Friday, October 28, 2022

#2,851. Ice Cream Man (1995)


Low-budget schlock with an a-list cast is just one of the many facets that make up director Norman Apstein’s 1995 horror / comedy Ice Cream Man, an entertaining movie that nonetheless suffers from multiple personality disorder.

But if it’s any consolation, a few of those personalities are… kinda cool!

Clint Howard stars as Gregory Tudor, who as a child (played in flashback by Matthew McCurley) was traumatized after witnessing a drive-by shooting that claimed the life of his beloved ice cream man.

Having spent years in the Wishing Well sanitarium undergoing psychiatric treatment (involving needles to the head), Gregory now wants nothing more than to make children happy by selling them delicious ice cream… mixed with cockroaches, mice, and the occasional eyeball!

Yes, Gregory, along with selling ice cream, also dabbles in murder; at one point he even kills a dog belonging to his landlady / caretaker, Nurse Wharton (Olivia Hussey), and uses its remains to concoct yet another “flavor” of ice cream.

When Gregory abducts a young neighborhood boy known as “Small Paul” (Mikey LeBeau), the kid’s pals –Johnny (Justin Isfeld), Heather (Anndi McAfee) and Tuna (JoJo Adams) – decide to expose the ice cream man for the deviant psychopath he is. But will the three tykes survive long enough to save their friend, or will they too end up as toppings on an ice cream cone?

The strange tale of Ice Cream Man starts with its director, Norman Apstein, whose professional name was actually Paul Norman. Specializing in bisexual-themed adult films, Norman helmed some 130 pornographic movies between the years 1985 and 2000, and was even married for a few of those years to adult film star Tori Welles (she actually makes a cameo in Ice Cream Man, playing a customer in a local supermarket that’s managed by none other than Doug Llewelyn, host of the TV series The People’s Court). Then there is star Clint Howard, brother of actor / director Ron Howard (Night Shift, Apollo 13), who brings tons of personality to the role of Gregory, the titular Ice Cream Man. At times sympathetic (yes, he’s disturbed, but seems genuinely interested in making kids happy with his various “flavors” of ice cream), Gregory also takes some major risks, at one point selling Police Detective Maldwyn (Lee Majors II) a Rocky Road cone with an eyeball shoved in the middle of it! Howard’s manic turn is one of the best things about Ice Cream Man, and the actor does an exceptional job throughout. Also good are the film’s child actors, whose various adventures give the movie a Goonies vibe (while all of the youngsters deliver fine performances, the standout is Anndi McAfee as Heather).

And then there’s the supporting cast… and what a cast it is! Along with Olivia Hussey (Black Christmas), Ice Cream Man features other veterans of the horror genre, including David Warner (The Omen), who plays Heather’s dad, Reverend Langley (in one very bizarre scene, Reverend Langley looks on as his wife, played by Jeanine Anderson, “speaks in tongues”, allegedly channeling the Archangel Gabriel). Also along for the ride are David Naughton (An American Werewolf in London) as Tuna’s dad; Sandahl Bergman (Conan the Barbarian) as Tuna’s mom; and Jan-Michael Vincent (Big Wednesday) as Detective Maldwyn’s partner, Detective Gifford. Oh, and Steve Garvey, the all-star first baseman of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the ‘70s and ‘80s, makes a brief appearance as Johnny’s father. Now, THAT is a cast!

Of course, no ‘90s horror film would be complete without its share of blood and gore, and Ice Cream Man, despite its low budget, features some impressive effects. There are a few gnarly kills, but even more memorable are the severed heads – three to be exact – that make an appearance in the film’s second half (two of which Gregory uses to put on a macabre puppet show while chasing the kids).

Where Ice Cream Man suffers is in its overall tone; the Goonies vibe and the adolescent cast (which has more screen time than everyone except Clint Howard) would lead you to believe Ice Cream Man is geared towards younger viewers, but the blood and gore put it in solid R-rating territory. It’s hard to say what director Norman Apstein was shooting for: a kid-friendly film or a straight up horror / comedy (and truth be told, he might not be too sure himself; during his director’s commentary for the Vinegar Syndrome Blu-Ray release of the movie, he didn’t remember a whole lot about its production). Yet regardless of what his ultimate goal may have been, Ice Cream Man is, at the very least, a fun, funny, batshit crazy movie that you absolutely MUST see!
Rating: 7.5 out of 10

1 comment:

Steve D. said...

Clint Howard, in an interview by Anthony Petkovich in "Psychotronic Video" magazine, came up with more details about this movie. The gravelly voice was Paul Norman's suggestion. I can't recall which issue of PV it was (I still have hard copies of all the ones while I subscribed.), but all of them have been uploaded to the Internet Archive.