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Schlock

by Glenn Erickson May 03, 2018

 

John Landis made his first dent in Hollywood with this hilarious parody of Z-grade monster movies, and it was big enough to launch a film career. The kudos go to Landis’ comic monkey-man performance, wearing a Schockthropus ape suit by the 20 year-old self taught makeup whiz Rick Baker. Only monster movie fans will understand, but they’ll be charmed. This foreign edition is stacked with schlock-thropic extras.


Schlock
Blu-ray + DVD
Turbine Media Group
1973 / Color / Region Free / 1:78 widescreen (Blu-ray); 1:37 Academy (NTSC DVD) / 79 min. / Available from Rakete Shop (DE) / Street Date April 27, 2018 / Euros 29.99
Starring: John Landis, Saul Kahan, Eliza Garrett, Joseph Piantadosi, Enrica Blankey (Harriet Medin), Forrest J. Ackerman, Jack H. Harris, Donald F. Glut, John Chambers, Ivan Lepper.
Cinematography: Robert E. Collins
Film Editor: George Folsey Jr.
Makeup Artist: Rick Baker
Original Music: David Gibson
Produced by George Folsey Jr., Jack H. Harris, James C. O’Rourke
Written and Directed by
John Landis

 

“When I discover who or what is responsible for this… they’re gonna be in big trouble.”

 

Now it can be told. In Agoura, California the Neanderthal missing link Schlockthropus (John Landis, in an elaborate ape suit by Rick Baker) emerges from a hole in the ground to commit mass murder. Scientist Shirley Slivowitz (Emil Hamaty) and Detective Sergeant Wino (Saul Kahan) immediately respond, with less than satisfactory results. TV newsman Joe Putzman (Eric Allison), an irreverent take-off on L.A. newsman George Putnam, announces a ‘guess the number of dismembered victims’ contest. Schlock spends the day ambling from adventure to adventure with terrified locals, wrecking a car, breaking up a baseball game, playing a piano duet, feeding ice cream to little tots. He falls in love with the blind Mindy (Eliza Garrett), even though she thinks he’s a stray doggie. After various silent movie-style escapes, Schlock gravitates to the big school dance to see Mindy again, as the National Guard closes in.

Schlock is an essentially silly movie that nails the ‘monster kid’ ethos that now generates zillions of dollars at fan conventions. It’s kind of a missing link, so to speak, between real-world moviemaking and the bubble of L.A. Monster fandom in the early 1970s. J Self-acknowledged high school dropout John Landis wangled a studio job and went to Europe to take all kinds of odd jobs on movies, including Kelly’s Heroes. He probably learned plenty about wastefulness of large-scale moviemaking. Through sheer enthusiasm and utter personal charm, a year later John was producing, writing, directing and starring in his own homemade monster movie about … homemade monster movies. Obviously connected with the L.A. fan scene at the time, Landis plugged his crude but funny film in with independent producer Jack H. Harris of The Blob fame, and used it as the springboard to a notable directing career.

 

Savant saw Schlock at a preview screening in 1973, I’m pretty sure, which would indicate that it sat on the shelf a bit. Its real release came even later. This was at the prestigious National Theater in Westwood, to an audience of unsuspecting patrons surely hoping for an early look at something prestigious like The Way We Were, not a cross between Trog and the Three Stooges. I asked my roommate, future screenwriter Steve Sharon to come with me. The two of us may have been the only ones consistently laughing, because the film was clearly made precisely for us: UCLA film students with a head full of undigested movie ideas. Landis’ film was a self-referential in-joke years before Saturday Night Live, and silly satire of this sort could only be found on radio’s Kentucky Fried Theater, etc. It looked like an orphaned loser on a late nite spook show, a ‘backyard’ movie except with good cinematography. Landis’ ape-monster ambles from one little skit to another, with a cast of semi-amateurs whose arch line readings sound just like the clunkers in the originals.

It’s not that Schlock has anything meaningful to say about the movies it spoofs. Anybody looking for deeper thought in the likes of The Hideous Sun Demon or The Creeping Terror is likely writing a Master’s Thesis. But just acknowledging the existence of Z-grade backyard horror seemed happily subversive in 1973. At that time Ed Wood was a little more than a giggly rumor among core aficionados. Landis’ opening, which is sort of a built-in-trailer (and better than the real trailer) compares the film to Gone With the Wind, 2001: A Space Odyssey, etc. At which point the fierce Schlockthropus razzes the camera point blank.

Maybe there isn’t that much real comparison, but encouragement for Schlock probably came from Woody Allen’s Take the Money and Run, which at the time was only a couple of years old. In a scattershot deconstruction of the ‘structured’ comedy, Woody had tossed in totally irrelevant gangster movie jokes as the mood fit, making his movie into a live-action Mad Magazine parody. Landis clearly must have felt he could do the same for cheap monster movies.

 

Unlike the Allen film, deep wit is not all that frequent in Schlock, where the humor is all recognition jokes, funny associations and Landis’ clowning performance in the excellent monkey suit. Although the pacing is not perfect, there are certainly enough on-the-money gags to remind one that slapstick comedy still works on the big screen: Schlock fetching Mindy’s stick when she thinks he’s a lost puppy; the 2001 business with a bunch of bananas hanging in a window, and Detective Wino’s immortal dialogue line upon seeing the aftermath of the Banana Killer’s latest killing spree, a playground festooned with dozens of dead kids. Little did we know that Schlock would begin a Landis tradition of quoting the words “See You Next Wednesday” in all of his films. Newbies need to be tipped off that it’s one of the first lines of dialogue heard in 2001.

As for visual elegance, Landis avoids that completely, searching instead for the painfully random home-movie look of pictures by Al Adamson, Larry Buchanan, and Ted V. Mikels. He films in Bronson Caverns, or is that cave interior just a cutaway hillside for a roadway, shot at night? Landis does affect an acceptable imitation of the bone-throwing scene in 2001, possibly miming some of the slow motion. And his backyard scenes at Mindy’s house have a graphic cartoonish look, imitating the flat ‘green grass / plain fence’ simplicity of Tex Avery cartoons like King Size Canary.The movie in’t a contender for production design awards, but the framing and blocking of scenes is just fine. We’re told that the tacky backgrounds are mostly suburban Agoura, in neighborhoods so new that hardly any greenery has sprung up. Traffic is visible in the background of many shots, a must for a parody of Z-picture filmmaking.

 

When the Schlockthropus invades suburban houses, the obvious connection is to the comic Caveman of Dinosaurus! That film’s producer, the late Jack H. Harris, is the opportunist that got involved finishing the picture, paying for more shooting and offering clips from other movies he owned, The Blob and Daughter of Horror, itself excerpted within The Blob. I presume that the Harris-inspired material includes the Schlockthropus’ attendance at a movie, matinee with Harris-appropriate posters up on the walls.

What’s Schlock got that other dime-store movies ain’t got? Foremost is the excellent effects makeup of the young Rick Baker. His ape suit is the equal of the makeup in Landis’ beloved 2001, and as accomplished as the clever work in Planet of the Apes. Baker made his monsters in his bedroom and in his mother’s kitchen oven, and if Hollywood’s guilds and unions weren’t closed, he would have been a perfect fit in any studio special makeup shop. Baker and his peers instead put the studio’s special makeup departments out of business. Then there’s Landis himself, who directed the movie while wearing the incredibly hot monkey suit out in the hot California sun. Landis’ mime as the goofy ape man is consistently funny. Schlock creeps about like … like a guy in an ape suit, clowning. Double-takes, slow burns, Laurel & Hardy gags, Three Stooges gags, John Landis has them all down pat. Even under the awful shooting conditions, he comes off as a hairy Harold Lloyd.

Schlock is also an early record of the L.A. monster fan scene; the ubiquitous Forry Ackerman is easily spotted in the film’s matinee audience. The legendary monster fan Don Glut is in there too – Glut’s amateur Dracula and dinosaur home movies appeared in early ’60s issues of every monster ‘zine from Castle of Frankenstein to Famous Monsters. Savant first met ‘Detective Sgt. Wino’ Saul Kahan when he was the unit publicist on 1941, and again later when he wrote copy for some of our Orion trailers. Kahan explained that he wasn’t actually a bad actor, but that he had to practice to achieve the right kind of awful delivery.

 

Mindy’s busybody mom ‘Enrica Blankey’ probably has more dialogue in the movie than anybody. She’s actually the legendary Eurocult actress Harriet White Medin. As reported in Video Watchdog, Ms. Medin had major roles in Rossellini’s Paisan, Fellini’s La dolce vita, Freda’s The Horrible Dr. Hichcock, Bava’s Black Sabbath, The Whip and the Body and Blood and Black Lace, etc.. In the Mervyn LeRoy Quo Vadis, I believe I see her holding a baby in the big triumph parade near the beginning.

The film finds comedy potential in all the things we fans had seen in Z-pictures. Besides the amateur actors mangling terrible dialog, Landis nails the scientist’s cornball speeches and the awkward stage waits. He stages flatly shot non-stunts and non-action with verve — Schlock has a knack for tossing his victims great distances, into swimming pools, etc. Landis himself shows coordination and style, tearing apart a car like Oliver Hardy, and hugging himself in panic just like the cartoon ape at the end of the ancient Mad Magazine parody, ‘Ping Pong.’ Favorite highlights include the little kid in the theater who looks so delighted when Schlock crams popcorn in a patron’s face, and the stilted reaction of a group of teenagers to the screams of one of their friends offscreen in a cave. After three or four lengthy cutbacks to the group staring dumbly offscreen, the screams finally stop. A pause. Then one of the teenagers speaks up: “Bobby, are you all right?” That sums up everything we love about maladroit Z filmmaking.

Back at that Westwood preview, Landis shook my hand when I told him I was the guy who laughed. I saw more of him several years later on the set of 1941, in which he performed some choice clowning in a small role. He also hung out quite a bit on the film’s gigantic miniature sets, having a great time telling jokes on what was not the happiest shoot in film history. At one point Spielberg said, and not in fun, ‘Why don’t you go make your own movie somewhere?’ On the day the the Ocean Park miniature set was wrapped, Landis brought Rick Baker to the studio. Baker’s wife helped him into a really impressive ape suit, and they shot some footage of him thrashing through the set Godzilla-style. There’s a photo of it in the book The Making of 1941.

In terms of being funny John Landis was the equal of the best of the Saturday Night Live crowd. I mean, flat-out funny. Tall and thin, he was a living, breathing Bugs Bunny. Gather two people together, and he’d start telling jokes. He told parrot jokes and you still couldn’t help but laugh. It’s this personality that comes through in Schlock. I can’t imagine what the room would have been like when he and the Zuckers got together for Kentucky Fried Movie.


 

Turbine Media Group’s Blu-ray + DVD of Schlock is a perfect video rendition of this arcane monster delight. Although made in Germany, both discs are fully bilingual and multi-region. The 4k transfer pops, making many scenes look like a live-action cartoon; the color puts the blue tinge back into Schlock’s rubbery face, which I remember as being correct.

Turbine’s extras begin with the great John Landis / Rick Baker commentary lifted from the old Anchor Bay disc released just before 9/11 in 2001. The German disc producers have interviewed Landis for a brief intro and a forty-minute interview where he tells his life story (before Animal House) in great detail. He scrambles some movie titles and dates, yet comes off as candid and sincere. I didn’t realize that he spent a full three of his teenage years bopping around Europe working in Almeria and Rome, not just Yugoslavia. Landis again tells the story of being given a business card that read: ‘Rick Baker: Monster Maker.’ He walked into Rick Baker’s bedroom for the first time and thought, ‘this guy is better than anything I’ve seen.’

A stack of trailers gives us various versions — the Jack H. Harris trailer cut is pretty awful compared to the opening blitz of mirth in the film itself. Harris gleefully reissued the picture after Animal House became a monster hit . . . as ‘Banana Monster.’

The heavy duty packaging has attractive cover art and a fully illustrated booklet built into the binding. It’s bilingual as well. I hadn’t seen Schlock in many years, and found that it is still holds up, and that Landis is as funny as ever. He doesn’t even call it a good movie, but shouldn’t complain — it took him straight to a directing job on Kentucky Fried Movie.

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson


Schlock
Blu-ray + DVD rates:
Movie: Very Good especially for its specific audience
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent English & German
Supplements: Schlocktastic Special Features: New introduction by John Landis; new interview with John Landis (approx. 41 min.); 2001 audio commentary with John Landis & Rick Baker; Trailers from Hell trailer with Landis commentary; several trailers: original, re-release, ‘Banana Monster’ version, original German trailer, and more; original radio spots. Illustrated booklet in book packaging with German and English text.
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English & German (feature only)
Packaging: Book packaging with disc holders — one All-Region Blu-ray and one Region 0 NTSC DVD.
Reviewed: May 1, 2018
(5713schl)
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About Glenn Erickson

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Glenn Erickson left a small town for UCLA film school, where his spooky student movie about a haunted window landed him a job on the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS effects crew. He’s a writer and a film editor experienced in features, TV commercials, Cannon movie trailers, special montages and disc docus. But he’s most proud of finding the lost ending for a famous film noir, that few people knew was missing. Glenn is grateful for Trailers From Hell’s generous offer of a guest reviewing haven for CineSavant.