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July 19-25, 2006

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Cult Leader

Gingerdead End: You can catch Gary Busey in 'The Gingerdead Man,' but what the hell are you going to do when you've got him?

By Steve Palopoli

Do you ever just stop and say to yourself: "I wonder what Gary Busey's doing right now?" I know I do. So imagine my trembling little piggies when I got a copy of The Gingerdead Man in my clutches. Apparently, this is one of 11 movies (plus a miniseries!) Busey was in last year, but considering the fate of Shut Up and Shoot!, No Rules and Soft Target, his films in 2005 may very well outnumber the combined total of people who saw them.

Except maybe for Gingerdead Man. I wouldn't go so far as to say this movie has much of a following yet, but two cult-film-loving friends emailed me about it independently of each other within the space of two weeks, so I figured something must be going on. And when it hit me that this movie is seriously about a cookie that kills people and talks with the voice of Gary Busey, I immediately made arrangements to see it with one of those friends and tracked it down by phone—after coming up empty at several stores—to a Hollywood Video 40 miles away. When I asked the surly teenage clerk if he'd hold it for me, he just said "Dude, no one's going to be checking that out anytime soon."

Wrong! I was there that very evening. And my friend served ginger snaps with the popcorn, which is way more clever than anything in the actual film. Make no mistake, this is a terrible, terrible movie. It was directed by Charles Band, who is best known for producing some of Stuart Gordon's H.P. Lovecraft films and for running Empire Pictures, which became Full Moon Pictures and gave the world low-budget series like Trancers, Puppet Master and Subspecies. In the behind-the-scenes to Gingerdead Man, Band calls it "probably the most bizarre concept that we've ever made," which means a lot coming from the guy who did 1996's telepathic-mutant-horror-sex-comedy Head of the Family. And yet, it's true.

But what I love about Gingerdead Man is that it tries for intentionally bad and ends up with unintentionally bad. That's amazing! It almost seems like after the filmmakers wrote in all the wink-wink material, like everyone was going to agree it was all a big joke, they just couldn't let go of that nagging feeling that they could possibly make a real movie out of this. So against their better judgment, they tried. And failed miserably.

Thus on the one hand we have the wise-cracking evil cookie, and characters named after baking brand names—the kind of stuff you'd expect from a movie trying, sometimes too hard, for cult status. But even better are the details that no one involved seems to have noticed are ridiculous, like the fact that the main characters who work in the bakery have to act like it's normal to use a ginormous gingerbread-man cookie cutter in order to set up a realistic size for the Gingerdead puppet later on. Or the way the woman who "carefully" sets up the reincarnation of a killer through the baking of a gingerbread cookie seems to have inexplicably counted not only on human blood accidentally falling into the batter, but also on an electrical mishap happening at precisely the right time.

As if that stuff weren't sweet enough, there's the desperate, constant attempt to pad the running time. The box says "Running time approximately 100 minutes/Feature running time approximately 71 minutes." Since when has the behind-the-scenes material been included in the running time? And even that 71 minutes of "feature running time" includes a staggering 12 minutes and 42 seconds of credits at the beginning and end. They go on so long they actually become the film's best comic moments. Let's put it this way: At the beginning of the film, Busey appears as the killer, Millard Findlemeyer, in a robbery scene. Though of course he voices the cookie after his character is reincarnated, this is the only time he actually appears in the movie (other than newspaper clippings). If you add up every second in the scene in which he's actually shown, Busey's total "running time" in this film is two minutes and 36 seconds. Which means the opening credits have 23 seconds more screen time than the top-billed actor.

Still, every atomic second spent with Busey is a beautiful thing. I particularly love his material in the behind-the-scenes featurette. As they juxtapose cast members saying stupid things about gingerbread cookies, you suddenly hear Busey say, in that unmistakable hard-living voice, "Gingerbread cookies are errrrrrrr favorite. It really came out around Christmas time." What the hell? Who or what is "errrrrrrr"? And what came out around Christmastime? The movie? The cookies? Then, his follow-up: "I could feel the energy and the life living in the ginger ... bread cookie." Is that a joke? A cry for help? Only Busey knows for sure.

But the transcendent moment comes shortly after, when they cut to Busey holding up a photo and pointing: "This is the gingerdead man right here. See if you can scope in on the eyes of that little beady tyrant."

True feature running time: approximately 60 minutes. Lead actor screen time: less than three minutes. Gary Busey: priceless.

Cult Leader is a weekly column about the state of cult movies and offbeat corners of pop culture. Email feedback or your Gary Busey moment here.

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