Posted October 10, 2018 by Chris Hick in Film Reviews

Schlock (1973) Blu-ray Review

There are many films that could be contenders for worst film ever made. Schlock (1973) is one of them. One thing that that saves it is that it is intended as tongue-in-cheek from beginning to end and is a charming homage to the creature features that preceded it. Today, it is best known as being the first film directed by John Landis.

Shockingly the film opens with dead bodies scattered over a playground, over 200 a news reader tells us. We later learn that over the last 600 have been killed by an unknown creature in the Agoura region of California, north west of Los Angeles that has been labelled the Banana Killer. It turns out it is a prehistoric apeman (played by Landis himself in the monkey suit) has been awoken, causes havoc and kills and is playful with some of the locals.

Landis was one of many of the new wave of young directors (he was only 21-years-old when he made this feature) who turned to the B movie horror and science-fiction films of the 1950s as their inspiration. Whether John Carpenter, George Lucas or Steven Spielberg, there are few films that made that homage more direct than Landis did with Schlock (although arguably the better known Dark Star (1974) by Carpenter was a clearer homage). In one set piece scene in the film for film buffs, there is a scene with Schlock eating popcorn in an old movie theatre and is seated next to Forrest J. Ackerman, the editor of every young horror fans favourite magazine, ‘Famous Monsters of Filmland’. Together they are watching Dinosaurus! (1960) and The Blob (1958).

As horror and cult expert Kim Newman observes on one of the extras, this was the generation of ‘Famous Monsters’ and ‘Mad’ magazine. No director realised ‘Mad’ for the big screen as well as Landis. His next films were The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977) (a bigger budget spoof), Animal House (1978) and The Blues Brothers (1980). How terrible a films this is, it might come as a shock, even to those familiar with Landis’s auteur oeuvre that this is a John Landis film with little indication of the career would carve out for himself in the coming years. Of course the film is pure spoof but is peopled by appropriately dreadful acting, inconsistency and hit and miss gags the whole way through; and it is more miss than hit. It’s at its best when hommaging classic horror movies, such as playing with the little girl by the lake (Frankenstein) or 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), especially the opening pre-history scene, including Strauss’s ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’. The source origin for the film were two similar films that were more dreadful pathos than spoof, Equinox and Trog (both 1970) and in this sense is no better nor worse than either of these films other than it takes itself less seriously.

Schlock is unlikely to have many fans, although as a cult film it will have its fanbase. For those familiar with the likes of The Kentucky Fried Movie there is progression but for those only familiar with Landis’s films from after the 1980s it will be a bizarre revelation. The contextualising extras work really well with the film. Kim Newman clearly lays out the origins and legacy of this film and how it fits Landis’s love and appreciation of the films he soaked up as a boy and young man. There is also an interesting 40 minute Q&A with Landis whose passion for film comes across very well. The other significant extra is a commentary by Landis and Rick Baker, the ingenious make-up man who became closely associated with Landis, especially after An American Werewolf in London (1981).

Chris Hick

Chris Hick