SCHLOCK (1973) Blu-ray
Director: John Landis
Arrow Video USA

Even a generation raised on EC Comics and Mad Magazine thought TROG was awful, but one future Hollywood bigwig made his feature debut with a comic send-up of it with John Landis' SCHLOCK, on Blu-ray from Arrow Video.

A series of massacres known as "The Banana Murders" have stumped the police of a Southern California desert town. When a quartet of high school students fall into a cavern full of skeletons and two of them are murdered, the two survivors alert lead investigator Detective Sergeant Wino (Saul Kahan, KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE) and the police converge upon the cave entrance along with Professor Shlibovitz (Emile Hamaty) who believes the perpetrator to be the missing link that he has named the Schlockthropus. As Shlibovitz descends down into the cave, the creature (Landis) appears above ground and sends the police and onlookers into a panic during which the creature escapes into the suburbs. As Wino and fame-hungry reporter Joe Putzman (Eric Allison, THE CREMATORS) hunt the creature down, he befriends Mindy (Eliza Garrett, ANIMAL HOUSE) who has just received an operation to restore her eyesight and believes the furry creature to be a stray dog until her bandages are removed and the creature invades her home and terrorizes her, her mother (Harriet White Medin, THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK), and boyfriend Cal (Charles Villiers). Escaping Wino's attempt at capturing him by dressing up in an ape suit and pretending to be one of him, the creature roams the town, drawn by the lure of bananas (and banana splits) until he comes across Mindy again at the big high school dance.

A comic sendup in the vein of ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES, SCHLOCK is often just as unfunny with performances that in which the line between wooden and deadpan is blurred, particularly from Kahan who was a film publicist and also served as the film's still photographer. The most impressive elements of the film are a larger role for Medin than in much of her other American films (or even the Italian films where she was a character actress) and the expressive gorilla suit created by Rick Baker (AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON) the year after his uncredited work under Tom Burman (CAT PEOPLE) and Dan Striepeke (THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU) on THE THING WITH TWO HEADS and designing the OCTAMAN costume the year before that. While a 2001 homage goes on forever – as do bits from FRANKENSTEIN with the creature encountering a child beside a creek and later a blind pianist – and fail to evoke even a giggle, Landis does demonstrate some of his future talent when the creature invades a cinema to watch a double bill of distributor/producer Jack H. Harris properties THE BLOB and DINOSAURUS! in which the cinema setting of course evokes that of the former film but the reaction of the audience to the invasion is subverted to comic effect – the famous BLOB shot of audience members running screaming from the theater is saved for later – and then draws a poignant parallel between the sappy wrap-up of DINOSAURUS! and the predicament of the creature out of his element. Although we are shown the aftermath of a creature massacre including young children among the victims, the film is largely lighthearted in tone until the ending which draws on KING KONG ("It was beauty killed the beast").

Released thrice by Jack H. Harris Enterprises – the last time in 1982 as THE BANANA MONSTER, and then on VHS by Charles Band's Force Video under that title and by sister company Wizard Video as SCHLOCK, the film became hard to see later in the eighties and nineties despite its pedigree until Anchor Bay's 2001 DVD which sported an anamorphic transfer and a commentary by Landis and Baker. German company Turbine Media put out the first Blu-ray transfer in a mediabook last year with the commentary and some new extras. Arrow Video's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen utilizes the same high definition master which is bright and colorful but grain-ily faithful enough to the film's low-budget origins with some underexposure, some flatly lit scenes, and some harsh shadows in sunny exteriors. The LPCM 1.0 mono is clean with dialogue subject to the limitations of the recording and mixing while music and some comic effects are a bit more forceful. Optional English SDH subtitles are provided.

Carried over from the Anchor Bay DVD is an audio commentary by director Landis and effects artist Baker who were twenty and twenty-one at the time of filming. Landis recalls needing a "crappy gorilla suit" and approaching PLANET OF THE APES' John Chambers (who has a role late in the film) who wanted too much money to create it. Chambers recommended him to mask maker Don Post who also charged too much but recommended Baker who had come to the company looking for a job and had an impressive portfolio. Throughout the film, they point out crew doubling as cast, as well as friends and family including Landis' stepfather Walter Levine (THE BLUES BROTHERS) and Baker's father who cameos as a dying man. They reveal that not only did they shoot without permits, they got the actors playing cops to direct and delay traffic during shooting. Equally informative is "Schlock Defrosted" (17:51), an interview with critic Kim Newman who contextualizes Landis and his debut as part of a generation of monster movie fans – likened to the poverty row-loving French New Wave filmmakers but reading Mad Magazine rather than writing Cahiers du Cinema – among them EQUINOX's Jack Woods, THE EVIL DEAD's Sam Raimi, along with Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. He also discusses the film's inspiration from TROG and the way Landis incorporated the clips from DINOSAURUS! and THE BLOB into the narrative of the film.

"Birth of a SCHLOCK" (41:27) is a Q&A Session with Landis shot for the German Blu-ray in which he covers much the same ground but also goes back further to his childhood in Hollywood, the films he grew up watching – among them MARK OF THE DEVIL and SPIRITS OF THE DEAD – and how he was born at the right time when most of the filmmakers who developed Hollywood's cinematic language were not only still alive but accessible to him as a young man with dreams of being a filmmaker. In "I Shot SCHLOCK!" (7:34), cinematographer Bob Collins (MOONWALKER) reveals that he became involved in the film through production partner George Folsey (CLUE) who both produced and edited the film and was expected to shoot the film, provide the equipment and the crew for a flat fee. The promotional material menu includes the film's original 1972 theatrical trailer (1:34), the 1979 reissue trailer (1:38), and the 1982 BANANA MONSTER trailer (1:31), as well as radio spots (2:19). Not supplied for review were the reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys or the illustrated collector s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Joe Bob Briggs included only with the first pressing. (Eric Cotenas)