mr. Guts Spaghetti’ who can swing across chasms by his intestines or use them as a lasso to round up stray cattle. Or Mr. Sexworthy who... yeah. never mind. The point being that I’ve not actually done this because I don’t have the rights to the Mr. Men books but, the idea of using a children’s format to tell outrageously over the top, so called ‘adult’ stories for laughs has always appealed to me. Therefore, when The Banana Splits Movie became a blip on my radar earlier in the year, I was so interested to see what this was going to be like. Somebody who is able to distort a former children’s property into something completely different and, obviously, who holds the rights to said property.

This film, it would be safe to say, was the main draw of FrightFest for me in this, their 20th Anniversary year. If this wasn’t playing then I’m not sure I would have bothered to grab tickets for any of the other movies in the festival this year but... well, it was so I got a few films in. As it happens, it wasn’t my absolute favourite of the festival (that one will be the subject of my next review) but this one was still pretty cool.

I’ve loved The Banana Splits ever since I used to watch them on TV as a 2 year old around 1970. I always assumed they were repeats but, as it happens, it ran from 1968 for around three years over the course of 31 episodes, so when I first started watching it then the show must have been brand new. Well... I say I loved The Banana Splits but really I just loved the opening credits with that fantastic theme song... the Splits themselves weren’t all that funny (and even looked a little threatening at times). I kept coming back to it though, because I loved the cartoons they used to show during the programme such as Arabian Knights and The Three Musketeers. It was a show that certainly colonised the subconsciousness of all the kids at the time (to paraphrase Wim Wenders famous quote on American culture) and, all in all, memories are fond.

So I couldn’t wait to see this new version of them which has taken the basic characters and turned them into the antagonists of a horror movie. Well... I say horror but, as it turns out, this new movie is more of a sci-fi tinged slasher movie. Also, the Splits have a human co-host on this version called Stevie, played by Richard White, who everybody hates and who is invented for this just to see another unlikable character run afoul of the new version of the gang.

The plot is very simple. On his birthday, young uber-fan Harley (played by Finlay Wojtak-Hissong) is taken on a trip to be part of the studio audience on a film recording on the latest Banana Splits show. He is accompanied by his mum Beth (played by Dani Kind), his ‘not actually a bad brother after all’ sibling called Austin (played by Romeo Carere), one of his classmates, Zoe (played by Maria Nash) and his stepfather, the somewhat ‘villanous if only mummy would realise’ Mitch (played by Steve Lund). Rounding out the main protagonists is a studio tour worker named Paige (played by Naledi Majola) who is the potential love interest for Austin. In this version of reality, The Banana Splits show never stopped running since its inception in 1968 and, also, the Splits themselves are not ‘men in suits’ but ‘robots in suits’, programmed by their inventor who accidentally gives them a new software update which turns them evil. Which is timely because, unknown to most, a new studio head has been promoted and he is pulling the plug on the show. This will be the last recording ever...

But not if the Splits can help it, as they go on a rampage of destruction before, finally, rounding up all the little kiddies and chaining them into their seats to watch a deranged, killer version of the regular show. Meanwhile, Beth, Austin, Paige and a couple of other characters they meet along the way, are trying to get their kids back and then out of their studio... trying to survive the red eyed robot wrath of the splits.

And... it’s actually, despite that synopsis, quite a slow paced film. That being said, the novelty factor alone of seeing the four splits... Fleegle, Bingo, Drooper and Snorky... getting up to all kinds of hardcore, violent mischief while keeping the whole tone of things surprisingly ‘on brand’ didn’t fail to keep a big smile plastered to my face throughout the whole performance which, with the FrightFest crowd in attendance, was certainly a memorable one as people were laughing at every outrageous kill. This one was well received, I think it would be safe to say.

So yes, if the idea of your childhood TV chums getting up to cute shenanigans like flame throwing someone’s head, pulling someone’s arms and legs out of their sockets or doing the old sawing a person in a cabinet in half trick... only to pull the two halves apart to reveal a pile of intestines plopping out onto the floor... is somewhat heretical to you, then you’re probably better off steering clear of this one.

I, for one, think it’s an interesting experiment and it’s got some lovely shot set ups, some beautiful colours (as you would maybe expect from this subject matter) and some nice one liners in the dialogue too. Plus, the acting is really very good. There’s no tongue-in-cheek sensibility coming from any of the cast and they manage to play it straight throughout the whole movie. Romeo Carere as the older brother seems to be somehow channeling the look and performance of Mike Nesmith from The Monkees, it seemed to me but even that approach seemed to work here. Incidentally, I believe The Banana Splits was always supposed to be a young kids version of The Monkees anyway so, there you go.

And the kids in this film, especially since they’re so young, are absolutely great. I heard one of the audience saying that the thing which absolutely made the movie for her was the screams of the kids as they watch the bloody carnage in front of them, which she found hilarious. I would personally love to see a documentary, 15 years from now, when the various kids in this are finally able to watch the movie they’ve performed in and just see what their reaction is to the various shots which have obviously been cut in around them. It’s quite a bold juxtaposition of gory ultra-violence pitched against the innocence of childhood, for the most part here.

So, this one came out on Blu Ray over here in the UK on the same day as its UK cinematic premiere so, if you want to take a look at this then you can grab one now. Also, I was very pleased to get, like everybody else who attended the FrightFest screening, a free T-shirt to commemorate the movie with its Splits-like catchline... Tra La La Terror. All in all a good time was had by all so you can’t really argue with that. Some people are going to see this film as some kind of blasphemy while others of a certain age will, I suspect, find the concept of this movie interesting. So check this one out if you’ve a mind to. I would quite like to see this trend continue for a bit to see what new children’s programmes they can treat in a similar vein. Like a violent version of Rainbow where Rod, Jane and Freddy are trying to escape the studio before Bungle and Zippy eat them. Or a sexed up version of Pipkins where stud-muffin Hartley Hare has a fling with Octavia the Ostrich?

Anyway, The Banana Splits Movie was time and money well spent at this years FrightFest but, unbeknownst to me, my final FrightFest film, a remake of a well loved classic directed by The Soska Sisters, was what my whole weekend was building towards. And you can read my review of that stunning film as soon as I manage to squeeze in enough lunchtimes to write it... so give it a couple of days.

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