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DVD Review: Funny Man

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The term “cult film,” just like the label “independent film,” has been co-opted by major media pimps who have used it so much and so often that it's now just another loose, meaningless advertising slogan. In fact, nowadays when I hear the term cult film, I'm reminded of a 48 year-old hooker named Ruby from Carson City, Nevada — the only thing either of them can arouse are my suspicions. It's fair to say that in either case, I'm just not feelin' it anymore.

How many times have you heard silly advertising quotes like "a cult classic in the making” or "a certifiable cult classic" for crap movies that have just been released, or worse, haven't even come out yet? Seriously, whoever's doing this certifying in advance should simply have their wrists broken. That's all I'm sayi… uh, hold on just a sec while I check something.

For a film to gain any kind of cult classic status, it would seem that perhaps the movie should at least be released so people can watch the damn thing first! After this important step, let the film's small group of devotees jig in the theater aisles, and with prescient tears streaming down their faces proclaim, "By God friends, I believe we have a cult classic on our hands!" Or even more important than this, it seems necessary that a film be around for a few years before it's dubbed a classic of any kind. After this, if the film has aged well, unlike our friend Ruby, and has gained rather than lost its appeal, then by all means, let the classic-christening commence.

Which at last brings us to the end of my finger-wagging and to the film in question, Funny Man.

From what I gather, Funny Man is something of a minor cult classic, particularly in its country of origin, England. The film, which was released in 1994, and therefore does have a few years under its belt, has had a sketchy release history in the United States. However, the cult-classic-loving cineastes over at Subversive Cinema have set out to change all of that with a snazzy, extras-packed, uncut DVD release of the movie.

So is Funny Man deserved of the label cult classic? Well, I suppose that depends on the viewer, really. It has what some might consider "cult classic" ingredients: a small number of devoted fans, an offbeat humor and sensibility, outlandish characters, winks and nods aplenty, cartoonish violence, a willy-nilly narrative, plenty of camp value, and an appearance/cameo by horror/cult icon Christopher Lee. And so, with all these elements in place it should be a done deal, right? Um…not so fast. Let’s put it this way — I have just about everything I need in my kitchen to make Baked Alaska, but there isn't a frozen prayer's chance in Hell I can make it.

To put it more clearly, and without the clutter of a baking or hooker analogy, if Funny Man is a classic, I simply don't belong to its cult.

The set-up for Funny Man is extremely run-of-the-mill: a not-so-funny man and his family enter a strange house with a secret (which in this case, said man has won playing high-stakes poker) and bad things (in the form of said secret) befall the family.

The good thing about Funny Man is the film takes this mostly pedestrian premise and does some unlikely things with it. Make the father a record executive with a fiendish cocaine habit; kill off the rest of the family real quick-like; incorporate some snippets from Alice and Wonderland and have Christopher Lee read them; introduce a batch of new, outlandish characters — for example, record exec's wanna-be rock star bro, a woman dressed exactly like Velma from Scooby Doo named Thelma, and an afro-coiffured psychic with commando skills, a mutating hand and lots of Jamaican jargon — and let the fun times begin. (After that sentence I think I either owe everyone an apology, or a complementary bookmark. Your choice).

The bad thing about Funny Man is that it's just not that funny, man (those doubting my qualifications to judge "the funny" have just been properly chastened I believe… zing!). The film has its fair share of smiles and chuckles,and one line that made milk come out of my nose (and I wasn't even drinking milk!!) but unfortunately, a lot of the humor just isn't very humorous. All the same, the film is somewhat amusing and diverting enough and is continually unpredictable, all of which helps hold one's interest, of course.

The film also deserves some additional credit. There is no shortage of imagination, even if the scarcity of a budget sometimes detracts from some of the film's more creative aspirations. Overall however, the filmmakers were quite inventive and resourceful and managed to make a film that, at least in terms of its visuals, surpasses what one might expect given the monetary limitations with which the film was bound.

As for the titular terror, Funny Man is a demonic jester that kills off characters in some entertainingly elaborate and moderately ghastly ways. Funny Man's shtick does wear rather thin at times, and some of the jokes might very well leave you groaning and feeling like the victim, but his murderous methods are often comical, and at the very least, amusing. Think of the Leprechaun, slightly taller, but with a sizeable codpiece. Add to this some well-done low-tech special effects and it all combines to make for a decent amount of fun.

Funny Man actually began as a short film which approached the material in a far more serious manner. A demonic jester as the baddie seems more than a bit silly, so perhaps it was a good idea to play it all for laughs. Nevertheless, the DVD contains the original short, so viewers can judge for themselves.

This addition is kind of a mixed blessing however, because honestly, in terms of story, the feature length film doesn't add much to the short film. Rather, it uses the same story and then merely incorporates the outlandish characters, which allows the killing spree to be extended for over an hour. Considering that the film doesn't become a complete bore is certainly something, and yet, anyone looking for a good story or plot might want to look elsewhere.

Subversive Cinema has proven to be another exceptional DVD company that takes a great deal of care with its under-the-radar releases, and Funny Man is a fine example of their dedication. The film, which looks very good, is accompanied with an optional commentary track with writer/director Simon Sprackling, and Funny Man himself, Tim James. Additional extras include a featurette entitled “Sorting the Funny Man” which gives viewers an eye-opening, humorous look at the making of the film, and includes interesting facts, such as the filmmakers wrangling their way into using the village set for Kenneth Branagh's Mary Shelley's Frankenstein at Shepperton Studios, repainting it in primary colors, and then nearly burning the whole thing down!

As mentioned, the DVD also includes the original short film, as well as a short interview with Christopher Lee, a “Pop Promo” in which the Funny Man makes merry at the Cannes Film festival (set to a silly tune that has Christopher Lee and a chorus of children singing about that silly ol' Funny Man), the theatrical trailer, a trailer for the short film, and a seriously funny eight-page production diary that the director kept during the making of the film.

In all, it’s a special edition DVD that should have fans of the film bowing at the altar of Subversive Cinema and allows those curious to see the movie an opportunity to finally view Funny Man in all his codpiece-thrusting glory.

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