“Hi, I’m John Landis, and you’re about to watch Schlock. I’m sorry.”
John Landis is the filmmaker behind some of the biggest and best-remembered comedies of the late 70s and 80s including Animal House, The Blues Brothers, Trading Places, and Coming to America. He’s like Ivan Reitman in that regard, but you can tell them apart by remembering that Landis is a maestro of excessively comic car crashes while Reitman has the more likable son.
Landis’ later filmography hasn’t delivered many winners, but it’s his first feature that seems to earn the most scorn — often from the director himself. It’s easy to understand why as Schlock (1973) is a micro-budgeted monster comedy made when he was just 21 years old, and that’s exactly why it’s disingenuous to compare it to his studio efforts. Here’s the thing though… that caveat isn’t even necessary as the film is crafted with creativity, confidence, and a legitimately funny sense of humor that overcomes the clear budgetary limitations.
When a prehistoric apeman — possibly the famed missing link — exits a cave in Southern California, the small town nearby descends into chaos. The creature, nicknamed Schlock by scientists, leaves a trail of dead bodies in his wake leading to a pursuit by local police and eventually the military. Along the way, though, he develops a crush on a young blind woman, checks out a matinee of The Blob (1958), pranks a TV reporter, and more.
Landis had worked on dozens of films in varying capacities before deciding to make one himself, and while his filmography covers numerous genres his heart has always belonged to creature features and monster movies. It’s unsurprising then that his debut would be a sincere yet absurd love letter to the genre. Schlock is very much a comedy — a broad and hairy comedy — but from its ominous opening through to its tragic-ish end it’s clear that Landis is making an homage fueled by true affection for the material and a deep knowledge of its history.
The creature costume worn by Landis throughout — that’s right, Landis himself plays Schlock — is an early effects job by the legendary Rick Baker, and while the director’s intention was for it to look like a bad ape suit it’s an unsurprisingly solid effort by the young effects guru that bears more than a little resemblance to the prehistoric beings in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001. The film is littered with dead bodies, but in keeping with its playful spirit, they’re devoid of blood and gore.
Schlock is an undeniably slight film, but its 80-minute running time flies by for the most part. One sequence set in a movie theater feels like it goes on a bit too long and suspiciously features a lot of footage from The Blob — Jack H. Harris produced both — but more often than not the movie keeps viewers smiling with terrifically fun dialogue and goofy gags. The comedy is broad and often enters into spoof territory, but it rarely feels lazy and instead works to create a wildly entertaining world.
Turbine Media Group’s new all-region Blu-ray, the film’s debut in HD, features a 4K restoration resulting in a sharp and clear image. The mediabook also includes the film on DVD (in 4:3 ratio as it was originally presented), a bound-in booklet in English & German featuring essays on the film and talents involved, five trailers, radio spots, and the following extras.
- Commentary with John Landis and Rick Baker (from Anchor Bay’s 2001 DVD release)
- Birth of a Schlock: An Interview with John Landis [41:26] – The filmmaker sits down for a new interview that sees him recount his desire to be a director from the age of 8, his good luck at meeting and hanging out with numerous filmmaker heroes, and his entry into building his own career. The guy has some fantastic anecdotes (his Rick Baker story is fantastic) and takes eighteen minutes before finally getting to Schlock. “It’s a very low budget parody of very low budget monster movies,” he says, adding that it’s “a terrible movie.” As with the commentary, the interview highlights Landis’ charismatic and knowledgeable spirit, and they both serve to remind that regardless of what you think of his films he’s always worth listening to.
- Schlock “Trailers from Hell” [2:38]