Friday, February 19, 2016

Teenage Caveman (USA, 2002)

In all truth, for the main gist of the following review, you can skip down to the final paragraph... but read on, should our normal meandering and verbosity interest you in any way.

(Spoilers.) Way back around the turn of the century, the cheap horror movies of yesteryear suddenly became a source of new product for the American film industry. Dark Castle Entertainment, for example, was founded (initially) to make new versions of the films of William Castle (see: 13 Ghosts [2002 / trailer] and House on Haunted Hill [1999 / trailer]), while Platinum Dunes looked less far back in time and brought us updated versions of trash classics and semi-classics such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre [2003 / trailer], The Amityville Horror [2005 / trailer], and others. The American cable channel Cinemax also followed suit (if with far lower budgets) and, in 2001, under the banner "Creature Features", broadcast a series of five extremely loose and cheaply made "remakes" of "classic" B movies that the great Samuel Z. Arkoff had originally produced for AIP in the 50s and 60s — the very films many a Gen Xer had grown up watching on their local creature-feature show. (The new versions were produced by Arkoff's son Lou Arkoff and, oddly enough, comedy starlet and former Playboy model Colleen Camp [below, in her prime].) All five TV movies were subsequently released on DVD, and while none enjoyed any great praise or popularity, this one here, Teenage Caveman was perhaps the most reviled.
We ourselves stumbled upon Teenage Caveman in a bargain-basement barrel, and while drawn to it only due to the inanity of the concept of such a remake, we probably would never have tossed down the 50 cents to buy it were it not for the name of the movie's director: Larry Clark. In the art world of the 70s and 80s, Larry Clark had had some success, fortune, and infamy as a photographer of the drug-, alcohol-, and sex-fueled naked underbelly of teenage America. And like a variety of other, more respectable art stars of the generation — e.g., Robert Longo (Johnny Mnemonic [1995 / trailer]), Cindy Sherman (Office Killer [1997 / trailer]), David Salle (Search and Destroy [1995 / trailer]) and Julian Schnabel — when given the chance to move into movie-making in the mid-1990s, he went for it and brought out the scandal movie Kids (1995 / trailer), which focused on the drug-, alcohol-, and sex-filled life of teens confronted with HIV. (And launched the careers of Chloë Sevigny, Rosario "Hot Stuff" Dawson, & Harmony Korine [the director of Gummo (1997 / trailer) and Trash Humpers (2009 / trailer)].) Since then, Clark remains, alongside Schnabel, one of the select few of the bigger art names of the 80s to still be regularly active as a filmmaker.
In any event, the concept of a cheap teen horror flick directed by a "name" ephebophiliac artist intrigued us enough to plop down 50 cents for the DVD and, three years later, to finally pop the flick into the DVD player. And we must say that although we had no expectations, we were disappointed by Teenage Caveman... even as we must admit that the cheap flick probably is in many way exactly what one might expect from a man obsessed with the sex and drug lives of teenagers: sleazy, and full of teens having sex and doing drugs and drinking. Just, the fixation on teenage sex and drug abuse is obsessive to the point of discomfort: the flick makes you, as the viewer, feel sort of dirty after awhile. Also, none in the cast of newbies really excels as a thespian, the jokes are few and mostly flat, tension is virtually non-existence, and the main bad guy (Richard Hillman [13 Dec 1974 — 27 June 2009] as Neil) overacts to the point of being almost unwatchable.
About the only thing that the 2002 version of Teenage Caveman has in common with the original 1958 version — directed by Roger Corman as Prehistoric World, released in England as Out of Darkness, and starring Robert Vaughn [of Unwed Mother [1958 / trailer], Starship Invasions [1977 / trailer], Battle Beyond the Stars [1980 / trailer], Killing Birds [1987 / trailer], Transylvania Twist [1989/ trailer], and much, much more]) — is the post-apocalyptic setting. But unlike in the original film, in which this fact is the film's final denouement, we know relatively quickly (with the movie's first and perhaps only intentional laugh involving a "no skateboarding" sign) that in Clark's version, the primitive world of the protagonists is post-apocalyptic.
At its onset, Teenage Caveman seems to hold some promise, despite its obvious threadbare budget and thespian inadequacies. Namely, the new world order back at the communal cave looks to contain the seeds of dramatic tension, and Clark's obsession with sex, not yet in visual overload, is instead reflected in an interesting plot point: Shaman (Paul Hipp), the leader of the tribe and father of our handsome hero David (Andrew Keegan), is a David Koresh-like, fanatically religious, hypocritical, and corrupt tribal leader who forbids sex within the tribe but reserves the God-given right to fuck all the young girls. (An underlying thematic point of the movie, though well hidden, is that of the corruption of power.) Shaman makes the mistake of deciding to bone his son's gal Sarah (Tara Subkoff of The Notorious Bettie Page [2005 / trailer]), and before you can finish reading a Penthouse Forum letter, Shaman is dead and David is tied to the stake outside the cave in an obvious homage to that gay icon of the religious martyrs, St. Sebastian. (Clark's camera loves his hairy armpit and man nipples.) But what are real friends for but to help you escape and leave the tribe in search of a better life? And thus the scraggly group of contumacious teens hit the road...
A radioactive rainstorm later, they awaken in the luxury apartment decorated with Jeff Koons art pieces belonging to Neil and his female counterpart Judith, (Tiffany Limos), and before the plot continues the movie stagnates for an interminable amount of time on the introduction of our innocent group to the wicked world of sex and drugs, for which they must pay dearly later. Make no mistake: Clark may wallow in nudity and sex and drugs, but this is an extremely anti-sex film. Much like in the slashers of the 80s, in Teenage Caveman having sex basically means you're going to die. But though Clark displays a desire to punish his innocents for their being corrupted, he wants to have his cake, too, and thus first casts a long, prolonged, narrative- and mood-crippling gaze on barely post-pubescent breasts of the young girls and the naked butts (or stuffed underwear) of the young boys. (Note: sex scenes as filmed by Clark are a perfect opportunity to get a new beer or empty your bladder.) Oddly enough, for all his fascination in the body of the barely hairy and cheap-looking store-bought underwear — Payless obviously survived the apocalypse — Clark lacks the cojones to do a full frontal of a male, though he does many of the girls.
For that, however, he does have the cojones to film perhaps one of the most audacious, transgressive scenes we've ever seen in a Pay TV movie: when Elizabeth (Crystal Celeste Grant) begins to suffer the after-effects of unprotected sex with the genetically modified duo, the "good" villainess Judith begins to masturbate — and then gets pissed when the young lady literally explodes prematurely. (Needless to say, Judith is no better a person than the main villain of the movie, Neil.) Why does Elizabeth explode? Neil and Judith are genetically altered super-humans, and much like HIV, their traits are transferred virally through body fluids. But most normal bodies cannot survive the conversion to superdom and self-destruct — not good.
Like so many badly made movies, in Teenage Caveman there is little tension felt as the  characters die one by one until there is but the final girl and final guy and main villain and the final showdown, which in itself might have been funny were the movie not so exhausting and repulsive to sit through up till that point. To give Clark justifiable credit again, however, he ends the movie in a subtly depressing manner that is at least 100% in line with his obvious anti-sex attitude and his less obvious theme of the corruption of power. But being true to a vision doesn't mean that the vision is any good, or worth your time watching.
Teenage Caveman, in short: An anti-sex and ultimately depressing film made by an ephebophiliac man who obviously prefers to punish the victim, the movie is hampered by bad acting, a low budget, a total lack of suspense, and terrible pacing. The gore ranges from well-made to cheesy, but despite a blood-drenched money shot or two, none are good or bad enough to make them worth waiting for — with the possible exception of the exploding belly & masturbation scene, which could really fit well in a Richard Kern flick. The sex and drugs scenes are alienating and dull, and oddly repulsive, sort of as if you have sudden insight to the sexual fantasies of the wanna-be paedophile next door. Neither the director nor scriptwriter evidence any real talent in their craft, and the themes and possibilities of the narrative appear and disappear indiscriminately. By the end of the movie the only thing one realizes, really feels, really knows, is that Teenage Caveman is one fucked up film and a total waste of time.
Not surprisingly, rumor has it that another remake is in the works.
Trailer to the original
Teenage Caveman (1958):

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