Greydon Clark’s Wacko is the sort of film that I would swear was made specifically for me. It’s a horror parody featuring gags that feel like they were pulled directly from the pages of MAD Magazine. And they come so quick and fast that you can’t possibly catch them all in one viewing.
The film opens at the local high school’s Halloween Pumpkin Prom – these sort of proms should absolutely exist – and a madman known as the Lawnmower Killer goes on a brutal killing spree, murdering many of the students in attendance. While the killer is never officially caught, a local crazy that ends up getting locked away in a state mental hospital is believed to be the suspect by most the town.
Flash forward 13 years later and Mary Graves (Julia Duffy), the traumatized younger sister of one of the Lawnmower Killer’s victims, is now getting ready to attend her Pumpkin Prom. On the eve of the prom, the believed suspect escapes from the state mental hospital. Hardboiled detective Dick Harbinger (Joe Don Baker) believes the killer is headed back to the high school to seek out new victims. The chase is on.
Every moment with Baker is complete gold. He’s ever stereotype of a film detective taken to 11. He’s haunted by past mistakes, a total slob, and addicted to coffee and cigarettes. He actually uses his briefcase as a means to carry his coffee and we get a great scene of him dumping a fresh pot inside and zipping up as coffee leaks from the bottom.
In addition to parodying horror films, Wacko takes on teen comedies and cop films. Nothing is off limits and the goal is just to be as absurd as possible. To give you an idea of what’s at work here, George Kennedy plays Doctor Graves, Mary’s mother, and he seems to be a pretty successful doctor. When we see him working, however, it becomes clear he doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing. As it turns out, his first name just happens to be Doctor and he turned that into being an actual doctor.
This film also marks the movie debut of one Andrew Dice Clay. The Dice Man plays “The Schlong,” a parody of John Travolta’s Danny Zucko. He has his own theme song, which Clay sings, and a number of jokes revolve around him having a massive penis. At one point he’s having dinner with his girlfriend and her parents – he’s wearing a Superman costume in this scene – and the table suddenly starts to rise and knock everything off. Well, this happens because his girlfriend is making advances on him at dinner and the joke is that his boner gets so big it lifts the table off the ground.
Hey, I never said this was high brow stuff.
My favorite running joke throughout the film is that the two rival high schools are the Hitchcock High Birds and the De Palma High Knives. This leads to a number of great sign jokes. At one point the Hitchcock High band is performing while holding up signs of individual letters that spell out the school name. This results in “cock” being spelled out all by itself for a brief moment. My favorite gang is a sign that reads, “Birds Fly High and ‘Bomb’ De Palma from the Sky!”
Wacko was released in 1982, one year after Brian De Palma’s Blow Out bombed at the box office. Ouch.
The most exciting thing about this WACKO release is that the film has basically been lost since the ’80s until now. It never had an official DVD release and now thanks to Vinegar Syndrome it has been released with a stunning 4K restoration using the recently discovered original camera negative. And the restoration shows! The picture is crystal clear and it brings to life the low budget charm of this film. There’s a Halloween Pumpkin Prom for crying out loud, and now we get to enjoy all those fun ’80s costumes in glorious HD. I’ve long stated that Vinegar Syndrome’s release of RAW FORCE is my favorite Blu-ray restoration, but WACKO may have just taken the crown.
Audio Commentary with Director Greydon Clark
Full disclosure, I have not yet watched the film with Greydon Clark’s audio commentary. Given that I can obviously not comment on this commentary, I will just say that Clark is a very knowledgeable guy that has written a great book. Given when I know about him, I’m confident in saying that this commentary is very likely a blast to listen to.
“Die Laughing” – An Interview with Cinematographer Nicholas von Sternberg
This is actually a fairly short interview, but von Sterberg packs in a lot of info. He talks about first meeting Clark and being impressed with how well Clark was prepared, specifically with regards to lighting. As he got onto set there were some frustrations, most of which revolved around how quickly the film was shot. None of these issues must have been that big of a deal to von Sterberg, because he and Clark would go onto work together again after WACKO. The most interesting tidbit from this interview is also the saddest. Von Sterberg talks a little bit of George Kennedy’s health on set and how he wasn’t able to move very well. Despite his declining health, Kennedy was always game to try anything.
Never Before Seen Outtakes
About ten minutes of outtakes are included, and while they are presented in HD there is no sound, which is a bit of a bummer. It would’ve been cool to have Clark or someone associated with the production do a little intro explaining how they decided to cut what they cut. And I only say that because the entire movie feels like it’s made up of outtakes (I actually mean this as a compliment), so I’d love to know the thought process behind the decision-making in the edit bay.
Also included with this release is the original theatrical trailer and reversible artwork.
Wacko is not a movie everyone is going to love or even like. Not all the jokes land, and depending on who you ask none of them do. But I can’t help but love this movie. This movie has the craziest amount of frenetic energy and a killer ensemble cast. Plus, at one point there is a car chase through a high school that ends with one car flipping over and exploding in a ball of fire. And honestly, if you can’t appreciate that, what can you appreciate?