SCHLOCK (John Landis, 1973)
Alamo Drafthouse Downtown Brooklyn
445 Albee Square West
Sunday, September 23, 9:30
We New Yorkers are spoiled with a plethora of art-house cinemas showing old favorites, undiscovered gems, American indies, foreign films, and just about anything else ever put on celluloid. Even so, the third annual Art House Theater Day, taking place at nearly one hundred venues around the country and in Canada, holds a neat surprise here in the city. On September 23, the Alamo Drafthouse theaters in downtown Brooklyn and Yonkers will be showing a new 4K restoration of Schlock, John Landis’s schlocky first film, a horror comedy shot in twelve days for a mere sixty grand when he was only twenty-one. “Hi, I’m John Landis, and you’re about to watch Schlock. I’m sorry,” the writer-director explains in the intro on the DVD. But he need not apologize, as Schlock is stupid fun. In a small town in the Southern California suburbs (Agoura), the so-called Banana Massacre has resulted in the brutal death of more than two hundred people so far, all found with banana peels in their vicinity. Weirdo detective Sgt. Wino (Saul Kahan, who also took the production stills) is on the case, sure that there will be more killings; he’s not exactly getting the best of help from his team of cops, which includes the klutzy Ivan and the hapless Officer Gillis (Richard Gillis).
The story is being covered by smooth-talking local news anchor Joe Putzman (Eric Allison), a well-groomed gentleman who never misses an opportunity to hype upcoming programs on the station, most prominently the fake movie See You Next Wednesday. While much of the public is frightened, others are curious or think they are immune to the threat of violence, not the best choice made by a group of alliterative teens, Billy (Gene Fox), Betty (Susan Weiser), Bobby (assistant director Jonathan A. Flint), and Barbara (Amy Schireson), who really shouldn’t go near that hole. Scientific expert Professor Shlibovitz (E. G. Harty) believes the murderer might just be the missing link in the mammalian chain. And Mindy (Eliza Garrett, who played Brunella in Landis’s Animal House and has been married to Eric Roberts since 1992), a sweet and innocent young blind woman in love with Cal (Charles Villiers), becomes friends with the twenty-million-year-old Schlockthropus, thinking he is a big dog. While some scenes are just plain silly, others are smart and funny, in particular the vending machine episode.
Schlock is a giddy homage to the horror film and motion pictures themselves, with direct and indirect references to King Kong, The Blob, Godzilla, Frankenstein, and 2001: A Space Odyssey, along with a large dose of Woody Allen and even Rod Serling. It’s a hit-or-miss smorgasbord of goofy moments that serves as a forerunner to such later Landis flicks as Kentucky Fried Movie, The Blues Brothers, Trading Places. An American Werewolf in London, and Into the Night. The film was shot by Emmy-winning cinematographer Bob Collins, with cheesy music by David Gibson and editing by executive producer George Folsey Jr., who went on to cut many Landis movies (and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video) as well as Hostel and Hot Tub Time Machine. It’s also one of special effects guru and seven-time Oscar winner Rick Baker’s first films — and yes, that is none other than Landis himself in the ape suit, portraying Schlockthropus. “It’s bad, and appropriately named,” Landis says in a trailer for a post-Animal House rerelease of the film, apparently done without Landis’s approval and retitled The Banana Monster. A movie that could only be made by someone in love with movies, the restored Schlock is screening Sunday night at 9:30 at the Alamo Drafthouse in Brooklyn and at 10:00 in Yonkers; the Yonkers Alamo is also showing Jim Cummings’s SXSW Grand Jury winner Thunder Road, which is named after the Bruce Springsteen song, on Sunday at 4:30 as part of Art House Theater Day.