Ice Cream Man (1995)

The first part of the 1990s was questionable when it came to horror.  Part of the problem was that the franchises from the 1980s had run out of steam.  Another was, as much as I like many of them, a tendency for horror films to go direct-to-video.  When a studio doesn't have to try hard to get something out there, just making any sort of movie and concentrating on the box art to get stoned college kids to watch, the quality is going to drop.  Because slashers were no longer a thing and viewership had changed many studios didn't know what to do with horror.  There were successes here and there, but many of the beloved horror films of the early 1990s fall more in the category of suspense films that have some horror elements in them.

Norman Apstein, aka Paul Norman, certainly had no idea what he was doing with the subject matter when he made Ice Cream Man.  A porn director by trade, this was his only mainstream film, and it happened to be co-written by David Dobkin, who would go on to direct some of the better comedies of the decade.  Dobkin originally wanted to direct it himself, but decisions were made, and Ice Cream Man, for better or worse, was the result. 

Gregory Tudor (Clint Howard) enjoys delivering ice cream to the neighborhood.  Problem is in the 1960s he was traumatized when the original Ice Cream King (Cole S. McKay) was gunned down in front of Gregory and a number of children due to selling drugs out of his truck.  This led to Gregory spending time in the Wishing Well Institution, where he was constantly drugged and forced to be happy.  Supposedly cured, he lives in the old ice cream shop, renting it from Nurse Wharton (Olivia Hussey), his former caretaker. 

Of course Gregory is not cured.  He cruises the streets at night looking for "ingredients" for his ice cream, which include animal and human parts.  When a local kid goes missing two detectives (Lee Majors II and Jan-Michael Vincent) start asking questions, and a local group of kids that call themselves the Rocketeers - Heather (Anndi McAfee), Johnny (Justin Isfeld) and Tuna (JoJo Adams) - start looking into Gregory themselves when Tuna witnesses the ice cream man kidnaping their friend Small Paul (Mikey LeBeau).  The ice cream man himself, however, is also looking into them, hoping to make them into the next special flavor. 

Clint Howard is the main reason to watch this.  He is well aware of what kind of movie he is making, but that doesn't stop him from giving his all.  Frequently hunched and talking to people that aren't there Gregory is a menacing, if comic, figure.  The child actors, meant to lend a Spielbergian touch to the movie, aren't terrible.  The parents did what they could to go over hours and get more money and attention, but the only one that came out with a lasting career was Anndi McAfee, who is a successful voiceover artist. 

One of the weirdest things about Ice Cream Man was the casting.  Producer David Epstein did what he could to hire a number of famous actors for one or two days, resulting in David Warner as Heather's father, who is a stigmata-displaying preacher who thinks the archangel Gabriel speaks through his wife.  Olivia Hussey's character is supposed to be much older than she is, but it appears all they did to make that apparent was glasses and a shawl.  Meanwhile, there are bit parts played by Sandahl Bergman, baseball player Steve Garvey, David Naughton and even a cameo from Doug Llewelyn whowas the original host of The People's Court.  Jan-Michael Vincent, of course, was drunk throughout filming, leading to a chase through the asylum that results in him getting lost - for real, not in the script - and barely keeping his balance as he stumbles to the car. 

Because of needing to get what he paid for Epstein made sure lines and situations were made up for many of the name actors, with the result being that Ice Cream Man ended up being a strange and disjointed film.  I was almost expecting a reveal at the end that the whole suburb was made up of Wishing Well alumni, but that didn't happen.  Instead, we do get a fun chase through the ice cream shop at the end, as well as Clint Howard playing with some comically large prop heads.

Ice Cream Man did not do well in theaters, although Howard's performance has gained it a bit of a deserved cult status over the years.  It is another one of those films that one can't say is good; it is one of the most incompetent films I've seen.  The sheer strangeness about it gives me the confidence to recommend it to people who enjoy that type of movie.  If anything, Howard's performance will entertain if nothing else.

Ice Cream Man (1995)
Time: 86 minutes
Starring: Clint Howard, Justin Isfel, Anndi McAfee, JoJo Adams, Mikey LeBeau
Director: Norman Apstein



  1. I've seen the Rifftrax of it a bunch of times since it came out in 2018. I wrote a blog entry once about some of the things it brings up that really have no payoff like the preacher's wife speaking in tongues or the whole "Rocketeers" thing. And how silly was it that they made the kid playing Tuna stuff a pillow down his shirt the whole movie just so at the end they could vaguely acknowledge he lost weight?

    I'll admit though I always have to turn away when it gets to that part with the eye in the ice cream. Ick.


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