Friday, October 02, 2015

31 DAYS OF FRIGHT: That Time Scooby and the Gang Fought Real Monsters

While the recently reviewed SCOOBY-DOO AND THE RELUCTANT WEREWOLF magnified the original show's comedic roots and matchedthem with the absurdist elements often typical of Hanna-Barbera fare, 1998's SCOOBY-DOO ON ZOMBIE ISLAND turned those roots upside down and thankfully ditched ancillary characters like annoying nephew Scrappy and non-Velma galpal Googie while reuniting the old gang in the process.

Tired of chasing down spooks only to uncover hologram projectors and bad guys in masks, the Mystery, Inc. gang has gone their separate ways. Shaggy (voiced by one-time Howard Stern regular Billy West) and Scooby are customs inspectors, Velma owns a bookstore specializing in mysteries ('natch), and Daphne (with the help of cameraman/producer Fred) is an investigative journalist with a syndicated television show. When she announces her plan to track down and chronicle real supernatural events, Fred gets everybody back together for a road trip that takes them deep into the Louisiana bayou.

The first of more than twenty direct-to-video movies that capitalized upon and eventually boosted renewed interest in the property, ZOMBIE ISLAND not only features a palatable 77-minute running time but also introduced famous (or somewhat famous) actors in supporting roles. (The latest video adventure finds the gang teaming up with KISS to solve a rock and roll mystery in what is basically an animated sequel to KISS MEETS THE PHANTOM.)

Frustrated by a familiar parade of charlatans and paranormal hoaxes (set to a tune that gently mocks the original series), the reunited Mystery, Inc. end up as guests of Lena (Tara Charendoff) and Simone (Adrienne Barbeau), the cook and proprietor of a resort on isolated Moonscar Island. Built upon the grounds of an old hot pepper plantation (cue whacky hot sauce gags), the site is haunted by a ghostly pirate, roamed by zombies that are far more than simple animatronic spooks, and inhabited by a couple of moon-worshipping cat creatures intent on sucking the lifeforce from our heroes.

As the ZOMBIE ISLAND trailer promises, "this time the monsters are REAL!" and the gang soon find themselves up to their necks in ghostly messages, levitating Velmas, bayou zombies and voodoo dolls. Oh sure, there are the de rigeur Scooby-Doo elements such as the multiple red herrings (including Mark Hammil as woogy-eyed swamp fisherman Snakebite Scruggs) and the outrageous eating disorders of both Shaggy and Scooby, but the script by Glenn Leopold (who co-wrote the 1981 slasher THE PROWLER!) leans a bit more on the supernatural elements and gets downright spooky at times with monstrous transformations, pirate massacres and disembodied moans I had to promise to turn down during a recent screening.

In other words, it's no surprise that to this day my daughter refuses to watch ZOMBIE ISLAND after an initial viewing that gave her nightmares and led to a brief but strict Scooby-Doo moratorium.

Alas, after SCOOBY-DOO AND THE WITCH'S GHOST (featuring Tim Curry) and SCOOBY-DOO AND THE ALIEN INVADERS (in which visiting aliens dress up like hippies thanks to 1960s television shows) the remaining direct-to-video movies have resorted to more familiar territory complete with faux phantoms and thieving carnies.

Scooby and the gang return to Cartoon Network in the series 'Be Cool, Scooby-Doo' (see trailer below) in which the recent high school grads live it up while encountering monsters and mayhem. No word on whether those monsters will be real or of the "greedy scientist masquerading as a Mayan cat creature" variety, but the show definitely features a new take on the trademark animation – critics have compared to a 'Family Guy' cutaway gag – and apparently ditches the relationships and serial story arc format that highlighted the recent 'Mystery, Inc.' show. – Dan Taylor

Dan Taylor is the editor and publisher of Exploitation Retrospect and has watched more Scooby-Doo in the last 6 years than any grown man should admit. Be sure to catch all the 31 Days of Fright posts by following ER on Facebook and liking ER on Twitter.

Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island is available from Amazon

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