Color, 1995, 86 mins. 34 secs.
Directed by Norman Apstein
Starring Clint Howard, Justin Isfeld, Anndi McAfee, JoJo Adams, Mikey LeBeau, Sandahl Bergman, Andrea Evans, Olivia Hussey, David Naughton, Jan-Michael Vincent, David Warner
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

One Ice Cream Manof the many shot-on-film Ice Cream Manhorror movies basically dumped straight to video during the dark days of the mid-‘90s, this tongue-in-cheek slasher film with a bizarre cast of guest stars is the kind of mind-melting experience best encountered late night with as many other people in the room as possible. Famous as both the sole legit horror outing for director Norman Apstein (a.k.a. adult filmmaker Paul Norman, former husband of Tori Welles) and the source of a misfired crowdfunding campaign for a sequel, it’s a title that has suffered badly on home video for decades due to a mediocre video transfer. However, the release from Vinegar Syndrome manages to resuscitate the film’s good qualities and reveals it to be quite stylish and colorful, qualities that make it easier to appreciate the deliberate absurdity in both the film itself and the gleeful, guttural lead performance by Clint Howard (who, bizarrely, had a small role in his brother Ron’s Apollo 13 the same year, one of their many collaborations over the years).

Years after witnessing the shocking drive-by slaughter of his favorite ice cream man (also a covert coke dealer) and growing up in an institution, Gregory (Howard) takes up the mantle of delivering ice cream to the neighborhood (in a truck billing himself as the Ice Cream Prince) for all the Ice Cream Mangood little kids out there. Problem is, some of the children turn out to be not as well-behaved as they’d hoped and end up being sliced and diced in the truck along with an Ice Cream Manassortment of pets and random adults. It’s also the kind of neighborhood where you can have David Naughton and Sandhal Bergman as the parents of a portly tyke named Tuna (whose padded appearance is unlike anything else you’ve ever seen), not to mention David Warner as the holy roller father of the film’s sort-of final girl, Heather (McAfee). Soon pieces of the dead are being used as the most macabre ice cream mix-ins imaginable, with a completely unhinged Gregory finally going on a bloody rampage.

If that doesn’t sound astonishing enough, the main cop on the case here is none other than Jan-Michael Vincent and Lee Majors II, while Olivia Hussey slaps on some goofy old lady glasses to play Gregory’s busybody former nurse. On top of that you get tons of practical latex effects that don’t always convince but do provide chuckles, including multiple severed heads that Clint turns into comedic theatrical props. Needless to say, you know there won’t be a dull moment in a horror movie starring Clint, as anyone who’s seen Evilspeak or Ticks can attest. He really pulls out all the stops here, popping out one-liners Ice Cream Manand chomping down scenery left and right in what’s clearly designed as a potential slasher Ice Cream Manfranchise.

Ice Cream Man was first dumped into VHS in 1997 by A-Pix Entertainment with a transfer as cruddy as the rest of their output, with the two later DVD editions of Allumination and Mill Creek faring only slightly better simply due to an increase in resolution (with options paired up with the likes of Killer Tongue and Jack Frost 2). The 2017 Black Friday dual-format edition released on Blu-ray and DVD by Vinegar Syndrome looks so much better it's almost absurd; anyone who wrote the film off as a cheap DTV project will be shocked at how slick and impressive it looks here, which goes a long way to balancing out the film's bizarre tonal swerves between pathos, sick comedy, and slasher horror. As usual, the DTS-HD MA English 2.0 stereo track sounds great; optional English SDH subtitles are provided. This version is also a bit longer than the prior VHS and DVD releases, which clocked in at 83m46s.

Anyone who stumbled on this film as part of Joe Bob Briggs' much-loved MonsterVision movie series on TNT will get a nice treat here as the film can be played with its original hosted Summer School segments (apart Ice Cream Manfrom some interstitial bits that were prohibited here by copyright issues) with Howard himself popping by to join in the fun and talk about how to make fake ice cream for the Ice Cream Manmovies; this version runs 119m54s. Apstein chimes in with a new audio commentary track, pointing out some of the locations in his own neighborhood and even his home while also covering the movie "magic" involved in making Tuna look fat (spoiler: it's a pillow under his shirt) and handling the topic of kids being harmed without depicting it on film (though he regrets some dialogue choices that ended up having some unintended connotations). After that Howard turns up for "What's the Scoop?" (19m49s), explaining the odd tactic of trying to do a gory horror film and a light kids' movie at the same time and the extreme method he took to get his voice so gravely for the role, while Apstein appears for a separate video interview (15m1s) about how the film came about through an ill-advised call for scripts and how it had no audience at the time since it was intended for a younger audience than could actually see it, as well as revealing what he thinks is the one significant failing of the film. Then producer David Goldstein gets his own featurette (7m33s) covering his career (including The Erotic Adventures of the Three Musketeers) and the "total disaster" of this film due to a major financial miscalculation. (Weirdly, he can't seem to remember the names of any of the big actors in the film!) Finally a still gallery offers a great batch of production shots from Howard's own collection, including lots of great snaps of the film's unique take on how to fill up a waffle cone.

Reviewed on November 24, 2017.