Director – Hope Perello, Screenplay – Brent Friedman, Mark Goldstein & Greg Suddeth, Based on an Idea by/Producer – Peter Von Sholly, Photography – Karen Grossman, Music – Reg Powell, Visual Effects Supervisor – Paul Gentry, Transformation Effects – DHD Postimage, Special Effects Supervisor – John Cazin, Crea’ture Effects – Mark Rappaport, Makeup Effects – AlchemyFX (Supervisor – Michael S. Deak), Production Design – Milo. Production Company – Moonbeam Entertainment
Leigh Ann Orsi (Dena Yeagher), Spencer Vroo’man (Mike Powers), David Wagner (Charlie Yeagher), Terry Kiser (Joe Yeagher), Joanne Baron (Marilyn Yeagher), Jeff Michalski (Mr Zimm), Jane Morris (Mrs Zimm), Cody Burger (Nicky), Sabrina Wiener (Alexis), Leonardo Vincent Surdo (Curly), Nino Surdo (Babe), Shashawnee Hall (Marshall Dave)
A UFO lands in Cactus Flats, Arizona and the strangely attired Mr and Mrs Zimm appear and purchase a pet shop. Meanwhile, plumber Joe Yeagher is moved to Cactus Flats on a Federal Witness Protection program along with his family, all the while hotly pursued by Mafia thugs who want to eliminate him. Joe’s youngest daughter Dena wants a puppy but is told that she cannot have one. She then comes across the pet shop and the Zimms give her a puppy. She is delighted but then discovers that the puppy is in fact a shapechanging alien creature. Several other children in the town also discover that the pets they have been given are alien creatures. When they return to the shop, they learn that the Zimms are alien zoo collectors who, according to laws of interstellar commerce, must distribute a number of pets equal to the ones they take – and that in return the Zimms are now planning to make the children part of their collection.
Pet Shop was one of the cheap children’s films that were made during the 1990s by the Moonbeam Productions label, run by father and son producing team Albert and Charles Band. The Bands were responsible for a great many cheap and occasionally enterprising horror films under their various Empire and Full Moon Productions labels, including the Ghoulies, Trancers and Puppetmaster series. During its brief tenure, Moonbeam was dedicated to the production of cut-price direct-to-video children’s films. These included Prehysteria! (1993), Leapin’ Leprechauns! (1995), the quite good Dragonworld (1994), the lunatic Magic in the Mirror (1996) and sequels to all of these.
Most of Moonbeam’s productions fall to a quick formula. Pet Shop has almost an identical plot to the Prehysteria films – children find a group of small creatures, a plot centred around keeping the creatures hidden from adults with much slapstick silliness involved in doing so with the creatures eventually becoming a fulcrum for solving everybody’s problems. The unfortunate thing about most of these Moonbeam productions is their reliance on the puppet effects of Mark Rappaport. Without a doubt, Rappaport’s puppet effects here are the worst effects to grace any knockoff of E.T.– The Extra-Terrestrial (1982). The puppets are stiff and immobile – the only movement they appear to have is being rocked back and forth on wires. The would-be slapstick scenes with these motionless puppets fooling about on the kitchen bench, knocking eggs over, skidding on a rolling pin and scattering pet food must count as some of the most pathetic effects scenes ever committed to film in the 1990s. They are accompanied by silly cartoon sound effects that make the scenes even more excruciating.
Pet Shop is directed with a sappy, self-congratulatory sense of humour and a deliberate inanity that strongly telegraphs the filmmakers lack of conviction in the subject matter. The Zimms are played as awful parodies of cowboys with outrageous drawls and incredibly unconvincing wigs and mustaches. The single part that does work for the film is the plaintively nice performance from Leigh Ann Orsi as the lead kid.
(Winner for Worst Film at this site’s Worst of 1995 Awards).