“Actually, I don’t really have a dog.”
Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of remakes, but if there was ever a film crying out to be redone, it is Mr Ice Cream Man. With a bigger budget, (much) better actors, and a revised script, Mack Hail’s directorial debut could be a classic, albeit trashy, slasher picture – like a cross between Black Christmas and Stephen King’s It. As it stands, it’s terrible: not quite as bad as Children of the Living Dead, but close. It is, however, fun to watch and, in contrast to the aforementioned incoherent zombie atrocity, Mr Ice Cream Man at least has potential.
This second-hand DVD was purchased for precisely three reasons: one, it was cheap; two, the title is great; and three, the front cover showed an ice-cream cone filled with bloody eyeballs. Needless to say, this wonderfully enticing imagery is non-existent in the film. This is not even the least accurate thing about the DVD’s casing (in fact, it harks back to a long-running tradition among low-budget genre pictures, which routinely exploited creative license to get people to pay for tickets to films that could never live up to their advertising claims): what is even more outrageous is the fact that both the box and IMDB claim Mr Ice Cream Man is a short, but acceptable 85 minutes long. It is, in actuality, 61 minutes and, even if one were to include the trailers (each depicting an equally low-budget “horror”), it still wouldn’t hit feature length.
Hail’s script (as with the most notorious bad-filmmakers, his credits include writer, director, editor and actor) is entirely generic, and all the clichés of a slasher flick are here: the nice young kid, Joey, cared for by his older sister Samantha; the most drippy police detective ever conceived whose life’s mission is to protect the neighbourhood’s children from an unknown murderer; the sinister-looking stranger (the ice cream man) with a hidden agenda; the token chubby black kid who is at least twice the height and age of his friends. The latter easily wins the award for worst acting – quite an achievement in a film filled with children. It goes without saying that, with the exception of Hail himself, none of the cast have appeared in any other movies. It’s difficult to think of any one specific scene that exemplifies the terrible performances: the stilted conversation between Samantha and Detective Hailey in a supermarket involving chat-up lines based on dog food is perhaps the most memorable moment, but equally ripe for consideration is the obnoxious jogger’s mockery of the ice cream man (if you want to imagine it, just picture yourself saying “I’m not being sarcastic” in the most overly sarcastic manner possible, and you’re close to this deluded satirist’s level of wit and flirtation). I could, however, just as easily cite every scene featuring the aforementioned stereotypical black kid, who apparently features solely to be so supremely annoying that, when he is inevitably axed by the serial killer, we as an audience rejoice rather than recoil at the death of a child.
That being said, Mack Hail himself is actually quite intriguing. He plays the title character as a simple, constantly smiling, quietly deranged psychopath, and is surprisingly effective and unsettling. With his grey pallor and red hair poking out from his hat (except for one scene, where he apparently forgot to don the make-up), he looks and acts like a barely-functioning marionette puppet, and really the one star I’ve given the film is entirely because of him. He is also most likely the reason for horror magazine Fangoria’s apparent praise of Mr Ice Cream Man, and why I make my earlier claim as to the film’s potential for a remake. There is little else to admire – the location (the outskirts of Las Vegas, although it could be any dusty American suburbia) is uninspiring, the plot simplistic, the deaths lack even the slightest hint of gore, and the washed out, soap opera lighting and stilted script offer little in the way of either tension or professionalism. To be fair, the score, consisting of child-like tinkling xylophone cords, works well, but it’s hardly innovative, while the lack of establishing long shots and over-use of close-ups create a sense of spatial incoherence rather than a tense atmosphere.
Mack Hail has achieved some level of cult success due to Mr Ice Cream Man, and the film is apparently enjoyed by viewers who, like me, embrace the stupidity and amateurish production of the film. Made on a micro-budget, it is woefully dated when viewed today. It fails on all levels, and there are too many examples of badness to list (although a few include: the longest chase sequence to have ever taken place between a fat child and an ice cream truck; a dinner date in which small talk and dessert come after the bill has been paid; the worst drunk/hungover performance of all time; the callous teacher’s threat to take the children’s anti-abduction whistles away should they be misused; and the aforementioned whistles serving no purpose whatsoever; a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, completely gratuitous topless shot that, had you actually blinked, would be more erotic). Yet for whatever reason, Mr Ice Cream Man is memorable, and its brevity allows it to be entertaining rather than irritating. Will you be able to look at an ice cream truck in the same way after watching this movie? Probably, but somewhere, deep in the darkest corner of your mind, you might just feel the slightest pang of apprehension.