Have you got the summertime blues? Has the heat gotten to you? Well, I’m here with a big bowl of ice cream served up from none other than the Ice Cream Man himself – Clint Howard.
The 90s saw a slew of direct-to-video horrors that seem to feature a lot of gross shit on the cover. I mean look at that ice cream cone Clint Howard is holding on the cover of that VHS box. That’s some seriously gross shit. It also featured lots of… how do I say this nicely… odd… looking… actors. Clint Howard, a man born for b-movies, Larry Drake, who very convincingly played a mentally handicapped man on TV, Warwick Davis as a Leprechaun, but not that he’s weird looking per ce, but he’s a little person, and, in the 90s, that was all it took…
The point is a video store in the 90s was full of strange looking people in horror movies.
This one definitely leaves an impression on me. That box cover was enough for me to kinda wanna pass on it for the sake of my lunch. Also, back when I worked at a video store in the 90s, I still had room to watch “good” movies. It wasn’t until later that my lifetime good movie quota was filled, my jaded cynicism kicked in, and I decided to torture myself to watch bad movies (or at least b-movies). Still, I contend, it’s either this or I become a cutter.
The jury is still out on whether I made the right decision or not.
According to IMDb, the synopsis of Ice Cream Man is as follows: “Poor Gregory. After being released from the Wishing Well Sanatorium, all he wants to do is make the children happy. So Gregory reopens the old ice cream factory, and all the unappreciative brats are reprocessed into the flavor of the day.”
I’m kinda on board here with Gregory’s plan. If those brats aren’t appreciative of some ice cream, then kill ’em!
Actually, I was just advised by my lawyers to not advocate the murder of children no matter how unappreciative they are. I am also advised against giving children candy. Or ice cream. Or generally speaking to them.
Our movie begins in black and white in a peaceful town in the idyllic 1950s. An ice cream man is shockingly and suddenly gunned down by (I guess) mob guys? Young Gregory (who will grow up to be Clint Howard), is in shock because he doesn’t know who will bring the kids ice cream anymore. Jump forward 40 years, and a new ice cream man (now Gregory grown up), is making his rounds. He’s kind of a jerk though because a kid orders an orange push-up, but when the kid tries to take it from Gregory, the jerk keeps pulling it away preventing the kid from being able to take it. When asked what his problem is, Gregory growls, “You didn’t say please…” He also reveals that he has cockroaches in the pistachio ice cream – the flavor of the day.
Three kids who call themselves the “Rocketeers” (a movie I am kind of wishing I was watching instead), race to the park where a nerdy kid is kinda getting lurked upon by a creepy park worker. So this creepy guy tells him about the Pied Piper, which is the book the nerd was reading when the rest of the crew showed up.
Later, the kid who got the Push-Up from Gregory at the beginning is in the park with the creeper. The ice cream truck pulls up and when the kid approaches, Gregory is distracted by the sharp poker the creeper uses to pick up the trash. It causes him to flash back to when he was in the asylum and getting green goo injected into his skull. When he snaps out of it from the kid asking if he’s okay, he says he’s rather happy and traces his fingers over some of his other tools – a hunting knife, a different kind of knife, I think a third knife, and a meat tenderizer.
That night, the Rocketeers all go home and this is when the all-star cast of parents start to show up. The adults featured are David Warner (as the girl Rocketeer’s dad), David Laughton (from American Werewolf in London), Olivia Hussey (from the 1968 Romeo and Juliet), baseball’s Steve Garvey (noted man about town with the ladies), Andrea Evans (of CBS Soap Opera fame), Jan-Michael Vincent (from Airwolf), and a returning B-Movie Enema actress, Sandahl Bergman (who was credited as Muse #1 in Xanadu). Meanwhile, Gregory pulls his truck up to his home, he is barked at by Olivia Hussey’s dog, which he kills. He talks to her and convinces her she didn’t hear her dog cry when he killed him. He ends up grinding up the dog to use in his next flavor of the day.
By the way, if you ever saw 1968’s Romeo and Juliet, yes, Olivia Hussey, even as an “old” nurse, is still hot.
So Nurse Wharton (Hussey) watches after Gregory because, clearly, he isn’t all that well in the head. All the while, you get the impression she’s not so well either. She, at the very least, exceptionally lonely and acts very mousy, but also motherly to Gregory. He gets approached by the police about the missing kid he saw at the park the day before. After satisfying the cops that he didn’t know anything about the missing kid, he serves up a cone with Rocky Road to the police. However, he adds a special ingredient – an eyeball. The “filmmakers” are kind enough to give us a close up of this guy’s mouth while he slides the eyeball around. It’s pretty fucking gross.
The neighborhood’s sultry, slutty woman comes up to the truck to order a “hard pack” and asks if Gregory delivers. Now… Let’s try to sort this out. This lady to the left is the hot, seemingly single, woman of the neighborhood who lounges around in satiny robes and lingerie. Okay, I can follow that. What I struggle with, though, is that she basically offers up her puss to Clint Howard. That should give us all hope, but it also might prove to also end in herpes. Anyway, she’s wanting him to stick his scoop into her bucket of cream (I dunno… I’m still kind of at a loss for words for all this), and even though he does stop by her house where she is waiting for him on the porch, he drives off. I have no idea where this is going, but I don’t wanna go there.
Later, the nerdy kid, who goes by Small Paul, comes across Gregory. They briefly make a connection because Small Paul didn’t have many friends when he was younger because he had to stay inside a lot due to illness. Gregory, well, he was in an insane asylum with clowns and Olivia Hussey and my boner for dream nurse Olivia Hussey. He didn’t make many friends either. However, just as it seems there could be a friend in the world for Gregory, the creeper from the park’s trash poker falls onto the ground in sight of Small Paul. At the end of the poker, is blood. This causes Gregory to need to take Small Paul into the back of the truck. One of Paul’s friends sees Gregory packing him into the truck, and runs away. He does find the missing kid. hiding from the scary Ice Cream Man. He comes home to tell his dad (Laughton) and mom (Muse #1 from Xanadu) that he found the missing kid and saw Gregory take Small Paul away, but they are fighting and is told to shut his fucking face and go to his room. Well, it wasn’t in those words succinctly, but it’s how I would have said it.
Now the kid is being followed by Gregory and basically threatened to not say anything to anyone about what he saw. If I saw this as a nine year kid, instead of a thirty-nine year old, well, kid, I would have been terrified by this portion of the movie. Everywhere he goes , he’s followed and haunted by this pretty strange looking dude. Even in a crowded grocery store. You’d probably think the other adults in the store would be a little concerned, but this was the mid 1990s, man. Kids were still free to be chased by weirdos in public and in private without a single other person batting an eye. Those were the good old days…
So the kid does get away and tells his mom that it was the “Ice Cream Man” who was chasing him. Jan-Michael Vincent and Other Cop Man come to search the ice cream factory to see if they find the missing kids. The cops go in and start hacking the place up making Gregory very nervous and upset. Now, I’m no cop. I’m not even a lawyer. I’m barely a criminal, but I don’t think cops with a search warrant just go in and start axing up the joint and utterly destroying the property. Then again, it was the 90s and Jan-Michael Vincent likely had no time for this shit because he had to go make more shitty direct-to-video movies. Those were the good old days…
The cops and Gregory (with some help from Nurse Wharton) have a tense standoff. And by that I mean he actually has a couple really good lines. The first is his comment back to Other Cop Man about if they were upset they didn’t find anything and wrecked their place or if they were just upset they didn’t find anything to accuse him of a crime. The other was when they looked at his fake daisy garden, Jan-Michael Vincent asks how he gets them so nice and he says he uses ground up policemen as fertilizer. He does also reveal that Small Paul is still alive and they have another decent scene when he shows off how the cops wrecked his joint. For all the weirdness, and grossness of this shitty, slapped together horror movie, I will say it really isn’t bad. There are some good pieces of dialog, and Clint Howard is pretty great.
There are a few other elements that makes this movie just the right kind of decent to watch. The girl Rocketeer (who grew up real real hot by the by), her dad, David Warner, is a preacher who does some really weird, kinda Evangelical (?) stuff that makes you constantly question what kind of household she’s growing up in. The Rocketeers themselves are kinda Goonie-esque in their plan to topple the Ice Cream Man. That whole dynamic between the Ice Cream Man and Small Paul is fascinating and humanizes Howard’s character. He also has a monologue where he visits the grave of the slain ice cream man from his childhood and brings him ice cream. With the types of movies he’s in, it’s really easy to forget that Clint Howard is a really good actor. You almost root for this insane guy.
The Rocketeers follow the Ice Cream Man to the graveyard where the original ice cream man is and see him do some crazy stuff, then follow him to the neighborhood slut’s house where the girl Rocketeer, Heather, gets into the truck and sneaks about. The kids think she’s still in the truck when the Ice Cream Man leaves, but she was able to escape. She has a roll of film she took with her camera while in the truck. She puts the connection to the Pied Piper in that he lures children with the ice cream and then offs them. We also know that the kids are actually gathering EVIDENCE against the Ice Cream Man. Uh-oh. This movie has intelligence to the plot. You know, like the kids are not just conveniently winning the movie. They are actually, like, doing some due diligence to find evidence that he’s a crazy killer man and shit? Like a good movie would do?
Then this happens…
We find out that Laughton is screwing the neighborhood slut behind his wife’s back – proving a soap opera star does trump a Muse from Xanadu, somehow. Just trust me… The math is there. Anyway, he blocks him in from being able to leave her house, attacks him, and serves up his head in a giant cone for the slut and gives that fucking amazing face we see above. Goddamn I love Clint Howard. She freaks out and he kills her with a pick ax – a common tool of the ice cream man trade.
The kids who took the camera from one of the boys’ older brother are still waiting for the pictures to be processed so they get their evidence. However, the older brother is pissed because there are pictures of him plowing his girlfriend on the roll of film. When the older brother and girlfriend go to get the pictures, she sees the pictures that contains the bloody evidence of the Ice Cream Man’s doings. On top of all that, the cops find out that Nurse Wharton is a little cracked out too having spent the last 20 years of her nursing career in an insane asylum helping the patients there.
At the ice cream factory, Gregory and Small Paul’s friendship is blossoming still. He is showing him how he makes ice cream. I’m not sure if the kid is actually liking Gregory or if there is something up his sleeve, but we get a pretty heavy clue as to what will happen to Gregory at the end when he warns against getting too close to the blade stirring the ice cream mix. My bet is Gregory is going to be chopped up by it.
The cops stop by the insane asylum Nurse Wharton and Gregory were at and find out that he was her favorite patient, and she gave everyone ice cream. Also, the guy running the place seems to be an utter insane man as well. When they investigate further, the inmates are running the asylum itself and the crazies are out and free to roam the building. This leads to a nice long shot of Jan-Michael Vincent walking down a long hallway of crazies. This movie went from a crazy and kinda silly premise about a killer ice cream man, to having great dialog for Clint Howard, to an intelligent plot for the kids actually doing investigative work to find evidence of Gregory’s guilt, to having a really cool, and effective, scene with the cops and the crazies in the mental hospital.
Tuna, the kid who saw Small Paul get abducted, gets scooped up by the Ice Cream Man. The last two kids go to the final boy’s big brother who decides to Dirty Harry the situation and go in stop the Ice Cream Man himself. Unfortunately, he’s killed, and disguised as the older brother, Gregory comes out and kills the girlfriend and chases the final two Rocketeers. All the while, we see that Small Paul is giggling like a crazy person at the horror going on outside. When the kids think they find the cops who were stationed outside the ice cream factory, they discover they were killed. Gregory, playing with the kids, uses their heads as puppets to try to “convince” the kids to not run away from the Ice Cream Man. Which, I must say, was hilarious and pretty amazing.
The kids get to Nurse Wharton’s house, who thinks Gregory is playing hide and seek with the kids. Tuna, who had been locked in the freezer in the truck escapes and is held hostage while the cops come and stage a standoff with Gregory. They get knocked out and Tuna goes into the ice cream factory where Small Paul takes the picture of the old ice cream man and makes Gregory believe he’s there to help him. This lures him to the mixer where he is chopped up – just as I thought he probably would.
Later, the kids are still dealing with the aftermath. They replace Small Paul with the kid from the beginning and reveal that Small Paul is in therapy after all that happened with the Ice Cream Man. He’s last seen making his own ice cream in the loony bin. Call me crazy, but I bet he’ll turn out to be a nutcase too.
This movie feels like it was made in the 80s. It has a lot of the tropes of an 80s horror movie and kinda borrows from several of the big hits of the time – a crazy motherly figure like from Friday the 13th, a comedic killer like from the Nightmare on Elm Street series, a nuthouse like from Halloween, an everyday figure you would see about town who has a much darker side like from Phantasm. It even features something immensely popular in that time too – kid heroes (for reference see The Goonies or Monster Squad).
All in all, it’s a fairly charming movie and far more intelligent than what the box would have led you to believe at the video store. Clint Howard is amazing in general. The kids are not unlikable at all. The gore is appropriate without being overly gross. As mentioned previously, the prop work is pretty awesome. It keeps a brisk pace even if the first 30 minutes or so is crazy packed with short scenes that makes the movie feel longer than it really is. You don’t see kids die either. It would have been easy to take that path to make it more extreme, but only adults get it, and most are actually deserving of it. Only the two cops are undeserving but kinda had it coming by keeping the Ice Cream Man from doing what he is doing.
Frankly, go check it out. It’s on YouTube for free. You could watch much worse. Now, if you excuse me, I need to take a nap and have my appointment with Nurse Olivia Hussey…