Popular murderer John Landis is the man behind An American Werewolf In London, Coming To America, The Blues Brothers and National Lampoon’s Animal House, so despite being responsible for the deaths of Vic Morrow and two child actors, Renee Shinn Chen and Myca Dinh Le, he has an enormous amount of fans and a quite considerable place in the history of film. It may sound harsh to bring up the accident that took the lives of these three actors but then Landis has acted quite the twat since then, turning up at Morrow’s funeral boasting that Vic had said it was his best work, and inviting the jurors who acquitted him to a pre-release screening of Coming To America, so fuck him, quite frankly.
And yeah, his behaviour does colour my opinion of his work slightly, I’d be lying if I claimed it didn’t, but Schlock was his first ever film made long before he selfishly didn’t give a fuck about those he was responsible for on set, so it’s a little easier to like. Additionally it’s also a pretty damn funny film, an intentionally idiotic piece of mockery of some of the more ridiculous b-movies that the seventies were so famous for. It’s packed full of silly jokes, daft sight gags, slapstick, casual violence, a detective who’s very nonplussed about the fact that so many people are being violently killed and best of all a local news reporter who is melodramatic and cheesy while covering the events.
There’s not much of a narrative, most of the film just follows a monster called Schlock (played by John Landis himself) as he wanders from one location to the next and interacts with people in either murderous or absurd ways. The police are trying to track him down and there’s a vague subplot about a blind girl who after an operation regains her sight, and the relationship she has with the creature before and after it. It’s perhaps a bit of a shame that there isn’t a bit more to the film as it’s slightly repetitive towards the end, and anyone looking for anything fresh and original is going to come away disappointed, but fortunately most of the gags are strong and will make you laugh.
In some ways it feels a little similar to spoof films like Airplane and The Naked Gun, there’s ridiculously idiotic (but funny) jokes where people react to Schlock like he’s a normal human being at certain points, the best of which sees one character shout at the monster “Why don’t you get a haircut? Why don’t you get a job?”, while the newsreader offers viewers a free Kentucky chicken dinner with all the trimmings if they can guess the body count. There’s also a “Shirley / Surely” joke which isn’t as good as that found in Airplane but does precede it by seven years, a spoof of a certain scene from 2001, and one goofy bit where the blind girl removes a stupid largely amount of bandages.
Unfortunately it’s not quite as good as it could have been as it sags a bit towards the end, there’s an over long scene where Schlock goes to the movies which starts well but then runs out of steam, one part where Schlock, two kids and a dog eat some cake isn’t exactly riveting, and neither is a part where the creature takes apart a car, which feels a bit like Landis was struggling to come up with things to do with the beast at this point. But it’s never actively bad, just a bit humdrum, and fortunately the big finale at the end makes up for the blander moments and the film has a great final line.
Without the weaker moments where it gets a bit lazy it’s otherwise a strong piece of b-movie piss taking, unusually for a 70’s horror spoof there’s no exploitative nudity, which is definitely a good thing, and though it’s not exactly directed with flair for a first outing it’s pretty impressive. If you hate Landis for what he did on the set of The Twilight Zone this won’t win you round, but if you don’t have such issues and do have a fondness for this sort of fare it’s the kind of film you’ll laugh at a lot.