Schlock (1973) Blu-ray Review: The Dawn of Landis

John Landis' campy homage to classic monster movies surfaces in High-Definition for a limited time from Turbine Media Group.
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The first feature film of cult filmmaker John Landis (An American Werewolf in London, Innocent Blood) Schlock serves as a exemplary reminder we all have to start somewhere. Shot over the course of 12 days on a measly $60,000 budget in one of the many suburbs of Los Angeles, Schlock is a campy homage to horror and science fiction movies of the past, as seen through the eyes of one very eager 21-year-old filmmaker.

A small community is besieged by a wave of baffling, unsolved murders, committed by an entity whom authorities and the media alike have dubbed "The Banana Killer" due to the many rotten peels found at the crime scenes. Alas, everyone in town is far too incompetent to figure out what's going on here, such as the police detective handling the case, an almost Woody Allen-looking dimwit named Sgt. Wino. Soon enough, the elusive Banana Killer known as Schlock ‒ a prehistoric missing link which has been frozen in ice for a few million years ‒ emerges from its cave to terrorize. When it isn't playing piano, giving interviews, or pursuing a blind beauty who mistakes it for a very smart puppy, that is.

Aped up with one bad sight gag or pun after another, Schlock just as dumb as it sounds. Even John Landis will tell you it's bad, but that hasn't stopped the harmless 1973 parody from becoming a minor cult classic over the last 45 years. Cast-wise, there are very few (immediately) recognizable faces in this very low-budget title, other than the familiar eyes of John Landis himself, who plays the eponymous apeman under a few layers of makeup by his friend, a pre-fame artist by the name of Rick Baker. The film references classic (and not-so-classic) monster movies, ranging from Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast to Trog, and from 1933's King Kong to the horror that is The Creeping Terror.

The legendary Jack H. Harris, producer of The Blob (which the movie features footage of in one of its many homages) released Schlock theatrically in '73. The English-speaking world wasn't ready for it then, nor was it when Harris shamelessly re-released the film several years later to cash-in on Landis' recent successes, including a re-titled version of the film, Banana Monster. Of course, there's always a demand for schlock somewhere, and Landis' Schlock somehow managed to find a surprisingly large audience in Germany of all places, a phenomenon I can only attribute to some outrageous dubbing.

Indeed, Germany's strange devotion to this genuinely bad cult movie has resulted in a surefire win for American fans: a Limited Edition All Region Blu-ray/DVD Mediabook Combo release of Schlock from the German label Turbine Media Group. Meticulously scanned in 4K via a frame-by-frame restoration (which, I must admit, is very German), Schlock has never looked as good as it does in this stellar 1.78:1 MPEG-4 AVC 1080p presentation. The accompanying Region-Free NTSC DVD presents the restored version of the film via an open matte 1.33:1 transfer, which will surely please those of you who miss the days of analog.

Turbine's BD presentation offers viewers on both sides of the ocean a chance to hear the god-awful dialogue in English and German DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono sound, with multiple English and German subtitles options available (two German subs are provided; one for the German dub, another for the original English audio). An archival audio commentary from Landis and Baker has been recycled from the now-discontinued Anchor Bay DVD from the early 2000s, and is included here with optional German subtitles. Landis also appears in a pre-menu introduction to the title, wherein he braces first-time viewers with a polite "You're about to watch Schlock. I'm sorry."

Thank you, John. We appreciate that.

Landis returns for a lengthy newly-shot interview discussing his career (and yes, Schlock too), and can also be seen (again) in a Trailers from Hell presentation of the hilariously re-titled Banana Monster preview. Speaking of previews, Turbine's Schlock has you covered up to the peelings there, as this BD/DVD release sports trailers from various issues and re-issues. There are very few differences between them, but it's interesting to see the not-so subtle changes. Turbine's Mediabook also includes a fully-stocked booklet featuring archival photos and essays on the cult flick available in both English and German.

While it obviously doesn't fall in the vicinity of "art" by any means, Schlock nevertheless survives as a fascinating footnote in film history; one which appears to be growing as time goes by. Perhaps Turbine Media Group's gorgeous new restoration of this very silly movie will enable the movie to find new admirers (or, at the very minimum, one-time viewers, as this is something you'll either love or hate). But don't you dare wait to decide, as Turbine's stock of this release is limited to a whopping 2,000 copies ‒ and surely don't want to go bananas by missing out on a collectible release such as Schlock!

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