Schlock (1971)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: John Landis
Extras: Commentary Track, Theatrical Trailer, Radio Spots, Still Gallery, Talent Bios

In the beginning, there was "Schlock." For acclaimed writer/director John Landis ("Animal House, " "American Werewolf in London") and Academy Award winning makeup wizard Rick Baker ("American Werewolf in London, " "The Nutty Professor II") it is the beginning of what would evolve into two phenomenally successful film careers. At just 21, young Landis came off a stint as ‘gofer’ during the filming of "Kelly’s Heroes," decided to pool his cash with that of friends’ and relatives’, and armed with a paltry $60k and the makeup services of some 20-year-old kid named Rick Baker, "Schlock" was born.

But what is Schlock, anyway? The Southern California suburb of Canyon Valley finds out soon enough, plagued by a series of unexplainable "banana killings." Leaving a trail of 789 bodies and a littering of banana peels, the culprit is found to be a thawed out 20 million-year-old missing link, the Schlockthropus, who has emerged from his underground lair to terrorize the sleepy suburb. But when he falls in love with a blind girl (who mistakes the creature for a really big dog), Schlock learns the heartbreak of a romance that could never be. In his angst, he descends upon the local high school dance, kidnapping the girl and facing off against the local National Guard atop the school gymnasium.

"Schlock" is a farce – no doubt about it – but one which succeeds in its sophomoric aspirations. Unlike other wannabe juvenile yock-fests, "Schlock" showcases Landis’ well-paced and well-placed timing. Sure, the film is rife with questionable acting but, by and large, the performers play it straight, dead-panning their way through ridiculous situations and lingering sequences that, if not for the director’s apparent gift for delivering a laugh, would certainly fail. Add the various two-shots and blatant sight gags, and the film comes together as a quite sophisticated comedy in spite of its rather unsophisticated production value.

Clearly, Landis envisioned a menagerie of silly circumstances to pit his creature against local yokels, dreaming up all the nutty possibilities of each encounter. Full of nods to genre films, "Schlock" blatantly spoofs the likes of "King Kong," "2001: A Space Odyssey," and "Love Story," among others. But at the core of what makes the film so funny is the unique blend of Rick Baker’s effective, albeit primitive (no pun intended) ape suit and Landis’ incredible adeptness at comedic pantomime – Landis plays the role of Schlock. Originally interested in finding just a "cheesy monkey suit," Baker delivered far more than Landis expected, developing facial appliances that allowed Landis incredible expression in his eyes, eyebrows, and mouth, showcasing all manner of shifting looks, sarcastic glances, and exaggerated double takes that give the creature a humorous and heightened intelligence over the "regular folk" throwbacks he comes up against.

The film is presented in its original 1.85:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio on this <$RSDL,dual-layer> DVD in a virtually flawless transfer that is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> television sets. The 35mm source print used for this transfer appears virtually perfect without any noticeable damage. The transfer, therefore, is rich and extremely well balanced. Black levels are deep and true, contrast is stable, and colors are vibrant without appearing either washed out or overly saturated. The end result is a truly visually appealing image that rarely exhibits any grain yet provides incredible detail that is free of noticeable edge enhancement or distracting compression artifacts.

The audio comes by way of an English <$DD,Dolby Digital> 2.0 mono track – expected for a film like this that likely wouldn’t have much to exercise the surround channels. The soundtrack is of limited range and response yet is still clean nonetheless. The dialogue is generally clear and understandable save for a few instances where the actors’ own reserved enunciation might cause you to grab your remote and replay a line or two.

The disc’s extras include the original theatrical trailer, four radio spots, a terrific still gallery (which includes pages out of the film’s original pressbook) and talent bios of Landis and Baker. The big extra, of course, is the <$commentary,audio commentary> recorded in April 2001. In it, Landis and Baker fondly reminisce over their first meeting, their shared passion for monsters and apes, the three wild weeks of filming the picture, and the friends, relatives, and industry contacts whom they excitedly identify throughout the show. Clearly, it’s been some time since they’ve viewed the movie and it’s uniquely entertaining to witness their spur-of-the-moment recollections of facts and events from 30 years ago. Oh, and be sure to stick with the commentary into the end credits where Landis candidly blurts out a response to Baker’s suggestion that viewers might have rented – not purchased – the disc.

With this release, Anchor Bay once again displays its uncanny prowess in recognizing a film worthy of top-notch treatment despite a low-quality stigma it might otherwise bear. If you grew up watching old horror flicks and had your nose buried in issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland and the like, you’ve undoubtedly heard of "Schlock" and "Rick Baker, Monster Maker." But if this is new territory for you, don’t delay – grab a copy of this very affordable DVD. It’s a diamond in the rough, a genuinely funny and smartly entertaining romp just waiting to be thawed out and re-discovered.