Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Schlock (1973)

This is one of my favorite films... and you have never heard of it.

First, a bit of background... In the 70s there were a bunch of skit comedy movies like THE GROOVE TUBE (with Chevy Chase and Richard Belzer and "Brown 25" - we make dolls out of it) and TUNNEL VISION (with Phil Proctor and Howard Hessman and Kissinger grilled on a Sesame Street type show about Viet Nam). And they were okay... and then came KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE and it was 100 times funnier than the others. I saw KFM in my local cinema, and when I drove to Los Angeles I saw it in some funky old Hollywood Blvd cinema. That movie was made for me! I was alternating between short super 8mm thrillers and skit films, and KFM was the ultimate skit film. So much better than GROOVE and TUNNEL. Who directed it? Some guy named Landis.

I had a subscription to National Lampoon Magazine, which was huge back then, and they decided to make thier first movie, called ANIMAL HOUSE. And who did they get to direct it? That Landis guy from KFM!

I landed a job managing a movie theater, part of a small chain that began as Jerry Lewis Family Cinemas, but that company went bankrupt and this guy bought all of the ones in the San Francisco Bay Area. I was managing one out in the East Bay, and my biggest problem was that the owner never booked a studio movie. He booked all kinds of weird crap, and then expected us to sell tickets to this junk! We showed a comedy spaghetti western called ONION BREATH about a cowboy who wasn't a quick draw, he just had really bad breath. We had a low budget horror movie with Christopher Lee that had the worst special effects I have ever seen. We had one bad film after another...

And then we showed SCHLOCK!

Directed by that Landis guy!

It was his first film, it had been sitting around on the shelf for years, and the guy who owned the cinemas made some sort of deal to show it for a week. The doorman in my cinema, who was an artist and drew some amazing pictures (I hired him because he was talented and needed a job), actually drew and inked the poster... because whatever poster there had been previously we didn't have access to. Tim drew this amazing poster, and they made copies, and that poster went from cinema to cinema around the Bay Area along with the single print of the film.

But the amazing thing - SCHLOCK was funny as hell! We had a college nearby, and I made up mini posters and put them up all over campus (did the same for my Halloween show of PSYCHO) and we packed the cinema every night. Because it played 3 times a day and 5 times on weekends, I could quote every single line of dialogue from the movie. And it was *funny*. My favorite part - after the ape kills a whole playground full of people, the coroner puts all of the body parts into Hefty Trash Bags to take to the morgue and try to put them together to figure out exactly how many victims there were... and the local TV station has a contest: if you can guess how many people the parts all add up to, you can win a free dinner for 2 at a local restaurant. The TV news guys was a Ted Baxter type, who is shocked to find out the ape may be what is called "Homo Erectus". Plus, there is a cute blind girl who has been dating a guy for years and has just had eye surgery and when the bandages come off... will she like the way the guy looks? The killer ape tries to attack the blind girl, but she thinks he's a dog and plays fetch with him... And all kinds of other silly gags. I loved this film - it was the only thing we showed at that cinema that wasn't complete crap!

The end of the story: Because the cinemas were not making any money, the owner decided to do something controversial by booking THE SNUFF MOVIE. I argued against this until I was blue in the face. We were in suburbia. We had a church down the street. The cinema chain sold itself to the various communities as a family chain. People were going to torch the place! I suggested we show a bunch of old family friendly films instead - maybe 3 STOOGES movie double bills, or even some classic 1950s monster movies. I had a list of films I would rather show than SNUFF... and thgat I tought would sell more tickets.

My PSYCHO Halloween show had done well, I promoted the heck out of it, and the film was cheap to rent because it had been on TV a zillion times. But I turned the movie into an *event*, see the scary movie on the big screen and try not to scream! I was sure that if we showed good old movies and had a family discount night instead of the absolute crap films we had been showing, the cinema would make money. But the owner knew more than some stupid film buff kid... and booked SNUFF for a week.

The night the movie opened there were picketers.

And we did not sell a single ticket.

By 9pm that first night, the police arrived. They were going to confiscate the print of the film and arrest *me* for violating community standards.

I had a talk with the district attorney and told him I was completely against showing this crap, and the cinema chain owner had booked the movie over my protest. Would they let the little fish (me) go to arrest the big fish (my not all that big idiot boss)? I phoned the cinema chain owner, told him I had an emergency - there were police and picketers at the cinema and they wanted to take the print. He tried to get me to hide the print somewhere so that the police couldn't get it, but I told him he needed to come down here and explain to the police that we couldn't just have over a $15,000.00 print of a movie. The cinema owned drove down to the cinema...

And was arrested by the police. I waved to him as the cuffed him, and made sure his head didn't bump the door frame as they put him in the back of the police car.

Then I gladly handed over the print.

They closed the cinema, and I was out a job.

The real pisser? When I left I didn't even grab one of those SCHLOCK posters. That would be a big time collector's item, and I'll bet even John Landis doesn't have one!

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Short Films - and how to write them.
Dinner: El Pollo Loco - black beans, corn on the cob.
Bicycle: Medium, probably should have been longer.
Pages: Kind of dropped the ball today.


Anonymous said...

I have heard on it... because John Landis talked about it on Trailers From Hell a little while ago :)

#6 said...

I've SEEN it! Both on a smallish big screen at the old Valhalla Theatre in Sydney decades ago and also on television. Also decades ago. Not a chance they'd show it on TV now. :(

Kangas said...

I think my buddy has a copy of it...(he has ALL sorts of movies you probably haven't seen in years...)

Lyn said...

Holy cow--it's Bill Martell! Man, I still have a copy of your book about writing action screenplays. Helpful book.

Very entertaining post. Wouldn't it be grand to own and operate a theater just the way you wanted to? Yeah. It would. Maybe you could ask around, find Tim again . . . .

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