The Gingerdead Man
Directed by Charles Band
Starring Gary Busey
R, 75 mins
For those of you looking for some whimsy in your horror, you may be tempted by 2005’s Gingerdead Man, which boasts a 60% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an impressively kitschy cover image. This has the potential to be the B-movie supreme, which could take Silent Night, Deadly Night 2’s infamous “Garbage Day” scene out to the curb. “Seventy-five minutes,” you say. “Low-risk, high-reward: that’s value!”
But take it from me, a single-tour Gingerdead Man veteran: you will never get those seventy-five minutes back.
To be fair, the movie’s opening has promise. Millard Findlemeyer (Gary Busey) is in the midst of robbing a small diner, and within minutes has murdered three people for no apparent reason. The killer expresses mommy anxiety, then hesitates before shooting our heroine Sarah Leigh (get it?) and running away. Gary Busey is then caught, executed, and seeks revenge in the afterlife, in a plot reminiscent of son Jake Busey’s The Frighteners.
An ambiguous amount of time has passed, and Sarah (whose testimony nailed Findlemeyer), takes receipt of “Grandma’s Gingerbread Seasoning” at her family’s bakery. Sarah’s friend Brick, a lanky boy oddly reminiscent of both Christian Bale and Matthew McConaughey, cuts his hand and bleeds into the seasoning. To me, this is the most horrific part of the movie, and a good health inspector could’ve kept this from crystallizing into a baked goods murder spree.
Since this is a slasher flick, let’s review the potential dead people:
- Sarah Leigh: a hard-working pragmatist who’s trying her Texan best to keep the family bakery afloat, despite the double murders of her dad and beloved older brother.
- Betty Leigh: driven to alcoholism by the same murder, Betty is a shotgun-totin’ small-business owner under pressure from the nearby chain restaurant.
- Brick Fields: an amateur wrestler who’s charmingly dubbed himself the Butcher Baker. He’s got a crush on Sarah, but has taken multiple rejections well.
- Julia: another employee of Betty’s Bakery, Julia is a capable cake decorator and friend to Sarah who seems as invested in keeping the place afloat as the rest of the gang.
- Jimmy Dean: the guy we’re supposed to hate. He wants to buy out Betty’s and promote his own restaurant.
- Lorna Dean: the gal we’re supposed to hate, and Jimmy’s daughter. I actually laughed out loud at dad’s proud declaration: “Did I tell you she was just named Miss Pretty Face of Waco?”
- Amos: Lorna’s boytoy, the town rebel who is nevertheless sweet to everyone he comes in contact with.
This is the confusing part of The Gingerdead Man: this set-up isn’t bad. We’ve got a cool setting, a problem that’s still relatable eleven years on, and all jokes aside, I like Sarah Leigh enough to root for her. Horror movies have done worse by me, especially in the first fifteen minutes.
The badness starts when a tiny baby hand appears in the gingerbread dough: a harbinger of the cartoonish evil and frankly terrible baking that will haunt the remainder of this movie. Sarah pops a tray of gingerbread men into the oven—we see a gross puppet face taking form for a moment—before finding Lorna engaging in some ham-fisted industrial espionage. Looks like that health code violation might be happening after all! Sarah pies Lorna in the face and the two duel by pulling hair and throwing bread loaves at each other; the fight results in a power outage/surge that brings the gingerbread man to life.
The titular gingerdead man is clearly a hand puppet who suffers from immobility and uncreative camera angles that barely bring him to life. Credit should go to the mostly-unknown human cast, all of whom try their best to interact with this indelible (but not inedible) little monster. Although The Gingerdead Man is billed as a comic horror, its funny bits rely on the preposterous premise and physical effects. I’m always genuinely pleased to see a director lean away from strict CGI, but even at the peak of the cookie mayhem, you only ever see the puppet from two angles.
Busey’s lines are never funny enough to be cute or clever, like cartoon Joker without the self-awareness. It’s a shame, since the characters in this movie are likeable, and the relationships feel genuine. Then, all of a sudden, a puppet cookie squeaks, “How ‘bout a facial?” and cuts Miss Pretty Face’s face.
What’s saddest about The Gingerdead Man is a true sense of potential: the movie could’ve easily swerved into either of two horror modes. One one hand, we could have explored the true spookiness of a very serious setting mixed with the surreality of a children’s item (a la Magic or Child’s Play). The box-chain takeover of mom-and-pop shops is a theme that still resonates, and the writers seemed committed to making easily relatable characters. On the other, we could’ve had a pun-filled, catchphrase-laden monster extravaganza, in the style of Hobgoblins and Army of Darkness. The sequels, subtitled Passion of the Crust and Saturday Night Cleaver, imply that some groan-worthy laughs were in place, but the internal dialogue (and the gross unlikeability of the antagonist, who at one point simply screams “Whore!” as an insult) just didn’t get there.
Bottom line: The Gingerdead Man‘s horror isn’t scary, and the humor isn’t worth it. Sure, you get to see a cookie drive a car, but even that comic effect is muted when that’s all he does. Take a pass, and maybe save your curiosity for The Gingerdead Man Vs. Evil Bong, unbelievably set in the same canon.
Rejected Pun Subtitles for This Piece
- More Like The Gingerdead FAN
- The Iced Man Cometh
- Get Busey Living or Get Busey Dying