I must have been only about 13 years old when I happened to record a George Kennedy horror film double-bill that was screening late one night on Channel 4. The first film was Death Ship, and I'm glad to say that even at that tender age I realised it was a pretty pants movie. But the other film was Wacko, a strange little horror spoof comedy that soon became my most watched TV-recorded film (until I managed to tape The Jerk and The Man With 2 Brains, but that's beside the point).
Joining Wacko for our High School Comedy Horror Night was Return to Horror High, a pre-Scream film-within-a-film about some grisly murders at (yeah, you've guessed it) a High School, that is probably most known nowadays for featuring a young George Clooney in a role that involved him being killed pretty early on. Right then, class is now in progress, quiet at the back please.
Plot The Lawnmower Killer returns after a 13 year absence.
Rawshark As I said in this introduction, I’m pretty biased about this little baby, and I still remember many of it’s fantastic little catchphrases, but I was also surprised out how much of the good stuff I had forgotten. Watching it now, I was able to pick up many more references this time around (oh, you mean the music is from Hitchcock – right – gotcha!) and could appreciate the performance of legendary Joe Don Baker all the more.
Luckily still holds up pretty well even today, thanks largely to its sure number of jokes, and the ability not to take anything too seriously. You expect the characters in a film called Wacko to be pretty, well, wacky, and indeed they are, from Kennedy’s bumbling Doctor (“I’m a doctor dear. I kill people every day”) through the bizarre mentalist masochist kid Damien, and the great mad scientist who is a mixture of Dr Strangelove and Dr Moreau. Most of the cast riff off with each other well, and special mention must go to Elizabeth Daily who played Bambi, just because she’s pretty hot, and looks mighty fine in that Egyptian outfit during the fancy dress ball finale.
Yeah, admittedly some of the gags don’t work, but there are so many of them you know there’s bound to be another good one on the way. Highlights include the fantastic car chase, the shooting of the baby lawnmower in the school locker, the ‘Unnecessary Dream Sequence’, and pretty much every scene JDB (and his ever-present cigarette) appears in. It won’t change your life, but it’ll certainly make you smile.
“Yeah.. I’ll give it about a seven, sweetheart.”
Jim I have to admit, when we slapped the Wacko disc into the DVD player and hit play I wasn't too hopeful, and the first few minutes didn't really appease my concerns. I mean, I love Joe Don Baker as much as the next man, but I can only stand so many unfunny gags before I'm reaching for the remote, even if the film I'm watching does have a cameo by Charles Napier. After all, jobbing B-movie actors like him and Baker are the backbone of Hollywood - the backbone I tell you!
Anyway, imagine my surprise when Wacko turned out to be nowhere near as bad as any of us were expecting. Don't get me wrong, this is no masterpiece by anyone's standard and most of the people I know would take one look and say, 'turn this shit off!' But what do they know - that's why we set up Zombie Club in the first place. The truth is that for all of Wacko's faults, a lot of it is pretty damned funny.
The gag quality in Wacko goes something like this: shit gag, shit gag, good gag, shit gag, good gag, another good gag, fucking brilliant gag, not so good gag, bad gag and shit gag again. And repeat, so roughly for every couple of shit gags there's one blinder, which sounds like a bad ratio but not when you consider the rapid delivery throughout. And lest we forget the genius comic timing of Joe Don Baker who shamelessly steals every scene he's in. If ever I got to meet the guy in the flesh, I'd just say, "Dude, you were the BOMB in Wacko, man..."
So, Wacko is defined by it's good gags, it's bad gags, it's running gags (i.e. bad gags that they go back to so often that they end up funny) and it's B-movie star cameos - plenty to keep any zombie clubber entertained for 90 minutes.
"I like black women."
Zomblee I’d never even heard of Wacko before. I seem to remember Rawshark mentioning it for the first time when I was ranting about George Kennedy’s great Joe Petroni character in the 70’s Airport disaster movies. “What’s that you say?! George Kennedy in a spoof horror flick?!” It sounded about as good as it really was...though you may find it difficult getting used to the fact that his character in Wacko – Mister Doctor Graves (yes, ‘Doctor’ is his first name) - has a somewhat unwholesome obsession with seeing his daughter naked. Every time she catches him perving through the window: “Daddy! What are you doing?!” “Nothing, darling. Just mowing the lawn” And repeat. And repeat again. Repetition in comedy works; say it enough times and its going to get funnier and funnier.
Joe Don Baker – what a guy. His character, Dick Harbinger, is basically a Frank Drebbin kind of dude. His entrance had us in stitches as he wakes up in his shit-hole of an apartment with a fag in his mouth, then grabs his attaché case and fills it up with brewed coffee, ready for his crime-bustin' day ahead. We then notice that the said attaché case has a specially fitted screw-tap for quick and easy caffeine hits throughout the day – what a guy!
The gags do come thick and fast, in keeping with the general style of these comedies. But I’m a sucker for them. Any film with gags like “Can I be frank, Dick?” “Sure, Frank” is going to get my vote. And its also a nice little homage to the beloved horror genre, with more than enough cool references to keep genre fans amused while also trying to keep up with the barrage of hit and miss / repetition gags. As Jim points out, “You could understand why a great proportion of the population who watch this would say ‘its shit’”, but none of then were here tonight. It’s a great shame that nobody seems to have heard of this silly little flick. If Airplane / Naked Gun style comedy is your thing and you fancy seeing Joe Don Baker doing the Frank Drebbin, check it out.
“Nice to meet you. Your secretary has a magnificent butt.”
Director Greydon Clark
Cast Joe Don Baker
Andrew Dice Clay
Sonny Carl Davis
Runtime 90 mins
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Return to Horror High (1987)
Plot High school, serial killer, etc - you know the drill...
Jim In 1982 a bunch of Crippen High students are murdered and the school closes down. Five years later a film crew move in to make a cheap horror movie about the murders, but as soon as shooting starts the crew members start to disappear. Spooky.
So, with the Slasher genre seriously struggling for ideas by the late 80s, it's no surprise that a film like Return To Horror High would come along. By trying to combine comedy and horror in a more subtle way than in Wacko, this film is in many ways way ahead of it's time, playing out like a post-ironic horror a decade before that style became en vogue with the likes of Scream. Note the remarkable similarity between Scream's killer and Crippin High's for a start.
But the problem with Return To Horror High is undoubtedly that as well as being ahead of it's time, it's also way ahead of it's own script writer. Despite the clever use of the movie-within-a-movie idea to throw the viewer off guard, and despite a string of excellent scenes between Alex Rocco's sleazy producer and Scott Jacoby's frustrated director, Return To Horror High sadly falls into all the same pot holes as its 80's contemporaries. As such it often churns out scenes and dialogue no better than half the films it's try to lampoon in the first place. Don't even get me started on the so-fucking-bad-it-ain't-funny 80s pop video love scene in the middle...
"I'm gonna be in them pussy flicks!"
Zomblee Hey, I liked the 80’s pop video love scene! That’s why 80’s movies are so important, Jim! Only kidding. I hate the 80’s. I also detest movies that contain scenes of this putrid nature. One element of this flick that worked quite well was when you get so drawn into the ‘film within a film’ scenes the crew are filming that you forget where you are with the plot and all of a sudden, “Cut!”, and its like – oh yeah…that’s pretty cool…
Like Jim says, RTHH does give out the feeling that the slasher genre was indeed running out of ideas, so credit to them for trying to take it somewhere new, even though it could have been done a lot better. The killer’s mask is actually some sort of hybrid between Michael (Shatner) Myers’ mask and the killer’s mask from Scream, way before the time of Scream, so that was quite a nice touch. Although I know that gory murders did happen in RTHH, I can’t remember them. What I do remember though, are some scenes that had us all equally entranced, and I found that a little irritating. If the movie makers have the ability to capture our attention completely for a few scenes, then why revert back to empty-headed 80’s shite-ville and lose us again? Need…more…consistency.
The best thing about RTHH however, is Alex Rocco, who plays the movie producer Harry Sleerik. He’s such a detestable shit-kicker but you just gotta love him and his incessant efforts to get as much tit action into the film as possible. He’s also got the best lines. But one funny character can’t save this thin 80’s leather tie of a movie. At the end of the day, I’m trying to write about the things that I thought were good about RTHH. I’m trying to be positive. Trying very hard indeed. We’re trying to limit ourselves on how much text we all contribute to the Zombie Club write-ups, so it’s best not to get started on why RTHH is a load of shite. One star and a half for Cardinal Alex Rocco. (Yes, that was him in The Pope Must Die)
"There will be NO exploding tit shot!"
Rawshark I had high (School) hopes for Return to Horror High, from what I had heard the film had a great concept (I'm a sucker for a film-within-a-film film), a decent b-list cast and the promise of comedy mixed with gore.
It begins well enough, as we see the aftermath of a recent massacre with only the film's writer alive left to explain what had actually happened (I guess alarm bells should really have started ringing then). George Clooney doesn't last too long, but he's on screen enough to fit in some fairly prophetic dialogue (one of his 'co-stars' tells his character that he's going to be a big star one day!), and there are some great 'Director V Producer' arguments that ring true to anyone who knows anything about filming within the b-movie industry.
Unfortunately things then soon go awry as the film winds its own way up its own ass in ever increasing convoluted plot points. The screenwriter in the film regularly pops up to 'apologise' for the bad script (of the film within the film), but all this really does is remind us that the script of the film itself is not really that great. Many times we are confused as to what's going on - is this the film? Or the film-within-the-film? Or is it a dream sequence? Or a flashback? Or what? Towards the end we pretty much give up caring.
There's a couple of funny moments, a few nice death scenes (death by rotor blade), plenty of gratuitous nudity, and lots of 80's o..ver.. dra.. maaa.. tic.. Music. Maureen McCormick (her of The Brady Bunch fame) appears in an amusing role as a police officer who gets turned on by gore, but really RTHH is a product of 'good concept - bad conceptualisation.' Shame really.
"They're on to us. We know too much."
Director Bill Froehlich
Cast Richard Brestoff
Runtime 95 mins
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With the involvement of George Kennedy and Joe Don Baker, Wacko could hardly fail at Zombie Club, and indeed it's fair to say that all of us enjoyed most of it, even Zomblee and his hating of all things 80s. Many jokes, many horror film references, and some great catchphrases. If you're reading this page, and you haven't seen this film, hunt it out now.
Return To Horror High suffered due to it's plot complications (and the fact that it was showing second when most the wine had been drunk), but just about had enough going for it to work. Just don't expect it to be as good as Scream.