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Savant Short Review:


Anchor Bay
1971 / Color / 1:78 anamorphic 16:9 / 80m. /The Banana Monster
Starring John Landis, Saul Kahan, Eliza Garrett
Cinematography Robert E. Collins
Production Designer
Makeup Artist Rick Baker
Film Editor George Folsey Jr.
Original Music David Gibson
Produced by George Folsey Jr., Jack H. Harris, James C. O'Rourke
Written and Directed by John Landis

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,
Schlock rates:
Movie: Good
Video: Good
Sound: Good
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.

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