Thursday, May 26, 2011

Meet the Feebles (1989)

The Movie: The Feebles Variety Show, a major theater troupe run by Bletch the walrus (Peter Vere-Jones and Doug Wren) is about to do its biggest performance of all, the one that will get it televised attention. This could mean big things for everyone involved. Unfortunately, the cast is riddled with problems and corruption that threaten to derail their big appearance.

Wynyard the frog (Brian Sergent) is a drug-addicted Vietnam vet who is suffering from flashbacks and withdrawal. This affects his performance as a knife-thrower, and he goes through a lot of assistants. Harry the rabbit, the show’s MC, is showing the symptoms of what could be a major STD; you know what rabbits are like. This is compounded by the bottom-feeding (literally), muckraking, tabloid journalist of a fly (Brian Sergent) who is constantly hovering around looking for scandal stories. Sidney the elephant (Mark Wright) is facing a paternity suit from Sandy (Stuart Devenie), a chicken in the chorus.

Into this cesspool of corruption walks Robert, “Wobert,” the hedgehog (Mark Hadlow), a wide-eyed innocent who is delighted to finally live his dream of being involved with the Feebles. He falls for Lucille, the poodle and chorus-girl; who Arthur the worm (Peter Vere-Jones), the kindly old stage manager, helps set him up with. Unfortunately, this budding romance hits a snag in the form of Trevor the Rat (Brian Sergent), Bletch’s henchman and main drug dealer. Trevor has been making pornos in the basement, and he thinks Lucille will make the perfect fresh new star.

Meanwhile, Sebastian the fox, the stage director, is determined to do a number of his own. Bletch doesn’t feel that it will go over well; and while I, personally, rather enjoy the number, I’m with Bletch on this one. Throw on top of all of this Bletch and Trevor’s drug supplier cheating them, which brings them into a conflict with gangsters, and Bletch has his hands full.

But the biggest monkey wrench in the works is Heidi the hippo (Mark Hadlow), the star of the show and Bletch’s longtime girlfriend. Heidi is already insecure and unstable; but she completely loses it when she finds out that Bletch has been cheating on her with the scheming Siamese, Samantha (Donna Akersten), and worse, intends to replace Heidi with her. It all comes to a head when Heidi discovers Bletch’s catch of automatic weapons…

The Review: Has this blog really been up for a whole year? It has! I know it’s not much, but I am rather proud of it just the same. For those of you who have been with me for that time, I greatly appreciate it and you. For those of you who are joining me for the first time, I have three things to say: welcome, it’s great to have you, may the gods have mercy on your soul. And now for the review.

Many people today are familiar with Peter Jackson due to his production of Lord of the Rings and his remake of King Kong. However, those who only know these movies have no idea who Peter Jackson is. Long before his achievement of Hollywood stardom, Jackson was known for making bizarre, low-budget, tasteless films for which he gained a cult following. His magnum opus was probably Dead Alive/Brain Dead, a movie that is both hilarious and, in my opinion, one of the most viscerally disgusting films ever made.

Another of his cult hits was Meet the Feebles. Meet the Feebles is a movie about the perils and pitfalls of show business. It involves sex, violence, suicide, nudity, paternity suits, pornography, exploitation, murder, drugs, Vietnam flashbacks, organized crime and shooting sprees. However, what really makes Meet the Feebles the truly twisted work it is, is that all of this is done with muppets.

That’s right, muppets. Not the capital M Muppets that Jim Hanson trademarked, but characters who look like they would fit right in with them. Note that I said “look like;” Jim Hanson’s Muppets, while fairly adult, and twisted in their own right, generally emphasized the positive aspects of human nature. The Feebles, on the other hand, are in many ways their mirror opposites; reflecting all that is evil, unhealthy and wrong with humanity.

And that’s the real element about this movie that makes it so memorable. The basic plot and subplots in Meet the Feebles, whether individually or all together, are ones that I have run across in many movies. However, when the characters are cute, furry animals, it puts a whole different spin on it. Well, not all of them are cute; Trevor is rather repulsive and the fly makes me want to gag. Still, there are all sorts of things that can be done that you couldn’t do with human actors. This lends a note of the surreal to the whole mess which makes all of the well-used conventions seem new again.

For example, paternity suit; a mother tries to make the father of her illegitimate baby fess up and take responsibility. I mean, that’s something we see all the time; unfortunately, all too often in our everyday lives in some cases. But when the deadbeat dad is a big blue elephant and the mother is a chicken maybe a tenth his size? And the baby is a bizarre hybrid of the two? You have to admit, you’ll never think of paternity suits the same way again.

And that is just one of the many truly bizarre sights you will see in Meet the Feebles. We get an S&M themed porn being made with a cow and a cockroach; and it inadvertently becomes a snuff film when the cow accidently sits on the cockroach. There are Vietnam War scenes played out with frogs and cats. And then we get the climax, where a hippo mows down a cast of cute, furry extras on stage with a machine gun. Tell me, how many other movies can you think of with scenes like the ones I just described?

And yet, what really got me throughout my viewing of Meet the Feebles is just how dark it all is. This is a funny movie, but it’s the kind of twisted humor people will shun you for. Through it all, there is the definite sense that some truly terrible things are going on; and while we may laugh, we still cannot help but feel for some of the characters.

Heidi the hippo is the character who really stuck out for me. Yes she becomes a monster at the end, but she is really a victim. She’s an involving and sympathetic character, which makes her rampage tragic as well as bizarre. I found that there were some other characters who, during the shootout at the end, I was really hoping would survive. Not only that, but there were a few I felt bad about when they were mowed down. Of course, there were also a few I was actively hoping would get their heads blown off, and I wasn’t disappointed.

So in the end, with Meet the Feebles we get a unique movie. It is a collection of major exploitation movie elements thrown together; a tragedy full of elements that make you want to laugh, and a comedy that makes you want to cry in spots. And to top it all off, it is played out by characters who look like they belong on the Muppet Show. If you have a relatively strong stomach, a really twisted sense of humor, and a taste for the truly bizarre, you should take a look at this movie.