Arrow Video: Schlock (1973) - Reviewed

Years before the tumultuous and checkered filmmaking career of John Landis really took shape with National Lampoon’s Animal House, The Blues Brothers, and An American Werewolf in London, he was a kid bombing around Hollywood as an extra or occasional stuntman taking any odd job being offered.  Tiring of the menial grunt work, Landis decided it was time to stake out his own territory and at the age of twenty-one he wrote, directed and prominently starred in his first feature: a micro-budget screwball comedy/homage to 50s sci-fi horror films called Schlock

Financed through family and friends and shot within twelve days on a mere $60,000 budget, Schlock tells the simple story of a small town besieged by murders with banana peels turning up at every crime scene, leading authorities to the terrible prehistoric ape-man Schlock (Landis in an ape costume).  The rest of it is largely a string of loosely connected sight gags involving our wordless simian causing a ruckus in a public setting with references to monster movies including but not limited to Trog and 2001: A Space Odyssey alongside early precursors to jokes found in National Lampoon’s Animal House and An American Werewolf in London.

Uniting the then fledgling director for the first time with makeup artist Rick Baker, who later won the Academy Award for Best Makeup on Landis’ An American Werewolf in London, Landis as the titular Schlock displays early on an innate talent for physical comedy.  While cloaked beneath an ape costume with only his eyes visible, fans of Animal House will recognize distinctive sight gags such as the ape turning his head back to break the fourth wall and wink at the audience ala John Belushi.  Also cropping up is the fake movie-within-a-movie See You Next Wednesday, a loose reference to Frank Poole’s birthday message in 2001: A Space Odyssey.  After hearing that recurring phrase show up in the Landis-directed Michael Jackson’s Thriller, it’s satisfying to finally learn the source of what has since become one of Landis’ director-trademarks.

Originally released by The Blob distributor Jack H. Harris, Schlock quietly came and went before briefly resurfacing years later amid Landis’ newfound success in Hollywood with the new title Banana Monster.  Though Landis himself doesn’t look back fondly on his sophomore starting point, having followed the writer-director’s career for years including far more unwanted chapters later on such as the infamous Twilight Zone: The Movie (I’ll spare you the gory details) I found Schlock to be an imperfect yet frequently amusing comic romp.  

Not all of the jokes work, such as a goof on the legendary bone tossing shot in 2001: A Space Odyssey cut to Also Sprach Zarathustra.  But when you have scenes like Schlock entering a packed movie theater to watch The Blob while trying to get a lady with a wig from blocking his view, it’s hard to not enjoy the apeman’s silent yet charming company for the remainder of the film’s short running time.

- Andrew Kotwicki