I never would have expected Phyllis Diller to enter the horror zone, but by the late 80s, Jason, Freddy, Michael, and Chucky had made horror so cool that everyone was doing it. Of course, Phyllis first made her mark on the macabre (in a family way) when she appeared as a Rankin/Bass stop motion figure in the awesome Mad Monster Party. It’s a classic.
But I just had to know how the real Phyllis handled horror….
Dr. Hackenstein (1988)
Dr. Hack-job. Dr. Hackenstein is supposed to be a parody in the tradition of Young Frankenstein. Imagine Re-animator without enough blood and gore. Imagine Elvira’s Haunted Hills without Elvira. Imagine a horror spoof that isn’t funny. Actually, don’t imagine any of it. Just watch Dr. Hackenstein and you’ll understand what I mean.
Rewatching it, I know why I couldn’t remember a thing about this movie. Sure, Phyllis Diller is in it, but her role is very brief and the lines she’s given are just as unfunny as everything else in the movie. So either Dr. Hackenstein is completely forgettable or I just blocked it out.
The cover of the DVD proudly announces that there’s an appearance by Academy Award Nominee Anne Ramsey. As a general rule, don’t mention the words “Academy Award” in the same breath as trashy horror or your going to lose your audience (at least, you’ll lose me). The cover should have said, “with that be-otch who got her head splattered by a basketball in Deadly Friend.”
But even that wouldn’t have helped this disaster about Dr. Hackenstein, who wants to bring his wife (now only a head) back to life by connecting other body parts to her. Conveniently, he has some unexpected house guests when a car full of young pretty people crashes.
There’s unfunny slapstick. There’s some brief boobage. There are a few shots of Hackenstein’s stitch work. There are only two parts of the movie I liked. First, the reactions when a few of the women wake up to find they’ve had hairy man legs sewed to them. And second…the Dr. Hackenstein theme song at the end. I so want this track for my Halloween playlist. Just jump to the 1:24:40 mark on the video to listen to the song and skip the rest of the movie:
There’s only one way to get an incredibly fulfilling Phyllis Diller horror fix. And that’s…The Boneyard!
The Boneyard (1991)
I can’t believe I missed this one when it first came out. The Boneyard simply rules. It also has some serious veteran actors in it. Aside from Phyllis Diller, Norman Fell (aka: Mr. Roper) has a non-comic role as a forensics dude with a mustache and ponytail. And Ed Nelson, who goes as far back as shows like Rawhide and Peyton Place, plays the main detective.
Meanwhile, some might recognize the leading lady from an episode of The Golden Girls, in which she appeared briefly as a big butch maid applying for the job they ended up giving to Marguerite. Kudos to The Boneyard for breaking the mold. Screw pretty young thin final girls with blonde hair and bodacious boobs. Although, our hefty hero does get a few derogatory jokes aimed at her weight, and at one point, her fat ass gets stuck in an escape hatch while she’s trying to get away from a monster.
This burly butch babe is a retired psychic, but the detective convinces her to come out of retirement after the murders of three children. The psychic has a creepy as hell dream about stepping onto her porch and seeing a little “girl” sitting there, playing with a doll. This effective and eerie scene sets the tone for the horror aspects of this awesome flick. The psychic heads off to the morgue with the detectives to see the bodies.
The morgue is all decorated for Thanksgiving! Yep, The Boneyard is a Thanksgiving horror movie! And the woman overseeing the place is Phyllis Diller, who wears no wig in this film and has no problem joking about her baldness. Phyllis is in top-notch form with her shtick. She has a yappy little poodle as well. Wow. Dogs really do resemble their owners. Or at least, their owner’s wigs….
But humor and camp aside, once the children zombie demons—yes, I said children zombie demons—make their first appearance, there are some wickedly freaky and tense scenes, plus some gooey gore. These gnarly children are so creepy you kind of wish they had started making their appearance earlier in the movie. I don’t know how these little monsters didn’t make a bigger splash on the horror scene. And things only get better as the movie heads towards its conclusion.
*SPOILERS* – We get a fricking Phyllis Diller zombie boss and a giant zombie poodle boss!!! OMG, this movie is the bomb!!! And our big butch final girl totally saves the day. Now this is a Mad Monster Party. The Boneyard seriously is a lost classic from the 90s era of otherwise crappy horror films.
So that’s how you do a Phyllis Diller horrorthon right: Mad Monster Party and The Boneyard.