Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Neanderthal missing link Schlockthropus (John Landis, in an elaborate ape suit by
Rick Baker) emerges from a hole in the ground in Agoura, California to commit mass murder.
Scientist Shirley Slivowitz (Emil Hamaty), newsman Joe Putzman (Eric Allison) and Detective Sergeant
Wino (Saul Kahan) are immediately on his trail. But Schlock spends the day ambling from adventure
to adventure with terrified locals, including the blind Mindy (Eliza Garrett),
with whom he falls in love, 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, but kind of a missing link, so to speak, between the
worlds of L A Monster fandom in the early '70s, and real moviemaking. John Landis was a
self-acknowledged high school dropout who wangled a studio job and by 1969 was off in Yugoslavia
production-assisting on Kelly's Heroes. He probably learned plenty there about wasteful and
insane large-scale moviemaking. By sheer enthusiasm
and utter personal charm, a year later he 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, I think, 1973, which would indicate that it sat
on the shelf a bit. Its real release came even later. This was at the National in Westwood, to
an audience of unsuspecting patrons who were probably hoping for the likes of The Way We Were,
and not this cross between Trog and the Three Stooges. I think I may have been the only one
consistently laughing, as if the film were made precisely for me: a UCLA film student with
a head full of undigested movie ideas. Landis' film was a self-referential in-joke, way before Saturday
Night Live, when silly satire of this sort was only on the radio with Kentucky Fried Theater, etc.
It looked like an orphaned loser on a late nite spook show, a 'backyard' movie. 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, like The Hideous Sun Demon or The Creeping Terror.
Just acknowledging they existed seemed happily subversive in 1973, a time when 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, etc. At
which point the fierce Schlockthropus razzes the camera point blank.
Maybe there isn't that much real comparison, but Schlock's probable inspiration was 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, and Landis clearly must have felt he could do the same for cheap monster movies.
Unlike the Allen film, the deep wit and visual dexterity runs pretty thin in Schlock, where you
sometimes think you are watching a dry spell in one of the movies he's lampooning. Although the pacing is
not perfect, there are certainly enough on-the-money gags to make you think slapstick comedy might still
have a chance on the big screen: Schlock fetching Mindy's stick when she thinks he's a lost puppy; 4
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 killing spree - a playground festooned with dozens
of dead kids. 3
The most obvious connection, to the comic Caveman of Dinosaurus!, is easy to make because of the
Jack H. Harris
connection. Harris got involved finishing the picture, paying for more material that included clips
from The Blob, and even the snippet of
Daughter of Horror
within The Blob.
The first thing that sets Schlock apart is the makeup of the young Rick Baker. His ape suit is the
equal of the makeup in Landis' beloved 2001 1
Then there's Landis himself, who directed the movie while wearing what must have been an incredibly hot
monkey suit out in the hot California sun. Landis' mime as the goofy ape man is consistently funny, sort
of a hairy Harold Lloyd. Schlock creeps about like ... like a guy in an ape suit, clowning. Double-takes,
slow burns, Laurel & Hardy gags, Three Stooges gags, they're all there.
Schlock is also an early record of the LA monster fan scene; the ubiquitous Forry Ackerman can be
easily spotted in the theater audience in the film. The legendary Don
Glut is in there too - he was a monster fan whose amateur Dracula and Dinosaur home movies seemingly made
every issue of every rag from Castle of Frankenstein to Famous Monsters (and he ended up
writing a book
on vampire movies). George O'Hanlon's in there somewhere too; besides being familiar from
Kronos, he's the voice of George
Jetson. Mindy's busybody mom was revealed several years ago in Video Watchdog to actually be
legendary Eurocult actress Harriet White Medin, playing under a different name. In the commentary, Landis
says she was in Fellini's 8&1/2, when she's really in La Dolce Vita. Savant met
'Detective Sgt, Wino' Saul Kahan first on 1941, where he was a
publicist, and then later when he wrote copy for some of our Orion trailers. The whole point was that
Kahan was no actor. He said he had to practice to achieve the right kind of bad delivery.
The film very accurately makes fun of all the things we'd seen in Z-pictures and never quite realized
how funny they were. Besides the amateur actors unable to handle terrible dialog, it has several
cornball speeches by the scientist, and lots of flatly-shot non-stunts and non-action. Two favorite
moments are 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 3 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?' It kind of
sums up everything that goes wrong with maladroit Z filmmaking.
Besides this early encounter at the preview, where the director shook my hand because I was practically the only
one who laughed, Savant ran into Landis several years later on the set of 1941, in which he played a small
role. He also hung out on the miniature sets quite a bit, telling jokes and having a great time ... at one
point Spielberg said, 'Why don't go go somewhere and make your own movie?', and only half in fun. When the Ocean
Park Set was wrapped, Landis brought Rick Baker to the studio. His wife helped him into a really impressive
ape suit, and they shot some footage Baker thrashing through the set Godzilla-style. There's a photo of
it in the book The Making of 1941.
Landis in person was the equal of the Saturday Night Live crowd, in terms of being funny.
I mean, flat-out funny. Tall and thin, he was like a living, breathing Bugs Bunny. He told parrot
jokes and you 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.
Anchor Bay's dvd of Schlock looks just like the new preview print from thirty years ago; far better
than normal release prints or earlier videos.There's some nice production notes for the stars of the show
Landis and Baker. By far the best feature is the audio commentary, where they both tell the whole funny
story in great, hilarious detail, from Landis' first visit to Baker's house in West Covina, to see a
'skinny hippie kid with long hair and a bedroom full of great models and makeup photos.' Baker's
card: "Rick Baker: Monster Maker". Baker and Landis also debate the merits and demerits of various
Ape makeups and their makers through movie history. A theatrical trailer and some television spots
are included as well.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Supplements: production notes, commentary with John Landis and Rick Baker
Packaging: Amaray case
Reviewed: September 2, 2001
1. which, as all Landis-ites know, is the source of the 'See You Next Wednesday' gag that shows up in all of
his films. It's one of the first lines of dialogue in the film on the space station.
3. I'm surprised that no journalist picked up on the irony in this first shot
of Landis' directing career.
4. the flat grass / fence combo of this backyard location is reminiscent of
Tex Avery's King Size Canary or Bad Luck Blackie in its graphic simplicity ... although I'd hardly give Schlock high
marks for production design. Framing and blocking are just fine, but the backgrounds are mostly suburban
Agoura (so new that hardly any greenery has sprung up) and are purposely tacky.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson
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