Thursday, 5 December 2013

Invisible Mom 2

Director: Fred Olen Ray
Writer: Sean O’Bannon
Producer: Andrew Stevens
Cast: Dee Wallace Stone, Mary Woronov, Mickey Dolenz
Country: USA
Year of release: 1998
Reviewed from: UK DVD

I explained in my review of Invisible Mom the rather convoluted and confusing nature of its two sequels, Invisible Mom 2 (aka Mom’s Outta Sight) and Mom’s Outta Sight (aka Invisible Mom 2).

This particular film is a direct sequel to the first and the on-screen title is Invisible Mom II, but since this is a still frame in a different front jarringly inserted into an otherwise continuous title sequence that plays over storm clouds, we can deduce that this is the film that was shot as Mom’s Outta Sight, presumably because of some contractual problem with the title, but retitled as a direct sequel (which, as mentioned, it is).

This is the one listed on the Inaccurate Movie Database as a 1999 film called Invisible Mom II rather than a 1998 film called Mom’s Outta Sight (although the copyright date here is 1998). I don’t know whether this was ever actually released as Mom’s Outta Sight - I can’t find any video sleeve images under that title - although the phrase is used as a copy-line on the original US sleeve.

This 2007 UK release from Boulevard Entertainment goes instead with ‘There she goes again!’ The sleeve image used - invisible woman in exercise gear and surprised little girl looking through window - is entirely unrelated to the film.

The action takes place a couple of years after the original Invisible Mom, with Barry Livingston (Tremors 3) and perpetual cinematic mother Dee Wallace Stone (Skateboard Kid 2, Alligator 2 and some crap about an alien) returning as Karl and Laura Griffin and a noticeably more grown up Trenton Knight (Munchie Strikes Back, Charlie’s Ghost Story) capping his six-year, nine-film acting career with a second stint as their son Josh. There is even a couple of minutes of flashbacks to the first movie and a summary of the plot, which explains to new viewers the reason why Laura occasionally turns invisible. It seems that the antidote administered at the end of the last film isn’t 100 per cent effective so she now becomes transparent at times of great stress.

But before we get anywhere near the Griffins, we first of all meet Bernard and Olivia St John, conniving, grasping nephew and niece of billionaire Randolph St John. Bernard (who gets annoyed whenever his name is mispronounced BerNARD) is played by former Monkee Mickey Dolenz with an awful mullet and Olivia by genre stalwart Mary Woronov as a malevolent Morticia Adams. Bedridden Randolph St John (it’s pronounced ‘saint john’ rather than ‘sinjun’) was the last ever film role for Robert Quarry, credited here as ‘Uncle Bob’ Quarry. The onetime Count Yorga was attached to projects until his passing in 2009 but none of them ever came through.

Randolph is close to death here; Olivia and Bernard are his only surviving relatives and have been attending him in his palatial mansion in the confident expectation of inheriting the fortune, although he despises them and the feeling is mutual. Randolph had a son but he died in a car accident some years ago. Except that good-hearted family lawyer Preston (Eric Lawson: King Cobra, Rattlers, Skeeter) has discovered that there is a grandson, whereabouts unknown. If the twelve-year-old boy can be located before Randolph pops his clogs, the money goes to the kid.

This turns out to be Eddie Brown, played by a pre-Malcolm in the Middle Justin Berfield, completing a three-picture run of starring roles in Fred Olen Ray kidflicks which also included gorilla comedy Mom, Can I Keep Her? and the self-explanatory The Kid with X-Ray Eyes. His mother, correctly deducing that the failed brakes on her late husband’s car were deliberately cut by the scheming, immoral Olivia and Bernard, placed the baby (under her maiden name) into an orphanage then went into hiding herself.

So Eddie St John became Eddie Brown, long-term resident of the, ahem, New Horizons Orphanage (with a familiar logo). He is portrayed as essentially a good kid but determined never to leave the place because he is sure his mum will come back for him one day. Also, he is bright enough to construct elaborate inventions but not bright enough to see the trouble they could cause. To this end, and in this manner, he fashions an insanely complicated trap, involving a bow and arrow and a toy Styracosaurus, which empties a bucket of goop onto the head of an officious woman who has come to adopt him (played by Fred’s wife Kim, who was also line producer). This is evidently the fourth time such a thing has occurred.

Ray regular Marc Vahanian (also in the original Amityville Horror and Exterminator II) plays the put-upon husband and Kathy Garver (who did voices for both the early 1980s Spider-Man cartoon and the late 1990s Spider-Man cartoon) plays frumpily attractive orphanage director Ms Mason who explains that, having achieved the age of twelve, he must go into foster care - which is how he ends up with the Griffins.

Lawyer Preston confirms Eddie’s existence and location only an hour or so before old man St John shuffles off but that’s enough for the will to stand. However, Bernard and Olivia make the case that, as the boy’s only (known) living relatives, they cannot be denied the option to adopt him. So they turn up at the Griffins’ house, accompanied by Ms Mason, and take a disconsolate Eddie away.

Laura is unhappy about this, turns invisible in the bathroom and then uses this situation to make Olivia spill coffee (which is rather obviously represented by water) down herself and then slap herself about. Josh, who has swiftly befriended the younger boy, is also not keen on the idea of Eddie leaving. (The two read EC Comics and watch wrestling together, the footage showing Freddy Valentine aka Fred Olen Ray!)

Josh hides in the back of the siblings’ car and thus accompanies Eddie surreptitiously to the St John mansion where Olivia and Bernard plan to cause an unfortunate accident by scaring young Edward. They hope the shock of seeing a ghost will cause him to fall downstairs and break his neck or possibly fall into a pool of piranhas which is (inexplicably) in the grounds.

They have a white sheet with a skull mask, a suit of armour, an LP of spooky sound effects and also a selection of secret passages, paintings with removable eyes etc. Quite why Randolph St John had such things in his mansion is not explained. And you can probably see where all this is heading. Invisible Mom 2 is basically a riff on Scooby-Doo - although Sean O’Bannon’s script, which makes several references to horror movies real and fake, cites a different inspiration. “I’ve never seen a horror movie like this,” says Josh, to which the more genre-savvy Eddie replies, “Well then, I guess you’ve never seen Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.”

The two boys react in full-on Shaggy-and-Scooby style on finding that a suit of armour is moving: “It’s a g-g-g-ghost!” they stammer, carefully enunciating every ‘g-’ in the script. Having defeated the armour by the simple trick of pushing it over, they run off rather than see who might be inside (it’s Bernard). They are equally terrified when they see a piano apparently playing itself.

Meanwhile, Karl and Laura Griffin have discovered that Josh is missing so Karl drives over to the mansion to see if his son is there, but all he gets for his troubles is a clonk on the head with a very soft-looking short length of lead piping (accompanying by a suitably hard-sounding foley noise). Josh manages to telephone his mum who also drives over there, having turned invisible and donned HG Wells-style trench coat, white head-cover and dark glasses.

Before leaving, Laura tries to alert the police, ineffectually, but fortunately they have also been approached by a dog-walking, inquisitive neighbour (Diane McBain: Puppet Master 5) so two cops have gone to stake out the St John place. They are grizzled veteran Ski (Jonathan Haze, the original Seymour Krelboin) and bearded rookie Dane (Rick Montana: Search for the Beast, Bikini Hoe-Down). On arrival at the St John manor, Laura disrobes - watched by the disbelieving Dane - and then uses her invisibility to convince Olivia and Bernard that the place really is haunted. They see the sheet and skull mask apparently floating in mid-air and also scream with terror at the self-playing piano.

So when the cops turn up at the front door, the siblings are begging to be taken into custody. Preston also arrives, with Eddie’s real mum in tow - and everyone lives happily ever after. (Eddie and his mother each have half of a torn photo but, in defiance of expectations, these are not produced and combined at the denouement.) A final gag about that haunted piano leaves Eddie doing an impression of either Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone or Edvard Munch’s The Scream.

If there is a problem with Invisible Mom 2, it’s simply that the actual invisibility is barely featured - or indeed relevant - until the climactic return-fake-haunting. This isn’t actually a movie about an invisible mom (or a mom who is outta sight), it’s a movie about a modern-day Pip in an episode of Scooby-Doo and the conniving relatives who seek to rob him of his inheritance, with a largely incidental subplot about somebody else’s invisible mom grafted on. You could rewrite this only slightly and remove the invisibility aspect because, while it’s an amusing way for Laura to frighten Olivia and Bernard, there are other ways to pretend to be a ghost. And, apart from the brief scene of the two schemers visiting the Griffin household with the clear coffee, there is no other use of invisibility anywhere in the film. Which is disappointing, because the green-screen effects are very well done.

Karl Griffin’s status as an amateur scientist is only referenced briefly in an introductory scene where he shows Josh a super-nutrient drink he has invented. There is also, to be fair, a good moment later on when it is revealed that the lab where he works his day-job is owned by St John Industries so technically Olivia and Bernard are his bosses.

Eddie’s own personality is rather sketchy to say the least with the script apparently uncertain whether to portray him as a good-hearted kid whose plans don’t quite work or a frustratingly anarchic troublemaker full of dangerously ill-conceived schemes. He puts washing up liquid onto the dinner plates before they’re used, claiming that this will somehow negate any need to clean them afterwards but only causing his foster parents to vomit up soap. And he tries to clean a stain from Josh’s jacket using an electric sander, resulting in mild garment destruction. Ultimately he comes across a bit like the American Dennis the Menace. You know, that awful smiling blonde cartoon kid who tries to help people but his ideas just don’t quite work? And that’s probably the aspect of the film that travels least well across the Atlantic.

In this country, we hate clean-cut, happy kids whose plans don’t quite work. They’re not menaces, they’re saccharine robo-children. We prefer kids like the real (British) Dennis the Menace - anarchists who set out to cause trouble. (Of course, this dissatisfaction with clean-cut good kid Eddie is probably compounded, at this remove, by the awareness that this is the gloriously amoral Reese from Malcolm...). By making Eddie Brown likeable, the script also makes him bland, even blander than his foster-brother who here displays no character beyond friendliness. Which means it’s up to the villains of the piece, Olivia and Bernard, to carry the film - which they do with relish, absolutely chewing up the scenery at every opportunity and apparently having a whale of a time.

It is a measure of Fred Olen Ray’s extraordinary productivity that, although the two Invisible Mom films were made only two years apart, no fewer than 24 films separate them on Fred’s IMDB page. While the Inaccurate Movie Database can never be relied on to list work in the correct order, nevertheless it’s clear that in the late 1990s Fred was pumping out about a film a month. Listed in those two dozen titles which separate IM1 and IM2 (or possibly just precede IM1 or maybe just follow IM2) are Caged Fear, Masseuse 2, Hybrid, Billy Frankenstein and the unrelated (as far as I know) Invisible Dad.

Sean O’Bannon has written at least 14 of Fred’s films including both Invisible Mom sequels, the other two Justin Berfield starrers and several other titles mentioned elsewhere in this review. Non-FOR titles include Black Widow Escort directed by Gary Graver, Jim Wynorski’s The Escort 3 and Michael Su’s Doomed. He can also be seen on screen as various small roles in The Naked Monster.

DP Jesse Weathington also photographed Mom, Can I Keep Her? for Fred as well as such interesting-looking obscurities as Morella, Moonbase and The Stalker. Editor Jeffrey Schwarz cut The Kid with X-ray Eyes for Fred and David DeCoteau’s atypically non-genre Leather Jacket Love Story and now makes a living producing DVD extras, lots of ‘em. Production designer Naython Vane has an enviable CV consisting largely of Playboy Centerfold videos; who the hell looks at the production design on something like that? He also worked on Mom, Can I Keep Her? and Phantasm Oblivion.

Invisible Mom 2 doesn’t really do what it says on the tin and it never really cuts loose and gets spooky enough to entertain as kid-horror because of the need to concentrate on the Griffins and their (now very normal) family life. Nevertheless, it’s an enjoyable romp for little’uns and TF Simpson enjoyed it without his father getting bored. And that, really, is what counts.

MJS rating: B+
review originally posted 23rd June 2010

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