Reboots, reimaginings, and remakes have become so much a part of the movie landscape that they are now effectively their own genre of filmmaking. And, like with any genre, after the initial innovation and interest people start working out the form and pine for someone to do something exciting and innovative with it. Well, good news on that front! The people behind The Banana Split movie certainly took that to heart and transformed a beloved 60s kids’ show into a gore-filled slasher flick! Stop complaining, you wanted different and you got it!
The first thing to observe is that the makers have paid due respect to Fleegle, Bingo, Drooper, and Snorky by making it clear from the start that the film isn’t about the real Banana Splits. We all know that everyone’s favourite Hanna-Barbera rock band were flesh and bone, whilst this film is about a bunch of robotic mimics. Why? Well, probably because the Bananas are now about 70 and retired in 1971. Also, because getting that much blood out of their fur would be a real problem. The main thing is that this isn’t sacrilege. Well, not that much.
The setup for the movie is relatively simple; a bunch of people go along to a recording of a Banana Splits show at Taft Studios, and on the same night that the show gets canceled the animatronic Banana Splits go on a killing spree. They kill six people on camera and about a hundred off-camera, and have kidnapped all the kids to put on a nightmare Saw version of their show because “The Fun Never Ends!”. The people who aren’t jerks mostly get out alive, the people who are mostly die, and the meaning of family and love is found amongst the blood and guts. Awwww. There are some other plots going on, but they’re essentially justifications for not feeling bad when you see someone killed in an amusing way. They’re (slightly) bad people, so you’re (possibly) not a bad person for laughing when they get (horribly) mutilated, okay? There’s also a plot about the main family, but you can see it a mile off and it just soaks up time between the start of the movie and the first random act of “justice”. Everyone else is just a mean-spirited slaughter, and you need to be honest about what makes you chuckle.
The kills themselves are relatively entertaining (I’ll dispense of the fig-leaf of morality and just assume you’re a sick bastard who laughs at these transgressive acts as much as I do), all be not starting ’til 35 minutes in and being pretty brief. Whilst they let the blood flow free and have moments of impressive makeup effects, they are all pretty short and direct affairs. A supercut of them wouldn’t hit 5 minutes, which is way below what an 80-minute slasher flick needs. Even the revenge deaths are quick 10-second snippets, and whilst the moments in between try hard to be creepy as all heck there is too much signposting of tension to really get you sucked in. Also, you just feel that the kids are never in any danger, which doesn’t help build up any sense of tension or threat for their scenes.
This, and its uncinematic pacing, all points in one direction: the Syfy channel wanting something it could put on TV, rather than the full horror frenzy it could have easily been tweaked into. An understandable call, but an annoying one. However, it does mean that they can’t just throw the claret around and call it a day, so there are a surprisingly large number of strong moments that a harder 18 approach may have precluded. The family element really kicks in at the midway point, and the grand finale has one of the most “Go-On-My-Sister!” action-mom moments I’ve seen this side of Aliens. Dani Kind; my hat goes off to you! The rest of the cast also go very good jobs with very bad scripts, with everyone being believable whilst generic, and everyone screams when needed.
The robotic Banana Splits themselves look great and pull of menacing in a vital manner. The red eyes are weak signposting, but if you ignore that they’re easily the best killbots of the last five years. In real life, they’re all +6-foot-tall and otherworldly as it is, so a touch of mood lighting and removal of their usual banter makes them edgy by default. Add on the corruption of their normal behaviour and it’s an easy slip into Scary Town.
Overall the film manages to land a solid win by the pure power of twisting the original nature of the show. Were it tried with a generic kids show it wouldn’t even make it to the bargain bin, but by the Splits giving their name to it the parody angle kicks in. That does mean that you need to be at least partly aware of and attached to the original show to “get” it, otherwise you’ll probably find it all a bit tepid thanks to the “made for TV” aspect. Yes, they tried something different, but they could have committed to that difference more rather than playing safe with an edgy idea. Fingers crossed, someone will eventually just do the Five Nights At Freddy’s movie to really show how it can be done. Still, it was enough of a treasure to watch and laugh along to with the family on Christmas Day.