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Mad Props

By Josiah Teal | February 27, 2024

Calling Mad Props a “nostalgia-fueled documentary” would be a complete understatement. The Juan Pablo Reinoso film takes viewers deep into the most expansive collections of movie props housed by the world’s most prominent collectors, curators, and prop builders. It’s a film where you will see massive Xenomorphs sitting next to screen-used X-Men costumes, in the same case as Blade’s sword and a life-sized Gremlin in the center of the display; “nostalgia-fueled” doesn’t even come close to describing it. Beyond looking into the sprawling movie collections, host and prop collector Tom Biolchini hopes to ask, “Are movie props art?” Seeking answers and admiring collections, Mad Props is a globe-trotting journey into movies and props that make them possible.

The first half of Mad Props is collector-centric. Tom opens by showing off his collection and begins the trek to find fellow collectors. Reinoso uses well-placed archival footage from classic films such as Star WarsBack to the FutureAliens, and Raiders of the Lost Ark to make instant emotional connections between the movie and each prop. Seeing the massive collections from the fans is impressive, yet Mad Props lingers with the collector’s bit and needs help finding its footing with a few interviews. Some of the interviews are repetitive, and Tom struggles initially to gain confidence as a host. Yet, the giant Predator suits and screen-used Wolverine claws have the sheer “cool factor” to keep the audience engaged during the film’s growing pains.

“…takes viewers deep into the most expansive collections of movie props…”

Mad Props picks up steam in the second half. The change begins when Tom visits Tulsa, Oklahoma, and “the world’s largest prop,” the house from 1983’s The Outsiders. From the interview with Danny Boy O’Connor (founding member of the Hip-Hop group House of Pain and owner of The Outsiders house), the film enters pure prop master bliss, featuring interviews with prop legend Alec Gilis, movie star Mickey Rourke, actor and Xenomorph victim Lance Henriksen, and Freddy Kruger himself Robert Englund. Fascinating behind-the-scenes stories run at breakneck speed as Gilis recounts the gallery of props made throughout his illustrious career. In the second half, the narrative finds a balance between stardom and fandom that feels more natural, building upon viewer expectations and allowing the props to transcend the material and become movie magic.

Community and fandom are cornerstones of the nostalgia documentary genre. It’s how films like Nintendo Quest or Hail to the Deadites can get someone to watch a documentary about video games or Evil Dead instead of just playing Mario or watching Evil Dead IIMad Props finds its balance of community and fandom in the second half; Tom finds his stride as a host, interviews lead to exciting stories, and the props are as fantastic as the first half. The “Are movie props art?” thesis feels more than a little thin, especially in a film dedicated to the artistic appreciation of movie props, but does little to detract from the true thesis of connecting with others through a love of movies.

Seeing the vast collections of movie moments on display is impressive, but the stories behind those moments and props give Mad Props its soul and what will give Mad Props a fanbase. Sometimes, the film seems like an extended episode of Disney+’s Prop Culture. However, as the documentary rolls on, it begins to find its footing in the prop-centric landscape. Gilis gives an in-depth insight into the prop-making process. Ryan J. Condal of House of Dragon nerds out about Blade Runner, and Robert Englund is delightful as always. Despite a few bumps in the movie-making road, Reinoso has crafted a fun pop culture documentary viable as an exploration into the props fans love and an inspiration to future collectors.

Mad Props (2024)

Directed and Written: Juan Pablo Reinoso

Starring: Tom Biolchini, Mickey Rourke, Lance Henriksen, Robert Englund, Alec Gillis, Ryan J. Condal, Danny Boy O’Connor, etc.

Movie score: 7.5/10

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"…a globe-trotting journey into movies and props that make them possible. "

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