The original Banana Splits show from the late 60’s isn’t exactly something you would assume would get a horror movie remake. It’s a psychedelic send-up of shows like The Monkees from that time using goofy costumes from the same people that would late go on to make. I only knew about it because of early Cartoon Network reruns of it that they would air but seeing them turn that into a hard R rated horror film was something that I absolutely couldn’t miss.
In the movie, the Banana Splits are still on the air and going strong (instead of cancelled in 1970 like the actual show). Instead of actors in a suits, however, these Banana Splits are giant robots with sophisticated AI that some mad genius made in a back lot somewhere. When the new VP of programming decides he is going to cancel the show so he can put something darker and edgier on; the Banana Splits programming saying that “THE SHOW MUST GO ON” is activated and apparently that means murder people. Also a family is taking their kid who loves the show to a taping for his birthday. That’s kind of the framing that goes around the goofy robot murders.
Right away, the plot of a bunch of animatronic animal robots glitching out and murdering people brings to mind Five Nights at Freddy’s, the video game about animatronic animal restaurant mascots glitching out and murdering people. The cynical part of me wants to assume that they originally wanted to make a Freddy’s movie but couldn’t get the rights and The Banana Splits were cheap as hell to get. However, instead of relying on jump scares of spooky robots, the movie tends to go more of the plodding, inevitability route for their monsters in the same way as a Jason or Michael Myers would. Instead of it being scary because they are going to jump out and scream; the real uncomfortable horror is the gruesome murder of people while an absolutely ridiculous looking costumed thing laughs in a cartoonish voice.
Speaking of gruesome murder, I appreciate the full reliance on practical effects for just about everything. The make-up and special effects people did a great job bring the bloody deaths of random people to life. Even when the costumes start to get torn or come apart, the underlying robotic hands and faces are still practical and look great. I will say that while most of the on-screen deaths that we get are the standard horror punishment type for bad parents, greedy business people, and so on; the movie didn’t shy away from straight up murdering people that hadn’t really done anything wrong. Breaking that sort of unspoken rule of horror where you don’t kill someone without an excuse was kind of jarring for someone that has those tropes ingrained.
Some of the twists in the movie were interesting and I liked them. Some were kind of weird and stupid. Overall, though, it was definitely a fun movie to watch, even if I think certain aspects could have been tweaked to be more effective. For example, the characters voices probably should have been used more to make it more uncomfortable that the cartoonish puppets are murdering or less often to make them more classic stoic slasher types. That’s just a small nitpick though.
Rating: 4 out of 5