Made in 1971 on a minuscule budget, John Landis’ first film as a director, Schlock, is broad comedic satire of sorts about a prehistoric ape wreaking havoc in a Los Angeles suburb. It is a bad movie. I cannot recommend a single thing about it. Everything, from the writing, directing, and acting to the music and even the comedy, is bad, poorly executed, and difficult to watch. Its only distinction is that it was directed by Landis who later went on to make such comedy classics as Animal House, The Blues Brothers, and Amazon Women on the Moon and features special effects by Rick Baker went on to have a storied career as a makeup artist.
In a sleepy Southern California suburb, a maniac dubbed "the Banana Killer" has been brutally murdering dozens of people. The feckless police department is no help and the television reporter on the scene only stirs hysteria (and holds a contest over who can guess how many bodies are actually inside a bag of mangled parts). The citizens are either terrified, curious, or completely uninterested depending on the needs of the joke. The killer turns out to be a prehistoric apeman, or possibly the missing link (or in fact John Landis in a gorilla suit made by Rick Baker), who has been sitting on ice for a few million years before he decided to wake up and start a murder spree.
What follows is a series of vignettes that sometime spoof old science fiction and horror films, but mostly just kind of ramble without any sense of coherence or regard to plot and artistic merit. The ape, or Schlock as its called, throws various men into ditches, befriends a blind beauty (who thinks he’s a very intelligent dog), plays a little jazz piano in a bar, and watches The Blob in a movie theater (a nod to producer Jack H. Harris who distributed both movies).
It is a film that feels as if it was made by the class clown in college who borrowed a camera from the AV department, grabbed a bunch his friends to star, and wrote a bunch of jokes while drinking with his buddies at that hour of the night when everything is so hilarious. But much like trying to tell those late night jokes to someone who wasn’t there, these jokes don’t hold up in the cold light of day. There is a 2001: A Space Odyssey spoof that made me smile and a couple of Frankenstein riffs that garnered a chuckle but mostly, it was like watching your aunt’s home videos of her summer vacation, only interesting to those who were there.
For their part, Arrow Video has tried their darnedest to make this set worth buying, although even there they’ve mostly borrowed from the recent Turbine Media Group release (of which you can read reviews from Gordon S. Miller and Luigi Bastardo). There is the same commentary from Landis and Baker (which proves to be much more entertaining than anything found in the film), the same new interview with Landis covering most of his career (also more interesting than the film). Not included in that German release is a new interview with critic Kim Newman and an archival one with cinematographer Bob Collins. Rounding up Arrow’s extras are several trailers, radio spots, and a full-color booklet with lots of pictures and an essay by Joe Bob Briggs (which is also more entertaining than the film).
The audio/video comes from the same 4K master that Turbine Media Group did last year. It looks as good as a film of this sort can. No notes are listed as to its clean up methods but I didn’t notice any signs of wear and tear. The Turbine release was a limited one so Arrow Video seems to be giving it a wider release under their banner.
There is really nothing to recommend Schlock. If you are a John Landis completist, then this is for you. I recommend watching it really late at night with your funniest, most wise-cracking friends, and any additional accoutrements you might need to make a bad film enjoyable. This Arrow Video release is for the most part a copy of the Turbine release from last year, which is to say it's trying real hard to make it worth your money. The Landis commentary makes it come close.