Great Bad Movies: "Ice Cream Man" (1995)
"Ice Cream Man" (1995)
Directed by "Norman Apstein" (aka Paul Norman)
Greetings, horror movie mavens!! I came across a new treasure in the bargain-DVD bin during a recent drug store excursion: an ultra-cheap 12-pack Horror Movie set entitled Fright Fest - packed with twelve low budget horror movies (on three double sided DVDs) priced at an irresistible $5.99. How could anyone possibly resist a dozen shockers 'n' schlockers for an average price of fifty cents a movie? As Homer Simpson would say, "Looks like gooooood watchin'!"
Fright Fest spent some time gathering dust on my DVD shelf, but last night I finally got down to business and started diggin' into it, starting with the flick that sold me on the set in the first place - 1995's Ice Cream Man, a cult-classic direct-to-video horror flick starring Clint "Ron's Brother" Howard. A former child actor like his brother, Clint's been a "B" movie mainstay since the early 70s and his resume includes such genre favorites as Evilspeak, Rock N Roll High School, Carnosaur, The Wraith,and Leprechaun 2, as well as appearances in every one of Ron's films.
I had only seen Ice Cream Man once before - during the mid-1990s when it was a fixture on video-store shelves - and I barely remembered anything about it except for a vague feeling that it was pretty awful. As it turns out, that "vague feeling" was totally accurate.
"Ice Cream Man" trailer
Ice Cream Man's opening credits are accompanied by a black-and-white flashback scene of an idyllic '50s suburban neighborhood. An "Ice Cream King" truck heads down the street, chased by a horde of neighborhood kids, and everything looks totally Norman Rockwell...until a carload of Mafia gangster types pulls up next to the truck and they proceed to fill the hapless dessert vendor full of lead. Gregory Tudor, a neighborhood kid who witnessed the shooting, placidly walks up to the Ice Cream King's bullet riddled corpse, plucks a Push-Up pop out of his lifeless hand and sits on the curb nibbling on the icy treat while asking "NOW who's gonna bring the ice cream, Mom?" ... fade to black.
Present day: Gregory has returned to town after spending a number of years in an institution, during which he grew up to look like Clint Howard. We are treated to several surreal flashbacks to his institution days throughout the movie, which resemble an attempt to cop Tim Burton's wacky/creepy visual style on a budget of six bucks and a broken cracker. Apparently Greg's formative years in the nut house were filled with cartoonish clowns, large needles being jammed into his head, and doctors and nurses with unnaturally gigantic smiles constantly telling him to "Have a HAPPY DAY!" Gregory takes over his late hero's frozen-dessert business upon his release...and soon there's an increase in missing-persons cases along the Ice Cream Man's route. The Ice Cream King was famous for his "hard pack" ice cream, but is Gregory adding some special... "ingredients" of his own to the mix? Do you really have to ask?
Ice, Ice, Baby!
Soooo... yeah, that's pretty much the whole plot. Gregory kills a couple of people (and a dog), parts of whom all eventually turn up in the ice cream. The neighborhood kids think there's something weird about Ice Cream Guy from the start, of course, but they can never prove anything to their disbelieving parents. In addition, a couple of doofus cops assigned to keep an eye on Gregory also manage to fail spectacularly at their jobs, even when Greg is literally waving evidence under their noses.
Despite the semi-classic photo on Ice Cream Man's video box cover - a smirking Howard offering a blood-splattered ice cream cone to the viewer - the movie isn't nearly as gross or gory as you might think. The film was apparently intended to be a "horror comedy," but there isn't much comedy and even less horror. I was actually nodding off during the supposedly-suspenseful final third when those neighborhood kids and the Keystone cops finally get their you-know-what together and they all head for Gregory's foreboding Ice Cream factory for a final showdown.
What I found most interesting about Ice Cream Man was the large number of "name" actors in it. It was unusual to see such an impressive cast list in a zero-budget production like this (Seriously, I've seen soap operas which had a more lush "look" than this movie!) In addition to the snaggle-toothed Howard, (who seems to be the only person having fun with his role), sharp eyed genre fans may also recognize such cult cinema faves as Sandahl (Conan The Barbarian) Bergman, David (An American Werewolf In London) Naughton, Olivia (Black Christmas) Hussey, Jan-Michael (Airwolf) Vincent, one time People's Court host Doug Llewellyn (!) and even Los Angeles Dodgers legend Steve Garvey (!!) in minor roles throughout this film. I wonder if all of them had the same agent, or perhaps they all owed money to the same bookie and had to appear in this flick to pay off their debts.
If Ice Cream Man doesn't sound weird enough for you already, here's an additional fun fact: it turns out that its director "Norman Apstein" is better known as Paul Norman - a prolific adult filmmaker who's directed more than a hundred porno flicks. Seriously, I'm not making that up. This connection likely also explains the blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance by early '90s adult film siren Tori Welles as a customer in a supermarket, whom I recognized because I was, errr, a big fan of her "body of work" back in the day. (Please don't tell my wife.) Lord only knows why "Norman" chose to make THIS particular movie his mainstream film debut, but to this day, I.C.M. remains his one and only non-porn directing credit. I would say "we should probably all be thankful for that," but Howard and Apstein almost reunited for a sequel to Ice Cream Man in 2014. A Kickstarter campaign to fund Ice Cream Man 2: Sundae Bloody Sundae (grooooan!) was canceled after backers contributed a mere $4000 towards the film's goal of $300,000 -- in spite of an impassioned fund-raising video message from Howard himself on the film's Kickstarter page. ICM 2 would have picked up the story 20 years later, with the Ice Cream Man hunting down the surviving kids from the first film - who are now all grown up and have kids of their own. Dang it, I probably would've watched that. Oh well. Weep for what might have been!
In case I haven't made it perfectly clear, Ice Cream Man was a hilariously awful, yet somehow totally watchable mess and it was a great choice to kick off this 12-pack of schlock horrors. What other offerings does this Fright Fest DVD pack have in store for me? A host of early 90s direct-to-video faves like Devil In The Flesh (a teenage Fatal Attraction variant starring a pre-Charmed Rose McGowan) plus the hellish holiday slasher comedy Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman, as well as The Fear: Resurrection (aka The Fear 2: Halloween Night, co-starring Betsy "Mrs. Voorhees" Palmer of Friday the 13th fame!), and a few unknown quantities like Night Feeders, Evil Behind You, Within The Rock and the intriguingly-titled Diary of a Serial Killer (any resemblance to the better-known Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is purely coincidental, I'm sure...haha). I'll get around to watching all twelve eventually, and hopefully review them in future Hubs! Till next time, if you want to grab your own copy of Fright Fest and start your own marathon, make sure to tell them I sent you!
© 2015 Keith Abt