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From Here to Obscurity: Revenge of the Red Baron

PLEASE NOTE: The movies reviewed in From Here to Obscurity have either never been given an official VHS or DVD release, have been released on VHS but are long out of print and very hard to find, or are readily available in some form but have generally gone unnoticed by most of the general public.

The truth as to who really shot down the Red Baron is a subject that has been debated and speculated about ever since the WWI flying ace met his maker. Numerous pilots over the years have staked their claim to being the one that shot down Germany’s top fighter pilot but none have been able to prove conclusively that they were the one. Roger Corman even made a movie in the early 1970’s about the Red Baron and who is believed to have actually shot him down; a film that has pretty much been denounced by every WWI scholar in existence. If nothing else, Revenge of the Red Baron can lay claim to being the film that finally ends that debate once and for all. The Red Baron was shot down by a man named Edward Spencer. It had to be him; why else would the infamous Von Richthofen return from the grave to kill this Edward Spencer fellow if he wasn’t the one that really shot him down? Thank you again, Roger Corman.

Please remove any mental images of a zombified German World War 1 fighter pilot or of people being possessed by the spirit of the Red Baron because that isn’t how he returns from the grave in this film. Watching Revenge of the Red Baron, it’s hard to imagine that this film was produced by Roger Corman and not Charles Band. A low budget film about the spirit of the Red Baron coming back for revenge against the pilot that shot him down by taking possession of the elderly man’s remote control toy Red Baron tri-plane and the action figure sitting in its pilot seat sounds like something Full Moon would have produced. And something tells me Tobey Maguire likes to be reminded about starring in this movie almost as much as Shannon Elizabeth likes being reminded of the time she got raped and murdered by a killer snowman in Jack Frost.

In modern times (1994, the year the film was made), teenage Jimmy (Tobey Maguire, looking like a pre-drug addled Corey Haim) is on the verge of becoming a juvenile delinquent so his mom (ex-“Saturday Night Live” cast member Larraine Newman) dumps him on his authoritarian jerk of a dad (B-movie vet Cliff DeYoung) and wheelchair bound grandfather (film legend Mickey Rooney, who would file for bankruptcy two years after making this film, so we know what his excuse was for appearing this) for a weekend of discipline.

While mom is concerned but compassionate, dad is about two steps away from being Joan Crawford. His idea of discipline is to make Jimmy do every possible chore there is and then browbeat him for everything he does or does not do. Dad’s such a prick that even when Grandpa has a mild cardiac incident due to getting over excited while flying remote control planes with his grandson, he blames Jimmy for nearly killing the old man. Heck, the revenge-minded spirit of the Red Baron never comes across as being anywhere near as malevolent as Jimmy’s hateful father.

Jimmy’s 93-yr old Grandpa, Edward Spencer, played by “the #1 box office star of 1939″ Mickey Rooney (trying to play older than he actually is and milking it for everything it’s worth), keeps telling Jimmy tales of how he was a World War 1 fighter pilot and was the one that actually shot down the infamous Von Richthofen (aka The Red Baron). Jimmy doesn’t really believe him but flying model WWI tri-planes with gramps sure beats pulling up weeds in the yard. According to Grandpa Spencer, he even built one of the toy tri-planes patterned after the Red Baron’s famous aircraft from scrap from the Red Baron’s plane after shooting it down.

After getting struck by a freak lightning bolt, the Red Baron model plane (to be more specific – the Ken doll in the cockpit that’s dressed in fighter gear representing the Red Baron) becomes possessed by the spirit of the legendary Von Richthofen, who immediately sets his sights on getting revenge against the man that killed him, but for reasons I never fully comprehended, he ends up spending more time taunting and trying to finish off grandson Jimmy. His first official order of business is to put Grandpa back into the hospital after causing him to have another heart attack and then moving on to kill Jimmy’s dad by knocking a bugzapper into the swimming pool so that Jimmy will be blamed.

It just dawned on me how much cooler the movie Stealth would have been if, instead of lightning causing the experimental fighter plane to go haywire, it instead became possessed by the spirit of the Red Baron.

Also, I’d swear I’ve heard the score for this movie playing inside of a Showbiz Pizza Palace when I was ten years old.

Getting back to the Baron, he really is quite the cinematic creation. The action figure seated in the cockpit doesn’t look a thing like the puppet head with moving mouth and eyes used in the close-ups, which looks like a preschool toy based on the Red Baron; the Red Baron pizza spokesman, not the historical Red Baron. His voice sounds like a Saturday morning cartoon version of Uwe Boll, and the steady stream of groan-inducing one-liners coming out of his plastic mouth were written by comedian Michael McDonald, who still managed to go on to have a career working on “Mad TV” despite writing this dubious film.

Let’s sample a few of these wit-free quips.

“Your son’s behavior is shocking.” – Just before causing Jimmy’s dad to get electrocuted.

“Why are you so upset? I just saved you a $1.50 on your next Father’s Day card.” – To Jimmy just after killing his father.

“You turn my world upside down.” – After mom knocks the plane over.

“The ladies always flip for me.” – After causing a car Jimmy’s mom was driving to crash, flipping over.

“Beauty is in the gun sights of the beholder.” – Just before trying to gun someone down.

“The price of gas just burns me up.” – Just before dropping a match in a pool of gasoline at a gas station.

“Like a weenie roast in Dresden.” – After said gas station blows up.

The Baron also somehow manages to arm the gun turrets on his model plane using shotgun ammo from Jimmy’s dad’s gun collection. Which is the bigger question here: that he turned shotgun shells into mini machine gun ammo or that the gun turrets on the toy plane somehow turned real? Before you attempt to digest that question, let me tell you that he also somehow manages to build tiny mustard gas bombs as well.

So Jimmy gets blamed for dad’s death and Grandpa’s heart attack, and while Jimmy is being held for questioning at the police station, the Red Baron takes aim at Jimmy’s mom before flying right into the police station to go after Jimmy again.

The finale has Jimmy, mom, and Grandpa holed up in dad’s house armed with shotguns while the Red Baron buzzes the house. Poor Tobey Maguire is reduced to jumping into the swimming pool and repeatedly ducking underwater while being shot at from above, and then nearly drowned when the Baron shoots the pool cover mechanism in a moment straight out of Ghost in the Machine. Meanwhile, Larraine Newman is forced to exclaim taunts like, “Hey, Baron, your mother made lousy strudel.”

You’re probably wondering how one defeats a bulletproof remote control airplane possessed by the spirit of the Red Baron. The answer: challenge him to a dogfight with the other remote control plane and try to lure him into the power lines. The toy dogfight even devolves into a fantasy sequence of a real aerial dogfight with Tobey in the cockpit fighting the actual Baron, who looks more like the helicopter guy from The Road Warrior than the real Baron. This reenactment scene is worthy of a “Reading Rainbow” segment. If you think that sounds ridiculous then prepare yourself for the ludicrously lame ending featuring one last inexplicable twist in which Mickey Rooney suddenly transforms into a live-action Looney Toons character, a set up for a potential sequel, and no explanation how they explained it all away to the police to get Jimmy off the hook.

Just what sort of film was Revenge of the Red Baron supposed to be anyway? Is it a horror movie? Is it a comedy? Is it a family film? It has elements of all but not enough of any particular one. The plot sounds straight out of a horror film, but the way it plays out – despite how nearly every joke falls flat with a resounding “thud” – is clearly meant to be humorous, and yet it’s often cartoonish nature brings to mind a direct-to-video family film, albeit one with more electrocutions, (bloodless) shooting deaths, and gratuitous obscenities than that genre is used to. Depending on your mood and tolerance for bad films, Revenge of the Red Baron will either prove to be painful to sit through or morbidly amusing just to see how many more boxcars will pile up during this trainwreck; probably a combination of both.

Now if Grandpa Spencer had been killed and his spirit returned in the form of a WWI fighter ace Snoopy doll to fight it out with the Red Baron then this would have been the single greatest movie in the history of cinema. Ah, what might have been…


2 out of 5

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Jon Condit

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