Lone Wolf Sullivan is a writer, songwriter, and studio musician.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Meet the Applegates (1990) * * ¾

The Applegates look like a typical suburban Ohio family. Richard "Dick" P. Applegate (Ed Begley, Jr.) and Jane (Stockard Channing) have two kids and a dog named Spot. Like most families, they also have secrets: Dick has an affair with his secretary while Jane has an affair with credit cards, their son Johnny (Robert Jayne) has a drug problem, and their daughter Sally (Camille Cooper) is pregnant. The Applegates, however, are hiding a much bigger secret: They are actually advanced Amazonian insects who are masters of disguise with the ability to mimic the appearance of other species. They may seem as American as apple pie, but these Brazilian bugs have a taste for human flesh and are on a mission: They plan to blow up the nuclear power station where Dick works in protest of the industrialization of their homeland, which threatens their existence.

The movie starts in a forest with a family being attacked by a family of huge Brazilian Cocorada bugs. The insects find a "Dick and Jane" book dropped by fleeing teachers. Not long after, the group of Cocoradas camouflage themselves as an ordinary human family and set up house in the well-off suburban neighborhood of Median, Ohio. They take on human form and meet every "normality" standard from the magazine Family Bazaar. Their neighbor is an exterminator as well as a bigot, and he frightens them. Dick gets a job at a nuclear power plant. He works there to one day cause an explosion as a warning against destruction of the Brazilian rain forest, and to rid the world of humans and let bugs rule. Like cockroaches, these bugs can survive anything, including radiation.

But after a while the family drifts from its normalities. The temptations of Western civilization prove to be too much for them, and the American way begins to make converts of them. Johnny, a drug free student, begins listening to Heavy metal music and becomes a bratty junkie. The husband and wife drift away from each other, and Sally becomes a cold pregnant militant lesbian feminist after being raped by a jock from the high school. They each show their true bug form at least once in the film. Johnny does while smoking marijuana with his metalhead buddies, and Sally while being raped by Vince Sampson (Adam Biesk). Her experience seems an appropriate punishment as the cute blonde morphs into a giant insect during the sex act. When one of the Applegates gets teed off, he can revert to his original insect self and stun the offending party into unconsciousness, trapping him in a giant cocoon. Soon, the house is filling up with mummified victims. Sexually frustrated Dick disappears into the washroom with a spread of insect photos in Scientific American and drools over bug pictures the way another man might look at Playboy. When her family congratulates her on the tastiness of their supper, Jane says, "I happened to find some rancid trash in a dumpster behind the 7-Eleven."

As they drift away from normality, and nearly are discovered by the neighbors, their Aunt Bea (Dabney Coleman) is sent to help. She becomes a nuisance and they decide she should be taken care of. Dick decides to not blow up the nuclear power plant, due to his growing fondness of life, and kills Aunt Bea. At the end of the movie they return to their lives in Brazil, and are visited by the townspeople who grew to love them. Although the plant did not blow up, enough radiation was released to remove the hair from much of the population of the town.

MEET THE APPLEGATES is a 1991 black comedy film directed by Michael Lehmann. It was filmed in 1989, but not released until 1991. The movie takes a dark, satirical look at the end of the world, nuclear holocausts, alienism and terrorism. This was Lehmann's followup to HEATHERS (1989). While not nearly as popular or memorable, THE APPLEGATES is still quite an entertaining film, and its current "Out of Print in any format, anywhere in the world" status is baffling. A surreal ecological and suburban satire, laden with weird, silly and wonderful gags, this film parodies suburban family life much as HEATHERS focused on the darker side of high school.

The movie is clever, funny, intelligent, poignant, and surprisingly shocking. It represents an old style of cinema and engulfs our social problems, idiosyncratic ways, and our hidden flaws with a flair that cannot be found in today's films. THE APPLEGATES has a good cast, a powerful blend of humor with satire, and lots of fun. It is considered a cult classic for three reasons: a strong cast, a powerful story, and moments you will always remember. The human elements that invade these bugs' lives are over-developed for this film, but they work very well. The Applegates prove to humans that even if they come to us, we will still destroy their sense of what is right or wrong.

THE APPLEGATES uses a powerful technique for keeping this film easy on the eyes. It uses the K.I.S.S. method so it can withstand repeated viewings. The "Keep It Simple Stupid" formula was applied to this film by merely saying that these bugs were going to nuke a small town in the United States. There wasn't a fear of technology, over-analyzing, or future consequences--and with a film like this, we didn't need it. It's a simple story with a clear message: There are problems in the US we cannot blame on outside influences. We have issues with underage pregnancies, drug use, over-spending, and adultery. Metaphors abound, and we feel sad for these Applegates as they begin to falter in their mission because we are causing the failure. Our lifestyles are killing these bugs, and this satire of American manners is a send up of the ineffectual environmentalists the Applegates represent. The film was released during a time when there was a fear of the destruction of the Amazon forests, while we battle today with the issue of Global Warming. In other words, it's a save the rain forests ecology movie presented as a comical horror and fantasy film.

The cast also includes: Glenn Shadix (Greg Samson), Susan Barnes (Opal Withers), Savannah Smith Bouchér (Dottie), Roger Aaron Brown (Sheriff Heidegger), Lee Garlington (Nita Samson), Philip Arthur Ross (Kevin), Steven Robert Ross (Kenny), Mark Bringleson (Rich Block, Family Bazaar Magazine), Chuck Lafont (Clem Shepherd), Allan David Fox (Peace Corps Volunteer), Sherrie Wills (Peace Corps Volunteer), Jerry Craig (Amazon Native), Joe VanStrike (Russell Withers), Mindy Bell (Coach Himler), Meg Weldon (Courtney), Chelsea Lee (Ingrid), Jessica Schwartz (Monica), Mike Rieden (Vince's Friend), Bob Fox (Junior Cartwright), Kathryn Garrison (Drone with Aunt Bea), Margaret Mazon (Drone with Aunt Bea), Gustavd Mellando (Drone with Aunt Bea), Sherry Narens (Relative), Michael Raysses (Durpre), Les Podewell (Mr. Goodpastor), Bradley Mott (Pastor Cooter), Patrick Donahue (Bed Bug), Barbara Lehmann (Cocktail Waitress), Lisa Sutton (Pregnant Woman), Kiki Huygelen (Gail the Dyke), Adrian Tafoya (Motorboat Captain), John Escobar (Jorge), Tony Cecere (Banana Boat Helmsman), Rick Snyder (Bank Officer), Joe Liss (Customs Official), Ivan H. Migel (Cashier), Dan Bradley (Power Plant Worker), Richard Barker (Power Plant Worker), Lisa Comshaw (Pregnant Woman), Mark Roberts (Screaming Guard in Plant), and Joe Van Slyke (Russell Withers). David Newman composed the original music. The screenplay was written by Redbeard Simmons and Michael Lehmann, who also directed.

The screenplay written by Redbeard Simmons and the director is sharp, witty, intelligent, and hysterical. Special makeup effects designed by Kevin Yagher were used to make the Applegates appear as bugs. The special effects are all done with plastic molding and firecracker explosions. MEET MEET THE APPLEGATES was filmed in Oshkosh and Neenah, Wisconsin. It has been rated R, has vulgar language and partial nudity. Why is it unavailable? One viewer commented: "There's a reason why this film has been forgotten. It is horrible. But it's compellingly horrible! I could not stop watching it. I felt like it should be revered as a bizarro cult-classic, because it's so bad in such an enjoyable way. It is so extraordinarily bad, and the characters are so unapologetically one-dimensional, and the dialogue is so ridiculously over-the-top, you may find yourself, like me, unable to stop watching." The VHS title is simply THE APPLEGATES, and hopefully this comedy will be released on DVD soon.

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