Great Bad Movies: "Ice Cream Man"
"Ice Cream Man" (1995)
Starring: Clint Howard, Olivia Hussey, Jan-Michael Vincent
Directed by "Norman Apstein" (aka Paul Norman)
1995's Ice Cream Man is 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.
Prior to this viewing, I had seen Ice Cream Man once before, during the mid-1990s when it was a fixture on video-store shelves. It had been so long that I barely remembered anything about the movie except for a vague feeling that it was awful. As it turns out, that "vague feeling" was totally accurate.
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 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 Cream Man" trailer
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 know there's something weird about Ice Cream Guy from the start, of course, but they can never get their parents tp believe them. 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.
Summing it Up...
Here's an additional fun fact about Ice Cream Man: its director, "Norman Apstein" is better known as Paul Norman - a prolific adult filmmaker who's directed more than a hundred porno flicks. I'm not making that up. This probably explains the cameo appearance by early '90s adult film siren Tori Welles, as a customer in a supermarket. She's only in the movie for about five seconds, but I recognized her because I was a big fan of her, errr, "body of work" back in the day. (Please don't tell my wife.)
I'd love to know why "Norman" chose to make THIS his mainstream film debut, but to this day, I.C.M. remains his one and only non-porn directing credit. We should probably all be thankful for that, but Howard and Apstein almost reunited for a sequel to Ice Cream Man. A Kickstarter campaign to fund Ice Cream Man 2: Sundae Bloody Sundae (grooooan!) was launched in 2014, but it was canceled after backers contributed a mere $4000 towards the goal of $300,000 -- in spite of an impassioned fund-raising video message from Howard himself. 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!
© 2015 Keith Abt