There is an old Hollywood adage attributed to W. C. Fields (although probably not originating from him) that states, “Never work with children or animals.” When at their best, children and animals command the spotlight and steal scenes from the rest of the cast. When at their worst, they are unpredictable creatures that don’t behave as intended or don’t perform at all. To go one step further, if you do find it necessary to work with children, make sure they are not the director’s kids. I imagine everyone involved in the production of Kiss Daddy Goodbye wishes someone had offered them this sage advice.
Fabian Forte (yes, 50s/60s teen heartthrob Fabian) plays Tom Blanchard, the newly appointed deputy of the tiny beachfront community of San Juan County. Although Fabian is billed as the star of Kiss Daddy Goodbye, Deputy Blanchard does little more than drive back and forth along the coastal highway in his Ford Bronco police cruiser. Likewise, Marilyn Burns, best known for her iconic performance and iconic screaming in the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), is given little to do. She spends most of the movie hanging out in Deputy Blanchard’s office and, later, Deputy Blanchard’s bed. Burns plays social worker, Nora Dennis. Between car trouble and the children rarely being home when she does call, Miss Dennis’ role is limited almost entirely to being “very worried”.
The real stars of the film, and I use that term loosely, are director Patrick Regan’s children, Nell Regan and Patrick Regan III. Nell and Patrick play siblings Beth and Michael Nicholas. Beth and Michael are being raised and home-schooled by their father, Dr. Guy Nicholas (Will Rand), at their remote house tucked away in the hills alongside the highway. The reason for the isolation is that Dr. Nicholas fears that strangers will carry off the children and, as he warns them, “stick needles in [their] heads”. Beth and Michael were born with telekinesis and telepathy, traits inherited from their deceased mother. Dr. Nicholas believes that the authorities will take the children away to experiment on them if their abilities are made known. So, in an early scene at the local general store, when Michael telepathically retrieves a Frisbee and Beth uses her mind to unlock the car doors, Daddy is not happy. He sternly reminds them that they must never let anyone see their powers.
When at home and away from prying eyes, Daddy’s attitude regarding Beth and Michael’s use of their abilities is less clear-cut. When Beth moves a chess piece telekinetically, he reminds her to use her hands so she doesn’t forget in front of Miss Dennis. Conversely, he insists the children use their ‘silent speak’ as much as possible to keep in practice. ‘Silent speak’ is the term they use for the siblings’ ability to communicate with each other telepathically. Daddy is also perfectly content to let them use their telekinesis for mundane chores like putting the kettle on or putting away the groceries.
If this all sounds kind of dull, it is. But things are about to take a weird turn. A quartet of unsavory bikers discovers the Nicholas residence and decides to avail themselves of the family hot tub. While the kids watch from a window, Daddy goes out to banish the hoodlums from the property. The bikers, however, are sweaty, in need of a bath, and not inclined to leave. Dr. Nicholas is the one to escalate things by pulling a gun but the bikers easily disarm him, rough him up a bit, and then stab him. Daddy should have called on the authorities for assistance. It’s not like Deputy Blanchard was doing anything anyway. Beth and Michael witness their father overpowered and in distress but decide not to use their powers to help him because “Daddy said never to ever again in front of people.” Isn’t that just like a kid to start following the rules at the most inopportune moment? The bikers finish off Dr. Nicholas with three shots from his own gun and clear out.
Beth and Michael now find themselves in a predicament. They are oddly unemotional over the death of their father but realize there is no one to care for them. Daddy has so ingrained a fear of the outside world into the children that they do not think contacting anyone for help is an option. They decide on the only logical solution. Using a book they just happen to have in the house, they bring Daddy back from the dead as a zombie. How a movie about psychic abilities suddenly turned into a movie about raising the dead via some kind of voodoo ritual is far from clear. There is some indication that Daddy may not actually be a zombie but rather an inanimate puppet being physically controlled by the children. At one point, Michael tells Beth that he needs her help directing Daddy’s actions. But that doesn’t explain the ritual or the symbols they paint on one side of Daddy’s face. It also doesn’t explain Daddy’s ability to act very independently from the children at a considerable distance even while both Beth and Michael are asleep.
Aside from a few scenes of Fabian and Marilyn Burns doing next to nothing, the focus now shifts to Zombie Daddy. When he’s not driving the kids down to the beach for some fun and sun, he is terrorizing anyone who hurt Beth and Michael, or is a threat to Beth and Michael, or, in one instance, smooshed Beth and Michael’s sandcastle. The kids send Zombie Daddy out to exact his revenge on the bikers. I don’t know how but he manages to find two of them sleeping on the beach. Still wearing his three-piece suit, he burrows under the sand like a gopher to grab one of the bikers from below. When the second biker just stands nearby screaming, Zombie Daddy goes back under the sand so he can burrow over to her and attack her from below as well. Then he pulls himself from the sand with hardly a wrinkle on his suit, gets in his car, and drives home. It’s nice that he tries to keep things interesting even in death.
We here at Maniacs and Monsters enjoy a good, bad horror film and Kiss Daddy Goodbye certainly fits the bill. The kids may be the worst actors you will ever see. In many scenes, both children stand perfectly still and stare straight ahead. Nell barely moves her lips when she talks. Patrick will often not talk at all for entire scenes, instead choosing to nod or shake his head in an exaggerated fashion. But, perhaps, I am being a little hard on the kids. The direction is at least partly responsible. None of the other actors fare well either. The dialogue and story, which took four people to write, also do not help. Beth and Michael’s ability to ‘silent speak’ never has any bearing on the plot and just creates moments in the film when the children silently stare at each other. This may even be why Patrick tends to nod instead of talk. Maybe he forgot he is supposed to speak in some scenes. Beth will often respond, I think I counted five times, by simply whining, “Michael!” That said, Beth does have my favourite line of dialogue. When Michael states that he does not find having a zombie father spooky, she responds, “That’s ‘cause you did it. You’re bizarre.”
Kiss Daddy Goodbye (1981) Directed by Patrick Regan; Written by Patrick Regan, Alain Silver, Ronald Abrams & Mary Stewart; Starring Fabian, Marilyn Burns, Will Rand, Nell Regan, & Patrick Regan III; Surprisingly, not available on DVD or Blu-Ray at the moment although it was released on DVD in 2006 by SRS Cinema.
This is my contribution to the So Bad It’s Good Blogathon. The rotting corpse that is my partner on this site has dragged himself from the grave to also contribute an article for the blogathon here. Please check out some of the other contributors by clicking on the image below. Our thanks to Rebecca of Taking Up Room for allowing us to drag these cinematic nightmares back into the light.