File this one under “you have to start somewhere.”
In fact two well-known film professionals got their start with this one: its director, John Landis, would go on to make such films as Animal House and An American Werewolf in London; while the apeman suit was the first of Rick Baker’s monster creations to reach the big screen. On the whole, I think Rick made out a lot better in the end as Landis just sort of disappeared into TV episodes and worse after his early successes.
Some things really haven’t aged well, although perhaps that may just mean that the sort of Seventies-style humor on display here isn’t my sort of thing. It reminds me, more than anything else, of a watered down Airplane! — or, perhaps even closer, the rather lame 1972 horror comedy, Beware! The Blob. However, this sort of self-referential, post-modern genre comedy was something new at the time — Woody Allen’s Take the Money and Run may have been the first, and it was certainly one of Landis’ big inspirations. But it is hard not to see it through the lens of Amazon Women on the Moon or The Kentucky Fried Movie (both of which Landis was involved in) or Saturday Night Live (and, of course, John Landis made a movie based on their Blues Brothers sketches).
We start out with a wacky trailer for the film — which is probably more fun than the rest of the film — before following an endless line of bodies sprawled all over a playground. They are the work of the mysterious banana killer, so called because of all the banana peels he leaves behind.
Of course, it is really the work of the long lost missing link, the Schlockthropus (played by Landis himself), and the nebbishy Dectective Sergeant Wino (who looks a little like Woody Allen circa the late Nineties) is on the case.
The first part of the film is a parody of local TV news, which reminds me uncomfortably of KDKA Pittsburgh back in the day, with an on-air personality who mixes smarmy down home local reporting with the coverage of the creature’s appalling crimes. However, once he’s safely killed off, the film then moves on to a lot of basically random gags as the creature explores the modern world, takes in a movie (showing clips from some of Producer Jack Harris’ old films in a lengthy scene added at his insistence as he felt the original film was too short) and falls in love with the blind girl who mistakes him for a puppy (in a very, very long and unfunny scene). It’s all sporadically funny, although one Laurel and Hardy inspired sequence where Schlock destroys a car that plays out like a one-sided version of their classic “Big Business” routine reminds me of just how important James Finlayson was to the Boys’ comedy. There are also a few recognizable cameos along the way, including Forrest J. Ackerman’s first screen appearance.
And, of course, that ape mask Wino puts on in the hope of luring the apeman into a trap was one of the extras’ masks from Planet of the Apes.
Still, John showed a lot of promise here. It’s far from perfect, but does the unexpected at times, reminds us of some of the classic and not-so-classic moments of Fifties SF, and even manages to quote one of the most famous lines in Monster film history.
It’s definitely worth a look if you love SciFi, creature feature and horror films — particularly if you are a fan of this sort of scattershot Seventies humor.
Perhaps, more than anything else, it is worth a look for the impressive ape suit Rick Baker created. He would do far better work a few years later for Dino De Laurentiis’ King Kong (although he rarely gets the credit he deserves — after all, it isn’t his fault Dino worked so hard to promote the Fifty-foot Kong that gets about five seconds of screentime. Nor was it his fault that Dino chose a man in suit over a stop-motion monster). And he would continue to do better work on countless other films for the rest of his life.
But you have to start somewhere.
Although I think we’ve said that before.
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