The Rocketeers decide to rescue their fellow club member Little Paul from the Ice Cream Man.
Ice Cream Man is a low budget horror film about a crazed man named Gregory Tudor (Clint Howard) who as a child witnessed the mafia style murder of the local ice cream vendor. Eventually the trauma of the incident sent Gregory over the edge of insanity, and he spent a number of years as a patient in a mental hospital where he underwent various types of lobotomies and other strange procedures designed to make him have a “happy, happy life.” Of course, this treatment ended up making Gregory even crazier, and upon his release from the hospital into the care of his long time nurse (Olivia Hussey) who has now retired, he is determined to follow in the footsteps of the Ice Cream King, the man he saw murdered. But Gregory has a different agenda than just making and selling ice cream — he catches and kills people or critters he doesn’t like and, you guessed it — mixes them into his ice cream. We then are introduced to a group of kids living in the southern California town where this film is set, who naturally love ice cream a lot, and can’t wait for the daily arrival of the ice cream truck. These kids include “The Rocketeers”, the local “in crowd” comprised of “Tuna” (JoJo Adams), Johnny (Justin Isfield), Small Paul (Mikey LeBeau), Heather (Anndi McAfree) and a Rocketeer wannabe Roger Smith (Zachary Benjamin). As seems to be the typical plot device in films like this, all of the Rocketeer’s parents have their own problems which prevent them from paying much attention to their kids when things begin to get strange in town. Heather’s dad (David Warner) is a minister whose wife has apocalyptic visions: “Come quickly! The archangel Gabriel’s speaking through your mother again!” Tuna’s dad (David Naughton) is having a torrid affair with a local hooker and trying to keep it a secret, and Johnny’s dad (Steve Garvey) is a milksop personality who can’t even keep order at the dinner table when Johnny’s older brother Jacob (Karl Makinen) makes fun of Tuna and the Rocketeers.
Little Paul is fascinated by the tale of the Pied Piper.
The story begins in earnest when Roger disappears and the news shocks the town. But there don’t seem to be any immediate suspects, and in one of the more ironic and sardonic moments in the film, the police, led by Detectives Gifford (Jan-Michael Vincent) and Maldwyn (Lee Majors II) ask Gregory to keep an eye out for suspicious characters, because he sees kids all over town. Gregory offers them each a free ice cream, and you see him sticking a portion of an eyeball into the policeman’s rocky road. Then one of the Rocketeers, Little Paul, disappears. Tuna is suspicious of the ice cream man, and decides to stake out the ice cream factory. He doesn’t find Little Paul, but he does find Roger, who has been hiding terrified in the bushes for the past 24 hours, afraid to return home because the ice cream man told him he would kill him if he told anyone about what he has seen. The ice cream man does hear Tuna snooping around, and although he escapes, he is warned to be silent because, “I know where you live!”, and later he does leave a particularly repugnant warning on Tuna’s doorstep. With the return of Roger, the police are finally galvanized into action and search and destroy much of the ice cream factory, looking for Little Paul, but completely miss the little store room where he is actually stashed away. With the police off the scent, the Rocketeers vow to continue pursuing the ice cream man until they find Little Paul. The balance of the film is devoted to these chases, the reinvolvement of the police and other characters until the final and predictable denouement.
Roger is attracted by the Ice Cream Man and his truck.
The main problem with Ice Cream Man is it never decides whether it is going to be a true horror film or a campy satire of horror films. Certainly some of the dialogue qualifies as camp, as in the scene where Gregory grabs Tuna from his bicycle, lifts him into the ice cream truck, and dumps him into the freezer with the classic line, “You’re ice cream!” And every time we find something out about Gregory’s past there are all of these nauseating references about how every day should be “happy, happy, happy” as the doctor in the mental hospital performs some absurd procedure. If these scenes were intercut with some of the gross and evil things Gregory ends up doing, you would get more of an emotional impact, but the film never succeeds in building much suspense. Gregory’s methods for making ice cream provide us with some shocking and grotesque moments as we watch him grind up a dog paw into the mixture, or strain out inedible body parts, and the partially melted, bug-infested ice cream that Gregory serves from his truck will make you think twice before you buy from a street vendor again, but these few moments are not enough to scare you for very long. Much of this indecisiveness has to do with the way that Gregory’s character is portrayed. On the one hand he is seen as a pathetic, mentally impaired, almost child-like person who really isn’t out to hurt kids and wants to reach out to them. Then he becomes this crazed serial killer with super human strength who can kill in one blow, decapitate his victims, play with their heads, and grind up body parts into batches of ice cream. For suspense to work in this type of film, things have to be believable, and as the story unfolds, there are too many illogical twists and turns for the story line to have much credibility. Initially, a Pied Piper theme was introduced into the story line, but it never was properly developed. Too bad, because it could have been a clever device to build suspense. The only actors who show some emotion are Clint Howard and the kids; clearly the adult actors are sensing a bomb and sleepwalk through their roles on the way to a paycheck.
Tuna hides under a grocery store display to escape from the Ice Cream Man.
Hey, Ice Cream Man, I asked for macaroon, not maroon.
One of the few redeeming features of Ice Cream Man, are the many good Chuck Taylor shots seen throughout the film. In fact, one of the actors on the project, Zachary Benjamin, has stated that during the filming of Ice Cream Man, all actors were directed to wear Converse shoes by the producers and director, Norman Apstein, and told that Converse was sponsoring the movie. You would have to wonder what possible marketing strategy Converse was pursuing to sponsor such a project, but an underlying Chuck Taylor theme of some sort is very evident to the viewer. If the Converse company put money into this flick for product placement, they certainly got their money’s worth, because nearly all of the main characters are wearing Chuck Taylor high tops. This list includes Gregory as a kid and adult (black), Roger (black), Tuna (both maroon and white), Little Paul (red), Heather (black), and Jacob’s girl friend (black platform). Since this is a horror film, however, clearly the best chucks scenes have to be the grossest and most shocking ones. The first one is when Tuna leaves his maroon high tops on the front porch overnight. When he comes out in the morning to put them back on, he finds that the ice cream man has left a bizarre calling card — Little Paul’s Pied Piper book and his chucks covered with maggoty ice cream. Another scene shows a body being made into ice cream, and all you see of it is a black high top gradually twisting into the mixture.
I asked for chunky, not chuck-y chocolate.
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