4/17/11

The Greydon Clark Bar: Wacko (1982)

I don’t know where you folks hail from, but here in the general vicinity of the Lair (which of course must remain Top Secret), sometimes it can be hard to get a drink on Sundays. There’s one place that I know of that’s always open anytime I want.....

Seeing as I've been in a slasher mood lately, I thought why not keep the Spring Slashers going and look at Greydon Clark's contribution to the genre, 1982's satirical Wacko. With a stacked cast including Joe Don Baker, George Kennedy, Julia Duffy, Andrew 'Dice' Clay, and Charles Napier, I had great expectations. The taglines, "The Comedy That Takes Off Where Airplane Landed", "At Last! A Motion Picture Made By, For, And About People... Just Like You", and most underwhelmingly "The Wacky Movie", however, did not inspire confidence. What really sold me on watching Wacko was the film's promise of "The Lawnmower Killer" which brought to mind one of my favorite kills in Sleepaway Camp III. So I pulled out a bar stool and cracked open a tall cool one before settling down to Clark's comedic killer, and it just so turns out that this "wacky movie" might be the greatest unsung spoof of all time.

Thirteen years ago, "The Lawnmower Killer" slaughtered several teens on the night of the Halloween Pumpkin Prom. Since then, Detective Dick Harbinger (Joe Don Baker) has not taken a moment of rest, literally. The man hasn't slept for the last 13 years not wanting to waste a single moment that could be devoted to chasing down the Pumpkinheaded lawn equipment wielding killer. One of the victims was the older sister of Mary Graves (Julia Duffy), and poor Mary has extreme trauma from seeing her sister get killed which makes her scream and run in fright anytime the "Lawnmower Killer" is even mentioned. It doesn't help matters that her beau Norman Bates makes sounds like a mower every time he gets sexually excited, her father (George Kennedy) is constantly peeping in her window, and her high-school is full of freaks, losers and loons.

The horror-comedy genre is a rich and full set of films with a number of successes, but the lesser subset of horror spoof movies have been far more miss than hit. The exceptions, Student Bodies and the first Scary Movie, have their charms. Yet Student Bodies was the single directorial effort from Micky Rose (the author of Woody Allen's Bananas) and Scary Movie was a Wayans Brothers product. Neither of the driving forces behind those films had solid genre film credentials. Greydon Clark had plenty of those, but what he didn't have was studio backing or a huge budget. As usual, it turned out that he didn't need it. Instead, he paired the script, written by future The 'burbs writer Dana Olsen, National Treasure and Rush Hour scribe Jim Kouf, and Buffy writer/producer/director David Greenwalt, with a great group of actors.

First off, I love Joe Don Baker. I talked a little about him when I reviewed the Clark film Joysticks, but I just can't say how much his appearance brightens up a film. His Wacko detective Harbinger, complete with "hard boiled" voice-overs, is absolutely a riot. Baker plays it straight, and with wild hair and deadpan delivery, and he takes simple flashbacks to the level of fine art. Julia Duffy is an actress I know primarily from the '80's sitcom Newhart, but Wacko is just one of dozens of parts the actress took in the beginning of her career (including Battle Beyond the Stars) before she landed the part of Dick Loudon's yuppie maid. Wacko showcases the dry, sarcastic, delivery that made her TV character, Stephanie Vanderkellen, so funny. Why Duffy remains an underused actress, I don't know, but I was happy to see her recently on a couple episodes of Showtime's Shameless. George Kennedy, the character actor best remembered now for The Naked Gun movies, creeps it up as Duffy's dad. In one of my favorite silly jokes in the film, it's revealed that Kennedy, who has been shown to be an inept gynecological surgeon, is not a doctor at all. His given name just happens to be Doctor Graves.

Wacko was Andrew 'Dice' Clay's first feature film, and it made me wish the stand-up had never discovered the lowest common denominator magic of dirty nursery rhymes. He was extremely funny, and even his crass gimmick, his character Tony Scholongini can't stop himself from getting boners, made for a few very funny scenes. Scott McGinnis, who appeared in Joysticks as cool guy Jefferson, appears here as Norman Bates compete with dead mom he puppeteers. While the film is a litany of references, the Psycho and Hitchcock homages do tend to lurk around every corner for the keen viewer. It also bears mentioning that Elizabeth Daily, Dottie in Pee-wee's Big Adventure, shows up here in a small role, but her appearance as a genie at the Halloween dance is reason enough to take note. Later in her career, Daily went into cartoons voicing lead characters on Rugrats, The Powerpuff Girls, and Eek! The Cat. She's also continued to make occasional screen appearances in films such as The Devil's Rejects and Potheads:The Movie.

I think one of the best things about Wacko is that while spoofing the slasher genre the film also has room for The Exorcist, The Omen, Halloween, Prom Night, Brian De Palma, and a jillion other little touches that are just there for hardcore horror fans to notice. As much as I like Student Bodies, I would pit Wacko against it time and time again, and each time, I think Greydon Clark's film would come out on top by a hair. It's always hard to get across how funny a movie is as opposed to how exciting, gory, or life changing it might be. For me, I think it's because comedy is something that is experienced on an extremely subjective. So if anyone disagrees with my estimation of Wacko, I would not be all that surprised, but for my sense of humor, it hit the spot. Greydon Clark is a director who is always full of surprises. From film to film you never know what kind of story you might get next, just that it will always be the best, most passion filled version that Clark could execute. In the case of Wacko, the film not only worked; it killed.

That's it this time for my trip to the Greydon Clark Bar. Join me back here the rest of the month and check out what else Mr. Clark has on tap for us.

Bugg Rating

3 comments:

  1. I recorded this off the tv many moons ago and it became a firm favourite amongst the group of people I was hanging about with at the time and it would get played over and over- so many quotable lines of dialogue in there!

    Used to tend to play the film back to back with Amazon Women on the Moon for some reason

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  2. Thanks for the nice review. WACKO is one of my favorites... wish more people had a chance to see it. Check out my website: www.GreydonClark.com

    Greydon

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  3. I have this on VHS and DVD, one of my favourite films.

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