Castor’s Underrated Gems – Schlock (1973)

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It’s common wisdom that comedy writer-directors should never moonlight as the main performer in their movies. Mel Brooks could be inconsistent and Seth MacFarlane is mostly inept. However, with the application of Rick Baker’s hirsute makeup, John Landis transmogrifies himself into Shlockthropus and it is not blandishing overstatement to say he is an uproarious silent comedian in the title role.

Shot in 1971 on a shoestring budget of $60,000 over the course of twelve days (probably sans location permits), Schlock was the debut feature film of Landis and first collaboration with the renowned prosthetic artist Baker. The costume is pretty dazzling considering the constraints on the production. The insert shots of Schlock’s eyes are very demonstrative underneath the woolly exterior.

In fact, several of Schlock’s expressions are terrifically funny in the vein of Buster Keaton such as when Schlock grimaces in horror when a car is screeching towards him or a breaking-of-the-fourth-wall moment when Schlock is mistaken for a dog by a blind girl and he turns to camera in head-shaking disbelief at her asinine stupidity.

Surely, the plotline is rather slight and much of it is episodic vignettes of Schlock rampaging around town in pursuit of sustenance (especially bananas during a facetious 2001: A Space Odyssey parody) and a female mate. Anyone parched for an overarching narrative will be disillusioned since the structure is largely undisciplined with stretches of Schlock in fish-out-of-water scenarios.

In terms of spoof purposes, the quartet of teenagers at the beginning are intentionally amateurish with their wooden line delivery (“Whoever did this is clearly bananas”) and the beginning is akin to a zany trailer for the film from a studio with more prestigious credits under their banner.

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The scientific explanations are long-winded and nonsensical drivel much like the B-movies that inspired it. As a matter of fact, Schlock sneaks into a screening of The Blob with Steve McQueen. Body language is key to Landis’ pantomime and he slouches in the suit until Schlock must anthropomorphize in a distinctly humanistic fashion (ala pruriently poking the breast of his prey). Some of Landis’ humor is pretty politically incorrect with Schlock stomping on children during his prowling and the blind girl is constantly staggering into doors.

To reinforce the lampooning tone, the tag before the conclusion is a Coming Soon attraction for Son of Schlock with an inanimate puppet being cradled. When characters’ face are begrimed with black soot from a combustible lighter flame, Landis must’ve been an aficionado of Tex Avery cartoons. Overall, Schlock is a spunky, fatuously side-splitting and concise premiere for Landis with many of his trademarks in their zygotic phase including the See You Next Wednesday in-joke.

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